My bathroom looked like a battlefield.
Just replace the corpses of fallen soldiers with the broken teeth of combs, and the hideous bloodstains with splotches of spilt hairspray, and there you have it. A war so ruthless that it practically requires its own History Channel special. Countless casualties, weapons, and tactics had been deployed. Brave souls had been lost. I’m sure at least several parts of my scalp have suffered permanent nerve damage.... And it was all just to tame my hair.
Those poor, brave brushes who had lost their lives... I stared at their mangled forms, strewn all over the tiled floor, feeling a panging sense of guilt. Why must the good die so young?
Hormone alert! You know you’re in trouble when you start getting emotional over something you can find in the beauty aisle of your local drug store. But still. I had paid a good pound for each one of those brushes, and my hair had viciously, brutally destroyed every single one of them. And the sick part is? I’m pretty sure it enjoyed every second of it.
My own hair scares me.
It was all worth it in the end. Because now, instead of the red tresses that sprang out of my head with barbed-wire consistency, I now had smooth, luscious, silky locks. Thanks to the Witch Weekly Hairstyling Kit that Dom gave me for Christmas, I could now safely toss my hair over my shoulder without running the risk of gouging out an eyeball.
And the best part?
It was brown.
My hair. Chocolate brown.
Which meant no more weasel jokes. Or temper jokes. Or soul-less jokes. No more having to listen to people tell me about this other person they distantly know who—gasp—also has red hair, and would I happen to know them by any chance? (Why, of course. We both go to the same Ginger Support Group every Tuesday! Not.) No more having to avoid the colour pink at all costs.
At last, I was free.
I mean, granted, it felt kind of weird. First of all, my head felt all bouncy and... light. Now I could finally understand the teenaged-girl obsession with flipping your hair back and forth. Though it was kind of difficult after a while. I don’t know how bimbos do it.
They must all have really strong neck muscles.
And okay, yes, I will admit that the first time I looked into a mirror after I took the dye potion out, I screamed bloody Mary. But still... It just took some getting used to. After all, my hair was now the colour of Nutella. How can you find anything wrong with Nutella?
Exactly. Check and mate, mothafuckas.
I knew that dying my hair wasn’t exactly characteristic of me. I mean, I was a Slytherin prefect whose idea of adventurous was returning a Hogwarts Library book two days late. But hey, I decided that if I was going to start turning my life around and becoming this reborn-again, mature person, I might as well get the hair to match. New me. New hair.
And New Year. So it all fit together perfectly. I mean, here I was. It was January 31st, and I was all alone in the Potter McMansion. The Tweedle Trio had gone off to some rock concert, and Lily and Ginny were at The Burrow... Leaving me. Home alone. With no entertainment. And while my first plan of action had been to charm mustaches onto every picture of Potter in the house, I’d decided to do something else.
Hence: Nutella Hair.™
Besides, I’d needed something to distract me from thinking too much about a certain black-haired, snarky-mouthed Gryffindor.
And the fact that my mother was still in the Bahamas with Arnold, and had no intention of coming back to England anytime soon. Apparently, palm trees and strawberry daiquiris outranked seeing your daughter after her near-death experience. Yeah. I remembered our disastrous talk like it was yesterday.
Because it had been yesterday. My mum and I had managed to arrange a little Skype sesh (because who needs magic when you have muggle technology? They’re the same thing, really), and it hadn’t exactly turned out as expected.
“Well, Aggy, after Arnold and I made sure you weren’t in danger any longer, we decided it might be best to... stay here. In the Bahamas. Just for a while.” My mother had said, all blissed-out and seashell-haired. Seriously. There were seashells. Braided. Into. Her. Hair. What next? A coconut bra?
“What?” I’d said numbly. My voice had sounded like a tinny echo, like it was coming from far, far away, as I gaped disbelieving at my mother’s face inside the crackly computer screen.
“See, our hotel room is booked until this weekend and, Agatha, we’ve just been having the most wonderful time, and we’d hate to waste the extra days,” Mum had explained. Like I was really going to listen to the logic of a middle-aged woman with cornrows in her hair. “Honestly. You would love it here. There are these little crabs on the beach, just like the ones when we would go up to the cottage in the summer! Remember that? How you and I used to always chase the little crabs?”
That’s right, ladies and gents. My mother announces that she’s abandoning me to the cruelty of life in the Potter household, and all she can do to offer consolence is talk about catching crabs on the beach (not in that way. Get your mind out of the gutter, sicko).
But I guess I couldn’t fault her for that. I mean, really, could I expect anything less—or rather, more? That was just my mum. Sometimes she didn’t grasp the full severity of situations. I don’t think she realized how scary that moment at the Ministry had been for me, for all of us. She just thought it was another one of those shenanigans that us crazy hooligans these days were getting into.
And I knew she loved me. She just... had a funny way of showing it.
