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Chapter 46 : Overdrive
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When I woke up the next morning, it took me four groggy, confused minutes to realize where I was.
My bleary vision skipped from my wardrobe to my door to my window, mind working sluggishly to catch up with eyes. I was in my old bedroom, I realized as I slowly crept back into consciousness. I was in my old bedroom, in my mum’s old house, with my old red hair. Talk about déjà bloody vu.
Wincing, I rubbed my eyes as foggy memories from last night flitted through my brain in montage of mental snapshots. Aidan and Dom at my dad’s house, Cooper’s party, the minivan squealing across the highway... It was all coming back to me like a slideshow, or some trailer for a really weird sequel to The Hangover.
I looked to my left and almost fell out of bed in surprise — Aidan’s face was right next to mine, smushed against a pillow that looked like it had lost a long, hard battle with some boy drool. Oh yeah — I remembered, now. My brother and I had shared a bed last night to make room for everyone else in the house. I should have known from the way I’d woken up freezing. Aidan always was a cover hog.
I swept a tired hand across my eyes, struggling to sit up. “What time is it?” I croaked to the room in my best frog princess imitation, minus the princess. I was met with strange, thick silence.
Aidan still slumbered peacefully next to me, his chest rising and falling with each gentle snore. I prodded him softly in the shoulder. No response, but I wasn’t surprised by that. The kid was a heavy sleeper and could snooze through just about anything. In fact, to this day I still wasn’t sure whether Aidan’s coma had been a coma or just a particularly intense nap.
I sighed in resignation, throwing the covers off my body and sliding out of bed. My body was in need of a serious coffee fix, or else I was destined to spend the rest of this day as a monosyllabic cavewoman. And I certainly couldn't afford not to have all my wits about me, especially given the Vespertine situation
Shuffling my feet across the cold hardwood floor, I made my way out the room and down the stairs, body reduced to its basic primal urges — walking, breathing, and sniffing out the nearest hint of caffeine.
When I finally made it to the kitchen, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who’d been having cravings. Dom was at the kitchen table with Evelyn, whose face looked bright and alert and devoid of any sign of her stunning episode. Potter was sitting on top of the kitchen counter, his legs swinging casually in their air, hair more tousled than ever. They all looked tired but at ease (despite the current tension between Dom and Evelyn), too busy slurping from the steaming mugs in their hands to fight. Coffee: the universal peacemaker.
The room was brimming with its thick, dark aroma. My mouth watered.
“Morning.” Dom cocked her chin at me as I walked in, arching a smooth eyebrow.
“Coffee. Now. Want,” I grunted in eloquent response.
“Aggy. Speak. Good,” Evelyn snarked back, earning an appreciative snort from Potter. I shot them both a death stare (and the middle finger for good measure) and snatched the glass coffee pot off the counter.
“Where are all our cups?” I grumbled as I rummaged through the kitchen cabinet. I swear, if it turned out those twats had taken the last of the mugs, I would personally scalp one of them and drink my coffee out of their hollowed-out skull — with a bendy straw and paper umbrella to match.
Yeah. My homicidal tendencies liked to act up in the morning.
“What’s the plan, Bennett?” was Potter’s helpful reply.
I continued rummaging through the cabinets, resolutely ignoring his challenge-disguised-as-a-question. I had no idea what he meant by this supposed "plan," but I had an inkling it was something to do with Vespertine. And I could not think about Vespertine without caffeine in my body first.
With a sigh, I set down the coffee pot and crossed over to him, snatching his mug away right as he was raising it to his lips. Ignoring Potter’s exasperated look, I took a big, beautiful gulp and sighed in satisfaction.
"Merlin. I'm having a religious experience," I announced, eyes fluttering closed with bliss. "I'm having a religious experience with this coffee."
Potter exhaled, watching me with a flat, unimpressed gaze. "What's the plan, Bennett?" he repeated stubbornly, jaw jutting forward and making it clear that he wasn't about to let this matter go.
“What plan?” I asked casually as I slurped annoyingly away.
Evelyn rolled her eyes, evidently fed up with my feigned ignorance.
“Gee, I don’t know,” she began, familiar sneer twisting at her face. “How about the one involving my crazy, clearly mentally unstable ex-boyfriend?”
I cocked a cool eyebrow over Potter's newly-usurped mug. “This is Fred we’re talking about? Or the other mentally unstable ex-boyfriend?”
