Chapter 35 : Move
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My bathroom looked like a battlefield.
Just replace 'corpses of fallen soldiers' with the broken teeth of combs, and 'hideous bloodstains' with splotches of spilt hairspray, and there you have it. A war so ruthless, it practically required its own History Channel special. Countless casualties, weapons, and tactics had been deployed. Brave souls had been lost. I’m sure at least several parts of my scalp had suffered permanent nerve damage.... And it was all just to tame my hair.
Those poor, brave brushes that lost their lives... Their mangled forms were now strewn all over the tiled floor, evoking a poignant picture of the horrors of modern warfare. My tangled hair had viciously, brutally destroyed every single one of them — oh, why must the good die so young?
Though I had to say, it was all worth it in the end. Because now, instead of the red tresses that sprang out of my head with barbed-wire consistency, I had smooth, luscious, silky locks. Thanks to the Witch Weekly Hairstyling Kit that Dom gave me for Christmas, I could now safely toss my hair over my shoulder without running the risk of gouging out an eyeball.
And the best part?
It was brown.
My hair. Chocolate brown.
Which meant no more weasel jokes. Or bad temper jokes. Or fire-crotch jokes. No more having to listen to people tell me about this one other random person they kind of know who — surprise — also has red hair, and would I happen to know them by any chance? (Why, of course. We both go to the same Ginger Support Group every Tuesday!) And most importantly, no more having to avoid the colour pink at all costs.
At last, I was free.
Granted, the sudden change in my hair's weight and texture did feel kind of weird. Without all the clumps of tangles weighing it down, my head was bouncy and... light. Now, I could finally partake in the classic teen girl pastime of the sacred hair flip. I had spent half an hour practicing in the mirror, tossing my head back and forth, watching my shiny waves ripple majestically like graceful rivers of beauty in the light (that is, until I got a neck cramp and had to stop).
And okay, yes, I will admit that the first time I looked into a mirror after I took the dye potion out, I screamed bloody Mary. But still... It just took some getting used to. After all, my hair was now the colour of Nutella. How could you find anything wrong with anything that looked like Nutella?
I knew dying my hair wasn’t exactly characteristic of me. I mean, I was a Slytherin prefect whose idea of 'adventurous' was returning a Hogwarts Library book two days late. But hey, I had decided that if I was going to start turning my life around and becoming this reborn-again, mature person, I might as well get the hair to match. New me. New hair.
And New Year. So it all fit together perfectly. Here I was, December 31st, all alone at the Potter Mansion. The Tweedle Trio had gone off to that rock concert of theirs, Lily and Ginny were at The Burrow, and Dom in the Alps... Leaving me. Home alone with no entertainment. And while my first plan of action had been to charm mustaches onto every framed photo of Potter in the house, I’d decided to do something else.
Hence: Nutella Hair.™
I’d needed a distraction, a break from thinking too much about a certain black-haired, snarky-mouthed Gryffindor — not to mention the distressing fact that my mother was still in the Bahamas with Arnold and had no intention of coming back to England anytime soon. Apparently, 'palm trees and strawberry daiquiris' outranked 'seeing your daughter after her horrible near-death experience.'
My mum had broken the news yesterday, when we'd managed to arrange a little Skype date online (because who needs Floo Powder when you have the Internet? Honestly), and our chat hadn’t exactly turned out as expected.
“Well, Aggy, after Arnold and I made sure you weren’t in danger any longer, we decided it might be best to... Stay here. In the Bahamas. Just for a while.” My mother had said, all blissed-out and seashell-haired. Seriously. There were seashells braided into. Her. Hair. What next? A coconut bra?
“What?” I’d said numbly. My voice had sounded like a tinny echo, like it was coming from far, far away, as I gaped disbelieving at my mother’s face inside the crackly computer screen.
“See, our hotel room is booked until this weekend and, Agatha, we’ve just been having the most wonderful time. We’d hate to waste the extra days,” Mum had explained, as if I was really going to listen to the logic of a middle-aged woman with cornrows in her hair. “Honestly. You would love it here. There are these little crabs on the beach, just like the ones when we would go up to the cottage in the summer! Remember that? How you and I used to always chase the little crabs?”
That’s right, ladies and gents. My mother announces that she’s abandoning me to the cruelty of life in the Potter household, and all she can do to offer consolation is talk about catching crabs on the beach.
But I guess I couldn’t fault her for that. I mean, really, should I expect anything less — or rather, more — from my mum? That was just her personality. Sometimes she didn’t grasp the full severity of situations. Honestly, I didn't think she realized how scary that moment at the Ministry had been for me, for all of us. She just thought it was another one of those shenanigans that crazy teenagers these days were getting into.
And I knew she loved me. She just had a funny way of (not) showing it.
Potter had thought differently, however. See, my number one mistake throughout this whole fiasco was not taking Aidan’s laptop into the privacy of my own bedroom. No. Instead, I had decided to experience my fun little bout of family rejection in public, inside the mansion's kitchen where Potter and Aidan could eavesdrop.
They’d both watched, silently, as my mum listed off her reasons for staying in the Bahamas. Aidan had sat next to me, comfy-sweatpants-clad legs tucked underneath him, watching me with anxiety in his eyes. Potter stood in the back, arms folded over his chest, eyes dark and not saying a word.
