“Bennett, you’re seriously unbelievable. Are there any other decisions you’ll be making for me that I should know about? Where I’m going for college? What career path I’ll be taking? How many kids I’m having?”
I rolled my eyes, stomping forward with my hands shoved into my pockets and my boots smacking furiously against the concrete. It was chilly out, but with Potter and his arsenal of snark trailing behind me, I was finding myself very, very warm. The prat still hadn’t gotten over me announcing that he was staying with us without asking him first, and had now decided to give me a lifetime of shit for it that I, funnily enough, was not in the mood for.
“How many times do I have to say it? I’m sorry,” I whipped around, hair rippling in the wind, cheeks glowing with heat. “I cracked under the pressure; I wasn’t thinking. Sorry for being human…though that’s probably not a concept you’re familiar with.”
“Yeah, explain that to your dad when he tries to kill me in my sleep.,” Potter retored, eyebrows raised derisively. “He’s a jolly fellow, isn’t he? Remids me of a British Santa Claus—or, you know, Hitler.”
Maybe it was Potter’s ‘bad boy, good looks’ persona, or the fact that my dad’s first encounter with him involved Potter and I in a very close, suspicious embrace—but dad was not about to join the I Heart James Potter fan club anytime soon. Like father, like daughter I guess.
I folded my arms across my chest, pursing my lips in a knowing fashion. “Well actually, Hitler has always been described as historically being very warm to his friends and fam—okay, you know what, that’s besides the point.” I snapped as Potter shot me an unamused look. “Whatever. Can you just drop it? We have shit to do.”
After about twenty minutes of hushed, frantic whispering in the kitchen, Dad and Debbie had finally agreed to let Potter stay. Conditions: he would sleep on the couch, help with chores, and at no times could we be in my bedroom together with the door closed—no ifs, ands or buts.
“Why not, Dad?” I had demanded. “Because you think we’d just have raging sex all the time? Don’t worry about that—Potter’s my drug dealer. I don’t like to mix business with pleasure.”
This had caused my dad to turn bright red and Potter to launch into a five minute coughing fit.
So worth it.
Anyways, now that Potter was staying, I didn’t want to waste any more time. In light of…er, recent developments (ie. me being labled as criminal by my government), I was more eager than ever to get my hands on those files. And with Debbie’s explicit permission, I had dragged Potter out of the house the very next day.
Which explained why we were now making our way to the Ministry, snapping at each other just like old times. Gone was the tender moment we had shared in the hallway. It was back to bickering, flinging angry words at each other, dirty glares and snippy remarks.
Dad had of course tried to come with—he hadn’t reacted well to the news about my being a wanted felon, surprisingly enough—but I’d managed to convince him to stay home.
I was going to be fine. I was in disguise, after all—with the help of Debbie’s wand, I now had a long sheet of platinum blonde hair. My nose had been magically molded into a perfect ski-slope instead of its usual button shape. Throw in some of Debbie’s pink, formfitting clothes, and there was no recognizing me.
I’d also told my Dad that Potter would be enough protection—which, after taking a glance at Potter’s broad, Quidditch-playing frame, Dad seemed to grudgingly agree with. Reluctantly, he let us go.
After all, we were only looking for a couple files. We’d be in and then out. An easy job.
Or it was supposed to be, at least.
“Besides,” I declared snootily as I turned away from a glowering Potter, unable to let it go. As always, I had to have the last word. “It’s not my fault my dad doesn’t like you.”
“You told him I was a drug-dealer!”
“Yes, a very tasteful and witty joke that was sadly lost on an unappreciative audience,” I said brusquely. “Oh, there it is!”
Voice peaking in excitement, I threw out my arm to gesture to the red phone booth across the street. One of the secret entrances to the Ministry, I remembered coming to this phonebooth with my dad when I was younger for Bring Your Daughter to Work day. I could still remember my tiny hand clasped in his, bouncing in excitement at the prospect of seeing what Daddy’s work was really like.
Paying no heed to the cars bustling down the street, I crossed the road in swift, brisk strides. Potter, muttering a dark, “Jesus Christ,” followed suit.