Potter had thought differently, however. See, my number one mistake throughout this whole fiasco was not taking Aidan’s laptop into the privacy of my own bedroom. No. Instead, I had decided to experience my fun little bout of family rejection in public. Inside the family kitchen...Where Potter and Aidan could eavesdrop.
They’d both watched, silently, as my mum listed off her reasons for why she was staying in the Bahamas. Aidan had sat next to me, comfy-sweatpants-clad legs tucked underneath him, watching me with anxiety in his eyes. Potter stood in the back, arms folded over his chest, eyes dark and not saying a word.
And when I’d signed off and exclaimed with the insincerity that even a brain-dead Goyle could pick up on: “Well that went better than expected!” The two of them sort of...blew up.
“Are you kidding me, Agatha?” Aidan cried, hurling his arms into the air so vehemently I had to duck. “She’s not coming back? That’s not okay. Let me talk to her. I know I can change her mind. Just let me—“
“No,” I said firmly, trying to smooth out the trembles in my voice. I slammed the laptop lid down with finality, almost amputating some of Aidan’s fingers in the process. “It’s fine, Aidan. I’m not a child, okay? I don’t need to go running into mummy’s arms every time I get a boo-boo.”
“I’d venture to say that a boo-boo is a little different from a violent Death Eater attack,” Potter spat caustically from behind me, and my shoulders immediately tensed.
I’d been trying to pretend like he wasn’t in the room, but it was easier said then done when I could tell, from the prickly hairs on the back of my neck, that he hadn’t taken his eyes off me once this whole time.
It was disconcerting, to say the least.
I twisted around, calmly, to face Potter. His eyes were identical gold sparks, dancing and flickering and shifting, always shifting, in shade and in brilliancy. Never static. Never still. He was leaning against one of the walls, gaze hot on me. He was angry, but I wasn’t sure at whom.
"Technicalities.” I shrugged, trying my hardest to keep the emotion out of my voice. Potter’s eyes flashed dangerously as he scoffed, looking away. “If this is how it’s supposed to be, than fine.”
“Aggy.” Aidan sounded almost... sad. Sighing, I twisted around again to face my brother, trying not to flinch at the pity in his voice. I just wanted the both of them to leave me alone. “It’s okay to be upset.”
I decided that, in a time like this, playing dumb would be my best bet. “Psh. I’m not upset. Why would I be upset?”
An angry, frustrated noise dislodged itself from somewhere in the back of Potter’s throat.
So, apparently I wasn’t as good at playing dumb as I’d thought. Too bad Freddy wasn’t here to give me tips.
My eyes fluttered shut. Frustration was slowly seeping through my body, making me grit my teeth. “Look—“
“No, Bennett, don’t ‘look’ us," Potter slashed through abruptly, harshly. "You cannot be seriously acting like this. That night at the Ministry, you almost—“ Just in the nick of time, his voice broke off, mouth clamping shut. He hastily shoved a hand through his hair, swinging his aggravated gaze to the window. The space where his next word should have been was gapingly obvious.
There was a silence.
“Almost what, Potter?” I asked. I’d spoken so softly, I was pretty much mouthing the words. From next to me, Aidan shifted uncomfortably.
Potter locked eyes with me boldly, not a flinch of fear in his gaze.
“Died. You almost died, okay?” he said matter-of-factly, and I noticed the way his voice seemed to carry the word, get heavier, more intense. “You can’t just act like that’s nothing.”
And for some reason, him saying that struck something inside of me. Something unpleasant.
“Why can’t I? You do,” I shot back before I could control myself. Instantly, I was up and off my chair, not trusting myself to stay and remain calm. Potter blanched, eyes flickering with shock, but I wasn’t going to give him the chance to reply. I already knew how it would go. He’d shoot back something, I’d shoot back something else, and the cycle would repeat, ad infinitum.
I was tired of it.
Aidan was looking, wide-eyed, between us.
“Bennett, I didn’t know—” Potter began after a silent moment, and for the first time ever, he looked rattled. His hand shot up to shove itself in his hair, and his voice was almost leaning towards being slightly apologetic. His eyes were uncannily bright, searing into me.
But I simply shook my head. I made my way across the kitchen, away from Potter’s urgent gaze, away from the whole mess in general. It was the adult thing to do. Maturity.
I left the room without another word.
...And so I guess, after all that, after Potter and the Tweedle Trio left for the concert two hours ago, what I needed was a follicle make-over via Witch Weekly. And you know what? It worked. Almost like the dye potion seeped into my brain and erased all notions of pratty Gryffindors, or something. Yup. I was happy now. I guess. Yeah. Happy.
