Chapter 11 : He Tempts Me, He Tempts Me Not
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Unless you're a seer—and Hogwarts' own Divination professor can't predict dinner even when there's a menu involved—at some point our lives, we stop and ponder, how did I get here?
How did I become a Hogwarts name, despised and adored? How have I lasted so far with mere printing presses on my side? How have I managed to avoid the minefield of bad decisions known as adolescence until now when it matters most? How did that all lead here, me beneath Albus, our roles reversed, him as the aggressor?
And there are people who wonder why I hate rhetorical questions.
The fact that I can count the numbers of bones in his ribcage right now is irrelevant; what matters is that I am. It goes one, two, three, four, stop fucking moving. It's the edge of the cliff, one step to infatuation. Just because my brand of obsessing doesn't involve cuddling a Potter doll to sleep doesn't mean it's healthy. Pardon the ice queen platitude, but emotion is distraction.
Heat pulses from his body, and I bite the inside of my lip until I can almost taste blood. Remember where you are. A passage in the middle of school, corralled into a corner by literal desperation. This has to be the most unattractive setting ever, next to a broom cupboard.
"You should give me a little breathing room," I mutter when I'm certain that I can open my mouth without embarrassing myself.
But he knows. He can feel it—my heart beating out of my chest into his—and like a guillotine, his smile hangs above me. "I'm not the one holding on."
My hand is still behind his back, holding a fistful of his shirt, which also explains why the fabric is so stretched and why I'm enduring so much of his bare chest. When I'm my worst enemy, I really put up a fight. Staving off a sharp inhale, I shove Albus away, my nails inadvertently biting into his skin. He flinches but he's otherwise too busy being bloody amused by this whole episode. Wiping his forehead, he looks me up and down. Take your time, please; I'll be here all day at this rate. Certainly feels like it.
The space gives me the chance to pluck a fold of the cloak and walk around to the middle of the corridor. The stampede has passed and though I don't take chances, I'm not standing against that wall a second longer. If I only paid more attention to him when I was looking for that non-existent girlfriend. He was still careless back then.
Albus drags his thumb across edge of his mouth, pinching above his chin thoughtfully. "So what do you say, Fitzgerald?"
"Taking down the Q.G.A."
So while I'm here having a crisis with a renegade libido, he's scheming—about a bunch of girls he wasn't pressed up against, no less. Bravo, quirkers: you're in his thoughts. Dream fulfilled. I can't help but scoff knowing how he first treated me. "To think I marked you as another delusional idealist."
Something in his expression lights up at my comment. He tries to circle around me, but I turn with him. I won't give him a single chance. "I marked you as a cold-hearted bitch, but now you're—" He frames his chin between his thumb and index finger, arching a brow. "Nope, still a cold-hearted bitch. So, your answer?"
"Stop trying. I mean it. Your plans are just a little fanciful."
"You're saying you won't get the slightest satisfaction from seeing this school's reign of idiocy fall? Appy the author get her due?"
So Appy's getting published. I ought to be above jealousy. Who am I to judge someone else's success? I've got enough goals on my own plate: world-famous journalist by the end of the decade, queen of the world by the next. But, part of me reasons, Appy already has too much influence. I've tolerated living with her; all I ask is for her to not be the voice of this generation, but she is unfortunately what publishers call marketable. Her taste is all over her bookshelf. Poodles, cliques, chisel-cheeked blokes, and Fifi Lafolle with her banal titles. Anyone who thinks that isn't instant money should to walk into a bookstore and tell me they can't spot the wee witches section from a mile away. Hot pink and lilac covers and girls running through forests wearing gravity-defying dresses from the wrong era.
Without my regular quill, I twirl a loose strand of my hair and tuck that behind my ear instead. I ought to be above it, so I will be. "Despite what you may assume, I honestly don't care enough to bring down the Q.G.A.," I say with a sniff.
"That's always your problem, isn't it?"
"I'm sorry, maybe you missed my job title." I draw a line across my imaginary name tag. "Reporter, writer, professional bitch. Where does it say I'm a saboteur?" My eyes light up in mock surprise. "That's right—it doesn't!"
Without warning, he advances one step and his words lunge forward with him. "You just can't be arsed. You're too occupied with your cushy little seat behind the printing press."
I raise a finger, sharp as a foil. "It's actually a rather hard stool—“
"Why don't you actually make a change for once?"
Don't dare mask this with principles. "Because it's their lives, crazy or not. Ever hear of meddling, Potter?"
The lines in his brow fold like fault lines, and I bristle as he leans in, the hanging ends of his shirt brushing against my arm. "But you spared a little effort to ruin me and Scorpius?"
"Are you're still on that?" His dour expression remains unchanged and—I don't care how inappropriate the timing is or how my hair becomes a static mess under this cloak—I throw my head back and laugh. "Honestly, once something's old news, it's old news. You're the only one bringing it up again." To be fair, I milked ‘Albus + Scorpius = Secret Lovers?’ for all it was worth. I'm almost disappointed it didn't turn out to be true. Would've got the girls off his back, too.
