Chapter 49 : Heal
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I found Vespertine after ten minutes.
The hallway I'd turned down led to only one room, and that was where she'd been waiting, patiently, all along. Both of us knew what this night really came down to a face-to-face confrontation between the two of us. No henchman, no Aurors, no back-up. It had to be this way.
The room was wide and round, with lush red carpeting and glossy oil paintings of past Ministers hanging on its walls. The portraits peered down with hooded eyelids, grimaces on their sagging faces. They were all, I couldn't help but notice, of men. White men. In fact, I don't think I'd seen so many white dudes in one room since my stepfather dragged me to his crossword puzzle convention last year.
Vespertine was regally pacing the room, her elegant, pale arms clasped behind her back. She was draped in silk robes the colour of twilight, and her collar was studded with stylish pearls. She looked like an old socialite not a criminal mastermind. I watched from the doorway as she gazed at all the faces on the wall, her grey eyes sharp. Her unfazed demeanor made it seem like she hadn't noticed me, but then she started speaking:
"The Ministry had always been an old boys club," she said loudly, syllables crisp and clipped. "Even these days, as progressive as it may seem, trying to wiggle yourself in as a woman is almost impossible. At least, if you wish to get far."
She turned, face brightening almost cheerfully as her gaze landed on my silhouette.
"And yet here we both are, Miss Bennett," she said.
I swallowed. Vespertine's blasι act was giving me the creeps. I'd expected anger and bluster, curses (of various kinds), ranting, even physical violence... But quiet musings and some feminist camaraderie? Not so much.
"Here we both are," I admitted reluctantly. What was this psycho trying to get at?
"You and I are similar, Miss Bennett," Vespertine smiled softly, mysteriously, as if she were bestowing upon me a precious secret. "I, like you, always wanted to stand out, to do something meaningful. And I, like you, always had to step aside for the other men to move past, take the spotlight and the credit. We're similar, you see."
My face fell into a flat, unconvinced expression. "Uh, I don't think so," I protested quietly, shaking my head adamantly. "You and I are both in this room, Vespertine, but we got here different ways. I play fair. And when boys want to 'move past,' I don't step aside and then later seethe and plot revenge. I stand my ground."
Vespertine's smile seemed to harden, slightly, and then it was twisting into a malevolent sneer. "As adorable as your idealism is, it won't take long for the real-life experience to prove the opposite. We're the same, Miss Bennett, because we're both ambitious women. You'll realize that one day."
My fist clenched around my wand as anger sparked through me, hot and sudden. Who did Vespertine think she was, comparing herself to me? This woman had lost touch with reality if she thought that I could ever plot something on par with what she'd done!
"You're a murderer," I spat, slicing through all her saccharine manipulation and vague, watery wording. This was the point, this was what I had to hold on to and remember: Vespertine was trying to kill people. She was unhinged.
"No, I'm an assassin," Vespertine shot back insistently, her voice rising, and an ugly vein began to pulse against her forehead. "And I'm doing what's right."
"You stole the sword!" I yelled back, anger seizing control and making the words fall rashly, harshly from my mouth. "You stole it and pinned the crime on me!"
"Of course I did!" Vespertine shrieked vehemently, black hair whirling through the air as she lunged towards me. I hastily stumbled backwards, face blanching with shock at her sudden, volatile switch in demeanor. "Someone had to take the fall! You messed up, Miss Bennett, you got in the way and the only choice I had was to fix the mess you made!"
"By turning me into a felon?!" As scary and unhinged as Vespertine was acting, I'd become too furious to back down. Recovering my composure, I took a threatening step forward, chest heaving up and down. "I'm a fifteen-year-old girl! I did not 'mess up' I just foiled your stupid evil plan and you used me as a scapegoat!"
Vespertine, however, apparently didn't care for my admittedly poor attempt at guilt-tripping her. Already she was charging forward, her sophisticated robes billowing outwards, eyes flashing dangerously.
"Where is the Minister?" She screeched, and I tried not to flinch at her shrill tone. "Where is he?"
"I don't know "
"You'll never find out!"
That escalated quickly.
