Chapter 39 : Lights
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And the Hogwarts Kitchens, unfortunately, is one of those places.
No longer the happy, idyllic house-elf haven of Harry Potter's day, the Kitchens had certainly lost their luster. They were once the bustling center of Hogwarts' culinary scene but had since deteriorated over the years. Now they were shabby, not very clean, and — to put it succinctly — shadyballs as fuck.
Thanks to the collective blind eye of the benevolent house-elves, the Hogwarts Kitchens had seen many a shenanigan. It was the seedy underbelly of the school. Students could count on the Kitchens as a place where rules could be broken, dignity (and, at times, clothing) shed, and immoral whims indulged. Often after a House party, the Kitchens would transform into a late-night diner of sorts as hordes of drunken students flocked to demand greasy snacks. Mimi the House-elf's recipe for chili cheese fries was basically a school rite of passage.
Over the course of my stay at Hogwarts, the Kitchens had been home to illicit trysts, secret snacking, and many midnight pie-runs for a PMS-ing Dom Weasley. At one point, it'd served as the center for Fred's underground dungbomb smuggling ring. Last year, it was rumored that Sally Perkins secretly delivered a baby down here.
Despite its disreputable undertones, however, the Kitchens also served as a great place for playing poker — a favorite hobby of the Tweedle Trio's — away from the watchful eyes of the professors. After dinner, our group would sometimes shamble down here for a game or two. Aidan had learned poker in Third Year, when he and the rest of the Tweedle Trio would play non-stop. For the longest time they wouldn't let me join their games, maintaining that girls sucked at cards and I would ruin their fun. Determined to prove them wrong, I proceeded to learn from my grandmum, a star player, how to kick some serious poker butt. It was a noble quest of mine: breaking down gender barriers, disproving harmful stereotypes, and furthering feminism one game at a time.
There was only one problem: I sucked at cards.
"Fold," I sighed for the fiftieth time, slapping my hand down on the grimy surface of the table we were playing at. Across from me, Aidan and Potter — my opponents, and the insufferable reminders of my gambling ineptitude — exchanged triumphant glances. I resisted the immature urge to stick my tongue out.
Potter had his eyes slitted, a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, as he focused on his cards. Aidan, meanwhile, was taking a swig of his whiskey glass and cockily leaning back in his chair, looking completely unperturbed. Our table was tucked into a corner in a quieter backroom of the Kitchen, so that we wouldn't disturb the house-elves. The walls were shabby and the space empty — nothing but linoleum tile and a grimy lightbulb swinging overhead.
This being a rather impromptu poker match, and us being rather broke-ass students, we had decided not to bet with real money this time. Instead, in a colorfulmishmash on the middle of the table, the pot was an assortment of trinkets and candy, unwanted Christmas gift cards, and some of the lint Aidan found in his pocket.
Needless to say, stakes were high.
"I see your bouncy ball, inkpot, and sugar quill," began Potter slowly, his eyes amber slits as he stared at his cards. "And raise you last week's Charms notes, two knuts, and half a Chocolate Frog."
"Hey." Before Aidan could respond and lay down his own — no doubt invaluable — bounty, we all looked up to see Fred shambling into the backgroom, his backpack slung around his shoulder, face drawn and looking worse for wear. We all perked up, and Aidan's chair, which had been teetering heart-stoppingly on its back two legs, righted itself as he leaned eagerly forward.
Fred had been in McGonagall's office the whole day ever since she had somewhat inadvertently found out he was responsible for the Cooper Prank. We, the rest of the gang, had been waiting anxiously for news, not really knowing what to expect or how serious the matter was.
"Hey," Fred repeated — this time even more melancholy-like — and dropped his backpack to the floor as he slouched into an empty seat. "Hey."
My eyebrows shot toward my hairline. Uh-oh. The kid did not look good — there was a dazed glaze over his eyes, and his voice was faint and breathy. He didn't seem like he was fully on this earth — or aware of its happenings — as he stared at the grainy wood of the table, picking at its squiggles with a finger.
"What's the sentence?" Potter gritted out calmly and evenly through his cigarette, his eyes still trained on his cards. “Six weeks detention? Eight? Nine?”
Freddy pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, and I blinked with the sudden realization that I’d never seen him look so anxious before. “I don’t know yet," he groaned. "I’m meeting Headmistress Vespertine tomorrow night and apparently, she’ll decide my punishment then. Fuck, mum’s going to disembowel me.”
At the mention of Vespertine, Potter’s gilded eyes swept from his cards to Freddy. He plucked the cigarette out of his mouth and stubbed it out on the table.
“I know, mate.” Fred seemed to read Potter’s mind — this situation was graver than we thought if Vespertine was getting involved. Both their faces darkened with seriousness, and for a moment, I could actually see the Weasley resemblance.
"I'm about to get voted off the island, aren't I?" Fred said glumly.
“Don’t be ridiculous," I tried to sound cheerful, but even I could hear the horribly false tone in my voice. “It might work out fine! This could be good!”
Wrong thing to say. There was a moment of silence as everyone recognized that "Agatha Bennett" and "optimism" should never be mixed. It was the social equivalent to the socks and sandal combo.
Fred grimaced. Aidan coughed uncomfortably and bent his head, staring harder at his cards.
Potter, however, obviously felt no need to hold back. His voice was scornful with incredulity as his brow flattened in condescending skepticism. “Bennett, in what Inception dream-layer could this possibly be a good thing?”
“Well," I began slowly, straightening in my chair. "It'll give us a chance to finally turn Cooper into the authorities — like we should have done at the very start, instead of running around like children," I pointed out defensively, causing a scowl to twist across Potter’s Pretty Boy face. Aidan didn’t look too thrilled by my suggestion either. Stupid Gryffindors and their stupid aversion to authority.
“What?” I cried, aghast. They were all staring at me like I’d just announced I wanted to marry my microwave. “It’s the only way we’ll ever get justice!”