I swung open the creaky door, marching into the cramped space, and wasted no time in grabbing the phone and punching a few choice buttons. “Okay, so Debbie said the office with the files is on the third floor,” I threw over my shoulder. “We should get there as soon as possible. The less people we talk to, the better. I don’t want to risk anything and—oh.”
I sucked in an accidental breath, eyes widening as I turned around and almost headbutted Potter in the process.
He was standing behind me, eyebrows raised expectantly, looking none-too-happy to be having his broad shoulders and towering height crammed into such a tiny space.
“Hi,” I said, startled. My nose was almost brushing his chest, and that was when I realized that phonebooths were typically made for one person, not two.
Potter stared at me for a moment—and then his eyes glinted with a sudden spark of understanding, the beginnings of a smirk tugging at his lips.
“Something wrong?” His voice was dark, hoarse, rough around the edges. “You look nervous, Bennett.”
“I—I’m not. I’m fine. This is a great time, actually. Really glad we could share this experience together—”
“You have some hair in your face. Do you mind?”
And in one of those typical, cheesy-romcom-movie moves, Potter gently brushed a golden lock of hair out of my face. I gulped. Audibly.
Well played, James Potter. Well played.
This was going to be a long day.
“I don’t get it! She said they would be here and—oh will you just get off your arse for ten seconds?”
James Potter shrugged from where he was sitting behind Debbie’s desk, feet propped up lazily on the shiny mahogany. “S’not my problem.”
“Sure it isn’t,” I straightened, kicking yet another drawer shut in Debbie’s metal filing cabinet. Useless. “But it will become your problem when I throatpunch you for being an unhelpful little shit.”
“Violent,” Potter quipped cheekily, a stupid, obnoxious little dimple poking into his cheek. “Haven’t you learned it’s not a good idea to talk back to a drug-dealer?”
I took in one look at Potter’s position—his dark, arrogant gaze, the quirked eyebrow, the hands behind the head—and gritted my teeth.
“I will murder you, Potter.”
“Careful now, Bennett, you don’t want to be making threats like that.”
“I will murder you and dance in the blood.”
“You’re already a felon—“
“My bare hands. I will use my bare hands.”
“—wouldn’t want something else on your record…”
“OKAY, ENOUGH,” I hollered, slashing the air with my hands. Frustration was burbling in my bloodstream, making it hard to breathe. James Potter really knew how to push my buttons—despite the grandma-ness of that phrase, it was true. He knew exactly where to dig to make me bristle and squirm. “I don’t care what you do. Just sit and…and see if you can take ten minutes of not being annoying without your body spontaneously combusting!”
Potter grinned, swiveling in his chair and looking like he was getting great amusement out of this. The prat. “Whatever you say, mum.”
I huffed exasperatedly, wheeling back around to the filing cabinet. So. Many. Papers.
Time to try drawer number three. I slid it open, thumbing through the mishmash of papers and receits and documents. It was all just a jumble of black letters skittering across pages and official stamps gleaming with ink.
And then I saw a familiar name.
“Wait a minute—“ Brow collapsing into a frown, I pulled out a file with the word ‘STANFORD’ embossed in emerald ink on the side. Flipping it open, I quickly skimmed its contents with reading skills that can only be honed from years of practice and a very lonely childhood.
It took a moment for me to make sense of all the numbered charts and five-syllable-Ministry-wording, but when I got the message, my eyebrows quirked upwards in shock.
“It says here that Evelyn’s family owes Cooper’s family a ton of money,” I mumbled, still processing the new information.
Potter dropped his feet from the top of the desk and leaned forward. The mischief in his eyes faded as he frowned thoughtfully, grabbing a nearby quill off the desk and twirling it around his thumb. “Interesting. Does it say what for?”
“Nope. They’re both pureblood families though. You know—old money, high society stuff. The debt must be a matter of honor. You don’t think—?”
“—That’s the reason Evelyn’s back with Cooper?”
“It would make sense…” My voice drifted off—was it too much to hope that Evelyn actually had sane motives behind her fraternizing with the enemy (and by ‘enemy’ I mean bat-wielding psychopath)? I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but it actually seemed plausible..
“Freddy’s mentioned Evelyn’s family once or twice. Says that Eve always talks about what a piece of work her mom is. One of those pushy socialites, always entering her in pureblood pageants and shit. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was the merry matchmaker behind all of this.”
