Chapter 41 : Hero
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After I left the dormitory, I didn’t know where to go… So I went nowhere.
I wandered, weaving through corridors, riding the moving staircases, completely aimless. It was around dinner time so the hallways were strangely empty. The closer you got to the Great Hall, the louder you could hear the din of carefree students, chatting, eating, clattering their plates. The sound made me feel oddly lonely.
I was aware that I was basically doing my Prefect’s patrol when it wasn’t even time to do Prefect’s patrol, and that this meant my life had taken a very pathetic turn, but I didn’t care. Shoes clacking down the hallway, I walked and walked and walked, my fingers brushing the uneven stone walls.
Eventually, without me realizing it, my feet had taken me to the DADA classroom. After a quick preliminary check for any Professor Nott sightings, I shoved the door open with my shoulder, SWAT team style.
It was dark and dusty inside. Coughing, I fumbled frantically for my wand. When it was out and I’d wheezed a hasty Lumos, I could finally see again.
The desks and chairs looked so empty, it was creepy. The blackboard was swiped clean. Nott was nowhere to be found.
But I hadn’t come for any of that. No. Immediately, my eyes had fallen on the tiny display case in the corner, covered by a black silk curtain that was blending inconspicuously into the background.
The Sword of Gryffindor.
Professor Nott, because he’s a supersized prat, had told us the first day we got back to class that that tiny, innocuous case was home to one of the world’s most famous artifacts. Yup. The Sword. And then he proceeded to tell us that under no circumstances would he ever lift up the curtain, because if the sword was on full display for even a second, everyone would be too distracted to work.
Which of course meant that everyone was too distracted to work - because the challenge of that tiny display case was just too tempting to resist. During class, kids would keep stealing glances at it. Some even went so far as to trying to magick off the curtain while Nott wasn’t looking. However, the silk proved uncharm-able, unjinx-able, and also flame resistant (although the unfortunate Ravenclaw sitting in front of it was, quite sadly, not).
But now that there was no one here, I was free to just walk on right over and whisk the thing off.
Sounded too easy, right?
That’s because it was.
According to Hogwarts Legend (aka Hufflepuff Gossip Missy Donovan), Nott charmed the silk so that whoever touched it would have their fingerprints turned red for the rest of the year. Obviously, there was no guarantee this was the truth (after all, Missy once claimed that she was preggers with the second-coming of Voldemort), but it’d been enough to ward me off for the past few weeks.
But now? I was done with being scared. Besides - didn’t I kind of have the right? I mean, I was the one who saved the sword in the first place. They should have just given me the fucking thing so that I could hang it over my bed or, I don’t know, use it as a paperweight or something! It was basically my sword!
Jaw gritted with determination, I swiftly strode forward, weaving through desks until I reached the case. And then - before I could even think about backing down - I was grabbing the cool silk and yanking it off and... there it was.
I don’t know what I expected - alarms to sound, Nott to pop out from behind the trashcan and scream ‘BUSTED!’ - but it definitely wasn’t what happened.
Which is, to say: nothing.
The sword just sat there, in its glass case, the rubies on the hilt still twinkling even through the two-inch thick glass, even in the murky light of my wand.
Chewing on my lip, I reached out to graze the case with my fingers (which were still, thankfully, normal person colored). It was strange to think that, last month, I’d been holding that thing while running for my life. And here we both were now, inside the castle, (relatively) safe and sound.
Seeing the Sword again - without an adrenaline rush surging through my body, without the prospect of impending death on my heels - made me feel... well, incredibly stupid, actually. I’d expected some sort of life-changing moment - an aura of enlightenment to settle over me, maybe some deep and all-knowing voice to start chanting my destiny - but strangely enough, breaking and entering into your teacher’s classroom after hours to stare at a historical artifact doesn’t do any of that. It just makes you feel like a huge nerd.
I mean, this sword was causing a huge fuss with everyone... And at the end of the day, it was just a piece of metal, right? Some precious gemstones here, a Gryffindor name there... But when you get down to it, just another scrap of the past. And last month, I’d been waving it around like a lunatic.
But that night at the Ministry, the sword had - for lack of better word - chosen me. Not Potter. Not Aidan. Me.
I turned away, grimacing. Eff that. I was done with this stupid mystical bullshit. So the sword chose me. Big deal. Didn’t mean anything. It wasn’t like it did it... on purpose, or anything. The sword probably thought I was some ballsy Gryffindor - which was a good bet, seeing as I had red hair at the time, and red hair equals Weasley, and Weasley equals Gryffindor - and there you have it: a case of mistaken identity and instant celebrity status for moi.
Just a classic example of wrong place, wrong time. Or, as I like to call it: my entire life.
Frustrated, I was just about to turn to leave when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something.
A piece of paper on Nott’s desk. I wouldn’t have noticed it in any other classroom. But this is Nott we’re talking about. He has a very progressive style of teaching - and by progressive, I mean he sits at his desk all day and watches us do reading homework and occasionally falls asleep. Nott never has notes or papers of any kind.
But this little, white slip... It was just lying there. In plain sight.
So I picked it up, turned it over, and almost peed my pants in the process.
Because etched on that scrap of paper was a tiny drawing of two diamonds.
My mind immediately flashed to a darkened hallway, torches flickering malevolently on the wall, the smallest glimpse of an ankle and the tattoo of a design of two, identical diamonds.
That night at the Ministry, one of the Death Eaters - Barnes, they’d called him - had a tattoo of two diamonds on his ankle. And now the exact same pattern was on the desk of my DADA teacher.