Dom’s lips twitched in darkened amusement, and Evelyn made a shrill, frustrated noise, her dainty hand slamming down on the wooden kitchen table. “You know very well that I’m talking about Cooper!”
“I know,” I murmured coolly, eyes narrowing. “I just wanted to hear you admit it yourself that he's a sodding psycho. That way I don’t have to waste my time saying I told you so.”
Evelyn blanched, and Potter’s eyes slid cautiously in my direction, his eyebrows raised in surprise. He was either impressed by what I’d said, or thought I had crossed a line. Most likely, he was impressed that I had crossed a line.
“That was cold, Aggs,” Dom said frankly, green eyes widening. “But I enjoyed it.”
Evelyn’s surprise settled into an unpleasant scowl, eyes flicking to the table's surface as one of her manicured nails scratched at its grains. There was a small silence as I stared defiantly at Evelyn, but instead of rising to the fight, she simply huffed a gutsy exhale in resignation, shoulders slumping downwards.
"Look," she said quietly to the table. "I know getting back together with Fallon must have looked really bad. But — well, whether you believe me or not — there are sound reasons behind what I did."
I said nothing. Looking grudgingly interested, Dom leaned forward in her seat and rested her chin on her hand.
"Fallon's family and my family are both Pureblood clans," Evelyn began explaining, her eyes still resolutely trained on the table. She looked very unwilling to be sharing this all with us, and her rigid posture betrayed her discomfort. "And we've had ties with each other since literally the beginning of time. My family lost everything after Voldemort's death and the Post-War Era, and we fell into debt. Fallon's family bailed us out and, of course, now they're our main source of financial support."
She paused, voice becoming somewhat strangled as she struggled hesitantly through her next few words. "Fallon and I — our parents had arranged a marriage for us when we were born. A way of keeping the families close, I guess. And given that we need the Coopers in order to live, basically, you can see why my family would want me to stay with him. After Freddy and I — " at this, her voice broke off, face flickering with something troubled. — "After we stopped seeing each other, I caved to my parents' demands and went back to Fallon."
I stared at Evelyn in shock, my mug almost slipping from my slackened grip. I had suspected there was some fishy-Pureblood business happening with the Stanfords and the Coopers, especially after the file Potter and I had found in the Ministry office. But I' hadn't truly fathomed the extent of it — marriage? That was some heavy stuff. I mean, Evelyn had been deciding on her future spouse while I could barely pick what shoes to wear each morning.
Dom had flopped back in her chair, eyes wide as she huffed out a mildly impressed sigh. Potter, meanwhile, betrayed no reaction except for a smooth cock of the eyebrow.
Evelyn glanced back up at us, and she seemed to set her jaw as her gaze took on a defensive, almost angry tinge. "So that's my story," she declared vehemently, gaze zeroing in on me. "Take it or leave, either way — you don't get to judge me. You don't know me."
I stared blankly at her, head cocked to the side in a thoughtful manner. A year ago from now, I would have taken such a statement as a challenge. I would have been offended. I would have risen to the bait, snapped back at Evelyn, told her that I did know her and that the altitude sickness from her high horse must surely be affecting her brain. But now…
Now, I was simply too exhausted to care. Now there were more important things outside of whether Evelyn Stanford had said a nasty thing to me or not. Such petty bickering, such personal effrontery — it was so stupid and pointless.
“You’re right. I don’t know you Evelyn,” I said quietly, expression matter-of-fact "But regardless of whatever your past personal experience is, what's important now is the present, how you feel at this moment. We need to know if you’re with us or with him. You only get one team.”
Evelyn clamped her lips shut, obviously taken aback by the choice I was handing her. Patches of red burned in her cheeks, her wintergreen eyes flashing with uncertainty. The kitchen seemed to sink into silence as the air around us pulsed with an erratic, stiff awkwardness.
I leaned against the counter, nonchalant as ever. “If you choose Fallon… No hard feelings,” I said, enunciating each word with a quiet calm. “But you have to choose, okay? None of this back-and-forth stuff — “
“You guys,” Evelyn blurted out suddenly. “I choose you guys.”
I snapped my mouth shut and Dom, with a quiet sigh, straightened in her chair. Brow furrowed, Potter swiveled around to fix me with a confused, calculating stare, Merlin knows what running through his brain.
“Okay,” I chirped, the beginnings of a smile twitching at my lips. “Then that's that. No more bickering about the past, okay?"
