Chapter 45 : Real
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1. Your headmaster wants to kill you.
2. You’ve wielded the Sword of Godric Gryffindor.
2a. You’ve wielded the Sword of Godric Gryffindor while running through the Ministry of Magic.
2b. You’ve wielded the Sword of Godric Gryffindor while running through the Ministry of Magic while it’s being ambushed by armed men in masks.
2c. The word ‘wielded’ is a part of your daily vocabulary.
3. You’ve been referred to as ‘Girl Who…’ or ‘Boy Who...’ at some point in your life. For example, Girl Who Saved the Sword, or Boy Who Lived. Basically any nickname that involves Capitalizing All the Front Letters So It Looks Important.
4. You are one of the very few people in the country who know about a secret plot to assassinate the Minister of Magic.
5. You can understand Ancient Runes more than the opposite sex.
6. You’re not a fan of drinking. Or parties... Or drinking at parties.
7. You’ve never snuck out of your house. You know, that age-old, teenaged ritual of making sure your parents are sleep, climbing down the terrace and then comically falling on your butt in the front lawn… all so you can break curfew and go party? Yeah, hasn’t happened.
8. You have, however, snuck into your house. Which is not as cool as it sounds. And, honestly, it doesn’t sound very cool at all.
My hand shot out, groping at the wall until I found the correct switch and quickly flicked it on. Immediately, Freddy and Potter groaned in protest as the room was doused in dazzling white light.
“Next time you try to blind us, can you do it when we’re, I don’t know, not carrying an unconscious human?” Potter grumbled as he trudged forward, holding Evelyn’s ankles in his hands. Freddy grunted in agreement, straining to lift Evelyn’s other half by the arms. Together, the two rambled forward, her limp body slung between them.
I ignored them, too bewildered by our surroundings to make an even half-hearted attempt at bickering.
After almost a whole year, I was home. The last time I’d been inside my mother’s house, I’d been packing my trunk in preparation for my Fifth Year at Hogwarts. And here I was now, back home and shivering in my dark kitchen at two in the morning, a completely different person with a completely different life.
It was weird.
While we were driving away from the club, we had all quickly realized that we couldn’t go back to my dad’s house. I mean, Debbie practically had a seizure every time you set down a drink without a coaster – imagine how she would react to an unconscious body? Likewise, we couldn’t show up at Fred’s, Potter’s or Dom’s houses, since all their parents were home. So after some careful deliberation, we finally decided to try my mum’s. And by careful deliberation, I mean angry shouting, a lot of heated arguing, and Dom suggesting that we just dump Evelyn’s body in the nearest lake.
But it worked out in the end, and we got here. That was all that mattered.
I walked briskly forward, clearing off the cluttered mass of cups, newspapers and utensils sitting on the kitchen table. “Put her here,” I ordered, not bothering to keep my voice down. Mom was still in the Bahamas getting her tan on with my stepdad, so we didn’t have to worry about staying quiet.
Fred and Potter complied, gently laying Evelyn’s body on the cold mahogany. She looked strangely small like that – delicate, almost. Her hair dangled off the table in an icy blonde wisp, glowing pale in the dark.
“Yo,” Dom greeted, striding into the kitchen. Aidan stumbled behind her and slumped against the doorframe, obviously still a little drunk. (Or suffering the debilitating effects of too much blood loss — it was hard to tell.) “What’s the plan?”
“Um,” I bleated weakly, rubbing my hand over my face. “Well, first we have to wake Evelyn. Then we should probably patch up Aidan. Then… we have some things to discuss.”
Fred slid out a chair from the kitchen table, collapsing into it with a huff. “How does one get a stunning spell victim to wake up, exactly?”
“Make a remedy,” Potter replied simply, crossing his arms as he leaned casually against the counter. We blinked at him, surprised that someone had actually answered, and he looked blankly at us as if it was the most obvious solution in the world. “Two parts Pepper Up Potion, one part Rousing Draught.”