My skin had erupted into goosebumps. Distantly, I could hear a loud thudding in the background... My heartbeat, I realized. Looking down, I saw that I was clenching the paper so hard it was starting to rip.
My mind was still whirring frantically as I tried to make sense of the situation when - thanks to Dom’s magic coin in my back pocket - my butt burned.
This really needed to stop happening.
“AHHH!” I’m not ashamed to admit it - I screamed. I’d been so on edge—probably thanks to the whole, you know, finding out my teacher’s trying to kill me thing—that the slightest shock was enough to send me into spaz mode.
Cursing wildly, I fumbled for the coin, practically ripping my jeans pocket off in the process. “Freddy, thank Merlin you called - “ I began, fully suspecting a head of curly hair and a mischievous grin. The words died in my mouth, however, when I saw scruff and gruff instead.
“Hello.” It was a man. (On that note, watch while I blow you away with my amazing observational skills.) He had white stubble and wrinkles creasing his face, and he looked thoroughly unenthused with life. “Are you Agatha?”
“Um,” I said. My voice sounded meek even to my own ears. I was still trying to process everything that had happened, and now this? Gotta say, life is just really handing out the surprises today. And there’s nothing wrong with that, usually. I like surprise... Just a different kind. Like the ‘male models jumping out a birthday cake’ kind. Not strange calls from old men.
“We’re going to need you to come down here,” he grunted. “We have your brother.”
My first thought was: oh great, Aidan’s been kidnapped by Eastern European sex traffickers and now I’m going to have to sell my kidney to get money for his ransom. This day just keeps getting better and better!
And then I realized that a) I was being paranoid, b) the guy didn’t have an accent and c) he was still waiting for me to respond.
“Er, yes, sorry?” I cleared my throat, peering closer into the coin. “And why exactly is that?”
The man gave me a very flat look that told me he would rather be doing anything but this. “I’m a bartender at Club Incendio in Hogsmeade. Your brother is inebriated and acting like a menace to our patrons. He's been calling for you, and if you have any interest at all in him being at home instead of drunkenly wandering the streets all night, then you should probably drop by.”
And with that, the line zapped out and the mirror blinked into darkness.
Ten minutes and some heated haggling with The Fat Lady later, I was standing outside the door to the Fifth Year Gryffindor Boy’s Dormitory.
Two minutes and some very persistent knocking later, I was face to face with a slightly irritated, sleepy-looking Potter.
“I would say this isn’t a good time, but that implies that there is ever a good time. And we all know good times are not involved whenever we see each other,” was Potter’s charming greeting when his eyes first landed on me. That plus him trying to slam the door in my face immediately after was enough to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Quickly, I slipped my foot in the little crack between the door and the frame just before they met. Now, I could only see a fraction of Potter’s face. A fraction, yes, but still a very annoyed fraction.
“Har dee har. Aren’t you just a bowl of Happy-O’s today? Let me in.” My voice was icy and commanding, my gaze narrowed. Something inside me knew that I had to get Potter to let me in. This was more than a stupid argument - my pride was at stake here.
Potter gave a very wry smile. “I would, but we just got everything cleaned and, well, who knows what kind of alien brain diseases you’ve brought over from Planet Weirdo? Best not to risk letting you in and contaminating everything, yeah?”
“Whatever ‘alien brain diseases’ I’m infected with, you’d probably have gotten a long time ago when you snogged me,” I spat caustically, feeling the last of my patience completely disappear to god-knows-where. Probably the same place my sanity went at the start of the year.
I hope they’re having a good time together.
Potter betrayed no sign of surprise at this other than a slight eyebrow raise; he obviously hadn’t expected me to pull out that card. But hey - he was being a prat. I mean, you’d think he’d be walking on eggshells around me out of pity, seeing as we’d just “broken up.” But pity (and human emotion in general) was never Potter’s thing, I guess.
“That explains why I’m still standing here and willingly talking to you - a sure sign of insanity. See you around, Bennett,” he said coolly, once again trying to shut the door. But my foot - despite its measly size six burden - held strong.
“I’m not leaving. I’ll wait out here all night.” I cocked a hip, smiling sardonically.
“Too bad you’re the most impatient person I know.” Potter’s returning smile was just as cold. “Goodbye, Bennett.”
He gave one final push and my foot gave way, slipping out of the crack at the exact same time as I blurted, “It’s Aidan.” It was my last and only shot, and I was desperate. “He’s in trouble.”
Potter froze. I could practically hear all the gears in his brain, clicking and shifting into overdrive. “What?”
You might’ve been wondering, throughout all this, why I was subjecting myself to Potter’s snark and slow deconstruction of my self-esteem. So, well, there you have it. Aidan. The main reason for many of the stupid mistakes I make in life (if that’s what you want to call leading a Death Eater chase through the Ministry of Magic. But, you know, only if you’re into labels and stuff).
Years of sneaking Aidan into our house after summer parties have helped me learn that my brother is a heavy one. Like, he may look all lean and light and perfect-Seeker’s-build on the outside, but that kid is hard as fuck to pick up. It’s no fun carting him around, especially if you don’t actually have a cart to put him in, and instead have to use your weak and unathletic biceps, which are only ever used during Gobblestone Club or when the telly remote is extremely out of reach.
If I’m picking up my brother tonight and dragging (and yes, chances are it will be literally dragging) him all the way back to the castle, then I better have a partner.
