Chapter 41 : Hero
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I didn’t know where to go after I left Dom and Evelyn in the dorm, so I settled for "nowhere in particular."
Completely aimless, I allowed my feet to take me wandering as I weaved through corridors and dazedly rode up and down moving staircases. It was around dinner time, and the hallways were uncharacteristically empty for this hour. The closer I came to the Great Hall, the louder I could hear the din of carefree students, chatting, eating, clattering their plates. The sounds made me feel oddly lonely.
I was aware that by roaming the castle like this, I was basically doing my Prefect's patrol on my own free time. I was also aware that this meant my life had taken a very pathetic, nerdy turn, but I could care less. Shoes clacking down the hallway, I walked and walked, fingers reaching out to brush the uneven stone walls in an oddly therapeutic motion.
Eventually, and without my brain making any conscious choice to get me there, my feet led me to the DADA classroom. Peering through the window in the door, I could see that the class was dark, a few slants of moonlight providing the only illumination in the room. Suddenly, I was overcome with the random desire to go inside. After a quick preliminary check for any Professor Nott sightings, I shoved the door open with my shoulder SWAT team-style.
It was dark and dusty inside and, coughing, I fumbled frantically for my wand. After it was out and I’d wheezed a hasty Lumos, I could finally see again.
The desks and chairs looked eerily empty, the blackboard swiped clean. A hushed, reverent stillness seemed to seep into the room's floors, ballooning upwards to the ceiling. The quiet was church-like. Nott was nowhere to be found.
But I hadn’t come for Nott, anyways. No. Immediately, my eyes had fallen upon the tiny display case in the corner of the classroom, covered by a black silk curtain that blended inconspicuously into the background. What was inside was the most pressing current topic of conversation at Hogwarts, and also the reason why I was here.
The Sword of Gryffindor.
Because Vespertine was apparently off her rocker, she had decided that the Sword was to be displayed in this classroom as a way to "educate students about the importance of tradition." So the Sword had been stored inside a glass case made impenetrable, no doubt, by an arsenal of different spells and curses. And because Nott was a supersized prat, he had announced on the first day we got back to class that under no circumstances would the curtain on this tiny, innocuous case ever be lifted, because if the Sword was on display for eve a second, everyone would be too distracted to work.
And precisely for that reason, everyone was too distracted to work. The challenge of that tiny display case was too tempting to ignore. It drew wary glances, blatant stares and constant whispering. During class, some students even went so far as to try and charm off the curtain, giving a surreptitious flick of the wand whenever Nott wasn’t looking. The fabric, however, proved uncharmable, unjinxable, and also surprisingly flame retardant (although the Ravenclaw who had been sitting in front of it, quite sadly, was not).
Now that I was in the room with Nott nowhere to be found, however, the case seemed significantly less intimidating, less unreachable. In fact, I felt like I could almost just walk right over and whisk the curtain off.
Sounded too easy, right?
That’s because it probably was.
According to a Hogwarts Urban Legend (generated no doubt by Missy Donovan, the most notorious gossip in Hufflepuff), Nott had charmed the fabric so that whoever touched it would have their fingerprints turned red for the rest of the year. Obviously, there was no guarantee this was the truth (after all, Missy also once claimed to be pregnant with the second-coming of Voldemort), but it’d been enough to ward me off for the past few weeks.
But now? I was done with being scared. Besides, didn’t I, out of all people, kind of have the right to see what was inside? I mean, without me there would be no Sword right now! They should have just given me the fucking thing so that I could've hung it in my room or passed it down to my grandchildren or — I don’t know — used it as a bloody paperweight or something! It basically belonged to me!
With that thought, my jaw gritted in furious determination, I swiftly strode forward, weaving through desks until I reached the case. And then — before I could even think about backing down — I was grabbing the cool silk and yanking it off.
And there it was.
I don’t know what I had expected — alarms to sound, red lights to start flashing, Nott to pop out from underneath the desk and scream ‘BUSTED!’ — but it definitely wasn’t what happened.
Which is to say: nothing.
The Sword remained inside its glass case, the rubies on the hilt still twinkling even through the two-inch thick glass, even in the murky light of the room.
Chewing on my lip, I reached out to graze the case with my fingers (which were still, thankfully, normal person-colored). Last month, I’d been holding the Sword inside while running for my life. And now here we both were, inside the castle, (relatively) safe and sound.
Seeing the Sword again — without the normal adrenaline rush surging through my body, without the prospect of impending death on my heels —made me feel... well, incredibly stupid. I’d expected some sort of life-changing moment to confront me — an epiphany, or maybe a deep and all-knowing voice chanting my destiny — but strangely enough, breaking and entering into your teacher's classroom to stare at a historical artifact doesn't do any of that. No. It just makes you feel like a huge nerd.
This Sword had caused a huge fuss, both inside Hogwarts and out. But at the end of the day, it was only a piece of metal. Right? Some precious gemstones here, a Gryffindor name there... When you got down to it, the Sword was just another scrap of the past. And last month, I’d been waving it around like a lunatic.
That night at the Ministry, the Sword had— for lack of a better word —chosen me. Not Potter. Not Aidan. Me.
I dropped my hand to my side, grimacing at the thought. Fuck it. I was done with this stupid mystical bullshit, with questioning every miniscule detail of what had happened that night. So the Sword chose me. According to legend, that meant I'd been deemed 'worthy' of its power. Big deal. The Sword had probably mistaken me for some ballsy Gryffindor at the time — which was a good bet, seeing as I'd had my red hair and red equals Weasley and Weasley equals Gryffindor. So there it was. A classic case of mistaken identity, followed by instant celebrity status for yours truly.
This whole fiasco was just another example of wrong place, wrong time. Or as I liked to call it: my entire life.
Frustrated and a little bit angry, I turned to leave. I'd had enough of the Sword and its mysterious sodding ways. Wondering to myself if it were safe to return to the dorm yet, I started to walk when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something.
A piece of paper on Nott’s desk. I wouldn’t have noticed it in any other classroom, but this was Nott we were talking about. He had a very progressive, unique style of teaching. And by progressive, I mean he sat at his desk all day and watched us do our reading homework and occasionally fell asleep. Nott never had notes or papers of any kind.