Granted, I was home alone on New Years Eve with a bowl of Acci-o’s(Deliciously Magical cereal!) and a battered copy of a Fifi LaFolle novel.Also, I wasn’t wearing any pants. I’d shucked off my constricting corduroys earlier to, in a fit of boredom, shave my legs for what felt like the first time in a millennium (ah, the joys of winter). And the corduroys just kind of...stayed on the bathroom floor where I left them. For once, I wasn’t bothered with putting them back in my drawer, precisely folded, color-coordinated with everything else. No, tonight I was going wild.
What can I say? I’m a free bitch, baby.
I shoveled more soggy Acci-o’s into my mouth and flipped the page of my book. This was pathetic. I’d always promised myself I’d never be that Fifi LaFolle girl who sits at home and angsts about boys—and yet here I was.
Well, it could be worse. At least I wasn’t creeping on Potter’s WizBook page.
Then again, Aidan’s computer was in the next room. I knew his password (‘Monkeyslut’... The boy was creative), so I could always log on and just check—
NO. No. I was better than that! Come on, Aggy! GET YOUR HEAD IN THE GAME.
I needed to get out of this house. I was going crazy, thinking about Potter and what he was doing, if he was going to get piss-drunk and snog some other girl tonight, if he was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about him. You know. Not really the normal, platonic thoughts one typically has about their brother’s best friend.
Also, it was like everywhere I looked, there were pictures. A front-toothless, six-year-old Potter. Present-day Potter carrying a giggling Lily on his back. Potter with Albus in a headlock. Potter, smudged with dirt and sweat and triumph and holding up last year’s Quidditch Cup. Potter Potter Potter. Everywhere.
I was surrounded. And I was going crazy.
Just as I was thinking that—as if on cue—something happened. No, not just happened. Burned. Something burned.
My butt, to be precise.
“MOTHER OF ZEUS!” Suddenly I was screaming and leaping off my chair at record height. 400 pages of steamy, Fifi LaFolle romance went canon-balling into my cereal. What the hell was that? It felt like I’d just tried to extinguish a bonfire...with my arse.
I warily looked down to see—oh, well that explained it—the gold coin Dom had given me for Christmas sitting innocently on my chair.
I’d been fiddling with it earlier and must have sat on it by mistake. Maybe that made it angry. Maybe it didn’t like being sat on and that was why my butt was now throbbing in pain.
I stared at the coin. It stared at me.
Oh god, was I really scared of a coin?
Gingerly, I bent down to pick it up, tossing it from hand to hand like a hot potato. It was still warm, but not as much as before.
I flipped it over, and screamed again.
Because there was Freddy’s face.
“Hello? HELLO?” Before I could react, Freddy was suddenly moving close to the screen—way too close, in fact. All that was visible now was one of his green eyes, peering at me. The action was very ‘technologically-confused-Grandpa.’ “IS THIS THING ON? TESTING, TESTING, ONE TWO THREE. TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STA—“
“Oi, just hand it over will you? Let me do it.” Came a highly familiar voice—and then there was a bit of shuffling and squabbling (“No! Use your own!” “That is mine, Freddy. You borrowed it, remember? “Oh. Right”) and then Potter was in the frame. Immediately, I jerked my own coin forward towards me, so that the only thing he’d be able to see was my face. I didn’t want him to notice the pantslessness or my hair, since I didn’t feel like explaining either.
“Bennett? You there?” Potter drawled, squinting boredly and looking none-to-pleased about having to do this. Behind him, I could hear pounding bass and the screams of delighted concert-goers.
“Uh—I—yeah,” I stuttered. I couldn’t stop staring. Like Freddy, Potter’s face was smudged with sweat and dirt and glow paint and whatever else you pick up at a concert. Needless to say, he looked...gorgeous. Dusty cheekbones cut high, eyebrows raised just slightly in that cocky, skeptical, Potter way of his. I swallowed. “Aren’t you guys supposed to be at the concert?”
Oh, no. Something wrong must have happened for them to be calling me right now, this early. I was sensing a “clean-up on aisle four” might be needed, if you catch my drift.
“That’s the thing,” Potter began dryly. “We kind of—“ he grimaced, as if the very words were painful. “Need your help.”
And clean-up on aisle four it is.
I tried to suppress a groan. “Fred or Aidan?”
All of a sudden, the image was zooming out and now both Freddy was in the picture as well. He had a friendly arm slung casually around Potter, eyes burning bright with alcohol. He was close to being flat-out wasted, I could tell.
“It’s Aidan,” Fred clarified loudly, his words bleeding into each other. “He’s completely incoherent. We think someone slipped something in his drink because he’s not just wasted, he is out of it. He can barely walk. You’re gonna come help us, aren’t you, Aggy? Jaime said you wouldn’t but I said you would because you’re made of awesome and coolness and badittude and do you think you could bring some food if you do? My belly’s grumbly.”