Normally, I’d call Freddy to be back-up, but for obvious reasons, I can’t. Dom would be next on the list, but she’d only agree to come if she could bring the black sharpie marker and camera. Those items, plus my brother’s unconscious face, would not provide for a good time. The thought of asking Evelyn is enough to literally make me laugh out loud. And Ryan...Well, he was a possibility, but I knew he had Prefects’ duty tonight, and if he was ever going to see me all sweaty and out of breath, I’d prefer it to be in different situation and not near my brother’s unconscious body.
So Potter was the logical choice. I didn’t mind that much - his Quidditch muscles would come in handy - but it was just annoying that he was being so cold. Especially after our conversation a couple days ago. I wouldn’t say that him acting like this hurt me or anything... but it was unsettling at the very least. Why couldn’t he just stay civil?
Speaking of... Potter was fixing me with the most searing, scrutinizing stare at the moment - his eyes a toasted gold, expression serious. There was a confused little crease between his eyebrows, and I was schizo enough to, for a split-second, think that he actually looked cute. And then common sense reared its head, and my brain was stamping him with an invisible PRAT seal and all was right in the world again.
Maybe Potter sensed that he’d caught me a little off-guard, because he didn’t try to argue. Instead, he just swung the door open. Composing myself, I straightened my spine and marched into the surprisingly clean room.
“So Aidan’s in this club, probably unconscious, we’re going to need to fetch him, you might want to bring a sweater - “ I was rambling, speaking in curt bullet points as I tried to get the memory of Potter’s stare, hot on my skin, out of my head. “And - oh. Um. Bra. That’s a bra.”
I had screeched to a halt in my tracks and was staring at the floor - or specifically a lacy, female undergarment that was on the floor - regarding it as if I’d never seen one before.
Potter, standing by the doorway, folded his arms and cocked an eyebrow, remaining notably silent. My heart started to do that weird ‘thudding frantically’ thing again.
I turned to him, eyes widened and blinking, not even bothering to come up with something witty. My brain was slowly piecing together the information. Bra. Potter. Girl. Potter. Girl who isn’t me. Potter.
It felt like all the heat was trickling from my face, and my palms were starting to get very sweaty. The words were spilling out my mouth before I could stop them. “Is it yours? The bra? I mean, I’m not asking if it belongs to you specifically, as that be implying that you’re a drag queen, and I know you’re not, I know you’re straight, because of, like, firsthand experience -” Oh God. Cringe. “But like, does the bra belong to a girl who was with you, or just maybe in the area around you, or just - is it yours? Or is the girl yours? Or - “
“It’s not mine, Bennett,” Potter drawled, finally deciding to pull me out of the pool of word vomit I was currently drowning in. His voice was bored and lilting as always, but there was an itch of irritation in his eyes. He looked thoroughly disgusted by the idea. “So you can stop talking now.”
My mouth clamped shut. There was heavy stretch of silence.
“Right,” I said finally, faintly, feeling the warmth start to return to my head. The bra must have been claimed by one of Potter’s manwhore roommates. “Of course. You wouldn’t do that. Duh. I was just - Stupid, I was being stupid. You wouldn’t do that. Anyway - ”
“You do know that, right?,” Potter’s jaw was clenched. He seemed a bit pissed off, actually, that we were on this topic of discussion. “That I wouldn’t do that.”
“I mean, sure - “
“Because I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, of - of course.”
“You know that, yeah?” Potter suddenly got very antsy. He stepped forward, eyes bright and serious, looking like this was a subject of utmost importance. “It has gotten through your incredibly stubborn skull that I’m not that much of an arsehole, right?”
“Right.” All I could do was nod, sounding weak. Potter clamped his mouth shut and looked away - though he still didn’t seem to be satisfied. His hand raked through his hair in a move that was so typical Potter, it made my chest hurt.
There was another awkward silence.
Finally turning back towards me, Potter raised his eyebrows. “Aidan?” he prompted.
My heart was thudding so loud in my chest. The molten amber in Potter’s eyes seemed to crackle as he watched me. “Oh! Right! Erm, well, see - I got this call from a bartender at a Club, and it turns out Aidan’s over there and not doing so great. We have to pick him up.”
“We?” Potter said flatly.
I leveled him with my gaze. Now that I knew Potter wasn’t collecting rebound-chick underwear, I could actually look him in the eye. “I need your help on this one. Please. I know you’re not talking to him for whatever reason - ”
“He’s not talking to me. Apparently I’ve been taking Dom’s side too much as of late. You know how it is, ” Potter sliced in calmly, smoothly, almost apathetically.
“You mean being related to crazy people? Yeah, I know all too well.” Sardonically, I pursed my lips at the thought. “Regardless, he needs our help, and he won’t be doing much talking anyway - or at least talking that doesn’t require a translator from the Nation of Gibberishland. So if I promise interaction will be kept to a minimum, will you go?” At this, I popped by bottom lip out and lowered my lashes, trying to appear as vulnerable as possible. It was a manipulative look that once made Freddy walk three blocks just to get me a fruit smoothie, and it was probably the sole reason I’d ever managed to land in Slytherin.
Potter managed to last all of four seconds until he finally caved. “Fine, fine,” he muttered, turning away, disgruntled. I knew it. Gryffindor instincts - The Look was practically a magnet for them. “Just stop staring at me like that.”
“Like what?” I asked innocently.
Potter just shot me a withering glare and stalked over to his bed, grabbing a Quidditch hoodie off it before marching out the door without another word.
I followed, trying to stifle a grin.
Oh, this was going to be fun.
It took half an hour and approximately five different arguments over directions until we reached Club Incendio.