But this little white slip was just lying there. In plain sight.
So I picked it up, turned it over, and almost peed my pants when I saw what was on it.
Etched onto that scrap of paper was a tiny, faint grey drawing of two diamonds. Immediately, my mind flashed to a darkened hallway, torches flickering malevolently on the wall, the smallest glimpse of an ankle and the tattoo of a design of two, identical diamonds.
That night at the Ministry, one of the Death Eaters — Barnes, they’d called him — had a tattoo of two diamonds on his ankle. And now that exact same pattern was drawn onto a paper lying on my DADA teacher's desk.
My skin had erupted into goosebumps. I could vaguely hear a loud, drum-like thudding in the background, and I realized vaguely that it was my own heartbeat in my ears.
Mind whirring frantically, the paper crumpled in my tight fist, I tried to make sense of the situation. The symbol on Nott's paper was an exact replica of the tattoo on Barnes. That must mean the two were in cahoots, working with each other. Or — and this was more likely — Barnes was working for Nott.
Which meant Nott had been behind the Ministry attacks.
Suddenly, with timing so perfect it could have been planned, I felt my magic coin — the same one Dom had given all of us for Christmas —turn red-hot in my back pocket. I was so on edge that I jumped at the sudden sensation, letting out a little yelp of fear until I realized that the coin had nothing to do with Nott or the Ministry or Barnes. It was just somebody trying to contact me — most likely Fred checking in.
Cursing wildly, I fumbled for the coin, practically ripping my pocket off in the process. “Freddy, thank Merlin you called — “ I began, fully expecting a head of curly hair and a mischievous grin to be staring back at me. The words died in my mouth, however, when I saw scruff and gruff instead.
There was an older man on the other side. “Hello," he cautiously greeted, and thanks to my limited set of observational skills — which even Dora the Explorer would probably find lacking — it took me a long moment to react properly.
“Um,” I said, my voice sounding meek even to my own ears. The man had a sharp chin speckled with white stubble, a flat brow and wrinkles creasing his face. The combined effect gave him the distinct impression of being thoroughly unimpressed with life.
"Are you Agatha?" he demanded, somewhat impatiently.
My forehead scrunched upwards in a frown as I stared at the stranger in the glass. Today was really just full of surprises, wasn't it? And normally, I didn't mind surprises so long as they were of a particular kind— like the ‘male models jumping out a birthday cake’ kind. 'Unexpected call from strange man' kind? Not so much.
"Yes," I finally answered. "May I ask why you're calling?"
“We’re going to need you to come down here,” the stranger grunted, as if that was the most normal thing in the world to ask for, as if I even knew where 'here' was. “We have your brother.”
The first thought my pessimistic Slytherin brain immediately jumped to was that Aidan had been kidnapped by Eastern European sex traffickers, Taken-style, and now I would have to sell my kidney to get money for his ransom. But then I realized that a) I was being paranoid, b) the guy didn’t have a foreign accent and c) he was still waiting for me to respond.
“Er, yes, sorry?” I cleared my throat, peering closer into the coin. “I'm a little confused."
The man shot me a very flat look that told me he would rather be doing anything but this right now. “I’m a bartender at Club Incendio in Hogsmeade. Your brother is severely inebriated and being a menace to our patrons. He's been calling for you, and if you have any interest at all in him being at home instead of drunkenly wandering the streets, then you should probably drop by.”
And, sassy rant over, the bartender gave a curt nod, the line was cut and the mirror blinked into darkness.
Ten minutes and some heated haggling with The Fat Lady later, and I was standing outside the door to the Fifth Year Gryffindor Boys' Dormitory.
Two minutes and some very persistent knocking later, and I was face-to-face with a slightly irritated, sleepy-looking Potter.
“I'd say this isn’t a good time," Potter said dryly after he swung open the door. "But that would imply that there is ever a 'good time,' and we both know those don't happen whenever you're around." This charming welcome, plus the way Potter punctuated it by trying to slam the door in my face, immediately had me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
I quickly slipped my foot forward, wedging it between the door and the frame just before they could meet. This left only a fraction of Potter’s face visible — a very annoyed, very fed up fraction that did not look glad to see me.
“Well, aren’t you just a bowl of Happy-O’s today?" My voice was icy and commanding, my gaze narrowed threateningly. "Let me in, Potter."
Potter gave a very wry smile. “I would, but we just got everything cleaned and, well, who knows what kind of alien brain diseases you're bringing over from Planet Weirdo? Best not to risk letting you in and contaminating everything, yeah?”
“Whatever ‘alien brain diseases’ I’m infected with you’d have contracted a long time ago when you kissed me," I spat caustically, feeling the last of my patience completely disappear.
Potter quirked an eyebrow. "That explains why I'm still standing here and willingly talking to you — a sure sign of mental deterioration," he replied easily, obviously unfazed by my frankness. "See you around, Bennett."
I gritted my teeth in frustration, trying my best to stifle an eye-roll. Potter was being uncommonly rude today. Granted, I didn't expect him to be walking on eggshells around me ever after all that had happened — but still. He didn't have to act like a total jerk.
“I’m not leaving, Potter," I bit out forcefully, cocking a hip. Something inside me knew that I had to get him to open up the door. This was more than a stupid argument, more than a challenge — my pride was at stake here."I’ll wait out here all night if I have to.”
“Too bad you’re the most impatient person I know.” Potter’s returning smile was just as cold as my tone. “Goodbye, Bennett.”
He pushed on the door one final time, and that did the trick. My foot gave way, slipping from of the crack at the exact same time I blurted out: "It's Aidan." This was my last and only shot, and I was desperate. “He’s in trouble.”
Potter froze at my invocation of his best mate's name; I could practically hear all the gears in his brain clicking as they shifted into overdrive. “What?”
And there it was. The very reason why I had been subjecting myself to Potter’s slow and snarky deconstruction of my self-esteem in the first place. Aidan. The same reason for many of the stupid mistakes I made in life (if that’s what you want to call leading a Death Eater chase through the Ministry of Magic. But, you know, only if you were into labels and stuff).