"Ack!" I dropped to the floor, barely missing the spell that had blossomed from Vespertine's wand like a blinding starburst. My heart was thudding furiously in my chest as I slowly registered what had just happened. Shock turned my eyes wide. Then anger was balling my hands into fists. "ARE YOU FUCKING CRAZY?! Fuck! argh! "
I rolled over just in time as a giant hole was singed into the carpet right where I'd previously been lying, courtesy of Vespertine's wand and the second hex she'd flicked my way. She advanced menacingly, wand smoking, eyes crazy.
"No one," she seethed. "Will believe what you say about me. My word against yours. Tell me where the Minister is now, and I might let you liv eeeiiiah!"
The stinging hex I'd quickly muttered hit Vespertine squarely in the chest, causing her to reel backwards to the opposite end of the room. I hastily scrambled to a stand, blowing the air out of my face and wishing that I hadn't slacked so much on the practice portion of our DADA assignments this year. Vespertine was a trained scholar, after all. She'd probably won countless duels, and had mastered more spells than I even knew of.
Yet I had one advantage:
She was sodding crazy.
Her emotions were getting the best of her, and as I stumbled forward, limbs already aching, Vespertine flung poorly-aimed hex after poorly-aimed hex at me, failing to hit her target despite my close proximity. I swallowed, my dry throat scraping unpleasantly, and lifted my wand higher in my clammy hand. Every second counted. I couldn't afford to miss.
"Expelliarmus!" I shouted and then immediately, miraculously, Vespertine's wand was flying out of her hand, both of us watching it in equal astonishment as the stick soared through the air and, almost as if in slow motion, landed on the velvety carpet in the middle of the room.
There was a pause, a frozen silence as we both regarded the wand lying innocently on the ground.
And then I was charging after it and so was Vespertine, both of our arms extended in unthinking panic as we dove for the ground. By sheer instinct, I seized Vespertine by her robe tails and yanked her backwards, attempting to hop over her flailing form, but she lunged at my ankle and promptly took me down with her. We tumbled down to the carpet, and then we were actually, physically brawling. Vespertine fought dirty there was hair-pulling and scratching and biting. Before I knew it, I was in an all out cat fight with one of the most powerful women in the wizarding world.
"FUCK! LET GO OF MY HAIR WOMAN!"
"WHERE IS THE MINISTER?"
"I'm not telling you anything, you you psychopath!
"Psychopath?! Psychopath?! I'm striving for justice, for equality! No one wanted me in power because I was a woman!"
"No! No one wanted you in power because YOU'RE AN ASSHOLE!"
Vespertine was on top of me now, her long red nails scrabbling at my face. Screaming, I flung my wand arm out, hoping to hit her with a spell any spell but she quickly knocked my elbow to the side, just in time for my hex to go flying akimbo.
The beam of spell-light zipped towards the wall, ricocheted off a random picture frame, and then, in a dizzying zigzag, streaked back to collide with Vespertine's own wand on the floor.
My arm went slack. Vespertine stopped in her assault on my face and sucked in a loud, hoarse gasp.
For a moment, we simply stayed in our ridiculous position like that, absorbing the events of the past few seconds. Neither of us could move. Neither of could act.
Because we had just broken one of the most sacred rules of magic. It was one of those things that your parents would constantly warn you about as a kid, a simple safety rule that was ingrained in you and that you could never forgot. This kind of thing only happened rarely, and it was usually written off as a freak accident... But somehow, today we had managed it. We had hit a wand directly with a spell. And in the wizarding world, this equated to one big, fat no-no. The amount of sheer power, of vibrating magic, in a wand was enough to turn it into a virtual time bomb if provoked.
And... well, that's kind of exactly what we'd just done.
Already, the wand was beginning to spin as if possessed by some unseen force, wheeling in a circle on the maroon carpet, churning magic and wind into the air. Its movements were getting jerkier, larger by the second.
"Shit," I said.
On hands and knees, Vespertine and I both began to scramble away from the wand, too frightened for our own lives to even think about our previous fighting. There was only one command in my body right now, and that was get away as far as possible. I didn't know exactly what happened when you hit a wand with a spell, but I didn't care to find out. Already I was pulling my body across the carpet, ignoring the excruciating pangs of agony in my muscles, eyes zeroed in on the door. I managed to claw my way there, using its frame to pull myself up, and there I swayed on quivering legs as my vision dipped and lurched in a way that it definitely wasn't supposed to.