The club was a seedy looking place, it’s only display a peeling black door with the words ‘Incendio’ slashed across it in dripping magenta paint. No bouncer. No red rope. No cheery welcome mat. Potter and I looked at each other - I couldn’t tell whether the disdain on his face was for me or the place - and then we pushed open the door and walked inside.
Inside, it was like candyland.
But with strippers.
Well, okay, they weren’t so much strippers as waitresses dressed in skimpy outfits, rushing from table to table, carrying bottles that fizzed and popped and shot out golden sparklers. But the place was surreal. Everything was cast in a glow of violet lights, and the music pumped eerily in the background. There were stalactites of glistening crystal, dripping down from the ceiling. The walls were glossy, the tables sleek. On the dancefloor, there was an unidentifiable mass of people grinding together. It was like a clubbing petri dish - except instead of bacteria, all this place bred was bad decisions and rampant alcoholism.
I hightailed it to the bar, which was transparent and glowing purple, without really caring if Potter was following or not. Behind it was the same, ruffled-looking man I had seen in my coin message, mixing a neon drink and seeming so bored with life, I kind of wanted to switch planets just looking at him.
“Um, excuse me - “ I began.
“What do you want?” The man snapped unpleasantly, obviously having none of it. And by it, I mean me talking.
Caught off guard by his angry posterior, I opened my mouth to find that my voicebox had taken a surprise vacation. “Uh...”
Thankfully, this is where Potter decided to slice in. “We’re looking for your Resident Drunk Guy That No One Likes,” he drawled, jaw squared with annoyance. “Is he here?”
The man gave us a withering look, as if this was all somehow our fault, and without saying another word, pointed to a tiny alcove that seemed to hold some kind of VIP table. It was hidden from view by one of those shady bead curtains you see in creepy white vans and movies set in the seventies.
Potter glanced at me, one eyebrow smoothly raised. I shrugged. “Let’s get this over with, yeah?”
We started to make our way forwards, but apparently, the Clubbing Gods had different plans for us. Because before I could even take a single step, there was an ominous rustling from the bead curtain. I froze, my back stiffening - years of watching reruns of Lost were enough for me to know that ominous rustling was never a good thing.
And then, like a bear coming out of the bush to attack some unsuspecting hikers - albeit a very drunk bear - my brother burst into view. His shirt was buttoned the wrong way, so that one side was all scrunched up, and he had a lipstick stain printed blatantly on his neck. Also, he was wearing his pants around his neck like a cape.
“Oh dear,” I mumbled, eyes wide, at the exact same time Potter groaned, “Fucking hell.”
"HAVE NO FEAR, SUPER BRO IS HERE!” My brother bellowed, thrusting his fist into the air and attracting the attention of basically everyone in the club. Oh god. This was the last thing I needed right now. A murderous DADA teacher, a non-ex-boyfriend who hated my guts, and now my brother: the superzero. Wasn’t this just the Holy Trinity of Suckage?
“Aidan—“ I began, but it was a lost cause. Already, my brother was gone – wheeling around and charging into the tangle of people on the dance floor, his pants flapping ridiculously behind him like some sort of deranged flag. Something told me it would be a very long time until we would see him again.
Looking not amused in the slightest, Potter flashed a glance at his watch. “So we have two options. Either we chase Captain NoPantsaround this club and waste about an hour of our lives, or we grab dinner and come back when he’s sufficiently passed out. Now, I forgot my kryptonite and idiot-hunting gear at home – so I like option two. But it’s up to you.”
I turned, surprised. Was Potter really being – gasp – civil to me right now? And asking me to dinner? Part of me wanted to roll my eyes – leave it to him to ask me on a date when we weren’t even dating. But there was another part of me (the bigger, more vocal part) that quite liked the idea of leaving the club with at least some of my pride intact.
I looked around. The bartender was still giving us the stinkeye, but he seemed too busy hating life to try to stop us from leaving. And normally, having dinner with someone who hated me wasn’t something I’d consider a fun time. But given the situation – and the fact that Aidan had formed a circle on the dance floor and was now starting a breakdancing competition at the moment – dinner didn’t sound so bad.
I cocked my head towards the door. “Leggo.”
Potter nodded, pulling his hood over his head, and without sparing a glance in my direction, started walking. I had no choice but to follow – all the while trying to diffuse the Major Agatha Bennett Freak Out that was currently ticking like a timebomb inside me. I was about to have dinner with James Potter. Dinner. With James Potter. Dinner with food. Food that we weren’t going to use to throw at each other, like we would normally, but actually eat. Together.
Potter swung open the metal club door, and I tightened my jacket against the ensuing blast of frigid winter air. Dusk had slathered everything in a brilliant cobalt blue – the snow on the ground glittered with scattered diamonds of light.
It was a beautiful winters night. And I was about to go on an accidental dinner date with James Sirius Potter.
What is life.
After a very silent walk in which I didn’t dare breathe a word, we found the only place that was open at this hour – a grungy looking Chinese Restaurant called The Noodle Niffler.
The restaurant was empty, save for the glowing red lanterns swinging from the ceiling. We were seated by the walking stereotype of all waitresses everywhere – a blonde, bored-looking girl, smacking bubblegum and glaring unpleasantly at anything that moved.
I slid into the pleather booth, trying not to betray my nervousness. Potter – the complete opposite of my high-strung energy – flopped down across from me, stretching out his legs, hands shoved into his hoodie pocket.
The waitress set down our menus, muttered the day’s specials (one of which, if I heard correctly—which I’m pretty sure I did—included the ‘who gives a flying fuck’ chicken) and quickly peaced out.
Then…it was just us.