Before anyone could answer, I'd set down the mug and was striding forward, my movements quick with certainty. "We have more things to worry about anyway. Potter's right. We need a plan, so we have to start strategizing. As you guys know, the Minister is holding a press conference tonight, and Cooper’s going to be there.” I paused to look at the various blank faces around the room, mouth pressed into a firm line. “And so are we.”
“By 'we,' do you mean a team of highly-trained, professional Aurors?” Potter interjected smoothly, sarcastically, and already I could feel the inevitable argument brewing. “Because I think you're staying here, away from Vespertine and her evil plan to kill you.”
Before I could fully comprehend how weird it was to hear someone say the words ‘evil plan’ in complete seriousness, Dom was already interjecting on my behalf.
“James, we can’t leave this up to the Aurors to fix,” she said tiredly, rubbing her hands over her face. “Do you really think they’re going to believe that Vespertine, the Headmistress of Hogwarts for the past ten years, is plotting to take over the Ministry?”
Potter gritted his teeth dangerously, but he looked, for the first time, like he had no clever comeback.
“As much as I hate to say it,” Evelyn said quietly. “Weasley and Bennett are right. It looks like we're on our own with this one.” I turned towards Evelyn to give her a mingled look of surprise and gratitude.
Potter simply sat in silence, glancing exasperatedly between the two girls, and then swung his gaze to me. His eyes were bright hazel, holding a determination that was unnerving in its intensity.
“I’m not going to let you go.” Potter shook his head. “I can’t.”
I bit my lip, and for a long moment it felt like it was just us in the kitchen, wading in this heavy silence, my blue gaze locked on to his amber one.
“I’m sorry,” I said softly, and truly, I was. “But you’re not going to stop me, Potter. I have to be there. I just — “ I clasped my hands together, frustrated that the proper words were failing me. “I just have this feeling, okay? Like a gut feeling that I need to be at the Ministry tonight. The Sword… The Sword chose me. And I while used to think that it had been some kind of fluke, now… I'm not so sure. I have to finish what I started."
Dom was staring openly at me, a sadness clouding her gaze, her eyebrows squinched together. I raked my fingers through a couple crimson strands of hair, my chest tightening into a knot of several unidentifiable emotions.
“So.” I raised my hands in a ‘what can you do’ kind of manner, letting them flop back down to my sides. Saying those words aloud had made me appreciate the truth behind them…but it had also made me afraid. The thought of willingly going into the Ministry tonight and facing Vespertine was terrifying. “Potter, you can either help us plan, or you can leave. If you decide to walk out and rid yourself of this whole mess, I won’t hold it against you. Honestly. I won’t. But we’re doing this, with or without you. ”
On a side note: I was really laying down the law today. First with Evelyn, now Potter? I had no idea what was with me and all these ultimatums, but I liked the dramatic effect.
Potter fiercely shook his head, eyes fluttering shut for a brief moment. “You know I’m not going to let you do this alone, Bennett," he sighed resignedly through gritted teeth, and I felt myself starting to smile.
His next four words were music to my ears.
“What do you need?”
By noon, everyone in the house was awake (some more than others, as Aidan reminded us when he came downstairs with his clothes on backwards and toothpaste in his hair), and we decided it was finally time to figure out what we were going to do about the Vespertine situation. Over white cartons of Chinese takeout, the six of us gathered around the kitchen table to debate, argue and hash out a plan.
It didn’t take long to debrief everyone on the current situation. After all, there was only so much you had to know — Vespertine wanted to assassinate the Minister, said Minister was giving a very public press conference tonight, and Vespertine and her men planned to be there. Looking at it from the stiff, logical perspective, it was all extremely easy. That is, if you managed to forget about the possibility of mass casualties and — oh yeah — Vespertine’s hired killers trying to off me at every presented opportunity.
You know. Technicalities.
Potter was still uneasy about the idea of us going to the Ministry, but there was really no other option. Even Aidan agreed that contacting the Aurors would be a bad idea — after all, not only did the Aurors have no clue about what was really going on, but there was also the chance they would arrest me if we came forward. It wasn’t worth the risk.
Now, the only problem was figuring out what to do.
“So what’s the endgame here?” Potter abruptly jabbed his chopsticks into his takeout container, visibly agitated as he fixed me with a look. “We just waltz into the Ministry and shut the party down? Vespertine and her men are highly trained fighters, Bennett — you read the file. We’re no match for them.”
