Chapter 42 : Snap
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My name is Agatha Bennett.
And until now, I’ve been the posterchild for the Angsty Teenaged Girl stereotype.
Which is, it turns out, not that hard of a job. Being an angsty teenaged girl, I mean. There are a couple skills you have to refine—door-slamming, public crying, Ben & Jerry’s speed-eating—but once you have those down, you’re good to go. Congrats, you have officially joined the club—here’s your complementary T-Shirt and box of tissues. Welcome to life. It’s a bitch, and now, so are you.
I’m used to it—experiencing disappointment, being a disappointment… It’s all part of the job.
However, it was time I started taking control of my life. Time I acted like the vertebrate I was and made actual use out of my backbone. And with everything that was happening in my cluttered life, between murderous DADA professor and expulsion-happy headmistress, I’d kind of stopped having room for angst.
It was time I found some answers.
And where does one go for answers, you may ask?
Well, it’s more obvious than you’d think.
You look to the past.
Nott’s classroom was just how I left it: dark, dusty, and so eerie you could feel the creepiness like a breath on the back of your neck.
The display case, covered by its usual black silk, was stashed inconspicuously in the corner—but it might as well have had neon signs and a line of burlesque dancers can-caning in front of it. The minute I walked into the room, I was immediately aware of its whereabouts—always in the corner of my vision, its presence a tingle on my skin.
It was the reason I came back, after all. For some reason, I had this feeling that seeing the sword one last time would help—maybe it’d dredge up some forgotten memory, point me in the right direction…
I realized that willingly entering the classroom/possible evil lair of the man who wanted to kill me wasn’t top of the list of smartest things I’d ever done, but I couldn’t resist. There was this instinct pulsing inside me, telling me this had to be finished.
In movies and TV, there’s usually a build-up when things like this are involved… A slow motion montage with suspenseful music mounting and mounting in the background, a dramatic close-up of the heroine’s face as she reaches out to whisk off the cover…
But—as evidenced by my sloppy lovelife and horrible timing—reality is clearly not like the movies.
So I just walked over and plucked the cover off. Simple as that. Easy, breezy, Cover Girl.
However, just because life isn’t like the movies, that doesn’t mean it still can’t scare the living craparoni out of you once in a while. Because where I had expected to see a glistening, centuries-old sword... I found nothing.
Nada. Zip. Zilch. Just molecules of air, the occasional speck of dust, and my horrified reflection staring back at me in the glass, telling me there was something very, very wrong.
The sword was gone.
Which seemed to suggest that either, a) I was on very strong hallucinogens and had imagined everything up to this point, or b) someone had taken it.
Which seemed to suggest that either a) I was screwed, or b) I was screwed.
My stomach dropped with dread. In spite of the shock of it all, everything was becoming very clear to me—sharpening and hardening with a crystal-clear realization. I actually felt stupid for not seeing this coming. It was such a predictable turn of events. It was so predictable, in fact, it wasn’t so much a turn as a kind of half-hearted curve of events.
I was mad at myself for not thinking of this—I should have known, should have been more prepared. The signs were all there: Nott's office was empty. His desk completely stripped clean, dust hugging the chair.
It could only mean one thing. He had made a break for it.
I don't know when, I don't know how, but Nott had left Hogwarts. Snuck off into the murk of the night, escaped to Merlin-knows-where.
Nott was gone.
And with him, the sword.
You know that Uh Oh Moment when you see a spider in your room, so you leave to find something to kill it with, but then when you come back it's not there anymore?
Yeah, that's kind of like this situation. Except instead of a spider, it's a fifty year old man who is twice my size and extremely skilled in the Dark Arts.
Nott had disappeared. Fucking disappeared. Now I had no way of knowing where he was, what he was doing, what he was planning... Just like that spider, he could be either miles away or right behind my shoulder, and I'd never know.
I'd been perfectly fine living in the same school as Nott. After all, there's kind of a safety in knowing where your enemy is at all times. It's a little hard to be scared of a guy when you see him eating breakfast every morning with scrambled egg dangling off his chin.
What I'm not okay with, on the other hand, is my killer disappearing into the darkness, without a trace and never to be seen again, in the middle of the goddamn night. I mean, come on. He’s a freaking DADA professor. Is this really necessary? It’s already a pretty uneven fight without him adding the whole "element of surprise" shtick.
If you think about it, it's actually kind of inconsiderate of him to ditch me like this. It's like being stood up on a very weird, murder-y date.
Even my killer doesn't want to hang out with me. Go figure.
This was truly not ideal. I mean, Nott could be anywhere right now. Biding his time, gathering his strength, watching my every move (shudder). And here I was, prancing about like a moron, a sitting duck in what was supposed to be the safest school in history.
Safest school my arse. This place had a giant snake in its basement—sorry if I’m not exactly lulled into a sense of comfort here.
Well, that just sealed the deal. I couldn't stay. I couldn't wait around for Nott to get bored of this cat-and-mouse game and decide to turn it into a cat-and-can-of-cat-food game. I had wanted answers and now, I had one. It was time I did something.
The sword had disappeared.
Nott had disappeared.
Now, it was my turn.
I know the way to my dad’s house like the back of my hand. And by that, I mean I don’t know it well at all because, come on, who likes staring at the back of hands all day? That saying must have been created by someone with a very dull social life. Either that or a really weird fetish that I’d rather not think about at the moment.
So, that being said, it was no surprise that it took me two rides on the Knight Bus, five different maps, and the help of three very kind courteous hobo’s to find 1118 Crescent Drive, the home of a Mr. and Mrs. Adam Bennett.
Surprisingly, getting out of Hogwarts was the easy part. You’d think security would be tighter what with all the, you know, young schoolchildren inside, but nope. I simply just walked down the Entrance Hall steps and out the front door. Deuces, Hogwarts.