Potter was staring determinedly at his menu, jaw clenched, expression ‘dark and brooding hero’ with a tinge of ‘sullen preteen getting yelled at by his parents.’ Gingerly, I grabbed a menu, robotically flicking through it while sneaking glances at Potter. It was really unfair how someone so mean could have such nice hair. Seriously. The way it was all tousled without being too messy, a little wet from the snow, sticking up ever so slightly in the back – mean people should not be allowed to have nice hair. It just goes against all basic principles of karma.
You have to keep your cool, Agatha, I reprimanded myself. Don’t let the awkward silence get to you. If Potter wants to be all mysterious and brooding, fine, but you will not start a conversation and make your self-esteem his plaything, you will not you will not you will –
“So how’s it going?”
Potter’s golden eyes flicked up to meet mine. His eyebrows were quirked skeptically, like he almost couldn’t believe I had the nerve to say something in his presence. Slowly, almost systematically, he folded his menu shut, leaning back and crossing his arms. “Well, let’s see, Bennett – it’s a Friday night. I’m sitting in a crappy Chinese restaurant with no heater, freezing my arse off, while my best friend is off frolicking in a strip club, half-naked. Oh, and to top it all off, I’m with you. How do you think I am?
I clenched my draw, boring my eyes into the grainy surface of the table. For a second, there was just silence – and I considered not responding and just letting the prat win. But the thought was so repulsive that immediately my mouth was dropping open and the words were falling off my tongue.
"Oh, right, and this is just a dream come fucking true for me. There might be a million girls out there who’d die for dinner with you – “
“There are,” Potter smirked cockily.
“But I’m not one of them. So don’t flatter yourself.”
There was a heated silence. I was breathing very heavily, nostrils flared, looking all around like a PMS-ing dragon. Potter was unflappable – leveling me with a scrutinizing stare that I did not like at all.
“You can be a right prat, you know that?” I mumbled, looking away, looking anywhere but at him.
“You’ve mentioned,” Potter said – not in a mean way, but not particularly nicely either. He looked away, opening his menu, but the feeling of his amber eyes was still hot on my skin.
"Why?” I demanded. I knew I was pushing it, pushing him, but at this point, I was too fed up to even care. It was time to just throw caution to the wind. “Why can’t we just be civil to each other?”
Potter’s jaw clenched – the only telltale sign that he had heard me. For a moment, I thought he was going to ignore me completely. And then:
“That’s just how it has to be, Bennett. It’s either this or nothing.”
There was something burning in the back of my throat. My fingers were curled tightly around the plastic of the menu, my left leg jiggling up and down with frustrated energy. “Well...” My voice sounded meek even to my own ears. “Well, maybe I’m tired of this.”
Potter didn’t speak, his only response to flick his eyes up to meet mine. His lips parted ever so slightly, gaze burning curiously bright.
“I don’t want to fight anymore. And I don’t want nothing either.” My voice was getting louder with urgency. I leaned forwards, picking at the edge of the table, my eyes locked on to his. I felt rooted to the spot – like I wouldn’t be able to move until I had finally proven my point, until I had finally made him see. “I’m tired of not knowing how you feel about me, or where the boundaries are, or even how I’m supposed to act around you. I just – “
It was official - I had the worst timing ever. Lips clamping shut, I looked up to see our waitress – her hip popped out, a plate of spring rolls in her hand, her eyes currently in the process of thoroughly checking Potter out. Of course.
I had to resist the urge to scream. Really? Now? Couldn’t she see I was in the midst of making an impassioned speech here? This is not how it happens in the movies. In the movies, we’re supposed to be doing this in the pouring rain while violins sing in the background. Clearly, Hollywood has given me the wrong expectations for life.
Eyebrows flat with annoyance, I stared straight ahead as the waitress set down our food – though she wasn’t so much setting it down as giving Potter a free strip-tease. She was basically shoving her boobs in his face.
I glared. Yes. By all means, keep on attacking him with your chest. It’s not like I was sitting right here and could plainly see what she doing. Nope. Go ahead. This wasn’t making me uncomfortable at all.
"Let me know if you need anything else,” chirped Little Miss Victoria’s Secret Catalog to a rather amused looking Potter. She giggled as she straightened, cocking her head. “Seriously. If there’s anything else…”
“Napkins!” I exclaimed, a little too brightly. I plastered on a fake smile that I was sure looked horribly strained. “We need napkins. Okaythanksbye.”
Victoria’s Secret leveled me with a withering look before whirling around in a cyclone of perfumed blonde hair. Potter gave me an amused smirk that was a little too knowing for my tastes. “Napkins, eh?"
I flushed. “I’m…um.. a messy eater.”
WELL THAT’S ATTRACTIVE. I should really write a book. 100 Ways to Make All the Boys Want You by Agatha Bennett, Spinster Extraordinaire. New York Times Bestsellers List, here I come!
Potter full-on grinned at this. “You don’t say.”
And I think that was when I reached my breaking point. That little quip, that one, niggling jab, was what pushed me over the edge. I felt my irritation bubble over into full on rage, my face getting hot and probably very, very red. “You know what? If you’re not going to take me seriously, then forget it. Don’t waste your precious time.”
Without thinking, I was clambering out of the booth (tripping only a little in the process), training my eyes straight ahead as I stalked through the restaurant in a way that would make any angsty preteen girl proud. I kept my gaze steady – I knew if I looked back, I would waver.
Potter took about two seconds to register his surprise before he was climbing out the booth after me. “Bennett – Bennett, wait – Jesus Christ, learn to take a joke – “ Cursing, he slammed some money on the table and hopped out the booth.