The wand's shuddering had been growing more erratic. It was now outright spinning on the floor, its point bouncing off the carpet in an ominous tap-tap-tap. There was only so much time until
A sudden, screaming sound and then the wand split in two, sending a sheet of white, molten light billowing towards the ceiling. It was like a lightning strike. The whole room began to quake and rumble forebodingly, throwing me off my already wobbly balance. Disgruntled old portraits fell off the wall, yelping in fear. The ground wavered and finally broke, causing tiny little rifts to rupture the carpeting.
I struggled, in vain, to run.
I thought of all the people I loved.
I thought of how slow my legs felt.
I thought of how annoying it was that near-death experiences didn't get any easier the second time around.
Then there was a terrifying, magnificent groaning noise as the ceiling above seemed to shudder, raining grey debris onto my head and arms. Already I could tell I wouldn't make it. I was too weak, the magic too forceful. And just as I had resigned myself to this fact, Vespertine's wand exploded, sending light and heat in all different directions. It expanded outwards, blowing its burning white blankness into every corner of the room, and I was tossed to the floor as easily and mercilessly as a Quaffle.
And then everything went dark.
I know what a clichι, right? Believe me, I sincerely wished that my life wasn't so melodramatic as to warrant ever using the phrase 'and then everything went dark,' but, well, there you have it. The whole shtick the Hollywod-esque explosion, the battered heroine who faints in an exhausted tizzy, the cliffhanger, always the fucking cliffhanger all of it culminating in one trite, stereotypical moment, which in this case happens to be me face-planting to the ground like a wimp.
There was noise a lot of it and this terrible, terible feeling, as if my entire body had liquefied and then hardened in to metal. My mind was scrabbling, grasping, clamoring desperately at consciousness, struggling to stay alert, but already my senses were beginning to fail. My vision was gone, and now my hearing and touch were leaving me too. I could feel my thoughts leaking away. It was like any tether I'd previously had to the world had been slashed, and now there was nothing for me to do but float away, float float float away. I could register pain a crushing, incomparable pain reaching in for me from somewhere else, from my surroundings, maybe, but that was it. Just a blank observation. I had no opinion about this pain, no preference whether it left or stayed. I was detached.
The last thing I felt before I finally passed out was a hand grabbing my arm, giving it just the slightest tug as my body was dragged from the rubble.
Have you ever woken up handcuffed to a hospital bed before?
No? Well then, congratulations you are among the 99% of the world who has not absolutely failed at life.
I mean, seriously. Waking up in a hospital? Handcuffed? That is the lowest of lows. I can't think of any worse way to come to consciousness. Not only do you wake up in a hospital, not only do you wake up in handcuffs, but you wake up handcuffed in a hospital.
My parents would be proud.
I frowned involuntarily at the soft voice slowly beckoning me out of the nice, heavy sleep I'd been submerged in. No. Eyes squeezing determinedly shut, I burrowed my face into my scratchy pillow and tried to shut out the world around me. I didn't want to leave sleep. Sleep was nice. No sleep bad.
"Agatha," the voice demanded once more, and I resigned myself to the fact that, whoever this was, they weren't about to give up their pestering anytime soon. I had better wake up.
As my eyes cracked open, it felt like my skull had, as well. For a dizzying moment, the outside world rushed at me in spangles of light and harsh noises, making my brain throb painfully as it tried to contextualize all the surrounding information. I was starting to realize that I wasn't in my bed at home, nor was I in my bed at Hogwarts. Which... didn't really leave that many other viable options for beds I could be lying in right now.
"Argh," I gritted out, massaging my knuckles into my forehead as my head began to throb painfully. "Holy fuck."
And that was when my vision cleared, in time for me to see the figure sitting by my bed and realize that I had just said a very bad word in front of Harry Potter, The Chosen One, the most prominent hero of the wizarding world.
"Agatha," Mr. Potter grinned sheepishly. "We have to stop meeting like this."
I gaped at Mr. Potter for a long moment, taking in his harried appearance, the concerned glint of his eyes. My brain tried, and failed, to come up with any reasons as to why I would be waking up next to the Potter patriarch.