I swallowed, snapping the file shut and cramming it back into the drawer. I felt guilty, like one of those crazy girls who goes snooping through her boyfriends’ stuff. “Let’s just focus on the task at hand,” I said quietly, kneeling on the ground as I eased the last drawer open.
I flicked through the papers, chewing on my lip in concentration. “Oh, Yahtzee!” I exclaimed triumphantly, pulling out a considerably bulky file with the letters ‘NOTT’ etched in fading ink.
I spread it out on the floor, sifting through photos, newspaper clippings, and past job applications. There was so much stuff. Nott’s questionable ties with the Death Eater movement. The case of Nott’s missing wife. His prestigious awards for his work in the DADA field. It was all here. Nott’s past sprawled out on the beige carpet in front of me.
I shuffled through it, not finding anything of remarkable interest. Just dead ends and faded pictures. No diamond patterns, no recent suspicious activity. “I think this is a bust…”
Potter’s eyebrows tilted upwards, his gaze suddenly serious. He stood from the chair and ambled over to the cabinet, sliding drawers open and shut. “Hey, Headmistress Vespertine has a record.”
I looked up to see him pulling out a file labeled ‘VESPERTINE.’ Potter sat down next to me, spreadings its contents on the floor.
“Wow, she’s got a lot of stuff on her,” I murmured, peeking over Potter’s shoulders.
“I forgot she ran for Minister of Magic,” Potter said, plucking an article out of the puddle of paper.
“Yeah, she lost against Humdudgeon.” Our current Minister had beaten out Headmistress Vespertine for the position, and now it was kind of a running joke at Hogwarts—the woman wanted to be the ruler of a country, but had to settle for a school instead. Explained why she acted like such a freaking dictator all the time.
“She was involved with some pretty radical groups when she was younger…” Potter flicked through some washed out photos of a younger Vespertine, holding signs at protest demonstrations, dark hair flapping in the wind and mouth stretched open in a silent cry.
“Strange,” I remarked, casting a flippant glance at the picture before returning back to Nott’s file.
“Yeah. Kind of a narcissist too. She was the leader of one of these groups and named it after herself. The Vespertine Vanguard for Vendetta and Victory. The woman had a thing for alliteration.”
I dropped Nott’s file, tucking blonde behind my ear as I scanned the newspaper clipping that Potter was holding. “Four ‘v’s…”
Potter suddenly stiffened, face dawning with the realization of a man who’d had his mind sufficiently blown. The article fluttered to the ground as he looked up, hazel eyes wide and betraying the fact that Potter’s brain was probably going about a million miles a minute. “Wait a second.” He leaped up, grabbing a paper and quill off the desk. “This might be a little out there…” He knelt down beside me, smoothing out the paper on the carpet. “But if you draw four ‘v’s like this, it kind of makes a diamond pattern.”
He scratched two ‘v’s in the center of the paper, and then wrote the other two, upside down, on top of them.
The room suddenly seemed to plummet in temperature.
Heartbeat thudding, I traced the paper with a trembling finger. There was screeching in my ears, a chill clinging to my spine—everything was falling into place.
“And you know what…” I began, words picking up speed as the clues in my mind seemed to shift together. I returned to Nott’s file. “It says here that Nott goes to this annual DADA conference right at this time of the year—I’d brushed it aside because I was so sure he was guilty, but maybe he is actually at this thing and Vespertine’s the one we should be looking out for.”
“Or they could be in it together,” Potter pointed out.
I shook my head frantically. “No, I really think it’s just Vespertine. Nott’s one of the most brilliant academic minds of his generation—he’s wouldn’t have left that paper just lying around like that, a piece of evidence for anyone to find. Vespertine must have planted it in his office. She’s the one. She took the sword—I…I know it.”
“But why steal a sword from your own school? And then not go anywhere? Vespertine’s still at Hogwarts, exactly where everyone expects her to be,” Potter countered as he thumbed through the photos. “Doesn’t make sense.”
“Don’t you get it?” I burst, unable to control myself. “Vespertine’s been waiting for this week—she knows Nott is going to be away from school. Plus he’s an old Slytherin, a pureblood, and he’s got a suspicious past. He’s the perfect scapegoat. That’s why she hired him.”