I shoved the door open with my shoulder, bursting out into the fresh snowy night. The wind was bitter, raking against my skin, but I didn’t mind it as I stalked through the narrow cobblestone street. The cold shook me awake.
“Bennett – “ Potter was hot on my heels. “Just slow down a second – “
“Fuck off. Just fuck off.”
“What’s your bloody problem? You can’t just storm out of a restaurant like that – “
“Actually, I can,” I wheeled around, eyes blazing with anger. “Because you see, Potter, you may not have noticed this, but my life currently sucks. My friends aren’t speaking to each other, there's a teacher out there who wants to kill me, you’re playing tug-of-war with my feelings, and I have a brother who’s probably handing out free lap dances at the moment. So I think I’m entitled to a little bit of immaturity every now and then, got it?”
Potter stopped in his tracks, taking a step back as he shoved a hand through his hair. Standing there in the snow, in his Quidditch hoodie, all broad shoulders and bright eyes – he looked so boyish. I swallowed, darting my gaze away.
“I can take care of Aidan myself. Never should have asked you in the first place,” I muttered caustically, scuffing the snow with my shoe. “Sorry to be a bother."
Potter huffed, shoving his hands into his pockets and squinting at me in the moonlight. We must have looked a sorry sight – two figures in the snow, rigid postures, not touching. “First you want help. Then you want to be civil. And now you’re storming off. I don’t get you, Bennett.”
“There’s nothing to get!” I burst, my voice edging with hysteria. “Why are you even complaining? Isn’t this what you wanted? To be left alone? Well, you’ve gotten what you wished for. Now just sod off!”
“Fine! Whatever!” Potter threw his hands into the air, exasperated. “You’re a fucking psycho, you know that?”
“You’ve mentioned,” I threw back, smiling bitterly. “See you around, Potter.”
With that, I wheeled around. I went one way, and Potter, I guess, went the other.
How did I ever think we could work? I mused, as I angrily trudged through the snow. We could barely go on a non-date without everything dissolving into an explosion of feeling and angst, let alone a real date. I had to face it: we were doomed from the beginning.
The walk to Incendio was a blur I spent coming up with all the ways Potter sucked in one inner monologue. I had to admit – once or twice, I did think he was going to follow me back to the club to help – but the fact that he didn’t presented no issue to me at all. Nuh uh.
By the time I reached Incendio, I was officially worked up to the point that my hands were curled into fists. I shoved open the door with more force than necessary, stalking over to the bartender – this whole thing felt like Déjà vu – who pointed me in the direction of a barstool in the corner, where Aidan was slumped and, as Potter correctly prophesized, passed the fuck out.
I sighed. This was going to be a long haul.
I marched over to my unconscious brother – the kid was drooling on himself, for gods’ sake. His hair was a rumpled mess, his shirt crinkled. Tentatively, I plucked his arm and placed it around me. Then, after a second of mental preparation in which I envisioned all the Hot Cocoa awaiting me at Hogwarts as a reward, I lifted him up –
…And promptly fell backwards.
I crashed into the wall behind me, trying to steady myself as Aidan started tilting dangerously forward, his head lolling to the side. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck. Shit, my brother was heavy. This was going to be difficult.
Scrambling, I grasped at the first thing I could find – my brother’s t-shirt – and used it as leverage to pull both myself and him up. This resulted in the momentum shifting the complete opposite way, however, and Aidan falling on top of me. I was immediately submerged in darkness as my brother flopped over me. Fuck. Quite honestly, I liked it when he was falling on the floor better. Come on, gravity. Having 70 kilos of drunk boy crushing you was not an ideal way to spend your evening.
Bloody hell – I was being suffocated, I could barely breathe… maybe this was it. Maybe this was how I was meant to go – who needed a sickbed surrounded by friends and family when you could have an illicit club surrounded by drunken morons?
I was just about to call it quits when, out of nowhere, there was a flash of blinding light as the weight on top of me lessened. I looked up to see Potter, holding Aidan up by his collar with unfair ease.
I was dumbstruck. For some reason, despite the fact that my life is one big cliché, and the fact that Potter was the chivalry equivalent to an alcoholic, I had never foreseen this actually happening. I was caught off guard as I watched Potter swing Aidan’s arm around his shoulder and haul him to a (kind of) stand.
Cheeks flushing, I opened my mouth to protest, to tell Potter he didn’t have to be here – but he just fixed me with a steadfast look. “Shut up,” he said, matter-of-factly.
So I did.
Blinking, I straightened, dusted myself off, and slung Aidan’s other arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t help but stare at Potter – he was looking straight ahead, the tiniest crinkle between his eyebrows, completely oblivious to me. Briefly, I wondered what he was thinking. What he had been thinking when he’d turned back around and decided to come back.
“Let’s go.” Potter said, and with that, we trekked forward, out of the club, into the night, and back towards Hogwarts.
The walk to the castle was totally silent, no sound except for the crush of snow under our footprints. By the time we reached Hogwarts, my arms were burning. Aidan was hard to carry – even with Potter’s Quidditch muscles picking up most of the slack. Stealthily, we dragged him up the several flights of stairs to the Gryffindor (me all the while clenching my teeth against the barrage of complaints threatening to escape my lips – why couldn’t my brother have been in a House with nice, low-level dorms?).
When we’d finally passed through the portrait hole and finished the hike up the Boy’s staircase, I was just about ready to pass out from weariness. Potter’s dorm was empty – the rest of his roommates were out, and I noticed Fred’s bed looked strangely bare). We navigated our way through the bachelor-pad-esque mess and into the bathroom.