I can hear the thump of footsteps in the adjoining hallway as Albus' stare trembles at the corner, and for the first time in too long, he's hesitant.
"You could've wrecked his life."
Every chip into his composure tilts my head another length. "What about yours?"
"I don't give a shit about what your paper says about me."
"Chivalrous again, I see. I'll hold you to that."
"Scorpius has got enough trouble now that Rose and Dom have gone mad. You don't help."
Another eye roll to quash all other eye rolls. "What do you want? An apology? Sorry I inconvenienced your life a year ago. There, happy? No, you're never happy." The jab stings as it leaves my lips. I shan't take these slip-ups for granted anymore. Our bitter war—mostly verbal and sometimes more—has come to a head.
For one slow moment, I stop and think. Thinking is never overrated. Unlike sabotage, thinking is in my job description. Everyone makes up stories, to convince others or to convince ourselves, and I have to filter truth from fiction. Taking down the fangirl legion might be a battle of pride on my end and Albus can tempt me that way, but it's personal for him. He thirsts to prove that good will triumph and as a bonus, a few less girls will bother him. He'd treat it no differently than taking down Witchy Business.
We trade sides as I shift into action. Forcing my heart to slow, I splay my fingers across his bare chest and claim it as my pulpit.
"You know why you're never happy, Potter? Because you won't let the world be. Every bad thing can be fixed. Maybe not the whole world just yet. Start small. Start at Hogwarts."
My hand creeps up. His throat moves stiffly as he swallows.
"What's wrong? I thought you liked little psychology lessons." But I know the warmth of his skin is the only thing that stopping me from trembling, and I steel myself before I go on. "There's so much you want to change. The girls on your tail. Your cousins. A certain editor of a gossip newspaper." I let the words dance in my smile. "But I'm not yours to fix and neither are they."
His voice is but a harsh whisper. "You don't know my mind."
"Maybe, but what... is in your heart?" My tracing finger stops at the center of the beating drum. "The difference between me and you? I don't let it get in my way."
"Is that your excuse to be heartless?"
"I know the consequences of being who I am. Do you?"
The stuffy quiet underneath the cloak is running out of air and my breathing grows shallow like his. I wonder when Potter first learned that he'd have play dirty to get what he wants—and oh, he's greedy. Even now, his fist is clenched and inside is the idea that he's doing the right thing by taking down the Q.G.A., because otherwise, he'd have to face the fact that he's no different from me.
My fingers retract, and I glance at my wrist. "Ah look, a few minutes are up. It's been a nice date. Maybe we can do it again. Owl me."
His grip wraps around my wrist. "We're not done here."
I try to pull away, but Albus doesn't give.
"I can scream bloody murder," I say mildly.
"I think that'll harm you more than it'll harm me, or have you forgotten you're now a wanted woman?" Albus lets go, but the frown remains. Marred by my speech, it's not cocky like before, but something new has replaced it. "Maybe you should let today sink in. Those girls have seen us together. All they'll remember is that they couldn't get their hands on me—but you could, couldn't you?"
Remembering that rabid pack makes me gulp a little. Remembering that I live with one makes me want to sleep with a wand in each hand tonight.
"Those girls can't think that far," I chuckle. "I'm pretty sure some of them can't connect dots even when they're numbered."
"You know as well as I do that they're not stupid." He follows my blithe tone with his own. "I'm shocked, Fitzgerald. Is this just your famous apathy at work or are you that blind?"
"Is this a threat?" Drawing myself up, I search Albus' eyes, green as ever, a complement to devil red. He's still just an angry boy who scorns me. Can't get anything he wants, so he takes what he can get.
"If it were a threat, why would I be worried?"
"About you. Surprised?" We maintain an inch gap between us, waiting for someone to close the distance, breathe a little harder, as our chests move in sync. "If I wanted to ruin you, I would've kissed you in that room in front of all of them. Sealed your fate."
“I think you still want to," I say, narrowing my eyes.
"It'd be nice if you cared but that's not my concern right now. Right now, you need to get your head out of your arse and see that you're fucked on your own and I’m offering protection." The taut lines on Albus' face suddenly subside. "I wanted to teach you a lesson, but unlike some people, I do care about wrecking someone's life. Giving you this chance is the least I can do. Destroy the Q.G.A. before they destroy you."
"Word of advice on chivalry and intricate revenge schemes: choose one, not both."
The lines tighten. "This isn't a joke."
"Let me guess," I say, making space to cross my arms because he refuses to move. "You never expected me to say no to your plan. If I go down trying to destroy the Q.G.A., I'm just a casualty of war. But if I said no and I go down because of these girls, then it's your fault for setting this up, and you'll never be able to stand the guilt because you haven't learned"—I loosen one hand and jab at his heart—"to control this. So don't pretend that you care. You're protecting yourself."