The next step was easy as well. Once I reached Hogsmeade, all I had to do was hold out my wand and in two minutes, the Knight Bus—or as I like to call it, Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell: The Mobile Edition—was screeching to a halt in front of me.
The ride itself, however, was a different story.
First off, the patrons of the Knight Bus aren’t exactly a classy crowd. Picture a Venn Diagram, if you will, with one circle labeled ‘Friendly Neighborhood Sex Offender’ and the other ‘Facial Hair’—the overlap, the people who fall into both categories…That’s the Knight Bus.
Another problem was that I had honest-to-god no idea where I was going. All I had was an address. 1118 Crescent Drive—and even that I was iffy about. Was it drive or avenue? Was there only one eight or two? Finding Nemo did a better job of drilling an address into me than my own father. Snaps for parenting.
After the two most uncomfortable hours of my life (I mean, the man next to me was reading a book called, Calming the Rage: A Guide to Managing Your Severe Anger Problems—come on), I finally ended up getting off at Sundale Parks Neighborhood. A rainbow of green lawns, white smiles, and orange skin. From there, I found the house in five minutes.
Even if I had been unsure about it before, I just had to take one glance at the house and I knew for certain. There was a cutesy mailbox with robins sitting on the top. Lace curtains in the window. A pastel welcome mat. Debbie seemed to have designed the house with a theme in mind: Frills and Fuss—Or the Sad Story of the Demise of Adam Bennett’s Masculinity. A monstrosity of girliness, all the house needed was a sign at the front saying, “Welcome, please come in! Man-cards will be confiscated at the door!”
Shoulders hunched from the cold, I trudged up the winding path to the frontstep. Now came the hardest part.
I grabbed the ornate brass knocker. Hesitated. Realized that I literally had nowhere to go except back to the Knight Bus and its jolly band of parole violators.
It took a moment for him to answer. For a second I thought maybe they weren’t even home—maybe Debbie and Adam and the kids were at the grocery store, maybe they were in fucking Florida on vacation and this whole ‘teenaged runaway’ thing was for nothing…But then I heard it. The sound of footsteps.
Before I could ready myself, the door was swinging open and I was coming face to face with a very tired, very annoyed-looking man.
He had Aidan’s eyes and height, but my demeanor. The skeptical eyebrows, the flat, unimpressed mouth. Except on me, the look actually worked because I could rock the whole sassy schoolgirl thing. On him, the overall appearance came off a little ‘irritated immigration officer having a bad day.’
Dad and I had always been alike. I used to clash with my mum, trying to meet her airy spirit with my grounded one, but never with him. No, we were two peas in a very cynical pod. Aidan—capricious, emotional Aidan—would rage against our father, hurl words, throw fists. Not me, though. Our relationship was too complicated for that.
I had spent the bus ride rehearsing what I was going to say, how I would explain the situation. But meeting my eyes with his—with Aidan’s eyes, really—my brain was suddenly squeegeed clean.
The first thing Adam Bennett said upon finding his daughter on his doorstep was, “Hey, you dyed your hair. I mean, uh, you did dye it, right? It’s brown now. And it used to be red. So. Yeah. Wow. It looks good.”
I gave a weak smile. It was all suddenly too much—Nott being after me, the missing sword, the homeless man who had tried to sniff my hair on the Knight Bus—I just couldn’t take it anymore.
“Hey, dad,” I said.
And then, standing out in the open, in the cold, on the doorstep of the most beautiful street I’d probably ever been on, I promptly burst into tears.
Angsty Teenage Girls Club, this one’s for you.
Five minutes later and I was sitting at my dad’s kitchen table, sniffling over a hastily-brewed cup of tea. My dad was leaning against the counter, mentally-prepping himself for the latest Bennett Inquisition that was about to occur.
He had his Ministry posture going on—arms folded, scowl locked in and cranked up to Grinch level. It was intimidating, to say the least.
I didn’t know if I wanted his questions. On one hand, the idea of just coming clean with everything—Nott, the paper, the missing sword—was so tempting. I could just unload all my problems on my dad, let him find a solution—after all, wasn’t that why parents were invented?
At the same time, I knew that if I told the truth, it’d be game over. For my “safety,” Dad would ship me off to either Hogwarts or, god forbid, Beauxbatons—something him and Debbie have been threatening to do over the past years. The Aurors would have to be called in. More questioning. More bureaucracy. And the cycle would go on, all for the trouble of one stupid girl who kept landing herself in the papers.
I know this sounded crazy, but if I wanted this Sword business over, I couldn’t go through the Ministry. They were too busy to care about a teenage girl and a fluke at a Christmas Ball. They would listen to what I had to say, nodding sympathetically and doing that ‘mmhmm’ thing with their mouths that adults like to do, but they wouldn’t remember a thing.
Which left only one other option: myself. And keeping my fat mouth shut.
“So… “ My dad began awkwardly, clearing his throat. “An explanation would be… helpful.”
I sniffled, knowing that my face was probably bright red and very, very puffy at the moment. “Yeah.”
There was a silence. My dad leaned forward, rubbing his stubble with his hand in a motion straight out of my childhood. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with you single-handedly bringing the Ministry down last month, would it?”
Yes. “No.” I shook my head at just the right speed—not too adamant so that it’d be obvious I was lying, but not slow enough to show a gap in confidence.
I might not be the most Slytherin-esque, but I could lie well. And if I knew the person, I could lie better. “It’s not that, Daddy. I swear. It’s something else… I just don’t want to say.”
There was a pause.
“You’re not pregnant, are you?”
I couldn’t help it. That one actually took me by surprise. “What?! No, of course not—I—Jesus Christ, Dad—“
“Okay, okay, just checking,” he responded mildly, holding his hands up in surrender. “I mean, not going to lie, Agatha. Your mother and I have considered the possibility of a—ahem—“surprise baby” situation before. But we’d just always thought Aidan would be the one in trouble, not you.”