“They are also psychopaths who don’t care about hurting minors,” Dom conceded reluctantly from where she was sitting across from me, and Potter nodded swiftly in agreement. “They’ll do what they have to do. They’ll kills us if it comes to that.”
“It won’t. It won't come to that,” I maintained, weary but determined. I yanked five fingers through my crimson kinks, inhaling sharply. "We just need to be as prepared as possible."
But that was easier said than done, it seemed. While we had argued and bickered plenty so far, it seemed we still hadn't taken any concrete steps towards a plan. I was getting frustrated by how slow the process was, but honestly, what could I expect? Our group was a very disorganized one. What with all our different opinions and fiery tempers, it was hard to get anything done.
Take last summer, for example, when we had tried planning a trip to France for a music festival. Six arguments, three missed trains, and one curious incident involving a goat and a pineapple later, and we had all ended up back at my house watching the concert from a computer. Needless to say, we didn’t make it to France.
So you could imagine how difficult this was.
Aidan, who was still struggling to figure out the right way to put on his shirt, poked his head out of a sleeve-hole long enough to grace us with his opinion. “But on the bright side, at least we have the element of surprise. Like Aggy said, we won’t be in danger if we come up with a solid plan.”
“Yeah, but we have no idea what the press conference will look like,” Evelyn retorted, evidently having decided to join Team Negative Nelly. “We don’t have any blueprints, maps, nothing.”
Freddy nodded fiercely – he was still trying to get back on Evelyn’s good side after what had been dubbed ‘the stunning episode,’ and apparently thought agreeing with every single fucking thing she said was a good start. '"Yeah — totally. Blueprints and shit. Those are important. Hey, Aidan, are you going to finish that eggroll?"
I rolled my eyes in mild consternation. “I know. But the way I see it, we have two concrete goals: save the Minister and take down Vespertine. Those are our only priorities — if we can pull those off, then the rest is easy.”
“Er, you’re forgetting about another priority,” Dom jutted her chin out, the implied ‘duh’ obvious in her tone.
Aidan’s forehead crumpled into a frown. “No we’re not — Vespertine and the Minister. What else?”
“Bennett,” Potter spoke up, voice quiet. He was refusing to look at me, his eyes trained conspicuously on the grainy surface of the table, the muscles taut in his shoulders. “They’re after Bennett too.”
“And Evelyn,” Freddy added, brow furrowed. “I mean, Cooper mentioned last night that he wanted to use Evelyn in a hostage situation. He’s a psychopath. Who knows what he’ll do if he sees her again?”
Fortunately, everyone had their gazes swiveled towards me at this point, so I was the only one who saw Evelyn flinch noticeably at Freddy’s words. Involuntarily, I grimaced, feeling my stomach twist with sympathy. Sure, I was scared for myself — Vespertine wanted me dead, after all. At the same time, though, I’d never snogged Vespertine and been in a six-month-long relationship with her. Evelyn, on the other hand, had history with Cooper. Seeing him as the bad guy was going to be much more painful for her.
“Okay.” Aidan laid his hands firmly on the table as he tried to gather his bearings, squinting in concentration. “So we have Vespertine, Minister, Aggy and possible hostages.” He huffed, cerulean eyes widening with realization. “That’s a lot to take care of.”
We all processed this for a moment — the full impossibility of the task at hand, the danger that lurked ahead. While I’d been very sure this morning that this was something we needed to do, the idea of breaking into a governmental building to save a Minister, a centuries-old Sword and innocent bystanders from a fiery demise was…daunting, to say the least.
I gulped in a huge breath. “Evelyn has a good point. This whole process would be a lot easier if we had blueprints of the Ministry so we could see the layout of the building. How do we get blueprints? They always have blueprints in the spy movies,” I mumbled accusingly, as if this would somehow make blueprints magically materialize onto the table.
“And the actresses always get to wear like, cool leather catsuits,” Dom added, completely serious. “Which I think is something we need to consider.”
Potter groaned (either at my comment or Dom’s, I wasn’t sure), and rubbed a weary hand over his eyes. “Okay, press conferences are usually held in the atrium of the Ministry, right?”
I raised my eyebrows. “I don’t know. You’re the one with a father who works there.”
“So press conferences are usually held in the atrium of the Ministry,” Potter repeated loudly, decidedly acting as if no one and said anything. “I've been there a couple times. I might be able to sketch something from memory.”
Fred straightened and cocked his head to the side, looking like a particularly thoughtful Golden Retriever. “Now there’s an idea.”
