Chapter 44 : Goosebumps
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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 life that I’ve sketched out in my head, then I freak.
I seriously go loconuts over the tiniest thing. Like, one time, I got an Acceptable instead of an Exceeds Expectations on a Transfig quiz, and I spiraled into a deep depression for five days. Dom had to gather the whole gang together for an intervention. They found me lying on my bed, surrounded by crumpled flashcards, muttering Engleberts Theorem of Animagia over and over like a mantra.
I mean, right now – for example – my foot is itchy but I can’t scratch it because it's ticklish, and this is seriously making me question the existence of a benevolent God. Yeah. That’s all it takes. An itchy foot.
I have existential crises like some girls have shopping days.
Which is why, when I woke up (naked) next to James Sirius Potter (also naked) on this fine winter’s morning – I knew it wouldn’t be long until I started freaking-out.
It’s kind of like waiting for a kettle to boil. Except instead of a kettle, it’s a hormonal, redhead explosion of hysteria, screaming and, most likely, tears. Said explosion was bound to happen – I might not know exactly when, but it was just a matter of time.
So all I could do was wait. I lay there, next to a sleeping Potter, trying to focus on quiet bobbing of my chest going up and down with every breath. My mind and body were deceptively calm at the moment, but I knew it was just an illusion. I may be cool and collected now, but it wouldn’t be long before I was boarding the Crazy Train with a one-way ticket to Panicville.
I just slept with James Potter. James Potter. The boy who, in second year, dumped a whole plate of scrambled eggs on my head in front of everyone in the Great Hall. The boy who couldn’t pass me in the hallway 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 words – want you – in my ear.
I just lost my virginity to Potter.
I hate that phrase. ‘Lose your virginity,’ I mean. Your virginity isn’t just something that you misplace and then, months later, randomly find under your bed or in the back of your closet (“Oh hey! My virginity! I was looking for this!) It’s not like there are just random peoples’ virginities strewn all over the place, waiting to be found and returned to their rightful owner.
Oh fuck. Why. Why, Aggy, why? In the moment, having sex with Potter had seemed so… easy. So obvious. Inevitable, almost, like it was how things were supposed to be. It sounds weird, I know, but being with him had felt right.
But now, in the light filtering sluggishly through the greenhouse’s grimy windows, all the consequences of that spur in the moment decision were starting to pop into existence like sinister gophers. What was Potter going to say? Dom? What if Aidan found out? Oh, god, Aidan.
I was so fucked.
….Okay, that was a poor choice in phrasing.
I had to get moving. Struggling to sit up, I squinted 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 smugly in the background, was clear. I knew my freak-out was coming, but since it wasn’t actually here now, I was feeling oddly calm. I was awash in the sensation that everything was going to turn out right, for some reason. Maybe this was some sort of defense mechanism coming from my brain – like how victims of near-death experiences always describe feeling tranquil during their traumatic accidents – but I was feeling… 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. Ugh, my mouth tasted horrid from drinking so much last night. Never again.
I was just starting to struggle to a full sitting position when – out of nowhere – an arm fell across my waist.
Potter’s arm, to be precise.
“Mmm, five more minutes,” Potter mumbled sleepily, eyes remaining determinedly shut, crease digging between his brows.
I stared at the way the sunlight lingered on his face, pooling atop his cheekbones, coating his eyelashes in gold. His arm was heavy, big hand splayed across my waist, and it brought me back to last night, when the same hands had been doing… um, other things.
The morning light brought out the freckles peppered across his nose and even a few on his shoulders. I was struck by how different Potter looked when he was sleeping. With his eyes fluttered shut, half his face smushed against the mattress, he seemed lot younger. A lot kinder.
And the instant that thought occurred to me, my hand was reaching out – without any expressed consent from my brain – to brush my thumb softly against Potter’s cheekbone.
And then his eyes flashed open.
First there was confusion - Potter’s gaze clouded over with sleepy befuddlement, eyebrows tilting upwards in the beginnings of a frown.
Then there was recognition – his hazel eyes flicked over me, my rumpled hair, the bed.
Then, there was panic.
“What the fuck.” Potter scrambled backwards, yanking the blanket over him, his eyes flashing wide open in alarm.
“Er… good morning, sunshine?” I mumbled weakly.
Okay, so, granted I’m not the most experienced here, but according to the resident sex experts in my life – aka Dom and Cosmo – there are several ways your man friend is supposed to act after you do, you know, it, and ‘scared, hunted animal’ isn’t one of them.