Dear God, I had the most unorthodox parents in the world. “I can’t believe you guys actually think about that stuff!” I cried, affronted. “What, instead of a College Fund, does Aidan have an Emergency Child Support fund? Do you guys take bets on which one of us gets arrested as well?”
My dad was oddly silent, face contorted into a guilty expression.
“What?! You shouldn’t be mad, poppet! I bet on Aidan!”
I scoffed, astonished. This was unbelievable. Like I could ever be a Teen Mom—that would require a boy to actually have romantic interest in me first.
You know it’s a sad day when your dad is more confident in your sex appeal than you are.
“So what’s the problem?” Dad prompted in an obvious attempt at subject change. “Do you need money? Is that it?”
I sniffled again, going from offended shock to pathetic vulnerability in record time. I had this lie down ever since I’d boarded the Knight Bus, and it was time to deliver—but not before I broke out the ol’ pout-and-puppy-dog-eyes. The look was fool-proof—I mean, it’d even been tested on Potter.
“It’s my friend Fred, Daddy. He was expelled earlier this month for something that totally wasn’t his fault and it’s, like, soooo unfair. I just wanted to know if there was anything that could be done to help him and, you know, try to circumvent the policy behind his punishment.”
Usually when I talk to my dad, I try to sound like a typical gum-popping, ingests-nothing-but-salad-and-hairspray-fumes cheerleader. For some reason, it helps. I’ve learned that adults are more likely to assist you if it seems like you’re not as smart as them. Don’t threaten their intelligence, don’t threaten their authority.
“Circumvent the policy” was a bit of a slip-up, however.
“You should see our principal, Dad. She’s on a power rush. She’s despotic and obdurate—and, um, a total meanie weanie. Yeah.”
My dad stared at me, quite obviously lost by his daughter flip-flopping in vocabulary between 'college professor' and 'episode of SpongeBob.'
I gave what was supposed to be a very serious look. “A. Total. Meanie. Weanie.”
After a moment of more blank staring, Dad finally sighed—a sound I did not like at all. “The Ministry has no jurisdiction over a Hogwarts principal’s rulings, Agatha, you know that. There’s nothing I can do in terms of policy change.”
I deflated, disappointed.
“But—“ He began, and I perked up. “I suppose you might be able to access some old files on the school at the Ministry. Maybe you can dig up a loophole or referendum to whatever policy got him expelled.”
Yes—a step in the right direction! And this was precisely why I’d chosen to go to my dad’s house. Well, it was actually a combination of not having anywhere else to go (Mum would have shipped me straight back to Hogwarts), the convenience of my dad having no fucking clue about the going-ons in my life, and the easy access to Super Secret Special Ministry files. I could dig up some dirt on Nott, maybe form a plan from there… It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
“Brilliant, dad. Sounds great. Who has the files?”
At this, my dad gave a very small, funny smile. “Debbie. You can ask her about it when she comes home for supper.”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“But Debbie, you don’t understand—“
“No. Uh-uh.” Debbie gave a shake of her ridiculous blonde up do, pursing her giant lips. Seriously. That woman used so much lip plumper, her mouth could serve as a flotation device in times of emergency. “Those files are—are—confidential, and we can’t have a minor snooping through them.”
“Oh, yes, because I’m sure the history of academic policy in Hogwarts is such a juicy read,” I snapped back, words drenched in sarcasm. I knew being sassy wouldn’t help my case, but I couldn’t stop myself. The woman was just so irritating. “Come on, Debbie! No one else is going to read them!”
Debbie set down her dinner fork. “I can’t allow it, it’s—oh, Austin, don’t do that with the mashed potatoes—“ She turned to my brilliant eight-year-old stepbrother, who was apparently unaware of where his mouth was located and had now smeared dinner all over his face.
Debbie sighed, furiously wiping at Austin’s chin with a napkin. Genius, the kid was not. “As I was saying,” she began again, not even looking at me. “I can’t allow it. It’s a liability. Especially for a young adult like you. And since you’ve already proven how mature you are with that press conference thing you pulled… Nuh-uh. Not happening.”
It was all I could do to keep myself from slamming my knife down. “You’re being so unfair. I—I mean, my friend—needs this—“
“Whatever your friend did probably warranted his expulsion,” Debbie said snottily, dabbing the corner of her mouth with her napkin. “Teenagers like you just have to learn to live with the consequences.”
“Oh come on, we both know that’s utter bullshit! You’re just doing this to spite me!”
Debbie gasped, scandalized. “Language!”
We both wheeled around to look at my father, whose face was pulled into a blatant ‘Kill-Me-Now’ expression. “I have no part in this.”
Debbie seemed to take this as a point for Team Stepmonster. She hummed, cocking her head in a supposedly sympathetic manner. “Even if he won’t say it, your father agrees with me, Agatha. It’s for the best. Perhaps you should just… return to Hogwarts. You’re probably missing class, aren’t you?”
“Oh, so you’re kicking me out now?” I said bluntly, eyebrows quirked.
There was a skip of silence. Debbie blinked. My dad coughed, taking a sudden interest in his meatloaf. In the background, Austin was humming as he smeared more potatoes on his face.
“It’s not that, Agatha—“ Debbie began.
“Right, so you’re just making me leave. Against my will. Okay, I see now. Just remind me though—what’s that called again?” I locked my searing gaze with Debbie’s sharp one. There was an unspoken challenge rumbling underneath the surface. Debbie’s authority may have come from this being her house, but, well, it was my dad. Blood was thicker than property ownership and whatnot.
Debbie’s lip quivered. Now she had to choose between losing control or being the bad guy. Neither, it seemed like, were very appealing to her.
I gave a crisp smile. “I mean, it’s fine if you want me to leave. I wouldn’t want to overstay my welcome… I’ve only been here for, what, two hours?”
