Chapter 31

Amends

Avery had seen the spectacle in the Hall. He had seen Agatha take the delinquent aside. He’d seen her mess with the House Points.

She was already abusing her power…

“Agatha!” he called, silencing the entire Hall for a brief moment. “I need to talk to you!”

He was mad, but it didn’t show. It would, though, once he was alone with Agatha.

No witnesses in case he ended up hexing her.

…or punching her. That had always seemed like a very good idea.

Agatha looked up, dreamily, barely able to believe her ears. He was calling her. He was calling her. She’d heard his voice speak her name a thousand times in a thousand tongues a thousand times a day. And now he stood before her and called her name. Avery. Avery Berke. How she had missed him. He had grown even more handsome over the summer months, lightly tanned skin, messed up hair. Mmmmm. Agatha just wanted to run her fingers through it and she walked towards him…..

“Berke,” she sneered. “What do you want now? I was just speaking to the first years. Is this really important?”

“Sure is, Swales,” he said, opening the door of the Great Hall. He didn’t want witnesses. He never knew when he’d snap. “I want to speak somewhere more private.” He motioned toward the corridor. “After you.”

Opening the door was the type of thing Agatha would expect from any man, Avery knew. To do anything less than kiss her butt would be insolent and worthy of decapitation. He didn’t want to hold the door for her—to do anything nice for her—but as Head Boy, and she the Head Girl, he had to make it look like he could at least be civil around her.

Flying hexes wouldn’t do.

Agatha tried to catch a glimpse of his face as he held the door for her. But it seemed locked, impenetrable. Agatha’s heart beat fast. She didn’t know what to expect. She felt jittery, on edge, out-of-control. And Agatha Swales was never out-of-control. She did not like the feeling. What did he want? Was it possible that he was acting, just as she was acting? Did he want her too? Almost she turned to him, almost she believed her own dreams.

But she didn’t. Didn’t turn. Kept walking until he stopped her with a word. She could not look him in the face. She felt herself blush.

What, oh what, had happened to Agatha Swales?

“This is ridiculous,” Avery said, crossing his arms across his chest and looking very seriously at Agatha. “First day of the term and you’re already abusing your power.”

He pointed to the hourglasses.

“You smashed a firstie’s hand and awarded points to the person who punched that firstie in the face. And you deducted points from him. I was there. The whole school was there.”

He paused.

“He did nothing yet you penalized him.”

He took out his wand. “Five points for abusing your power—” the hourglass began changing “—and five for your lack of respect for Professor Darkmoor.” He put his wand away and crossed his arms again. “I can’t give Hufflepuff their points back because I can neither prove that you purposely stepped on that boy’s hand nor can I judge whether he did or did not provoke Mr. Flint. Not that points matter to you. But it’s principle…”

He began walking toward her. “And to think I used to love you. You disgust me.”

That was it. He had no more to say to her. She could always award herself the points, but that didn’t matter. He’d wanted to make a point—that things between them were over. That she was childish and horrible and that he was going to act civilly around her. That he wouldn’t stoop to her level and that he wasn’t going to tolerate her abusing her power and picking on Hufflepuffs because she was, supposedly, better than they were.

It was over.

Agatha Swales was dead to him.

She held her head down as he said those things to her. The points. The points were a nothing. He knew it, she knew it, childish games, a point made. She could give them back just as easily as she could take them. And a few off from Gryffindor for cruelty, she thought bitterly. Yes, a few for that too.

But that wasn’t what ripped her up, that wasn’t what shredded her inside.

“And to think I used to love you. You disgust me.”

Still, amidst the leaden weight that had descended into her stomach, she tried to fight rising tear. He had at least once loved her. It was something, something, something. He had loved her. He would love her again.

Agatha gasped. She felt as if she couldn’t breathe and all this time she said nothing. Absolutely nothing. There was no smart reply, no biting back comment.

Deciding not to mention the small issue of awarding back the points right now, Agatha finally spoke and broke the awful silence, “Avery you’re right. I was awful. I’m so sorry. I…look I know you…” she fought for control. “I know you hate me Avie, you…you have every right to hate me…it’s just that…look I hope that you and, and her,” she still couldn’t bring herself to say the Puth’s name in any positive light, so decided it would be just best to omit it. “You and her,” she repeated bravely…are very happy…only know, Avery Berke…know that…”

She had to get through with this, she had to, had to, had to.

“Know that I love you too,” she said and looked right at him for one very, very long moment. Then she was gone.

Avery froze in shock.

He couldn’t have said anything even if he had wanted to.

Not that he wanted to. He had no clue what to say.

Agatha could have been lying (which wasn’t very likely—she looked miserable), but she’d said that she loved him. Could it be that she was hiding behind her cold, cruel exterior? Hiding from what she felt yet couldn’t have because of social pressure?

