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Chapter 38 : Stupid
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Over the course of his short, eventful — but perhaps ill-fated — career at Hogwarts, Fred Weasley had done some stupid things.
There was that that one time he tried to build a tree house in the Whomping Willow (five detentions). And then that other attempt to create Hogwarts' first underground cage-fighting league (six detentions, two hospitalizations). And let us not forget the incident last summer, in which Fred tried to do the Cinnamon Challenge despite being extremely allergic to cinnamon. When we all pointed out this somewhat significant fact, Fred simply rolled his eyes in response and declared that he wasn't going to let "a tiny complication" get in the way of his "destiny."
Afterwards, when this "tiny complication" turned out to be anaphylactic shock, Fred had to be carted out by the St. Mungo's paramedics — with whom, at this point, he was already on first name basis. Yeah. You know how normal people get rewards cards for like, their grocery store or ice cream shop? Yeah, Fred has the same thing, just with ambulance rides.
Yet despite all this, and anything else I might have said (or screamed, or implied, or written on his forehead) in the past, Fred wasn't a stupid person. His grades weren't as bad as you'd expect (in fact, all the pranking had honed quite a knack for charms), and he could be surprisingly insightful when he felt like it.
Fred Weasley had made some mistakes, but he wasn't stupid.
He was, however, an idiot.
And being well-studied in the area of idiocy, trust me when I say there’s a difference.
Being an idiot is not the same as being stupid. You can easily notice a stupid person, but idiots are different. They're often well-disguised, contributing members of society. They blend in perfectly well with the rest of us. They know how to function in everyday life, they get the same grades as you, play the same sports as you... An idiot could be anyone. Your neighbor, your teacher, your local politician. They’re everywhere.
A stupid person is someone who explodes your Potions classroom because he can’t follow the instructions on the board. An idiot, however, is someone who explodes your Potions classroom because he likes to "see all the pretty colors go boom."
To illustrate my point: a girl fawns over James Potter, calls him a dreamboat, and think it’s cute when he hexes the Slytherin dungeons pink, or fills the Prefect’s baths with Firewhiskey. She doesn’t mind if he acts arrogant, does foolish things, or can't show up to their dates because he's too busy throwing a blow-out party in the Astronomy Tower.
This girl is stupid.
A different girl, however, recognizes Potter for the arrogant, sarcastic, self-serving narcissist he is. She isn’t naive — she fights with him because everyone else is too scared to do so. She’s the one who notices the arsehole tendencies behind the façade of Rich Pretty Boy.
She does, however, make the mistake of also noticing his very nice eyes. Which is why she occasionally snogs him.
That girl is an idiot.
See? A difference.
And I was witnessing this very difference in action on a cold, January night as I stood behind Freddy Weasley and watched, shivering and anxious, while he tried to break into the Hogwarts Greenhouses.
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” I moaned again as Fred continued on with his happy disregard for about fifty bajilliion school rules (two bajillion due to his sheer presence alone).
“Bad attitude, Aggy,” Fred tutted, fiddling with the enormous gleaming padlock over the greenhouse door. He glanced at me, green eyes sparkling with mischief. “All that negativity's no good for you.”
“Neither is Hepatitis C, one of the many common prison diseases we'll contract after the professors catch us and throw us into Azkaban!" I hissed back, rightfully dismayed by my future prospects for a life of crime. I was not that kind of girl. I mean, I color-codesd my sock drawer! Once, I saw an old couple holding hands in the park and had to go home because I was PMS-ing and starting to tear up! I would not fare well in prison.
“Relax, Aggy,” Fred rolled his eyes good-naturedly. “We’re not going to get caught. And even if we do, the professors won't chuck us in jail. You know McGonagall can’t resist The Sugarlips.”
He was, disturbingly, referring to himself.
“You know who else won’t be able to resist your sugarlips, Freddy?” I leaned in close, making my eyes go wide and crazy with melodrama. “Your fellow inmates.”
Fred gave a hearty laugh. “Bugger off and help me figure out this lock.”
"No way." I shook my head, stubborn chin jutted forward. "I am not participating in this... this violation of the sanctity of Hogwarts law! This is sacrilege! This is desecration! This is — "
"Oh, come off it, Aggy. You know we do this every year," Fred pouted, though even his irritation seemed cheerful and amiable, somehow. "Sneaking into the Greenhouses is tradition."
Unfortunately for me, Fred was right. He was speaking the truth, and that was precisely how I knew how dire our situation really was. If you ever find yourself in a time and place where Fred Weasley had the logical upperhand, then you know things have gone to shite.
See, every year at Hogwarts, the school puts on a Welcome Back Feast for students returning from the Christmas holidays for their second semester. I didn't exactly know what these feasts were like, having never been to one myself, but I could guess at the general protocol — students catching up on new hair-dos and vacation gossip, a long and boring speech by Headmistress Vespertine, and everyone destroying themselves on chicken pot pie and treacle tarts.
The Welcome Back Feast was a tradition, and for the Tweedle Trio — as well as, I suppose, Dom and I by association — it was tradition to break tradition.