Potter gaped at me for a long moment, and then slammed his eyes shut.
“Did we - ?” he began faintly, almost in a whimper.
“Yup,” I responded, voice flat.
“And I - ?”
“And you - ?”
He dropped his head into his hands, and 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 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 bucketloads of cuddles. I knew that wasn’t realistic for a guy and a girl who shared a truckload of hatred, several unresolved arguments, and about five different incidents of broken noses between them.
No, what I was expecting was for me (see: neurotic, OCD, control freak) to be the one wigging out, while James ‘Know it All’ Potter sits by coolly and watches with disdain.
But it seems like now we had some weird, Freaky Friday-esque role reversal going on, and Potter was the one panicking.
Which was weird, because James Potter never panics. He always knows what to do. He always keeps a cool head.
...Except, apparently, on the rare occasion when he sleeps with his best mate’s sister.
This was kind of annoying, you know. I mean, I’m the one who has more or less cornered the market on the whole ‘irrational freak out’ thing. Potter’s kind of stealing my shtick here.
Also, does he really have to act so… horrified? I mean, am I honestly that repulsive to wake up to?
“This cannot be happening,” Potter groaned, his hands shoved into his rumpled dark hair. He seemed to have completely forgotten I was here and, for that matter, sitting right next to him.
“Is my morning breath that bad?” I joked feebly.
Potter didn’t even acknowledge my half-assed attempt at lightening the mood. He was too busy contemplating the pros and cons of suicide, it seemed.
“I let this happen,” he was mumbling - in obvious distress. “I let this happen. This is my fault.”
Grab a dictionary, look up the word, ‘regret,’ and you’ll see a picture of Potter.
...And then kindly take that dictionary and whack me over the head with it, please.
“Potter,” I began, though I had no idea what to say.
“This is bad. So bad.” Potter was in a daze, mumbling the same couple sentences over and over again, almost like… like a trauma patient.
Oh my god.
Was sex with me traumatic?
I mean, I was fully aware that it might be bad, given it was my first time and all, but I didn’t think it’d be bad to the point of the guy needing a shock blanket and psycho-therapy afterwards.
“This is bad,” Potter mumbled 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 voice. “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 threw his hands in the air, voice growing louder. Ah, there was the familiar derision and scorn I was so used to. “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 finality. “This was a mistake, and 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” – And 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 and made an indistinguishable 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, as if he were just realizing this fact. “You’re my best mate’s sister.”
“Yeah, and we both seemed to conveniently forget that fact last night! Why does it matter if I’m Aidan’s sister?” I was so frustrated, my voice was nothing more than a squeak. “I also happen to be 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 get that he’s a Gryffindor, and Gryffindors are 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 stumbled into when she “let” James Potter kiss her.
Believe me. 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 said, looking like he was hating 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. I watched him uneasily in the awkward silence – he was refusing to even glance my way, his eyes trained firmly on his hands, mouth a grim line.
I shifted, unnerved by his lack of response. When you’re used to constantly bickering in back-and-forth, verbal tennis matches with someone, seeing them at a loss for words is 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.
This was not how this morning was supposed to go. Believe me, the few times I’ve fantasized about waking up to a hot, naked guy, my version of the scenario did not involve a) hangovers, b) my dad’s house, and c) the guy developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
After what seemed like an eternity of awkward silence, Potter finally sighed. He seemed to have finally calmed down a little, though I wasn't sure if that was a good thing. Now he just looked... defeated, almost – as if he were finally resigning himself to our circumstances.
“That's it. I’m going to have to flee the country,” he stated, abruptly, with a matter-of-fact shrug. “Aidan’s going to try to kill me, 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. His rumpled hair was sticking up in about seventeen different directions, and my fingers itched to smooth it down. “People find out about these things, Bennett,” he said, and I could just hear the patronizing tone oozing in his voice. “That’s how it works, okay?”
“You forgot to add, ‘you silly little virgin,’ at the end,” I said snidely. “But yeah, okay. I get your point.”
Potter huffed out a sigh, mouth twisting into a pained grimace. “Bennett – “
“No, you know what?” I hastily scrambled to a stand, face burning with mingled embarrassment and anger. My hands were shaking - literally shaking - and it was getting hard to breathe. Already, I could feel the rant crawling up my chest, a bulge in my throat inching towards release. Before I knew it, I was opening my mouth and letting him have it.