Potter froze, gaze sharp and calculating as he mulled this over. “What does she want with the sword?”
“The sword isn’t what she wants. The sword’s just bait. She wants revenge.” Goosebumps were crawling up my skin as I locked eyes with Potter, my voice dropping to a hushed whisper. “She wants Humdudgeon gone.”
“With the sword missing, Humdudgeon’s going to have to make a public statement sooner or later.” Potter looked away, still frowning thoughtfully.
“And that’s when she’ll strike.” I said with finality. “If Humdudgeon’s done for, Vespertine’s next in line for the position on Minister. She was planning this all along...”
Potter raised his eyes to mine. “Until you ruined everything. You botched the first time she tried to take the sword at the Ministry. Those other guys there—the ones dressed as Death Eaters—they were probably old members of her group,” he added.
“But I just made it easier for her. I landed the sword in Hogwarts, and then later I gave her someone to pin the theft on. Me. And now… now she’s after me as well. She’s one of most cunning minds in society, respected by everyone, old leader of several radical conspiracy groups, highly trained in DADA and…and she’s after me.”
Potter stayed silent, watching me with careful eyes. For once, I did not like the fact that he wasn’t speaking. It meant something bad. It meant that he thought I was in for it.
I snatched one of the old photographs, sweeping my gaze over it, trying to soak in every single detail.
“Bingo.” My voice was a croaked whisper as I jabbed the photo with my pointer finger. There, Vespertine stood, thrusting a sign into the air at another protest, her face a furious scowl. It was barely visible, but you could see a tiny black tattoo etched into her wrist. The two diamonds.
“Excuse me,” I squeaked primly. And then I barged out of the office, clackered down the hallway in Debbie’s heels, pushed myself into the bathroom next door…And threw up in the nearest sink.
Fuck. My. Life.
“Bennett, what are you doing?”
“Winning the fucking Nobel Prize. What does it look like I’m doing?”
“Er, raiding your father’s liquor cabinet?” Potter retorted warily, ruffling the back of his hair. We were standing in the living room and bickering like usual—well, rather he was standing, and I was on my knees, rooting through my father’s whiskey collection like some kind of deranged alcoholic racoon.
“Ding ding ding! We have a winner, folks!” I snarled with sarcastic chirpiness. Potter arced an eyebrow, looking like there was a retort, mean and sarcastic, on the tip of his tongue. He must have thought better of it though, because he stayed silent and just watched me with careful gold eyes.
I snatched a bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of the cabinet and stood up with a frantic brusqueness. Potter actually seemed alarmed by my mania—and when Mr. Cool As a Cucumber himself was alarmed, that’s when you knew it was bad.
“Well, it’s been a real laugh, finding out I’m about to die and everything. But if you don’t mind, I’ll be in the greenhouse with Mr. Daniels over here, beating up my liver.”
With that, I shouldered roughly past Potter and out the backdoor. It was snowing out—the frigid wind rasped in my ear, fat flurries of snow smearing my vision. It was really coming down hard. Just as well. The greenhouse was now swallowed by white. It would be impossible of Debbie or Dad to look in and see me.
However, as I started barging through the snow, I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone.
“Bennett! Bennett, wait—“
Potter caught up with me in no time, grabbing my arm with a warm hand. I shook him off. He didn’t touch me again, but still he followed, hot on my heels.
“Can’t you take a hint?” I stopped in my tracks to hiss at him, eyes sapphire slits. “Actually, forget I asked. I’m sure you can take hints, you just choose to ignore them because you’re a giant doofus.”
“Doofus?” Potter repeated dumb-foundedly.
“What?” First he refused to leave me alone, now he was making fun of my vocabulary? Ugh. “You’ve never been called a doofus before?”
“Can’t say that I have,” Potter replied calmly, but the corners of his lips were twitching, his eyes sparking with obvious amusement.
“I find that surprising,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster. I started walking again. And by I, I mean we, because Potter was still following. Grr. “Seriously though, can you just leave?”
“I’m not going to leave you alone like this.” While a normal person would say this in a tone of caring and compassion, Potter said it like he was talking to a particularly stupid child. Like what I’d just said was so absurdly stupid. I had to stifle a scream.
