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Clash by shenanigan
Chapter 44 : Goosebumps
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 99


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So.

I know myself.

I know what type of person I am. I’m neurotic. A control freak. I am a huge, supersized helping of neuroses, with an extra order of melodrama and a tall glass of OCD on the side. I am the full Happy — or rather, Anxiety — Meal, and if the world around me does not adhere to the minute-by-minute plan of it that I have sketched out in my head, I freak.

I seriously go crazy over the tiniest things. Like in Third Year, for example, when I received an Acceptable instead of Exceeds Expectations on an important Transfiguration test. I immediately spiraled into a deep depression that lasted five days. Dom was forced to assemble the whole gang together to stage an intervention. They found me lying on my bed, surrounded by crumpled flashcards, muttering Engleberts Theorem of Animagi over and over again in a daze.

Even the smallest annoyances somehow become tragedies in my eyes. An itchy foot can turn into an existential crisis. A hangnail makes me question the existence of a benevolent deity. I have mental breakdowns like some girls have shopping days.

Which is why, when I woke up (naked) next to James Sirius Potter (also naked) on this fateful winter’s morning — I knew it wouldn’t be long until I started freaking-out.

It was kind of like waiting for a kettle to boil, in a way. Something as earth-shattering as what had transgressed between Potter and I last night was bound to have its consequences, and I knew it was only a matter of time until I exploded into epic, hormonal, redheaded hysteria. There would be screaming, probably. Tears, most likely. Few survivors, definitely.

All I could do was wait. I lay there next to a sleeping Potter, trying to focus on the quiet bobbing of my chest going up and down as I counted down the seconds to my colossal freak-out. My mind and body were feeling deceptively normal at the moment, but I knew that this was just the calm before the storm. I could be cool and collected now, but it wouldn’t be long before I'd be boarding the Crazy Train with a one-way ticket to Panicville.

I mean, I had just slept with James Potter. James Potter. The boy who, in Third Year, charmed my hair green for an entire week. The boy who used to never be able to pass me in the hallways without making some derisive remark about my hair, my appearance, my personality. The boy who represented everything I opposed — arrogance, self-entitlement, carelessness.

The boy whose mouth had been, just a few hours ago, hot on my neck, teeth skimming skin, voice low and strained and sexy as he whispered those two hoarse words — want you — into my ear.

Holy fuck.

I'd just slept with James Potter.

Oh Merlin. Why. Why? In that moment, having sex with Potter had seemed so… natural. So obvious, like the next simple, inevitable progression in our relationship. It may sound strange, but being with him then had just felt right.

But now in the morning, with the light filtering sluggishly through the greenhouse’s grimy windows and illuminating the harsh reality of the situation, all the consequences of that spur of the moment decision were popping into existence like sinister gophers. What was Potter going to say? Dom? What if Aidan found out? Oh, god, Aidan.

I was so fucked.

...Er, poor choice in wording.

Struggling to sit upright, I squinted blearily at my surroundings as my hands scrabbled over the blankets and earthy floor in search of any runaway pieces of clothing. My mind, with the exception of the dull hangover thudding sullenly in the background, was crystal-clear. I knew my freak-out was impending, but nevertheless I was still awash in the illusion of serene composure. Perhaps it was some sort of defense mechanism on behalf of my brain — like when victims of near-death experiences describe feeling tranquil during their traumatic accidents. I felt... normal. And not just Agatha Bennett normal. But like, regular teenage girl normal.

Careful not to jostle Potter awake, I wiggled into my t-shirt, underwear and jeans, scraping a few fingers through my scraggly hair in an effort to tame it. I smacked my lips, wincing at the horrid taste left overnight in my mouth from drinking so much. Never again.

I was just starting to struggle to a fully seated position when — suddenly — an arm fell across my waist.

Potter’s arm, to be precise.

“Mmm, five more minutes,” Potter mumbled sleepily, eyes remaining determinedly shut as a frowning crease dug between his brows.

Well, this was an interesting development.
I stared at the way the sunlight lingered on Potter's face, pooling atop his cheekbones and coating his eyelashes in light gold. His arm was heavy, big hand splayed across my waist, and it brought me back to last night, when the same hand had been doing… um, other things.

In the light, the freckles sprinkled across Potter's nose became even more prominent, and I was suddenly struck by how different he looked when he was sleeping. With his eyes fluttered shut, half his face smushed against the mattress... he seemed a lot younger. A lot kinder.

At that mental observation, I reached out the back of my hand and — without any prior consent from my brain — brushed it softly against Potter’s cheekbone.

His eyes flashed open.

There was a hitch of silence. I yanked back my hand, abashed, and Potter squinted bewilderingly at me and my bedraggled appearance as if I was something from a surreal dream.

Then, there came the confusion — Potter's face clouded over with sleepy befuddlement, his eyebrows tilting upwards in the beginnings of a frown.

Then, there was recognition — his hazel eyes flicked over me, my rumpled hair, the bed.

And then there was panic.

“What the fuck.” Potter scrambled backwards, yanking the blanket towards him, his eyes flashing wide open in alarm.

"Good morning, sunshine?” I greeted weakly. I could already tell that Potter's reaction was not a fortuitous sign of things to come. Granted, I wasn't the most experienced in this area. But going by what I'd learned from the resident sex experts in my life — Dom and Cosmo — I knew there were several ways your man-friend was supposed to act after you did, you know, it. ‘Scared, hunted animal’ was not one of them.

Potter gaped at me for a long moment, face completely open and frank with horror, and then slammed his eyes shut.

“Did we — ?” he began faintly.

“Yup,” I responded, voice flat.

“And I — ?”

“Yup.”

“And you — ?”

“Yup.”

At this, Potter immediately dropped his head into his hands in a sorry gesture of utter defeat. I tried not to stare too hard at the way his skin — taut, golden brown — moved over the muscles in his back.

“Okay,” Potter said slowly, through gritted teeth. “I’m going to try not to freak out.”

“And I’m going to try not to be offended,” I shot back dryly. This was definitely not how the Morning After was supposed to go. Don’t get me wrong — I wasn’t expecting it to be all sweet and romantic, with breakfast in bed and smooth jazz playing in the background. I knew that wasn’t realistic for a guy and girl who shared years of hatred, several unresolved arguments, and about five different incidents of broken noses between them.

But still. Did Potter really have to act so... horrified to wake up to me?

Besides, I should be the one freaking out here, not him. I was Agatha Bennett (see: neurotic, OCD, control freak)! Irrational freak-outs were kind of my shtick. My nature demanded that I spiral into screaming hysteria whenever confronted with these types of situation. Meanwhile, James ‘Know it All’ Potter was supposed to be the one who sat by coolly and watched in disdain. He was too good, too above it all, to ever let something bother him.

Yet it seemed that the world had been flipped on its head, and Potter and I had undergone some weird Freaky Friday-esque role reversal. Now he was the one panicking.

Which was weird, because James Potter never panicked. He always knew what to do; he always kept a cool head.

...Except, apparently, on the rare occasion when he slept with his best mate’s sister.

“This cannot be happening,” Potter was groaning in clear distress, his hands shoved aggravatedly into his rumpled dark hair. He seemed to have completely forgotten I was in the greenhouse and, for that matter, sitting right next to him.

“Is my morning breath really that bad?” I joked feebly.

Potter didn’t even acknowledge my half-assed attempt at lightening the mood — he was too busy silently contemplating the pros and cons of hari-kari, it seemed. His gaze bored into the ground before him, lips moving soundlessly as he stewed in his own personal swamp of toxic anxiety and dismay.

Seriously. Grab a dictionary and look up the entry for the word, ‘regret,' and you'll probably find a picture of Potter right underneath the definition.

Then take that dictionary and kindly whack me unconscious with it, please, because I really don't want to be dealing with this situation right now.

“I let this happen,” Potter was mumbling to himself dazedly, head still in his hands. “I let this happen. This is all my fault.”

“Potter,” I began, though I had no idea what to say.

“This is bad. So bad.” Potter was in a stupor, repeating the same couple sentences over and over again almost like — like a trauma patient.

Oh my god.

Was sex with me traumatic?

I was fully aware that it might not be the greatest, given it had been my first time and all, but I didn’t think it’d ever reach the point of the guy needing a shock blanket and psychotherapy afterwards.

“This is bad,” Potter declared faintly for the umpteenth time. “Bad. This is bad.”

I couldn’t help it — I snapped. “So just to clarify,” I hissed, snark edging into my quiet tone. “You don’t think this is a good thing, correct?”

Potter — apparently having just registered my existence — whipped around to face me, hazel eyes ablaze, hair stubbornly sticking up in the back.

“Look, Bennett, now’s not a good time to get sarcastic right now — “

“Now’s not a good time, period.” I sliced through. “Not with you acting like this is the freaking apocalypse — “

“Well, what did you expect, Bennett?” Potter agitatedly threw his hands in the air, voice growing louder and taking on the familiar scorn I was so used to. Evidently, the prat had reached his boiling point. “Rose petals? Songbirds? The two of us bickering over who gets to be the big spoon?” he scoffed, shaking his head, and then leveled me with his uncannily bright amber gaze. “We messed up, Bennett,” he stated, enunciating each syllable with lethal finality. “This was a huge mistake. I can’t believe you aren’t freaking out right now.”

“I can’t believe you are!” I shot back, bewildered by Potter’s sudden lapse in control. “When we slept together” — Potter winced, actually winced, at this — “Did we also happen to switch bodies? Because I’m supposed to be the one panicking right now, not you. I’m the virgin.” I cocked my head, frowning thoughtfully. “Or, rather, was the virgin.”