“Just forget about it, Potter. 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. I mean ‘it’ as in everything else: last night, you, me, the sex - and yes, Potter, we had sex, S - E - X. 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 looked like he might say something, but I didn’t give him the chance. I plundered on with my rant, blinking rapidly, trying to steady my voice as much as possible. “It’s not like you even have to worry though, Potter, because I’m asking you to forget about it. Just forget about it. Pretend nothing ever happened.”
My voice rang against the greenhouse glass, vibrating in the frigid air, as I trained my gaze above Potter’s head. I didn’t want to bother gauging his expression, because I could already guess what it would be: shock, surprise, the slightest tinge of contempt. I couldn’t care less about his reaction right now – I’d just wanted to get that off my chest, and now that I had, I had to leave.
“Bennett, come on - “ he 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 greenhouse, the cold was biting. It wiggled its way under my clothes and scraped icy fingers down my back. I paid no attention, though, my chest heaving up and down as I seethed my way back to the house. What a prick. I mean, obviously I wasn’t expecting Potter to be overjoyed by the fact that we slept together - it wasn’t like I thought we would suddenly, magically, become enamored with each other. But still. He didn’t have to act as if he were disgusted by what had happened. Because believe me, I could think of a couple words to describe Potter last night (all of which would fall under a thesaurus entry for ‘hormonal teenage boy’) but ‘disgusted’ isn’t one of them.
A noise of discontent trembled in the back of my throat as I yanked the house’s back door open. The worst part was that there was no escape. After Potter - dumbfounded by my outburst - 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. So, you know, my angry storm-off couldn’t really have the effect I intended.
Humph. The prat couldn’t even let me have my dramatic exit..
“Fucking asshole. Who does that to another person?” I grumbled to myself, squinting in the suddenly muted light of the house.
“Took the words right out of my mouth.” Came a deep, familiar voice - etched with dark amusement - and my back jolted straight in alarm.
My eyes flew to the lone figure slouched lazily at the kitchen table, and my face immediately drained of blood.
“I - You - “ I gaped. “What are you doing here?”
“Nice to see you too, sis.”
There was a split-second of silence as my brain veered into overdrive, whirling frantically to process the specter-like appearance of my brother. 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 and about to give me the most unpleasant talking-to of my life.
“I - I - You - “ Even to my own ears, my voice sounded weak. Head spinning, I was suddenly hyper-aware of every little detail in 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. Above all, my heartbeat thumped loudly, dominating any other noise.
“Kneazle got your tongue?” Aidan prompted slyly, eyebrows raised at my stuttering – which was, you know, so unlike my usually eloquent and articulate self.
I opened and closed my mouth several times before remembering how to formulate a basic sentence. “My brain is short-circuiting.”
“That can’t be good,” Aidan responded, not without amusement.
“I think the first to go was the lobe in charge of all the English and stuff,” I admitted breathlessly. And it was true. I’d basically forgotten how to speak.
“The lobe in charge of all the English and stuff,” Aidan repeated drily. “Is that the scientific name for it?”
“Yeah. It’s Latin,” I murmured faintly, grabbing a kitchen chair and sinking into it.
Aidan gave a short chuckle. He had a smirk slung casually across his lips, but his eyes were bright and hard, his jaw line stony with resolve.
I slammed my elbows on the kitchen table, shoving my fingers into my hair. My head was still spinning so fast, it hurt. “Well, this has certainly been a morning of new developments.”
“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 besiege the both of us. But it was no use. After all, I’d left Hogwarts, abandoned him and Dom and all our friends, without even the slightest warning. And then he hears - from tabloid news, no less - that I’d stolen a priceless, centuries-old sword?
Nevermind that I hadn't actually stolen the Sword. 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 unscathed. Aidan had probably been stewing over this 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. His fists were clenched.
“We prefer the term ‘legally impaired,’” I joked, hoping my sorry attempt at humor would diffuse the tension.
Aidan’s left eye twitched.
Okay, switching tactics.
“Aidan,” I burst out, tone pleading, as I clasped my hands together. “Before you try to kill me, please let me remind you that a) I am your sister, and b) 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, with strained calmness. “And I’m not going to yell at you.”
I blanched. “Really?”
“Yup.” And at this, Aidan gave a laugh that sounded slightly unhinged. “That’s Dom’s job.”
“What - “ I began, and as if on cue, Dominique Weasley: Slytherin sex symbol, my estranged best friend, and the unofficial spokesperson for bitchiness everywhere, appeared at the kitchen doorway.
