Chapter 10 : Everyone Wants Me (Dead)
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It starts with a gasp.
Then two. Then four. Then twelve.
Fighting the shock, I stumble back from Albus, widening the gap between us from scandalous to innocent. His gaze drills into my skull—I called the wrong bluff. How could I forget that impetuous Potter blood running in his veins?
With all eyes on us, I steady my eyes on him. Why, what are we doing here? his smirk seems to say as it fades into a confused mask for the crowd, and the full force of the room's attention bears down on me.
I never should have gone under that cloak. That was the moment I gave him control. I don't even let Dom choose the wireless channel (lest she keep switching to 'less mainstream' music until we're listening to soothing sounds of static).
I count and I lose count. There are five dozen souls in this room and at least a third have some infatuation with Potter. It's more than enough to swarm us. Both of us.
Mobs don't happen accidentally, or else no remotely attractive person would ever attend Hogwarts, let alone walk outside their common room. Mobs are like weather—part chemistry and part chance—and the concoction of sticky emotions and poured-out hearts has to be mixed just right. The mind shuts down. Pupils dilate. Love makes us fools, but obsession makes us worse. These girls are at the edge of desperation, and the past half hour has only churned the waters.
The calcifying numbness creeps further down my leg. I put on my most innocent smile, a talent I unfortunately lack. "Hi."
The word comes out too loud and eager, and I can practically hear Potter pad his ego. Have you become a sodding amateur, Clemence? Get a hold of yourself; this is just damage control. I continue, calmer, "We just dropped in—"
"Together?" snips pink-jumpered Caroline Escot, who makes up one of the many Quidditch fanatics of Q.G.A.
A tittering erupts near her. But while some girls laugh, no doubt drinking up my obvious discomfort, others remain silent, flooding the room with hunger and envy.
Albus replies before I do, "Yes, together."
I feel his hand hovering near my back. The whispers spread across the room, even to those otherwise uninterested in the golden boy.
"Does that mean—?"
"She called off the girlfriend watch, didn't she?"
"This is too much of a cliffie, I can't—"
"For the last time, Greta, we're not in a story."
I can see the ink on paper, quotes being gathered, a hundred notes attacking my hair, accusing me. My, my, wouldn't that be a surprise? The editor weaving the mystery is the girl in question. It's only the oldest twist in the book. I force the heat in my cheeks down lest it burn up my wisp of a reputation. I will not become my own headline.
When I meet Potter's glance, the charming curve of his mouth lilts knowingly, but therein lies his miscalculation—he's got nothing left, which means it's my turn. I could almost cackle. Oh, he'll regret this yet.
"Yes. We arrived together," I say firmly, poise filling out my jelly limbs. The ire of the room presses against me a little more and I hold up my hands. "But don't jump to conclusions. I'm just here as press."
Past gossip subjects roll their eyes. There are many in this room who'd like to kill me whether I'm with Potter or not.
The whispering doesn't cease. "Lindy always did say Clemence was full of shit."
I draw myself up despite them, spreading my arms out. "Now, now, you can't expect Witchy Business to not be on the scene when Albus Potter is auctioning a date to the highest bidder."
The clamor reaches its highest pitch. Three thuds sound against the floor.
Albus snorts. "I am not—"
"Five galleons!" shouts a squeaky voice.
His smirk drops like an anvil. It's almost cute. "Hold on, there's no auction. She's lying."
A dark, curly-haired girl by the refreshments table stands up on a chair, galleons in both hands. "Seven galleons!"
Two girls take him by the arm, squabbling loudly over who would get which limbs if they pooled their money. I swivel on my heel, grinning as the scuffle of purses and bank notes overtake the room.
"Do I hear ten galleons?" Watch and learn from an expert, Potter.
At the edge of my eye, I catch sight of Hogwarts' latest author Appy weaving through the throngs. "Fifteen galleons!" she shouts. I almost hate her a little less.
Albus continues to protest, but the only person listening is himself. No one gives a damn whether I'm lying or whether I actually have any authority to be an auctioneer; Albus Potter is now being sold by the power of the good ol' democracy.