At this, Potter paled to a deathly shade of white and made an indistinguishable horrified noise that sounded a lot like, "blargle."

I rolled my eyes at his ridiculous reaction. “Yes, Potter,” I drawled. “You were my first time. So what?”

“So what?” Potter repeated, astounded. “So what? Bennett, you’re my best mate’s sister! Fuck.” His eyes widened in terrible realization. “You’re my best mate’s sister.

“What does it matter if I’m Aidan’s sister?” I was so frustrated, my voice was nothing more than a high-pitched squeak. “I'm also an autonomous individual capable of making her own decisions! Whatever happened last night — I wanted it to happen. Shouldn’t that count for something?”

I was quickly getting tired of Potter’s whole noble, ‘we-must-not-besmirch-the-fair-maiden’s-honor’ act. I understood that he was a Gryffindor, and Gryffindors were prone to the occasional bout of gallant stupidity, but honestly. The prick was acting like I was some naïve, virginal little girl who had no idea what she'd stumbled into when she “let” James Potter kiss her.

If I hadn’t wanted to shag Potter last night, than I wouldn’t have shagged Potter last night. Simple as that.

“Bennett, you don’t understand,” Potter was saying weakly, looking like he hated himself more and more with every second. “We drank a lot — “

“Yes, there was alcohol involved. But it takes two to tango, Potter,” I said firmly. “And last night... I really wanted to tango.”

Potter didn’t reply, and I watched him uneasily in the ensuing awkward silence. He was refusing to even glance my way, his eyes trained firmly on his hands and his mouth a grim line.

I shifted, unnerved by his lack of response. When you were used to constantly bickering in back-and-forth, verbal tennis matches with someone, seeing them at a loss for words was weird. Why wasn’t he saying anything?

I cleared my throat. “Just so you know, tango is a metaphor sex — “

Yeah I got that thanks.

I shut up.

I had the vague, dismaying feeling that Potter and I were going about this whole Morning After thing the wrong way. The few times I’d fantasized about waking up to a hot naked guy, my version of the scenario had never involved a) hangovers, b) my dad’s house, and c) the guy developing PTSD syndrome.

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Potter finally sighed in resignation. He seemed to be acting a little calmer, evidently having reigned in his distress as he gritted his teeth and looked straight ahead. Now he just appeared... defeated, almost — as if he had accepted our circumstances and knew there was nothing he could do.

“That's it. I’m going to have to flee the country,” Potter stated, abruptly, with a matter-of-fact shrug. “Aidan’s going to find out, and I’m going to have to move to Mexico.”

I snorted. “That’s just stupid.”

“You’re right.” Potter nodded, more to himself than anything. “Mexico’s too predictable. Canada it is!”

“Aidan’s not going to kill you!”

“Obviously. Because I’ll be in Canada.”

“No,” I said patiently. “Because he’s not going to find out.”

Potter shot me a skeptical look, arching an effortless eyebrow at my naiveté. His rumpled hair was sticking up in about seventeen different directions, and my fingers itched to smooth down the cowlicks. “Of course he'll find out, Bennett. It's inevitable — it's just what happens,” he said impatiently, and I could just hear the patronizing tone oozing in his voice. “That’s how this kind of thing works, okay?”

“You forgot to tack on, ‘you silly little virgin,’ at the end,” I said snidely, rearing back in disgust. “But yeah, okay. I get your point.”

Potter huffed out a sigh, mouth twisting into a pained grimace. “Bennett — “

“No, you know what?” Before I knew it I was hastily scrambling to a stand, face burning with mingled embarrassment and anger. My hands were shaking — literally shaking — and already I could feel the rant crawling up my chest, a bulge in my throat inching towards release.

My frustration had taken control, and now there was nothing I could do to stop myself from opening my mouth and letting him have it.

“Just forget about it, Potter," I snarled. "And by ‘it,’ I don’t mean your blatant condescension and obvious lack of respect for me as your intellectual equal, because that I’m used to. No, I mean ‘it’ as in everything else: last night, you, me, the sex — yes, Potter, we had sex, S - E - X." I paused to roll my eyes at Potter's stricken expression. "I know the idea of ‘us doing it’ is almost as shocking as the fact that someone can talk about ‘us doing it’ without spontaneously combusting into heretical flames, but there you go. We did it. We had sex. Whatever.”

Potter jerked backwards, looking thoroughly taken aback by my caustic raving. His mouth dropped open, expression blank as he seemed to struggle over what to say, but I never gave him the chance. I plundered on with my rant, anger mounting and trying to steady my voice as much as possible.

“Forget about it all, Potter," I spat. "Pretend nothing ever happened. That's what's easiest for you, isn't it? That's what you want to do, at least. So go ahead. While you're at it, you can try and forget I have feelings, too."

My voice rang against the greenhouse's glass walls, vibrating in the frigid air, as I trained my angry gaze above Potter’s head. I didn’t want to bother gauging his expression, didn't want to see the shock in his gaze. Meeting his eyes would be too hard.

“Bennett, come on — “ Potter began, voice low, but I was already whirling around on my heel, stomping across the plush earth of the greenhouse, the glass door clanging shut on my way out.

Outside, the sudden burst of fresh air was cold and unforgiving. The wind wiggled its way under my clothes and down my collar, scraping icy fingers across the skin of my back, but I paid it no heed. My chest was heaving up and down as I seethed my way back to the house. What a prick. Obviously I hadn't expected Potter to be overjoyed by the fact that we slept together. But still. He didn’t have to act so disgusted by what had happened! Believe me, I could think of a couple words to describe Potter's attitude last night (all of which fell under a thesaurus entry for ‘hormonal teenage boy’) but ‘disgusted’ wasn’t one of them.

What was even worse about this situation was that there was no sodding escape. After Potter — dumbfounded by my outburst, no doubt — managed to get his Snitch-sized brain moving again, he would put on his clothes and have no choice but to follow me inside. We were both living here, after all, and the effect of my angry storm-off was somewhat dampened by the fact that we'd have to sit across from each other at dinner later today.

A soft noise of frustration warbled out from the depths of my throat as I yanked the house’s back door open, swiping my boots furiously onto the welcome mat.

“What an absolutely inconsiderate way to act," I grumbled to myself as I stormed inside the kitchen, unable to stop stewing over Potter's shocked behavior and general buffoonery.

“Took the words right out of my mouth," came a deep, familiar voice in response, and I immediately stiffened as I whipped around, scanning my surroundings for the foreign speaker.

My eyes landed on the lone figure slouched lazily at the kitchen table, and my face immediately drained of blood when I recognized who it was.

“I — You —“ I gaped. “What are you doing here?”

Aidan smiled.

“Nice to see you too, sis.”

Well, fuck.

There was a split-second of silence as my brain veered into overdrive, whirling frantically to process the specter-like appearance of my brother at my dad's house. My brother, who was supposed to be miles away at our boarding school in Scotland. My brother, who was, instead, sitting — and acting quite blasé, I might add — right before my eyes. My brother, who was probably furious with me right now and about to give me the most unpleasant talking-to of my life.

“I — but — you — “ Even to my own ears, my voice sounded feeble and painfully scared. Head spinning deliriously, I suddenly became hyper-aware of every little detail of my surroundings — the plump drops of water dribbling from the kitchen sink, the electric purr of the refrigerator, the flurry of snow whispering against the window. My heartbeat thumped insistently in my ears, a recurring undertone to all other noise.

“Kneazle got your tongue?” Aidan prompted slyly, eyebrows raised at my stuttering — which was so unlike my usual fantastically eloquent and articulate self, you know.

I opened and closed my mouth several times before finally remembering how to formulate a basic sentence. “My brain is short-circuiting," I said faintly.

“That can’t be good,” Aidan responded, not without amusement.

“I think the lobe in charge of all the English and stuff is broken,” I admitted rather breathlessly, grabbing onto the edge of a nearby chair to steady myself. In addition to his sheer presence, I found my brother's nonchalant air to be extremely unnerving.

“The lobe in charge of all the English and stuff,” Aidan repeated dryly. “Is that the what the scientists call it?"

“Yeah. It’s the Latin term,” I murmured in a faint voice, finally coming around to sink onto the kitchen chair. What the bloody hell was my brother doing here?

Aidan let out a short chuckle at the quip, blue eyes shrewdly taking in my ruffled presence. He had a smirk slung casually across his face, but his gaze was bright and hard, his jawline stony with resolve.

My head was spinning so fast, it hurt. “Well, this has certainly been a morning of new developments," I said, slamming my elbows on the kitchen table and hastily shoving my fingers into my hair.

“Speaking of new developments.” Aidan’s tone was wry, but his eyes were in no way laughing. “A little birdy told me that you’re an escaped convict, now. And by little birdy, I mean about fifty articles in The Daily Prophet.

I could tell Aidan was straining to keep the anger out of his voice, to prevent the imminent eruption of wrath that was about to befall both of us. And honestly, I could understand him being pissed off. After all, I’d left Hogwarts, abandoned him and Dom and all our friends, without even the slightest warning. And then he had to hear — from tabloid news, no less — that I’d stolen a priceless, centuries-old sword?

Nevermind that I hadn't actually stolen it. All that mattered was that it seemed like I had, and Aidan — who had heard nothing from me up until this point — probably thought I was guilty just like the rest of the world did.

There was no chance I was getting out of this fun family reunion unscathed. Aidan had probably been stewing over the situation the whole way here, rehearsing his rant to make sure it had the optimum guilting effect.

It wouldn’t be long before the shouting began.

“An escaped convict, Aggy,” Aidan repeated when I didn’t say anything. His voice was louder and fiercer this time, teeth gritted in a manner that was only slightly terrifying. I could hear the fury quivering in his tone, see the ire clenching his fists.