“Hey, Aidan, I couldn’t find her anywhere upstairs - “
Dom’s mouth snapped shut when she saw me, and the room instantly seemed to plummet in temperature. Aidan leaned back, smiling in satisfaction as he folded his hands behind his head, and Dom’s entire demeanor seemed to shift as she noticed me slouching before her. Her face was shadowed with a glower, her spine stiffened, and her chest started to rise and fall in an alarmingly rapid manner.
I gulped. Audibly.
Here are a few tips on how to piss off a Weasley:
1. Don’t do it.
2. If you must do it, try not to pick a Weasley who’s also part-veela.
The room seemed to throb with silence, except for the sound of Dom’s heavy-breathing. Finally, I could bear it no longer. Trembling, I cocked my head and stretched my lips in what I hoped to be a winning smile, but was most likely a baring of teeth similar to that of a hunted animal.
“Hey, girlfrand?” I said feebly.
Dom’s nostrils flared. Then, all of a sudden, she rushed forward, pushing aside a chair that landed on the floor with a loud clatter, and lunged across the table, hands and arms outstretched in ready strangling position. “WHY YOU LITTLE - “
I shrieked, and then there was a mad scramble as Aidan hastily stood up to restrain Dom mid-assault, and I helped 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. On the psycho scale, I’d say she was now somewhere between ‘deranged serial-killer’ and ‘preteen girl at a boyband 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 - “
“Okay, Dom, don’t you think you might be overreacting just a teensy bit?”
“THEN YOU GO OFF AND ABANDON ME AT HOGWARTS - “
“Abandon’s 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!”
“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 at me again - either to hug or throttle me, I wasn’t sure. Aidan hastily slipped between us, grimacing as Dom hurled her body against his in a continued attempt to get to me. Thankfully for everyone involved, he stood his ground.
All I can say is that I’m glad my brother has been working out lately.
“What is going on here?”
The kerfuffle in the kitchen came to a jarring halt as the backdoor swung open with a bang. Potter stood in the open backdoor (now fully dressed, thank God), snowflakes clinging to tousled hair, his eyebrows scrunched together in bewilderment.
“Aidan? Dom? What are you doing here?”
Ah, I knew it couldn’t be long before this situation somehow worsened. I just thought it’d be in the form of, like, an anvil falling on my head loony-tunes style, or the sky cracking open and raining hellfire and damnation on all of us.
But this works too.
Everyone froze - Aidan with Dom in a headlock, me still crouched behind my chair - and like this, we all stared at each other. There was 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, doing me, of course!’ would be in poor taste, so I elected to remain quiet. My gaze darted towards Dom, who, after seeing her cousin, seemed to be drained of any fight. Her body had gone slack in surprise, and Aidan was now serving as more of a crutch for her than a barrier.
“James?” Aidan repeated.
Potter looked at me, then my brother, then me again. He looked vaguely horrified.
“Um, I 'd love to stay and chat, but I actually have a flight to Canada to catch - " Potter began weakly, but was quickly cut off by his cousin.
“Come off it!” Dom gushed, patches of red blooming in her cheeks. She disentangled herself from Aidan and swept across the length of the kitchen, throwing her arms around a very startled Potter. “I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Oh sure, he gets a hug. Meanwhile, I get the crazed knife assault,” I grumbled, straightening to a stand. Aidan, looking rather awkward, remained conspicuously on the other side of the room. Things had been tense between my brother and Potter lately (and this is without the added bonus of last night’s occurrences), and it was obvious that neither of them knew how to act in the situation.
“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, and glanced to Potter for back-up. He looked vaguely horrified.
“I - I - Well, after I left,” I began cautiously. “I came here and hung out with Freddy for a bit. Freddy realized I was in trouble and told Potter - er, James - where I was,” I blinked, tone softening, as I remembered the day Potter had showed up at my doorstep. We had stood there for ten straight minutes, hugging in the muted honey light of my dad’s foyer, my face buried into his flannel shirt. “And James 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 - and his eyes were 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 knife on the table, inches away from Aidan’s hand. He cleared his throat. “Nothing else.”
Dom brusquely turned to me, hands shoved on her hips, looking expectant. “And? What’d you guys find?”
I sighed, suddenly exhausted. “There’s a lot to explain, Dom. Why don’t you guys take a seat? I’ll make you some tea.”
The prospect of explaining everything to Dom and Aidan was super unappealing seeing as, right now, they were probably clueless. I mean, the only information they’d previously 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 had to be the one to set them straight.