Did she really love him?

It was all too much. He loved Vivi. He knew that, Vivi knew that, Agatha knew that. But he also loved Agatha. Maybe in a different way, but he did love her. He’d once loved her, and he still loved her. But she was so horrible to the others that he loved that he couldn’t be with her.

Yet he still loved her.

She’d brought out a side of him that he had never known existed. It was a horrid part, yes, but it was still something beautiful. She had made him feel like he was wanted, loved, cared for. Like he had a greater purpose in the world.

Vivi did that too, but Agatha was the first.

He loved her, but she was too horrible for him. To protect both himself and the ones he loved, he couldn’t be with her. It had to end. As much as it would hurt, it had to end.

He was torn between two loves.

One was going to get hurt.

It was going to be the one who’d hurt him, whether he liked it or not.

Agatha Swales had had an unexpectedly trying day. It was of course absolutely magnificent to be Head Girl. Utterly, utterly divine to be at the pinnacle of this little society. The place where in reality she had always been, but now it was emblazoned for all to see. The only thing, and it was sadly not a small thing, marring her day of happiness was Avery Berke. The Head Boy. Him. It had taken a good long while repairing her flawlessly made up face after that….encounter.

Still.

She had already determined upon making a Head Girl speech. The inaugural Head Girl speech by Miss Agatha Swales. Yes. It would go down in Hogwarts, a History no doubt. And Agatha was going to waste no opportunity to leave her marks upon the school this year. Hers would be the most memorable Head Girlship ever.

So, after the revered Headmistress had spoken, and the Quidditch coach had whined about sport, and the vile Puth sniveler had collected some bit of trophy thing, Agatha rose. The Headmistress rapped for silence after the sniveler stopped gibbering to her gibbon friends at the Puth table.

Mmm, not long now till I wipe the smile off your self-satisfied face, Agatha thought grimly.

But then in her clear ringing tones, which needed no magical aid to be clearly heard throughout the Hall, Agatha spoke. “Good evening,” she said, glancing round the hall. “I would like to add my welcome to that of our respected Headmistress. I am Agatha Swales, the Head Girl, and I am indeed most grateful for the honor bestowed upon me,” she smiled graciously towards the staff table. “I will certainly endeavor to prove myself worthy of the title in the year to come.”

She turned her attention back to the students. “I am sure you will all join with me in wishing for a most divine year here at Hogwarts. If any of you,” she cast a glance over the four house tables and her lip curled in distaste when she saw the Puths, “Indeed if any of you,” she continued in a manner which clearly said “any of you, except for you mudblood Puths”, “Wish to speak to me, or to seek my aid, you will find me in the dungeons of the noble house of Salazar Slytherin. There you will also find Miss Abbigale Calver, the Slytherin prefect.”

Abbigale rose beside her. Barbies of the Snake Pit united. And in power. At last. She made no mention of the Head Boy whatsoever. It was as if he did not exist. In fact, quite often, she wished he didn’t. Life would be so much easier, simpler, controlled.

“But do, please, continue to enjoy your meal,” Agatha concluded magnanimously. “Thank you.” They sat back down. Agatha smiled slyly down the length of Slytherin. Ah, the power and the glory.

Abbigale took a sip of a craftily concealed cocktail, one that she’d taken rather a liking to of late, and smiled at Agatha as she sat down again beside her.

“Lovely speech darling, here,” she offered one of her own cocktails to Agatha. “If the Huths didn’t get the message after that, darling, they surely must be the densest creatures on the planet…oh.”

Abbigale was rudely interrupted by the Quidditch coach making another speech about the filthy game. Waste of time if you asked her, you broke your nails, got your clothes dirty, and were attacked by muddy balls for Merlin’s sake. Why on earth should anyone want to play as foul a game as that…

Slytherin vacancy for Quidditch Captain was open…

“Agatha, darling. What do you say about Quidditch?”

Agatha’s first look at Abbigale was one of utter incredulity. “What do I say about Quidditch!” she exclaimed. “Why sweetie, I thought that you of all people understood and shared my attitude towards that. It’s vile and ill-bred. Moreover it’s dirty, one might break a nail or get hit, or anything. As daddy says, it’s just not a ladylike thing to do, now is it darhling?”

Agatha seemed mightily offended by such a question. It was just one of life’s fundamental rules. While Agatha had experimented with the sport in her first year at Hogwarts, she had since come to her senses. Quidditch should be left to the men, and to those scrubby girls like the sniveler who were fit for nothing more.

She took a sip of the cocktail Abbigale had surreptitiously handed to her. Mmmm, now that was good. Dreamy almost. Definitely champagne based, with a hint of now, was it a hint of almonds? “Superb cocktail though, Abbigale,” she almost purred. “Do tell, what’s the almond flavor I am picking up here?”