I rolled my eyes. Stupid Potter and his stupid Potions expertise. Oh, sure. Let me just take five minutes and whip that right up for you, Potter. Because I’m sure I have all the necessary ingredients just hanging out in my fridge. Finally, something to do with all those extra salamandar tails that have been lying around.
“Okay, well, seeing as I don’t have a secret apothecary in my kitchen, that’s not going to work,” I snapped, a prickle of irritation stiffening my spine. “Next, please.”
“I don’t see you giving any suggestions,” Potter immediately fired back, jaw stiffening as a familiar, dangerous look flashed through his eyes. Here we go again.
“Oh, because everything you have to say is a bloody stroke of genius!”
“I’m just trying to help! You’re freaking impossible, Bennett – “
“No, you know what’s impossible, Potter? Making a NEWT-level potion with the basic home ingredients in my kitchen!”
“Okay, just admit it — you clearly have a problem with the fact that I’m better at Potions than you.”
"You did not just go there!”
“If by there you meatn reality, then yeah, actually, I kinda did – it’d be nice if you could join me, Bennett.”
“You know what?!”
“ENOUGH!” Dom suddenly exploded, whirling on us in a strawberry-blonde tornado of hair and fury. Her voice rang, furious, in the dim silence of the kitchen, and Potter and I immediately snapped our mouths shut. Freddy cringed from his seat, and Aidan gave an involuntary shudder at the familiar tone. On the table, Evelyn’s foot twitched.
There was a beat of silence.
“Are. You. Really. Doing this. Right now?” Dom was breathing heavily, her voice low and hissy at a Professor McGonagall-esque level of terror. At the exact same time, Potter and I took an instinctive step backwards.
“Do you not see yourselves?” Dom seethed, eyes squinted into incredulous slits. “All you do is fight. I can’t stand it anymore – everyone knows this isn’t what either of you want. Your relationship is better than this! You deserve better! So why don’t you two just get over your pride and your stupid egos and FIGURE YOUR SHIT OUT ALREADY?”
I blinked rapidly, feeling my cheeks glow uncomfortably warm. Part of me was immediately angry – what kind of right did Dom, whose own lovelife was in constant teary shambles, have to criticize Potter and I? What kind of right did anyone have? Potter and I’s relationship was far too complex and contradictory and weird for anyone to possibly understand. Including me.
But on the other foot, I knew Dom’s words were ringing with the truth. After all that had happened this year, this constant bickering between Potter and I seemed so juvenile and pointless. We were just too afraid to admit it – because after the craziness of Fifth Year, Potter and I fighting was the only constant we could hold on to.
Dom breathed sharply through her nose, her eyelids fluttering shut as she composed herself. “Look,” she began quietly, breaking the stunned silence. “Aggy, how about you get some fresh air, I’ll fix Aidan up, and then we’ll figure out the Evelyn situation? You’ve already done enough tonight. You need a break.”
“But – “ I began, uneasy at the prospect of just leaving. I mean, things never turned out well for Aidan when Dom and magic were involved.
“Go,” Dom said firmly, gesturing to the backdoor.
“But – “
Mechanically, my feet led me out the kitchen and through the sliding glass doors in my living room, which I finally managed to squeak open with an embarrassing amount of effort. Feeling Dom's sharp glare on my back, I stepped onto the icy crunch of snow outside, my face immediately tightening from the cold.
Despite being well after midnight, it was uncannily bright out. The sky wavered above, a never-ending stretch of translucent cobalt. The moon was a yellow bulge in the middle, casting my shadow across the crisp, silver snow. In the cold, it was easier to think clearly. Slowly, I was starting to realize just how embarrassing Potter and I’s little scene had been – how embarrassing it was whenever we fought. All our friends knew what really went down between us. Not just the fighting, but the hooking up and making up and all the confusion in between. Our relationship was too complex to be reduced to a silly arguments – and yet that was the only side of it we showed to the public. It was a sham. A lie.
“She’s right, you know.”
Deep down, some part of me had known he would follow me out here.
I bit my lip, turning around to see Potter sliding the glass door shut behind him. There was a cigarette dangling out the corner of his mouth. His hair was rumpled, more so than usual, and his face was grim. He looked tired. He looked the way I felt.