“We prefer the term ‘legally impaired,’” I joked, hoping my sorry attempt at humor might diffuse the tension.

Aidan’s left eye twitched.

Okay, switching tactics.

“Aidan,” I burst out haplessly, tone pleading as I clasped my hands together. “Before you try to kill me, please let me remind you that one, I am your sister, and two, we have a mutual friend whose father is Head of the Auror department and very good at solving homicide investigations — "

“I’m not going to kill you, Aggy,” Aidan sliced through abruptly. His voice took on a strained sort of calmness as he forced a psychotic smile. “And I’m not going to yell at you.”

I blanched. “Really?”

“Yup.” At this, Aidan gave a laugh that sounded slightly unhinged. “That’s what Dom is here for."

“What — ?“ I began, and as if on cue, Dominique Weasley — Slytherin sex symbol, my estranged best friend, and the unofficial spokesperson for bitchiness everywhere — flounced into the kitchen doorway.

“Hey, Aidan, I couldn’t find her anywhere upstairs — “

Dom’s mouth snapped shut when she saw me, the room instantly plummeting about 20 degrees in temperature. Aidan leaned back, smiling in satisfaction as he folded his hands behind his head, and Dom’s entire demeanor started to shift noticeably. As she took in me slouching before her, her face became shadowed with a glower, her spine stiffening and her chest rising and falling in an alarmingly rapid manner.

I gulped. Audibly.

AND NOW: TWO QUICK TIPS ON HOW TO PISS OFF A WEASLEY

1. Don’t do it.

2. If you do do it, try not to pick a Weasley who’s also part-veela.

Oh, bollocks.

The room seemed to throb with terse silence as Dom and I stared at each other, our gazes locked with unwavering intensity. Finally, I could bear it no longer. Trembling, I cocked my head to the side and nervously stretched my lips in what I hoped to be a winning smile, but was probably more like the baring of teeth similar to that of a hunted animal.

“Hey, best friend?” I squeaked feebly.

Dom’s nostrils flared sharply. And then, all of a sudden, she was rushing forward, a nearby chair landing with a clatter as she pushed it aside, and lunging across the table with her hands and arms outstretched in ready strangling position. “WHY YOU LITTLE — "

I shrieked, and then there was a mad scramble as Dom swiped at me, Aidan hastily stood up to restrain her mid-assault, and I helped fantastically by cowering behind my chair in a brilliant display of Slytherin pride.

Dom, who found she could not get past the makeshift barricade of Aidan’s arm, wheeled around, grabbed a knife out of the holder on the kitchen counter, and started waving it around furiously. On the psycho scale, I’d say she was now somewhere between ‘deranged serial-killer’ and ‘preteen girl at a boy-band concert.’

Which leaves me to:
TIP NUMBER THREE ON HOW TO PISS OFF A WEASLEY:

3. Don’t do it when you’re in a room full of sharp, pointy things.

“I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU, AGATHA — "

“Indoor voices, please!”

“YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND — MY BEST FRIEND OF FIVE YEARS — “

“Don’t you think you might be overreacting just a teensy bit?”

“THEN YOU GO OFF AND ABANDON ME AT HOGWARTS — “

Abandon is a bit of a strong word choice, no?”

“NO PHONE CALL, NO TEXT, NOT EVEN A LOUSY ‘LIKE’ ON WIZBOOK SO THAT I COULD AT LEAST KNOW YOU WERE ALIVE!”

“Dom, somehow I can’t take your concern for my wellbeing seriously when you’re waving a kitchen knife in my face.”

“THEN WE HEAR ABOUT THIS SWORD BUSINESS! OH, WE WERE WORRIED SICK. I HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO GRAB AIDAN SO WE COULD GO LOOKING FOR YOUR SORRY ASS — "

“Dom, please — “ I began, but it was no use. Dom had set down the knife and was now lunging wildly at me again, face pulled into a vehement snarl. Aidan hastily slipped between us, grimacing as Dom repeatedly hurled her tiny body against his in a continued attempt to get to me. Thankfully for everyone involved, my brother managed to stand his ground. God bless Quidditch muscles.

“What the bloody hell is going on here?”

The kerfuffle in the kitchen came to a jarring halt as the backdoor swung open with a loud bang, revealing Potter standing in the open doorway (now fully dressed, thank Merlin), snowflakes clinging to tousled hair, his eyebrows scrunched together in bewilderment.

“Aidan? Dom?" he looked between the two newcomers and blinked, clearly taken aback. "What are you doing here?”

The racket we'd been making abruptly died as everyone froze in their ridiculous positions — Aidan with Dom in a headlock, me still crouched behind my chair. Like this we stared at each other, allowing for a ten second pause as Dom registered Potter, Potter registered Aidan, and I registered the nearest escape route.

“James?” my brother asked, arms still loosely slung around a haggard-looking Dom. “What are you doing here?”

I thought saying, ‘Why me, of course!’ would be in poor taste, so I elected to stay quiet. My gaze darted to Dom, whose body had gone slack with surprise at the unexpected sight of her cousin. Aidan was now serving as more of a crutch for her than a barrier.

“James?” Aidan repeated incredulously.

Potter looked at me, then my brother, then me again. His expression was one of vague horror.

“Er, I'd love to stay and chat, but I actually have a flight to Canada to catch right now — " he began weakly, but was quickly cut off by my best friend snapping back to reality.

“James, you're here!” Dom gushed, patches of red blooming at her cheeks as she gratefully took in his appearance. Hastily disentangling herself from Aidan, she swept across the length of the kitchen and threw her arms around a very startled Potter. “I can’t believe it!”

“Oh sure, he gets a hug, but it's the 'crazed knife assault' for me,” I grumbled to myself before straightening to a stand as well. Some best friend — this was the last time I ever let Dom near any cutlery.

Aidan, meanwhile, was looking rather awkward as he fidgeted on the other side of his room, remaining conspicuously in place. Things had been tense between my brother and Potter lately (this without the added bonus of last night’s occurrences) — and it was obvious that Aidan didn't know how to react to his sudden appearance.

“Why are you here, James?” Aidan swiveled his glare between the two of us, obviously trying to look stern and disapproving. “What have you two been doing?”

I blinked, caught off guard by the sudden inquiry, and restrained myself from glancing at Potter. One bout of panicked eye-contact would be all it took to give us away.

“I — Well, after I left Hogwarts,” I began cautiously. “I came here and hung out with Freddy for a bit. Freddy realized I was in trouble and told Potter where I was,” I blinked, tone softening, as I remembered the day Potter had showed up at my dad's house. We had stood in the foyer for ten straight minutes, hugging in the muted honey light of the afternoon, my face buried into his flannel shirt. “And Potter came here to find me.”

Aidan arched a smooth eyebrow, obviously still suspicious of the whole situation. “James, is this true?”

“Yeah,” Potter shifted, folding his arms across his broad chest. His tone and expression were neutral, but he was looking at me — only me — with a gaze that was hard and searching. “After the papers started coming out with those stories about the Sword, I figured Bennett would need some help. So I came here, and your dad agreed that the she and I could hang out at the house for a bit while the whole thing blew over.”

Aidan squinted. “That’s it? Nothing else happened?”

Potter’s gaze travelled to the kitchen knife on the table, lying inches away from Aidan’s hand. He cleared his throat. “Nothing else.”

Dom brusquely turned to me, all hints of her earlier hostility gone (my best friend bounced back fast), looking expectant and bossy like her usual self. “And? What’d you guys find?”

I sighed, suddenly feeling exhausted with the whole situation. Honestly, there was only so much excitement a girl could take in one morning, and I was pretty sure I'd reached my limit. “There’s a lot to explain, Dom," I leaned my hip against the kitchen table, feeling my body grow heavy with weariness. "Why don’t you guys take a seat? I’ll make you some tea.”

The prospect of explaining everything to Dom and Aidan right now was super unappealing, seeing as they probably had no clue about anything that'd happened in the past few days. I mean, the only information they’d had access to were the tabloids — if that even deserved the title of ‘information.’ They didn’t know if I was guilty or innocent of stealing the Sword. They probably had all these mixed-up, outlandish theories on what had happened, and I would have to be the one to set them straight.

“What do you need to explain?” Dom demanded as Potter led her gently to the chair.

“A lot,” I said firmly. Ugh, I was really not looking forward to this. I mean, Potter and I had just found out about Vespertine a day ago, and no offence to Dom and Aidan, but they could be a little slow about these things —

“Oh, you mean the whole part about Vespertine stealing the Sword?” Dom chirped. "Yeah, Aidan and I know already."

Potter and I froze in shock, my inner tirade coming to a screeching halt. There was a long, silent pause, as Aidan smirked triumphantly, and Potter and I gaped like absolute morons.

Dom looked between her cousin and me, spring green eyes round and innocent. “I’ll take that tea now.”

—*—

Five minutes and one whistling kettle later, and we were seated in my dad’s cold living-room, quietly curled over our teacups as we lounged on various pieces of cushy furniture. The mahogany grandfather clock in the corner ticked sluggishly away, the day's snow flurries frothing and swirling behind the double windows.

There was an awkward silence as we all surveyed each other, not knowing where to begin. I had no idea what the present dynamic of the group was supposed to be. Last I knew, Dom and Aidan were furious at each other. Aidan wasn’t speaking to Potter because of Dom, and Dom wasn’t speaking to me because of Aidan — it was all just a huge, tangled mess of human relationships.

Potter, leaning back casually on the two rear-legs of his chair, was the first to speak.