We reached the Greenhouse, and I shoved the creaky door open with my shoulder. Inside, the air was heavy with the smell of green and freshness. Colorful flowers drooped, their petals like melting jewels. The magical plants cooed and sighed. Some spat out showers of golden sparks, others had halos of pulsing lights around their bulbs.
Debbie had done a beautiful job with her greenhouse. It was like a patch of summer in the middle of this blizzard.
Looking through the glass walls, you couldn’t see anything outside except for a whir of white snow. There were strands of white-gold Christmas lights draped across the glass panels, giving the atmosphere a cozy haze.
I conjured a quilt, letting it float to the ground, and then plopped down on it. Cradling the bottle, I stared at its amber contents. Might as well get comfortable. I was here for the night.
“Why are you trying to follow me?” I grumbled to the bottle label, voice reedy with aggravation.
“Why are you trying to binge-drink alone?” Potter volleyed back without missing a beat, hands in his pocket, at ease as always.
“I—I—Because I’m distressed,” I finally sputtered, whipping my enraged gaze to him. The prick really had the nerve to be questioning me right now?! I’d just about reached my breaking point. I could feel fury snaking around my windpipe, clogging my lungs like smog. “I just uncoverd a masterplot detailing the assassination of our Minister—if you recall you were there too, jackass—and there’s nothing I can do about it because I’m a national criminal, and no one will believe I’m telling the truth even if I screamed it at them while drowning in a kiddie pool of Veritaserum. Also, let’s just go over the list of people who Vespertine currently wants to kill, shall we? Let’s see, there’s our Minister, me, and—oh yeah—me. She’s a Professor highly trained in all aspects of magical dueling, and I am most certainly going to lose to her.”
Potter was looking at me funny—squinting at me, really, almost like I was a hard puzzle he was trying to figure out. “Bennett, drinking isn’t going to give you an answer.”
“Maybe not,” I said, twisting off the black cap to the whiskey. “But it’ll make me forget the question, and that’s good enough for me.”
I was raising the bottle to my lips when Potter sliced in again, his voice firmer this time. “Bennett, you’re not a drinker. You weigh like four kilos—one sip of Butterbeer and you hit the floor.”
“Whatever,” was my only response. I pressed the glass to my mouth, feeling its coolness seep into my bottom lip, trying not to wrinkle my nose at the smell. “You and Aidan and Freddy solve your problems with alcohol all the time. So you know what? I’d like to give it a try. I’d like to get ‘black out wasted’ or whatever you call it for one time. If you can’t handle it, then feel free to leav—Oi!”
My voice had veered dangerously close to a whine just then, because without a splinter of hesitation, Potter had bent down and grabbed the bottle right out of my hands.
There was a wry smile twisting at Potter’s mouth as he looked at the bottle, reading its label with raised eyebrows. He looked like he had some inside joke no one knew about, a secret I couldn’t be let in on. “Can’t handle it?” Potter’s eyebrows raised in amusement. “You’re cute, Bennett.” And then, mischevious hazel eyes locked on mine, Potter raised the bottle to his lips and drank.
My eyes were the size of quaffles by the time Potter was finished. He’d polished off about a quarter of the bottle in one go. I knew the boy could hold his alcohol, but damn.
“Wow,” I said, the anger dissipating and replaced with awe. “You drank a lot.”
“Yeah, well,” Potter grimaced, handing me the bottle. “Practice makes perfect.”
I knew Jack Daniels and James Potter were two very bad men that I should be avoiding at all costs, but I didn’t care. I was so screwed at the moment, I almost welcomed it. Potter Drama would be better than People Trying to Kill Me Drama by far.
I pressed the bottle to my lips and took a swig. The taste wasn’t unbearable. Plus, I liked the way the liquor sloshed in my stomach—warm and heavy. Potter and I stared each other down; his eyes darkened as I took another sip.
“I guess it does,” I said. And with that, I drank.
“…So then I told her that Freddy was in the process of training to become a rabbi and wasn’t interested.”
I burst into laughter—great belly laughs that shook my whole body with giddiness. “You’re horrible,” I slurred cheerfully as the world tilted in a surge of light and dizziness.