We both knew the drill - our movements were silent and automatic; we worked together in perfect ease. I let go of Aidan to flick on the lights, as well as the faucet, and Potter lugged him the rest of the way to the bathtub. Aidan’s body was completely limp, his eyes fluttering. It seemed like conscienceless was finally descending upon him – I wasn’t sure whether or not this was a good thing.
“Mum?” Aidan muttered dazedly. “Is that you?”
Potter sighed. “Sorry, mate.” And with that, he unceremoniously dunked my brother’s head into the icy cold water sloshing inside the tub.
I flinched. That had to be unpleasant.
Just as fast as he shoved him in, Potter yanked Aidan out. My brother was sputtering, coughing – obviously not enjoying this bout of drunk waterboarding but considerably more sober.
“What the flipping hell?”
"Good morning, sunshine!” I chirped brightly, jerking a towel off its rack and making my way to Aidan. I crouched next to Potter, handing my brother his towel. “Did you have a nice nap?”
“Where am I?” Aidan furrowed his eyebrows, blue eyes foggy with confusion.
“It’s the year 2090. The rebel aliens have finally taken over. We’re the last remaining humans on earth.” Potter deadpanned, completely straight-faced. My lips, against my own will, twitched in amusement.
“You were drunk – and still are, it looks like.” I explained. “We just took you home.”
Aidan groaned, leaning his head back on the edge of the tub as his eyes slipped closed. “You guys are acting like my parents.”
"Our parents,” I corrected.
“And you’re welcome,” Potter added.
Aidan peeked open one eye. “You guys are such a cute little tag-team. It’s sickening.”
I gave a pained smile. Next to me, Potter coughed, averting his gaze. “That’s enough out of you. Beddy time!”
I grabbed my brother by the arm, hauling him to his feet with a little bit of difficulty and a lot of groaning from him. Potter made to stand as well, but I shook my head. I’d done this part enough to know I could handle it by myself. As long as Aidan was capable of moving his own legs, I’d be fine.
Together, we shuffled into the darkness of his dormitory, weaving our way towards his bed. On his bedside table, there was still that same picture of Aidan and I – from way back in First Year, right before we’d boarded the train. Toothy smiles and knobby knees. Oh how things have changed.
Aidan didn’t even bother with the covers. He just collapsed on the bed, looking completely exhausted. I could tell, he was already submerged in that point of half-sleep, half-lucidity. Trying to reason with him now would be pointless. Sighing, I tugged the covers out from under him and, after taking off his sneakers, covered him with the blankets.
I was just about to turn to go, when a hand grabbed my arm.
“Aggy,” Aidan croaked blearily, looking quite worse for wear.
I stifled a sigh, casting a longing look at the open dorm door. So close, yet so far away… “Yes?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to deal with this. I know I'm a fuck-up. I promise, I'm trying to fix it. I swear..."
The air seemed to still around us, silence pulsing in the room. I shook my head, closing my eyes. “It’s okay, Aidan. You don’t have to apologize - I appreciate it, though."
And I really did. But I was also starting to get tired. After all, it'd been a long night, and it was starting to take its toll. Giving Aidan a small smile, I once again turned to go.
And once again, I was foiled.
“Aggy,” Aidan grabbed my arm – this time with more urgency.
“Aggy… You have to know… James…”
My heart skipped a beat. Quickly, I checked behind the shoulder. James must still be in the bathroom, cleaning up after the mini-tsunami Aidan had caused and too far away to hear.
“James is a good guy.” Aidan yawned, rolling over on his side, voice clogged with sleep. “Y-y-you guys would b-b-be good together."
“I see,” was all I could say.
“I know I was weird about it before…” Aidan muttered, voice trailing into silence. “But I approve. I give you my blessing.”
“All I ever wanted,” I murmured dryly. But on the inside, my stomach was clenched in a very peculiar way I couldn't quite describe. Me? And James? Was my brother being serious? He of all people should know that we were a recipe for disaster.
“Mhmm,” Aidan sighed, and then my brother was asleep, cheek squished against the pillow, sprawled across the bed in typical Aidan manner.
Sighing, I smoothed down his hair and then turned to leave, trying not to dwell on his words. I weaved my way through the beds and out the open dorm door, chewing anxiously on my bottom lip. I didn’t want to say goodnight to Potter. That would just make this situation all the more harder.
I took extra time as I descended the staircase. An episode of Agatha Bennett Clumsiness would not be convenient right now, and I had a lot on my mind that I needed to piece together.
I was on the fourth or so step when once again, my getaway was foiled.
I jumped at the voice, whipping around as my heart kicked into overdrive. There was Potter, standing at the top of the staircase, half his face bathed in the moonlight from the window, outlined in silver. It was so unfair. On him, it looked like romantic lighting. On me, that would look like a bad case of the flu.
“Potter,” I mumbled. “Fancy seeing you here.”
Hands in his pockets, Potter casually ambled down the couple of steps to meet me, until we were on the same one – too close for comfort. I inched backwards a little, leaning against the wall.
"What’s up?” My voice sounded horribly fake and inappropriately cheerful. Yikes.
Potter, thankfully, didn’t seem to care about my apparent discomfort. He looked like there were more pressing issues at hand, his eyes serious and vivid in the moonlight.
“Tomorrow, we need to have a talk with Aidan. And Dom, for that matter. They’re destroying themselves and it’s got to end.” And there was that tone – slightly authoritative but with an edge – that made Potter such a natural leader, that made people so trusting of him and his ideas. Even I felt drawn to it, found myself getting pulled in.