“So, since it seems like you guys know as much as we do, if not more,” he ventured carefully, voice even. “Why don’t you start?”

Dom exchanged a significant look with Aidan, sighing as she set down her tea saucer. My brother, curled in an armchair with his feet tucked underneath him, shrugged neutrally.

“Well, the minute we read about the Sword going missing in the papers, we knew you couldn’t be guilty,” Dom began matter-of-factly, flicking her glossy hair behind her shoulder. The movement was so familiar, so Dom, that it made my chest ache.

“I mean, you hates breaking the rules,” Aidan chimed in.

“Yeah.” Dom nodded firmly, swiveling to stare me down. “Like remember when you turned in that library book late — ?”

“And you cried because you were scared Madame Pince was going to yell at you?” Aidan finished earnestly.

“Is this necessary?” I interjected quickly, feeling my face turn very hot. In the corner of my eye, Potter’s lips twitched into a smile. Prat.

Dom brushed my objection aside with an airy wave of her hand. “Well, the point is, you hate breaking the rules. And, we know you, Agatha. We know what kind of person you are, and you just couldn't have taken the Sword."

“At first we suspected it'd been Professor Nott,” Aidan added, reaching over to set down his mug on the coffee table. “Because he was absent from classes at the same time you were — "

“Also he’s shady as fuck,” Dom supplied helpfully.

“ — but then Dom talked to her brother,” Aidan carried on as if no one had spoken. “Who talked to their cousin Rose, who talked to her dad, Auror Ron Weasley — “

“And basically,” Dom butted in loudly, slurping from her teacup in typical lady-like fashion. “Uncle Ron had been complaining about some tosser at the DADA convention he was currently at.”

“And that tosser,” Aidan finished with a gracious flourish. “Was Mr. Nott. So it couldn’t have been Nott, you see, since he had an alibi.”

I held up a hand, eyes squeezing shut as I tried to concentrate on this fresh information. “Okay,” I said slowly. “Not that your little synchronized story-time act isn’t cute and everything, but can we please skip to the part where our Headmistress decides to kill me?”

The two reared back, faces displaying various degrees of offense, at my angry impatience. Scandalized, Aidan widened his eyes, looked at Dom and discreetly mouthed, "sassy," to which she nodded fervently in agreement. I rolled my eyes.

"Aidan? Dom?" Potter prompted, ever the peace-keeper.

“Alright, hold your centaurs, will you?” Dom grumbled. She sat up straighter, flicking another lock of auburn hair out her eyes, and assumed a brusque, authoritative position. “So after we ruled out Nott, we decided we better do some research, and where better to do research than the library, right? So I got access to the Restricted Section with a pass that I, uh, persuaded this fourth-year bloke to lend me, and there we found all this material about Vespertine and her campaign, when she ran for Minister of Magic against Humdudgeon. And then there was this stuff about her group, Vespertine’s Vanguard of Vendetta and Vengeance — “

“Say that five times fast,” Aidan muttered darkly under-his-breath.

“And she was into some pretty radical shit, Aggs. Violent protests, organized attacks on governmental offices, assassination attempts, even.”

“And all,” Aidan sighed, as if lamenting some very tired cliché. “In the name of Pureblood rights. See, after Voldemort died and they began the Post-War Reconstruction, there'd been a major Ministry crackdown on all Pureblood families. The government did huge investigations — arrested anyone with even the slightest tie to Voldemort — and purged a lot of Purebloods who had high-ranking government jobs. All in the name of equality.”

“Though, in reality — “ Dom began sadly.

“They were achieving the exact opposite,” Potter finished for her, his voice oddly quiet. My gaze snapped towards where he was sitting, but Potter wouldn't look at me. He had his eyes locked with Dom’s, and the two seemed to be busy enjoying some sort of cousin telepathy moment.

Dom looked uncharacteristically subdued. Her eyes were round and sympathetic, her mouth pursed in a small rosebud of sadness. “It wasn’t your dad’s doing, James," she murmured sympathetically. "It was just the Ministry being overly cautious. They wanted to make sure that any and everyone on the Dark Side faced justice for their actions.”

“Yeah, well, they ended up doing a lot more than that,” Potter shot back. He shoved a hand through his hair, obviously agitated, and swept his gaze to the window. “No one talks about it, but its true. If you’re a Pureblood these days — a Slytherin Pureblood, especially— life’s hard. When good ol’ Dad offed Voldy, the Ministry didn’t manage to establish an equal society. The inequality just swung to the other side of the spectrum. Now it’s the Purebloods facing prejudice.”

“Right,” Aidan said gently. “And Vespertine was trying to fight that. But she did so in a way that was kind of, er — “

“Psychotically violent?” I offered.

“I was going to say aggressive, but sure.” Aidan exhaled. “Anyways, she eventually grew out of the phase — or so we thought — and the VVVV group disbanded. Vespertine then worked her way through the Ministry, gaining some respect, some recognition, some contacts, and VVVV became a thing of the past. That's when she made her grab for power with the election for Minister.”

“But lost to Humdudgeon,” I pointed out.

“Exactly,” Dom said, only a little smugly. “So she was shunted to the side, instructed to look after a bunch of hormonal teenagers at a boarding school.”

“We thought that was the end of the story,” Aidan perked up. “We thought that Vespertine was just another bitter adult who’d devoted her life to hating schoolchildren — but then Dom noticed her eating breakfast in the Great Hall.”

“She had a tattoo, Aggy,” Dom said excitedly, practically trembling in her seat as she leaned forward to lock her lemony green eyes with mine. “Her sleeve slipped — I wouldn’t have noticed it otherwise — and I saw her tattoo. It was the exact same one you’d talked about, earlier, the one none of the Aurors would take seriously. The two diamonds.”

“You remembered that?” I bleated dumbly, half-confused, half-surprised and only slightly touched. I mean, this was a girl with the attention span of an ADHD puppy. The fact that she’d bothered to listen to me talk about this tattoo — much less retained what I said — well, it was nice.

“So we were sure it was Vespertine,” Aidan sliced through before Dom could answer. He lowered his voice. “Which made it kind of awkward when she started calling us in for questioning.”

“She called you in for questioning” Potter echoed incredulously, looking more than a little outraged. “She can do that?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, after you and the Sword went missing, the Aurors and the papers — not to mention Vespertine herself — immediately pinned the crime on you. Naturally, they wanted to talk to the two of us, seeing how close we are with you.”

I fell back in my chair, mouth suddenly dry. This was the first time I’d thought about what things must have been like back at Hogwarts, about the people I'd left in my wake. I hadn’t realized my impulsive decision to leave would have so many aftershocks.

“What did you tell them?” I whispered, almost afraid for the answer.

“The truth,” Aidan responded. His eyes were bright and hard. “That you had left and I had no idea where you were.”

I flushed, feeling shame creep up the back of my neck in a hot, prickling wave. If my brother was going to send me on a first-class guilt trip, the least he could do was toss me my complimentary bag of peanuts first.

“You didn’t have to come looking for me, Aidan,” I finally mumbled. “I would have called eventually.”

“Oh, okay.” Aidan’s posture tensed, and I immediately knew I’d said the wrong thing. “And until then, what did you expect Dom and I to do? Just sit around by the phone, braiding each other’s hair?”

“Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting you to send out a bloody search party!” I snapped back, and Potter’s eyebrows shot upwards. My nerves were so raw at this point, it felt like they’d been rubbing against a cheese-grater for the past hour. I was tired of this interrogation, I was tired of these unpleasant surprises, and most of all, I was tired of feeling shitty about myself.

I swung my arm out, gesturing vehemently to Aidan and Dom. “Besides, aren’t you two supposed to hate each other now?”

“We didn’t have the choice to hate each other, Agatha. We had to forget about all of that and rally together,” Aidan said loudly. “The minute you decided to leave and start a real-life game of Where’s bloody Waldo!”

“Come on, Aidan,” Potter interrupted smoothly, ever the reasonable one. “There’s no need to be harsh.”

“And there’s no need to defend me.” I glared at Potter. If he thought he could get off the hook for how he'd been acting this morning, he was sorely mistaken.

But Potter simply raised his hands in surrender, leaning back in his chair with no further argument.

I twisted back around to face my brother. “Aidan, I understand you’re upset,” I sighed heavily. “But can’t we just move on?”

“No! I have the right to be upset! I’m your brother, Aggy,” Aidan gritted out, jaw jutting forward.

“And I’m your best friend,” Dom chimed in just as fiercely.

“And I’m your brother,” Aidan said again loudly, with a pointed look at Dom.

I shook my head, smiling bitterly. “But you weren’t acting like it at the time, now were you?" I said pointedly, meeting Dom and Aidan's angry faces with forceful conviction in my gaze. "I’m not blaming you, but we were all in a really bad place at the time. No one was speaking to each other, and — and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to turn to. What did you expect?”

Aidan and Dom both seemed to slightly deflate at this. Sagging sheepishly in his chair, Aidan averted his gaze and began picking at a string in his jeans. Dom coughed uncomfortably and shifted in her seat.

“But I'm over it,” I said loudly, wishing to be done once and for all with the arguing. “We’re here now, so we should just... focus on the future ahead of us. What’s the next step with this Sword business?"

Aidan snapped his head up, shock sweeping across his expression. “Well, I thought it’d be obvious," he said confusedly. "Given the other person who’s involved in the situation.”

“Obvious? The other person?” My brow collapsed into a frown. “I don’t get what you mea — oh will you two stop it with the looks?!”

Sheepishly, Dom and Aidan broke off another one of their ‘meaningful glances’ and turned to look at me, faces uncannily somber. Potter leaned forward in his seat to rest his elbows on his knees, a thoughtful eyebrow raised.