Ever since First Year, when a couple of unfortunate factors (among them: a busload of German tourists, Hogwarts' twelfth undiscovered secret passageway, and a delivery truck filled with pineapple upside-down cake) conspired to make the five of us late for the Feast and had eventually landed us, stranded, in Professor Longbottom's Greenhouses, we'd been spending our first night back at Hogwarts illegally and illicitly just like this. It happened every year — we'd all hop off the train, skive off the feast, and spend the rest of the night in the Greenhouses, breaking the rules and raising ol' Aggy's blood pressure a couple notches.
You'd think I would be used to it now.
“C’mon, Aggy, help me out here!” Fred grunted, rattling the lock to no avail. “The others are going to come any minute now!”
“No,” I said curtly. I crossed my arms, wedging my hands into my armpits for extra emphasis, and leaned my back against the frigid glass of the greenhouse. I was getting too old for this shit. “I refuse. This will always be terrible, no matter how many times we do it. Besides, Longbottom's obviously upped his security measures this year! No one's going to get past 'em now."
Freddy and I both turned to see Potter heading towards us across the Grounds, backpack slung over his shoulder, cocky smirk slung across his face. I could barely make out his features in the navy dusk, but already I felt his ego suffocating me from here.
“I should have known you'd show up eventually,” I said drily, pushing myself off the greenhouse as Potter made his way closer. “I hope you’re happy with yourself."
Potter flashed his usual shit-eating grin. “I always am.”
I heaved a sigh of frustration, annoyed by his cheeky amusement. How could Potter be acting so flippant right now? “Do you — do you have any idea how many rules you’re breaking at this very moment?”
"No I don't,” Potter responded, expression the picture of innocence. “Too bad there isn't some annoying, freakishly rule-obsessed person around here to tell me."
Fred snorted, and my eyes narrowed at the barely-veiled insult. Ever since The Window Incident during Christmas break, Potter and I hadn’t exactly been on good terms. And seeing as how our usual ‘good terms’ consisted of insulting and throwing things at each other, you could imagine just how fun we were now.
"You're unbelievable," I growled.
“I hear that a lot," Potter responded lightly and, with that, he brushed past me and ambled towards Freddy and the lock. My body stiffened as I felt his skin graze mine for just the slightest second, and then I jolted back to reality, doubly furious than before.
“Come on, Potter, you can’t do this,” I barreled after him, the desperation oozing from my tone. “Let’s just all go back and enjoy the Welcome Back feast for once.”
“What’s your problem with this, Bennett?” Potter wheeled around languidly, his breath coming out in tiny puffs. The moonlight seemed to glaze over the sculpted planes of his face. “Oh right, I forgot. You’re allergic to fun.”
My irritation was slowly climbing to fury. “Fun? You call breaking and entering fun?”
“Aggy, you ask a lot of questions," Fred pointed out the teasingly. "For someone who supposedly disapproves of this, you're awfully curious."
"And awfully still here," Potter added, stepping forward with a quick, sure stride that caught me off guard and had me stumbling backwards. He towered over me per usual, the picture of casual with his eyebrows raised in cocky amusement. “If you were really as opposed to this as you say you are, you'd have left by now. So what's the deal, Bennett? Couldn’t stay away?”
I tried not to be fazed by our sudden proximity or the burn of Potter's eyes on my skin, but it was overwhelming. My eyes fluttered shut as I felt myself growing flustered, felt the familiar smog of heat and emotion that settled whenever Potter got too close. Of course I just had to be born with a face that turned traffic-light-red whenever I was the slightest bit rattled. If someone put their finger to my cheek right now, they’d probably get at a second-degree burn. “Sod off, Potter."
Potter didn't respond, mouth twitching upwards triumphantly, knowingly, as he turned to Fred. "So I take it there's a problem with the lock?"
“It’s magic-proofed,” Freddy sighed tragically, eyebrows scrunched together in a frown. “I’ve tried every spell I could think of. Even made a few up.”
“Yeah," I grumbled sullenly. "I was so surprised when 'Lockus Openus' didn’t work. Maybe you should try that one again, Freddy?”
"That won't be necessary,” Potter interjected as he turned to a pouting Fred, dropping his backpack on a patch of ground that was relatively free of snow. "I got you covered, mate.”
The backpack was unzipped, and out came a pair of what looked like giant weedwhackers. My mouth dropped open.
At the incredulous expression on my face, Potter simply shrugged, his eyes sparking with a mischievous glint. “Friends in high places,” he said by way of explanation.
“Excellent,” Fred breathed, looking like a little boy who’d just been presented with a transformer made out of sugar and puppies. He grabbed the garden tools and held them reverently in his hands.
I was at a loss for words. “That's...a weapon, Potter! You can’t bring a weedwhacker into a school!"
Potter looked at me for a long moment, then at the weedwhacker in Fred's hands, then back at me again. "Man," he said matter-of-factly. "I really love proving you wrong."
Then he turned to Fred, who had raised the weedwhackers into the air and was currently humming the first few choruses of 'The Circle of Life.' Oh, dear Merlin.
I pursed my lips, resigned and more than helpless after Potter's last comeback. “Fine. If you want to act like sodding idiots, go ahead. I won’t stop you.”
“Shame. Would have been funny to see you try,” Potter quipped, making my eyebrows flatten with annoyance.