And when I’d signed off and exclaimed with an insincerity that even a brain-dead Goyle could pick up on: “Well that went better than expected!” The two of them sort of... Blew up.
“Are you kidding me, Agatha?” Aidan cried, hurling his arms into the air so vehemently I had to duck. “She’s not coming back? That’s not okay. Let me talk to her. I know I can change her mind. Just let me — “
“No,” I said firmly, trying to smooth out the trembles in my voice. I slammed the laptop lid down with finality, almost surprise-amputating some of Aidan’s fingers in the process. “It’s fine, Aidan. I’m not a child, okay? I don’t need to go running into mummy’s arms every time I get a boo-boo.”
“I’d venture to say that a boo-boo is a little different from a violent Death Eater attack,” Potter spat caustically from behind me, and my shoulders immediately tensed at his tone.
I’d been trying to pretend like he wasn’t in the room, but it was easier said then done when I could tell, from the prickly hairs on the back of my neck, that he hadn’t taken his eyes off me once this entire time.
It was disconcerting, to say the least.
I twisted around, calmly, to face Potter. His eyes were identical gold sparks, dancing and flickering and shifting, always shifting, in shade and in brilliancy. He was leaning against one of the walls, gaze hot on me. He was angry, but I wasn’t sure at whom.
"Technicalities.” I shrugged, trying my hardest to keep the emotion out of my voice. Potter’s eyes flashed dangerously as he scoffed, looking away. “If this is how it’s supposed to be, than fine," I added.
“Aggy.” Aidan sounded almost... sad. Sighing, I twisted around to face my brother, trying not to flinch at the pity in his voice. I just wanted the both of them to leave me alone. “It’s okay to be upset.”
I decided that, in a time like this, playing dumb would be my best bet. “I’m not upset. Why would I be upset?”
A frustrated noise dislodged itself from somewhere in the back of Potter’s throat.
So, apparently I wasn’t as good at playing dumb as my Slytherin inclinations would have me believe. If only Freddy were here to give me tips — when it came to 'dumb,' he was the expert.
My eyes fluttered shut. Frustration was slowly seeping through my body, making me grit my teeth and clench my fists. “Look — “
“No, Bennett, don’t ‘look’ us," Potter slashed through, tone harsh. "You cannot be seriously acting this casual right now. That night at the Ministry, you almost — “
His voice broke off just in the nick of time, mouth clamping shut abruptly. I blinked, and Potter hastily shoved a hand through his hair, swinging his aggravated gaze to the window. The space where his next word should have been was left glaringly obvious.
There was a silence.
“Almost what?” I asked. I’d spoken so softly, I was pretty much mouthing the words. From next to me, Aidan shifted uncomfortably. "Say it. Say it, Potter."
Potter locked eyes with me boldly, not a flinch of fear in his gaze.
“Died. You almost died, okay?” he said matter-of-factly, and I noticed the way his voice seemed to carry the word, get heavier, more intense. “You can’t just act like that’s nothing.”
And for some reason, him saying that struck something inside of me. Something rather unpleasant.
“Why can’t I? You do,” I shot back before I could stop myself. Instantly, I was up and off my chair, no longer able to remain calm. Potter blanched, eyes flickering with shock, but I wasn’t going to give him the chance to reply. I already knew how it would go. He’d shoot back something, I’d shoot back something else, and the cycle would repeat ad infinitum.
I was tired of it.
"You've been pretending like I don't exist for the past week." Already the words were barreling out of my mouth, their syllables made sharp and caustic by the white-hot anger surging in my tone. I was speaking without really even thinking, just letting the emotion and noxious stress that had been building inside me finally escape. "And now that it's convenient for you, you want to act all high-and-mighty and concerned and like actually you care about what I get up to? Knock it off, Potter. I'm not your freaking yo-yo."
The air in the room shivered with silence, the echoes of my last words still reverberating softly in my ears. Aidan was glancing, wide-eyed, between us.
“Bennett — ” Potter began after a moment, and for the first time ever, he looked like he didn't know what to say. He shoved a hand into his hair, eyes holding what was almost-but-not-quite an apology.
But I simply shook my head. I hadn't been looking for another argument, so instead I made my way across the kitchen, away from Potter’s urgent gaze, away from the whole mess in general.
I left the room without another word.
It had been the adult thing to do. Maturity.
And so after that, after Potter and the Tweedle Trio left for the concert two hours ago, I guess what I had needed was a follicle make-over via Witch Weekly. And you know what? It worked. Almost like the dye potion had seeped into my brain and erased all notions of pratty Gryffindors. I'd come to terms with things, ready to accept the fact that Potter and I just weren't capable of getting along. Now it was time to let go. I was content.
Granted, I was home alone on the 31st with a bowl of Acci-o’s cereal and a battered copy of a Fifi LaFolle novel — a sad way to ring in the New Year, according to some. But I didn't care. I was free, I was alone, I was happy... And I wasn’t wearing any pants. I’d shucked off my constricting corduroys earlier to, in a fit of boredom, shave my legs for what felt like the first time in a millennium (ah, the joys of winter). And afterwards, the corduroys had just kind of... Stayed on the bathroom floor where I left them. For once, I wasn’t bothered with putting them back in my drawer, precisely folded and color-coordinated with everything else. No, tonight I was going wild.