And then almost from nowhere, perhaps from a glint in Abbigale’s eye, or from a memory of that coach’s silly speech, Agatha understood.

“Ah!” she exclaimed, not giving Abbigale time to reply even. “Do you possibly mean though…? Are you perhaps thinking of…?” She did not need to continue. After that initial misunderstanding the two friends understood each other perfectly. They both nodded.

“Well, it’s certainly an idea,” Agatha mused. “Me, you, and Amelia, of course….yes… it’s certainly an idea. Oh!” her face lit up. “Sweetie we could have matching leather cat suits designed, I can just picture it now, who should we commission them from? Donatella’s up to her eyes at the moment with the New York collection, but I think Nicole’s in town.”

Agatha almost clapped her hands with joy and her eyes sparkled.

Abbigale’s smiled as the plans were laid. Clearly both of them were far too dignified for Quidditch—but where did it say that the rules could not be changed? Besides, Agatha was Head Girl. She could overrule the Quidditch Coach any day of the week. Of course, neither Abbigale nor Agatha could be captain. Neither pretended to know anything about the vulgar sport other than what players there were, but they could easily put together a team. The outfits, oh, the outfits would be divine. None of that floaty, ghastly, cheap material used on the common Quidditch robes, oh no. Their robes would be made of something much classier and by someone with actual talent. Oh, and they wouldn’t be playing in the rain or under any of those ridiculous circumstances that Quidditch players often played in.

Yes, Slytherin would win the Quidditch cup this year, along with the House cup, and the utter respect and adoration of the school. It would be, Abbigale felt certain, a wonderful, wonderful term.

As the mail owls fluttered into the Great Hall, a specific brown owl could be seen diving towards the Hufflepuff table. With a small note attached to its leg, it landed in front of the Quidditch Captain, Vivienne Moor.

When the note was finally removed from its leg, the owl hooted graciously and flew back out of the Great Hall.

Dear Vivs,

Just letting you know that me and Jamie are having a wonderful time. We are home visiting mother and Christopher (step daddy…yuck!). I hope Hogwarts is being good to you. Let me know if Agatha is being her normal self. Lots of love from me and Jamie.

Always,

Cisco

Vivi smiled as she read the letter, pleased that Cisco had thought of her. She missed him this year; Hogwarts was not the same without him there to watch her back and tease her about Quidditch. His absence also reminded her of how dangerously close she was getting to graduation.

Pulling a pen out of her faithful, well-worn book-bag, Vivi started to write a response. She chewed on the end of the bic before finally finding the words.

Cisco-

It’s so good to hear from you! Especially when it’s good news, I hope everything keeps going well for you and Jamie.

I’d rather not write about Agatha. She’s acting normal all right, but her normal isn’t nice. Do I win the understatement of the year award for that?

Love from me to you, and give mine to Jamie too. I really didn’t mean for that to rhyme. But she’ll want to know that Ravenclaw misses her as a seeker. Of course I don’t, I’m all for their best players graduating (except you). I think Huff might have a chance this year. We’ve got a lot of first years, but once I get them trained we might be good. You should come to the first game. I’m betting that we play Ravenclaw.

Your Friend,

Vivi

Rolling her letter expertly into a scroll, Vivi headed for the owlery to send it off.

It was late evening by the time the first years finally settled down and went to bed. But then, Abbigale’s first hours of being a Prefect had been rather enjoyable, actually. Much more than she would have thought. Now Agatha, Amelia and herself sat, sipping the cocktails and discussing the new arrivals.

“I think that this year should be very interesting. After all, most of the first years are looking quite promising. Others, however…” she gave a knowing look at Agatha, who had had the unfortunate experience, first hand, of one of that lot. There was one in every year at least who decided they were going to be individual. It was purely outrageous if you asked her.

Amelia delicately sipped her cocktail. It was utterly divine, as Abbigale’s cocktails always where. She sat her glass down on the table in front of her.

“I presume you’re referring to that creature with the blue hair?” she asked Abbigale, “I never did understand why someone would want blue hair. It’s absolutely vile.”

“Mmmm,” Agatha replied vaguely, and then realizing she could possibly be committing a hideous social blunder, she turned her attention back to her friends.

“You are so right my dears, absolutely shocking behavior but if you…well, dearest hearts, if you would excuse me, I have things…things to which I must attend. Goodnight,” and Agatha left. It was probably one the most inelegant and unprepared exits of her life (for exits and entrances are, as anyone of good breeding must surely know, utterly imperative to one’s whole life).