And then I remembered:
The Ministry. The Sword. Vespertine.
"Mr. Potter," I croaked astutely and intelligently. "Where am I?"
I looked around to see pink, scratchy blankets, a beeping monitor and squeaky linoleum floors, and suddenly I knew the answer to my question. It was all too familiar. These surroundings must mean I was at St. Mungo's.
But... more importantly, they also meant that I had survived the explosion at the Ministry. Someone had pulled me out of the wreckage and I'd landed in here, and for that I was grateful annoying doctors and future cups of gross hospital applesauce notwithstanding.
Mr. Potter was sitting at my bedside, his face kind and weary, the wrinkled lines around his smile betraying the age and wisdom behind it. The scene was so weird, so starkly different from what I remembered from the Ministry, that I had to close my eyes for a moment at how surreal everything was.
"We're at the hospital, Agatha," Mr. Potter said slowly, gently. "It's Thursday, Agatha. You've been in and out of consciousness for the past three days."
My eyes flew open. "Three days?!" And then, remembering what was really important "Is everyone okay? Aidan and Dom and Potter and the Minister and everyone else? Are they okay?"
Mr. Potter chuckled, a low, deep rumble that soothed my anxiety only slightly. "Yes, everyone is okay. The Minister is doing perfectly fine, thanks to you. You broke a lot of rules that night," he added, somewhat sternly. "But thankfully, no harm was done on either side."
I paid no heed to Mr. Potter's light admonishing. While months ago, being told off by The Chosen One himself might have bothered me a little bit (okay, it would have sent me into an existential crisis), now I couldn't care less. I had to see the others, to make sure with my own eyes that they were all in one piece and that no one had gotten hurt because of me
"Where are the others?" I jerked to a seating position, ignoring the complaining throbbing of my head. "Have they left to go home already? Or for Hogwarts? Or Ow! Hey! I'm handcuffed."
The observation came out of my mouth in a soft, disbelieving tone, as if what I was seeing wasn't horrendous or terrible but simply, merely curious. I jangled the ring of metal around my wrist, looking at Mr. Potter with wide eyes. He grimaced sheepishly, rubbing at the back of his neck with a hand.
"Er, yes," he murmured. "A precautionary measure."
And this was when I conveniently remembered that, in everyone's eyes, I was still the crazy girl who had stolen the Sword of Gryffindor. No doubt, this image had not been alleviated at all by me blowing up half the Ministry and getting into a catfight with the Headmistress of my school.
I swiveled around to Mr. Potter, fixing him with a fierce, defiant gaze that made him blanch slightly. "Check my coat pocket," I bit out adamantly, mind already clearing enough for me to know what had to happen. "I'm in a hospital gown now but... the coat I was wearing to the Ministry, it must be here somewhere. Check it and you'll find evidence "
"We found the tape recorder in your pocket, Agatha, and we heard the evidence already," Mr. Potter said firmly, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "Also, Vespertine confessed to knowing where the Sword is. Like I said, the handcuffs were just a precautionary measure. We had to make sure you wouldn't get up in the middle of the night, become frightened and run away. You have, after all, proven to be quite unpredictable lately..." Mr. Potter cleared his throat, but it was evident he was trying not to smile. He continued: "Your friends are at the hospital. They've been pestering the nurses to see you and have staked out the hallway in front of your room, turning it into a makeshift campsite. They refuse to leave."
I winced. "Yeah, sounds like something they would do. Sorry about that "
Before I could finish my apology, however, I was interrupted by an all-too-familiar sound: Dom Weasley screeching.
"She's awake right now? What do you mean she's awake right now?!" Her voice was distant, but nevertheless screechingly loud and objectively terrifying. Judging by its increasing volume, Dom was currently trampling through the outside hallway on a veritable warpath. "I DEMAND TO BE LET IN NOW. FAMILY ONLY MY ASS. DON'T YOU KNOW ANYTHING OF THE BONDS OF SISTERHOOD? DON'T YOU KNOW THE POWER OF A SASSY FEMALE BESTFRIENDSHIP? HAS SEX AND THE CITY TAUGHT YOU NOTHING?!"