“Aggy,” Dom said, her normally brassy voice low and quiet. “Don’t you know who else we’re dealing with?”

I shook my head, confused and not enjoying the feeling at all. “I mean, I know Vespertine had her cronies — they’re the ones who we fought at the Ministry ball, the ones everyone kept calling Death Eaters — but that’s it.”

Aidan’s blue eyes widened to bludger-worthy proportions. “You mean to say we know something that you don’t?” A small smile began spreading across his face. He leaned in, voice dropping to a conspiratorial tone. “Permission to gloat?”

“Permission denied,” I snapped, setting my teacup on its saucer with an urgent clack. “Now tell me.”

Dom exhaled sharply. “Alright, alright. While Aidan and I were doing our research on Vespertine, we found out something interesting.”

“Yeah,” Aidan nodded solemnly, the grin sliding off his face. “Guess who was Vespertine’s campaign manager, close friend, and a once-active member of Vespertine’s Vanguard for Vendetta and Vengeance?”

“Who?” Potter and I burst at the same time.

“Sebastian Cooper," Dom answered immediately, eyes narrowing.

Aidan nodded grimly, leveling Potter and I with his bright blue stare. “Fallon Cooper’s father.”

Dom didn’t even let this sink in before she barreled on. “And guess who’s having a blow-out rager tonight at a club in Hogsmeade to celebrate the Slytherin Quidditch team’s recent victory over Ravenclaw?”

In the depths of my heart, and the dread pooling in my stomach, I already knew the answer.

But Aidan gave it anyways. “Fallon Cooper.”

“And guess who’ll be in attendance?” Dom cocked her chin defiantly.

I didn't let my brother answer this time. I just looked between Aidan and Dom, taking in their identical, grim expressions, and sighed heavily. It all was so sodding predictable — already, I could feel my stomach twisting into intestinal pretzels of dread. Eyes fluttering shut, I whispered the answer that we were all waiting to hear:

"Us."

—*—

Three hours later and I found myself standing in my father’s guestroom, horrified as I gaped at the polished mirror on Debbie’s prized mahogany wardrobe.

Now, this wouldn’t be the first time I’d ever regarded my reflection with horror (can you say 'puberty?'), but it was the first time my reflection had shown me someone other than…well, me.

I wasn't being poetic or metaphorical here. I literally could not recognize myself anymore, and I didn't mean that like when, in romantic novels, the heroine undergoes some emotional transformation and can no longer identify with her former past self.

No, I simply could not see myself in the mirror anymore.

Thanks to Dom and her make-up case (a duo I could only liken to Batman and his utility belt), I had been completely made over. My hair, my nails, my face, my skin — every part of my outer façade had been powdered, filed, coloured, and charmed with several different beauty spells. Dom had glamoured me into a completely different person so that now, I could waltz into Cooper’s party without anyone knowing who I was.

My hair, with a quick flick of Dom’s wand, was a short, choppy black pixie cut. My nose had gone from its usual button shape to a perfect ski slope. My cheeks were thinner, more defined, and my jawline sharper. Dom had even magicked my boobs a couple cup-sizes up. I had basically been made to look like that one character in every rom-com movie who plays the cute boy’s snooty, horrible ex-girlfriend from prep school.

“I can’t believe you did this.” I tried to keep the whine out of my voice as I peered into the mirror, groping at every curve and contour of my face. The only thing Dom hadn’t been able to touch were my eyes, which remained their usual misty blue.

“What?” Dom said defensively as she fluffed the back of my hair, a manic gleam in her eyes. “I made you into a total regulation hottie!”

“It’s just weird,” I murmured, fascinated by my reflection and the stranger inside it. When I moved, the stranger moved. When I twitched or turned or raised my eyebrows, so did she. “I look completely different.”

Dom arched a cool, cocky eyebrow. “That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?”

“Well, yeah," I mused. "I guess so."

Dom ruffled my hair one last time and stepped back, surveying my appearance with an air of decided approval. We fell into a comfortable silence — just like old times — as she started to pack up her make-up case and I continued to scrutinize the mirror, unable to fully believe what I was seeing.

And then:

“You and James had sex,” Dom said suddenly, her eyes trained determinedly on the colorful compacts and jumble of tubes in her case. It wasn’t phrased like a question. It was a statement of fact, said much the same way you might declare, ‘the sky is blue’ or ‘those jeans do make your butt look fat.’ There was no room for argument.

My jaw fell and I whirled around, tearing my gaze away from my reflection to gape at Dom. She was purposely not looking at me, organizing her case with a practiced air of nonchalance.

I had no idea what to say.

So, I settled for the truth.

“Yeah,” I said shakily. “We did.”

Dom looked up, her jade eyes widening, rosy lips falling open. There was a mélange of different emotions flitting across her face, none of which I could identify. She looked almost… upset.

“How’d you know?” I mumbled, feeling, oddly enough, like I ought to be apologizing.

“I’m his cousin and your best friend,” Dom said softly. "I could just tell. Both of you have been acting so shifty and guilty. James can't even look at Aidan without flinching."

“Are you going to yell at me?” I asked meekly, shirking backwards. I was not really looking forward to another Dom-plosion, especially since now there wasn’t any escape route present (or, for that matter, witnesses for a potential homicide investigation).

“No.” Dom calmly shook her head, but from the frown creasing her forehead, I knew she was troubled. “It’s your choice. I don’t get to have a say in what you two do. I just wish… I just wish you’d be more careful, Aggy.”

“We were careful,” I said, only a little defensively. “We…er, used protection.”

Dom smiled sadly. “I don’t mean careful in that way.”

And, leaving me with that, she shouldered her make-up case and headed out the door. Unable to make sense of her ominous wording, I watched her leave uneasily.

Well. That wasn’t very comforting.

Despite everything we’d gone through over the past few days (knife assaults included), Dom was still my best friend — seeing her less-than-enthusiastic reaction made me feel super nauseous. I mean, I still cared about what she thought. I always had and always would. If Dom couldn’t support this, who would?

Sighing, I had wheeled around to face the mirror once more when a knock at the door signaled yet another visitor.

Speak of the devil: Potter stepped inside, hands shoved causally into pockets as he surveyed the room critically. His sharp gaze landed on my new appearance, and his eyebrows quirked upwards in surprise.

“If it weren’t for the fact that you’re about to insult me in the next ten seconds, then I'd swear you're not Agatha Bennett,” he intoned, leaning against the edge of a worn dresser. I rolled my eyes.

“Har har. You should try stand-up comedy,” I snapped back, irritation prickling my neck. Ever since last night, I'd had no idea how to act around Potter. So, I'd settled for my normal routine of snarkiness and hate, seeing as that was the easiest to revert to.

“Not because you’d be any good at it, mind you," I added, my gaze locked with Potter's amused one in the mirror's reflection. "You’re actually horrendous, but I’d enjoy watching the audience chuck tomatoes at you.”

Potter smirked. “And there it is. Hey, Bennett."

I stifled a growl. Insufferable know-it-all. “What do you want?”

“I wanted to check out Aggy 2.0.” Potter gave a carefree shrug. “Also, Aidan wanted me to remind you that we’re leaving in ten minutes.”

I twisted back around to face the mirror, feeling my stomach flip at the thought of leaving. “Got it. See ya,” I said curtly, praying Potter would take the hint and leave. I really was not in the mood to deal with a walking reminder of that night right now, especially after my conversation with Dom. Plus, I was still more than a little miffed about his reaction to all that'd happened. The sooner Potter left, the sooner I could calm down and focus on our mission for the night.

Potter, of course, did not seem to understand any of this.

“You sure you can do this? Tonight, I mean?” Potter pushed himself off the dresser's edge to a straightened stand, hands still shoved in his pockets. His tone was goading, skeptical — it was obvious he doubted my capabilities.

“You sure you want to ask that question?” I shot back dangerously. “I know what to do, Potter. Get in, get Cooper talking about his dad, and then get out. It’ll be easy.”

There was a long silence in which Potter neither agreed nor disagreed with this statement, instead flicking his gaze to the ground as he seemed to intently, thoughtfully study the pattern of the floral carpet beneath his shoes.

Finally, he spoke, raising his gaze back up to meet mine in the wardrobe's reflection. His face was a cool, even mask, but his eyes burned bright with something strong and intense.

"Do you want to talk about what happened?" he said quietly, voice completely neutral. "The other night?"

I swallowed, glare turning frosty at Potter's cautious wording. The last thing I needed was him tip-toeing around me like this, shooting me looks of pity and asking me if I wanted to "talk." He had made his feelings about the sex perfectly clear last morning, and I didn't want or need a painful repeat of that conversation. What's done was done.

I shook my head, unable to fathom how we could be the same two people from that night. Days earlier, Potter’s lips had been behind my ear, my hand twisted in his shirt, our hungry mouths finding each other. And now here we were, standing across from each other in a room, the distance between us tangible and prickly and unnatural.

“Let’s just go,” I said quietly, not bothering to look at Potter for his reaction. I trudged forward, brushing past him without another glance, and hurried down the stairs.

At the bottom, Dom, Aidan and Freddy were already waiting for us, mouths pulled into identical grim lines. Despite being on a mum-mandated house arrest, Freddy had insisted on coming when Aidan called to tell him our plan. I suspected his adamant determination had much to do with the distinct possibility of an Evelyn sighting at the club.

“Wotcher,” Freddy nodded tersely in our direction, jingling his car keys in his hand. “Ready to go?”