But Agatha had a lot of work to do. She hurried (as much as one can hurry elegantly, sweetie) to her own room and locked the door. Then with her wand she magically sealed the door with a charm, in order to prevent anybody from peeping though cracks. Next she cast the imperturbatus charm, to prevent eavesdropping. Excessive paranoia one might say, but it certainly paid to be careful. Even her dearest friends knew nothing of this enterprise. And it was better than way. Safer. Better. She trusted the girls implicitly and yet… no.

It was better this way.

Every evening for the past week, after she had dashed off her busy homework, then had cocktails and/or a social chat with the girls, she had retired, early, to her own chamber, very glad of her own space and peace. There was much work to be done.

Agatha was very clever at charms. Her spell work had always been impeccable, neat and precise. It was indeed by far and away her best subject. Her clear tones, attention to detail and perfect pronunciation meant that there were few, if any, charms (or hexes) she had been unable to master.

Yet she would need all of her skill now. All, perhaps, and then some. This was more difficult than anything she had yet undertaken. And the risks—well the risks were all. To fail was to fail indeed. To fail—was unthinkable.

Of course the basic spell was not hard. Any respectable fifth year could perform the Evanesco charm, more or less proficiently, and Agatha had moved onto larger and larger objects very quickly. Yet one could not become complacent. Each evening she began with the basics. From a champagne glass a week ago, today she was focusing on the heavy oaken wardrobe.

Agatha closed her eyes, focused her mind. Then she opened them, stared hard at the wardrobe, seeing where it stood now a blank and empty space.

Evanesco!” she commanded and pointed her ash white wand firmly at the object, accentuating the “es” and dropping the “co” abruptly off the end of the word.

There was no hesitation, no slow and steady disintegration. It vanished. Where the wardrobe had stood one moment, there was no wardrobe the next.

Agatha smiled. Size was no object to her aims.

Now.

Now was where it got so much harder. First there was the time delay clause and secondly there was the time set clause. For the wardrobe was still obstinately absent. The time had to be shortened—dramatically.

She needed to go to the library.

And…and simultaneously she must set in motion the second part of her plan. She ground her teeth. Unbearable. Unthinkable.

Necessary.

She looked in the mirror and practiced both a sorrowful smile and a hopeful look.

It was early evening, supper had finished, and people were drifting off to common rooms, to clubs, to bed. Yet Agatha had counted on the two whom she sought still lingering on in the hall, unable to go together to relax by a cozy common room fire, for these two were separated by a house divide.

Ah. It was as she thought. She paused on the threshold and composed her face. She took a very, very deep breath. This would take all the courage she possessed. And then a little bit more.

They were at the Gryffindor table. Of course they were. Agatha walked over, her usual confident stride faltering slightly. She looked rather uncomfortable.

“Avery,” she said quietly. “Vivi,” she added, even more surprisingly. “May I have a quick word…please?” She smiled hesitatingly, bashfully, hopefully.

A half-chewed piece of chocolate fell out of Avery’s mouth and into his water glass.

He stared stupidly at Agatha. Was she actually being…no. It couldn’t be.

Was Agatha Swales of the Snake Pit Barbies actually being…civil?

“Um, sure, Agatha,” Avery said, a look of obvious disbelief on his face. Vivi was even more flabbergasted than Avery. She had never had an encounter with Agatha when the Snake was being anything less than vicious. Never. This was more than a surprise. It was somewhere along the lines of electrifying.

“O’ course,” she finally said faintly, moving her backpack out of the closest seat, so that Agatha could sit down if she wished, and waiting. It was a bit too soon to suspect that Swales was up to no good, but then again, maybe it was never too soon to suspect that Swales was up to no good.

Presented next to each other, Agatha and Vivienne were a sharp contrast. Agatha was fair, with blonde hair, green eyes, perfect nails, and designer cloths. Vivi was the opposite end of the spectrum: dark headed, grayed eyed, and casual. Today she was dressed up, in a yellow cardigan and a blue jean skirt, but she would never match Agatha’s level of sophistication. Vivi did not particularly want to, anyway. She would not be able to move in half of the cloths Agatha wore, much less walk in her shoes. There was something to be said for being able to breathe.

Agatha seated herself carefully on the edge of the offered seat next to Vivi. She was well aware of the effect she had just created, but she looked down, modestly. In the back of her mind she wondered about Avery’s reaction. He had never seen the two of them thus, side by side, Agatha’s shining blonde hair next to Vivi’s dull brown. Agatha’s immaculate dress sense next to Vivi’s ill-matched hand-me-downs.

Still, there was scant time for such reflections, and they were, after all, out of place with what she had come to say.

Agatha looked at them both. “You may find this rather odd,” she began. “Indeed, I would not blame you at all if you do not believe me, for my behavior has been…” she paused and looked ashamed, “rather appalling to you both at various times. However, it has taken me a long time to admit this to myself, and now I am ready to admit it to you. It’s…” she hesitated and focused her cunning green eyes on Vivi alone, “It was because I was jealous of you my dear, that is, jealous of you and Avery.”