I chose to not respond, mouth clamped shut in resignation, and with a very scary grin, Fred held the weedwhackers over the chain and snapped it definitively in two.
My heart skipped a beat at the foreign voice, seemingly coming from the green shadows of the forest — but then my panic subsided when I turned to see that it was only Evelyn and Dom yelling. They were running towards us in their puffy winter jackets, Aidan trailing close behind them with his arms loaded with all their stuff, looking like a deranged teenage-boy-turned-sherpa.
"Howdy there," Dom said when she reached me. She slung an arm around my shoulders, smacking peppermint gum in my ear as she shrewdly surveyed Fred’s handiwork. "Looks good."
Evelyn, meanwhile, seemed to think that a more appropriate way of showing approval was to run into Fred's arms and shove her tongue down his throat — making for a very nice welcome for Fred, and a long, hard future of struggling with PTSD for the rest of us.
The two had been over-the-top with their PDA ever since we had returned to Hogwarts, mostly because they hadn’t seen each other almost all break. Their one and only date had consisted of fighting for their lives during a Death Eater siege, so I guess the enthusiasm was understandable — but still no less gross.
“Well,” Aidan remarked brightly from behind the mini-mountain of stuff he was carrying, “Now that I’m successfully scarred for life, shall we go inside?”
Evelyn detached herself from Fred with an unabashed smirk on her face. Fred, meanwhile, looking completely dazed, turned to all of us with his eyes fogged over and expression thoroughly stupefied. “Wha — Who — What year is it?”
“1850,” Dom responded drily, not batting a lash. “We just invented time-travel to go back and prevent that snog from ever happening, but we overshot.”
Amid all the ensuing finger-snapping and mutters of 'Oh, burn!' we filtered into the hushed greenhouse, Potter leading the way. Inside it was muggy and warm and smelled of fresh earth. We trampled through the clumps of leaves and branches obstructing our path, dirt crumbling underfoot, the glass walls cool and glossy with moonlight.
When we reached a clearing away from all the plants, we quickly started setting up. And by 'setting up,' I mean Aidan simply dropped everything into an unceremonious pile on the floor and announced that his arms hurt and he hated all of us.'
The rest of the group began dutifully unpacking our supplies, which mainly consisted of candy and chips stolen from the Kitchens, as well as some illicit bottles of Firewhiskey that I steadily ignored. There were also blankets and tiny jars of bluebell flames and an old-school record player that Dom soon commandeered, yelling ‘DJ DOMMY BEATS IN THE HOUSE!’ before everyone else in the room quickly shot her down.
I sat on a corner of a blanket and nibbled nervously on a Chocolate Frog, observing the rest of the group quietly.
It was admittedly pretty cozy in here. Beyond the glass, there were miles and miles of wet glittering snow, yet here we were, warm and protected and together inside. Despite the illegality of it all, the scene was actually sort of... nice.
Behind me, Dom had stood and was now dancing giddily with Fred, both of them taking swigs from the same Firewhiskey bottle as they swooned over-exaggeratedly to Celestina Warbeck on the record player. Aidan was entertaining Evelyn, Aidan and Potter by tossing Bertie Bott beans into the air and attempting to catch each one in his mouth, pulling faces whenever he got the bogey flavor. Potter, who was leaning back languidly next to Aidan, chuckled amicably at his antics.
At this, I had to look away. Seeing Potter so carefree and cheerful, leaning on the blanket and propped up by his elbows, his eyes crinkled with laughter — it felt weird. As if I were intruding on something private, something not meant for my eyes.
And yet I had to look again. I bit my lip, eyes darting back for one more curios, illicit peek. As if sensing my gaze, Potter suddenly turned his head to lock his eyes with mine, and my stomach dropped as the mirth slid immediately off his expression.
His eyes darkened — I could see, even from my spot across the greenhouse, the brown in his hazel turn richer, thicker. Instinctively, I looked away. The past few weeks had taught me that prolonged eye contact between Potter and I only led to bad, bad things.
As if to prove my point, Potter suddenly stood, ignoring Aidan's announcements that he would be performing the next toss with his eyes closed, and began ambling towards me, swiftly swiping up a bottle of Firewhiskey on the way. Much to my dismay, I could see him in my peripheral vision getting closer and closer until he finally came to a stop by my blanket corner, towering over me with his face inscrutable and his eyes strangely curious.
I couldn't stop myself. I looked up, and there he was. Enigmatic and rumpled and holding a bottle of Firewhiskey, looking like the physical incarnate of a mother's worst fears.
"What?" I gaped.
"Want some?" Potter repeated, and tilted the bottle towards me. It was a challenge, I realized. He was offering the drink to make me uncomfortable, to watch me get riled up and throw no doubt an entertaining hissyfit.
His eyebrows were raised in that familiar, knowing way of his — the way that made him look like he had already predicted my every move, like you couldn’t pay him a million dollars to care about a single damned thing.
I turned away.
Without waiting for my response, Potter plunked himself down next to me on the blanket, still peering unfailingly at my peeved expression with the faint beginnings of a smirk on his lips. I was very conscious of his gaze and tried not to show it.
There was a pause.
Enough was enough. I turned, suddenly, and grabbed the bottle from Potter's hand. Time to throw caution out the window (along with any scruples, principles, and all the values I'd had since I was twelve years old). Potter thought I couldn't handle a little party? Well, joke's on him.