Before Potter could change his mind, I’d grabbed my wand out of my boot and given it a simple flick — conjuring a glossy sheet of white paper and transfiguring the chopsticks in Potter’s hand to a pencil. Together, the rest of us huddled closer as Potter glanced down at his hand, shrugged, and began to draw.
“Guys,” I breathed, eyes tracing the light grey lines Potter was sketching, my brain shifting into overdrive as the architecture of the atrium began to form. “I think I have an idea.”
“Really?” Dom demanded impatiently. Her eyes were practically bugging out of her head with anticipation. “By all means, let’s hear it.”
I chewed on my bottom lip as my mind raced frantically, trying to grasp onto this inkling of a plan and turn in into a reality. It was like trying to get a hold of something that didn’t even exist — the harder I thought, the more the idea kept slipping away.
I reached out and snatched the paper from Potter’s hands, too deep into my own thoughts to register his indignant ‘Hey!’ I squinted at the sheet, holding it up to the kitchen light.
Potter had sketched out the large, gaping square of the atrium, including the stage and podium where, presumably, Minister Humdudgeon would speak tonight, surrounded by bodyguards and security personnel. Behind the podium was a backdoor, which led to a narrow corridor — barely big enough to fit one grown adult –—that branched out into two hallways. One led upwards in a gentle slope to the street exit, and the other burrowed deeper into the Ministry, splitting off into several winding paths.
I stared at all the lines and the scribbles, eyes unfocusing and refocusing. This could work. This could work with my plan, if only there was a second exit…
And then: I got it.
“I know what we’re going to do,” I murmured, breathy voice barely audible enough for even me to hear. Excitement mounting, I was already half out of my seat, clutching Potter’s drawing so hard it was beginning to crumple. “I’ve figured it out!”
“What?” Aidan burst, half-exasperated, half-excited. The rest of the table wheeled around to look at me, curiosity and frustration mingling on their faces.
I smiled triumphantly, chest swelling with satisfaction. Already, I was tossing the plan over and over in my head, mentally probing it for loopholes, for gaps or flaws. But the more I scrutinized it, the more plausible it seemed. We could do this. We could really do this.
“Does anyone know where we can find Polyjuice Potion? Some that’s already been brewed,” I demanded loudly, ignoring the ensuing weird looks and skeptical expressions. “I’m serious.”
“Uh, Knockturn Alley sells some for a couple galleons,” Evelyn offered feebly. She was, like the others, obviously very perplexed, but I was too excited to explain myself just yet.
“Brilliant. I need you to go out and buy some,” I said hastily, flapping a dismissive hand in the air. “And Aidan, I need you to run to the nearest electronic store and buy a tape recorder — just do it,” I added, seeing him open his mouth to interject. “Fred, go over to your dad’s shop and see if he has anything that can hide our appearances, or at least make us less conspicuous. Like invisibility hats or disguise goggles, something along those lines.”
I looked from side to side, body practically trembling from excitement. And while the baffled expressions on everyone else’s faces weren’t exactly encouraging, I could care less at the moment. I was feeling confident, my entire body thrumming with certainty, with determination.
“Can you do all that?” I asked loudly. There were a few mumbled yes’s and half-hearted nods. That was all I needed to hear. “Good.”
Chairs went screeching backwards and jackets tossed over shoulders as everyone began to stand, grumbling amongst themselves. Aidan, Evelyn and Freddy — confused but obedient — trailed out of the kitchen to carry out the tasks I'd assigned them, the front door to the house closing behind them in a cool burst of wintery air. Dom, Potter and I stayed put, although 'stayed put' seems like a poor choice of words. I was actually pacing frantically back and forth across the length of my kitchen, trying to figure out the one last missing component to my plan, while Dom and Potter exchanged worried looks from the kitchen table.
“Are you sure about this, Aggy — ?” Dom began, but already I had wheeled around excitably, thrusting my finger in the air in the perfect charades version of another ‘Eureka!’ moment.
“I’ll be right back!” I blurted, practically skipping with eagerness. And then, with the most enthusiasm an angsty fifteen-year-old girl could muster, I raced out of the kitchen, bounded up the stairs and burst into my bedroom.
Immediately, I was crossing over to my wooden, rickety bed, grabbing the lavender comforter and yanking it off. “Where is it — “ I murmured to myself urgently, patting the mattress like a madwoman. My body was acting on autopilot, running purely on instinct. “Where is it?”