“We all know the plan, right?” Aidan said, assuming the same authoritative tone that I’d heard him use so many times before — be it planning a prank or a play for the Quidditch team. We gathered closer together, clustering in the dim light of my dad’s foyer, our heads forming a scheming huddle

I shoved my arms into the sleeves of my down jacket. “I'll go in to the party, making sure no one realizes who I am. I’ll pretend to be just another girl enamored with Cooper and his dickish ways. Once he gets a little drunk, I’ll try to coax some information out of him about his dad."

Potter shrugged on his coat. “This is all assuming Cooper knows something.”

“He does,” Dom said firmly, though I wasn't as sure.

"I guess we'll find out," I said, glancing bewilderingly around at all the individual faces in the huddle. These were people who, the beginning of the year, had made my life hell with their crazy, reckless, stupid decisions. From Freddy and his relentless quest to raise Filch’s blood pressure, to Aidan’s coma, to Dom hopping from boy to boy, fling to fling – I had fretted and worried constantly about my friends. I had followed them around with First Aid Kits and a Bridget Jones-worthy supply of Ben & Jerry’s, always prepared for the next big fall or breakup.

But now here they were. Sober and grave, their eyes steely with determination. They looked so…serious. Grown up. And they were here for me. Even Potter, despite all the ambiguity and maddening drama between us right now, was here to help.

I felt oddly touched.

I straightened, swallowing as I reached out for the doorknob. It was now or never.

“Let’s go,” I said.

—*—

It was your typical moronfest.

Loud music, flashy lights, drunk minors — the whole shebang. The club Cooper had chosen for his shindig was the same Hogsmeade one Aidan had gotten kicked out of a while back, when Potter and I had been forced to pick him up and carry him home. Cooper had reserved the location specifically for himself and his cronies. Driving up to it in Fred’s minivan, you could hear the techno music thumping from a mile away.

I went in first — separate from the group so as not to attract attention. Though honestly, it was so dark and hectic in there, it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d gone in together with a procession of can-can dancers and a marching band behind us, no one would have noticed.

The music inside clashed brashly with squealing voices and the hollering of the big groups of teenagers having a grand ol’ illegal time. Some seventh-year had commandeered the bar and was serving drinks to a demanding, clamoring crowd, and, if I wasn’t mistaken, that was the Head Boy doing belly shots off of the Ravenclaw Prefect.

Ah, youth.

My eyes, once adjusted to the violet darkness, began sweeping across the club in a search for any sign of Cooper. Except for the occasional neon glow of a white shirt flashing past, I couldn’t see anything.

And then, there he was.

He looked the same as always, but I almost hadn’t expected him to be there, and my stomach flipped unpleasantly at the sight. Hair slicked back, self-satisfied smile on his face, Fallon Cooper weaved his way through the jostling crowd, looking especially sinister.

…Then again, I was a little biased. To me, anything Cooper did was sinister. The git could probably find a way to sinisterly pet a puppy or sinisterly help a grandma cross the street. Every decision he made was somehow creepy.

My heart suddenly plummeted, cannonballing into my stomach, as I eventually realized that Cooper was making his way in my direction, getting closer and closer by the second. I opened my mouth, ready to say whatever first came to mind when he reached me —

And then promptly snapped it shut when Cooper passed me and instead stopped in front of Dom and Potter, who were now just walking through the entrance.

Eyes trained on the three of them, I ambled over to the bar in a half-hearted attempt to distance myself. I snatched a fruity drink off the neon counter, absentmindedly sipping on the straw as I watched Cooper say something to Potter and Dom, a snarky leer on his face.

Dom drew backwards as if slapped. Potter stiffened and replied with something that was, in all likelihood, incredibly sarcastic.

I sucked on my straw, eyes darting frantically between the three. What was Cooper saying? Whatever it was, it certainly had an effect. Potter was looking angrier by the second, and Dom was visibly trembling. I was getting anxious; I knew Potter’s track record with Cooper — the last time they’d met one-on-one, Potter had kindly introduced his fist to Cooper’s jaw. It hadn't exactly been happy meeting.

Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t Potter who reacted with hostility this time.

Dom suddenly lunged forward at Cooper, her hands balled into furious fists, but Potter immediately stopped her with a restraining hand on the shoulder. Cooper laughed (sinisterly, of course) and turned away, evidently satisfied with Dom's reaction. His goal accomplished, he disappeared back into the crowd.

I followed.

After some ducking and weaving through the human obstacle-course that was the dance-floor (making sure to avoid some of the more, er, intimate couples), I found Cooper sitting with his mates in a tiny, shadowed enclave — obviously the VIP section. He and the other blokes were lounging idly on velvet, plump couches, which had been raised above the rest of the club on a small platform of some sort.

I stared at the group apprehensively. I didn’t know what I was expecting — for my foot to go straight through the platform when I tried to step onto it, maybe — but I managed to clamber up with ease. Cooper and his mates were clustered around a turquoise glass table, boasting bottles of liquor and fancy glasses that spat out sparks and coloured smoke, and were resolutely unaware of my presence.

Feeling somewhat awkward, I cleared my throat.

“Hey there,” I greeted lowly, announcing my entrance all sultry and Dom-like. I crossed my arms in a flirty, practiced movement that showed off my cleavage and subsequently set the feminist movement back about twenty years.

Cooper looked up, eyebrows slanting with arrogant amusement.

“Well,” he cocked his chin delightedly in my direction, and his cronies all turned to ogle at me. “Who do we have here?”

“Jessica,” I blurted hastily, pulling the first random name that came to my head.

Jessica had been a girl in my third grade class who I'd absolutely hated. She'd once shoved me into a puddle during recess, and now, I was using her name in a deranged attempt at befriending the son of a man who wanted to kill me.

…I wonder what this says about my subconscious.

Anyways.

“I’m Jessica,” I repeated, lowering my voice to a soft purr. Ick. “But you don’t have to introduce yourself. I already know who you are.”

Cooper gauged me for a second, grey eyes sweeping up and down my body with no shame whatsoever. For a moment, I was afraid he would somehow see right through me.

But then he smirked.

“Well, Jessica.” Cooper inched over, patting a space on the couch next to where he was. “Take a seat.”

—*—

“So then I told the waiter, ‘Get your own!’”

The entire VIP section burst into hooting, knee-slapping laughter at Cooper’s —apparently brilliant — joke. I, on the other hand, would never know just how funny it had been, seeing as I hadn’t been paying attention to anything or anyone for the past ten minutes.

For over two hours — and a lot of drinks — Cooper had been regaling all of us with stories about his epic adventures at the country club, his father’s mansion and the Quidditch Pitch. Of course, his cronies were eating it all up, supplying Cooper with his own personal laugh track at every other word. I, meanwhile, had just finished counting the number of freckles on my arm in order to pass time, and had moved on to daydreaming up all the perfect ways I could kill, maim, or injure Cooper, Believe me, things were getting creative.

“But it all ended up working out,” Cooper was saying as he shrugged his left shoulder, smirking and swirling the whiskey in his glass. “After my father had a word with the manager.”

I immediately perked up at the word ‘father,’ recognizing a fleeting window of opportunity that I could pounce on.

“And just who is your father?” I asked, suggestively leaning forward. Instantly, the group quieted — most likely because this was the first word I'd said in the past half-hour. “Is he as brilliant as yourself?”

If I was laying the flattery on a little thick, Cooper didn’t seem to notice — or care, for that matter. He regarded me with a mingled appreciation and approval in his eyes, nodding as if I’d just said something very wise.

“He’s a politician, you could say,” Cooper took a swig from his drink, sharing conspiratorial looks with his cohorts over the glass rim. “And he’s about to make some pretty big changes.”

The group, obviously catching on to what Cooper was implying, broke out into collective snickers.

I feigned ignorance. “Like what?”

Normally, I don’t think Cooper would have responded well to my nosing around. But he’d just had four glasses of whiskey, and I’d just lowered the neckline of my shirt a little bit and, well, what can I say? The boy was weak.

“Let’s just say.” Cooper crunched some ice between his teeth, eyes gleaming malevolently. “The Minister is hosting a press conference regarding the Sword and that stupid Bennett girl tomorrow night…” I tried not to flinch at his tone. “And there are going to be a couple surprising developments that no one will anticipate.”

The cronies all nudged each other, sharing winks and smirks.

“Of course,” Cooper bragged, and I could tell he was enjoying himself, enjoying the fact that all the attention and admiration and respect was zeroed in on him. He was getting carried away, controlled by the rush that came with being in the spotlight. “These are some much needed developments. Developments that will surely benefit our kind — and by our kind, I mean the Purebloods, obviously. No longer will we have to live by the whims of Harry Potter and his stupid cohorts of bleeding-heart idiots.” At this, Cooper spat into his empty glass, face contorted in fierce anger. “I’ll make sure of it.”

“You’ll make sure of it?” I tried to edge my voice into a sugary coo, but I was fairly sure there'd been a twinge of disgust in my tone.

“Obviously,” Cooper spread his arms out jovially. I don’t think he even realized I was next to him anymore — he was too busy enjoying himself and his starring role on The Cooper Show playing in his head. “I’ll be at the press conference, alongside the rest of the fighters — "

“Fighters?” I sliced in quickly, but was ignored.

“And if any mudblood," Cooper barreled on, and I tried not to flinch. “Or mudblood-supporter or Harry Potter-follower tries to get in the way… I’ll kill them. Simple as that.”

Cooper slammed his glass on the table, grey gaze sweeping across the VIP section, and his mates all murmured with approval and respect.

My heartbeat was racing. We had gone suddenly from ‘developments’ to ‘kill,’ in two seconds flat, and I wasn’t sure how. My mind, addled by the drinks Cooper had made me choke down, was spinning with confusion as I tried to piece together just what exactly Cooper and his father were planning.