Potter laughed as well, and the sound was so nice, I wanted to hear it again. “It was the first thing that popped into my head. I really didn’t want this girl to get Freddy’s number. She was so annoying.”
“You’re horrible,” I said, fully aware that I’d already said this but finding myself unable to care. “What if Fred had actually wanted to see this girl?”
“What if Fred had actually wanted to become a rabbi?” Potter countered, eyes dancing gold.
It made no sense, but I only laughed harder. “The last time I talked to Freddy about religion, he’d told me that his body was a temple and that I was free to worship there if I liked.” Potter chuckled, a slow, easy sound. “I politely declined.”
Half a bottle of whiskey later, and Potter and I were both feeling a little tipsy. Okay, maybe not just a little. We were lying on our backs on the quilt I had conjured, laughing and exchanging stories (exchanges that were, surprisingly enough, not infused with anger or hostility). Next to us was the bottle and my WizPod, which was softly playing in the background. The greenhouse had turned into a giant merrygoround for me, a swirl of golden lights and flickering shadows. If I strained enough, I could hear the hush of snow falling against the glass walls of the greenhouse. The sun had set, and now the dark sky quivered, inky soft, above us.
At first, this drinking thing had made Potter and I very competitive. We were both back to our old habits of trying to beat the other, trying to outdrink the other. But after a while (and a couple more shots), the night had descended into an Honesty Hour of sorts, with the two of us lying on our backs and confessing little secrets.
And despite myself, I was having fun.
I laughed, and the world seemed to dip and blur around me. “Okay, okay, my turn,” I announced, taking another swig. The whiskey was beginning to lose its sharp taste. I didn’t know if this was a bad or good sign. “I have an irrational fear of… wait for it,” I gave a dramatic pause. “Airplane bathrooms.”
Potter almost died laughing. He guffawed loudly, the sound echoing off the glass walls. Normally, him laughing at me like that would make me infinitely angry. But for some reason, now I didn’t mind. Potter had a nice laugh, and it kind of gave me a rush, knowing I had been the reason behind it.
“Bennett…” Potter said, the corner of his eyes crinkled with mirth. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“What!” I exclaimed incredulously as if I were offended, but I was smiling as well. “They’re just so loud! I feel like they’re going to…suck me in. I also don’t like owls.”
Potter only laughed harder at this. I shook my head, still grinning stupidly, and shoved the bottle in his hands. “Okay, your turn.”
Potter swung the bottle to his lips. “Alright, let’s see… Well, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every episode of the Wiggles. Lillia is obsessed with it and whenever I babysit her, it’s the only thing she’ll watch.”
I gaped at Potter. “No.”
“Yes.” He nodded solemnly. “I know all the words to the Fruit Salad Song.”
I grabbed the bottle from Potter, arching a challenging eyebrow. “I have something better.”
The left corner of Potter’s lips hitched upwards, his eyes sparking with intrigue. We were now only inches apart, our necks craned so that we were facing each other. My eyes roved over, taking in every detail—the curve of his mouth, the line of his jaw, the way the Christmas lights washed his skin with gold. “Go.” Potter’s whisper was accompanied by a slow, burning smile that made my toes curl.
“I didn’t know how to ride a bike until I was thirteen. Thirteen.”
“When I was six, I broke one of Nana’s favorite vases and blamed it on Hugo.”
“In Fourth Year, I spat in Evelyn’s hairbrush right before I knew she’d use it.”
“I was the one who hexed off Nathan Holloway’s eyebrows. Did it ‘cause he dumped Rose.”
“I once had a sex dream about The Bloody Baron.”
“I hate treacle tarts. Can’t stand them. Don’t see what the hype is about.”
“I can’t write a paper without eating a chocolate bar first.”
“I once ditched a girl on a date after I found out she had bad taste in music. She told me her favorite artist was 50 Centaur.”
I snorted. “I don’t care how many times Dom will make me watch it, I hate The Notebook.”
“I like The Notebook,” Potter joked. We both broke out into chuckles.
When the laughter faded, I turned my head to look at Potter again. His eyes were a dark, toasted amber, glinting with alcohol. They were watching me carefully, waiting for my next move.