“What do you have to explain?” Dom demanded as Potter led her to the chair.
“We just have to explain some stuff,” I said calmly. Ugh, I really was 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 things like this —
“Oh, you mean the whole thing about Vespertine stealing the Sword?” Dom chirped.
Potter and I froze in shock, and my inner tirade came to a screeching halt. There was a long, silent pause, as Potter and I gaped like absolute morons.
Dom looked between Potter and I, spring green eyes round and innocent. “I’ll take that tea now.”
Five minutes and one whistling kettle later, we were sitting in my dad’s cold, bare living-room, quietly curled over our teacups. My dad’s mahogany grandfather clock ticked sluggishly in the background, and the snow flurries frothed and swirled behind my the double windows.
There was an awkward silence as we all surveyed each other. I had no idea where anyone stood - 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.
Potter, leaning 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 heavy look with Aidan, sighing as she set down her tea saucer. My brother, curled in an arm-chair with his feet tucked underneath him, shrugged.
“Well, the minute we read about the Sword going missing in the papers, we knew you couldn’t be guilty,” Dom said 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, Aggy 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 were twitching into a smile. Prat.
Dom brushed my question aside with an airy wave of her hand. “Well, the point is, you hate breaking the rules. So we knew it couldn’t be you who took the sword.”
“At first we thought it was 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. “Who talked to their cousin Rose, who talked to her dad, Auror Ron Weasley – “
“And basically,” Dom butted in loudly, slurping from her cup 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. “Turned out to be Mr. Nott. So it couldn’t have been Nott, you see, because 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 you’re little synchronized story-time act isn’t cute and everything, but can we please skip to the part where our Headmistress decided to kill me?”
Looking offended, Aidan turned to Dom and mouthed, ‘Sassy.’‘ I rolled my eyes.
“Alright, hold your centaurs, will you?” Dom grumbled. She sat up straighter, flicking another lock of auburn hair out her eyes. Merlin, the woman should just start doing Pantene commercials. “So after we ruled out Nott, we decided we better do some research. We went to the library, and I got access to the Restricted Section with a pass that I, uh, persuaded this fourth year bloke to give me, and there was all this material about Vespertine and her campaign, when she ran for Minister of Magic against Humdudgeon. And then there was all this stuff about her group, Vespertine’s Vanguard of Vendetta and Vengeance – “
“Say that five times fast,” Aidan said under-his-breath.
“And she was into some pretty radical stuff, Aggs. Violent protests, organized attacks on governmental offices, assassination attempts, even.”
“And all,” Aidan sighed. “In the name of Pureblood rights. See, after Voldemort died and everything, there was a major Ministry crackdown on Pureblood families. They did huge investigations – arrested anyone with even the slightest blemish on their record – 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, voice quiet. My gaze snapped over to him, but Potter wasn’t looking at me. He had his eyes locked with Dom’s, as the two of them were busy enjoying some sort of cousin telepathy moment.
Dom looked uncharacteristically subdued, her eyes round and sympathetic, mouth pursed in a small rosebud of sadness. “It wasn’t your dad’s idea, James. 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 establish an equal society. The inequality just swung to the otherside 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, eventually she grew out of it – or so we thought – and the VVVV group disbanded. She worked her way through the Ministry, gaining some respect, some recognition, some contacts. VVVV became a thing of the past. Then she made her grab for power with the election for Minister.”
“But she lost to Humdudgeon,” I pointed out.
“Exactly,” Dom said, only a little smugly. “So she was regulated to looking 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 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 I said that?” I bleated dumbly, half-confused, half-surprised, and only slightly touched. I mean, this was a girl with the attention span of a puppy suffering from ADHD. 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 a little more than 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 we’re close 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. I hadn’t realized my impulsive decision to leave would affect so many people.
“What did you tell them?” I whispered.
“The truth,” Aidan responded, eyes 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. If the kid 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. “Also, 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. In response, he raised his hands in surrender, and leaned back in his chair with no further argument.
“Aidan, I understand you’re upset,” I sighed heavily. “But can’t we just move on?”
“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’m not blaming you, but we were all in a really bad place then. No one was speaking to each other – I felt like I didn’t have anyone to turn to. What did you expect?”
Aidan and Dom both seemed to deflate a little at this. Sagging in his chair, Aidan averted his gaze, picking at a string in his jeans. Dom coughed uncomfortably and shifted in her seat.
“Whatever,” I said loudly, regretting having ever spoken in the first place. “What’s done is done. We’re all here now. So… what’s the next step?”