Years of sneaking Aidan into our house after summer parties had helped me realize that my brother was a heavy one. Like, he might look all lean and light and perfect-Seeker’s-build on the outside, but that kid was hard as fuck to pick up. It was no fun carting him around, especially if you didn't have an actual cart to put him in, and instead had to make do with the weak and unathletic biceps that you only ever used during Gobblestone Club or when the telly remote was in a hard-to-get place.
If I was picking up my brother tonight and dragging (and yes, chances are it would be literal dragging) him all the way back to the castle, then I better have a partner.
Normally, I’d call Freddy for back-up, but I couldn't do that because of obvious reasons. Dom would be next on the list, but she’d only agree to come if she could bring a black permanent marker and a camera. The thought of asking Evelyn was enough to literally make me laugh out loud. And Ryan... Well, he was a possibility, but I knew he had Prefects’ duty tonight, and if he was ever going to see me all sweaty and out of breath, I’d prefer it to be in different situation not near my brother’s unconscious body.
So Potter was the logical choice. I didn’t mind it that much — his Quidditch muscles would come in handy — but it was annoying that I had to ask him for a favor while he was behaving so coldly. Especially after our conversation a couple days ago. I wouldn’t say that he had to be nice to me just because we'd just ended things, but couldn't he at least stay civil? It was all so unsettling.
Speaking of unsettling, Potter had fixed me with a searing, scrutinizing look, his toasted gold eyes staring unabashedly at me, his expression serious. There was a confused little crease between his eyebrows, and I was insane enough to, for a split-second, think that he actually looked cute like that.
And then I remembered what a prat he was.
Maybe Potter sensed that he’d caught me a little off-guard, because he didn’t try to start another argument. He just averted his eyes and swung the door open. Composing myself, I straightened my spine and marched into the surprisingly clean room.
“So Aidan’s at this club, probably unconscious, we’re going to need to fetch him, you might want to bring a sweater — " I was rambling, speaking in curt bullet points as I tried to get the memory of Potter’s stare, hot on my skin, out of my head. “And — oh. Um. Bra. That’s a bra.”
My voice died abruptly and I screeched to a halt at the sight of the floor — or specifically a lacy, female undergarment that was on the floor. I stared, dumbstruck, regarding it as if I’d never seen underwear before.
Potter, standing by the doorway, folded his arms and cocked an eyebrow, remaining conspicuously silent. My heartbeat started to spike.
I turned to him, eyes widened and blinking, not even bothering to come up with something witty to say. My brain slowly began to piece together the information, leaving me reduced to Tarzan-like observations — Bra. Potter. Girl. Potter. Girl who wasn’t me. Potter.
All the heat had trickled from my face down to my chest, and my palms were starting to get very sweaty. Suddenly, the words were spilling out my mouth before I could stop them. “Is it yours? The bra? I mean, I’m not asking if it actually belongs to you, as that'd be implying that you dress in drag, which I know you’re don't, I know you’re straight from, like, firsthand experience — ” Oh God. Cringe. “But does the bra belong to a girl who was with you, or just maybe in the area around you, or just — is it yours? Or is the girl yours? Or — “
“It’s not mine, Bennett,” Potter drawled, finally deciding to pull me out of the pool of word vomit I was currently drowning in. His voice was bored and lilting as always, but there was an itch of irritation in the frown line between his eyes. He looked thoroughly disgusted by the idea. “You can stop talking now.”
My mouth snapped shut.
There was heavy stretch of silence.
“Right,” I said finally, faintly, feeling the warmth start to return to my head. The bra must have been claimed by one of Potter’s man-whore roommates. “Of course. You wouldn’t do that. Duh. I was just — Stupid, I was being stupid. You wouldn’t do that. Anyway — ”
“You do know that,” Potter’s jaw was clenched. He seemed a bit pissed off, actually, that we were even on this topic of discussion. “That I wouldn’t do something like that. Right?”
“I mean, sure — "
“You don't sound sure."
“No, I — of course — "
“Because I wouldn’t.”
“Yeah, of course.”
"Not after everything that we've — "
“Bennett," Potter suddenly stepped forward, eyes bright and serious with agitation, his sudden urgency catching me off guard.
"You need to know," he said quietly. "That I wouldn't do that."
“Right," I squeaked, startled by Potter's intensity. How could he go from casually insulting me one moment, to looking at me like that the next?
The boy in question clamped his mouth shut and glanced away, exasperation playing on his features as he shoved a hand through his hair. There was another awkward silence.
Finally turning back towards me, Potter raised his eyebrows. “Aidan?” he prompted.
My heart was thudding so loud in my chest, it wouldn't surprise me if the whole castle could hear it. The molten amber in Potter’s eyes seemed to crackle as he watched me. “Oh! Right! Erm, see — I got this call from a bartender at a club in Hogsmeade, and it turns out Aidan’s over there and not doing so great. We have to pick him up.”
“We?” Potter said flatly.
I leveled him with my gaze. Now that I knew Potter wasn’t collecting rebound-chick underwear, I could actually look him in the eye again. “I need your help on this one. Please. I know you’re not talking to him for whatever reason — ”
“He’s not talking to me. Apparently I’ve been taking Dom’s side too much as of late,” Potter sliced in calmly, smoothly, almost apathetically. "You know how it is."
“Being related to crazy people? Yeah, I know all too well.” I sardonically pursed my lips at the thought. “Regardless, he needs our help. If I promise any and all interaction between you guys will be kept to a very drunk minimum, will you please come?” At this, I popped by bottom lip out and lowered my lashes in a practiced expression of vulnerability. It was a manipulative look that once made Freddy walk three city-blocks just to get me a fruit smoothie, and it was probably the sole reason I’d ever managed to land myself in Slytherin.
Potter managed to last all of four seconds until he finally caved. “Fine, fine,” he muttered and turned away, thoroughly disgruntled. Gryffindor instincts — The Look was practically a magnet for them. “Just stop staring at me like that.”
“Like what?” I asked innocently.
Potter simply shot me a withering glare and stalked over to his bed, grabbing a Quidditch hoodie off it before marching out the door without another word.
I followed, trying to stifle a triumphant grin.
Oh, this was going to be fun.
It took half an hour (and approximately five shouting matches over directions) for us to find Club Incendio.