“I think I have trust issues because of my dad,” I said softly, and I knew that I shouldn’t be saying this, that I would regret revealing something so personal in the morning, but I didn’t care. The words were already dripping out of my mouth, thick and soft like honey.
Potter scanned my face, the familiar line etched in between his furrowed eyebrows. “Yeah? How so?”
I shrugged. “He just left Aidan and I when we were really young and…Well, he’s a hard guy to connect with. Doesn’t open up easily. And I think I’m becoming like that—like him.” I paused, a horrible thought occurring to me. “If I’m not already.”
Potter shook his head slowly. “You couldn’t, Bennett. You care too much.”
“Sometimes I wish I didn’t.” My voice was small.
There was a silence. I turned away, snatching the bottle off the ground and sitting up. Potter struggled to sit as well, eyes trained carefully on me the whole time.
“Potter,” I said faintly, feeling something lodge in my throat as I tried to nudge the next few words out. “What happened with you and Nora?”
For a moment, I thought he wouldn’t answer me. Unidentifiabel emotions flickered over Potter’s face—he wasn’t as good now that he was drunk, getting sloppy, letting his guard down—and I waited, holding my breath, until he spoke.
Then, Potter said, voice neutral. “It was so… difficult. Things would be good for while, then they’d be bad, then they’d get good again, then they’d be worse.” He shook his head, clasping his hands together and staring at his fingers. “I killed myself trying to be enough for her. Then I realized that I never could. There wasn’t anyone who could. That summer was the last straw—I drove her to the hospital and she cried and screamed the whole way. She told me she’d never speak to me again, that she couldn’t believe I’d do this to her.” He shrugged, looking up and squinting at me with shards of hazel. “It is what it is. I still care about her a lot, but I don’t have feelings for her anymore. We were a big part of each other’s lives, but we kind of both just have to move on.”
I stared at Potter the whole time he talked, watching every muscle movement of his jaw, every blink of his eyelashes. “I’m sorry I gave you so much crap about her.”
Potter turned to look at me, giving something that was almost a smile, but not quite. His eyes were harsh gold, and I could tell that a part of him still blamed himself for whatever happened. “It’s okay. I’m sorry I gave you so much crap about… well, about you and me.”
I didn’t know what he meant by this elusive ‘you and me,’ but the words made my stomach feel warm and funny. I gulped down the bludger in my throat and tried to give an easy smile.
“You’re not sorry now, but you will be,” I responded cheekily, taking a sip of the whiskey. Potter scoffed—but he was smiling—and grabbed the bottle and stole another swig.
“Something about you, Bennett,” Potter said, shaking his head, expression closed off, and he didn’t say anything else.
Things were getting hazy. Movements were harder, fumbling, clunky. My words seemed to smear into each other—there was no telling where one ended and the other began. Colours were more vibrant, sounds brassier. The snow outside glazed everything in white, the Christmas lights glowed in streamers of gold.
Time seemed to pass as we went back to our usual game of back-and-forth. I shared a lot that night, but I also learned a lot too. About Potter. What he liked and didn’t like, things I’d never known. He was allergic to pineapples. His favorite flavor of ice cream was rocky road. He wasn’t sure if Quidditch was what he wanted to do with his life even though everyone was telling him to pursue it. He kind of wanted to try out Healing School instead.
“You know, I could actually see you as a Healer. I mean, you’re smart, yeah, but you’re very calm. And legend has it you can actually be nice if you want to. I mean, this rumor hasn’t been confirmed, but still. I think you’d be good with patients—“
The words died in my throat though, because when I turned around, I saw that Potter was watching me. And not just watching me in a curious, attentive way. But really watching me. His brilliant eyes were tracing a path from my face to my mouth to my shoulders, his gaze burning hot gold on my skin. It was obvious he hadn’t heard a word I’d said; he was either too drunk or simply didn’t care.
My guess was a mixture of the two.
And then, as if that hadn’t thrown me off enough, Potter smiled. It was a lazy, almost arrogant smile. A dangerous smile. A mischievous, I’m-not-thinking-right-now smile.
And it was making me blush.
“Hi,” I said softly, because I couldn’t bear the silence anymore.
“Hi,” he said back, all rogueish and disarming and whatnot. He leaned forward, fingers finding my chin as he tilted my face towards his.