What can I say? I’m a free bitch, baby.
With that thought, I shoveled another spoonful of soggy Acci-o’s into my mouth and flipped the page of my book. I’d always promised myself I’d never be that Fifi LaFolle girl who sat at home and agonized over boys — but yet here I was, sugar-loaded snack in one hand and sappy romance in the other.
Well, it could be worse. At least I wasn’t creeping on Potter’s WizBook page.
Then again, Aidan’s computer was in the next room... I knew his password ("Monkeyslut" — the boy was creative); I could always log on and just check —
No. NO. I was better than that! Come on, Aggy, get your head in the game. I was going crazy, thinking about Potter and what he was doing, if he was going to get piss-drunk and snog some other girl tonight, if he was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about him. No matter how mature I felt or acted, there would always be a tiny part of me that dwelled on these things.
Not to mention, the situation was somewhat made worse by the fact that I was currently surrounded by Potters. Everywhere I looked, there was another picture of him. A front-toothless, six-year-old Potter. Present-day Potter carrying a giggling Lily on his back. Potter with Albus in a headlock. Potter, smudged with dirt and sweat and triumph and holding up last year’s Quidditch Cup. Potter, Potter, Potter. Everywhere.
I was outnumbered. And I was going not.
Just as that particularly unpleasant thought entered my mind, something happened. No, not just happened. Something burned.
My butt, to be precise.
“MOTHER OF ZEUS!” Suddenly I was screaming and leaping off my chair at record height, 400 pages of steamy Fifi LaFolle romance going canon-balling into my cereal. What the hell was that? It felt like I’d just tried to extinguish a bonfire... With my arse.
I warily looked down to see — oh, well that explained it — the gold coin Dom had given me for Christmas sitting innocently on my chair.
I’d been fiddling with it earlier and must have sat on it by mistake. Hmm. Maybe that had made it angry. Maybe it didn’t like being sat on and that was why my butt was now throbbing in pain.
I stared apprehensively at the coin. It stared back.
Oh, Merlin. Was I really getting scared of this thing?
Gingerly, I bent down to pick up the gadget, tossing it from hand to hand like a hot potato. It was still warm, but not warm enough to burn. I flipped it over and screamed again.
Because there was Freddy’s face in the circular mirror, staring right at me.
“Hello? HELLO?” Before I could react, the image of Freddy was suddenly moving closer — way closer, in fact, until all that appeared in the mirror was a lovely zoomed-in vision of his nose pores. “IS THIS THING ON? TESTING, TESTING, ONE TWO THREE. TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STA — “
“Oi, just hand it over will you? Let me do it.” Came a highly familiar voice — and then there was a bit of shuffling and squabbling (“No! Use yours!” “That is mine, Freddy. You borrowed it, remember? “Oh. Right”) and then Potter was in the frame. Immediately, I jerked my own coin forward towards me, so that the only thing he’d be able to see on his end was my face. I didn’t want him to notice the pantslessness or my hair, since I didn’t feel like explaining either.
“Bennett? You there?” Potter drawled, squinting boredly and looking none-to-pleased about having to do this. I gaped, trying to figure out precisely what was going on as I slowly came to my senses. They were at the concert, that much was obvious from the sound of pounding bass and the screams of delighted concert-goers in the background, but why were they trying to contact me?
“Uh — I — yeah,” I stuttered. I couldn’t stop staring. Like Freddy, Potter’s face was smudged with sweat and dirt and glow paint and whatever else you picked up at a concert. Needless to say, he looked... Good. Dusty cheekbones cut high, eyebrows raised just slightly in that cocky, skeptical, Potter way of his. I swallowed. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be enjoying the concert right now?”
Oh, no. Something wrong must have happened for them to be calling me right now, this early. One of them was injured, or drunk, or both... I was sensing a “clean-up on aisle four” would be needed soon, most likely requiring assistance and most unfortunately involving my presence.
“That’s the thing,” Potter began dryly. “We kind of — “ he grimaced, as if the words themselves were very painful. “Need your help.”
And clean-up on aisle four it is.
I tried to suppress a groan. “Fred or Aidan?”
To answer my query, the image on the mirror zoomed out, revealing Freddy in its scope. He had a friendly arm slung casually around Potter, eyes burning bright with alcohol. From the way he was swaying ever so slightly, it was obvious Freddy was close to being very inebriated.
“It’s Aidan,” Fred clarified loudly, his words slurring into each other. “He’s completely incoherent. We think someone slipped something in his drink because he’s not just wasted, he is out of it. Like... zombified. And not in the cool, brain-eating way. I'm talking about the scary, forgetting-how-to-breathe kind of way."
He paused, raising his head to hit me with a pleading, beseeching expression. "You’re gonna come help us, aren’t you, Aggy? Jimmy said you wouldn’t but I said you would because you’re made of awesome and coolness and badittude and do you think you could bring us some food if you do? My belly’s grumbly.”