After a moment of agonizing silence, I finally relinquished, standing up and tossing my napkin on the plate. “Alright, alright. I can take a hint. Thanks for dinner, you guys. it was a real treat. Adam.” I cocked my head at my dad, giving him a mock salute. “Good seeing you. Or, you know, not.”
I had just turned around when Debbie blurted out, “Three days. Max. You can have the guest bedroom.”
I smiled. Just how I’d planned. Suckers. You've been Slytherined.
Turning around, I tilted my head thoughtfully as I pretended to mull this over. “Five days. I have business to take care of here.”
Debbie’s facial expression seemed to visibly clench. “Four days.”
Debbie yelped—literally yelped, as if the words had jumped out from behind her and given her a shock. “A week?! No—no, absolutely not. Five days.”
I looked to my dad, trying not to betray how pleasantly surprised I was with the offer. “Adam? Is this okay with you?”
Dad rubbed his stubble, silent for a moment. He seemed to be pondering the situation, sifting through it with the due diligence of a Ministry official. Finally: “It’s okay with me if it’s okay with you two.”
I gave a Colgate-commercial-worthy smile. Victory trumpets were playing in my head, and it was all I could do to keep myself from jumping on the table and screaming ‘IN YO FACEEEEE’ at Debbie.
“Perfect!” I gushed before anyone could even think about changing their minds. “If you need me, I’ll be in my new bedroom.”
I had skipped school, neglected my responsibilities as a prefect, and dragged myself through one hell of a journey only to sit through one of the most uncomfortable dinners of my life.
But the look on Debbie’s face just then made it all worth it.
“Wait, so now you’re mooching off your dad?”
“It’s not mooching, Freddy.” I rolled my eyes, exasperated. “It’s more of a trade off. He gives me a place to stay, and in return, I give him… Uh, I give him…”
“A lifetime supply of daughterly love,” I finished, sticking my tongue out. Freddy chuckled good-naturedly, drumming his fingers on the steering-wheel.
“I can’t believe you’re living with your dad and Debbie right now. Lame,” Fred chuckled, mouth slung into an easy grin.
I leveled him with a frostbitten glare. “Says the teenage boy driving his mum’s minivan right now.”
Freddy winced. “Well played.”
It was the day after I’d ambushed Dad and practically forced him to house me in what could only be described as a reverse-hostage situation. Because Debbie’s files were declared officially off-limits (for now), I had nothing to do. Debbie, of course, had attempted to rope me into babysitting Austin and his nine-year-old sister Casey, but that sounded about as much fun as Spring Break at a juvenile prison.
So I decided that the least I could do was see an old friend.
Fortunately, Freddy was able to weasel himself out of his mum-mandated house arrest (Angelina was not taking the expulsion well) to have lunch with me for a day. Unfortunately, that meant Freddy was stuck with the family mini-van, a clunker of a car and the world’s only form of drivable contraception. Needless to say, his man-pride was a-hurtin.’
I propped my boots on the dashboard, staring out the foggy windshield as we inched towards downtown London, swaddled in smoky traffic. “How’s Evelyn?”
Freddy gave a bark of laughter, eyes fixed on the road. “You’d know better than me. She tore up my heart into little pieces of heart confetti, and now she refuses to speak to me."
“She’s not speaking to me either,” I said, mouth wrung into a sympathetic line. “Or maybe I’m not speaking to her; not too sure. Too many broken friendships to keep track of. I should really start keeping a log…”
Freddy, out of the corner of his eye, shot me a Disappointed Parent Glare. He was apparently unimpressed with my gracious, good-humored attempt at making light of the situation. “Yeah, about that, Aggy. Remind me again: what did I tell you to do before I left?”
I resisted the urge to groan. Here we go… “You told me to act like the Resident Group Babysitter and make sure everyone stuck together.”
Fred nodded. “Right. And what did you then proceed to do?”
“I yelled at all my friends and then left the country,” I replied simply, innocently. After an awkward pause, I added: “Isn’t that what everyone does when they get upset?”
Fred rolled his eyes. “Fleeing Scotland to go to your estranged father’s house in London wasn’t exactly part of the game plan, Aggs."
“Well, I’m sorry, okay? It was all turning to shit, everybody refused to talk to each other, and…and… have you ever tried to make Dom Weasley do something she didn’t want to?” I blurted out, voice suddenly hitching up an octave. “No, you haven’t, because it’s physically impossible.”
Now that I couldn’t joke about it, my frustration with the current state of events was slowly starting to burble over. If Fred wanted me to be serious, then fine, I could give him serious.
Fred gave a wan smile. “Aggy—“
“No, do not Aggy me.” I ranted throatily, voice hoarse with dangerous fury. I was getting carried away, I knew that, but it just felt so good to finally vent out all the feelings that had been clumped inside my chest, weighing me down for the past week. “You weren’t there, Fred. You didn’t see how bad everything got—Aidan was off partying, Dom was with her stupid Ravenclaw pee-boy, Evelyn was dating Cooper, and Potter—Potter was acting like we’d all never existed.”
I took a deep, shuddery breath, launching back into my tirade. “You told me to be the human glue of the group. Well, I’m sorry, but I think you overestimated me. You thought I could be some hard-duty superglue that fixes anything, when it turns out I’m just the shitty purple glue that kindergarteners use for arts and craft—like those little pictures you make out of dried macaroni. Except now its all falling apart and the kindergarteners are crying and there’s macaroni everywhere—”
“Aggy, I think you’re getting a little carried away by this metaphor. “ Fred sliced in quickly. He eased up on the brakes, and we nudged forward in traffic. “Look, I know that I basically asked the impossible from you, telling you to keep everyone together like that. But I had to.” Fred huffed out a breath, gripping the steering wheel. “There’s a group dynamic—don’t give me that look, Aggs, you know it’s true—and in order for any of us to individually function like normal human beings, we need that group."