I rolled my eyes. Yup, Freddy only called Potter ‘Jamie’ whenever he was inebriated—or doing his ‘seductive Hufflepuff schoolgirl’ impression. And since Freddy wasn’t wearing a plaid skirt and twirling his hair at the moment, that only left the first option.
Then I glanced at Potter. He had his arms folded and was looking away, irritated, jaw line tensed. Lights from the concert flashed and danced off his tousled midnight hair, and I tried to suppress the memory of how it felt, surprisingly soft between my fingers, when we kissed. Argh. Head in the game, Aggy.
Maybe I was doing this because my brother needed help. Maybe I was doing this to piss off Potter. Either way, I didn’t care enough to decide.
“I’ll be there in a few,” I said, and then the connection between us blinked shut.
Two tube rides and four drunken hobo encounters later, and I was standing outside the club that the boys were at, looking slightly under-dressed in a jeans and a bandana for my hair, and in the midst of an intense staredown between me and the rhino-sized bouncer of the club.
He did not look friendly.
I marched up to him, making sure to lock my gave with his though it took me a while to find his eyes amongst all the bulky muscle. It was like bleedin’ Where’s Waldo.
“Hello,” I stated confidently, knowing that I had one shot at this. I had to get it right the first time around. The only other option was staying out, in the cold, on this shady street all night. And since I’d just spotted a rat that looked like it was big enough to qualify for entering the Kentucky Derby, I’d much rather pass.
“What do you want?” The bouncer growled, moving threateningly between me and the grimy metal door. Well, someone needs a hug.
I cleared my voice. Slytherin mode, activated. “Greetings. I am the manager of the artist performing tonight—you might recognize me, actually. The name’s...er...” Shit. Shit, Agatha, think of a name! “Kentucky Bennett.”
“Kentucky Bennett,” The bouncer repeated flatly.
I stuck out my hand. “It’s a pleasure.”
The bouncer simply stared at it like I was offering him a rubber chicken.
Merlin. Wasn’t he a jolly one? Gingerly, I withdrew my hand and patted down my hair. Reaaaal smooth.
“Anyways, I need to be inside there right now to help with the lighting. The artist’s quite picky on what effects we use for each song, and only I know the codes,” I babbled on smoothly, no idea what I was saying but feeling quite right that I was pulling it off. “So if you’d excuse me—“
I stepped forward at the same moment Mr. Bouncerjolly Sunshinefarts held up his hand to stop me. I walked straight into it, and all the air in my lungs instantly bid adieu. It was like running into a brick wall.
“Hold on,” said Sunshinefarts. He squinted at me. It looked like two slits in an extremely muscled, black-v-neck-wearing mattress. “One thing first. What’s the artist’s name?”
Oh bollocks. This is what I get for being the sister of someone with horrible music taste. I could not, for the life of me, remember what concert this was—I didn’t even know the genre (though judging by the dulcet strains that I could hear pounding from inside, it sounded a bit like ‘dubstep mixed with dying cat screams’). I didn’t even know if the concert was wizardring or muggle.
This officially makes me the worst sister/fake band manager ever.
“Psh, what kind of ridiculous question is that?” I scoffed, trying to be as cool as possible but feeling the fingers of panic slide, cold and clammy, down my back. I started babbling. “I’m the manager and of course I know the name and I don’t like what you’re accusing me of and it’s not very welcoming and hey is that a Spice Girl?"
“Huh? What? HEY.” The minute Sunshinefarts looked in the direction I was pointed to, I took my chance. I lunged past him, heaving open the door with unexpected ease and throwing myself into the murky darkness of the club. I could feel him hot on my tail, one of his beefy hands slashing out to grab me by the coat, but it was already game over for him. I was inside, and even though he was about a million times stronger than me, I had one advantage: I was small. Pushing myself through throngs of grinding, laughing, drinking people, I became invisible. He’d have to have infrared vision to find me in this crowd.
As I jostled past people, it quickly became apparent that this was a Wizardring concert. People had their wands out, waving Lumos beams in an imitation of traditional Zippo lighters. Sparks of light would occasionally burst above us and come down in a glittery drizzle. It was beautiful, in a very strange way. I’d landed myself in the middle of a group of rowdy Quitch Bro’s (“Bro, look at that baben’ babe!” “Bro, bet she’s a total Quaff-stitute. “Totally, bro, that is so the chillest of chills!”).
I let myself stop and breathe for the first time. I couldn’t even pay attention to the fact that about fifteen different Quitch Bro’s were trying to chest-bump me at once. My heartbeat was still having a drum solo against my chest, and my back tingled from where the bouncer had grabbed at me. That’d been a little too close for comfort.
I needed to keep moving and find Aidan. Which shouldn’t be that hard... I just had to look out for the trail of beer cans, girls’ panties, or vomit. You know. One of the above.