I crouched down — ah hah! — and grabbed my purse, which had been lying innocuously under the bedframe out of sight. Shoving a hasty hand inside, I dug through the assorted clutter, Chocolate Frog wrappers and receipts until my fingers grazed cool brass.
I pulled out Dom’s gold coin, the one she had give us all for Christmas and the one that now served as our standard method of communication among the group. This. This was the most important part of the plan. Thank Merlin I had remembered to bring it with me when I left Hogwarts.
“Aggy, are you sure about this?”
I whipped my head up to see Dom leaning against the doorframe, hands in her back-pockets, brow crinkled with bewildered concern. I knew that from her point of view, I must have looked slightly…unhinged, crouching by my bed, red hair dangling in my face and clutching the gold coin like it was the most valuable artifact in the world. All we needed to complete the pretty picture was for me to start stroking the coin and whispering ‘My precious...' and we’d be set.
I cleared my throat and stood up, ignoring the creaky joints in my knee, and fixed my best friend with my most reassuring smile.
“Dom,” I began slowly, trying to convey as much sincerity as possible with my eyes. “Trust me on this. I know what I’m doing.”
This did not seem to reassure her, however. Still frowning, she crossed over to my now stripped bed and perched herself on its corner, fingers wringing anxiously. For a moment she was quiet, and I wondered if I should try and say something. But then (as Dom occasionally likes to do) she opened her mouth and voiced her opinion.
“Aggy, I don't know about this,” she began, picking at a stray string on the mattress. There was a thoughtful pause, and then she abruptly switched tactics. “When we were at Cooper’s party last night, did you by any chance happen to see Cooper talking to James and I?”
I blinked, caught off guard by her sudden question. Cooper's party seemed like eons ago in the face of all that was happening, and my frown crumpled as I struggled with difficulty to contextualize what she'd said.
But then the memory came drifting back to me, and I nodded thoughtfully. I remembered now: when I had first entered the party, I had watched from afar as Cooper approached Dom and Potter to say something. I hadn’t been close enough to overhear (re: eavesdrop on) their conversation, but whatever Cooper had said had definitely been inflammatory, because one moment they were talking, and the next Dom was lunging at him. Potter had to restrain her before she clawed his face off.
“Yeah,” I answered honestly. “I do.”
“Aggy,” Dom’s shiny row of front teeth bit down on her lower lip, wiggling it back and forth anxiously. “When Cooper approached us last night, he said some pretty horrible things.”
“What? About me?” I asked dumbly. I shoved a brusque hand through my hair and cocked my hip to the side. “Dom, I'm not scared of him anymore — "
“Not about you," Dom contradicted hastily. "Actually, he started off by saying that he wasn’t out to get you. No.” — she gave a breathless, grim laugh, shaking her head from side to side. — “He said he was out to get James. Yup. Made it loud and clear. Cooper doesn't seem to be over the little skirmish he and James got into at the costume party, and now he’s holding some massive man-pride grudge.”
“Yeah, I remember that fight all too well,” I said dryly. Dom scoffed in agreement.
“Right, so Cooper made it his personal mission to ‘ruin Potter.’” Dom crunched her fingers into two derisive little air quotes. “His melodrama would be funny if it wasn't so disturbing. Anyways, at the party I told him he was bullshitting and that he should fuck off, but he only laughed and said that he was going to get to Potter by going through his biggest weakness.”
She paused, locking her intense jade eyes with mine. “You.”
“Me?” I repeated stupidly.
“You,” Dom affirmed firmly. “Aggy, you have to be careful, okay? This isn’t just about Vespertine and the Minister anymore. Cooper’s made it personal and — and — “ Dom’s voice, normally so brash and loud, began to crack at this point. “I’m scared. Okay, Aggy? I know I haven’t been the most supportive or helpful recently, but as your best friend, I still have the right to be freaking terrified for you. And thinking about tonight just — God, Aggy, if something happens to you, I won’t know what to do with myself.”
“Hey,” I said softly, and then louder again when I noticed the way Dom’s eyes were glistening, wet and bright. “Hey. It’s going to be okay.” I crossed over to the bed, throwing my arm around Dom’s skinny shoulders, and squeezing her tight. It honestly broke my heart to see my best friend, who was usually so strong and unflappable, be vulnerable like this.