It was all too much to concentrate on. I didn't know anything, except that I wanted to get out of there fast, the urge to leave as soon as possible making my blood churn heatedly. My leg had started to jiggle up and down, and I sincerely hoped Cooper wouldn't notice that my entire body had gone taut with fear — not so much because of what he'd said, but rather the conviction with which he said it, the manic, almost delusional, glint in his eye, the hatred clenched in his jaw. This was a boy who always got what he wanted, who'd go to great lengths to achieve his ambitions.

It was chilling.

“Fallon,” grunted one of Cooper’s cronies. “What about your girl? Will she be there too?”

He was, I gathered, referring to Evelyn, who I belatedly realized had been mysteriously absent from this all-male VIP section the entire time.

Cooper threw his head back and chuckled. “Of course. She just doesn’t know it yet.”

Another one of Cooper’s friends saved me by asking the same question already on the tip of my tongue. “What does that mean?”

“Well, my father wants as many civilians at the conference when we siege it. The more civilians there, the more people there to get hurt, and the more likely the Minister will have to surrender. Evelyn trusts me — she follows me around like a lost puppy, after all,” Cooper smirked knowingly. “Which makes her the perfect hostage if the situation requires it.”

My ears were ringing. Was this a joke? Civilians… siege… hostage… These were words I weren’t prepared for. They came down like messages from another planet, surreal and meaningless.

I was now truly beginning to realize the full extent of the situation we were in — Cooper meant business. The deductions that followed his statements were simple and terrifying: his father had something planned, nothing could stop them, and Evelyn was in danger.

“Excuse me,” I murmured, breathless. I stood up abruptly, not caring about how conspicuous I was being, and stumbled my way down the platform. I doubted Cooper even noticed my exit, though. He was too busy bragging to his friends.

Almost as if in a trance, I mechanically shoved my way through the crowd, head reeling. Civilians…siege…hostage… What the bloody hell was going on? This wasn’t the vocabulary of your typical fifth-year! This was craziness. This was danger and risk and the all-too-real possibility of death!

I was close to hyperventilating.

“Oi! Watch it!”

Before I knew it, I was stumbling straight into another body, pitching forward as I trampled over a pair of big feet. I looked up, blinking dazedly, to see familiar curly hair and light green, dancing eyes.

“Fred?” I said faintly.

Fred frowned. “Is that you, Aggy?” He reared back, quickly realizing his mistake. “Uh, I mean, IS THAT YOU, COMPLETE STRANGER-GIRL WHO I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT KNOW AND HAVE NO RELATION TO?”

I rolled my eyes while Freddy menacingly stared down nearby people, daring them to challenge him on what he’d just said. No one was paying us any attention, though, too busy chatting and partying like normal teenagers.

“Real subtle, mate,” I said dryly.

“My specialty,” Fred nodded, before abruptly switching tactics. He lowered his voice in a paranoid whisper. “How’d the Cooper thing go?”

I turned serious, the information I’d just learned spinning fresh through my mind. Suddenly, everything seemed incredibly urgent, critically pressing, and I realized, dully, that it seemed that way because it was.

I grabbed Freddy by the shoulders, boring my gaze into his surprised green one.

“Freddy, listen to me,” I said intensely, practically shouting over the loud music. “It is imperative that you do this. Find Evelyn. Convince her to get away from Cooper. Tell her to break up with him, tell her to spend the night at your place — I don’t care —just get her away from Cooper.”

Fred blinked dumbly, the laughter gone from his eyes. “What?”

I sighed, my eyes fluttering shut, and then went on to tell Freddy everything Cooper had just told me — emphasizing the part where, you know, his ex-girlfriend gets abducted and used in a hostage situation.

By the time I was done, Fred was seething, his mouth twisted into a furious scowl. I could practically see the smoke spiraling out of his nostrils.

“Are you serious, Agatha?”

Maybe it was from my years of knowing him, or the way his hands were curled into fists, but I could tell what Freddy was thinking. Already, he was looking away from me, scanning the crowd with sharp, angered eyes. And I knew just who he was looking for.

“Fred — no,” I commanded, voice clear and authoritative. “I know you want to go find Cooper right now, but you can’t. You have to think about Evelyn. She’s your priority. Okay?”

When Fred didn’t respond, I gripped his shoulders tighter. “Okay?

I released Fred and he stumbled backwards dazedly, snapping his eyes to me. The cloudy rage in his gaze seemed to clear for a moment.

“Okay,” he gritted out, determined, and then he spun around and left.

For a moment I just stood there, body sagging in relief as I watched him go.

And then I heard shouting.

It only took a moment for me to focus on the noise and get an inkling as to who was causing it. Immediately, I whirled around on my heel and started to wade through the crowd, gaze narrowed with concentration, every nerve in my body aimed at finding the source of the ruckus.

I broke through a cluster of giggling Hufflepuffs, and my suspicions were confirmed when I saw that, of course, it was my brother behind it all.

It wasn’t a pretty scene.

“HOW FUCKING DARE YOU! DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? WHAT I COULD DO TO YOU?”

In a rather predictable turn of events, Aidan was bellowing at a scared-looking Xander McLaggan — Dom’s new boyfriend — who currently looked like he was close to peeing himself. Dom was grasping Aidan’s arm in an attempt to restrain him, a pleading look on her face. It was Potter, however, who seemed to be doing most of the work. He was standing on Aidan’s other side, grimacing as he held my writhing brother back by the shoulder.

The club’s bartender was in between McLaggan and Aidan, a hand on either chest as he struggled to keep the two apart. He looked like he really hated his job.

The next minute kind of unfolded like the script of a particularly bad Mexican soap opera:

Aidan: “LET ME AT HIM, JUST LET ME AT HIM!”

Dom: “Aidan, please, you don’t have to defend me!”

Bartender: “There will be absolutely no fighting in this club!”

Me: “What’s going on?”

Enter: a mustachioed man with impressive chest hair, wearing a sombrero.

Mustachioed man: I am Juan Pablo Colar, and I am hear to avenge the death of my sister, Gloria Pablo Colar! Olé!

…Okay, so the mustachioed man entrance never actually happened. But hey, if this was going to be a Mexican soap opera, I had to add some authentic flavor to spice things up, no?

“Bennett?” Potter finally noticed me and released his grip on Aidan, who immediately lunged wildly forward. Lucky for McLaggan, the bartender managed to stand his ground and keep the two separated.

Potter pushed past the bartender and stepped towards me, ducking his head so that I could hear him. “How did Cooper go?”

“Nevermind that.” I brushed it off, sweeping my arm to indicate the scene in front of me. “What the bloody hell is going on here?”

“Well,” Potter began conversationally with a casual shrug. He turned smoothly around to face the scene, regarding it with the polite, mild interest of an outside observer. “Dom just caught McLaggan cheating on her with Hufflepuff Sally Perkins. Aidan, for some reason, took special offense to this, and is now attacking McLaggan. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the bartender will be handing in his resignation before the end of the night.”

I scoffed in agreement. “Why is Aidan so pissed though? Shouldn’t Dom be the one freaking out?” I’d seen Dom wronged by quite a few men before… And she’d been furious back then. Believe me when I say: hell hath no fury like a Weasley woman scorned.

“I have no idea why Aidan’s pissed,” Potter conceded, crossing his arms. “Something about defending Dom’s honor, I guess.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

Together, we both peered at the scene unfolding before us, our heads cocked in identical fascination. Aidan, having just attempted to roundhouse kick McLaggan in the face, had accidentally stubbed his toes against the wall and was now hopping up and down in pain. Dom was going between fretting over Aidan’s injury to apologizing profusely to the bartender, and McLaggan… Well, McLaggan still looked like he was about to pee his pants.

“I don’t understand any of this,” I announced loudly.

Potter nodded in concise agreement. “We have weird friends.”

“IF YOU GET A GIRL LIKE DOMINIQUE WEASLEY,” Aidan was now screaming. “THEN YOU TREAT HER BLOODY RIGHT, GOT IT?”

And with a weird, gargling noise that I guess was supposed to be a war-cry, Aidan broke free of Dom’s grip, dodged the bartender… and tackled McLaggan to the floor.

Chaos ensued.

Dom immediately started shrieking her head off. The bartender, hapless, could only watch as McLaggan and Aidan grappled with each other on the ground, rolling around in a blur of fists and feet.

Immediately, a Ravenclaw who I recognized to be a friend of McLaggan’s stepped forward from the crowd that had begun to assemble around the scene. He hauled Aidan to his feet and — in a snap of movement too fast to register — punched my brother across the jaw.

Dom started to wail.

We were descending into calamity. There was screaming (Dom) and hollering (the bartender) and moans of pain (McLaggan), and amidst it all, my brother was getting the snot punched out of him.

Potter sighed, looking like he had to perform a chore he really didn’t want to do as he cracked his neck from side to side. “What the hell,” he muttered, and then he was diving into the fray, grabbing McLaggan’s pal by the shoulder to twist him around and punch him square in the face.

Bloody hell.

Before I could do or say anything to stop this madness, Freddy decided this was an opportune moment to reappear.

“We should leave,” he declared urgently.

I tore my gaze away from the brawl to glance at the Gryffindor, doing a double-take when I took in his full appearance. Because over his shoulder, Freddy was carrying… Evelyn’s unconscious body?

“Oh my god!” I burst, jaw dropping in shock. “What happened?”

“Mmmmsmdflarg,” Freddy mumbled softly, voice quiet with shame. His face was bright red, and he looked extremely guilty. Oh god. This couldn’t be good.

“What? I can’t hear you!” I yelled over the fray.