“Aggy!” I wheeled around, gratitude rushing through my body at hearing my name. Pushing through more people, I made my way towards the direction it was coming from. It was away from the stage, which, in this massive, dingy room packed with people, was little more than a light at the end of the tunnel.
Freddy, Potter and Aidan were standing (well, standing was a bit generous of a word for it—Aidan was more...teetering, than anything else) by a dinky bar in the corner. The area was doused in blacklight, making their teeth and white trainer laces glow brightly.
“Well if isn’t our very own Swagger Agger!” The instant I was in reaching distance, Fred pulled me into a bear hug. He reeked of alcohol, and I knew what was coming next. See, Freddy had a funny tendency to become overly...friendly when he was under the influence. Sure enough, he was already speaking directly into my ear in a disturbingly tender whisper. “I think you’re the most beautifulest girl in the whole wide world. You’re like...like a goddess of fire. You have a laugh like a sunrise. Will you marry me?”
Before I had time to decide whether Freddy’s drunken compliments were creepy or flattering, we were already being interrupted.
“Easy there, mate,” Potter grabbed Fred by his collar and yanked him backwards, a shadow of a smirk on his lips. He seemed to be the only coherent one here, as Aidan was slumped over, unmoving on one of the barstools, and Freddy had turned away and was now trying to hit on the wall.
I stared at the Potter. If I thought he’d looked good through the coin message, that was nothing compared to real life. There were streaks of paint all over him, smeared across his jaw, on his neck, on his forearms. They glowed in the blacklight. His hair was the just the slightest amount of messy and looked one-hundred-percent touchable.
Potter’s lips were slightly parted, his gaze serious as we stared at each other with intensity. I knew we were both thinking about what had happened earlier in the kitchen. Around us, the dupstep music throbbed hungrily and the air seemed to crackle and pop.
“Hey,” I said politely, my heart throbbing with unidentifiable emotions.
Lights flashed and whirled, shifting across Potter’s face in a flicker of colours that ade him look almost ethereal. He seemed hesitant, unsure for the first time I’d ever known him.
“Hey,” he finally responded, voice low. His hand rubbed the back of his neck absentmindedly—and for some reason, this gesture, so boyish, so normal, made my chest throb. “You get here alright?”
His voice held no touch of concern—just the mandatory, dutiful, best-friend-of-the-brother politeness.
Is this really what we’d come to? Politeness?
I shifted uncomfortably. I didn’t like it. I mean, sure, Potter and I’s encounters were usually emotionally-charged and consisted of screaming matches, but they were never like this. Never...awkward.
“Yeah, I took the tube.”
From next to Potter, Fred snorted giddily. We both turned to look at him. “Heh. Tube. Rhymes with boob.”
Potter’s lips twitched with irony, and his gaze slid over to mine almost slyly, as if we were about to share a laugh. But then the moment was gone and he was turning away from me again, to Aidan.
“He’s sick. I think he drank something bad,” Potter said, all business-like. He gently peeled Aidan off the barstool and turned to look expectantly at me.
“Right.” I nodded, feeling uncomfortable under his gaze. “I’ll take him. Just give me your car keys.”
Potter’s eyebrows shot up and a breathless laugh burst from his lips. Then it quickly died when he realized I was serious.
“Wait,” he said slowly, mouth still twitching upwards disbelievingly. “Youactually want to drive?”
“Yes,” I replied, voice bordering on snappy. Irritation was prickling at my chest. I didn’t like the amused look dancing in Potter’s honeyed eyes. “What’s so funny?”
Potter looked away and into the crowd, a stupid, mischievous smile on his face, and shook his head. “Nothing. It’s just... Why don’t we save ourselves some time, skip over the part where you and my car end up in a shallow ditch by the end of the road, and have me drive?”
I felt my gaze darken dangerously. “Don’t be stupid. I can do this.”
My words made the smile slide right off Potter’s face. He folded his arms, stance turning argumentative. “Oh really. Have you had any experience driving a car whatsoever?”
I could feel our surroundings dim ever so slightly as a sense of competition seemed to spark between us. There was the distant throb of music, and Freddy muttering “Boobs. Heh. Boobs,” in the background, but that was all white noise. Now it was just me and Potter’s narrowed, amber gaze and the hungry desire to win.
“Yes,” I scoffed nonchalantly. “I drive all the time.” Mario Kart counts, right? Yeah, it totally did.
“Mario Kart doesn’t count,” Potter said pointedly, and there was a twinge of triumph in his eyes as he saw the guilt flick across my face. The corner of his lips lilted up ever so slightly. Stupid, mind-reading prat.
“Well what do you suggest we do?” I shot back.
Potter shrugged. “Easy. I drive.”
“No way,” I declared instantly. “You’ve been drinking.”
Again, there was that annoying, superior Gryffindor scoff, that you’re-being-silly roll of the eyes. It made my blood simmer. “I had one drink. One drink. Two hours ago.”