“Agatha,” Aidan began gently, blue eyes softening with empathy. It was weird — out of all three of them, Aidan had been the least angry about Cooper despite being the actual victim. “Even if the professors believed us in the first place, without any concrete evidence the worst they’d be able to do is hand out a few detentions to Cooper. 'Justice' would consist of a couple hours of trophy-cleaning, and then he’d be off the hook.”
“Yeah, I’d rather punch him in the face and call it a day,” Potter said flatly.
“You tried that already,” I responded snidely, referring to the Halloween party in which Cooper and Potter had gotten into a full-out brawl. Not just a fight, no. A brawl. “Didn’t exactly work out.”
“You’re lecturing me about punching people?" Potter leaned back in his chair, folding his arms over his broad chest and giving a breathless, sardonic laugh. "And our irony quota has officially been filled for the day, ladies and gentlemen."
“Whatever, Potter,” I pursed my lips, trying to stifle the smog of anger that was slowly creeping over my body. See? This. This was where it always went wrong, when Potter and I talked. We could exchange saliva all day long, but when it came to words, we were screwed. "Go ahead and try to fight Cooper again, see if I care. Just don't say I didn't warn you."
Potter gave a dismissive snort, eyes liquid metal as he looked scornfully away. “You're something else, Bennett."
"If by something else, you mean I'm different from all the other giggly, vapid girls you surround yourself with, then I'll take that as a compliment."
"It's not meant to be, but sure, go ahead always and twist my words like you always do."
"Just sod off, Potter."
"You sod off."
"No you sod off — "
“Oi! Will you two just bloody STOP IT for a second?” Aidan burst out, flailing in his seat a little, surprising vehemence in his tone. Potter and I jolted — we’d been so enmeshed in our argument, everything else had sort of faded into the background. I’d forgotten there were others in the room.
Aidan was breathing heavily, patches of pink blooming in his cheeks. “Both of you are unbelievable.”
My mouth opened and closed as I stammered for words, sheepish. “Aidan, we were just — "
“Arguing. As usual,” my brother gritted out, eyebrows raised and daring us to contradict him. He gestured to Freddy, who was sullenly picking at the woody grain of the table. “Meanwhile, Freddy’s having a mental breakdown, and you’re making this all about you two and — and your sodding sexual tension! If you’re not going to be any help to us, why don’t you both just bloody go into the next room and snog it out?! I’m sick of this."
Potter and I gaped, stunned into silence by Aidan's frankness. My face was smoldering with heat, and I could tell without even looking in a mirror that I was currently bright red. Even Potter, who was normally so cool and composed, had his jaw hanging open slightly. Had Aidan just really —?
I cleared my throat. Oh god. Oh god. This was so uncomfortable. My brother had just acknowledged the fact that his best mate and I snogged. Granted, it was already an unspoken fact among the group, but still — to hear it thrown out into the open like that, by my twin, of all people, was cringe-worthy.
“We — we don’t snog,” I finally managed.
“Yes you do,” Aidan and Fred droned simultaneously, looking almost bored.
I snapped my mouth shut.
“There's no use denying it, Aggy,” Aidan said flatly. He was staring straight at me, his eyes a velvety, unflinching blue, and I was unable to look away. “I know you two snog or hook up or... whatever it is your weird relationship consists of. I know for a fact.”
There was a pounding silence. Potter looked from me to Aidan, back to me, then at Aidan again.
"Fuck,” he said, and lit another cigarette.
Aidan shrugged, face blank and strangely emotionless. “I would’ve had to have been brain-dead not to notice over break. I mean, you two had actually stopped bickering, for once. That was how I knew — either one of you had blackmailed the other into silence, or you were snogging.”
“You guys weren’t very subtle, really,” Fred felt the need to throw in. "I mean, Evelyn could even tell."
“Wait, does this mean everybody knows? Like everybody, everybody?" Horrified, I turned from Aidan’s unsympathetic gaze to Fred’s matter-of-fact one, contemplating the horrifying prospect of all of Hogwarts learning about Potter and I. In my peripheral vision, Potter leaned backwards in his chair, remaining uncharacteristically silent.
“Um, duh,” Fred responded in perfect imitation of a high-school cheerleader.
I opened my mouth to respond, but was suddenly cut off by the ugly sound of Potter's chair screeching backwards. Before I could fully register what was happening, the prat himself had abruptly stood up, squished his smoldering cigarette against the table, and clapped his hands together.
“Alright, Aidan,” he drawled languidly, cracking his neck from left to right. “You know what to do.”
Words dying in my throat, I flicked my gaze over Potter and his strange behavior, slack-jawed but silent. Know what to do? What did that bloody mean?
Before I could ask, however, Aidan was sighing and standing up as well, looking reluctant as he shifted his weight hesitantly from foot to foot. There seemed to be some secret, age-old understanding between the two boys, and as I watched them go about whatever dark and mysterious ritual it was they were speaking of, I felt my confusion mount. Fred leaned back in his chair, looking satisfied. With a growing sense of trepidation I realized he knew what was about to happen.
“Mate, it's fine. We don't have to do this." Aidan seemed to have calmed down slightly. His previous vexation was gone, replaced by a meek uncertainty as he regarded Potter with anxious eyes.
Potter shrugged, looking as unruffled and unperturbed as ever. “Rules are rules.”
“What’s going on? What rules?” I cried sharply but was, of course, ignored.
“It doesn’t have to be like this, mate,” Aidan shook his head fiercely at Potter. “I’m not mad.”
“But you should be," Potter pointed out. "Besides, we've agreed to this. You know that if you kissed Lily, I’d have to do the same. It's part of The Code,” he added calmly, the shadow of a bitter smirk pulling at his lips. It was almost seemed like he was egging Aidan on, like — in some strange, twisted way — he wanted this, whatever it was, to happen.