The club was a seedy looking place, its only display a peeling black door with the establishment's name slashed across it in dripping magenta paint. No bouncer. No red rope. No cheery welcome mat. Potter and I looked at each other — I couldn’t tell whether the disdain on his face was for me or the establishment — and then he pushed open the door.
Inside, it was like candyland. With strippers.
Well, okay, they weren’t really strippers — just waitresses dressed in skimpy outfits, rushing from table to table and carrying bottles that fizzed and popped and shot out golden sparks. The place was truly surreal, though. Everything had been cast in a glow of violet lights, and deep, minimalist techno music pumped eerily in the background. There were stalactites of glistening crystal dripping down from the ceiling. The walls were glossy, the tables sleek. On the dance-floor, there was an unidentifiable mass of people grinding and dancing and jumping together. It was like a clubbing petri dish — except instead of bacteria, all this place seemed to breed were poor decisions and rampant alcoholism.
I hightailed it to the bar, a transparent purple stretch of glass, without really caring if Potter followed or not. Behind it was the same ruffled-looking man I had seen in my coin message, mixing a neon drink and giving the impression of being so bored with life, I kind of wanted to switch planets just looking at him.
“Um, excuse me — “ I began.
“What do you want?” The man snapped unpleasantly.
Caught off guard by his angry posterior, I opened my mouth to find that my voicebox had mysteriously taken a surprise vacation. “Um.”
Thankfully, this was where Potter decided to slice in. “We’re looking for your Resident Drunk Guy,” he drawled, jaw squared with determination. “Is Aidan Bennett here?”
The man gave us a withering look, as if we were somehow at fault for doing exactly what he'd requested and coming to his rescue. Without saying another word, he pointed to a tiny alcove that seemed to hold a cluster of VIP tables, hidden from view by one of those shady bead curtains you always see in creepy white vans and movies set in the 70s.
Potter glanced at me, one eyebrow smoothly raised, and I shrugged. “Let’s just get this over with, yeah?”
We started to make our way forwards, but before I could even take my second step, there was an ominous rustling coming from behind the bead curtain. I froze, my back stiffening. Years of watching reruns of Lost were enough to tell me that ominous rustling was never a good thing.
And then, like a bear coming out of the bush to attack unsuspecting hikers — albeit a very drunk bear — my brother burst into view.
His glazed eyes flicked over us with no glint of recognition, no narrowing of surprise, and that was all I needed to tell how shitfaced he was. My brother's hair was a toffee-colored mess, sticking up in the back in a strange, triangular point. His shirt had somehow been buttoned the wrong way so that one side was all scrunched up, and he had a lipstick stain printed blatantly on his shirt collar.
Oh, and he was wearing his pants around his neck like a cape.
“Oh dear,” I mumbled, eyes wide, at the exact same time Potter groaned, “Fucking hell.”
"HAVE NO FEAR — SUPER AIDAN IS HERE!” My brother bellowed, thrusting his fist into the air and successfully attracting the attention of everyone in the club. Oh god. This was the last thing I needed right now. A murderous DADA teacher, a non-ex-boyfriend who hated my guts, and now my brother the superzero. Wasn't this just the Holy Trinity of Suckage?
“Aidan," I began carefully, but it was a lost cause. Already, my brother was off —wheeling around and charging into the tangle of people on the dance floor, his pants flapping ridiculously behind him like some sort of deranged flag. The mass of people parted and then coalesced once more, swallowing him up in its dark clump. Something told me it would be a very long time until my brother would resurface again.
Looking thoroughly unamused, Potter flashed a glance at his watch. “So we have two options. Either we chase Captain NoPants around this club and waste about an hour of our lives, or we grab dinner and come back when he’s sufficiently passed out. Now, I forgot my kryptonite and butterfly net at home, so I like option two. But it's your call.”
I turned, surprised that Potter was actually leaving the decision up to me when he so obviously hated relinquishing control, especially in situations where I was involved. Not to mention the 'asking me to dinner' part — I almost wanted to roll my eyes at the novelty of it all. Leave it to Potter to ask me to dinner after we'd broken up.
I looked around, weighing my options. The bartender was still giving us the stink-eye, but he seemed too busy hating life to try and stop us from leaving.
Normally, having dinner with someone who hated my guts wasn’t something I’d consider a fun time. But given the situation — and the fact that Aidan had formed a circle on the dance floor and was now (clumsily) breakdancing in the middle — dinner didn’t sound so bad.
I cocked my head towards the door. “Let's go.”
Potter nodded, pulling his hood over his head, and without sparing a glance in my direction, started walking.
I had no choice but to follow, all the while trying breathing deeply and trying to diffuse the Major Agatha Bennett Freak Out currently ticking inside me like a time-bomb. I was about to have dinner with James Potter. Dinner. With James Potter. Dinner with food. Food that we weren’t going to throw at each other, like we normally would, but actually eat. Together.
Potter swung open the metal club door, and I tightened my jacket against the ensuing blast of frigid winter air. Dusk had slathered everything in a brilliant cobalt blue, and the snow on the ground glittered with scattered diamonds of light.
It was a beautiful winter's night. And I was about to go on an accidental dinner date with James Sirius Potter.
After a very silent walk in which I didn’t dare breathe a word, we found the only place in Hogsmeade open at this hour: a grungy-looking, run-down Chinese restaurant by the name of The Noodle Niffler.
It was empty inside, save for the glowing red lanterns swinging from the ceiling and a walking stereotype of a waitress — blonde, bored-looking, smacking bubblegum and glaring unpleasantly at anything that moved.
I slid into the crimson pleather booth and tried not to betray my nervousness as Potter — the complete opposite to all my high-strung energy — flopped down across from me, languidly stretching out his legs and shoving his hands into his hoodie pocket.
The waitress set down our menus, unenthusiastically rattled off the day’s specials, and then quickly left Potter and I to ourselves.
I sucked in a deep breath. It was just us now.
Potter was staring determinedly at his menu, jaw clenched, expression 'dark and brooding hero' with a tinge of ‘sullen preteen getting yelled at by his parents.’ Gingerly, I grabbed a menu for myself, robotically flicking through its laminated pages while sneaking glances at Potter.