“Smoking’s bad for you,” I said quietly, keeping my voice blank and neutral. “You should quit.”
Potter’s mouth flattened into a sardonic smile. He shoved his left coatsleeve up, revealing an arm polka-dotted with nicotine patches. “I am quitting,” he said simply.
“Then you’re off to a great start,” I shot back, but I couldn’t quite muster the right amount of biting sarcasm. Potter scoffed in what was either agreement or scorn, turning against the wind to light his cigarette.
I sighed and bent down to sit on the stoop, ignoring the sore creak of my joints. Wordlessly, Potter sat next to me, knees bent, mouth a perfect ‘o’ as he poured silvery smoke into the night air.
“Are you here to argue with me?” I said wearily, eyes trained on a glimmering blotch of snow by my shoe. “Because I’m really not up for it.”
Potter remained silent, but I could feel him staring at me, his hazel eyes boring curious holes into the side of my skull. I smushed my lips together, resisting the urge to burst out with a frustrated ‘What?’
It was always the same with Potter and I. Bicker, make up, make out, bicker, make up, make out… rinse and repeat. But I was done. I was sick of playing games and reading between the lines of our relationship – lines that, after a while, all seemed to blur into the same, murky grey area. I had finally realized Potter and I’s true problem. It wasn’t our mutual hatred. It wasn’t the fact that we had very little in common. It wasn’t even the fact that I was constantly using Potter as a verbal punching bag (and, on a few occasions, an actual punching bag).
No. Our true problem was that we were never honest with each other.
Potter and I had never had a truthful, straight-forward conversation about anything. About our weird, quasi-relationship, about Nora, about my convict-status. We just couldn’t do it. I doubt we’d even be able to discuss muffins or unicorns without there being some kind of secret psychological warfare behind it.
I’d had enough. Suddenly, almost as if my body was acting on its own accord, I whipped around to face Potter, eyes blazing. I was so angry, I could hear my own heartbeat and the blood rushing in my ears.
“Look, Potter, you can stay if you want. You can sit if you want. You can even talk if you want. But I’m not looking for another fight.” I shook my head fiercely from side to side. “Not now.”
“Actually,” Potter began slowly, eyes trained on the smoke ribboning from his cigarette, and I scoffed. Typical. Always the one to contradict me. “I came out here to make sure you were doing okay.”
“Okay?” I repeated, slightly hysterical, and my voice slid into an octave that I’d previously thought was too high for the human ear to register. “Okay? Why, yes, I’m just dandy. Forget the fact that I’m being accused of stealing a priceless artifact! Or that my headmistress is out to assassinate my Minister. Or that, last night, we slept together and then proceeded to act like nothing happened! Forget all of that because – you know what? – none of it will matter when crazy Vespertine offs me tomorrow! I’m completely okay!”
Potter’s bright eyes travelled over my face as I ranted, not betraying a single emotion. I couldn’t read his expression – the clenched jaw, the arched brow, the flat mouth. Swallowing, all I could do was stare back as my last word faded into the night, and my anger started to dissipate into… sadness. And…something else. Something tight and clenched. Fear.
Looking into Potter’s eyes, I finally realized I was this close to breaking down.
“I’m so tired.” My voice come out as an attractive croak.
Potter swiveled his gaze to the stretch of snow in front of us and clasped his hands together, almost as if in prayer. “I know.”
And then something happened. I don’t know what prompted it – call it an accident, a freak of nature, hell freezing over, whatever – but it actually happened: for the first time in our five years of bitter, complicated, messy history, Potter and I finally had an honest, mature conversation.
It happened like this:
A: [suddenly, in an outburst] It sickens me, you know. Thinking about last night. I wish it’d never happened.
J: [beat] Do you mean that?
J: Then I’m sorry.
J: Can I say something? Something that might be, um, kind of potentially devastating to you?
A: Fuck it. Sure. Go ahead.
J: I don’t regret it. Last night.
J: I don’t.