“What code? What is Aidan going to do — ?” I hissed at Freddy, but he just made a shushing noise and frantically flapped his hands at me to pipe down. I flopped back warily in my seat, feeling like I was about to witness a bloody trainwreck as Aidan advanced closer and closer to Potter.
"Hold on," Potter said suddenly and, eyes flickering with that same grim amusement, he turned and grabbed Aidan's whiskey glass off the table, draining it in one quick gulp. Swiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he turned back towards my brother, eyes glittering.
I cringed, inwardly bracing myself for whatever was about to come and knowing it couldn't be good. As my brother walked grimly forward, I felt dread consolidate inside my stomach, complemented by the nice suspenseful music crescendo-ing in my head.
“Alright, just do it.” Potter spread his arms out, open, ready. I could see the faintest flicker of guilt, of sorry, in his eyes." I deserve it. I'm a sodding idiot."
There was a hitch of tense silence. And then...
...And then Aidan punched him in the face.
In a flash of motion too quick for me to register, Potter wheeled backwards and went down with a solid thud against the hardwood floor.
Chair falling back behind me, I ran towards where Potter was lying on the ground — blood trickling from his jaw — and screamed some more.
“ARE YOU SODDING INSANE?” I shrieked up at my brother, crouching down to cradle Potter’s head. His eyes were fluttering, a groan of pain rumbling through his chest. It’d been a hard hit. “YOU JUST PUNCHED YOUR BEST FRIEND IN THE FACE!“
“OH MY GOD!” Aidan moaned with realization, dragging his hands frantically through his toffee hair. "I JUST PUNCHED MY BEST FRIEND IN THE FACE!"
“RIGHT AFTER YOU JUST PUNCHED HIM IN THE FACE!"
“ON HIS BIRTHDAY!"
“WHY DO WE KEEP PUNCHING JAMES IN THE FACE?”
“I DON'T KNOW.”
...Seriously. On behalf of his nasal cartilage, Potter should really rue the day he ever met the Bennett twins.
“I — I — It's The Code, Agatha," Aidan offered feebly by way of explanation, hands flapping rather uselessly in the air. "This is what we agreed on, back in Second Year. If one of us hooked up with the other's sister, he would get punched in the face."
"Oh my god," I cried back incredulously, readjusting Potter's head so that it was supported by my lap. "That's ridiculous!"
“He’s right, though,” Fred chimed in with uncharacteristic solemnity. “You don't fuck with The Code."
"Well, The Code is stupid," I snapped. "Just like all your other Gryffindor notions of chivalry and personal honor. Thinking you need to protect your sisters is so old-fashioned."
"It's not old-fashioned," Aidan exclaimed insistently, face still twisted with distress. "It's noble."
I scoffed heatedly, eyes veering into a roll. "What, did you guys also set dowries for us too?"
"Don't be mad, Aggy," Fred replied innocently. "We agreed you were worth at least three goats."
I was surrounded by idiots. That was it. They were all idiots, the whole lot of them, and that was the only explanation for why we were in this situation and James Potter currently had his head in my lap (which would be... exciting among different circumstances, but not so much now that he was bleeding and slightly unconscious).
If only Dom wasn’t on one of her sodding secret dates with Xander right now, or Evelyn wasn’t ignoring Freddy and could be here too. I was in dire need of some fellow estrogen.
I shook my head in disgust — the whole situation was so absurd — and looked down to see Potter in my lap, his eyes closed and peaceful-like. He seemed so... innocent. I almost had to remind myself that he was a sodding moron who’d just asked to be punched in the face.
“Potter,” I said gently, dusting the hair off his forehead. “Potter, wake up.”
His eyes flickered open, and I knew I was the first thing he saw from the way his lips quirked wryly upwards in recognition, gaze turning to warm amber.
“Hey,” he said, voice tinged with a slight husk. He seemed totally out of it.
I stared at him in disbelief. “Hi."
He laughed, slowly, quietly. It was a laugh that seemed to burn through the air, along with that amber-green gaze. And it was a laugh that had absolutely nothing to do with the following tingle down my spine. I was just shivering because of, you know, the cold. In the Kitchens. The place with all the ovens and fireplaces. Yeah. Cold.
“See? James is fine. No harm, no foul,” Fred said brusquely, hopping to his feet to come around the table and offer his cousin a hand.
I rolled my eyes. “Oh yeah. Well done, guys. Next time, why don’t we just put Aidan and Potter in a colosseum and have them fight to the death?”
My brother grinned sheepishly from where he was standing, dawdling awkwardly, as Fred heaved Potter off the ground. “Sorry, mate."
“Not a problem," Potter smirked conspiratorially, though he immediately winced from the ensuing pain of talking.
His words had come out muffled because of his hand, which was still clutching the region of his face that had been hit. Clambering to a stand, I took out my wand and impatiently swatted Potter's hand away, pointing it at his rather bruised nose and muttering "Episkey" to fix the break. Potter's arm fell to his side, eyebrows raising in surprise as he shot me a glance of half-gratitude, half-curiosity.
"Don't mention it," I grumbled. With that, I shoved my wand back into my robes and turned away from the idiots. I could practically hear the braincells dying from where I was standing.
Crossing my arms, I leaned against the edge of the table, attitude turning stern and serious.
“Okay, now that that lovely example of male aggression is over and done with, we need to talk about Freddy," I said firmly, giving each of the three (somewhat sheepish-looking) idiots a pointed glare. "We should figure out a strategy for his meeting with Vespertine tomorrow."
It was time to get down to business. Punches and bro codes aside, today's developments were not good news for Freddy. If Vespertine was intruding into the situation, we needed to craft a defense for him that, somehow, could get him off the hook. There must have been a loophole we missed, an excuse, something —
“I’ll confess too,” Potter sliced in quickly, looking completely unfazed.