I pressed the bottle to my lips. Potter's face flickered with surprise — ha — and then darkened, turning serious. He watched me take a sip, gaze trained boldly and unabashedly on my mouth, expression guarded.
I watched him watch me, too flustered to notice the burn of the alcohol down my throat. A tingle zipped down my spine. Our gazes stayed locked on each other all the while, unspoken words hanging onto the air between us.
Grimacing as I swallowed, I handed the bottle back to Potter. He accepted it without a word and then, eyes still locked with mine, took a swig. I was all-too-aware of the fact that my lips had been on that glass moments before his. Never before had I experienced something so bold, so unabashed, so quietly... sexy.
“What are you doing here, Potter?” I murmured, voice coming out surprisingly low. I could still taste the Firewhiskey burning on my lips.
“Nothing in particular," he responded lightly, turning away to gaze out the glass and into the snowy forest. He took another easy swig from the Firewhiskey, and as our eye contact broke, so did the enchantment, that strange moment of blue-on-hazel fizzing away into darkness.
"Then go away," I snapped, succumbing to the dregs of leftover anger from our earlier scene. I was frustrated now — I'd let that moment just then fluster me, and instead of being a rebel and a badass, I just felt like I'd compromised myself by accepting the bottle. "Seriously. What do you even want from me?"
Potter seemed to have picked up on this frustration. His eyes slid over to me, mouth twisted into a wry shape. "I don't want anything," he said simply, and if he was telling the truth or just saying it to get under my skin, I couldn't tell.
"Fine," I spat, annoyed at Potter's refusal to match my hostile tone. Why did he have to be so unflinchingly calm all the time? "Then ask me what I want."
Potter's mouth curved upwards, eyes glittering in dark amusement. "What do you want, Agatha Bennett?" he said lowly, mockingly.
"For you to leave me alone," I said primly and then turned away, trying not to let the sound of my full name in Potter's voice faze me.
Potter grinned — this was just what he'd been expecting — and leaned back on his elbows. "Nope," he tutted, making a 'game-over' buzzer sound in the corner of his mouth as he gave a swift shake of the head. "The correct answer, ladies and gentlemen, is 'more Firewhiskey.'"
He held up the bottle to my face, which was currently pulled into an expression of kodak-moment-worthy disgust. "For future reference, Bennett," he added solemnly. "The correct answer is always 'more Firewhiskey.'"
I refused to look at the lip of the bottle hovering inches from my mouth. Hell if I were going to give this prat the satisfaction of actually acknowledging it. “Are you trying to get me drunk, Potter?" I asked, one unimpressed eyebrow cocked.
"Yes," the aforementioned prat responded with utmost gravity, as if this were a very serious matter indeed. "See, I have this hypothesis that you become a lot easier to tolerate once you're no longer capable of forming complete sentences. I'd like to test it out."
"Fuck you," I spat.
"That generally comes after the 'more Firewhiskey' part," Potter shrugged nonchalantly. "But okay."
Enough. I scrambled to a furious stand, sick of Potter and sick of his arrogance. The prat could never just take me seriously, could he? Why did he have to be so... flippant and irreverent all the time?
"Oh come on, Bennett," Potter said upon seeing me turning to go. "It was just a joke. You do know what a joke is, right — ?"
"I hope you know," I snarled, suddenly wheeling on him with fire in my chest. My voice dipped into a low whisper so that Dom and Aidan, who were now in the closest corner and flipping through records, wouldn't hear. "That we are back in Hogwarts now, and whatever... funny business — "
"Funny business?" Potter repeated mildly, voice edged with amusement.
"That went down over break will not be repeated. Not here, not there, not anywhere — "
"Not on a train, not even in the rain," Potter finished snarkily. "Got it, Sam-I-Am."
I struggled to overcome the strong and sudden urge to re-break Potter's nose.
Seething, I leaned down so I was level with Potter's insolent, smirking gaze. "Listen to me: we are not going to snog, we are not going to speak. And we especially won't drink together. Everything is going to return to normal, Potter," I declared, eyes going slightly unfocused as my voice adopted an alarming manic quality. "Just like how it was before."
"Except for the whole part with, you know, your face on every newspaper in wizarding Britain," Potter pointed out cheekily, and the edges of my vision turned red with anger.
I took a deep breath, attempting to calm myself, my mind vaguely recalling something about 'Firewhiskey' and 'poor choices.' There seemed to be a growing correlation between my blood alcohol content and the likelihood of Potter's nose getting broken, and I did not want to establish any kind of pattern.
Luckily, before I could say (or hit) anything, we were suddenly interrupted by an audible popping sound, the telltale guuuush of liquid spilling, and Dom's very recognizable shriek of disgust.
Both Potter and I turned our heads to see a very disgruntled Dom, her hair wet and splayed across her face, dripping with what one could easily deduce used to be the contents of the bottle of champagne Aidan was (now sheepishly) holding.
I looked between the two, who were standing a meter apart, Dom livid and Aidan the picture of guilt. It was easy to figure out what, exactly, had gone down. Aidan, being the stupid, sense-devoid kid he was, had shaken the champagne bottle before opening it and, when he popped the cork, doused Dom in a lovely carbonated shower.