I glanced at Potter. He had his arms folded and was looking away, irritated, jaw line tensed. Lights from the concert flashed and danced off his tousled hair, and I tried to suppress the memory of how it had felt, surprisingly soft between my fingers, when we had kissed. Argh. Head in the game, Aggy.
Maybe I would do this because my brother needed the help. Or maybe I would doing it to prove Potter wrong. Either way, I didn’t care enough to decide.
“I’ll be there in a few,” I said, and then the connection between us blinked shut.
Two subway rides and four encounters with some very courteous hobos later, I was standing outside the club that the boys were at — looking slightly under-dressed in a jeans and a bandana for my hair, and embroiled in an intense staring match with the rhino-sized bouncer standing outside the door.
He did not look friendly.
Gulping in a big yoga breath, I steeled myself and forced my uncooperative legs to start walking jerkily in his direction. There was only one way into this club, and that was through the bouncer. I knew this. I had prepared myself for this. But that didn't make the prospect of actually engaging this human roadblock in conversation any less terrifying.
From years of friendship with Dom Weasley, I had learned that getting into clubs is all a matter of either a good fake ID or a good push-up bra. Yet I, unfortunately, currently had neither.
I marched up to the door, making sure to lock my gaze confidently with the bouncer's as I did so (though it took me a while to locate his eyes amongst all the bulky muscle), and attempted to force something resembling a smile onto my face.
“Hello,” I greeted, knowing that I had one shot at this, and one shot only. I needed to get it right the first time around. The only alternative was staying out, in the cold on this shady street, all night long. And since I’d just spotted a rat that looked big enough to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, I preferred getting in.
“What do you want?” The bouncer growled, moving threateningly between me and the grimy metal door. Well, someone needed a hug. Not that I was volunteering — first because I'd probably get tased if I attempted any form of physical contact, and secondly because I wasn't even sure my arms would fit around all that bulky muscle and manifest consequence of what looked like a long history of steroid abuse.
I cleared my voice. Slytherin Bullshitting Mode, activated. “Greetings. I'm one of the roadies working the show's lights and sound effects tonight, and — "
"You on The List?"
I blinked, mouth still half-opened, as the bouncer waved a brown clipboard in my face. Shit. When they mentioned The List, you knew it was game over. Play it cool, Aggy.
"Er, what is 'The List,' really, but a weapon of the elite to keep the proletariat subservient and reinforce modern society's classist notions of inequality?" I said, rather lamely.
The bouncer stared.
"Not a big Marx fan, eh?" I tried, but the bouncer just glowered and rapped his fist on the clipboard.
"Bertha," I said automatically, for reasons that escaped all and any understanding. "Bertha... Iglesisas."
“Your name is Bertha Iglesias,” The bouncer repeated flatly.
I stuck out my hand. “It’s a pleasure.”
I might as well have been offering him a rubber chicken. The bouncer just stared at my hand in disgust, looking like he couldn't quite believe what was transpiring before him.
Gingerly, I withdrew my hand and patted down my hair. Smooth, Bertha. Real smooth.
“Anyways," I said, voice slightly higher pitched than normal. "I need to be inside right now to help with the lighting. The artist’s quite picky about what effects we use for each song, and only I know the codes,” I babbled on smoothly, no idea what I was saying but feeling semi-confident that I was pulling it off. “So if you’d excuse me — “
I stepped forward at the exactly same moment Bouncer SunshineFarts held up his hand to stop me. I walked straight into it and instantly bid adieu to all the air in my lungs. Merlin, it was like running into a brick wall.
“Hold on,” said SunshineFarts. He squinted at me, his eyes like two slits in an extremely muscled, black-V-neck-wearing mattress. “Do you even know what the artist's name is?”
Oh bollocks. This was what I got for being the sister of someone with horrible music taste. I could not, for the life of me, remember what concert this was — I didn’t even know the genre (though judging by the dulcet strains I could hear pounding from inside, it sounded a bit like ‘post-punk dubstep mixed with dying cat screams and the sound effects from a SpongeBob episode’). I didn’t even know if the concert was wizarding or muggle.
This officially made me the worst sister-cum-band-roadie ever.
“Psh, what kind of ridiculous question is that?” I scoffed, trying to stay as calm as possible but feeling the fingers of panic slide, cold and clammy, down my back. I started babbling. “I’m a roadie and of course I know the name and I don’t like what you’re accusing me of hey is that a Spice Girl?"
“Huh? What? HEY.” The minute SunshineFarts looked in the direction I was pointing to, I took my chance. Lunging past his considerable bulk, I heaved open the door with unexpected ease and threw myself into the murky darkness of the club.
I could feel the bouncer hot on my tail, one of his beefy hands slashing out to grab me by the coat, but it was already game over for him. I was inside, and even though he was about a million times stronger than me, I had one advantage: my size. Weaving through throngs of grinding, laughing, drinking people, I became invisible. He’d have to develop infrared vision to find me in this crowd.