He raised his arms over his head in a casual stretch, and I quickly averted my gaze to stare at the suddenly very interesting floor. Stupid Potter and his stupid athletic physique. Who needed to watch rippling muscles when you could look at the, er, tile? And mold? And what was either a month-old potato chip or an amputated toe?
On a side-note, the Kitchens could really benefit from a thorough health inspection soon.
“Don’t be ridiculous, James,” Fred scoffed, as if his cousin had just proposed the most insane idea ever. “I’m already going down. You shouldn’t have to as well.”
“But maybe Vespertine will reduce the punishment if she knows I’m guilty too — you never know," Potter pointed out. "I was just as much a part of the Cooper prank as you were. You shouldn’t be the only one getting in trouble." He shrugged as he said this, seeming totally carefree, and I rolled my eyes. How typical of him. Always so reckless and impudent, never worrying about the consequences ahead.
Stupid prat. Now that he was volunteering to take the fall with Fred, that
meant I probably had to as well. Ugh. I always hated when my friendships with people forced me into acting like a moral human being.
I was a Slytherin, for Merlin's sakes. We were the House for the kids who didn't help the old granny cross the street... and then later stole her life insurance when she got hit by that bus. Doing good was just unnatural.
“I’ll come with you as well,” I droned with as much sincerity as a Hufflepuff bimbo pretending to be excited about Quidditch in front of her boyfriend. “It’s only fair.”
“That means a lot, guys. But — ” Freddy smiled weakly, and I felt my hopes rise. Please be too noble to accept our offer, please, please, please. I’m Agatha Bennett for Merlin's sake, I can’t get into trouble with authority, I’ll combust into flames — “But I can’t let you do that.”
Even as I inwardly rejoiced, Potter was already shaking his head in point-blank refusal. “What are you talking about? Of course we’re taking the blame with you.”
I stifled a growl. If Potter hadn't just been punched in the face, he would be in some serious danger right now.
"I don't know, James," Aidan began slowly, uneasily. "I see Freddy's point."
The boy in question nodded firmly, adamant as ever and refusing to budge. “I’m not going to let you guys get in trouble for me. Especially not Aggy. If Vespertine so much as looks at her the wrong way, she’ll melt.”
“That may or may not be true,” I admitted. It was just so tempting to let Freddy take the fall, to get away scot-free... But looking into his wide eyes, I couldn’t help but suddenly feel a twinge of compassion.
I really needed to stop hanging out with these goody-goody Gryffindors so much — it was making me soft. Sighing, I felt my resolve crumble as I acknowledged the unpleasant truth before me. I had to go with Freddy to Vespertine — we all did. It was the right thing to do.
“Freddy," I declared warily. "Potter is righmrrblfsufsr.”
Everyone in the room blanched.
There was a tiny pause in which we all looked around bewilderedly, confused as to what had just happened. While I had been saying my last word, my tongue seemed to have twisted into itself, resulting in a strange garble of letters and syllables that made it sound like I was being strangled. My own mouth, it seemed, had rebelled against me.
The boys stared at me with blank faces.
Oh god. I’d forgotten how to English.
“Um.” Aidan blinked. “What was that?”
“Potter is righmsdbfbdsbrr," I restated primly, but for some reason the word wouldn't come out right. I tried, I really tried, but it was too painful to say.
“Riiighsuhhhhhhhhhbeh!” I hissed in frustration.
“I think the word Bennett is looking for is right,” Potter smirked amusedly and I nodded, rolling my eyes. “She's saying I'm right. Or at least, trying to. I don't think she's physically capable. Cat got your tongue, Bennett?"
“Nope, that’s just the utter contempt and disgust I hold for you,” I shot back immediately, my voice saccharine and full of fake sweetness. Aidan sighed, and I barreled on. “Anyways, yeah. Potter is... Potter is you-know-what. We can't abandon you, Freddy. As much as I hate the idea of getting into trouble, fair is fair.”
“But this isn’t about being fair, Aggy.” Aidan shook his head suddenly, rubbing the scruff on his chin. He leaned against the wall, looking pained but resolute, and I realized he must have been deep in thought while the rest of us were bickering. “It’s about being smart. I’m sorry, Freds, but... I think it’d be best if you went into this one alone.”
There was a heavy silence as we all let the thought sink in.
Freddy spoke first. “I agree. Given how Cooper is still walking free, we can't afford to have the entire group get in trouble. Plus, it’s about time I start taking responsibility for the shit I do."
"Freddy — " I began.
"Nope, I won't hear it," he announced, holding up a silencing hand. "Besides — " at this, Freddy seemed to perk up, his face brightening with an idea that was, in all likelihood, not so much an idea as another harebrained scheme. "Even though I’ll be facing Vespertine and soul-crushing punishment, we're going to have some fun in the meantime."
Oh no. This couldn't be good.
"I have a plan," Freddy stated grandly, sweeping a regal hand out before him. "Tomorrow, I'm throwing a party at the Room of Requirement for anyone in the castle who wants to come. Before Vespertine hands down whatever sentence she has, I'm going to live it up like it's my last night." He paused, cocking his head thoughtfully to the side. "Which it probably will be, seeing as McGonagall just sent a letter home to my mum about what happened."
I gulped. It was never good when Freddy embarked on one of his inspirational young-and-wild-and-free rants. The manic glint in his eyes and the way he was thrusting his pointer finger into the air weren't encouraging either.
Potter and Aidan did not seem worried in the slightest, however. As Freddy spoke they exchanged significant, smirking glances, no doubt already planning the finer subtleties of this night of debauchery in their heads.
Fred grinned. “Tomorrow night, we're going to have some fun."
“I hate these things. I seriously fucking hate these things.”
Twenty-four hours later, and Dom and I were sitting — rather unenthusiastically — at the Room of Requirement’s signature bar, our fellow classmates celebrating drunkenly around us. The music was thumping. The mood was just right. And we were drinking... Orange juice. Yup. Orange juice.