God, I love it when people listen to me.
"Fifteen galleons! Do I hear twenty?" I'm on fire; someone hand me a gavel. If the reporting thing doesn't pan out, I can do this full time. "Fifteen going once!"
The murmuring grows, and I hear the counting of money. Behind Appy, a girl swathed in a Team Dom shirt jumps up and down with a twenty-galleon note clutched between her fingers. "Twenty!"
"Sandra!" The name escapes Appy's throat in a strangled squeak as she whirls toward her, hair frizzing out of her headband. "How dare you outbid me! You know the rules; Albus is mine!"
"Bite me, bitch!" She flips her hair in a most violent manner, knocking out a Ravenclaw behind her. "I said twenty galleons!"
Their squabble proceeds in increasing shrillness as Appy demands her excommunication quill. I'd tell her it's a Catholic thing, but Q.G.A. is practically a religion and, well, this is bloody hilarious. I need to come to this bash every year.
I smirk at Potter, who's been trying to back out of the room only to be jostled back in. But like love and obsession, power does funny things. Pickett is right; I'm not infallible. It is one thing to be the triumphant trickster and another to play god. The crowd is teetering at the edge of a hurricane and I, at its reins, forget the force I'm dealing with.
Without warning, lightning strikes from a Gryffindor that looks no older than twelve. She's barreling over the seats, pigtails flying and kicking people in the face as she fights through the pack. "Forget the auction! Just grab him!"
It only takes one girl.
From murmurs to shouts, the crowd turns en masse and I'm yanked out of my high. Albus' utters a very loud, "Fuck," as a circle of groping hands close around us.
Sharp, fake nails digs into my cheek. "Oi! I am not Potter!" I screech, slapping them away. I could really use a gavel right now. I'm shoved along with him in the tangle of limbs. The mob has Potter by the shirt—well, they have him by the everything. Hogwarts has got a lot of torture devices, but drawing and quartering by fan girls is a new one.
Just when I think Potter's a sure goner, the bottom half of his shirt's buttons burst open and little Charlotte, who's clinging by the hem, trips. Like bowling pins, she takes down a whole stack of girls with her. He tears free, shirt open and sans tie, and the momentary confusion is enough for me to elbow my assailants away and escape after him.
Next thing I know, we're both bolting to the entrance as if our lives depended on it—probably because it does—and while I'd like to imagine it's a thrilling chase a la Bonnie and Clyde, we more likely resemble two squawking Christmas turkeys.
He's struggling to buckle his belt. "This is all your fault!"
Me? "You took off the bloody cloak in the first place! I hate to say I told you so—oh wait, no I don't!" I gesture wildly behind us. "I told you so, Potter!"
We're out the double doors, but there's not a moment to waste. Albus makes a sharp turn to the left and nearly runs into a girl walking from the library. She yelps as his arm glances off her stack of books. When Muggles Attack falls off the top.
"Sorry! Excuse me!" he calls over his shoulder, and she curses at us in Spanish.
I glance behind us. A bottleneck has formed at the ballroom's double doors, but it'll only buy us a few seconds. Never has there ever been so much drool and so few brains in one spot. Of all of Pickett's conspiracy theories, I never expected zombie invasion to be a legitimate concern. Couldn't they at least be—I don't know—the slow, lumbering kind?
Albus is still wasting his breath trying to stomach the situation. "I didn't have a girlfriend last month and they weren't this bad!"
He is trying to explain the unexplainable. "That was last month; some of them can barely deal with wearing last month's clothes!" Pumping my legs faster, I try to keep up his ridiculously long stride. "What now?"
His black mop of hair whips around. "How am I supposed to know?"
"You prepared to blackmail me, but you can't prepare for this?" I start wheezing, gulping in air. Snark's unfortunately not an efficient use of lungs either. I glance at his clenched hand, where his fingers slip in and out of view. "What about the cloak?"