Internally Agatha gnashed her teeth violently. Externally she was a blonde angel. Butter wouldn’t melt. She smiled sadly.

“It’s true,” she continued, “When I think of the awful, awful things I have done,” her eyes shone. “Well…enough of that. We all know of what I speak. But today I have come to ask for a clean start. Today I am swallowing my pride and asking you to start again. To call a truce.”

She smiled and held out her bejeweled hand. “Friends?” she said.

“What?” That’s all Avery could say. He was too shocked to force out anything else. His mouth was hanging open stupidly and he was staring blindly at Agatha.

Had she really just said that?

Agatha was never one to give up a fight. She would never call a truce with anyone, much less with mudbloods.

Much less with Avery Berke and Vivienne Moor.

“You’re kidding, right?” Avery asked, shaking his head in disbelief. “Since when do you admit fault?” Needing to do something other than stare mindlessly, Avery picked up his glass of water and gulped it all down. Then he poured himself some more and drank that in two or three gulps. Finally, he dropped the glass on the ground, if for nothing but the shocked affect.

“I’m…I’m gonna go with Vivs on this one,” Avery said, still staring at Agatha as if wondering if she’d been doing drugs or had messed around with one too many memory charms. “Whatever she says, I’m gonna go with.”

This is getting to be too much, he thought, snatching someone else’s glass and pouring himself more water.

While Avery tried to drown himself, Vivi considered Agatha, her eyes wary as she tried to discern the snake’s motivation. There was something sneaky behind this, Vivi was certain. A zebra might be able to change his stripes, but he didn’t change them overnight. Neither did Agatha Swales call a truce, or admit a loss, unless the means met the end. She was the pristine example of Machiavellian principles, that one.

So Vivi hesitated. She weighed one option against the other, balanced the scales. What could Agatha gain by this deceit? What could she lose?

In the last second before her hesitation could be considered a refusal, Vivi slid her own small hand into Agatha’s, shaking it gingerly. “Ya know that I will never trust ya,” she assured Agatha frankly, meeting the Slytherin’s eyes. “But if ya want a truce, ya have it.”

Hufflepuff, at least, would benefit from this. The house was already negative twenty points, thanks to the intervention of the Head Girl. At least with a truce her house would not suffer. Yet it would take more than words for Agatha to prove that her sentiments were not a deception and that her actions were not an act. What is said never matters; it is what is done that counts.

“But Agatha?” Vivi asked rhetorically, withdrawing her hand and folding it neatly in her lap. “It would take more than this to make us friends.”

“Why,” Agatha responded sweetly, “But, my dear, of course it would. One doesn’t become close friends overnight and as a token of my attempt at friendship, whether accepted or not,” a little sigh escaped her. She was trying so hard here, she was the one placing her pride on the line, and not to be received with open arms, why it was enough to break one’s heart. Truly.

“Please accept these,” she continued. “As a token of my desire to make amends.” She pulled from her Chloe handbag two golden envelopes, upon which the names Vivienne Moor and Avery Berke shimmered and danced in green flickers.

“Thank you, Agatha.” Vivi replied courteously, accepting the envelope. It was somewhat gratifying to see her name, spelled correctly, written in flaming green letters. Vivienne was not sure that she had ever heard Agatha correctly pronounce her name before now.

“Invitations to my eighteenth in two weeks,” Agatha murmured. “I should be delighted to have your company. All approved by the Headmistress, dahling,” she added, “It’s a masked soiree, just a discreet gathering between friends, oh and a little chamber music, courtesy of ‘The Captivating Classics’, “she named one of the most famous classical groups of the day. “Black tie, naturally.”

“Naturally,” Vivi echoed, as Agatha finished explaining about the party. Internally she panicked. A black tie affair? She was certain that she had never attended anything as formal as this would be, and of course she would be surrounded by a bevy of Prada toting, Gucci wearing, Versace covered fashion advertisements.

Agatha rose gracefully, her eyes falling on Vivi. “If you need any help with costume sweetie,” she purred, “Well, dahling, that’s what friends are for. See you around very soon, darlings. Ciao.”

She smiled at them and left the hall, almost without looking back.

It was almost as if Agatha read Vivi’s thoughts, and therefore offered to provide aid. “Thanks,” Vivi said automatically to the offer, although she decided, just as automatically, not to accept it. This was a matter of pride. Vivi did not care about fashion, she never had, but then did not mean she was going to openly admit her incapability to Swales. As a girl, Vivi felt that she should be able to figure something out, assuming she even went.

Vivi waited till Agatha was out of sight, and then she turned to Avery with a puzzled look. “What do ya think?” She asked. “Do we go?”