After all, we had made a pact after the shitacular that was Potter’s birthday: no more alcohol for either of us. It was time to grow up and be responsible. And by 'grow up,' I mean stop demanding lapdances from the males of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team (Dom) and running around like a PMS-ing chicken with its head cut off (me).
Firewhiskey? More like Fire-pissed-skey. Tequila? Let’s try Te-killer.
As in dignity-killer. As in one shot of that drink, and I'd probably end up straddling Potter. Or stabbing him. Or some combination thereof.
Thanks to the string of ‘Congrats You’re Not Dead!’ celebrations we had thrown after Aidan’s coma, Dom and I were veterans of the RoR. We knew just how these parties worked: everyone was going to get sloshed. Someone would probably start stripping. There was a ninety-percent chance of impromptu back tattoos. And in the whirlwind of all this alcohol/teenage delinquency, Dom and I would still sit, sober and unhappy as ever.
It seemed like everyone at Hogwarts over the age of fifteen had attended this thing, having a jolly good time releasing their inner-alcoholics to run amok. It was appropriately dark inside the RoR, and all you could make out were the neon glow of the bar and the silhouettes grinding on the dancefloor. The music was so loud, the throbbing bass provided a second, thumping heartbeat for everyone in the room.
Fred had made clear that the point of the festivities tonight was to party hard (oh yeah, hand me another orange juice. Or, even better, a soda. I was getting wild tonight) while Freddy met with Vespertine inside her office.
After he received his punishment, he would to come down here to reveal the verdict. It was a win-win situation. If the news was good and Vespertine had gone easy on him, we could all celebrate. If it was bad, Freddy would be able to drink his sorrows away. Nothing like the warm company of fellow friends to ease the pain in one's soul. Oh, wait, did I say the warm company of fellow friends? Sorry, I meant drunkenly swinging your shirt around your head while singing a karaoke rendition of a Destiny's Child song. Which was, after all, the only thing one could expect from an intoxicated Fred Weasley
“I hate being the only sober one here.” Dom chewed viciously on her pink straw as she scowled darkly over the rim of her juice glass. She was looking appropriately dolled-up tonight, having even gone so far as to put on a skirt and black eyeshadow. Black eyeshadow could mean only one thing — Dom was in predator mode. She was scoping the crowd for Xander, ready to pounce on him the minute he showed his unsuspecting face. She was like a really slutty lioness right now. The poor boy wouldn't know what hit him.
“Hey! You're not the only one!" I exclaimed, swiveling around childishly on the spinny barstool. “I’m sober too!”
“Okay, but you’re like, always sober,” Dom pointed out oh-so-kindly. “Even when you’re drunk, you’re sober.”
I squinted at her, trying to make sense of the (il)logic in her words. “What does that even mean?”
Dom screwed up her face with effort, obviously mulling over her next few words with care. She tugged at the glittery hem of her skirt and straightened imperiously in her seat. “Just that you never really let loose, you know? You don’t have fun when you drink. Take Potter’s party, for example — you were so upset that night."
I cocked a shoulder in a noncommittal half-shrug. “I can't help it that I just don’t have good experiences with alcohol.”
“I know!” Dom said, very loudly and very suddenly. She slapped a hand on the bar, an Archimedes-worthy epiphany dawning on her pretty face. “Which is why we need to change that. Oi! Bartender! Two shots, please!”
“Oh — Dom — no —“
“I know we're breaking the pact, Aggy but it'll only be for one night. And this is necessary! You have to get over this phobia you have of alcohol!"
“I do not have an alcohol phobia!”
“Okay, fun phobia. Whatever you want to call it. Either way, if you’re not careful you’re going to end up as a lame old lady making her own prune juice.”
“Come on, Dom, don’t you remember Potter’s party — ?”
But Dom was shaking her head and refusing to listen. Just like that, she had set herself on the warpath for alcohol, and now nothing would stop her. It was amazing how rapidly that girl's mind could change. “Oh, screw the pact! Tonight, we’re going to make our livers hate us — Hey! Bartender!’
A boy with crazily poofy hair suddenly slid into view, carrying two steaming glass bottles in each hand. I stared at him for a moment, brow furrowed as I tried to place his uncannily familiar face. Then it came to me — he'd been at Potter's birthday party. His name was Martin, and he was a German exchange student. The last time I'd seen him, he'd hugged me upon greeting and then set the tiki bar on fire.
"How do you wish me to poison you?" Martin said in heavily-accented English. He had an obscenely large pair of headphones on, and was bopping to its music in such a rapid, spastic way, it looked like his whole body was being fast-forwarded.
“Er, I think the saying is ‘pick your poison,’ Martin — "
“I wish to poison you!"
“Okay, that’s probably not a good thing to go around saying out loud —"
“Let me poison you!"
“I... Whatever.” I gestured to Dom. “What do you want?”
“Two shots, please!” Dom leaned forward, flashing her ridiculously charming Veela smile. It was the same move that she always pulled out at busy bars or restaurants — and it made sure we got served first.
Martin peeled off one side of his headphones to hear better. He was still nodding enthusiastically along to his music, which was so loud I could hear it from across the bar. It sounded like a techno remix of someone repeatedly driving a car into a wall.
“What kind?” Martin said cheerfully, chocolate eyes sparkling with an excitement that I found to be, quite honestly, a little scary.
Dom shrugged. “Give us, er — give us Dragontails! Yeah, Dragontail shots!”
“Dragontails?” I groaned. “Those sound scary. Why do we have to do Dragontails? Why can’t we do, like, Rainbow Cotton Candy Butterfly shots instead?”
My question was, of course, ignored.
Martin set to work, and I slumped down on my barstool, defeated. Someone was going to have to keep me away from Potter tonight. I mean, after what had happened today — watching him get punched in the face because of me — who knew what I would do around him once my inhibitions were lowered? Not to mention Potter himself was probably on the Firewhiskey Express to Schwastedville at this very moment.