Albus inhales sharply underneath my finger.
"Right, you're even more of a bastard than I suspected." I cock my head to the side, giving him my most acrid smile. "On second thought, don't owl me."
I turn on my heel.
"Clemence." My first name sounds strange on his tongue, and it almost stops my exit.
I send him a wave over my shoulder as I lift the edge of the cloak up. "Toodle-loo."
Albus grabs my arm. "Clemence."
He spins me around, but where I expect another physical tango, his touch curled under my chin is too light, and though our bodies don't meet, I tense from head to toe.
He shifts from one foot to the other and the trail of his gaze stops at my mouth. Drawing his thumb up the center of my throat, his breath weighs heavy above my lips. Even now, we taunt: who will give first? I know the collision is coming yet I do not move, and I wonder—my last thought before my mind blanks—which organ has betrayed me.
He doesn't care about winning this time.
His mouth folds over mine, slow and soft, and the hand underneath my chin pulls me closer. My fingers flutter to his side at the scraps of fabric, and our resulting entanglement is my fault as much as it is his.
We sink into each other, a mad whirl to our steps, and I nearly don't catch the approaching voices, but a girlish giggle breaks the air and I gasp and break off the kiss. I don't get a second to think again, not even to fear the mob's return, before Albus has me against the wall, mouth on my neck. Fevered skin to fevered skin, the suffocating ache of his frame presses against mine as I arch my back. The dressing room incident that haunted me for so long wasn't close to this. We cling, hands roaming, wild because of something like lust or hate. Perhaps we're more like each other than we'll ever know.
As the footsteps near, my hand finds its way to the collar of his shirt, yanking it down just to keep my hold, while his sweat-slicked palms clamber down from my shoulders to my waist and bunch the fabric. An icy shock of stone brushes bare skin and my exclaim is smothered by his kiss.
"Did you hear that?"
"Ghost, probably. Dead creepers."
Those voices shake me from my fervor, if only for a moment. They're two quirky girls, probably returning to their rooms, and they remind me why I'm here and how I got here and why I should have left when I had the chance. That traitorous feeling like lust or hate falls to the latter side, and despite the need searing on my lips, I know that Albus still despises me and the part of him that feels anything for me.
Heartless as I am, blinded as he may call me, a swift repulsion jerks me back into control and sick taste fills my mouth.
As soon as the voices are gone, I wriggle from Albus' hold and shove him away. This time, he's shaken, panting haggardly, and I've even drawn blood at the side of mouth. Even when I shut my eyes, I can't help but memorize his flash of pain when I turn away and whisper hoarsely, “Piss off.”
Albus doesn't stop me when I leave the cloak.
I follow the only path down the hall that I know. Lifting the third tapestry past the Potions classroom, I find the newsroom door already cracked open. When I reach for the knob, I notice my whole body is shaking.
I dig my nails into the door frame. It won't stop.
The occupants' quiet murmurs are barely audible. "God, have you seen the way she looks at me? Like she's ashamed we share any blood. And it's not like I've done anything with Scorpius. People gossip what they want. I just don't correct them."
"You encourage it. That's doing something."
It's Dom and Pickett.
It's almost sweet, how gentle they seem. Contrasts with everything else I've seen today. With a deep inhale, I use it to anchor my sense. The cool air sobers my mind almost too quickly, sending me into another daze.
"Why must you always contradict me?" Dom says it almost teasingly.
"Someone has to. Listen to yourself. Listen to how hard you're trying to justify yourself."
"...I'm not crazy, am I?"
"We all have our blind spots."
I glance up and realize I'm intruding when see Dom and Pickett sitting side-to-side, arms touching. At that moment, Dom glances over her shoulder and notices me.
She springs out of her seat so fast, I almost jump back, even though she's across the room. "Clemence? Are you all right?"
Pickett turns around, his face shaping into the same concern.
My mouth leaps to say, ‘Of course I'm fine. Never been better. I could be as happy as flippin' Appy.’ But a single notes falters and that's all it takes to give myself away.
"No... I don't think I am."
A/N Made it under three weeks! You're probably all tired of them under a cloak now, but I hope you guys like how that 'date' of theirs ultimately ended. Much thanks to Julia and Annie for looking this over. (Oh, that bit on the wee witches bookshelves -- In real life, I call it the 'pinkification' of YA fiction.)
There's a little bit of everything coming up, and I'm not sure which will get addressed first, but lots of dastardly things to be sure! Appy swoops in with dramatic music.
Appy seems satisfied with this and the second interrogation of the night seems over until I sit up again, and she suddenly takes me by the throat. My next breath dies in a constricted squeak. Never mind: murder metaphors completely justified.
"I know we're not the closest of friends, but... you wouldn't hide anything from me, would you, Clemence?"
please tell me what you think! ♥ Also, I have a new oneshot up! It's been very long since I've written one. If you'd like, check it out :)
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