As I jostled through the throngs of concertgoers, it quickly became apparent that this was a wizarding concert. People had their wands out, waving Lumos beams in an imitation of the traditional concert Zippo lighters, and sparks of light would occasionally burst above us and come down in a glittery drizzle. It was beautiful, in a very strange way, and I’d landed myself in the middle of the activity. Casting my gaze around for any sign of Potter or Freddy, I plunged onwards and delved into a circle of rowdy Quitch Bros (“Bro, look at that baben’ babe!” “Bro, bet she’s a total Quaff-stitute. “Totally, bro, that is so the chillest of chills!”).
I let myself stop and breathe for the first time, ignoring the rampant chest-bumping and slow dismantling of the English language that was happening around me. My heartbeat was still having its own drum solo inside my chest, and my back tingled from where the bouncer had grabbed at me. That’d been a little too close for comfort.
I needed to keep moving and find Aidan. Which shouldn’t be that hard — I just had to look out for the nearest trail of beer cans, panties and vomit, and I'd be led straight to him. It was like... Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, if the pot of gold was a very drunk boy and rainbows were disgusting.
I wheeled around, gratitude rushing through me at the sound of a familiar voice saying my name. Pushing through the bros, I made my way towards the direction the voice was coming from. It was closer to the stage, which, in this massive, dingy room packed with people, was little more than a light at the end of the tunnel.
Freddy, Potter and Aidan were standing (well, standing was a bit generous — Aidan was more...teetering, than anything else) by a dinky bar in the corner. The area was doused in blacklight, making their teeth and white trainer laces glow brightly.
“Well if isn’t our very own Swagger Agger!” The instant I was in reaching distance, Fred pulled me into a bear hug reeking of alcohol and poor decision-making, and I immediately knew what was coming next. See, Freddy had a funny tendency to become very... affectionate when he was under the influence. Sure enough, he was already speaking directly into my ear in a disturbingly tender whisper. “I think you’re the most beautifulest girl in the whole wide world. You're a goddess of fire. You have a laugh like a sunrise. Will you marry me?”
Before I had time to decide whether Freddy’s drunken compliments were creepy or flattering, we were already being interrupted.
“Easy there, mate,” Potter grabbed Fred by his collar and yanked him backwards, a shadow of a smirk on his lips. He seemed to be the only coherent one here, as Aidan was slumped over, unmoving, by the wall and Freddy had turned away to now try and hit on a barstool.
I, meanwhile, was staring at Potter. If I'd thought he’d looked good through the coin message, that was nothing compared to seeing him in real life. There were streaks of paint all over him, smeared across his jaw, on his neck, on his forearms, glowing neon in the blacklight. His hair was touseled, his gaze bright gold. I couldn't look away.
Potter’s lips were slightly parted, his gaze serious as we regarded each other with the appropriate intensity. I instinctively knew we were both thinking about what had happened earlier, when I'd told him off in the kitchen. Around us, the dupstep music throbbed hungrily, making the air around us crackle with heated sound.
“Hey,” I said politely, my chest throbbing with unidentifiable emotions.
Lights flashed and whirled, shifting across Potter’s face in a flicker of colours that made him look almost ethereal. He seemed hesitant, unsure of himself for the first time I’d ever known him.
“Hey,” he finally responded, voice low. His hand rubbed the back of his neck absentmindedly — and for some reason, this gesture, so boyish, so normal, made my chest hurt. “You get here alright?”
His voice held no touch of concern — just the mandatory, dutiful, best-friend-of-the-brother politeness.
Is this really what we’d come to? Politeness?
I shifted uncomfortably. Potter and I’s encounters were usually emotionally-charged, consisting of screaming and derogatory insults and dramatic pledges to never speak to one another again, but they were never like this. Never... polite.
“Yeah, I took the tube.”
From next to Potter, Fred snorted. We both turned to look at him. “Heh. Tube," he provided helpfully. "Rhymes with boob.”
Potter’s lips twitched with irony, but then the moment was gone and he was turning away, back to Aidan.
“He’s sick. I think there was something in his drink,” Potter said, all business-like and impersonal. He gently peeled Aidan off the wall and turned to look expectantly at me.
“Right.” I nodded, feeling uncomfortable under his gaze. “Well, I’ll take him. You guys go enjoy the concert. Just give me your car keys.”
Potter’s eyebrows shot up and a breathless laugh burst, as if involuntary, from his lips. Then it quickly died when he realized I was serious.
“Wait,” he said slowly, mouth still twitching upwards disbelievingly. “You actually want to drive?”
“Yes,” I replied, voice bordering on snappy. Irritation was prickling at my chest. I didn’t like the amused look dancing in Potter’s honeyed eyes, or the wry twist of his mouth. “What’s so funny?”
Potter looked away and into the crowd, the beginnings of a smile on his face, and shook his head. “Nothing. It’s just... Why don’t we fast-forward a bit, skip over the part where you and my car end up in a shallow ditch by the side of the road, and just head to the emergency room right now to save us some time?”
I felt my gaze darken dangerously. “Don’t be stupid. I can drive just fine."
My words made the half-smile slide right off Potter’s face. He folded his arms, cocking a brow as his stance suddenly turned argumentative and challenging. “Oh really. Have you had any experience driving a car whatsoever?”