It was usually my responsibility to act the sober one and make sure any contact between us was kept family-friendly, but now that I had Dom's bad influence all over me, I didn't know how successful my efforts would be.
“Alright, Aggy, drink up!” Dom slid a tiny orange glass my way. It looked pretty innocent, except for the fact that the liquid inside was glowing in a way that liquid definitely was not supposed to be.
“Er, what’s in this, exactly?”
“Oh, don’t be such a baby. Here, I’ll go first.” In one swift, graceful movement, Dom picked up her glass and downed it, her pretty strawberry-blonde head knocking backwards.
She slammed the glass down, and I watched in amazement as, for the slightest millisecond, Dom’s skin seemed to radiate a honey-colored dew. Almost like her body was a human paper lantern illuminated from within.
“Huh," I allowed, somewhat impressed.
Dom cocked a smug, knowing eyebrow. “Cool, yeah? This is why I love magic. Now your turn.”
One shot couldn’t hurt. Besides — deep down I knew I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter.
So, shoving my dignity into the tiny little box where, coincidentally, I also kept my common sense, I gulped down the shot.
For the strangest second I felt my skin burning with warmth, like how you feel after your body has been soaking up sunrays. And then I cooled, the magic fading, and I was left feeling tingly all over.
“That... wasn’t so bad.” I smacked my lips, getting a hint of grapefruit flavour.
“Brilliant!” Dom grinned, before whipping around to face a patiently waiting Martin. “We’ll take four more.”
This couldn't be good.
I was not drunk.
I was definitely, utterly, one-hundred-percent not drunk.
...Okay, so I was a little drunk.
Somewhere, in between all of Martin’s cocktail-mixing and Dom’s screams of ‘TIME TO GET FABULOUS!" I’d seemed to have lost control of my self-restraint.
And now the world was feeling a little bit fuzzy.
I didn’t know how it happened, exactly, but the RoR had miraculously transformed into a giant merry-go-round with no exit. Time was passing in a blur of roaring music and thick crowds. Faces flicked by, laughing, screaming, shouting. And still — unbelievably, amazingly — the drinks kept coming. From magically-refilling shots to the never-ending bowl of spiked fruit punch, I never had to go thirsty. And there were so. Many. Different. Kinds.
I had no idea where Martin learned how to bartender, but he was like the Willy Wonka of alcohol. Every drink he set in front of us was a different colour, size, shape. There were Philosopher’s Stones, for example — tiny violet shots that actually made you feel immortal, invincible. A kid tried to eat his own shoe after having one of those.
Then there were the Billywig Bombs, which caused your entire body to go numb for a whole minute, and Slippery Nifflers, which heightened your sense of smell. There were glasses with floating dragons and shooting sparks. Doxy Daiquiris and Fizzing Fairies, and lastly one pot of what looked liked a bunch of stuff mixed together, which Martin called 'Happy Juice.'
“What’s in that?” I had asked curiously, but Dom had simply shaken her head.
“Nobody knows,” she’d whispered reverently, looking almost fearful, and then she’d dragged me away very quickly before I could get some.
The more drinks I had, the brighter the world seemed to become. There were so many new faces around me. Dom wouldn’t stop dancing. Aidan would suddenly appear with a random person every five minutes, introducing them to us as his new soulmate. At one point, Martin cleared out an area on the dancefloor and challenged Hogwarts' notorious break-dancing team, the Hip-Hop-o-Griffs, to a dance battle.
Basically, the abridged Cliff-Notes version of the night went like this:
1. I had a lot to drink.
2. Dom had even more.
3. At one point, Dom started running laps around the dance floor, smacking drinks out of people's hands and repeatedly yelling, "I’M SO EXCITED I’M SO EXCITED I’M SO EXCITED!"
4. She then promptly slipped and fell on her face.
5. Around midnight, Aidan decided to stand up on the bar, announce that he loved "each and every single fucking one" of us and then declared his decision to move to Africa and "save the baby tigers."
6. Everyone in the room cheered.
7. Martin then picked Aidan up, twirled him around in what I can only suspect is a German figure-skating move, and then accidentally dropped him on the ground.
8. Everyone cheered some more.
9. Apparently, Dom and I played Butterbeer pong against a bunch of Hufflepuffs.
10. And apparently, I rock at Butterbeer pong. I made all the winning shots. People were actually chanting my name as we played. I even bet the Hufflepuffs ten galleons and my underwear that I could make a shot blindfolded.
11. I made the shot.
12. Like a boss.
13. At one point, Aidan and I sat behind the bar and laughed hysterically for ten minutes straight about literally nothing.
14. I’m pretty sure someone threw up on me.
15. I’m pretty sure I congratulated that person for throwing up on me.
16. I don’t know why.
17. But I do know that I had a lot of fun.
“Dude, Aggy,” Dom drawled drunkenly into my ear, leaning precariously into my shoulder as we stumbled from the bar. “We have so much in common, we're like twins. Not actual twins. But siamese twins in the mind. We’re mental twins. Soul twins. Soul sisters! Like that one song... How does that go again? HEY SISTER, SOUL SISTER, GOT TO GET THAT SOUL SISTER — "
I peeled Dom off as she started belting in my ear and hurriedly hustled forward, trying to escape her clutches before she got to the chorus (there was a rap bit in the chorus, and no one wanted to hear Dom rap). I had no idea how long it’d been since we’d taken our first shots — there was no concept of time in the Room of Requirement — but all I knew was that we were both very, very inebriated.
Just as I was trying to convince Dom that, no, she really didn’t have to show off her singing talents on top of the bar, I spotted a familiar head of tousled dark hair in the corner of my vision.
My heart jerked to a stop.
The floor seemed to shudder underfoot as I wheeled swiftly around and crossed the room, walking away from Dom and her fading pleas for Aidan and I to be her back-up dancers. The noise in my ears seemed to dim as I came closer, my background becoming quieter and quieter until I was standing right in front of Potter himself.