A: [weakly] Why would you say that? It happened and then we never talked about it. You called it a mistake. I know that I wanted it at the time, so I’m partly responsible, but the way you acted about the sex just made me feel… dropped. After that night, I felt like you dropped me and anything to do with me.
J: I’m sorry. I never wanted you to feel bad or ashamed or anything –
A: How can I know you’re not just saying that?
J: You can’t. And I haven’t given you many reasons to trust me, but if there’s anything you should know, it’s that throughout this whole… mess, all I’ve been trying to do is make sure you don’t get hurt.
J: I’ve been doing a pretty shit job, I know.
A: That’s problematic, because I’m not some delicate flower you have to protect. You shouldn’t hurt me, but you shouldn’t tiptoe around me either. You should just respect me.
J: I respect you. That’s why I’ve been trying so hard not to fuck this up. I just freaked out about last night because I… I didn’t want it to happen like that. You deserve better. I was mad at myself.
A: Okay. So where does that leave us?
J: I don’t know.
A: None of this changes the fact that we keep coming back to each other like this. Again and again. It’s like we can’t stay away. There must be something there, right? There must be something that keeps pushing us together?
J: I don’t know. It’s not like we have much in common.
A: I think we have more in common than you think.
J: Like what?
A: Like we’re both stubborn and cynical and sarcastic and mean.
J: So we share each other’s worst traits. That bodes well.
A: Maybe it does.
A: I mean, you know all the bad things about me. After all, you point them out constantly. That’s why I’m so comfortable around you. That’s why I can talk to you the way I do. Around other people, I feel like there’s always an act I have to put on – the perfect prefect who always has her shit together. But around you…well, you’ve seen me at my worst, you’ve seen me fall flat on my face. I don’t have to act around you.
A: And… you can tell me if I’m completely off here, but I feel like I may be the only person who doesn’t see you as Harry Potter’s Son, or Hogwarts’ Teen Heartthrob, or whatever. I see you as a person. A really obnoxious, incorrigible person, most of the times. But still a person.
J: You’re not off.
A: Our relationship works because our relationship is real.
A: What are you thinking right now?
J: [beat] I don’t just respect you, Bennett. I admire you.
A: [surprised] You do?
J: Yeah. Most of the shit you do is fucking crazy, but…you’re brave. You’re smart. You’re kind and incredibly self-assured.
A: That’s not true. [laughs] I’m a mess. I mean, I can’t do anything right, and I care too much about what other people think of me and my reputation. Everything I touch somehow turns to shit.
J: You’re wrong. You don’t realize how much people look up to you. You care about the things that are important. At the end of the day, you always know what's right to say or do.
J: Seriously. [smirking] You’re kind of a badass.
A: Thanks, I guess.
J: And I like you.
A: I like you too. [smirking as well] Despite what's in my best interests.
J: Where do we go from here?
A: I’m not sure, but… well, I take it back – I don’t regret last night and I don’t regret anything else that’s happened between us. I just wish we could have gone about it a better way.
J: Me too.
A: And maybe one day, when this whole Vespertine thing is over, I’ll let you take me on a date.
J: Do you really see us having a future? After everything that’s happened?
A: I see us having a future because of everything that’s happened. All that time we spent arguing and fighting with each other – it has to count for something, right? It can’t just be a waste. So I think we should have a future, even though we’ll probably mess it up a couple times, and we’ll bicker and argue and drive all of our friends crazy… But we owe it to ourselves to at least try. So if you’re up for it, yeah, I think we can.
J: I’m up for it.
A: But from now on, we have to be honest with each other.
J: I know.
A: I’m tired of lying, of hiding how I feel, of "playing the game."
J: Me too.
A: I’m tired of the game in general.
[A land J look at each other. Under the falling snow, on the silent stoop, in the freezing cold. It’s a private, hushed moment that no one else is privy to. It’s icy fingertips and quiet breath, a warm feeling blossoming in the stomach. It’s the two of them together, outside her house, outside where it all first began. It’s simple and easy. It’s instinct.]
J: So let’s stop playing. I was losing anyways.
[J kisses A. In the snow, in the silence, in the freezing cold. ]
[It’s the best kiss ever.]