"Oops," Aidan winced.
"This," Dom bit out, breathing heavily, the drip drip drip of champagne falling from her hair very audible in the reverent silence of the greenhouse. "Is a new shirt, Aidan."
"At least it was champagne, not red wine?" Aidan offered feebly.
I locked eyes with Freddy, who was trying rather unsuccessfully to hide the smile on his face, and felt my own lips twitching upwards. Swiveling back to Dom, he gave a lazy flick of the wand and magicked her dry.
"You suck," Dom said primly, with all her dignity, to Aidan, and then promptly turned on her heel and strode back to the record player to put on another Celestina Warbeck disc.
Aidan caught my eye and shrugged in a 'what-can-you-do' manner. I grinned, my gaze flicking between all the occupants of the greenhouse, and I felt a strange tenderness overcame my previous anger.
So. These were the people I was supposed to count on this coming semester, the friends who would keep me grounded while my face graced every newspaper in the Wizarding World and other people gossiped and stared. These guys were my group, my posse — they would protect me and pick me up when I was down, they would help to keep me sane.
I was so screwed.
The next day, Evelyn, Dom and I were lined up outside Slughorn's dungeons and waiting for Potions, the first class of our semester. Worn and tired (and some of us hungover) from last night's extracurricular activities, we were the perfect picture of Slytherin irritability. Dom, who still had not gotten over the Aidan-Firewhiskey mishap, was adding to the general pathos of a Monday morning with her incessant complaining.
“I mean, I took four showers last night and I still smell like a nightclub," she whined, craning her neck at an awkward angle to sniff at her own armpit. I grimaced, hoping no one else was paying attention to my bestfriend as she reverted back to our basic primate instincts.
"It's not that bad," I offered. "I can't smell it."
"But I can." Dom shook her head woefully. "Soaked in alcohol and regret — I'm like a Hufflepuff girl's Saturday night."
I couldn't help but snort at that one. Evelyn, however, was not so amused. Flicking her shiny sheet of hair over her shoulder, she regarded Dom with snooty derision.
"Merlin, — will you stop smelling yourself, Weasley?" she snapped. "We're in public and it's not very lady-like."
Dom obligingly removed her nostrils from her armpit and — no shame to be found — stuck her tongue out at the pretty blonde. "In case you haven't noticed, I don't give two shits about being lady-like."
"Oh, I've noticed," Evelyn responded drily, and then tilted her head to gesture at the other students milling through the corridor. "Along with everyone else in the immediate bloody area."
Dom shrugged and returned back to her armpit. I rolled my eyes.
"Top of the morning!" Flicking a hand in a lazy salute, Fred Weasley ambled towards us, hair rumpled and shirt wrinkled but looking alert and cheerful nonetheless. He sidled up to Evelyn and slung an arm around her shoulder, cocking his head at all of us. "What are you girls up to this fine Monday?"
"Oh, you know. Just embarrassing Evelyn and making her feel ashamed to be in public with us," I responded easily. Freddy grinned, looking down at the top of his girlfriend's head with warm, impish eyes.
"I thought that was my job," he said, mouth somewhere between a sullen pout and an amused smile.
Evelyn frowned, crossing her arms over her chest, and Fred landed a quick kiss on her hairline. Gah. Either they were so cute it was sickening, or so sickening it was cute. I couldn't decide.
"Hey, did you hear?" Fred abruptly rounded on me, grinning and waggling impish eyebrows. "Vespertine announced it last night at the Feast. The Sword of Gryffindor is being kept here. At Hogwarts."
“What?” I blurted out. Fred nodded enthusiastically, earnestly, and I felt all the blood in my entire body rush to the surface of my face. My ears were ringing, shock had closed my throat. Faintly, I could feel Evelyn reach out to give my elbow a squeeze — whether it was to reassure me or check if I was still conscious, I couldn't tell.
“You mean the Sword I... saved? My Sword?” I asked lamely, as if there were just thousands of different swords lying around. Fred nodded, face falling into an expression of utmost seriousness.
“Yup. After everything that happened at the Ministry, they decided to move it. No place safer than Hogwarts, am I right?”
“You know what that means,” Dom groaned, having torn herself away from her armpit long enough to devote some attention to the human beings around her. She wheeled around to look at me. “You’re going to be really popular the next few days.”
“What?” My voice was reedy with hysteria. “No way! Like people actually care about that Sword stuff!”
“Are you kidding me? Look at them now!” Evelyn threw her hand out, gesturing to the rest of the students in the corridor, and my gaze immediately landed on a group of nearby Ravenclaws. They were huddled together, tossing the occasional glance our way, and they abruptly went silent when they saw us looking. Next to them were two third-years I recognized, both blatantly gawking at me like I was a bloody museum exhibit. Across from me were three girls, whispering and pointing. Two fourth-years with obvious staring problems. A gaping Gryffindor.
The more I looked, the more people I saw.
And they were all staring. At me.
My brain immediately launched into 'oh shit' mode. For a moment, I was rendered speechless. I had spent so much of my life in the shadows, on the very edges of the limelight as I allowed Dom and Fred and Aidan and all my boisterous friends to take center stage. Now, faced with all the scrutiny zeroed in on me, I had no idea how to act. What was the correct protocol for suddenly being turned into a bloody spectacle?