Despite myself, I smiled. Typical Dom.
Mr. Potter continued to smile benevolently at me, as if neither of us could hear his niece manically raving right outside the door. Then, ruffling his hair in a way that made the resemblance to his eldest son eerily apparent, he stood to go. The chair creaked from the release of his weight, giving me an understanding nod before he turned away.
"It's good to have you back, Agatha," he chuckled, and then he was sweeping out of the room.
The door clicked shut.
...Only to be banged open about two seconds later as Dom Weasley marched into the room, face flushed, chest heaving, the human incarnate of the phrase 'all hell breaking loose.' She took one look at my hospital bed and then, gaze narrowing into slits, began marching forward, revealing a somewhat sheepish Fred Weasley trailing lazily behind her.
"Dom," I murmured, voice still weak and clogged with sleep. "You guys are here."
"Of course we're bloody here," Dom exclaimed, and then she was barreling forward and throwing herself on top of me in a tight hug, apparently not all too concerned that I had just sustained multiple injuries in the recent past.
"Oof," I groaned, but Dom ignored my wheeze of pain as she pulled away, peering critically into my face with the eye of an artist sizing up his model. There was a long moment when we stared at each other Gratitude welled inside me, clogging my voicebox and making the back of my eyes sting. I had no idea where to start, so I just settled for looking at Dom and making sure that she was real, my eyes raking over every detail of her face, analyzing every freckle.
"You," Dom said emotionally. "You..."
"I know, Dom, there's so much I want to say too "
"You look hideous."
Fred let out a bark of laughter that he turned into a hasty cough.
I stared at my best friend, speechless. This? This was our tearful reunion? Instead of flowers or get-well balloons, I get a casual "oh, good to see you by the way, you look like shit"?
"I mean, just look at yourself, Aggy," Dom cried, obviously extremely distraught over the current state of my appearance. Her manicured fingers fumbled inside her handbag until she whipped out a pink plastic compact, snapping it open and shoving its mirror in front of my nose.
I blinked at my reflection. There was a giant bandage over my forehead, and some pretty nasty scrapes and bruises marring my cheeks. But other than that, I had both my eyes, my nose and my mouth, and they all seemed to be in their correct positions.
I fixed Dom with a flat look.
"Oh no. I'm a monster," I deadpanned.
"Don't worry," Dom nodded vigorously, eyes bright and eager. "You'll heal."
At this, Freddy could no longer contain his laughter. A snort emitted from the figure in the corner of the room, whose hunched shoulders had been shaking with barely-suppressed glee. Then Freddy turned, the amusement sliding from his face as his eyes became brighter, more sincere, and stepped forward.
"I think you look fabulous, Aggs," he said kindly, smoothing down my sheet. "I also think it's ridiculous how many times I've had to look at a Bennett lying in an hospital bed."
This was accompanied by a stern look and some furious nodding from Dom.
I shrugged meekly. "Er, family tradition?" I suggested.
As if on cue, the door was suddenly opening once more as my brother shouldered his way through, his face hidden by what looked like a giant bundle of fluff and glitter that he was carrying in his arms and no doubt struggling with as he lumbered across the room.
"Gifts and cards from admirers," he announced to no one in particular. As he waddled forward, it became obvious that the mini mountain of pink in his grip kept him from seeing me properly. It was only until after he set down everything that his eyes landed on me and a slow, uncertain smile spread across his face. "Aggy? You're awake again?"
"This time for good," I smiled, drinking in the sight of my brother before me, strong and well and very much alive.
Aidan exhaled sharply, his eyelids fluttering as he visibly struggled to overcome the relief charging onto his features. I extended my arms towards him with childish insistence.
"Come here," I said.
Now grinning, Aidan strode into my hug and wrapped his arms tight around me, squeezing hard. We stayed like that for a moment, reassuring ourselves in the other person's warmth, their sturdiness, trying to swallow back the emotions rising in our chests.
"I was worried about you for a moment there, sis," Aidan said, smiling weakly as he pulled away. He shoved a hand through his hair and then gave a shaky laugh. "Im glad you're okay."