How was it fair that Potter could pull off the bedhead look without even trying, while I had to live with a ball of frizz on my head? Mean people like him should not be allowed to have nice hair. Tousled without being too messy, a little wet from the snow and sticking up ever so slightly in the back — James Potter's nice hair was the reason I no longer believed in karma.
I shook that thought out of my head, eyes boring harder into the menu. You have to keep your cool, Agatha, I reprimanded myself. Don’t let the awkward silence get to you. If Potter wants to be all mysterious and quiet, fine, but you will not start a conversation and make your self-esteem his plaything, you will not you will not you will —
“So how’s it going?”
At my question, Potter’s golden eyes flicked up to meet mine, his eyebrows raised skeptically like he couldn’t believe I had possessed the nerve to say something in his presence. Slowly, almost systematically, he folded his menu shut, leaning back and crossing his arms. “Well, let’s see, Bennett — it’s a Friday night. I’m sitting in a crappy Chinese restaurant with no heater while my best friend is off frolicking in a strip club half-naked. Oh, and to top everything off, I’m with you. How do you think it's going?"
I clenched my jaw, staring hard into the grainy surface of the grimy table. For a moment there was silence, and I considered not responding and letting the prat win, just to be done with it all. But the thought was so repulsive that immediately my mouth was dropping open and words, caustic and hostile, were falling from my tongue.
"Oh right, like this is just a dream-come-fucking-true for me. There might be a million girls out there who’d die for dinner with you — "
“There are,” Potter smirked cockily.
“— but I’m not one of them. Don’t flatter yourself.”
There was another heated second of silence. I was breathing very heavily, my nostrils flared, looking all around like a dragon with a bad case of PMS. Potter remained unflappable — leveling me with a cool, apathetic stare that made my stomach clench.
“You can be a right prat, you know that?” I mumbled, anger deflating as something else — something like weariness — seemed to swell inside me. I glanced away, able to look anywhere but at the boy in front of me.
“You’ve mentioned,” Potter said, not in a mean way, but not particularly nicely either. He opened his menu again, but the feeling of his amber eyes lingered hot on my skin.
"Why?” I demanded. I knew I was pushing it, pushing him, but at this point I was too fed up to even care. It was time to throw caution to the wind. “Why can’t we just be civil to each other for one second?”
Potter’s jaw clenched — the only telltale sign that he had heard me as he stared, gaze unomving, at his menu. For a moment, I thought he was going to ignore me completely. And then:
“That's just how it has to be, Bennett," he said quietly. "It’s either this or nothing.”
There was something burning at the back of my throat. My fingers were curled tightly around the plastic of the menu, my left leg jiggling up and down with frustrated energy.
“Well.” My voice sounded meek even to my own ears. “Well, maybe I don't want this."
Potter finally flicked his eyes up to meet mine, smacking his menu shut with a resigned finality. There was just the tiniest hint of emotion — something besides vexation and anger and sardonic annoyance — simmering in his gaze.
"What do you want from me, Bennett?" he asked lowly, warily.
I leaned forward, intentions completely, one-hundred-percent sincere. “I'll tell you what I don't want, Potter. I don't want to fight like this." My voice was getting louder with urgency. My fingers mindlessly picked at the edge of the table, my eyes locked on to Potter's. I felt rooted to the spot — like I wouldn’t be able to move until I had finally proven my point, until I had finally made him see. “And I don't want nothing between us, either. Potter — "
It was official. I had the worst timing ever. Lips clamping shut, I looked up to see our waitress at our table, her hip popped out, a plate of spring rolls in her hand and her eyes currently in the process of thoroughly checking Potter out. Of course.
I wanted to scream. Really? Now? Could she not see I was in the midst of making an impassioned speech here?
Eyebrows flat with annoyance, I stared straight ahead as the waitress set down our complementary food, taking her own sweet time to lean across Potter all smooth and sultry-like. She was basically attacking his face with her chest.
"Let me know if you need anything else,” chirped Miss Victoria’s Secret Catalog to a rather amused-looking Potter. She giggled as she straightened, cocking her head. “Seriously. If there’s anything else…”
“Napkins!” I exclaimed, a little too loudly. The waitress turned to me, as if just realizing I was there, and I plastered on a fake smile that I was sure looked horribly strained. “We need napkins. Okay. Bye.”
Victoria’s Secret leveled me with a withering look before whirling around in a perfumed cyclone of shiny blonde hair.
Potter shot me an amused smirk that was a little too knowing for my taste. “Napkins, huh?"
I flushed. “I'm, um, a messy eater.”
Potter full-on grinned at this. “You don’t say.”
And that was it. That one smart-ass quip, that little sneering jab, had pushed me over the edge. I felt indignant embarrassment crash over me in a hot, nauseous wave. Here I was — trying to have a decent conversation, and Potter was laughing at me. Like I was some bloody source of entertainment. No. Enough was enough.
I felt my irritation bubble over into full on rage, my face getting hot and probably very, very red.
“You know what?" I spat out scathingly, my wounded humiliation only accenting my anger. "If you’re not going to take me seriously then forget it, Potter. Lets not waste our precious time."
Without thinking, I was clambering out of the booth (tripping only a little in the process) and training my eyes straight ahead as I stalked away with enough sass to make any angsty teen girl proud. I kept my gaze steady, knowing that if I looked back I would waver.
Potter took about two seconds to register his surprise before he was climbing out the booth after me. “Bennett — Bennett, wait — Jesus Christ, learn to take a joke — " Cursing, he slammed some money on the table and was marching after me, hot on my heels.
I shoved the door open with my shoulder and burst out into the fresh snowy night. The wind was bitter, raking against my skin, but I didn’t mind it as I trudged through the narrow cobblestone street. The cold shook me awake.
“Bennett.“ Potter was right behind me now. “Slow down a second — “
“Fuck off. Just fuck off."
"Calm down, Bennett, I wasn't laughing at you."
"You were, but forget it. I don't care and I'm not going to argue. Go back inside, Potter. Our waitress is waiting for you."
"Is that it? You're jealous?"
"I am not jealous!"