"Yup,” Fred said jovially, apparently not fazed by any of these new developments. He was probably used to it, what with being from a famous family and all. This was nothing to him. Child's play. “You're Hogwarts-famous, Aggy. Like that Hufflepuff kid who can eat a whole apple in two bites."
“There is no way I'm on Apple Alfred’s level!” I shook my head in denial, backing away as if I, by doing so, could escape the whole situation. I almost tripped into the stone wall. “That kid is a living legend!”
“And now, so are you,” Dom said gently, patting me on the shoulder. “Embrace it, Agatha.”
“Yeah. Why else do you think I’ve been undoing two extra buttons on my uniform shirt? I have to if I even want to be noticed around you.” Evelyn informed us with the utmost severity, as if the issue of her shirt buttons was a top priority on the UN agenda or something. “I’m about to go three, guys. This shit is real."
Fred didn’t seemed perturbed by the fact that his girlfriend was contemplating the pros and cons of stripping down in the middle of the hallway. He turned to me full-on, landing a soothing hand on my shoulder.
“Just relax, Aggs. The hype will die down eventually and in the meantime, just act as weird as possible if you want to scare the gawkers away. Here, watch.”
With that, Fred wheeled around, turning on some of the blokes who’d been staring. “Hey boys! Like what you see?”
With a theatrical, sweeping hand, he gestured to the length of his body, making several aggressive pelvic movements that I had to look away from for fear of spontaneously becoming pregnant. “Seven galleons an hour! Eight if you’re kinky!”
Needless to say, the spectators scurried away. Very quickly.
Fred turned back to us, grinning proudly. "And that's how it's done."
I sighed, my lips twitching into a reluctant smile. Could this day get any weirder?
“HELP! MONSTER IN THE DUNGEONS! THERE’S A MONSTER IN THE DUNGEONS! HELP!"
Apparently, it could.
We all turned at the sound of the — very strained, very hysterical voice — to see a harried male figure running down the hallway, waving his arms in the air like his life depended on it, tripping over the uneven stone ground as he ran. I squinted in confusion, trying to distinguish the silhouette of whoever it was as he got closer.
“Is that — ?” Dom began.
“Fallon Cooper,” I finished for her as the figure came into the light, and the four of us watched in amazement while the boy in question — the very same boy who had thwacked my brother into a coma and threatened to kill me — went sprinting down the corridor in sheer, absolute terror.
“IT’S COMING FOR US! SOMEBODY! SAVE ME!” Cooper’s voice was high and reedy, his features drawn into a Boggart-worthy expression of fear. No one else seemed to be partaking in his hysteria, however, and the students in the hallway watched on with flat, confused faces. He looked very close to peeing his pants.
“What,” Evelyn said blankly, mesmerized gaze glued to her ex-boyfriend as he hurtled down the corridor. Dom gave a breathless laugh of disbelief, jade eyes shining with delight.
It was slowly becoming clear that this was a weird occurrence, even for Hogwarts. I mean — sure, monsters and beasts hiding in the castle, that we were used to. But a seventh-year Slytherin screaming like a girl? Not so much. Something was up.
And I knew just who was responsible.
My gaze slid to Freddy, who had a very satisfied, very evil look on his face.
“And so,” he murmured in a creepy voice that practically came with its own cackle. “It begins.”
He could only mean one thing by that:
The Cooper Prank.
I’d always assumed that The Cooper Prank would never happen, that it would eventually die out along with all of Fred's other harebrained schemes. Destined to have no resolution, like the ending of Inception, or a stripper's daddy issues, it'd be left alone until we all forgot about it.
But I should have known. Fred might not have been the best at commitments — I'm pretty sure Flitwick was still waiting for him to hand in his Charms final from Second Year — but he was damn good at a prank. And at holding a grudge.
And it was obvious that Cooper's fear had been induced by something — either a spell, a hex or an actual monster — of Freddy's doing.
We watched as the Slytherin turned from left to right, his whole body strung tight with terror, looking helpless as he tried to find someone among the dumbstruck crowd who would take his cries seriously.
He didn't have to wait long.
“WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?”
Scottish accent in full power, Professor McGonagall was suddenly bustling down the hallway, her dressing gown flapping behind her and her hair coming loose from its bun in aggravated strands. Apparently she’d been in the middle of her beauty sleep on her day off, and apparently she didn’t appreciate being woken by the sound of screaming students.
Her eyes were crackling with an anger that was positively electric, her lips pressed into a sharp line. She was, as Aidan would say, in Beast Mode.
And it was terrifying.
Poor Cooper. He was sorely mistaken if he thought he was about to get any relief up here. He’d run from one terrifying thing in the castle to another.
What a dumbarse.
“Minerva? What in heaven’s name — Oh my!”
Where there’s a McGonagall, chances are a Flitwick is close behind. And this Flitwick was now stopped in the middle of the hallway, frozen from shock at Cooper's hysteria and the growing crowd.
“This better be good.” And the cherry on top of the authority sundae! Professor Nott came slouching around the corner, rubbing the scruff on his face as he surveyed the scene: a hyperventilating student, a huddle of gawking students, and Minerva McGonagall in her dressing gown.