My lungs are burning; this is not time to play you-can-run-but-you-can't-hide. If he's waiting for somewhere safe to stop, he isn't going to find it anywhere on the ground floor. There's too much open space and, even with traffic so slow, too many witnesses. Albus skids on his heels as he swings around the north-end corridor. I do the same, catching sight of a wide-eyed Sean Blackbury.
I hear the Hufflepuff captain bellow, "CODE PINK!" as I dash past. Ahead, his mates jolt alert like rabbits, knocking into each other. They scatter in different directions and holler the same warning.
In front of me, the prized hare is still in the running and the distance between us is growing larger.
"Keep up!" Albus growls. He reaches the end of the hall and looks left and right, finally choosing the latter direction. I hear a sharp exclamation, then I spot mangy-haired Professor Babbling picking up her dropped set of runes when I zoom around the corner seconds later.
"Mr. Potter! Button your shirt!" she calls after us.
Albus slows down just long enough for me to catch up. "Sorry, Professor! There's sort of a—a situation!" he pants. "I'm very sorry, but—"
I send him a look, which he responds with a glare, which seems to be the expression stuck on his face for the moment. Yes, we have a situation or how about an understatement with an underline, Potter? There is a running of the cows in the halls of Hogwarts and we are wearing big red flags—this is no time for courtesy.
A first year leaps into view behind Babbling, followed by three more girls. Instincts kicking in, I shove Albus ahead and restart our flight.
As we turn the corner, I hear the Professor's scolding. "Girls! Girls! Explain yourselves!"
The tidal wave of footsteps grind to a screeching halt. Out of view, Albus and I stop for a grateful moment. I rest my forehead against a wall that I swear is the most comfortable surface I've ever felt.
Unfortunately, the twin voices of Edna and Ella Burton interrupt my short-lived hope.
"Professor, since Q.G.A. is a registered Hogwarts club—"
"—we consider this activity a peaceful protest—"
"—specifically, we demand Mr. Potter's presence—"
"—and we're fully within our rights—"
I don't even need to hear the rest; I know exactly what subsection of the rule book they were pulling. "Damn aspiring lawyers," I mutter. Loopholes are a fickle friend, good and fun until they noose around my own neck. "Seriously Potter, and you complain about the things I drag you into—"
A draft chills my right arm and I whirl around to see Hogwarts' beloved celebrity having already fled down the hall. Just before he disappears around the bend, he sticks his tongue at me.
"Oh, real mature!"
My aching legs spring into action as soon as I hear a very confused Professor Babbling say, "Er, all right. Carry on?" and a split-second later, the stampeding footsteps restart.
When I reach the landing where Albus disappeared, I see no sign of him, but I'm nearly home free. I stumble down the staircase, catching myself on the railing as my foot snags on the rug. With my calves stretched to the point of no return, the common room is so close but so far away.
A hawk-like squeal cuts through the air. So this is what it's like to be the sickly gazelle. On occasion, I've wondered about what goes through their mind when they fall away from their herd. It's quite similar to Hogwarts friendship circles. Bonded for ten years, made our pacts in the watering hole, but you'll still let me get mauled by a cheetah.
I knew I should've done more cardio.
Potter's floating head appears at the edge of my sight. Before I can say anything, he yanks me into the shadows.
I don't have the strength fight him even if I want to. He twists my arm around him and pulls the cloak over us, his lips grazing my collarbone in the wordless tumult. My eyes fly open, meeting his shadowed gaze as he pushes me back, and I'm sandwiched between a tapestry and him, a flicker of torchlight revealing the inappropriate thrill embedded in his pupils.
It is, I think as I swallow hard, just a little too appealing for my comfort.
I shift against the rough fabric behind me—and Potter's very bare chest. Focus flickering, I manage to root my attention at the ominous shapes descending the staircase.
The first girl I see is foaming at the mouth and taking the term crazy-eyes to a whole new level. The next one seems normal until her giggle turns into a cackle that could make werewolves curl. Lovely. Hogwarts is not only churning out girls with a twisted concept of how to approach boys, but stage five stalkers and the literal voice of evil. And Beauxbatons says we aren't diverse enough.