He was wearing a white button-down, the lines crisp over his broad shoulders, and he had a drink in his hand as he chatted with some Ravenclaw bloke, an easy smile on his face. There was a shadow of a bruise on his cheek from where Aidan had hit him earlier, but otherwise he looked the same as ever. Obnoxiously attractive.
“Hi,” I blurted out loudly.
Potter's golden eyes flicked to me for a split-second, and then he did a double-take. His eyebrows slowly made their ascent up his forehead as he took in my appearance — bedraggled hair in curly chocolate corkscrews, eyes bright and shining. Huh. He looked cute when he was confused. “Bennett?”
“Hello there,” I greeted affably.
Potter winced. “Bennett, you’re shouting.”
“No, I’m not,” I declared stubbornly, right as I realized that I was, indeed, speaking at a very high volume. "Oh, maybe I am. Oops."
Potter pressed his lips together to stifle a very obvious chuckle. "Bennett, just how drunk are you?”
“Like... this much.” I held out my fingers to demonstrate, but somehow they got tangled with the fingers of my other hand and, in an effort to unravel them, I ended up almost poking myself in the eye.
The Ravenclaw bloke, shooting Potter a knowing look, began to inch away. Yeah, you better go, you stupid 'Claw. Think you’re so smart and perfect, like you’re the only person who reads books?! Well, guess what, bozo? I read books too! I read loads of books! Madame Pince loves me! I'M LIKE A DAUGHTER TO HER.
It wasn’t until Potter grabbed me by the shoulders that I realized I’d been shouting all of the above out loud, very aggressively and in a slightly unhinged tone. Oops.
“Bennett." Potter was trying not to laugh. “Stop it. Kevin’s a nice guy, alright? You don’t have to yell at him. And we know you read lots of books. We're, er, very happy for you."
I looked at the Ravenclaw kid, this so-called "Kevin" character, and fixed him with one of my shrewdest, meanest glances. He was regarding me with a scared expression on his face, fidgeting awkwardly from side to side. “Er, hello,” he mumbled.
“Fuck you, Kevin," I stated matter-of-factly. And then I grabbed the drink out of Potter’s hand and started chugging.
“Woah — okay, okay, easy there,” Potter said quickly, releasing my shoulders so that he could pry the drink out of my vice-like grip. I internally lamented the loss of Potter's hands on my shoulders (for they were nice hands), and let my face fall into an exaggerated pout.
“Stop trying to take my drink!” I whined.
“Actually, it’s mine,” Potter responded rather patiently as, in the background, Kevin took off, scurrying away like his life depended on it. “And it’s not nice to steal people’s stuff, Bennett.”
I sulked even as I allowed Potter to take the offending glass, my eyes lingering on the Ravenclaw’s retreating form. “Fuck Kevin."
Potter bit into his lower lip, the corners of his mouth hitching upwards. “Come on, Bennett, he's not that bad. You should try talking to him later. When your bloodstream isn’t seventy-percent alcohol, maybe.”
“No," I insisted, with utmost dignity. "He’s a bozo.”
Potter’s eyebrows flew into his tousled hair. “A bozo?"
“Yeah,” I trailed off, eyes slightly unfocusing before landing on Potter’s amused face. “You’re a bozo too.”
Potter’s smile seemed to grow wider at this. Stupid prat with his stupid smile. Why did he have to be so pretty? “I’m a bozo?”
“Uh-huh,” I hummed sassily. “You’re not very nice to me.”
“Well, how about I take this chance to make it up to you and get you a glass of water? Nice, refreshing water? Doesn't that sound good, Bennett?” Potter said slowly, gently guiding me over to one of the barstools. I sat down, my legs swinging in the air like a little kid’s.
“But I don’t want water.” I stuck my lower lip out. “I want Happy Juice.”
Potter seemed to pale slightly at this. “No. No Happy Juice for you.”
I stared at him, refusing to drag my gaze away from the planes of his face, the high cut of his cheekbones, the green speckles in his eyes. He was so pretty. So pretty, so pretty, so pretty. I wanted his mouth on my mouth. Yes, brilliant idea, Aggy. Very smart. Ten points to Slytherin.
Potter sighed, regarding my spaced-out expression with a combination of wary humor and outright exasperation. “I'll be back, Bennett, I'm just going to grab your water. Try not to verbally assault anyone while I’m gone, okay?”
Before Potter could pull away, however, I’d spontaneously grabbed him by the shirt and was yanking him towards me with force that surprised even myself. Potter lurched forward, catching himself on the bar behind me with his hands, his nose stopping inches away from mine.
We stared at each other for a long, heavy moment at the music thumped in the background. I didn’t know why I’d just done what I’d done. All I knew was that I didn’t want Potter to go anywhere — not to get water, not even to get Happy Juice. I wanted him here instead. With me.
I looked into his eyes — they were amber now, surprise mingling with the frustrated amusement inside. His lips were very close to mine.
“Hi,” I breathed.
“Hi,” he responded. I felt him begin to pull away slightly, but I just tugged him closer.
“You’re pretty,” I mumbled.
“Thanks,” Potter said gently. “Thanks, Bennett. But you’re really drunk right now, and I should probably go before you do something you regret, so — "
“What about if we just have a teensy little talk?” I widened my eyes innocently. “I'm not going to regret a talk, am I?"
Potter paused at this. He straightened, rubbing the back of his neck for a moment while his restless gaze scanned the room. Finally, he seemed to resign himself to the situation as he squited warily at me and sighed. “Alright. What do you want to talk about?”
“Feelings! Let’s talk about feelings!” It took the effort of every atom in my body to stop myself from jumping up and down and clapping like a child. “How do you feel about us, Potter?” I leaned closer, voice sliding into a murmur. “How do you feel about me?"