"Merlin help us," Nott said.
Of course, the one teacher who actually lived in the Dungeons — Slughorn — was no where to be found. Still snoring away in his pineapple-patterned pajamas, no doubt.
"HELP! You've got to help!" Cooper came up to Flitwick, grabbed him by the tiny shoulders and shook him so forcibly the professor's glasses swung off one ear.
"I do say!" Flitwick sputtered as he tried to wriggle free, to no avail. "Cooper, what has gotten into you?"
“Well,” Nott drawled. “It appears you have this settled, Filius. So if you don’t mind, I’ll be in my office poking my eye repeatedly with a stick — or something equally less painful than being here. See you."
Nott was about to make his escape when, seething, McGonagall gritted out a single word: “Theodore.”
Then, with a clenched hand, she gestured to a trembling Cooper, who at this point had abandoned Flitwick and assembled himself into a nice fetal position on the floor. “Your house. Your student. You take care of this.”
The look on Nott’s face said, in plain words: "Fuck me, this sucks." For a moment, it seemed as though he might just wheel around and walk off anyway. But instead, heaving a sigh, he made his way to Cooper and crouched down beside him.
Nott reached out a hand — possibly to pat Cooper on the shoulder and display the first sign of affection the bloke had seen in years — when he stopped, hand hovering in the air. Shaking his head with a look of extreme distaste, he took out his wand and poked the hysterical Cooper in the shoulder instead.
Like Cooper was a scared animal, and Nott was trying to see whether he’d bite or not.
"Please oh please will you tell us what’s wrong,” Nott said in monotone, looking like he’d rather be swimming in a ball pit of grenades and fire than hear a single word from Cooper's mouth.
“Monster — in the dungeon — " Cooper breathed shakily. He had calmed down somewhat and was no longer screaming, but still looked extremely pale, haunted dark circles bruising the skin under his eyes. His demeanor was so unlike his usual, admittedly frightening, combination of Slytherin composure and cool-guy arrogance, I knew for certain that whatever was happening, Freddy certainly had a part in it.
Nott sighed. “Monsters at Hogwarts. Original. Show me.”
Cooper slowly stumbled to a stand, chest heaving up and down, and started to half-crawl, half-lumber down the hallway. Mumbling something along the lines of ‘how the hell hasn’t the bleedin’ Health Department shut us down yet,' Nott trailed unenthusiastically behind him.
“Quick, follow, follow!” Dom cried, jabbing me insistently in the side with a pointed finger. Mesmerized and flabbergasted, the four of us scurried behind Cooper and the professors in a kind of protective, penguin-like huddle.
This could not end well.
Cooper, now that he was off the floor and had the reinforcements of Hogwarts' finest behind him, seemed to be regaining some of his characteristic confidence (re: sliminess) back. He had straightened and, although trembling slightly in the legs and muttering under his breath, was dutifully leading us down, deeper and deeper into the dungeons.
Dom had her hand around my wrist, tightening it in sporadic squeezes of excitement. Freddy was trying to hide a very obvious, very satisfied smile Evelyn, however, remained oddly silent, her gaze trained on the stone floor as we walked on.
“Trust me, Professors, I know exactly where it is," Cooper would repeatedly declare before reverting back to his breathless train of mumblings. The further we walked, the more confident he seemed to grow. He was almost acting like his smug self again — all superior and holier-than-thou, like he’d done us some big favor by finding this monster. He was most likely expecting a pat on the back and a coupe of points to Slytherin after this whole ordeal was over.
The professors, however, were all exchanging awry glances.
Finally, Cooper stopped outside a wooden door that seemed oddly familiar.
“It’s right in there,” Cooper declared proudly, gesturing to the mahogany.
McGonagall pulled out her wand and then — cautiously — nodded at Cooper.
I was still squinting at the door in confusion — it seemed so familiar, like something from a dream — but before I could figure out where I’d seen it before, Cooper was brandishing it open the way one might reveal a prize car at a game show.
“Ah — HA!”
The door swung open, and then I realized where we were. Filch’s office.
Filch's very empty, very harmless office.
I screwed up my face in confusion as the impact of Fred's prank dawned on me. So this was the full extent of it? What was really supposed to happen? Everyone to see that there was no monster — nothing, really, except Filch's cat — inside, and for Cooper to be humiliated and discredited in front of the teachers?
Was that the prank? If so, it lacked some of Fred's normal ingenuity.
But even as I was thinking this, however, Cooper wasn't acting all sheepish and chagrined like expected. No, instead, he was falling to the floor at the sight of the empty room, flapping his limps in hysteria and screaming: “AHHHH! STAND BACK! IT’LL KILL YOU! IT’S VICIOUS!”
“Mr. Cooper!” McGonagall cried, scandalized. But there was nothing she could do. We all gaped in amazement as Cooper continued to writhe on the floor in terror, scrambling away from the door in an exorcism-gone-wrong fashion. “KILL IT! KILL THE BEAST!”
And, with a shaky finger, Cooper raised his hand and pointed straight at this so-called Beast.
Mrs. Norris, Jr.