“Then what's your bloody problem, Bennett? You can’t just storm out of a restaurant like that — "
“I don't need this right now, Potter, so shut up!” I yelled, suddenly wheeling around, eyes blazing with anger. Potter halted in his tracks, looking momentarily stunned at my outburst, face turning blank with curiosity.
“You probably haven't noticed," I stepped forward, voice lowered into a seething whisper. "And probably don't care, but my life is in the shitter right now. None of my friends are speaking to each other, I have a professor who wants to kill me, and my brother is at a club handing out free lap-dances as we speak. The last thing I need is for you to be playing tug-of-war with my bloody feelings, understood?"
Potter took a step back as he shoved a hand through his hair, looking neither chastened nor affronted, just thoughtful. Standing there in the snow in his Quidditch hoodie, all broad shoulders and bright eyes — he looked so boyish.
I swallowed, gaze darting away.
“You should just go back to Hogwarts," I muttered caustically, scuffing the snowy stone with my shoe. "I can take care of Aidan myself. Never should have asked you in the first place. I'm sorry to be such a bother."
Potter shoved his hands into his pockets and squinted at me in the moonlight. Faintly, almost detachedly, I realized how much of a sorry sight we must seem to any bystander — two figures in the snow with rigid postures not touching, miles of distance and misunderstanding between them.
“First you want help," Potter began calmly, though there was a certain tightness in his tone. "Then you want to be civil, and now you’re storming off. I don’t get you, Bennett.”
“There’s nothing to get!” I burst, my own voice edged with hysteria. “Why are you even complaining? Isn't being left alone what you wanted? Well you're getting it now, so just sod off already!”
“Fine! Whatever!” Potter threw his hands into the air, his exasperation finally getting the better of him. “You’re a bloody psycho, Bennett, you know that?”
“You’ve mentioned,” I threw back with a bitter smile. “See you around, Potter.”
And with that, I turned around. I went one way, and Potter, I guess, went the other.
How could I ever think we would work? I mused, as I angrily trudged through the snow. We could barely go on a non-date without everything dissolving into an explosion of emotion and angst, let alone a real once. I had to face it: we'd been doomed from the beginning.
I spent the walk to Incendio coming up with all the ways Potter sucked in a raving inner monologue, paying little attention to my surroundings as I marched angrily through the snow. I had to admit — once or twice, I did think Potter might follow me back to the club to apologize — but the fact that he didn’t presented no issue to me at all. Nope. Not in the slightest.
By the time I reached Incendio, I was worked up to the point where my hands were curled into fists. I shoved open the door with more force than necessary and stalked over to the bartender — this whole thing felt like sodding déjà vu — who pointed me in the direction of a barstool in the corner, where Aidan was slumped and, as Potter correctly prophesized, passed the fuck out.
I sighed. This was going to be a long haul.
I marched over to my unconscious brother (the kid was drooling on himself, for Merlin's sake), and groaned. His hair was a rumpled mess, his shirt crinkled. Tentatively, I plucked up his arm and placed it around my shoulders. After a second of mental preparation in which I envisioned all the hot cocoa awaiting me in the Hogwarts Kitchens as a reward, I lifted him up —
— and promptly fell backwards.
My brother was simply too heavy. I went crashing into the wall behind me, trying to steady myself as Aidan started tilting dangerously forward, his head lolling to the side. Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. Shit, my brother weighed a ton. This was going to be difficult.
Scrambling, I grasped at the first thing I could find — my brother’s t-shirt — and used it as leverage to pull both myself and him up. This resulted in the momentum shifting the complete opposite way, however, and Aidan falling on top of me. My vision was immediately obscured by darkness. Fuck. Having 70 kilos of drunk boy crushing your sternum was never ideal.
Bloody hell — I could barely breathe with Aidan's weight on top of me. I was just about to call it quits and slump to the ground when, out of nowhere, blinding light flashed into my vision as the weight on top of me lessened.
I looked up to see Potter, expressionless, holding Aidan by the shirtcollar with unfair ease.
I was dumbstruck, caught off guard as I watched Potter swing Aidan’s arm around his shoulder and haul him to a (kind of) stand. The prat must have caved and, instead of trekking back up to the castle, decided to turn around and help me out; even after I'd basically just told him off, he'd still felt the need to come back. The boy was a Gryffindor through and through.
Cheeks flushing, I opened my mouth to protest, to tell Potter he didn’t have to be here — but he just fixed me with a steadfast look. “Shut up,” he said matter-of-factly. "Just shut up."
So I did.
Blinking, I straightened, dusted myself off, and slung Aidan’s other arm around my shoulders. I couldn’t help but stare at Potter — he was looking at the ground ahead of him and stewing in surly contemplation, completely oblivious to my curious gaze. Briefly, I wondered what he was thinking. What he had been thinking when he’d turned back around and decided to come and help.
“Let’s go.” Potter grumbled grudgingly, and with that we trudged forward, out of the club, into the night, and back towards Hogwarts.
The walk to the castle was totally silent, no sound except for the crush of snow under our shoes. By the time we reached Hogwarts, my arms were burning in exhaustion. Aidan was bloody hard to carry, even with Potter’s Quidditch muscles picking up most of the slack.
We stealthily dragged my brother up the several flights of stairs to the Gryffindor Tower, me all the while clenching my teeth against the barrage of complaints crowding my mouth. Why couldn’t my brother have been sorted into a House with nice low-level dorms like Hufflepuff? Sod it all.
When we’d finally passed through the Gryffindor portrait hole and finished the hike up the boys' staircase, I was just about ready to pass out from weariness. Potter’s dorm was basically empty — the rest of his roommates were either out or asleep with their canopies drawn, though I couldn't help but notice Fred’s bed looked conspicuoulsy bare.
Silently, we navigated our way through the clusters of furniture and into the bathroom. We both knew the drill — our movements were precise and automatic as we worked together in perfect sync. I let go of Aidan to flick on the lights and the faucet, and Potter lugged him the rest of the way to the sink. Aidan’s body was completely limp, his eyes fluttering erratically. It seemed like consciousness was finally descending upon him, though I wasn’t sure whether or not that was a good thing.
“Mum?” Aidan muttered dazedly. “Is that you?”
Potter sighed. “Sorry, mate.” And with that, he unceremoniously dunked my brother’s head into the icy cold water sloshing inside the sink basin.