Aidan snapped his head up, shock sweeping across his expression. “Well, I thought it’d be obvious, 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, resting 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 – 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. “Permission to gloat?”
“Permission denied,” I snapped, setting my teacup on its saucer with an urgent clack. “Now tell me.”
Dom exhaled sharply. “Well, 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.
Dom gave a hollow laugh. “Sebastian Cooper.”
Aidan nodded grimly, leveling Potter and I with his bright blue stare. “Fallon Cooper’s dad.”
Dom didn’t even let this sink in before she barreled on. “And guess who’s having a blowout rager tonight at a club in Hogsmeade, to celebrate the Slytherin Quidditch team’s recent defeat 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 Aidan answer this time. I just looked between Aidan and Dom, taking in their identical, grim expressions, and sighed. It was so 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:
Three hours later and I found myself standing in my father’s guestroom, horrified as I gaped at the polished mirror of 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’m not being poetic or metaphysical here. I couldn’t recognize myself anymore, and I don’t mean that like how, in romantic novels, the heroine undergoes some emotional transformation and can no longer identify with her former past self.
No, I literally mean I could not recognize myself in the mirror.
Thanks to Dom and her make up case (a duo I can 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. 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.
Dom had basically turned me into that one character in every rom-com 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 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.”
“That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?” Dom arched an eyebrow.
I blinked. “Well, yeah.”
Dom mussed 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 Dom started to pack up her make-up case and I continued to scrutinize the mirror, unable to fully believe what I was seeing.
“You and James had sex,” Dom said suddenly, her eyes trained determinedly on the colorful compacts and tubes in her case. It wasn’t phrased like a question. It was a statement of fact, like ‘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 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. "Both of you are acting so shifty and guilty. James can't even look at Aidan without flinching, Aggy. I could just tell.”
“Are you going to yell at me?” I asked, shirking backwards. I was not really looking forward to another Dom-plosion. Especially since there wasn’t an escape route present (or, for that matter, any 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 go uneasily.
Well. That wasn’t very comforting.
Despite everything we’d gone through the past few days (knife assaults included), Dom was still my best friend. Seeing her less-than-enthusiastic reaction made me feel strangely nauseous. If Dom Weasley couldn’t support this, then who would?
I had wheeled around to face the mirror again when a knock at the door signaled yet another visitor.
Annnnnd… speak of the Devil.
Potter stepped into the room, hands shoved causally into pockets. His sharp gaze landed on my new appearance, and his eyebrows quirked upwards with surprise.
“If it weren’t for the fact that you’re about to insult me in the next ten seconds, then I would swear you're not Agatha Bennett,” he intoned, hopping up to sit on the edge of a worn dresser. I rolled my eyes.
“Har har. You should try stand-up comedy,” I snapped back, irritation prickling the back of my neck. “Not because you’d be any good. You’re actually horrendous, but I’d enjoy watching the audience chuck tomatoes at you.”
Ever since last night, I had no idea how to act around Potter. So, I settled for my normal routine of snarkiness and hate, because that was the easiest to revert to.
Potter smirked. “And there it is.”
I stifled a growl. Insufferable know-it-all. “What do you want?”
“I wanted to check out Aggy 2.0.” Potter gave a careless shrug. “Also, Aidan told me to remind you that we’re leaving in ten minutes.”
I twisted back around to face the mirror. “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. The sooner Potter left, the sooner I could calm down and focus on our mission for the night.
Potter, of course, did not take the hint. Oh, I’m sure he caught on perfectly, but being the prat he was, he probably just wanted to stay to annoy me even further.
“You sure you can do this?” Potter hopped to the ground, hands still shoved in his pockets. His tone was goading, doubtful – it was obvious he doubted my capabilities.
“You sure you wanna 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.”
Potter straightened; his hazel eyes turned muted and serious. “Just be careful. Cooper’s not a good guy.”
I couldn’t believe that we were the same two people from that night in the greenhouse. 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 awkward.
“Let’s just go,” I said quietly. I trudged forward, brushing past him without another glance, and hurried down the stairs.
At the bottom, Dom, Aidan and Freddy were waiting for us, mouths pulled into identical grim lines. Despite being on a mum-mandated house arrest, Freddy had insisted on coming with us when Aidan called and told him our plan. I suspected it had to do with the distinct possibility of an Evelyn sighting.
“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 authorative tone that I’d heard him use many times before – be it planning a prank or on the Quidditch team. We gathered closer together, clustering in the dim light of my dad’s foyer.