I shook my head, feeling like a mum but refusing to back down. “Doesn’t matter. It’s all the same. One drink is twelve drinks.”
Irritation seemed to seep into Potter’s gaze. His jaw stiffened stubbornly. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Does it look like it?” I challenged. He cocked a cool eyebrow.
“Me driving after one drink wouldn’t be nearly half as dangerous as you driving completely sober. In the dark. And the snow.” Potter countered, shaking his head firmly. He was utterly convicted. “No. Nuh-uh. I won’t allow it.”
“Allow it? What makes you think you can allow me to do stuff?”
“Because, love.” His tone was so sarcastic, it made me livid. “I have the keys.”
With that, he dangled his car keys, on their Hogwarts’ Quidditch Cup Champions lanyard, right in front of my face, and—just as I was about to reach up for them—snatched them away, smirk smug.
I resisted the urge to growl.
“Fine.” I bit out, using all the power in my body to remain civil. “If that’s how you want to play it, then fine. It’s obvious you don’t need me here—“
“Wait—Are you crazy? How am I supposed to handle Fred and Aidan by myself?”
“So I’ll just be leaving then. Good day.” It was a total bluff, and we both knew it—like I was really going to travel back two tube rides through the sleet and dark for nothing—but it was too late to back out now. I turned swiftly on my heel and pushed through the people, making my way to the center of the dance floor.
I kept on walking, holding my breath, not daring to check and see if he was following me. And then:
“Wait, Bennett—Jesus—“ I heard Potter jostling behind me and resisted the urge to smirk. Hook, line, sinker, bitches. The Gryffindors might have the arrogance, but we Slytherins knew how to win when it counted.
I was about to toss a kind, “Fuck off, sir” over my shoulder, when I stopped in my tracks, body plunging in icy cold dread.
Because, directly ahead of me, eyes sweeping the crowd, was the bouncer. Mr. Sunshinefarts.
I wheeled around, heartbeat jerking into double-time, and found myself slamming into a very annoyed Potter.
“Oof, Bennett—“ Potter instinctively grabbed me, holding my lower back to support me as I stumbled. “What the bleedin’ hell is your problem—“
Panic surged through my body.
“Dance with me,” I blurted out, words rushed. I grabbed Potter by the collar of his hoodie and pulled him closer than socially acceptable, finally becoming aware of the music pumping through the ground and shaking our feet. “Don’t say anything. Just stay where you are and dance with me.”
“What? No, absolutely not—“
“Don’t argue, please.” I kept my fists clenched in his hoodie, too busy praying that the bouncer wouldn’t see us to worry about how close his face was. This was dangerous proximity. No-man’s land. But still. It was...necessary.
“Just relax,” I breathed into his ear, hips swaying from side to side. I could feel him tense, his broad shoulders stiffen. There was a heat growing between us, in the way our bodies moved against each other, and the pounding techno music only seemed to encourage it.
This was getting too intense. It had to stop soon, otherwise things might get out of hand...
I tossed a furtive glance over my shoulder, and to my immense relief, the bouncer was gone.
Phew. Instantly, I jerked myself out of Potter’s arms. The music still shook the ground, but it had lost its lull. Dance-time was over. Now I had to get away, and fast.
I was just starting to turn from Potter when I felt him pull me by the elbow, back to him.
“No,” he growled authoritatively. I felt my cheeks flush. “Explain.”
“I’m not supposed to be here. There’s no time—“ I began, “I have to leave—“
“LADIES AND GENTLEMAN. THIS IS DJ SCHNAZZY, YOUR PARTY-BOSS FOR THE NIGHT, AND GUESS WHAT I’M FEELING?”
Suddenly, there was a roar that rose up and around us, coming from the crowd that seemed to veer into a fever-pitch. Potter and I both startled, looking around us at the mysterious voice that had sparked this transformation. It was coming from the stage—tonight’s performer, I guessed.
Girls were screaming. Quitch Bro’s were chest-thumping anything and everything in sight. People were going crazy.
“I’M FEELING A DANCE OFF! THAT’S RIGHT, HOES AND BRO’S. A DANCE OFF. AND WINNER GETS FIVE PASSES TO THIS CLUB FOR ANY FUTURE USE!”
The screams, if possible, turned louder. I looked at Potter and he looked at me, alarmed.
“ANY TAKERS? NO? WELL THEN, GUESS I’LL JUST HAVE TO CHOOSE.”
And then, out of nowhere, spotlights started whirring, so bright they were blinding, flitting across the absolutely berserk crowd. Some landed on clamoring couples who screamed and started to dance in such an obscene manner, it made my inner-Grandmother cringe. I was just about to let Potter pull me away, when all of a sudden, we were stopped in our tracks by a flash of light.
A spotlight landed on us. Me and Potter.