I flinched. That looked unpleasant.
Just as fast as he shoved him in, Potter yanked Aidan out. My brother was sputtering, coughing, obviously not enjoying this little bout of drunk waterboarding we were subjecting him to.
“What the flipping hell?”
"Good morning, sunshine!” I chirped brightly, jerking a towel off its rack and making my way to Aidan. I stood by Potter and handed my brother the towel. “Did you have a nice nap?”
“Where am I?” Aidan furrowed his eyebrows, blue eyes foggy with confusion.
“It’s the year 2090," Potter deadpanned, completely straight-faced. "The rebel aliens have taken over. We’re the last remaining humans on earth.”
My lips, against my own will, twitched in amusement.
“You were drunk and still are, it looks like,” I explained gently. “We just took you home.”
Aidan groaned, bending down to rest his head on the edge of the marble counter. “You guys didn't have to do that."
"Well, we did,” I said.
“And you’re welcome,” Potter added.
Aidan peeked open one eye. “Such a cute little tag team, you two are. It’s sickening.”
I flashed a pained smile. Next to me, Potter coughed uncomfortably and averted his gaze.
“That’s enough out of you, brother," I chirped brightly, hands clapping together. "Beddy time!”
I grabbed Aidan by the arm, hauling him to a wobbly strand with a little bit of difficulty and a lot of groaning from him. Potter made to follow, but I shook my head and, surprisingly, he fell back obligingly. I’d done this part enough times to know I could handle Aidan by myself. As long as he was capable of moving his own legs, I’d be fine.
Together, my brother and I shuffled into the darkness of his dormitory, weaving our way towards his bed in the corner.
My gaze fell on his bedside table, where there leaned a familiar picture of Aidan and I from way back in First Year, right before we’d boarded the Hogwarts Express. Toothy smiles and knobby knees. Oh, how things had changed.
Aidan didn’t even bother with the covers. He just collapsed onto the bed completely exhausted. I could tell he was already submerged in that strange, murky strata between sleep and lucidity. Trying to reason with him now and lecture him on tonight's choices would be pointless. Sighing, I tugged the covers out from under him and, after taking off his sneakers, covered him with the blankets.
I was just about to turn to go when a hand grabbed my arm.
“Aggy,” Aidan croaked blearily.
I stifled a sigh, casting a longing look at the open dorm door — so close, yet so far away. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to deal with this. I know I'm a fuck-up. I promise I'm trying to fix it. I swear..." His voice trailed off into a weak croak, leaving me feeling vaguely ashamed for being so angry with him seconds ago.
“It’s okay, Aidan," I murmured quietly. "You don’t have to apologize."
Aidan shook his head fervently, as if the matter still wasn't laid to rest, and his grip on my arm tightened. “Aggy," he said. "You have to know that James…”
My heart skipped a beat. Quickly, I checked behind my shoulder to see if the bloke in question was anywhere to be found, but there was no sign of him. He must have been in the bathroom, cleaning up the mini-tsunami Aidan had caused and too far away to hear.
“James is a great guy.” Aidan yawned, rolling over on his side, voice clogged with sleep. “Y-you guys would b-be good for each other."
“Okay," was all I could say.
“I know I was weird about it before,” Aidan muttered, voice trailing into silence. “But I approve. I give you my blessing.”
“All I ever wanted,” I murmured dryly, but on the inside my stomach was clenched in a very peculiar way.
“Yeah." And then my brother was asleep, cheek squished against the pillow, sprawled across the bed in typical Aidan manner. Sighing, I smoothed down his hair and turned to leave, trying in vain to push his words out of my head.
Me? And James? Was my brother serious? He of all people should know that Potter and I were a recipe for disaster. If anything, this night had proved exactly that.
Sighing, I weaved my way through the beds and out the open dorm door, chewing anxiously on my bottom lip all the while. I didn’t want to say goodnight to Potter, knowing that seeing his face again would make the situation all that much harder.
I took extra time as I carefully descended the staircase, knowing that an episode of Agatha Bennett Clumsiness would not be very convenient right now. I had a lot on my mind that I needed to piece together, and groping through the dark wasn't great for my concentration, but somehow I managed.
I was on the fourth or so step when my getaway was thwarted.
I jumped at the voice, which could belong to only one person, and whipped around as my heart kicked into overdrive. There was Potter standing at the top of the staircase, half his face outlined in silver from the moonlight through the window.
Ugh, it was so unfair. On him, it was 'romantic lighting.' On me, that would look like a bad case of the flu.
“Potter,” I said as lightly and innocently as possible. “Fancy seeing you here.”
Hands in his pockets, Potter casually ambled down the couple of steps until we were on the same one. It was too close for comfort, and I inched backwards a little so that I was leaning against the wall, my body stretched as far away from his.
"What’s up?” My voice sounded horribly fake with cheer.
Potter, thankfully, didn’t seem to notice my apparent discomfort. He looked like he was considering more pressing issues at hand, his eyes serious and vivid in the moonlight.
“Tomorrow we need to have a talk with Aidan. And Dom, for that matter. They’re destroying themselves and it’s got to end.” And there was that tone — slightly authoritative but with an edge — that made Potter such a natural leader, that made people so trusting of him and his ideas. Even I felt drawn to it, found myself getting pulled in.
But then I closed my eyes, shaking my head in grim dissent. “Sorry, I can’t,” I bit out, shrugging my shoulders and studying the stone ground under our feet. “I’m not going to be here tomorrow.”
It was one of those things that you don't even know yourself until you say it out loud. But once the words left my mouth, I was convinced.
Over the past couple days — nay, weeks — my life had deteriorated into muddled chaos, uncertainties swimming through the air like floating parasites. But if I knew one thing to be true, it was that I had to get out of this castle. Now that it had been established Professor Nott was after me, I couldn't afford the distractions Potter or my brother or anyone else presented while I was trying to figure out just what, exactly, Nott wanted from me.
Tonight — in which there had been plenty distractions — had made me realize that. It was time to leave. Time to find some answers.
Potter, understandably, had not seemed to catch on quiet yet. There was a skip of silence as he regarded me flatly, blankly, and then bit out: “What?”