I could feel our surroundings dim ever so slightly as a spark of competition seemed to kindle between us. There was the distant throb of music, and Freddy muttering “Boobs. Heh. Boobs,” in the background, but that was all white noise. Now it was just me and Potter’s narrowed, amber gaze and the hungry desire to win.
“Yes,” I scoffed nonchalantly. “I drive all the time.” Mario Kart counted, right? Yeah, Mario Kart totally counted.
“Mario Kart doesn’t count,” Potter said pointedly, and there was a twinge of triumph in his expression as he saw the guilt flick across my face. Stupid mind-reading prat.
“Well what do you suggest we do?” I shot back quickly, half-tempted to stick my tongue out.
Potter shrugged. “Easy. I drive.”
“No way,” I declared instantly. “You’ve been drinking.”
Again, there was that annoying, superior Gryffindor scoff, that you’re-being-silly roll of the eyes. It made my blood simmer. “I had one beer. Two hours ago. I doubt I'm even close to being above the legal limit.”
I shook my head, feeling like a mum but obstinate in my refusal to back down. “Doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. One drink is twelve drinks."
Irritation seemed to seep into Potter’s gaze. His jaw stiffened stubbornly. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Does it look like it?” I challenged. He cocked a cool eyebrow.
“Me driving after one drink wouldn’t be nearly half as dangerous as you driving completely sober. In the dark. And the snow.” Potter countered, shaking his head firmly. He was utterly convinced. “No. I won’t allow it.”
“Allow it? What makes you think you can allow me to do stuff?”
“Because, Bennett.” His tone was so sarcastic, it made me livid. “I have the keys.”
With that, he dangled his car keys on their Hogwarts Quidditch Cup Champions '19 lanyard, right in front of my face, and — just as I was about to reach up — snatched them away, smirk smug.
I resisted the urge to growl.
“Whatever.” I bit out, using all the power in my body to remain civil. “If that’s how you want to play it, then fine. It’s obvious you don’t need me here — “
“Wait — Are you crazy?" Potter said quickly. "How am I supposed to handle Fred and Aidan by myself?”
“— so I’ll just be leaving then. Goodnight!" I finished innocently. It was a total bluff, and we both knew it — like I was really going to travel back two subway rides through the sleet and dark for nothing — but it was too late to back out now. I turned swiftly on my heel and pushed through the people, making my way to the center of the dance floor.
I kept on walking, holding my breath and not daring to check if he was following me. And then:
“Wait, Bennett — Jesus — “ I heard Potter jostling behind me and resisted the urge to smirk. Hook, line, sinker, bitches. The Gryffindors might be cocky, but we Slytherins knew how to win when it counted.
I was about to toss a kindly, “Fuck off, sir,” over my shoulder, when I stopped in my tracks at the sight of the crowd before me, stomach turning icy cold with dread.
Because, directly ahead of me, eyes sweeping the crowd, was the bouncer. And he looked pissed.
I wheeled around, heartbeat jerking into double-time, and found myself slamming into a very annoyed Potter. I didn't stop moving, pressing insistently against Potter so that we went barreling backwards from the force of my propulsion, Potter's back slamming into a nearby wall.
“Oof, Bennett — “ Potter instinctively grabbed me, holding my lower back to support me as I stumbled closer into him. “What the hell is your problem — “
“Don't move,” I blurted out, words rushed with panicked resolve. I grabbed Potter by the collar of his hoodie and pulled him closer than socially acceptable, finally becoming aware of the music pumping through the ground and shaking our feet. “Don’t say anything. Just stay where you are."
“What? No, absolutely not — “
“Potter.” I bit out in warning, my fists clenched in his hoodie. I was too busy praying that the bouncer wouldn’t see us — or that, if he did, he'd think we were just some drunken couple — to worry about how close Potter's face was to mine. This was dangerous proximity. No-man’s land. But still. It was...necessary.
“Just relax,” I breathed into his ear, and I could feel his broad shoulders stiffen under my flat palms. There was a heat between us, growing from our proximity but burning in the tiny, negligible spaces between our skin. "And trust me."
Ignoring Potter's look of disgruntled outrage, I tossed a furtive glance over my shoulder.
"Shit, he's coming closer."
"Who's coming closer? Bennett, have you gone bleeding insane — ?"
Potter was swiftly cut off by my hand, which I had slammed over his mouth as I leaned in even closer, my face tucking into the curve of his neck, my own mouth grazing skin. Potter tensed, going quiet anyway at the sudden contact.
I recognized that the situation wasn't ideal, but this was my best shot at getting through the night without an arrest warrant in my name. With my face hidden from view like this, maybe the bouncer wouldn't recognize me.
"For your information, no, I'm not bloody insane," I hissed into Potter's ear, the urgency in my voice overriding its slightly nasty tone. "I went in without the bouncer's permission so I could save your sorry asses, and now he's trying to track me down and he's right behind us and can you just shut up, for Merlin's sake?"
The music continued to pound in the background. Slowly, I removed my hand and, to my faint surprise, Potter remained grudgingly silent. I could feel his chest rise and fall against mine very, very noticeably with each steady breath. I stayed where I was, vision obscured by the wall behind us, the line of Potter's neck and the locks of his dark hair curling around his ears. He smelled obnoxiously good.