“Okay, before you go any further, I need to know: are you about to make a cheesy friendship speech?” I bit out slowly, gesturing with my hands like this was a matter of utmost importance. “Because if you are, let me know so I can remember to slow clap at the end—“
“Har har,” Freddy said sardonically, squinting at me in irritation. “As I was saying—we have a group dynamic. Because of our personalities, everyone in our friend group has a specific, unique role that they have to play. Like, say we were all in a movie, a spy thriller for example. We would each have characters that only we could play.”
I opened my mouth to interrupt, not looking forward to hearing about the newest brainbaby Fred’s twisted mind had birthed, but he prattled on.
“Potter would be the jaded ex-cop with a dead wife and a dark past, who never takes off his aviator sunglasses and always has rugged five-o-clock shadow. He’d be the best agent on the team, but would always get flack for his controversial, slightly violent interrogation tactics. I would be the sassy sidekick who supplied comic relief—you’re welcome—with a catchphrase like, ‘Nuh-uh, I did not sign up for this!’ or ‘Oh helllllll naw, I am getting too old for this job!’ Dom would the snappy, bodacious female agent who always wore leather and seduced all the bad guys into confession. Aidan would be the eager-to-please rookie with a heart of gold and boyish good looks. And you, Agatha—”
“Would have turned off this movie a long time ago because it sucks?”
“You would be the tech-savvy nerd-girl who supplies all the gadgets and sits in a big van with lots of buttons and TV screens and talks to everyone when they go on stings.”
“Seriously? Wait, so first I’m superglue and now I’m a spy?! This is too much metaphor-hopping for me.”
“Yup, and you know what, Aggy? Without you, everyone else would be a failure. Because even though you have a pretty sucky job, sitting in that van, all the other spies need you to complete their missions. And Agent Potter also needs you to heal his broken heart and help him get over his dead wife, but that’s a whole other subplot… AS I WAS SAYING, the show can’t go on without you. Even though it doesn’t seem like it, Aggy, they need you.” Fred’s voice suddenly turned soft, his eyes melting into a compassionate green. “We need you. Potter may be the calm and cool one, Aidan may be the outspoken leader, Dom the feisty spitfire. But you… You’re where the heart is. You’re the real leader, and you have been all along.”
I stared, stunned, at my friend/pain in the arse of five years. I hated to say it, but the kid had made a couple of fair points, shockingly enough. And I, Agatha Bennett—the girl who could never be rendered speechless—I had no idea how to respond. At least not with the proper emotion and care that his speech deserved.
All I could say was:
“Wow. You really spent a creepy amount of time thinking this through, didn’t you?”
Looking sheepish, Fred nodded, caramel skin turning slightly pink. “I’ve had a lot of free time lately.”
“You don’t say.”
“I’ve watched every season of Project Runway… Twice.”
I laughed, smiling against my will. Fred Weasley was a piece of work. “Kid, you need to get out some more. Let’s grab lunch at the nearest restaurant. Bill’s on me.”
“Sounds good, Aggs,” Fred beamed back, shifting the car into the right lane. “Oh, and remind me later to ask you about the latest developments in your—“ he lowered his voice to a sleazy tone, waggling his thick eyebrows. “Love-hate relationship.”
I gave Fred a look that plainly said, ‘Don’t push it.’ Fred just responded with his usual charming flash of the pearly-whites. You know how people are sometimes described to have hundred-watt smiles, or whatever? Well, Fred has enough watts in his grin to power the whole city of Hong Kong.
And after five years, I was, thankfully, immune to it. “I don’t have a love-hate relationship, Freddy.”
“Sure you do,” Fred chirped, pulling over the car. “If somehow in the future they found a way to bottle sexual tension and sell it, you’d be a billionaire taking daily money baths.” He paused. “With the help of your cyborg-robot bathing servant, of course. This is the future, after all.”
I rolled my eyes for what must have been the kajillionith time today. Being around Freddy was really a workout for my irises. “Potter and I’s relationship isn’t so much love-hate as hate-hate, alright?”
Fred stopped the car and shifted the gear to park, gaze sliding slyly to me. His lips were quirked in a small, devastating little smirk that I knew would be the end of me. “Who said anything about Potter? I never even mentioned him. You were the one who brought up his name, Aggy.”
The next couple days at Crescent Drive passed by fast.
Dad was always at work. Debbie, surprisingly, kept out of my way. She spent most of her free time looking after the kids and obsessively tending her greenhouse, which was, thankfully in the backyard and far, far away from my bedroom. I don’t know—maybe my press conference meltdown had scared her—but shockingly enough, she had done a good job of staying out of my hair.
Speaking of hair, I’d….er, undyed it. That’s right. Back to the same ol’ ginger colour and never-ending soulless jokes for Aggy. With a couple of quick charms, I’d reversed the Witch Weekly transformation and was back to my usual curlicues of gleaming crimson. I don’t know what prompted the decision—I’d just gotten sick of the brown, I guess. I felt like my Nutella Hair had been a way for me to convince myself that I’d changed, grown up and matured. When, in reality, I’d still been the same person—just in brunette edition.
No matter what I do to my appearance, I’ll always be the same Aggy. I will always do screwed up, dramatic things. I will always get sneak-attacked by bouts of clumsiness and life’s unpleasant surprises. Potter and I will always fight and bicker and confuse each other. That’s just how it was.
And it was time I accepted that.
The days at Crescent Drive dragged by in a haze of sluggish tedium. If my life were a movie, this would be the part where we’d have a montage of the heroine doing everyday things while a slow indie rock song plays in the background: me drying dishes, me reading by the fire, me watching the snow fall and staring out the window with a wistful expression.
And I did all those things. I did them all with a overdone melodrama that would have made Angsty Teenage Girls Club proud.