“Did that just happen?” he asked, whether than answer Vivi’s question. “Was she just civil to us?” He paused for a few seconds, wondering if he even dared ask the next question. “And did she just call you Vivi?”

“Weird, I know.” Vivi commented, shaking her head. “I thought by now she’d called me Veruca so many times she actually thought it was my name.”

“Um…well,” Avery said, staring at the door through which Agatha had just exited. “Um…well, if you wanna go, I’ll go.” He left it at that. He didn’t want Vivi to have to decide, but he didn’t want to decide even more. He knew he’d be miserable if he went to the party, but he, oddly enough, wanted to go (if for nothing other than to ruin Agatha’s life).

“Your call,” he said finally, ripping his gaze from the door and looking over at Vivi.

Staring at the nearly empty water pitcher, Vivi listened to Avery’s answer about the party. In her head she was already wondering where in the world she would get a dress, what sort of dress she should get, how fancy it should be, what exactly a masked soiree was, and whether she needed a dress or dress robes. Of course, all of this, assuming they went.

“Me?” she asked, startled, when his noncommittal comment sunk it. “Um.” To go or not to go? Going would be agony. There were very few places in the world Vivi liked less than the Slytherin common room. There were also very few places that ranked higher on the evil scale, she imagined, although that was hard to prove.

Yet not going might be even worse, as it would indicate that she was afraid to go. Vivi was afraid of Agatha, but she was not afraid to stand up to her. And what if Avery wanted to go, but he was choosing not to say so because of her?

“I’ll go if ya want ta,” Vivi answered Avery in a like fashion, “I mean, I guess we can go.”

It would be rude not to, she decided. Even if I am certain Agatha is up to no good.

Avery began bashing his head on the table. “I dunno…” he said through the bashing. “I don’t wanna…but…”

He said no more.

In a way, he wanted to go because he still cared about Agatha. But Agatha was horrid, to both him and Vivi. And in the Snake Pit, around all her friends and fellow Snakes, she’d be worse. That is, unless she intended to be nice in that same sickening way she had been a few minutes ago.

Avery was confused.

“Agatha will be horrid to us. Unless she’s plotting something and has to be nice to us…”

He paused.

“Do you think I can give her a pail of vomit?”

“No.” Vivi said honestly, thrusting her hands between Avery’s head and the table. She almost commented on his head bashing, but decided not to. By now Avery knew how she felt about the practice; he had done it in her presence enough times before. Vivi always insisted that it made her head hurt as well.

“No vomit. We’ll have to be proper and formal and ‘Yes dahling’ and ‘No dahling.'” She screwed up her face in distaste, both at the thought of acting like a proper Slytherin and carrying a pail of vomit. But, bodily fluids aside, Avery had brought up a very, very valid point.

What if this was one of Agatha’s tricks? There was no other reasonable explanation as to why she would choose now to make amends. “I dunno if she’s plotting, Avey. Wouldn’t surprise me. Going is your call though. Ya know her best.” Standing, Vivi leaned over and pecked him from across the table. She seemed very calm, considering the circumstances. The only sign of her internal agitation was the way her fingernails bit into her palm. “I’ll meet ya outside Gryff commons later, okay?”

“Fine…” Avery groaned, resting his head on the table and exhaling loudly. “I’ll just figure this out myself. No need to worry about me. I’ll be fine…”

He said all this and didn’t realize Vivi had already left.

He resumed head bashing.

Half an hour later, Avery had decided.

They were going if they had to be dragged there by a chimaera.

Avery was not going to back down. Agatha couldn’t win.

So he waited outside the common room, pacing. He was growing impatient. He wanted Vivi to show up before he lost his nerve and chickened out. If he told Vivi they were going, he would feel strangely obligated to go.

If she didn’t show up soon, he could just pretend he never intended to go.

Denial was beautiful.

Vivi slipped quietly down the hallway, her socked feet making barely any noise against the flag stone. She was more comfortable without shoes than with them, and right now she was worried enough to choose comfort over fashion. In one hand she carried a catalog, just in case.

“Avey,” she called when she was close enough to speak normally, shaking her head at his turned back. He was pacing. That was never good.

“Hi.” She slide her arm around his waist in a half-hug, and then backed off, wondering what he had decided. “You ‘kay?”

“We’re going…” he said suddenly, nodding his head rapidly and shaking slightly. It was almost as if he was twitching…or as if he’d had too much sugar and was just coming off the high. “Yup. Uhhuh. We’re going.”

He continued nodding and bouncing and twitching, eyes wide and glued on Vivi. It was all he could do to keep from backing down. He had to make sure he told Vivs before he had second thoughts. That’s why he told her so fast…and so many times…

Though he didn’t know why he was twitching… That was kinda weird…

“All right.” Vivi said slowly. Maybe she should get out her wand; it looked like Avery was going to need a calming charm soon. “That’s fine. I don’t think we can not go. Because if she’s plotting something we have ta go to find out what.” Of course, Vivi had guessed from the get-go that they would be going. She did not want to, but how could they not?