"Is the bouncer wearing a black t-shirt?" Potter murmured quietly, stock-still.
"Yes," I affirmed.
"About six foot?"
"Looks like a distant relative of the abominable snowman?"
"The very one."
"Yup," Potter said flatly, drawing out the syllable so its 'p' popped. "He's coming straight towards us."
"What? Crap." It was almost like my body had acted on its own accord. Without missing a beat, I was suddenly wheeling around, the soft fabric of Potter's hoodie still clenched in my hands, so that it was my back against the wall now. Potter, looking vaguely resigned and not surprised in the slightest, halfheartedly allowed himself to be dragged in front of me so that the considerably larger frame of his broad shoulders now blocked me from view.
"Next time you try to get into a concert," Potter remarked drily, eyes flicking upwards in a somewhat exasperated plea at the ceiling. "Maybe try not pissing off the one guy whose job it is to keep people out."
"I didn't piss him off," I said defensively, only somewhat distracted by the hard pressure of Potter's chest against mine. I couldn't believe that, even in this position, we could still bicker like this. "We're just... not exactly on good terms right now."
"Yeah, from the looks of it you guys are normally the best of friends — soul sisters, even," Potter snapped back, tone saturated with the faintly familiar brand of pre-Ministry sarcasm that had been missing from our interactions over the past few days. "Say hi to him for me the next time you see each other at the sorority house."
It amazed me — it truly, truly did — how, even in these strange circumstances, with our faces an inch from each other, Potter could still be as snarky and rude as always. I, on the other hand, was becoming increasingly aware of his body heat and the faint whiff of his shampoo... so my sharp tongue was feeling a little dull.
"Freddy and Aidan are probably wondering where we are," I said quietly, not moving my gaze from the tiny depression where Potter's collarbones met. I couldn't look at his face — the proximity between the two of us, I could barely handle. Proximity and eye contact? I wasn't about to push it.
"Freddy and Aidan are a little too sloshed to wonder at anything besides the quick decline of their motor skills," Potter responded flatly, but the usual bite was gone in his voice. I could feel his toasted amber eyes flicking over my face, reserved and watchful, and I fervently hoped it was too dark for him to see the chocolate brown locks peeking out from my bandana. If he found out I'd spent my New Years Eve at home dyeing my hair, I'd never hear the end of it.
I opened my mouth to retort, but was saved from forcing my brain to come up with an adequate response by a voice, booming inhumanly loud, from the stage.
“LADIES AND GENTLEMAN. THIS IS DJ HOTHEAD, ARE YOU READY TO MAKE SOME NOISE?!"
DJ 'Hothead's hollering fanned across the expanse of the concert hall like a shockwave, and the crowd went appropriately wild. Girls were screaming. Bros were chest-bumping everything and anything in sight. Even the bouncer, from what I could see over Potter's shoulders, suddenly became distracted, pausing in his scanning of the crowd to turn towards the stage.
Potter looked over towards the stage, and I took the opportunity to grab the car keys dangling from his pocket, sliding them in my own in a fluid, surprisingly easy motion. Great, I had the getaway car. Now I just needed...well, the getaway. Then I could ditch Potter and Fred, grab Aidan, get him home and call this night a win for Team Bennett.
The crowd died down, and the music whining in the background began to grow in volume, pumping out a baseline that I could feel shuddering in my bones. The bouncer turned again (which looked kind of difficult, given the claustrophobic crowd and his meaty frame), his beady eyes sweeping the surroundings as he assumed a wide, angry stance.
I panicked. Yanking Potter towards me, I ducked my head hastily and screwed my eyes shut like how you do when you're a kid and you still think not being able to see anything means no one can see you. Potter stumbled forward, catching himself with his palms on the wall behind me, and my blue eyes flashed open, locking with his surprised hazel ones.
"Bennett," Potter said, voice low and serious and completely void of any tone of annoyance there might have been previously. The colored lights flicked over his unreadable face as he watched me watch him.
"Don't move," I ordered as calmly as possible. My hand was holding the back of his neck, pulling him closer so that his forehead came down to barely brush mine. At the touch, Potter's gaze turned soft and clouded, eyelids lowering ever so slightly in a heavy, heated kind of drowsiness. I knew we were both very aware of the inch of space shivering between our mouths, and I knew that to any passerby, we must have looked like just another couple.
That was the goal, right? So why did I feel so... strange?
"Bennett," Potter repeated, forehead pressing harder against mine as my vision became nothing but hazel and midnight. His eyes flicked towards my mouth, then quickly back up to meet my gaze. He cleared his throat, and something about his expression seemed to clear, to harden. "Bennett, is he gone?"
"What?" I mumbled bewilderedly, lightheaded and unable to think. "Who?"
"The bouncer," Potter gritted out.
Oh. Flushing slightly, I glanced over Potter's shoulder to see that the bouncer had his back towards us and was, indeed, tromping through the throngs of dancers, back towards the exit.
"Yeah. Um, yeah he is." My hand slipped away from Potter's neck and I drew back towards the wall, giving my head a barely perceptible shake. I felt my forehead pucker in a dazed frown. My entire body felt suddenly cold. "Okay, well, I should... I should go. Find Aidan, or something..."