“Mr. Cooper, what do you think you’re playing at?” Flitwick stepped inside the room, but this only caused Cooper to raise the volume of his screaming, veering from ‘baby on a plane’ level to ‘howling monkey’ pitch.
It was not pretty.
Mrs. Norris Jr. regarded us with unamused, amber eyes. She took a step forward.
And Cooper went apeshit.
“YIIIIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! DEMON! DEMON!” Like a deranged koala, Cooper scrambled to a stand and latched himself onto a very startled Professor Nott, practically climbing on top his back in an effort to shield himself from Mrs. Norris, Jr. Nott gave a yelp of surprise and immediately jerked to the side to throw Cooper off, but the kid had a death grip.
As a side note, it was good to know that, when confronted with a situation like this, our teacher’s first instinct was to hurl his student at a high speed onto the stone floor.
By now, Cooper's antics had attracted a bit of a crowd. Students passing by were stopping to stare, conglomerating into a ring of different faces of every house and age, all too shocked to even whisper a single judge-y comment. And when Hogwarts students aren't passing judgment, that's when you know something is off.
"Oh for Merlin's sakes!" McGonagall, looking very bewildered and somewhat offended, stalked into Filch’s room and picked up Mrs. Norris. She held it up to Cooper as if to show him there was nothing to be afraid of, but this turned out to be a huge mistake. Cooper screamed, latching on even tighter to Nott and causing the Professor to make a few attractive strangulation sounds as he stumbled backwards.
“What on earth!” McGonagall cried exasperatedly. “Cooper, it’s just a cat!”
By now, real tears were streaming down Cooper’s chiseled cheeks. He was making pathetic little noises — which I thought were sobs, at first, but turned out to just be him choking on his own spit — and he had buried his face into Professor Nott’s shoulder. “It’s after me! It’s coming for me!” He sounded like a petulant child. “GET IT AWAY!”
“Can someone please calm him down?" Nott asked flatly. "Before he urinates on me?"
McGonagall paled at the thought. Sighing, she brusquely waved her hands at Flitwick. “Please, Filius, get Mr. Cooper to the Hospital Wing and have Poppy give him a calming draught. It seems Cooper is suffering from some type of delusion. Must be... over-exhaustion.”
Flitwick reluctantly hobbled over to Cooper, who was still latched onto Professor Nott, and gently coaxed him down. Together, with a very impressive Flitwick carrying most of Cooper’s (trembling) body weight, the two made their way down the corridor.
Nott leveled McGonagall with a piercing blue stare. “You so owe me for this, Minerva. You are teaching all of my classes, all of my days, for the next two weeks.”
“Yeah, yeah," McGonagall straightened and flicked the hair out of her eyes, setting down Mrs. Norris, Jr. on the floor. "Save it for your feelings journal, Nott."
Nott turned a nice shade of red and stomped off, causing the surrounding students to titter. As if suddenly alerted to our presence, McGonagall turned to us and snapped.
“What are you all looking at? Don’t you have classes?”
With a mix of grumbles, chatter, and laughter, students began to shamble away. Enmeshed in the crowd, Fred, Evelyn, Dom and I put our heads together and started walking.
Dom was the first to regain the ability of speech. “That was — ”
"Incredibly weird?" Evelyn offered.
"— bleeding hilarious," my best friend finished.
"Well we have Freddy to thank for it," I muttered under-my-breath, almost to myself, but Dom caught my words anyways.
"Wait — Fred," she exclaimed excitedly. "Don't tell me that was the Cooper Prank? You were responsible for this — this brilliancy? I love you. How did you do it?"
“Well." There was unmistakable pride curving at Fred's lips. "We brewed a Unreasonable Fear potion, put some of Mrs. Norris’s cat hairs in it — which we were able to take after you kidnapped her, Aggy — and I bribed a house-elf to slip everything into Cooper’s water at breakfast. Easy-peasy. The potion needed a couple month to brew, though, which is why the whole damn thing took so long.” Fred shrugged. He was trying to look casual, but his eyes were glimmering with triumph.
I, on the other hand, had an unsettling feeling in my stomach. Said feeling was only magnified when Evelyn abruptly stopped in her tracks and turned to Freddy, eyes sharp and flashing.
“Wait a second — this was your doing? You made him that legitimately scared, you humiliated him in front of everyone — just for one of your pranks?" It was impossible to tell what Evelyn was feeling at the moment. Her face was closed off, her body language guarded.
I winced. I'd forgotten that Evelyn hadn't known about the Cooper Prank, and finding out in this manner must have been... unpleasant.
Stopping as well, Freddy paled and then swallowed hard.
“Eve, I can explain — “
“Yes, please do, Mr. Weasley," sounded a familiar voice from behind.
Almost as if in slow-motion, the four of us stiffened, turning with identical expressions of horror... to see McGonagall behind us. Apparently she had been close enough to hear everything we'd just said.
"Because from the sounds of things, Mr. Weasley, you were the one in charge of this little fiasco.”
There was a beat of silence. And then:
“Oh fuck,” Fred said simply, summing up all our thoughts pretty accurately. He turned to me and Dom, but we could only stare at him with round, panicked eyes.
“Weasley.” McGonagall smiled a smile that was not promising at all. “I’d like to see you in my office.”
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