I knew that I ought to be out in the real world, tracking down Nott and getting to the bottom of my…er, predicament, shall we say. But it was just so nice to have a time-out from reality. A five-second breather where, even if it was just for a little bit, no one was out to kill me and I could be like any other normal teenage girl in London (using normal loosely, of course. It was still me, after all). I was perfectly happy with what was looking like a possible future as an eccentric recluse living in her father’s guest bedroom.
…Until I came back from the grocery store one day and saw the Daily Prophet’s entire press team crammed onto my dad’s front lawn.
Yeah. Montage over. Buckle your seatbelts, folks. The plane is slowly making its descent to reality once again. Thank you for flying with Aggy Airlines. Our motto? We get you from Point A to Point B—where Point A is denial and delusion and Point B is your old DADA professor trying to kill you!
Hope you had a nice ride, folks. We’re in for a bumpy landing.
Despite the fact that it was late January and therefore about as cold as the depths of Evelyn Stanford’s heart, and despite the fact that I was a lazybum who liked to stay as active as your average sloth, the ten-minute walk from Wally’s Supermarket to my dad’s house was actually pretty pleasant.
Sunnydale Parks—just like its cliché name suggested—was a wonderland of perfect houses and perfect families. Ancient trees drooped with sparkling snow, houses were doused in the glittery rain of their Christmas lights, winding paths and perfectly trimmed bushes were frosted with white. It was truly beautiful.
Arms laden with grocery bags (contents: the ingredients for tonight’s dinner, Debbie-approved frozen yogurt for the kids, and an illicit jar of Nutella for yours truly), I trudged down the path, breath bursting in front of me and headphones blasting music from the trusty WizPod.
I was looking forward to tonight. Relaxing by the fire, drinking some hot chai… Maybe I’d even let Casey do my hair like she’d been asking. That would definitely fill my Good Deed Quota for the month. Couldn’t hurt to rack up some karma brownie points—especially at a time like this.
I was just pondering all the different ways in which letting a nine-year-old play hairstylist could go wrong, when I spotted the house.
And promptly stopped in my tracks.
Because the front yard was swarmed with people. People who were carrying microphones and cameras.
This could not be good.
It was the press. I could tell from the clunky cameras they carried, the hungry expressions on their faces as they pushed closer to the front. And—oh god—standing in the doorway, looking absolutely terrified, was Debbie.
Instinctively, I knew that the press people on my lawn were bad news (no pun intended. Okay, fine. Pun very much intended and relished). They were your typical, scummy paparazzi—thirsty for a juicy story and willing to do anything to get it. And if they caught sight of me, I’d be done for.
Heart thudding, I dashed behind a neighbors fence, just a couple feet away from the nearest news crew. My hands scrambled to turn off my WizPod as I leaned forward, straining to hear the commotion.
There were clamoring voices, the whirs and snaps of cameras, everyone hollering for Debbie’s attention. Amid the tangle of noises, I could pick out a few questions.
“Mrs. Bennett, do you have any commentary? Anything you would want the public to know about your step-daughter?”
“What do you think about these recent developments?”
“Where do you think the sword is?!”
“Is your step-daughter really as guilty as the Auror Department is making her out to be?”
“Where could she be now? Where is the Girl who Stole the Sword?”
Wait, hold up. I must have been playing my WizPod a little too loud and gone temporarily deaf, because I could have sworn that instead of ‘saved,’ that newsman had just said stole.
“How do you think she did it?” The reporter prattled on, unaware his words had sent me wheeling (how inconsiderate…). “Hogwarts is known for having the tightest security in the world—“ apparently not, if you can just walk out the front door—“so how do you think your step-daughter, Agatha Bennett, stole the Sword of Gryffindor?”
The grocery bags dropped from my hands as the news reporter’s words hit me in one, collective gut-punch. Confusion flickered inside of me, quickly replaced by panic. They thought I was the one who stole the sword?!
And then. And then.
It dawned on me.
I had left Hogwarts, fell off the map, right after Nott took the sword. And of course no one was going to blame the esteemed professor for an artifact’s disappearance.
No. All fingers were pointed to the emotionally unstable teenage girl.
Oh. My. God.
That’s it. I was a criminal. Not only was I famous, but I was famous for committing a crime. It was finally hitting me—I was being wrongly accused of stealing the sword. Which meant I was totally, completely, utterly screwed. Oh god oh god oh god – commence freak-out – I was so screwed!
Do you know how hard it is to get a good job with a criminal record?! Let alone a criminal record that’s PLASTERED ALL OVER THE NEWSPAPERS?! OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO HAVE TO GET A JOB AS A FRY COOK AT MCDONALDS. OH MY GOD WAIT NO I’M A NATIONAL FELON! I’M NOT GOING TO GET TO WORK AT A MCDONALDS LIKE A NORMAL LOSER…I’LL HAVE TO WORK AT A MCDONALDS IN PRISON, SERVING CHICKEN NUGGETS TO CONVICTS.
Wait, do they even have McDonalds in prison?!
WHY AM I EVEN THINKING ABOUT THIS. I am so unequipped for the hard-knock life of a prison inmate. I don’t know anything about having bitches or using shanks to stab people in the showers. Where does one even buy a shank? It’s not like you can just pick up a shank at your local Walmart. Wait—can you? DOES WALMART SELL SHANKS?!
I think I’m going to pass out.
“Mrs. Bennett,” one of the reporters screamed, jolting me back to the present. Deborah looked equally as startled. She wheeled on the reporter with wide, scary eyes, her blonde up do wobbling on her head like a frightened animal.
“Mrs. Bennett,” the reporter simpered, thrusting her microphone in Debbie’s shocked face. “Do you know where Agatha Bennett’s current whereabouts are? Everyone in the country is looking for this girl, and surely, as her step-mother you must know something…”
This was it. This was the moment where Debbie gave me away, where she handed me to reporters and the Aurors like a late Christmas present. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if she covered me in wrapping paper and a bow first, if she just thrust open the door and said, ‘Why, sure! In fact I’ll show you straight to her bedroom!’