Avery just nodded…

…and twitched…

“Schnickkerdoodley,” he said to the Fat Lady. Avery entered the tower, ignored everyone in the common room, and ran up the stairs to his dorm.

“Wait—” Vivi called after Avery as he disappeared into the Gryffindor common room. She caught the painting before it closed, much to the dismay of the Fat Lady (“You’re not even a Gryffindor!”), and hesitated on the threshold. What on earth was Avery doing? Oh screw it all, Vivi thought and dashed after him. Thankfully the Gryffindor head of House was not in the common room, and she doubted very much that anyone else would bother them. Avery was Head Boy after all. That had its advantages. Entering Avery’s chambers, Vivi shut and locked the door behind her, stepping over piles of cloths. Avery was lying on the bed and staring blankly at the ceiling. No twitching. Just staring…

“Talk to me, Avery,” Vivi whispered, sitting on the bed next to him and pulling her legs under her. Something was wrong. She could not remember a time when Avery had acted like this. Like he was fighting an internal battle, almost, or at least focusing on something deeper than the party.

“I’m fine…” he said simply, staring intently at a potion stain on the ceiling. Then he started humming that song again. It was the one his mom used to sing him as a baby to calm him down.

The last thing he needed was to think about his parents.

The picture of his mom on the garden post was burned into his memory. And it wasn’t going away anytime soon.

He stopped singing the stupid song and closed his eyes in an attempt to not cry.

For some reason, Agatha’s party was bringing out all sorts of emotions that Avery had, supposedly, done away with. Agatha’s party was in no way related to his parents. Yet he thought about them. About that whole dreadful summer. And the more he did nothing—the more he focused on not bawling—the worse it got. He saw his mom’s lifeless body as easily now as he had the seconds after he tossed her through the kitchen wall.

He couldn’t fight it any longer.

He started crying.

“Oh,” Vivi said. It was just one soft word of surprise and anguish that was born out of his. She had always known that there were things Avery did not tell her, and she knew instinctively that this was one of those things. Agatha could never do this to Avery.

She did not talk. There was nothing to say. Instead, Vivi wrapped her arms around him as best she could and held him, offering a shoulder to cry onto. She could not promise him that everything would be okay, but she could be there for him. And maybe that would be enough.

Avery didn’t like people to see him cry. Crying, though necessary at times, showed weakness. At least Avery thought so. He felt stupid crying when Vivi didn’t know what it was about. But if he told her, she’d think he was insane.

The only way to save face would be to stop crying. But bottling things up made things worse in the end.

He couldn’t win.

Thankfully, Donal wasn’t around. It was just him and Vivi. If anyone had to see him cry, he’d want it to be Vivi.

He felt strange, having her hold him. He felt almost like he did after the transfiguration lesson in which they changed genders. Vivi became the sex-starved boy and Avery became the needy girl.

Then, as he was sobbing, it occurred to him. He didn’t have to be a girl to feel needy—to need someone else on whom to cry. Humans depend on people. He, as a boy, needed Vivi. There was no weakness in that.

It was human nature.

After a long while crying, Avery began to calm down. Tears still streamed down his face, but he could talk. Brokenly, but he could talk.

“It’s my parents…” he said simply, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “That song… Mom used to sing it to me… It made me think of that summer…when…”

He didn’t finish. Saying, “I killed my parents,” made it final. By not saying it, Avery didn’t have to believe it. It remained unsaid. Therefore it was undone.

It was another twisted way to protect himself.

His parents. That summer. Comprehension did not dawn on Vivi, but it trickled to her in pieces. She knew that Avery’s home life was less than ideal. Now she was finding out what she did not know. She did not know who his family was, or why he never spoke about them, or…or what had happened the year he was gone from Hogwarts. There was a large chunk of Avery’s past that Vivi knew nothing about.

“When what, Avery?” she asked hesitantly. For once it was more than mere curiosity. Maybe if Avery told her it would bleed off some of the poison for him. She knew well that sharing secrets was easier than bearing them alone. “Ya can tell me,” She persuaded, “But ya don’t have ta.” It was his choice. But she wanted desperately to help him.

She cared, Avery realized. She probably didn’t want to hear his sob story, but she cared enough to ask. If not out of curiosity then out of courtesy.

Just the same, he appreciated it.

Avery got off the bed and walked over to the window.

He didn’t necessarily want to relive his summer through his story—he didn’t want to tell anyone about it—but telling would make things easier. He could move on. Vivi would know the part of his life he’d kept secret.

He took a deep breath.