His eyebrows were crinkled together, and he looked so disbelieving that even I almost started to think what I had just said was too far-fetched.
“I’m not going to be here tomorrow,” I said slowly, conviction steadfast. "Because I’ll be leaving.”
Potter took an impulsive step forward and I immediately stiffened, sucking in a sharp inhale. He must have noticed this — how easily he’d put me on edge — because he fell back, looking (if I wasn’t mistaken) almost a little chagrined.
His features were sketched in silver, his hair dipped in moonlight. The combined effect made his dark gaze all the more disconcerting. “What do you mean leaving, Bennett?"
I was silent.
“Bennett,” Potter began slowly, and I could almost see him piece everything together. The boy could always read me like a book, after all. “What you said earlier, about a Professor being out there and trying to kill you … That wasn’t just an exaggeration, was it?”
I ripped my gaze to the boy in front of me. He was scanning my face, expression calculating and urgent.
Painstakingly, I reached into my pocket and took out the crumpled piece of paper — the paper that had been in the back of my mind this whole night, that had slyly convinced me into making this decision. The paper from Nott's classroom.
I grabbed Potter’s wrist — knowing that by doing so I was violating some unspoken boundary between us — and placed the scrap in his palm.
My fingers brushing against his sent bolts of electricity zinging down my arm. Potter glanced at the note, saw the two diamonds etched on it. When he looked back at me, his eyes were bright and dangerous.
“Professor Nott,” I whispered by way of explanation.
“Bennett,” Potter said. And then again, but forcefully this time: “Bennett.”
I knew where this was heading: he was going to try and stop me. His Gryffindor instincts demanded it of him, made it inevitable.
But Potter wouldn't be able to convince me, not this time. I was unshakeable. “I’m sorry, I have to go —"
“You can't," Potter bit out. His voice was calm and even on the surface, but there was an edge of urgency underneath. His jaw clenched as he crumpled up the paper, letting it fall to the floor.
“You’re not going to stop me — " I began.
“Yeah I am, actually. Do you not realize how dangerous it is out there for you?" Our sentences were overlapping, building with intensity. "The Death Eaters are still on the loose. They could find you or — or — "
“That doesn't matter, Potter. I have to go."
"No, absolutely not — "
“I can’t just sit around like this! I’m finding answers. I’m leaving.”
"You can't go."
“I have to."
“Bennett." And all of a sudden Potter was closing the gap between us, grabbing my face in his hands, his forehead coming down to touch mine. His grip was fierce and insistent as he pushed forward, pressing me into the wall until all I could see was hazel and ink and hard determination. “You're not going."
“Potter,” I murmured, feeling my brain go foggy from his presence. I knew what we were talking about was important and that I had to stay strong, but it was so hard to focus when Potter was there in front of me, the world quiet and blurry and his mouth inches from mine.
I glanced into his eyes, finding within them familiar obstinacy and a bright glint of something else, something not so familiar. For a moment, I couldn't recognize what it was.
And then, stomach dropping, I realized.
It was fear. James Potter — who I had never seen afraid before — feared for me, for my life, for my future. And it was making him act completely, uncharacteristically irrational.
"You can't leave, Bennett," he said quietly. His voice was taut with anxiety as he pressed his forehead harder against mine. "It's not safe."
I blinked, unable to process the last couple seconds of our conversation. “What are you doing, Potter?” I breathed, but the damage was done. He was already leaning forward, and I was already a goner.
“You're — not — leaving," Potter mumbled against my lips, one of his hands twisting a chunk of my hair from my face. The other slipped forward to grab onto the back of my neck, and then he was kissing me. Kissing me hard, with a kind of fierce desperation that I'd never felt before.
I let my eyes flutter shut, let myself melt into the kiss. Potter’s mouth was warm and soft and surprisingly gentle on mine. His hand slipped from my hair to grasp my chin, pulling me closer, and I knotted my fingers behind his neck. He smelled like laundry and soap and boy. It had my mind spinning deliriously, my chest pounding dully with a strong, sweet ache.
And then, all of a sudden, I was shoving Potter away.
“Stop,“ I gasped. Potter stumbled backwards, surprise flitting across his features, seeming to snap out of this heady daze we'd both been submerged in. “Stop stop stop.”
We were breathing raggedly. My heart was revolting against my chest. The situation had sarpened into harsh clarity before me.
“Why —" I began, my voice cracking. Now, with my eyes wide open, with my body feeling strangely cold from Potter's sudden absence, I felt incredibly weak. Vulnerable. Taken as a fool. “Why would you do that? Why would you kiss me?"
Potter seemed to be realizing he'd done something wrong. For once, the emotions were clear on his face as he processed what had just happened, the full magnitude of the mistake he had just made. “Bennett," he began, looking horribly guilty.
“No.” I cut him off. Shaking my head, I averted my eyes to the ground, my brow furrowed. “You — you broke up with me. And then you kissed me. That’s not cool. That’s super not cool.”
Potter clenched his jaw, eyes fluttering shut for a brief moment. “I’m sorry, Bennett," he said, voice quiet and restrained. "I didn’t mean to — "
“What are you doing, Potter?” I suddenly blurted out rather loudly. “Like, what the fuck are you doing? Because I honestly can’t tell. One moment you’re hot, the next you’re fucking freezing, and I — I can’t make sense of it, Potter! I'm sick of you dangling me along!"
“I’m sorry — I shouldn't have kissed you, I slipped up — " he began vehemently, shoving a hand through tousled black hair.
I shook my head adamantly. “No. You know what? I’m tired of being a slip-up — a mistake. I'm better than that. So either treat me like I deserve to be treated, or leave me alone.” I swiped at my face, discovering the salty dampness of tears, and Potter's face flickered. “I’m done.”
“Bennett, I’m sorry. Agatha — " He reached out, grazing my shoulder, but I brushed right past him and down the staircase. I couldn’t handle this — whatever it was — right now. I had other things at hand, other, more pressing things.
There was an overwhelming conviction inside me, telling me that it was time to go. I didn’t know where. I didn’t know how. All I knew was that I couldn’t stay at Hogwarts any longer. I’d done all I could at this place.
It was time to move on.
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