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Clash by shenanigan
Chapter 46 : Overdrive
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 25


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A/N: So there's bad news and good news.

Bad news: I am a horrible author/overall jerk who lets her readers wait obscene stretches of time for a new chapter. I sincerely apologize and hope there are at least some of you left.

Good news: There are four more chapters left in this story and I have written all of them! As soon as this one is validated, I will be posting the next! No more waiting. Hopefully, that makes up for a fraction of what I have done.

This is a filler chapter (though there is some Jaggy cuteness at the end), before things get really interesting at the Ministry. I'd be interested in hearing what you think. Read on!


 Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling or The Hangover by Todd Phillips and Legendary Pictures. 

—*—

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 vanity to my door to my window, mind working sluggishly to catch up with eyes. I was in my old bedroom, I realized, feeling myself slowly creep 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 last night's memories flitted through my brain in a foggy, unpleasant montage. 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 — 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 hand across my eyes, struggling to sit up. “What time is it?” I croaked in my best frog princess imitation (minus the princess). I was met with strange, thick silence.

Aidan was still slumbering peacefully next to me, his chest rising and falling with each gentle snore. I prodded him in the shoulder. No response, but I wasn’t surprised by that. The kid could sleep through anything. In fact, to this day I still wasn’t sure whether Aidan’s coma had actually been a coma or just a particularly intense nap.

…Too soon?

I sighed, 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. Dragging 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, who had clearly woken up fine after her stunning 'incident,' and Potter was sitting on top of the kitchen counter, legs swinging casually in their air. All three of them had their hands curled around steaming mugs, the room brimming with the rich, dark aroma of coffee. My mouth watered.

“Morning.” Dom cocked her chin at me, arching a smooth eyebrow.

“Coffee. Now. Want,” I grunted in eloquent response.

“Aggy. Speak. Good,” Evelyn snarked back, earning an amused 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 took all 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.

What can I say? My homicidal tendencies really act up in the morning.

“What’s the plan, Bennett?” was Potter’s helpful answer. 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 of the Nectar of the Gods and sighed in satisfaction.

“What plan?” I slurped.

Evelyn rolled her eyes.

“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 an eyebrow over Potter’s/my mug. “This is Fred we’re talking about?”

Dom’s lips twitched, and Evelyn made a frustrated noise, her 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 way I don’t have to waste my time saying I told you so.”

Evelyn blanched, and Potter’s eyes darted to me, 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. “Look, I know dating Cooper looked bad, but you don’t know my reasons for doing it and you don’t know me. So just… back off, alright?”

I stared blankly at her, head cocked to the side in an almost thoughtful manner. A year ago from now, I would have risen up to the bait, thrown my best insult her way — maybe said something about how the altitude sickness from her high horse must be affecting her brain. But I was too tired for that now. There were more important things and I just… I didn’t care anymore.

“You’re right. I don’t know you Evelyn,” I said quietly, matter-of-fact. “But that’s not my fault.” I gave a small shake of the head, handing Potter his mug back. “When you’re ready to tell us the truth about what really happened between you and Cooper, then we’ll hear you out. Frankly, I could care less about what really went down. What’s important is how you feel now. We need to know if you’re with us or with him. You only get one team.”

Stunned, Evelyn clamped her lips shut. Patches of red were burning into her cheeks, her wintergreen eyes flashing with uncertainty. The kitchen seemed to sink into silence as the air around us bristled with stiff tension.

I leaned against the counter, nonchalant as ever. “If you choose Cooper… No hard feelings,” I said, enunciating each word with a quiet calmness. “But you have to choose, okay? None of this back-and-forth stuf—“

“You guys,” Evelyn blurted out suddenly. “I choose you guys.”

I snapped my mouth shut and Dom, with a quiet sigh of surprise, flopped back in her chair. Brow furrowed, Potter fixed Evelyn with his usual calculating gaze, Merlin knows what running through his brain.

“Okay,” I chirped, the beginnings of a smile twitching at my lips. “Then let’s 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 around the room, mouth pressed into a firm line. “And so will 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 are 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’ seriously, 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. “No matter what we tell them, we don’t have the evidence to back it up. 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, looking, 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.”