Mmmsmdflarg,” Freddy mumbled through gritted teeth, this time with more urgency.

“What?”

“I STUNNED EVELYN!” Freddy shouted, and then immediately winced at his own words.

I gaped at him, barely registering the brawl still happening in the corner of my eye. (Aidan’s sleeve had now caught on fire, Dom was frantically trying to put it out with her wand, and for some reason, there was the sound of a cat yowling in the background.) “You what?”

“She wouldn’t listen to me and I knew she was going to go back to Cooper, so I panicked and I stunned her, okay?” Fred huffed defensively. “I know it sounds bad.”

“Really?” I said dryly, gesturing to Evelyn’s unconscious body slumped over Fred’s shoulder. “Because it looks great.”

Freddy pursed his lips. “Don’t sass me, young lady.”

“Why? Are you going to stun me too?”

Freddy looked like he was about to retort, but then froze in terror when he caught sight of something behind my shoulder.

“Oh god,” he moaned. “I think Cooper’s just spotted us. We better run.”

I turned around to look at the exact same time Freddy tossed me his carkeys, which hit my cheek and ricocheted to the floor in a spectacular display of my lightning-fast reflexes.

“I’ll go in and get Aidan. Grab the car,” Freddy barked tersely as he started to plunge his way into the kerfuffle of fists and fighting, Evelyn still dangling limply over his shoulder.

“What?” I blinked stupidly.

“I SAID GRAB THE CAR,” Freddy yelled, eyes manic, over his shoulder. Jolting into action, I bent down and snatched the keys off the grimy club floor before wheeling around and hurtling towards the exit.

Once I was outside, the car was pretty easy to find. Amidst the sleek SUVs and shiny sedans in the frigid parking lot, there was Freddy’s battered minivan — the universal icon for soccer mom’s everywhere. And also, now, our getaway car.

Great.

I beeped the car unlocked and slid onto the cold, crunchy leather of the drivers seat, shivering from a mingled adrenaline-cocktail of cold and fear. After a couple bungled tries, my shaky hand was finally able to jam the keys in the ignition, and our Swagmobile rumbled to life.

It took me a while to remember (through a series of jolting stops and starts, and one near-miss with the pole behind me) which pedal was which and how to reverse. My one experience driving had been that night we had to pick an unconscious Aidan up from the New Years concert. Given that time had involved several near death experiences, I was, needless to say, still a little nervous about operating a vehicle.

Right as I was pulling up to the exit, the metal door to the club flew open with such force, it slammed against the wall with a bone-chattering clang. Out barged Freddy, looking the scariest I’d ever seen him — with his shirt torn in several places, a crazed look in his eyes and what looked like the beginnings of a bruise blossoming across his jaw. Also, let’s not forget the unconscious girl over his shoulder.

Freddy stormed through the door, shoving the bouncer away with the hand that wasn’t holding up Evelyn. He was followed by a bedraggled-looking Potter and Dom, who were dragging a limp and obviously woozy Aidan between them.

“UNLOCK THE CAR DOOR,” Freddy was hollering, and since he was sounding a bit like a mentally-unstable army sergeant at this point, I did what I was told. After the click, Fred threw open the door, dumped Evelyn inside in an unceremonious heap, and started gesturing crazily inside. “GO GO GO.”

With that, all my friends threw themselves in the van in a pile of arms and legs and creative cursing. After everyone was inside, I stalled for a moment – unsure of what to do next. But then I spotted Cooper and his cronies shoving their way through the club door, and before I could even think twice, my foot slammed on the gas pedal and we were peeling away with a Hollywood-movie-worthy screech.

This prompted even more shouting and chaos, as everyone in the van was still on the floor (seatbelt? What’s that?). With a clunking noise (and several complaints), my friends tumbled across the van and managed to tangle themselves together even further.

“Oof! James you’re on my hair!”

“Somebody close the door!”

“Dom, could you do me a favor AND KINDLY REMOVE YOUR FOOT FROM MY NOSTRIL THANKS.”

“Holy shit, what’s wrong with Evelyn?”

“It’s such a lovely night tonight. Look at the stars. Look at the moon...”

The last comment was courtesy of Aidan, who was obviously pretty out of it from the fight and staring at the carpeted van of the ceiling with a dopey smile on his face.

Jesus.

I hastily jerked the steering wheel to the left (more tumbling, more complaining), and the van swerved onto a busy intersection. The traffic light was red, so I pumped the breaks and we came to a nerve-wracking stop just inches away from a truck in front of us.

Exhaling in relief, I slumped back in the chair — finally able to relax now that we were away from Cooper and his Jolly Band of Future Inmates. The steering wheel was smeared with some lovely palm-sweat and I was still shaking — but we were alive. The rest — what Cooper had told me, the siege and the civilians and the killing that was scheduled to happen tomorrow — could wait.

“How are you guys doing back there?” I hollered over my shoulder. There came a muffled chorus of grumbling as everyone heaved themselves into their seats in an orderly fashion.

Potter, meanwhile, clambered over the console, dropping smoothly down into the passenger's seat next to me and catching me by surprise. I blanched — Potter willingly sitting within a three-foot vicinity of me? What had the world come to?

“Bennett.” He turned to me impatiently, sweeping a hand through his hair. “Switch with me. Let me drive.”

“No!” I replied indignantly. “I can manage just fine, thanks.”

Potter’s gaze flattened — it was obvious he wasn’t in the mood to bicker. “Okay, how about instead of trying to convince you with simple logic — because I know that won’t work — we do a short tally here instead? Let’s see: who here drives on a regular basis? Me. Who hasn’tkilled someone in a car accident before? Me. Who should drive? Me.”

I gaped, mouth dropping open in outrage. “I — I’ve never killed someone in a car accident!”

“You came pretty close a couple times that one night,” Potter shot back easily. The red of the traffic light glowed across his face, dappled by the raindrops trembling on the vans windshield. “Now quick — switch seats with me.”

Right as he said that, however, the traffic light went from red to a cheery green.

I smirked at Potter, shoving my foot onto the gas pedal. “Too late.”

And then we were off.

My smooth start, however, didn’t exactly have its intended effect. See, I’d kind of underestimated the power of the gas pedal while overestimating my own driving skill. The result was our minivan skidding across the slick streets, and everyone inside it in a (rather unnecessary) uproar.

“OH MY GOD SLOW DOWN!”

“Brake, Bennett!“

“I’m going to be sick!”

“We are in a death trap. We are in a moving, rattling, metal death tra — "

"GAHHHHH!”

“BENNETT HOLY FUCKING MOTHER OF FUCKS, BRAKE—“

“OKAY I BRAKED, POTTER. ARE YOU FUCKING HAPPY NOW? IS THIS WHAT YOU WANT?”

“NO, WHAT I WANT IS TO LIVE TO SEE TOMORROW!”

“STOP YELLING AT ME!”

“STOP TRYING TO KILL US!”

“Huh? Wha — ? Whas goin’ on? Where am I?”

“Oh hey, Evelyn’s awake!”

And that, my friends, is what happens when you put an underage teen driver, a messy-haired prat with severe control issues, and three drunken idiots in a car together.

Chaos.

“Evelyn?” I yelped, and even though I knew that I should be more focused on the road and — oh, I don't know — the speeding car I was driving, I was too overwhelmed by the relief that was flooding through me. Evelyn was alive. She was alive and speaking English. She was not suffering a special form of amnesia that had caused her to forget everything after her tenth birthday. She was alive, she was breathing, and she had retained full mental capacity. It was a miracle.

Yeah, you can tell I don’t expect too much out of people.

"Bennett, watch the wheel!"

I snapped back into focus just in time to see that, thanks to my little vaycay to La La Land, the van was now drifting towards the side of the street we were on, coming dangerously close to scraping against the concrete median.

"FUCK!" I cursed, yanking the steering wheel right as Potter lunged for it from the passenger side. Together, we jerked it towards the other direction, over-correcting so that the car screeched dangerously to the other side. In the backseat, there was a muttered 'oof,' a very loud thunk, and then an ominous silence.

Potter let go of the steering wheel, eyebrows quirking into his tousled dark hair.
"Freddy," he began cautiously. "What was that?"

I looked in the rear-view mirror and swore at what I saw — Evelyn, plastered against the window, her eyes shut peacefully. Our car's jerky turn had apparently caused her to slam into the car door... and promptly fall unconscious again.

"Oopsie," Fred offered unhelpfully. He was, along with Dom and Aidan, wincing sheepishly. I let go of the wheel, whipping around to shoot them all a pointed glare.

"HANDS!" Everyone in the car immediately cried, and Potter immediately lunged across to grab the steering wheel again. Needless to say, this left us in a very awkward position, with my body twisted around so that I could kill the three idiots with my eyes, and Potter basically sprawled across me so that we wouldn't go careening off the street. Safety first, kids!

"Can't you lot be the least bit helpful?" I snarled, gesturing to Evelyn, who now had a teensy bit of drool dangling from her mouth. Charming.

Freddy, however, didn't look too hot either. His face was tinged with an unpleasant green, and he was making a strange, alarming retching noise. "Hold up," he said, pressing a hand to his stomach. "Can I get back to you after I finish throwing up this intestine?"

I did not appreciate the implication of his question.

"For the last time!" I cried as I whipped around to drive again. Potter, giving me a cautious glance, released the wheel. Bad timing, since I had chosen that exact moment to display my exasperation at the injustice of it all by throwing my arms into the air. "I'm not that bad of a driver — "

"HANDS!" Everyone in the car shouted once more, and huffing, I slammed my hands back onto the steering wheel. Honestly, it would be a miracle if we got home alive.

Ungrateful prats.


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