But I stopped myself. “I can’t,” I bit out, shrugging my shoulders and studying the pavement under our feet. “I’m not going to be here tomorrow.”
There was a skip of silence. Then, Potter said flatly, blankly, “What?” His eyebrows were crinkled together, and he looked so disbelieving, as if he what I'd just said was too far-fetched to be even slightly true.
“I’m not going to be here tomorrow,” I said slowly – and it was one of those things where you don’t even realize it’s true until you say it. “Because I’ll be leaving.”
Potter took a step forward, and I stiffened, inhaling sharply. He seemed to notice this – how he’d put me on edge so fast – and he fell back, looking (if I wasn’t mistaken) almost a little guilty.
His features were sketched in silver, his hair dipped in moonlight, gaze darkening. “What? Leaving?”
I was silent.
“Bennett…” Potter began slowly, and I could almost see him piece it together. The boy could read me like a book, after all. “What you said about a teacher out there trying to kill you… That wasn’t just an exaggeration, was it?”
Finally, I forced myself to look at him. He was scanning my face, expression calculating and urgent. Painstakingly, I reached into my pocket and took out the crumpled piece of paper – the paper that had been in the back of my mind this whole night, that had slyly convinced me into making this decision. I reached out and grabbed Potter’s wrist – knowing that by doing so I was violating some unspoken boundary between us – and placed the scrap in his palm. My fingers brushing against his skin was enough to send bolts of electricity zipping through me.
Potter glanced at the paper, saw the two diamonds that were etched on it. When he looked back at me, his eyes were bright and dangerous.
“Professor Nott,” I whispered.
“Bennett,” Potter said. And then again, but urgently this time. “Bennett.”
I knew where this was heading. He was going to try and stop me - and I couldn't let that happen. Shaking my head, I sighed. “I’m sorry, but I have to go –"
“Bennett, you can’t - ” Potter’s voice was calm on the surface, but there was an edge of desperation hidden somewhere inside. His jaw clenched as he crumpled up the paper, letting it fall to the floor.
“You’re not going to stop me – “
“Yeah, I will, actually. You don’t realize how dangerous it is out there – “ Our sentences were overlapping, building with intensity.
“I have to.”
“Bennett – ”
“This has to end!”
“— no, absolutely not –“
“I can’t just sit around like this. I’m finding answers. I’m leaving.”
“No, you’re not. You're not going anywhere.”
“I have to.”
“Bennett. Don’t. Please.” And all of a sudden Potter was closing the gap between us, grabbing my face in his hands. Without me realizing it, our foreheads were touching. “Don’t go.”
“Potter,” I murmured, feeling my brain go foggy with his presence. I knew what we were talking about was important, and that I had to stay strong, but it was just so hard to focus when Potter was there in front of me, and the world was quiet and blurry around us, and his mouth was inches away from mine.
There was something in his eyes – something that told me that Potter was determined to make me stay, yes, but also that… he was scared. I was scaring him, because I might be leaving, and that could mean me getting hurt. And he was, funnily enough, not okay with that.
I blinked. Our lips were so close, they were almost touching. “What are you doing, Potter?” I breathed, but the damage was done. He was already leaning forward, and I was already a goner.
“You’re. Not. Leaving,” Potter mumbled against my lips, and then one of his hands was slipping into the back of my hair, and he was kissing me. Kissing me hard, with a kind of desperation I’d never felt before.
I let my eyes flutter shut, let myself melt into it. Potter’s mouth was warm and soft and gentle on mine. His hand slipped from my cheek to grasp my chin, pulling me closer. I knotted my fingers in his hair, deepening the kiss, drawing him in. He smelled like laundry and soap, like boy. My chest gave a painful twinge.
And then, all of a sudden, I was shoving Potter away. “Stop – “ I gasped as he stumbled backwards. “Stop stop stop.”
We were both breathing raggedly. The world around us was quiet – too quiet. My heart was revolting against my chest.
“Why – “ I began, my voice cracking. Now, with my eyes wide open, with my body feeling strangely cold, I felt incredibly weak. Vulnerable. Taken as a fool. “Why would you do that?”
Potter looked horribly guilty. “Bennett – “ He began.
“No.” I cut him off. Shaking my head, I averted my eyes to the ground, my brow furrowed as I tried to make sense of what was happening around me. “You… you broke up with me. And then you just kissed me. And… that’s not cool. That’s, like, super not cool.”
Potter clenched his jaw, eyes fluttering shut for a brief moment. “I’m sorry, Bennett, I didn’t mean – “
“What are you doing, Potter?” I suddenly blurted out, rather loudly. “Like, what the fuck are you doing? Because I honestly can’t tell. One moment you’re hot, the next you’re fucking freezing, and I – I can’t make sense of it. I'm sick of you dangling me along."
“I’m sorry – I slipped up – “ He began, shoving a hand through tousled black hair.
I shook my head vehemently. “No. You know what? I’m tired of being a slip-up – a mistake. I'm better than that. So either treat me like I deserve to be treated, or leave me alone.” I swiped at my face, discovering the salty signs of tears. Potter's eyes flickered. “I’m done.”
“Bennett, I’m sorry. Agatha—“ He reached out, grazing my shoulder, but I brushed right past him and down the staircase. I couldn’t handle this – whatever this was – right now. I had other things at hand, other, more important things.
There was an overwhelming feeling in my body, telling me it was time to go. I didn’t know where. I didn’t know how. All I knew was that I couldn’t stay here any longer. I’d done all I could at this place.
It was time to move on.
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