I turned towards Evelyn, simultaneously surprised and grateful. Potter simply sat in silence, looking at the two girls for a moment, and then swiveled his gaze to me. His eyes were bright hazel, holding a determination that was scary 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 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, and truly, I was. “But you’re not going to stop me. 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 have to be at the Ministry tonight. The Sword… The Sword chose me, Potter. And I used to think that it was because of some fluke, like the Sword was destined for someone else and the Fates were just out for lunch when I stumbled upon it, but now I’m starting to believe that… Well, it’s meant to be.”

Dom was staring at me, sadness clouding her gaze, eyebrows drawn together. I raked my fingers through a couple crimson strands of hair, my chest tightened 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 realize how right they were… 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. It’s up to you. 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 am really laying down the law today. First with Evelyn, now Potter? I don’t know what’s with me and all these ultimatums, but I’m liking the dramatic effect.

Potter shook his head. “You know I’m not going to let you do this alone, Bennett.” He sighed 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 all 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 — one of Vespertine’s hired killers trying to off me at every present opportunity.

You know. Technicalities.

Potter was still uneasy about the idea of us going to the Ministry, but there was really no stopping us. 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 jabbed his chopsticks into his takeout container, obvious agitated. “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 agreed 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,” I said, weary but determined. I was getting frustrated by how slow this planning process was, but what else 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.

I mean, take last summer, for example, when we 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 can imagine how difficult this is.

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 looks 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 evidently thought agreeing with every single thing that came out of her mouth would be a good start. '"Yeah — totally. Blueprints and shit. Those are important — hey, Aidan, are you going to finish that eggroll?"

I rolled my eyes. “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 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. “They’re after Bennett too.”

“And Evelyn,” Dom 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 at this point had their gazes swiveled towards me, so I was the only one who saw Evelyn flinch noticeably at Dom'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 had to do, the idea of breaking into a governmental building to save a Minister, a centuries-old Sword and innocent bystanders from their fiery demise was…daunting, to say the least.

I gulped in a huge breath. “Evelyn’s right. 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 movies,” I said accusingly, as if someone was to blame for blueprints not having magically materialized onto the table.

“And the girls in movies always get to wear like, cool leather catsuits,” Dom added, completely serious. “Which is something I think we need to consider.”

Potter groaned (either at my comment or Dom’s, I wasn’t sure), and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “Okay, so 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, resolutely ignoring my question and its insolence. “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 said 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!’

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 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 slowly. 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 looked at each other, 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 in the logic. 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.”

“Knockturn Alley sells some potion for a couple galleons,” Evelyn offered feebly. She was, like the others, obviously very confused, but I was too excited to explain.

“Brilliant. I need you to go out and buy some,” I said hastily, flapping a dismissive hand in the air. “Aidan, go to the nearest electronic store and buy a tape recorder — just do it,” I added, seeing him open his mouth to interject. “Fred, head 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, tense with determination. 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.

“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 up, grumbling amongst themselves. Aidan, Evelyn and Freddy — confused but obedient — trailed out of the kitchen and the house, the front door closing behind them in a cool burst of wintery air. Dom, Potter and I stayed put. Well, I guess stayed put is a poor choice of words. I was pacing frantically back and forth across the length of my kitchen, while Dom and Potter were exchanging worried looks from the kitchen table.

“Are you sure about this — ?” Dom began, but already I had wheeled around, thrusting my finger in the air in a perfect ‘Eureka!’ moment.

“I’ll be right back!” I practically screamed. And then, with the most enthusiasm an angsty fifteen year old girl can physically muster, I bounded up the stairs and burst into my bedroom.

Immediately, I crossed over to my wooden, rickety bed, grabbing the lavender comforter and yanking it off. “Where is it —“ I murmured urgently, patting the mattress. 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. Shoving a hasty hand inside, I dug around until my fingers grazed cool brass.

I pulled out Dom’s gold coin — the one she had given me for Christmas and that served was our new method of communication for the group. This. This was the most important part of the plan. Thank god 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 backpockets, brow crinkled with concern. I knew that from her point of view, I must have looked slightly…unhinged crouching by my bed, my red hair dangling in my face, clutching the gold coin like it was the most valuable artifact in the world. All we needed to complete the 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.

“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. For a moment she was quiet, and I wondered if I should try and say something. But then (as Dom frequently likes to do) she opened her mouth and voiced her opinion.