The minute I glanced at him, I knew I was screwed. Potter looked absolutely wicked—hair messy and boyish, eyes burning bright with alcohol, smirk promising that he knew better but didn’t care.
“What are you doing?” I murmured, words smudged into each other, the liquor thickening my tongue. My eyes were wide, my heartbeat quickening.
“I don’t know,” Potter responded simply, advancing closer—he was completely out of it.
I was out of it, too. “I should stop you.”
“Uh-huh,” Potter nodded languidly, teeth cutting into his bottom lip as his eyes drifted over my face.
“I should really stop you.”
“This isn’t good.”
“No, it’s not.”
“We’re going to regret this.”
“This is a bad idea.”
“We should stop.”
I looked at him. Saw the way his hair curled around his ears, saw the heady gold in his gaze. “Screw it,” I said.
His lips were on mine in seconds. Before I knew it, we were on the ground, Potter lying in between my legs, his mouth hot on mine. He tasted sweet with liquor and it made my head spin, made my stomach clench with something stronger than simple desire.
This wasn’t a gentle kiss—it was urgent and harsh and desperate. I dragged my hands down Potters shirt, slipping underneath the fabric to feel skin underneath, and a noise dislodged itself from the back of Potter’s throat as he pressed me harder into the quilt. This was the first time I’d ever seen him like this—not in complete control, but hungry and boyish and drunk. Potter’s tongue skated the inside of my lip, a hand shoving itself into the tangle of my hair. I arched against him, nipping at his lip.
It was like we were in this haze—this heady fervor where everything just felt so urgent. I was burning, burningburningburning, and without him it felt like I would just fry alive. We weren’t thinking, drenched in heat, feelings heightened. It devoured us, this haze—lusty and teenaged and completely unabashed.
Potter dotted kisses up my neck, nipping at my ear lobe before returning to my lips again to muffle my moan. We were both breathing raggedly. Somehow, my shirt was coming off, and then he was kissing a path from my collarbone down to my chest, fingers undoing the button to my jeans, my skin unbearably scorching. I was aware that this was going far—farther than we’d gone before—but I couldn’t bring myself to care. There was a hollow feeling at the back of my throat, an emptiness that trembled through my bloodstream, and I wanted him. Simple as that. I needed him to be as close as possible for that emptiness to go away.
We were both delirious, hot skin and frantic touches. I pulled Potter back up by the collar of his shirt (which, soon enough, was also coming off). His lips hastily found mine again, hands shoving through my hair, and I yanked him towards me so that every inch of us was touching, so that we were so close I could barely breath.
He nudged my head to the side as his mouth found the skin underneath my ear. “Want you,” he murmured feverishly, like it was a physical ache, and I’d never known the effect two words could have before this. My skin burned at the way his voice sounded—drunk, hoarse, hungry.
“Okay,” I breathed. “Okay.” And then the rest of our clothes were coming off, and I couldn’t even stop to think because suddenly it was happening and we were moving together, breathing together, my name falling from his lips in an accidental groan, almost as if the word was an accident, as if he couldn’t help himself.
It was overwhelmingly intimate, too intimate to even kiss—instead, we just looked at each other, noses grazing, his breath becoming my breath. I could see very shard of green in Potter’s eyes, notice the faint freckles that sprinkled the bridge of his nose. He watched me watch him as we moved, and before I could stop myself, I was reaching up to graze his collarbone with my thumb, mesmerized.
The strings of lights around the greenhouse were blurring into warm, dazed smudges. Outside, I could see nothing but white—the snowstorm pressing itself insistently against the glass. It all swam in a dizzying swirl of sparkling white and gold. I could almost hear the whispered rustle of the snow falling, but maybe it was just my imagination. All I knew was that we were in the center of a raging blizzard, and yet I felt utterly safe.
It was careful. It was gentle and slow and good. It was his skin on mine, my chest brimming so full it hurt, We took our time—craving touches and hushed whispers. Potter kept on asking if I was okay, and I kept on nodding because that was all I could do.
And I was okay. More than okay. I trusted him, I realized. No matter how confusing my feelings became for him, no matter what the two of us went through—I knew one thing for certain. I would always trust James Potter. With my life, with anything.