“Nothing’s going to happen to me, alright?” I murmured, stroking a gentle hand across Dom’s red-gold wisps of hair. “I won’t let it, because I have a plan and also… Also, I can’t die, because then who’s going to be the responsible one in this group and make sure we all survive Fifth year?”
Dom gave a watery chuckle. “Says the convicted felon,” she joked weakly, and I smiled at this sign of humor.
“Don't worry about me. Please,” I said fiercely, feeling my chest swell with sudden, tender affection for my best friend. This was the girl who once shoved Corby Finnegan into the Black Lake for me because he had made fun of my freckles. She would do anything for the people she loved. She was compassionate, smart, and outrageously funny, to the point where she made me laugh harder than anyone else. Nobody gave her credit for how funny she was.
"I love you, Dom," I mumbled as my own voice became clogged with thick emotion. "You're my best friend. I'd trust you with my life. I'd help you bury a body. Hell, I'd let you mooch off my Netflix account if you asked, that's how much I love you."
Forget guys. Forget Potter and Ryan and whoever bloody else.
Dom and I? We were the real love story here.
Dom’s shoulders still shook as she sat up with a sniffle, wiping furiously at her eyes. “I love you too, Aggs. Just please be careful.”
“I will,” I said through gritted teeth, and I meant it. “I will.”
I left Dom upstairs to take a nap in my bed. All the stress of the Vespertine situation – not to mention her problems with Aidan – had really taken a toll on her, and it showed in her pale, papery skin and under eye bruises. If she wanted to come to the Ministry tonight, I had insisted, then she needed to be as alert and sharp as possible. She needed to rest first.
Closing the bedroom door softly behind me, I crept back downstairs to enjoy the peace and quiet in the house before everyone came back and we had to start working again. When I re-entered the kitchen, Potter was at the counter sloshing coffee from the pot into a mug.
I stood next to him, peering over his shoulder at the delicious, frothy liquid bubbling in the cup. Potter, for a long moment, didn’t acknowledge me, and briefly I wondered if this was because he was still upset about my decision to go.
And then I realized — of course he was upset. If situations were reversed and I thought Potter was knowingly throwing himself into danger for some stupid act of bravery (or brave act of stupidity, depending on how you looked at it), I would be furious.
“I made you your own cup,” Potter finally spoke, tone emotionless. He handed me the mug, but he still wasn’t looking me directly in the eye.
My mouth flattened into a thin smile. “Thanks.” I accepted, feeling oddly touched by this small act of kindness. “Do you want to hang out in the living room, maybe? This kitchen is depressing the crap out of me.”
Potter didn't betray any reaction to this. Silently, dutifully, he just followed me into the room, where I flopped down on the couch and patted the seat next to me with a welcoming smile. He obeyed and sat, shoulders stiff and expression reluctant.
As I stared around at my eerily familiar living room, I came to the startling realization that it'd been so long since I'd just had a relaxing day at the house. Merlin. When was the last time I'd spent the day slouching around, vegging in front of the TV and watching the Discovery Channel? I missed how simple that had been. Maybe, just maybe, I could get ten minutes of that now before the others came back. It'd be nice to turn the TV on and my brain off, even if it was only for a little while. Smiling at the thought, I slurped on my coffee as I reached for the remote.
“Okay no.” Potter immediately turned to me, grabbing the remote out of my hands, his expression suddenly fierce. “This is — no. This is crazy. Do you realize what we’re going to do tonight? We’re going to invade a government building. A government building that’s being sieged by psychopaths. And all we’re equipped with is a lot of false confidence, a shitty drawing and your plan, which you won’t even tell us about! And you want to watch TV right now? How — how is that okay?!”
Potter’s eyes were a muddy mix of emerald and brown, flashing with that familiar, volatile spark of anger I was so used to. His mouth was a flat line, his jaw stubbornly clenched. He was breathing harshly, on edge, ready to fire back with a razor-edged response if I protested.
But I didn’t want to protest. Not after the good talk Potter and I had last night. I mean, it wasn’t like I thought our relationship was suddenly perfect rainbows and dandelions now, but… we’d been honest with each other, and I didn’t want to ruin that progress. Not now. Not tonight.
Gently, I laid my hand over Potter’s, still clenched in a rough fist over the remote.
“Look,” I began softly. “I know you’re upset with me and I understand why. But you have to trust me, Potter. I’m going to tell everyone my plan when Fred, Aidan and Evelyn come back."