“Aggy,” she began, picking at a stray string on the mattress. “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. I hadn’t expected her to remember that moment — I mean, I didn’t even remember it. It felt like years ago.

But she was right, I realized, as the memory came rushing back to me. When I had first entered the party, I had watched from afar as Cooper approached Dom and Potter. I hadn’t been close enough to overhear (re: eavesdrop on) their conversation, but Cooper definitely said something inflammatory, because one moment the three of them had been talking, and the next Dom was lunging at him in fury. Potter had to restrain her from doing anything.

“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 in anxiety. “When Cooper approached us last night, he said some pretty horrible things.”

“What? About me?” I said dumbly. I shoved a brusque hand through my hair and cocked my hip to the side. “Like — like what?”

“Not about you. Actually, he started off by saying that he wasn’t out to get you. No.” Dom gave a breathless, grim laugh, shaking her head to the side. “He said he was out to get James. Yup. Made it clear. I don’t know why, but Cooper isn't over the little skirmish he and James got into at the Halloween party, and now he’s holding a massive grudge.”

“Yeah, I remember that fight all too well,” I said dryly. Dom scoffed in agreement.

“So Cooper declared it his personal mission to ‘ruin Potter.’” Dom crunched her fingers into two derisive little air quotes. “His melodrama would have been funny if it weren’t seriously disturbing and indicative of some serious psychological issues. But anyways. 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 jade eyes with mine. “You.”

“Me?” I squeaked.

“You,” Dom said 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 so 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, okay? 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.

“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.

“I love you, Dom,” I said, feeling my chest swell with affection for my best friend. My best friend, who in Second Year shoved Corby Finnegan into the Black Lake after he made fun of my freckles. My best friend, who could make me laugh harder than anyone else. My best friend, who was so much smarter and cooler than anyone gave her credit for.

Forget guys. Forget Potter and Ryan and whoever bloody else.

Dom and I? We were the real love story.

Dom’s shoulders shook and 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. If she wanted to come to the Ministry tonight, I had insisted, then she needed to rest first.

Closing the bedroom door softly behind me, I crept back downstairs as quietly as possible. 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. Potter, for a long moment, didn’t acknowledge me — and briefly I wondered if he was still upset about my decision to go to the Ministry tonight. Then I realized — of course he was upset. If the situation were reversed and I knew Potter was knowingly throwing himself into danger in some stupid act of bravery (or brave act of stupidity, depending on how you look at it), I would be furious.

“I made you your own cup,” Potter finally spoke. 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. “Do you want to move to the living room? This kitchen is depressing the crap out of me.”

Silently, dutifully, Potter followed me into the quiet living room. I flopped down on the couch and patted the seat next to me with a welcoming smile, and he sat, stiff and reluctant.

My god, it’d been so long since I’d last spent the day vegging in front of the TV. I'd almost forgotten how. 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. “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 this 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 said anything.

But I didn’t want to say anything. Not after the good talk Potter and I had last night. I mean, it wasn’t like I thought that our relationship was suddenly perfect butterflies 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. It was 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. But I still have maybe half an hour until then. 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. 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, 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. Then, in a spontaneous move that had in no way been approved by my brain, I picked up Potter’s arm and wrapped it around my shoulders, pulling myself closer to him.

He stiffened at the contact but then surrendered, melting into it and pulling me closer so that my head rested on his chest. His hoodie was soft and smelled like fresh laundry, and I snuggled into him. 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, his fingers idly playing with the ends of my hair. 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. “We’ll have more time. We just have to get though tonight first.”

Potter glanced at me for a moment. Gently, he pressed a kiss to the corner of my mouth, then tilted his head to kiss the other corner, before finally, his lips grazed mine — briefly, chastely. My eyes fluttered closed at the feel of his mouth, warm and familiar, 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, aching groan that made me flush and do it again. His hand slipped underneath the light fabric of my shirt, splaying against the cool skin of my back, and I instinctively arched against him in response. Teeth found lip, teasing, and two deft hands lifted the hem of my shirt up just a couple inches —

I pulled away, leaving us staring at each other and breathing heavily. 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 half horrified shock and half whiny teenage boy, with 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 Potter and not maintain some kind of contact was... unpleasant. "But no to kissing."

Potter looked put out, but agreed. "Okay."

"Okay."

Cautiously, eyes trained on my expression, Potter wound an arm around me. I sighed and leaned into him, 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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