"Me too. And you guys had nothing to worry about, honest," I insisted, glancing at both Aidan and Dom with as much sincerity as I could muster. But they only shot me flat, skeptical looks. "Okay, so there was some stuff to worry about. But regardless, we're here now so can someone please fill me in on what I missed since I've been out?"
"Aidan, you start," Fred said from where he was by the gifts, sifting through the bounty for some food. "I'll be here looking through Aggy's gifts just to make sure that, uh, nothing's... contaminated say, do you think there are Bertie Botts in here?"
Aidan rolled his eyes, but nevertheless plunked down by my legs and proceeded to tell me everything. Over the next fifteen minutes, he and Dom at times trading off and at times interrupting each other managed to explain all that had been going on the past few days with only a minimum amount of bickering between them.
As it turns out, the Aurors had arrived shortly after Vespertine's wand exploded. They'd pulled the both of us unconscious out of the wreckage and hauled us to the hospital. The public had remained utterly bemused as to why the Headmistress of Hogwarts and a fifteen-year-old girl had ended up in the same pile of rubble, but after searching us for signs of what exactly went down, the Aurors found my tape recorder, which I had left running in my coat pocket throughout our conversation. It only took one quick listen to clear my name and dirty Vespertine's ("You're a murderer!" "No, I'm an assassin.")
Meanwhile, Dom had taken the Minister out into the street exit, where they had spent two hours having a coffee and a chat at some muggle shop ("He's actually a pretty nice guy," Dom had gushed. "We talked about the changes in the economy and the Ministry's new policy on Centaur negotiation now that I think about it, he was kind of fit as well... ").
Aidan and Potter, meanwhile, had managed to round up the rest of Vespertine's henchmen, sustaining only minor injuries, thank Merlin. Aidan had fractured his collarbone, but that was easy to fix, and St. Mungo's had also stitched up the gash in Potter's cheek.
Fred and Evelyn had done a great job calming down the civilians in the Atrium and making sure none of them got hurt by Vespertine or her men. And bonus the two of them were now on speaking terms again. Fred planned to ask her out next Tuesday.
"That's about it," Aidan shrugged his broad shoulders. "Mum, Dad and Debbie are all here and dying to see you. They were worried sick, and I had to spend the past few days calming them down, but Debbie's also thrilled about what this means for your public image. She's arranging press conferences as we speak."
"Oh god," Dom and I moaned at the same time.
Fred, who had done sufficient damage to my candy basket over the past ten minutes, briefly roused himself from his sugar coma to grace us with his presence. "Say, Aggy," he mumbled among the empty wrappers scattered around him." Do you think Bertie Botts will sponsor you now that you're famous?"
Before I could shoot back a dry remark, the door opened one last time.
And in walked Potter.
The edges of the world seemed to shrink in as we stared at each other for a long, shivering moment. His hair was tousled more so than usual, and I automatically knew this was from him constantly shoving his hand through it in anxiety. Where the gash had been on his face, there was now only smooth skin. His chin was cocked in defiance, his eyes sharp and bright. He'd obviously gotten into one hell of an argument with a nurse in order to get in here.
My face suddenly felt a lot warmer. I coughed, shooting Aidan a pointed, surreptitious glance.
"Er, we better go," mumbled Aidan, getting the hint (for once). The others all exchanged knowing looks and slowly shuffled to their feet (Fred not-so-stealthily stuffing about eight more boxes of Bertie Botts in his pants in the process). They nodded at Potter on their way out of the room, and Dom turned to shoot me one last wink over her shoulder.
And then... then it was just us.
"Hey," I said, not sure what else to begin with. For some reason, Cosmo never did a spread on 'the top ten things to say to your pseudo-boyfriend after you laid siege on your government, brought down an entire building, and then woke up from all of this three days later.'
Potter's eyes were carefully traveling across my form, his brow dark and inscrutable and his jaw clenched tightly. I briefly wondered why he looked so...unhappy, but before I could ask he was relaxing his shoulders and hesitantly stepping forward.
He exhaled loudly. "You're awake."
I couldn't resist a smile, my cheeks growing warm in a sudden, content flush. "I'm awake. I patted the space next to me on the bed. Somewhat grudgingly, Potter made his way over to stop and hover uncertainly by my side, refusing to sit.