Potter let me shoulder past him and I stumbled slightly, still confused as to what had just happened between us, what invisible force had held us in place like that. I was about to dive into the crowd and start looking for Aidan when a hand grabbed my arm, yanking me backwards.
A gasp slipped from my mouth as I stumbled into Potter, who was looking at me with what seemed like mingled frustration and exasperation, clarity in his gaze. “Not so fast,” he said, knowingly, calmly.
“What?” I asked, trying to keep my voice as light as possible. His hand on my arm seemed to burn into my skin.
Potter arched a cool eyebrow. “My keys?”
The music stopped and the crowd burst into applause just as Potter simultaneously pulled the car keys out of my pocket and threw them into the air, catching them one-handed right in front of my face in a motion only a Chaser could pull off.
I gaped. “How did you know — ?”
“Agatha! Agatha Bennett!”
Saved by the bystander. I whipped around and — as if this night could get any weirder — saw the golden halo of Ryan Fisher’s head pushing through the crowd. Behind me, I could sense Potter instantly stiffen.
“Ryan,” I said dully, too surprised and perplexed to inject any emotion in my voice. “What are you doing — ?"
“Fancy seeing you here! Isn't the DJ just fantastic?" And then Ryan was pulling me into a tight, squeezing hug. I glanced behind my shoulder distractedly, noticing the way Potter’s jaw seemed to lock in irritation.
“Yeah,” I mustered a sheepish grin, not sure if I should be delighted or embarrassed by what was happening. I stepped back, and Ryan looked at me with that eager, bright puppy-dog-face of his. “Er, Ry, this is Potter.”
“Fisher.” Potter nodded curtly. The gesture wasn’t cold, but there was a distinct... removal that came with it. He folded his arms across his chest, looking at Ryan with a flat, emotionless gaze. Fisher was on the Slytherin Quidditch Team and not Dom Weasley. Hence, Fisher was the enemy.
“James,” Ryan smiled, nodding. "How are you liking the concert? What an awesome idea for a date!"
“This isn't a date,” we both said quickly, at the exact same time.
There followed an uncomfortable silence. Ryan regarded us with raised eyebrows as the stirring strains of techno thumped in the background.
“Right, of course.” Ryan nodded, making an obvious effort to keep the corner of his lips from rising up. “Well, that’s that, then.” He turned to me, the full force of his stormy eyes regarding me frankly. “How's it going? You having a good time? Need anything?”
“Well, actually,” I said slowly, a clever idea occurring to me. “Did you drive here?”
“Yeah, but I’m not following. Why?”
“Well, me and my brother Aidan would love a ride, if you could give us one. See, he's around here and a little out of it, and — “
“Say no more,” Ryan agreed immediately, just as Potter spat out, “Absolutely not.”
I stopped, glancing between the two boys with raised eyebrows. Hostile anger was practically radiating from Potter's tense stance. Ryan looked mildly alarmed.
“Sorry...” He began. “Is there, er, a problem?”
Potter’s voice was steely, on edge. “Have you been drinking?”
“Well, I had one drink.” Ryan relented. “But just one. Like, two hours ago.”
The left side of Potter’s mouth quirked upwards ever so slightly in an ironic kind of amusement. He turned to me and said, significantly, mockingly: “Doesn’t matter. One drink is the same as twelve drinks. Right, Bennett?”
"You may care, but I don’t,” I announced loudly, fully aware that saying this officially made me the biggest hypocrite ever. Whatever — if it meant I could get out of this hellhole before the bouncer found us, I was desperate enough to take the risk. I stepped towards Ryan. “Let’s go.”
“No.” Potter sliced through, so loud and definitive that we stopped in our tracks. “Not going to happen. Bennett, you’re coming with me.”
“Are you sure there’s nothing going on between you two?” Ryan murmured to me from out of the corner of his mouth, but I paid him no heed. I was too busy turning to face Potter, seething with acute indignation. I placed a placating hand on Ryan’s arm, and for a moment, Potter’s gaze seemed to rest on it before flicking away.
“Make me,” I said.
“I’ll take Aidan," Potter responded easily. "He’s more likely to come with me. Plus I know how to handle him better.”
That was debatable. I was the sister; he was the best friend — the claims to Best Drunk Aidan Caretaker could go to either of us. But I didn’t doubt the fact that, in a state of alcohol-addled confusion, Aidan would be more inclined to leave with someone he came to this concert with rather than his sister who had just magically appeared out of thin air like a hologram.
“You’re bluffing,” I said slowly.
Potter stepped forward, expression tempting and arrogant, as if he were daring me to find out. His voice was quiet, but I could make out every word. “I’m not a good poker player, Bennett. ”
I highly doubted that, but nonetheless, I felt my resolve waver. I looked between Ryan and Potter, saw the way Potter’s eyes flashed on my hand, still on Ry’s arm. Saw his jaw lock tight. Saw his fist clench around the keys.
I stepped away from Ryan, knowing that I was surrendering but — oddly enough — not feeling like a loser at all. Maybe it was the small victories, really, that mattered most in the end.
“Fine,” I said, trying to hide a tiny, itching little smile. “But I’m driving.”
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