This was the moment where Debbie got her revenge. Revenge that, in all fairness, she kind of deserved.
“Um,” Debbie said faintly, sounding very young and very scared. She shifted in her pink fluffy robe, scanning the bloodthirsty faces before her. I crouched down, ready to make a break for it the minute I saw opportunity. I didn’t know where I would go, but I definitely couldn’t stay here.
Then, something in Debbie seemed to snap. She straightened, face going from shocked to annoyed in a matter of milliseconds. Immediately, it was back to the self-righteous snippiness that we all knew and hated.
“First of all, Agatha Bennett doesn’t have the mental capacity to steal something as heavily protected and magically enforced as The Sword. You’re giving her too much credit,” Debbie harrumphed primly, crossing her arms. “Secondly, I have no idea where she is. She isn’t welcome at this house. Third of all, I… I want you all off my lawn before I call the police because this is an invasion of privacy. I mean it! Scram before I sue you all for harassment!”
I couldn’t believe my ears. As the news reporters began to scatter, I shook my head, mouth gaping open, incredulous. Debbie had just saved my arse! I mean, granted, she’d insulted my intelligence and acted like a major beyotch in the process, but still!
As much as I wanted to continue pondering what was definitely one of the first few signs of the apocalypse, I knew I had to move before some lucky cameraman stumbled on the scared ginger girl hiding in the bushes. I couldn’t stay still forever.
Every muscle in my body was quivering with leftover fear. Silently, I darted around the house—hidden from view by the fence—until I reached the backdoor. Using the grocery bags as a kind of battering ram, I burst inside, panting, eyes wild, certain I looked absolutely crazy.
Click. I startled, caught off guard by the faint noise of the front door snapping shut. I looked up just in time to lock gazes with Debbie, who had just re-entered the house from the opposite side.
For a moment, we just stared at each other.
I stumbled back warily, fully expecting my stepmother to explode in a pink, epic meltdown of questions and shrill.
Instead, tiny fists clenched by her side, my step-mum—the champion for ladylike behavior, Miss Manners herself—exclaimed, “Well, what the hell are you doing? Close the goddamn door! Do you want them to catch you?”
It was the first time I’d ever heard Debbie swear. I was so surprised, I had to make the conscious decision to actually close my mouth, before turning around and shoving the backdoor firmly shut. My stepmother marched forward and grabbed me with her manicured talons-oops-I-mean-nails. Then, without another word, she frogmarched me to the kitchen.
When it doubt, boil it out—every respectable housewife’s motto. I plopped down at the wooden table as Debbie busied herself filling the kettle with some water. Her shoulders were rigid with tension, her movements hasty and sharp. I watched her fidget with the tea bags, unable to form any words.
Finally, back facing me, Debbie spoke up: “You’re not here because of the supposed ‘expelled friend,’ are you? That was all a cover, right?”
I didn’t think now would be a good time to explain that Freddy did indeed exist and that his situation was all-too-real. So I stayed silent.
Debbie slammed a mug on the table, splashing some tea inside of it. “You can look at the files.”
I almost choked on my own spit. “What?”
She finally turned around to face me. Her eyes were watery and bloodshot, her forehead crinkled with something similar to anxiety. “The files you asked for—if you still want them, they’re yours. I’ll take you to the Ministry tomorrow. Though you will have to be in disguise…”
Finally, Debbie might get what she’s wanted all along—the opportunity to dress me. I almost laughed at the irony. “Why are you doing this for me?”
“Because, Agatha, it’s obvious that you’re in trouble right now. I don’t know what you’ve done, or how you’ve done it…” Debbie said, throaty with emotion. “But you need help.”
There was a blink of silence. I was too overwhelmed to respond, so I grabbed the tea mug, scraping it across the table to stare into its swirly depths.
“You’re not going to ask if I did it? If I stole it or not?” I whispered to the mug, and my voice was so quiet, I didn’t think she could hear me.
Debbie wrung her hands, blonde hair glinting in the kitchen light. “I—“ She began, but was cut off by the doorbell ringing. She deflated. Saved by the bell, quite literally. “It’s probably more reporters, I’ll take care of them.”
As Debbie bustled out of the kitchen, I slumped in my chair, gaze boring into my tea mug. How had so much changed in the past ten minutes? For all intents and purposes, I was a criminal now. There was no going back to Hogwarts, no walking out in public. I couldn’t even risk a simple walk to the grocery market now—god, it had been a miracle that I hadn’t been picked up by anyone on my way back from Wally’s...
What was my Dad going to say when he inevitably saw my name in the papers, under the label ‘thief’? What about my mum? Aidan? Dom? Who would want to believe me? Especially when I wasn’t back at school, there to tell my own side of the story?
I had gone from feeling utterly safe in this house to utterly alone. It was helpless—the situation was like a blackhole, darkness swaddled in darkness, no solution in sight.
“No, absolutely not! I don’t care how you know her, young man, you can’t come in—“
“Look, Mrs. Bennett, I know she’s here and I’m not leaving until I can talk to her—“
I perked up, instantly on edge as voices floated in from the hallway. There were two very strange things about the situation. One was Debbie going all protective Mama Bear over me. And two was the familiarity of the second voice—deep, lilting, a drawl with an edge of stubbornness that promised to bite if you didn’t comply. It could only belong to one person—
But. No. It couldn’t be…
Without any sort of direction from my mind, my body was jerking me out of my chair, stumbling out of the kitchen and into hushed darkness of the hallway.
Potter was standing there, right before my eyes, a hand shoved into his messy hair. My brain soaked in the sight of him, reveling in every irrelevant detail. He was wearing a red plaid button down and a blue hoodie. His jaw was clenched in agitation. His eyes an angry, vibrant hazel.