"I should throw you out there," Albus whispers. His hand curves around my elbow. "Teach you a lesson." His exhales tickle the skin where his lips grazed, making it blaze red-hot, and I shudder involuntarily. "You might hate this hysteria but you're too selfish to stop it. Without them, Witchy Business is nothing. They're your stories and your readership. Who you compare yourself to. How else can you put yourself above them?"
My glare hardens. He knows he's struck something.
"That auction trick felt nice, didn't it? Your own flock hanging onto your every word. You thrive on it."
He wants me to admit it—to plead—but I won't give him the satisfaction. "Just do it," I spit. "Cast me out." I jut a staunch chin upwards and resist flinching even as Foaming-Crazy-Eyes looks straight at us through the cloak's shimmering folds.
Albus only smiles. "You're lucky I'm nice."
I spare a few breaths to chuckle. He doesn't have it in him. For all his accusations of me being just talk, so is he. What a Gryffindor. "Playing chivalrous now? That's rich."
He parts his lips as if to laugh along, but they pause, open, lingering above mine. "Come on, Fitzgerald. We both know you like me better when I'm bad."
The word glides from his breath onto my tongue. He traces his thumb along a ridge of my stretched neck, and I have to bite my lip to stop a mortifying noise from escaping.
He knows all too well how to strike. Perfected it at some point over the past week. It's not the deranged droves that'll take me down nor the threat of losing power that I gained too easily in the first place. It's cracking into my self-control.
I shouldn't look down, especially not with the danger-equals-excitement quotient on a high—but I can't help it. Light outlines a hard span of muscle and a blaze of heat colors my already-flushed cheeks. I might not be shy but Potter is clothing-deficient, pressed against me, and the subject of multiple fantasies I do not want to revisit. Peeking is not amongst my wiser decisions, next to trying to auction him off.
Just as quickly as my eyes glanced down, they go up and stay up, focusing on the smattering of girls scurrying past. A bespectacled Hufflepuff nearly trips into the invisibility cloak. She swoons onto a friend's shoulder, her batty grin leering inches away.
"I've brought my bucket list along. Let's do number five first."
"Watch Albus play single-player strip poker?" Her friend squeals, dancing on her lavender flats. "Then number twenty three!"
"Is that one still legal in this country?"
Albus shifts almost imperceptibly, not even a sliver closer, but it abruptly fractures my focus. Then he does it again—could he just stand still? Stop breathing? Existing? My now-regrettably brilliant observation skills are working hard at feeling every bit of him against my body.
"Something wrong?" he murmurs.
"Besides the fact that society allow these menaces to breed?"
"I don't mean about that."
"Fine, you caught me staring. Flatter yourself. Whatever." Streaks of skirts and hair blur behind him. "Just shut up before someone hears us."
"So don't make a sound."
My throat constricts on cue as he leans in and rests his forehead against mine. Sweat drips from the tips of his hair and the air is thick with a salty-sweet tang. The next heave of my chest almost propels me forward—where did that come from?
I don't notice when the final footsteps fade away. Silence gusts through the hall until we are left with only the vital sounds of our hearts and lungs.
"We should stay for awhile to be safe. For a few minutes, at least," Albus says, and the familiarity of our situation hits me as the dressing-room encounter worms its way into the forefront of my thoughts.
Merlin knows how long a few minutes will stretch this time.
A/N Well, invisibility cloaks certainly are fun. Cough. I don't know what's with me and writing really long single scenes, but I suppose I'm rolling with it for the moment. They can just keep talking forever for the mo. I drew a bit of this chapter, too, as some of you may have seen! And I've planned a few more etc. doodles when I have time~
But alas, finals ;A; I spent my break hours yesterday finishing this, so I hope it doesn't seem too rushed. I just wanted to put something out before exams kill me. It'd be super lovely if you leave some reviews, a bit of pre-exam joy and all that. I probably won't be able to answer any until later this week, so I'm not ignoring them.
The conclusion to the twirly-mustache bad!Potter's plotting will be coming soon to an archive near you~
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