That was when I realized that Potter wasn't unhappy right now... He was worried. The line dug between his eyebrows, the clenched fists by his side, the brightness in his gaze it could only mean one thing. Potter was worried for me and trying his hardest not to show it.
I shot him an exasperated look. "Potter. You can come closer. I'm not going to break."
"You almost already did," Potter shot back, a familiar, argumentative tone edging into his voice. But then, clamping his lips shut, he relented. He perched himself on the edge of the bed, and I, ever so gently, pressed my hands into his stiff back, coaxing him so that he leaned back down by my side.
Jaw still gritted in consternation, looking forward resolutely, Potter allowed me to take his arm and wrap it around my shoulders. At my touch, he seemed to relax a little bit more, shifting so I could curl closer into his body and snuggle into the soft cotton on his chest. We sat quietly for a moment, me rising and falling with his slow, quiet breathing. Frosted sunlight was slanting through the window, and I could even hear birds chirping softly outside.
Despite all that had happened, there was no time for arguing, for bickering or for anger. The night at the Ministry felt very, very far away.
"Agatha," he said hoarsely, raggedly, in a way that made me flick my gaze up to his guarded face. I waited for him to speak, alert and patient, but he didn't continue.
"James," I responded, for lack of anything else to say. We made eye contact, the taste of each other's first name foreign on our tongues.
"That night at the Ministry. Can we " Potter paused, brow collapsing into a frown as he measured out his next words. "Can we never do that again? Like, fucking ever?"
I gave a slow chuckle. Not the most tactful one, that boy. "I'm sorry I had to take a rain check on our date."
A brief smile finally flitted over Potter's face and I grinned back, happy to see some sign of an emotion besides pent-up worry. In the orange, dying sunlight of the room, his eyelashes cast feathery shadows on his cheeks.
"It's okay," he said wryly and then, gently, he reached up to graze the side of my face with the back of his warm hand. "I'd say being hospitalized for three days straight is a good excuse."
"I'm also sorry I almost died," I added.
"That's... okay too," Potter said stiffly, swinging his gaze away to stare resolutely ahead. The arm around me tightened. "Just... don't do it again."
"Deal," I promised slyly.
Potter looked back to me, grudging amusement in his gaze. "Deal." He paused, his eyebrows scrunching together in subdued concern. Your face is all banged up."
"I know," I scowled, rolling my eyes briefly at the ceiling did everyone really have to comment on my face right now? I just saved the Minister of Magic's life, for Merlin's sake. "Dom said I looked hideous."
Potter laughed suddenly, and I rose and fell with the shaking of his chest. "You do," he admitted frankly, and my mouth dropped open in outrage.
"Hey!" Indignant, I struggled into an upright seating position, but Potter only chuckled, reaching out to pull me back against him.
"It's okay." He wrapped his arms around me, laughter still tucked inside his voice as he pressed his lips to the top of my head. "I'll still put up with you."
"Why?" I grumbled sullenly. "Because of my wonderful and charming personality?"
"Nah. You're a good shag."
"Joke, joke, it was a joke Ow! Hey, for someone who's been bedridden for the past few days, you hit hard."
I snuggled back into his chest, shooting him a warning glance from under my eyelashes. "You better watch yourself, Bennett."
Potter raised his eyebrows into the dark mess of his hair, eyes glinting with something impish, almost mischievous. "Think you can boss me around, Bennett?" his voice lilted teasingly upwards.
I fixed him with a flat glare. "I know I can."
He laughed again, long and slow, and satisfied, I pressed my cheek back against his chest, feeling it rise and fall with each chuckle. It was so nice to be sitting here with him so easy, so simple the horrors of the Ministry behind us. My eyes began to droop close, the newfound stability of our position lulling me into exhaustion. All of this activity and roughhousing and excitement were making me tired, even though I'd just been sleeping for the past three days.
And I knew falling asleep probably wasn't the best response to having a hot guy lying in your bed... But I was so wiped out, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.
Potter obviously noticed this, for he pressed another kiss to my forehead and smoothed down my unruly curls.
"Sleep," he ordered gently. "I'll be here when you wake up."
A satisfied half-smile twitched at my lips. I closed my eyes and then drifted into a deep, unbothered sleep.
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