Debbie had shoved herself in between him and the rest of the hallway, acting as a living, breathing, pink barrier. She obviously didn’t want him near me.
And I obviously couldn’t give a shit. Stepping out from behind her, I drew in a shaky breath, alerting everyone to my presence. My heartbeat was sputtering at machine-gun-pace, and I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the boy in front of me.
When he saw me, his lips parted open. In typical Potter fashion, he shoved his hands into his pockets, rocking backwards on his heels. His face was uncharacteristically expressive—eyebrows furrowed, eyes uncannily bright and almost…relieved looking.
“Bennett,” he said, and the word itself sounded like an accident, like it had been ripped from his throat against his will. He jerked forward and then—seeming to think better of it—restrained himself, falling back.
I didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak.
“Bennett,” he said again, carefully this time. And then James Sirius Potter, Mr. Cool and Collected himself, started rambling: “Bennett, you’re here—you’re actually here. I mean, I knew you would be because Freddy told me, but… I just didn’t—Fuck. You’re probably pissed I came by, but I saw what the paper was saying about you and… and I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I’ll leave if you want me to, but—fuck—I just want you to know that…that I believe you. Whatever you have to say about the sword, whether you did it or not… I believe you, Bennett—“
Normally, I would have reveled in listening to the Golden Boy himself babble on. But I didn’t give him the chance, because in three long strides I was pushing past Debbie, crossing the distance to Potter and throwing my arms around his neck.
I didn’t know what Potter had expected, but it probably wasn’t me hurling myself into his arms. He stumbled backwards, obviously uncomfortable and obviously caught by surprise.
And then, the tension melting from his shoulders, Potter relented. He wrapped one arm around my waist, the other hand reaching up to smooth down the back of my hair. Without me knowing how we got there, Potter and I were suddenly pressed close, not an inch of space between us, limbs hopelessly entwined. We fit together nicely, I couldn’t help but notice.
Tears were blooming in the corners of my eyes as I buried my face in the crook of Potter’s neck, against the soft flannel of his shirt. He smelled like laundry and soap, like boy.
It was weird. We had never hugged before—it’d always been one extreme or the other, fighting or kissing, nothing as intimate as an actual hug.
But here we were, standing in the dark hallway of my dad’s house, my stepmotherwatching, for god’s sake—and we were hugging.
And I was sobbing. Great, shuddering breaths that I muffled with Potter’s flannel shirt. I couldn’t help it—my emotions were spilling over, making it hard to thing straight. All I could process was that I was tired and scared and that Potter was here, that he’d gone all this way just for me, and that he’d probably been molested on the Knight Bus by some creepy hobo—for me!—and that for some reason, the idea of it all made the back of my throat ache.
Debbie took one look at us and nodded awkwardly to herself. “I’ll, uh, I’ll go make some more tea.” She hurried off.
This only made me cry harder. Today’s the day I get declared as a national criminal, and everyone I hate decides to be bloody nice to me?! Why?
Frantically, I gasped for more air, shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Potter simply held me closer, smoothing the hair off my forehead. I didn’t know how long we stayed like that—me sobbing and him stoically silent. All I knew was that Potter gave good hugs—big bear hugs where you just felt like you could melt into it and disappear forever.
He didn’t try to do that crappy consolation stuff either. There weren’t any half-hearted ‘It’ll be alright’s or ‘Everything’s gonna be okay’s. No, he just held me—held me together, really—and that was enough.
After an eternity, I pulled away, swiping at my tears with the sleeves of my oversized sweater. Potter was looking at me, his eyes following the trail of one fleeing tear. For once, he wasn’t on guard. I could read him just like he could read me. There was a small, worried little crease etched between his eyebrows. It was kind of adorable.
“Potter,” I sniffled, because I honestly needed guidance, and Potter seemed like the best person to ask. “What am I going to do?”
For the first time, James Potter did not have all the answers. He shook his head. “I don’t know, Bennett. I’m sorry. I don’t know.”
Nose to nose, we stared at each other—blue locked on hazel. We were so close and for a split second, it seemed like something was on the brink of happening—
“What the bleeding hell is going on? Deborah, our front lawn is completely trashed! And there’s something in the papers about Agatha? Can someone please explain to me—Oh, hello.”
Potter and I leaped apart, identical guilty expressions tugging at our faces, as my dad blinked at us from the front door.
“Dad, hi!” I chirped, voice watery, nose still stuffy.
My father took in the sight of me, obviously bewildered. “Hello.”
I glanced at Potter for help, but he just raised his eyebrows in an expectant manner. Guess this was on me then. “Have you met Pott—er, I mean, James?! He’s Aidan’s friend. He, uh… popped by for a visit. Heh. Heh heh.”
Yeah, I don’t know why I laughed creepily after that either. Let’s just chalk it up to me being awkward with these kinds of situations. Hell, we’ll just chalk it up to me being awkward in general and call it a day, yeah?
My dad looked between me and Potter—who was trying (re: failing) to hide a smile—and his blue eyes turned crisp and serious. Oh boy. I could sense the beginnings of another Bennett Interrogation.
“Pleased to meet you, Jack.”
“It’s James—“ I piped up.
I was promptly ignored. “Right, sorry. So what brings you here to Sundale Parks, John?”
“Well—“ Potter began, rubbing the back of his neck.
“I see. Uh-huh. Eloquently put, Jeremiah. This wouldn’t have anything to do with my daughter being in the papers, would it?”
“Dad, all will be explained. Just take a seat, alright?” I said at an attempt at pacification.
My dad wheeled his sharpened gaze on me. “Damn right it will. Now, is this José staying with us for dinner?”
“Er, well, not really.” I took in a deep breath, unsure of how to phrase my next few words tactfully. Screw it. “He’ll be staying with us for the next there days.”
“What?!” Dad said.
“What?!" Potter said.
Well, this is going to be interesting.
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