Potter stared for a long moment, his expression softening, eyes turning bright and curiously intent. “I —"
“HOW COULD YOU?!"
For a blood-curdling moment, I recognized the foreign voice to be Aidan’s and thought that my brother was screaming at us. But then I pushed Potter away and saw that, yes, the person screaming was, in fact, Aidan — shouting loud enough to break the sound barrier — but he wasn't directing his vehemence at Potter and I.
He was shouting at Dom instead.
Potter and I watched, wide-eyed, as Aidan stormed towards my bestfriend, hands flying, rage in his eyes. Almost like in slow motion, I could see an unsuspecting Dom turn around from the crowd of people she was talking to — the smile immediately slipping off her face at the sight of my brother.
“YOU’RE DATING MCLAGGAN? XANDER FUCKING MCLAGGAN?”
Almost immediately, Potter was by Aidan’s side and restraining him by the shoulder, obviously trying to calm my brother down but to no avail. I stumbled off my barstool, unsure of where to go, listlessly watching the scene unfold with my heart plunged into my stomach.
The crowd had gone silent, everyone watching the scene unfold in gaping surprise. It was all so cliché, I couldn't help but feel. The drama, the yelling — all we needed right now was a couple of handlebar moustaches and a film crew, and we could have our very own Mexican soap opera.
Dom’s lower lip was trembling, her shoulders slowly caving inward. “I — Aidan — How did you know?” She whipped around, eyes sweeping the crowd until they landed on my face and narrowed accordingly. “Did you tell him?”
“What — No!” I gasped at the exact same time Aidan lunged forward, whipping around to level his electric blue eyes on me as well.
“You knew about this? You knew she was dating someone and you didn’t tell me?”
“Aidan, please — “ I stuttered helplessly. The words were thick and blocky in my mouth, the alcohol slowing my tongue. I locked eyes with Potter but his face was blank, expressionless, offering no scrap of hope.
“You’re my sister! How could you not tell me? How?!”
“Aidan — “ Dom stepped forward, green eyes cloudy with desperation.
It was all a confusing jumble of words around me, and I couldn’t think, couldn’t move, couldn't act. Squeezing my eyes shut, I tried to make the whole situation go away, fade into the thick, stifling air of the RoR. This was not happening. This could not be happening.
“Please. Please don’t be mad, Aidan," Dom was begging. "I still care about you — please — "
“Bull to the shit! You know what, Dom? I am tired of you running around, not giving a damn about anyone other than yourself! I've had enough, you understand?"
“Don’t talk to her like that!” I stepped forward, voice edged with hysteria. The words were whipping through the air so fast, it was making me dizzy trying to keep up.
“You don’t have to stick up for me!” Dom suddenly spat, throwing up her hand in my direction. “Traitor!”
“I told you, I didn’t tell him anything!” Everything was crumbling, and by some drunk, innate instinct, I knew that nothing I could say would fix things. The alcohol made things so much worse — feelings were heightened, fears loosened — and we were all falling apart and it was all horrible and all happening just so damn quickly.
“Damn right you didn’t tell me anything!” Aidan jerked forward, and Potter, silent and stoic, held him in place. “You know how I heard about it? Wizbook. Fucking Wizbook. How did you think you’d ever be able to keep this from me — both of you?”
“I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d react just like this! I knew you’d never understand!” Dom looked close to tears.
“Oh yeah? So what, five years of friendship and dating and whatever else mean nothing to you?”
“Aidan, please calm down — “
“Oh save it, Agatha. You’re worse than her! You didn’t tell me and you’re my sister!”
“She’s my best friend!”
“Yeah, I can really see where your loyalties lie —"
"You never told me about Potter and Nora!" I hollered back hoarsely, not caring that I was yelling for everyone to hear. An odd burning sensation was beginning to clog my throat, making me do desperate, irrational things.
"That's different!" Aidan snarled. "You weren't involved with Potter — or at least, I thought you weren't. Then it turned out the both of you were sneaking around the whole time — "
"We weren't sneaking around!" My face was blooming with heat. "We were just — "
"Save it, Agatha! I am so bloody sick of all the lies in this group! Why can't any of us just tell the truth for once — ?!"
“Hey! HEY, EVERYBODY!” Potter suddenly yelled, and all the squabbling was cut off abruptly mid-sentence. We immediately fell into petulant silence, breathing heavily, each of us stunned by the rapidity in which everything had seemed to fantastically implode.
I blinked, snapping out of my panicked haze to see Potter striding forward into the middle of the group and placing a placating hand on Dom and Aidan’s shoulders.
“Guys,” Potter said quietly. His eyes were uncannily somber as he gestured with his head to something behind all of us. “Freddy’s back.”
And suddenly, the mood seemed to turn graver, even heavier. The air thickened, and I clamped my lips shut as we all turned around to see Fred in the doorway, his expression dazed and stunned-looking. His shock, however, was not for us. Rather it seemed to owe itself to something else in the distance before him, something that his eyes were staring into but the rest of us couldn't see.
Freddy did not look right, I realized. That was when I knew the situation was very, very off.
Somehow, I could sense that the next few words out of Fred’s mouth would change everything. We were on the brink of darkness, about to take the plunge, and nothing would be the same ever again.
“I’ve been expelled,” Fred said faintly, quietly. “Vespertine. She expelled me.”
A/N: Excuse me while I cower behind my computer screen...
Please don't hate me for this! It gets better, I promise. It really does. But you know what they say - when it rains, it really fucking rains. (That is what they say, right?)
I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. All HP-verse is J.K. Rowling's and I do not own Inception either, which is property of Warner Bros, Pictures. Please drop a review if you'd like!
Speaking of reviews, I've recently written and posted a new one-shot called Death and All His Friends. It's my first attempt at dark/horror, and I've really poured a lot of work and soul into it. If you could check it out, that'd be fantasmagorical. I honestly think it's some of my best work.
Alrighty, that's it for now, folks!
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