“I killed them. Mom and Dad. Tossed Mom through the kitchen wall and onto a garden stake. Dad just crashed into a wall. Imploded on himself.”

“Oh, Avery,” Vivi gasped faintly, as Avery recounted the story. She sat, wide eyed, with her hands clenching the sheets and her feet tucked under her, a white, pained expression on her face. She had never known. She had dated Avery for one and a half years now, and she had never known. Why had she not asked? Why had it never occurred to her to wonder…to wonder…to wonder what, that Avery had killed his parents? That it was his fault he had no family?

That he tossed his mom through a garden stake.

Why had it never occurred to her to ask herself whether or not her boyfriend had ever murdered anyone? Well, there was an easy answer to that.

As her thoughts raced away, shocked and appalled, and utterly astonished, Vivi focused her gaze on Avery. She saw his hand rise, she saw the tears on his cheek, and it was like everything in her head went skiing straight into a brink wall.

The accusations stopped dead. And Vivi refocused.

This was Avery she was thinking about.

The Avery who loved her. The Avery who stood up for her. Her Avery.

She felt an instant rush of guilt for her moment of betrayal. Avery was not a murderer. He was a good person, and oh, what must it have been like for him?

Unaware of Vivi’s reaction, Avery wiped some fresh tears from his eyes and continued.

“They got caught up in a faction of dark wizards. Wanted my help. Figured I could help them or something. Recruit students maybe…but the Ministry got to me first. After…after finding out I had nothing to do with it…” he paused for a few seconds to breath, to calm himself. “After they found out I had nothing to do with it, they wanted me to help put Mom and Dad…in Azkaban.” He sighed and wiped more tears from his eyes.

“Man…it’s beautiful,” he said, staring out at the Quidditch Pitch and at the octopus in the lake. It was a random, unrelated observation, possibly made because he was alive. He could see the beauty of the world. Breathe, touch, taste, love. Love Vivs…

“It is beautiful,” Vivi remarked tenderly, instinctively aware of why Avery changed the topic so rapidly. Vivi did not understand what he had been through, or what he was still going through—she could not. It was far beyond the boundaries of her experience and far beyond those of her imagination. She did understand, however, that in the face of death life is stronger. So she knew why Avery reflected upon the beauty of life before continuing his tale of death.

He stared out the window silently for a few minutes, reflecting. He was alive. The people who raised him as their own died at his hands.

Something just wasn’t right about that.

“Things went wrong though,” he said, jumping right back into his story as if he’d never stopped. “Douglass, the head of the whole operation, was part of the same faction. The Ministry contacted me, so I guess Douglass stepped in to throw me off. To make sure I didn’t succeed.”

He grabbed a tissue and blew his nose. “Everything backfired. In the end, some real Ministry members came to help, but everything happened so fast and almost everyone…died…”

He took another deep breath and blew his nose again. “Spells were flying everywhere. Mom was about to disarm me, so I cast the first spell that came to mind. It hit her and…and she flew through the brick wall. A garden stake went straight through her.” He paused for a few moments to compose himself. He was determined to finish his story before he started bawling again. He’d cry, but he was going to finish first. He walked back over to the bed and lay down next to Vivi. Eyes fixed on the potion stain, he continued. “Dad was livid. Sent something nasty at me. Completely legal, but I crashed to my knees. Adam, someone from the Ministry, flung Dad into the wall, killing him. Then Douglass killed Adam.”

He wiped more tears away and closed his eyes.

“I got angry, found my wand, and…and…killed Douglass.” His voice was shaking badly, but shook even more as he continued. “Avada Kedavra.”

It took him a good five minutes to recover from that comment. Hearing himself say it out loud—that he’d used Avada Kedavra—made it final. It was all part of that denial thing.

He said it and felt horrible about it. So what if Douglass was a killer? The wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing.

Avery pressed on. “I killed him, and then blacked out. Dad’s spell and the energy it took to kill Douglass put me in a coma for a couple weeks. I woke up in St. Mungo’s and had some talks with the Minister of Magic and some department heads. They pardoned me for using—” he took a deep breath “—Avada Kedavra and told me not to tell anyone about what had happened. Something about endangering everyone if I told.”

Avery shrugged. “We did lots of cover-up work after I got out of the hospital. Destroyed the house, modified people’s memories, junk like that.”

Then he stopped. He just dropped off, but he had nothing more to say. All that needed to be said had been said. There was no more Vivi needed to know.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Vivi whispered, taking Avery’s hands in her own. “But I’m sorry Avery. Oh, I’m so, so, sorry.”

She was. She was sorry that it had happened, sorry that he had to endure the pain, sorry events had led to guilt, sorry that she had never tried to help him before.

She was sorry, sorry, sorry—but a thousand apologies could never reverse what was done. She could only hold his hand, and hope that everything would be okay.

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