I shoved my arms into the sleeves of my down jacket. “I 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.”
Potter shrugged on his coat. “This is all assuming Cooper knows something.”
“He does,” Dom said firmly, though I wasn't as sure.
I glanced around. These were people who, at the beginning of the year, did crazy, reckless, stupid things. From Freddy and his relentless mission 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.
I was oddly touched.
I reached out for the door knob. 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 in Hogsmeade was the same one Aidan had gotten kicked out of a while ago, when Potter and I had been forced to pick him up. Cooper had reserved it specifically for himself and his cronies. Driving up to it in Fred’s minivan, you could hear the techno music thumping from, like, a mile away.
I went in first – separate from the group, so as not to attract attention. But 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 clashed brashly with squealing voices and the hollering of teenagers having a grand ol’ illegal time. Some Seventh Year had commandeered the bar and started serving drinks, and, if I wasn’t mistaken, that was the Head Boy doing belly shots off of the Ravenclaw Prefect.
My eyes, once adjusted to the violet darkness, swept across the club, looking 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 I’d expected, 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 crowd, looking especially sinister.
…Then again, I’m a little biased. To me, anything Cooper does is sinister. I think he could probably find a way to sinisterly pet a puppy, or sinisterly help a grandma cross the street - I just know it.
My heart plummeted, cannonballing into my stomach, as I realized Cooper was walking in my direction. I opened my mouth, ready to say whatever first came to mind when he reached me –
And then promptly snapped it shut as Cooper passed me and stopped in front of Dom and Potter, who were just walking in through the door.
Eyes trained on the three of them, I made my way to the bar in an attempt to distance myself. Absentmindedly, I grabbed a fruity drink off the neon counter, 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 wasn’t exactly a happy meeting.
Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t Potter who reacted with hostility this time.
Dom suddenly lunged forward, her hands balled into fists, but was stopped by Potter’s restraining hand on her shoulder. Cooper laughed (sinisterly, of course) and turned away, disappearing into the crowd.
After some ducking and weaving through the human obstacle-course that was this club, I found Cooper sitting with his mates in a tiny, shadowed enclave – obviously the VIP section. They were lounging idly on velvet, plump couches, which were raised above the rest of the club on a platform of some sort. But the platform wasn’t solid; it was shimmering – almost like a mirage – as loose and transcendent as smoke. The more you stared at it, the harder it was to define its edges. The end effect was an optical illusion that made it look like Cooper and the rest of the Sooper Speshul Boys Club were floating.
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 stepped on, or something – but I managed to clamber up with ease. Cooper and his mates were clustered around a turquoise glass table, which boasted bottles of liquor and fancy glasses that spat out sparks and coloured smoke.
Feeling somewhat awkward, I cleared my throat.
“Hey there,” I said, announcing my entrance. I crossed my arms in a 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 in my direction, and his cronies all turned to ogle at me. “Who do we have here?”
“Jessica,” I blurted, pulling the first random name that came to my head.
Jessica was a girl in my third grade class who I absolutely hated. She 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 wants to kill me.
…I wonder what this says about my subconscious.
“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 roared with laughter at Cooper’s – apparently brilliant – joke. I wouldn’t know just how funny it was, because I hadn’t been paying attention for the past ten minutes.
For over two hours – and a lot of drinks – Cooper had been regaling all of us with his epic adventures from 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. Meanwhile, I’d just finished counting the number of freckles on my arm, and had moved on to daydreaming up the perfect ways to kill, maim, or injure Cooper. Believe me, things were getting creative.
“But it all ended up working out,” Cooper shrugged his left shoulder, smirking as he swirled the whiskey in his glass. “After my father had a word with the manager.”
I immediately perked up at the word ‘father,’ recognizing my window of opportunity.
“And just who is your father?” I asked, suggestively leaning forward. Instantly, the group quieted – most likely because I hadn’t said a word for 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. 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 conspirational 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, all seemed to collectively snicker at this.
I feigned ignorance. “Like what?”
Normally, I don’t think Cooper would have responded 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. What can I say? The boy was weak.
“Let’s just say.” Cooper crunched some ice between his teeth, eyes gleaming. “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 comes 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 the sunshine crew.” At this, Cooper spat into his empty glass, face contorted with 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’m fairly sure there was 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 said quickly, but was ignored.
Cooper barreled on: “And if any mudblood – ” I tried not to flinch. “Or mudblood-supporter or Harry Potter fangirl tries to get in the way… I’ll kill them. Simple as that.”