Great, all that effort—dancing with him just so we wouldn’t be noticed... It had all been ruined by a giant, literal effing spotlight shining on us.
Potter and I stared at each other with identical expressions of startled confusion on our faces. The music then seemed to spike, quickening in speed, the beat pounding harder, the gritty bass going louder.
And that was when I realized what had to be done.
Five passes. That was the prize to this stupid, crazy dance off. If I had one, the bouncer couldn’t touch me.
Already, people were backing away, forming a circle around us. There was celestial, DJ-made light illuminating on us. We were bound to be noticed, and soon. The only way to survive was to win.
And that was when I flipped around and pressed my back flush against the front of a very surprised Potter. I grabbed one of his hands and placed it on my hip, and then snaked my other arm around his neck.
And then I started to dance. I danced like only Dom and MTV could have taught me—hips swaying, beat grinding, dirty and teenaged and completely unabashed.
It wasn’t hard. The grating beat of the techno was almost mesmerizing—so easy to get lost in, thumping and overpowering and almost animalistic. This dance-off wouldn’t have been too difficult if it wasn’t for the fact that my partner was putting up such a struggle.
“Bennett—what the fuck? Again?” Potter yelped, trying to pull away, but I held on tighter. Merlin. He was acting like this was...dance-rape, or something.
Good to know I’m such an appealing partner. Thank you, Potter. You really know just how a girl wants to feel.
...Like a dance-rapist.
I whipped around so that I was now facing him, wrapping my arms around his neck and pushing closer than before, much closer, until every inch of our bodies was touching each other. I could feel the hard muscle against me, feel Potter’s hands, which were now on my lower back, pressed hot against my shirt, and I couldn’t help it. The heat spread through me, and I bit my lip harder than normal. Potter saw this, and his eyes darkened.
“What’s the matter, Potter? Scared of a little dance-off? Scared you’ll lose?” I taunted, blue eyes landing on his golden ones. Judging by the way they suddenly sparked, I had struck a nerve. Just the right thing to say to a Gryffindor.
Potter’s lips fell into a hard, determined line. One eyebrow quirked upwards, accepting the challenge. “In your dreams, Bennett.”
With that, I turned back around, and we started to move together. Just like in the Ministry, it was so easy to fall into step with him—though this was a considerably different type of dance. Potter’s hands were in just the right spot on my hips, firm and even a bit possessive, letting me know he wasn’t backing down. He had good rhythm, too, and his body—muscle and heat and perfectly molded to mine—moved side to side and against me in a way that was just enough to drive me slowly insane. My whole back was pressed to him. We were so close, it was almost suffocatingly hot. I was hyper-aware of his lips, inches from my ear.
The people around us started to cheer and wolf-whistle. “Yeah, bro! Get some!” A Quitch Bro shouted. “Marry me!” Some girl screamed. But neither of us paid them any attention.
I wrapped an arm around his neck, letting the music over take me, and for the first time in a long time, felt free. The challenge burning between us was too hard to resist. I had to win.
Unexpectedly, I dropped lower, making sure to wiggle my hips as much as possible as I made my way, my hand dragging down his chest. Potter’s grip on my hips tightened reflexively and he hissed lowly.
“Not fair,” he murmured darkly when I came back up with a giant smirk on my face. I took this opportunity to grab the car keys from his pocket and slide them into mine with my other hand. Easy as pie. The sod didn’t even notice.
“Sorry, I'm a Slytherin. I play dirty. If you can’t handle it...” I turned my head slightly to gauge his reaction. Potter’s lips were curled into a wry, barely-visible smirk, his gaze holding a dangerous glint of mischief.
“Didn’t know you had it in you.” One hand slightly up my torso—skirting the boundaries just a little—and then back down again, leaving a trail of fire in its place. I glanced at him from the corner of my eye—his gaze was dark, filled with something I could easily identify: lust. The thought made my stomach flood with butterflies.
“You mind?” I placed my hands over his, the beat thrumming between us as my hips circled and circled. I raised my gaze, coyly, to meet his, and his eyes turned to simmering black gold. Best to fight fire with fire.
“Does it seem like it?” He bent down to murmur into my ear, and I guess his lips brushing against my skin was just a ‘convenient accident.’ The back of my neck erupted into goosebumps. “It’s nice to see that you can keep up, for once.”
And that was my cue. I had to get away while I was ahead, while I still had the keys. The dance-off might be a lost cause, but if I was quick enough, I could grab Aidan and Fred, dodge the Bouncer and Potter, and make my escape.
I broke away, still swaying as enticingly as possible to the music. For a moment, it seemed like Potter was going to let me go, let me walk away the winner, when all of a sudden, his arm—which had just been about to leave my waist—whirled me backwards and yanked me smoothly to him again. This time, face to face.