Grudgingly, he seemed to relax ever so slightly at this, and I fixed him with a stern glare. "But I still have maybe half an hour until then, Potter. That’s half an hour before I have to come face to the face with the fact that I’m about to endanger myself and all the people I care about tonight in some crazy, half-wit mission. So before I have to think about that, I kind of just want to watch TV and pretend like my life is normal for a bit. Does that make sense to you?”
“You rarely make sense to me," Potter retorted sullenly, but I could tell he was softening. His grip on the remote loosened, and I took the opportunity to gently take it out of his hand, setting the contraption down on the table.
I shot him a bright, cautious look. Then, in a spontaneous move that had in no way been previously approved by my brain, I picked up Potter’s arm and wrapped it around my shoulders, pulling myself closer to the warmth of his body.
At first he stiffened from the contact, but then surrendered, the tension melting gradually from his shoulders. Wordlessly, maybe a bit hesitantly, he pulled me closer so that my head rested on his chest. His hoodie was soft and smelled like fresh laundry, and I snuggled into the comforting feel of the fabric. Our bodies fit together — it didn’t feel uncomfortable or unnatural or weird. It just felt right.
Potter leaned his cheek on the top of my head. There was a long moment in which neither of us spoke, Potter's fingers idly playing with the ends of my hair, our breathing slow and relaxed. For a moment, in this calm, idyllic silence, it almost felt like we were a normal couple on a date night. The thought sent a hollow pang through my chest.
“It’s not fair,” Potter murmured into the top of my head. “That I only get half an hour of this.”
I reached up, finding his hand with my own, and our fingers laced together almost instinctually. I craned my head to look at him, flashing a small, hopeful smile. “We’ll have more time. We just have to get though tonight first.”
Potter glanced at me for a moment, his eyes hard and bright. Then he leaned forward, pressing a soft, feather-light kiss to the corner of my mouth. My eyes fluttered closed at the almost painful flash that zinged through me from the sensation. Potter didn't say anything, just lightly kissed me again, this time on my mouth's other corner. Suddenly, impulsively, I grabbed him by his shirt collar and pulled him forward until, finally, his lips were flush on mine — briefly, chastely. I felt my body relax at the feel of his mouth, warm and familiar and bittersweet from the coffee. He was restraining himself, for some reason, and his gentleness only made me respond with stubborn ferocity. Twisting my fingers into his soft hair, I pulled him closer to deepen the kiss, body growing warm at the sweep of desire moving through me. My tongue slipped between his lips, head tilted so our mouths slanted against each other, perfectly. Somewhere between us kissing and his hands on my waist, I'd ended up on his lap.
Potter's grip tightened, my t-shirt bunching between his fingers, and I shifted my hips against his just so — eliciting from him a low noise in the back of his throat that made me flush and do it again. His hand had slipped underneath the light fabric of my shirt, splaying against the cool skin of my back, and I instinctively arched against him in response. We were breathing harshly, now. Teeth found lip, teasing, and two deft hands lifted the hem of my shirt up just a couple inches —
"No." I jerked away, leaving us staring at each other with wide eyes, our chests heaving raggedly. My shirt fluttered down to its usual length. Two patches of red were blooming at Potter's cheeks.
"We shouldn't," I panted, and then rolled off of him, flopping against the couch cushion as my chest continued to rise and fall rapidly. "We really shouldn't."
Potter nodded seriously, but the effect was somewhat ruined by his rumpled hair and the dazed expression on his face. "Right."
"Not — not until we figure out what we're doing," I said firmly, jabbing an arbitrary finger into the air. It was supposed to be a firm, declarative motion, but it just came across as sort of half-hearted and... limp.
Potter turned his head to look at me. "I don't get to touch you?"
His tone almost made me laugh — it was the first time I'd ever seen Potter look so put out. His expression was half indignant shock, half whiny teenage boy, plus an edge of wounded puppy dog for good measure.
"Yes to touching," I amended, because the thought of having to sit on a tiny couch next to James Sirius Potter and not maintain some kind of physical contact was... unpleasant. "But no to kissing."
"Alright. That's fair," Potter agreed, though he still looked somewhat irritated. Cautiously, his eyes gauging my expression for any sign of objection, Potter wound his arm around me once more. I smiled as we settled into the couch comfortably, our breathing calming to a slower rate. It just felt so right to be next to him like this. I leaned in closer, cheek smushed against the soft cotton of his hoodie.
We stayed like that for the next half hour. The remote lay, forgotten, on the coffee table.
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