Cooper slammed his glass on the table, and his mates all murmured with approval and respect.
My heartbeat was racing. We had gone suddenly from ‘developments’ to ‘kill,’ 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 Cooper and his father were planning. But it was too much, to concentrate on.
I just wanted to get out of there, fast. My leg was starting to jiggle anxiously, and Cooper was making my blood run cold with fear. Not so much because of what he 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… and he’d destroy anything that threatened him.
It was chilling.
“Fallon,” grunted one of Cooper’s cronies. “What about Evelyn? Is she gonna be there too?”
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. I was just starting to realize the full extent of the situation we were in – Cooper meant business. He and his father were ruthless, and Evelyn was in danger.
“Excuse me,” I murmured, breathless. I stood up abruptly, not caring about how conspicuous I was being, and stumbled down the platform. I don’t think 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. 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 blanched, 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 as Freddy menacingly stared down nearby people, as if daring them to challenge him on what he’d just said. No one was paying us attention, though, too busy chatting and partying and drinking like normal teenagers.
“Real subtle, mate,” I said drily.
“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 felt incredibly urgent. 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, the laughter gone from his eyes. He stepped closer. “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 for a hostage situation.
By the time I was done, Fred was seething. 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 eyes. And I knew just who he was looking for.
“Fred – no,” I commanded, voice clear and authorative. “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. He snapped his eyes to me, and 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.
My spine snapped straight. In 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 solely 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 doing the shouting.
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 pissing 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 went like the script to 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 thing didn’t actually happen. But hey, if this is going to be a Mexican soap opera, I have to add some authentic flavor to spice things up, okay?
“Bennett?” Potter finally noticed me and released his grip on Aidan, who immediately lunged 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 said 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 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 night ends.”
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 at those times. Believe me when I say hell hath no fury like a Weasley woman scorned.
This time, however, Aidan was the one getting all…rage-y and stuff.
“I have no idea why Aidan’s pissed,” Potter conceded, crossing his arms. “Something about defending Dom’s honor, I guess.”
Together, the two of us peered at the scene unfolding in front of us, our heads cocked in identical fascination. Aidan, having just attempted to roundhouse kick McLaggan in the face, had accidentally stubbed his foot 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 piss his pants.
“I don’t understand any of this,” I announced loudly.
Potter nodded. “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.
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.
We were descending into chaos. 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 was about to perform a chore he really didn’t want to do. He cracked his neck to the side. “What the hell,” he muttered, and then he was diving into the fray, grabbing McLaggan’s pal by the shoulder, twisting him around, and punching him square in the face.
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 him, then did a double-take, 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.
“I STUNNED EVELYN!” Freddy shouted, and then immediately winced at his own words.
I gaped at him, barely registering the brawl that was 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, I could hear 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 drily, 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 argue, 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 threw his car keys at me. They hit in me in the cheek and ricocheted to the floor in a spectacular display of my lightning-fast reflexes.
“I’m gonna go in and get Aidan. Grab the car,” Freddy barked as he started to plunge his way into the kerfuffle of fists and fighting, Eveyln still dangling limply over his shoulder.
“What?” I blinked stupidly.
“I SAID GRAB THE CAR,” Freddy yelled 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.
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 figure out (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 outside 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 booming, 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 Eveyln 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 grunts. 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.
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. Oopsie.
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 civillians 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 up into their seats in an orderly fashion.
Potter clambered over the console, dropping smoothly down into the passengers 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.” Potter 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 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 go exactly as planned. 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 AGGY!”
“I’m gonna be sick!”
“We are in a death trap. We are in a moving, rattling, metal death tra —
“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.
“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.
What can I say? After having a couple near-death experiences, things are really put in perspective for you.
Speaking of near-death experiences... yeah, this driving thing was a blast. Not only was Potter's constant snarky criticism just oh-so-beneficial to the self-esteem, but the Weather Gods were considerate enough to make the streets as slippery as possible.
"Bennett, watch the wheel!"
I snapped back into focus just in time to see that, thanks to my little vacay 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, "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 unconcious again.
"Oopsie," Fred offered unhelpfully. He was, along with Dom and Aidan, wincing sheepishly. I whipped around to shoot them all a pointed glare, and Potter's hands immediately shot out to grab the steering wheel again. Needless to say, we were 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 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 insinuation.
"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 at the same time, and huffing, I slammed my hands back onto the steering wheel. Honestly, it would be a miracle if we got home alive.
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