A gasp slipped my lip as I stumbled into Potter, who was looking at me with cool indifference, any hint of the dark desire from before gone. We were so close, my forehead against his, my vision becoming overtaken by hazel sparks and midnight ink. “Not so fast,” he said, knowingly, calmly.
“What?” I asked, trying to keep my voice as light as possible. His hands on my waist seemed to burn into my skin.
Potter didn’t bother to hide his smirk now. “Looking for these?”
The music stopped and the crowd burst into applause just as Potter simultaneously pulled away, the spell breaking, leaving my body feeling strangely cold. He grabbed the car-keys out of my pocket and threw them into the air, catching them one-handed in a motion only a Chaser could pull off.
I gasped. “How did you—?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Potter grinned. And that was it. Game-over. He had won.
“Agatha! Agatha Bennett!”
Saved by the bystander. I whipped around and, as if this night could get any weirder, saw the golden halo of Ryan Fisher’s head pushing through the crowd. Next to me, Potter instantly stiffened, the triumph disappearing from his face as he put himself on-guard.
“Ryan,” I dully said, surprised. “What are you doing—?"
“That was fantastic. Bloody fantastic! Never knew you could move like that!” And then Ryan was pulling me into a tight, squeezing hug. I glanced over my shoulder, noticing the way Potter’s jaw seemed to lock irritably. Oh. Interesting.
“Thanks,” I grinned sheepishly, not sure if I should be delighted or embarrassed. I stepped back. Ryan looked at me with that eager, bright puppy-dog-face of his. “Er, Ry, this is Potter.”
“Fisher,” Potter said. It wasn’t cold, but there was a distinct...removal that came with it. He folded his arms across his chest, looking at Ryan with a flat, emotionless gaze. Fisher was on the Slytherin Quidditch Team and not Dominique Weasley. Hence, Fisher was the enemy.
“James,” Ryan smiled, nodding. “You and Aggy are quite the pair, aren’t you?”
“We’re not a pair,” we both said quickly, at the exact same time.
There was an awkward silence. Ryan regarded us with raised eyebrows. Strains of stirring techno music thumped in the vague background.
“Right.” Ryan nodded, making an obvious effort to keep the corner of his lips from rising up. “Well, that’s that, then.” He turned to me, the full force of his stormy eyes hitting my body. “Do you need anything?”
“Well, actually,” I said slowly, a clever idea occurring to me. “Did you drive here?”
“Yeah, but I’m not following. Why?”
“Well, me and my brother Aidan would love a ride, if you could give us one. See, he’s a little out of it and—“
“Of course,” Ryan agreed immediately, just as Potter spat out, “Absolutely not.”
I stopped, looking between the two of them. Hostile anger was leaking through Potter’s gaze. Ryan looked alarmed.
“Sorry...” He began. “Is there, er, a problem?”
“Depends.” Potter’s voice was steely and on edge. “Have you been drinking?”
“Well, I had one drink.” Ryan relented. “But just one. And I had it, like, two hours ago.”
The left side of Potter’s mouth quirked upwards ever so slightly. He turned to me and said, significantly, tauntingly: “Doesn’t matter. One drink is the same as twelve drinks.”
I wanted to open my mouth to protest, but I knew I was trapped in my own argument. Potter had me.
“Well you may care, but I don’t,” I announced loudly. I stepped visibly towards Ryan. “Let’s go.”
Potter sliced through, so loud and definitive that we stopped in our tracks. “Not going to happen. Bennett, you’re coming with me.”
“Are you sure there’s nothing going on between you two?” Ryan murmured to me from the corner of his mouth, but I paid him no heed. I was too busy turning to face Potter, seething. I placed a placating hand on Ryan’s arm, and for a moment, Potter’s gaze seemed to rest on it before it flickered away.
“Make me,” I said cockily.
“I’ll take Aidan. He’s more likely to come with me, plus I know how to handle him better.”
That was debatable. As his sister and best friend, the rights to Best Drunk!Aidan Caretaker could go to either of us. But I didn’t doubt the fact that, in a state of confusion, Aidan would be more inclined to leave with someone he came with, rather than his sister who magically appeared out of thin air like a hologram.
“You’re bluffing,” I said slowly.
Potter stepped forward, expression tempting and arrogant, as if he were daring me to find out. His voice was quiet, but I could pick out every word. “I’m not a good poker player, sweetheart. ”
While I highly doubted that, I didn’t fancy being proven wrong. The ante was too high.
I looked between Ryan and Potter. Saw the way Potter’s eyes flashed on my hand, which was still on Ry’s arm. Saw his jaw lock tight. Saw his fist clench around the keys.
I stepped away from Ryan, knowing that I was surrendering but—oddly enough—not feeling like a loser at all. Maybe it was the small victories, really, that mattered in the end.
“Fine,” I said, trying to hide a tiny, itching little smile. “But I’m driving.”