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Decoding the Tutshill Tornados by Mistress

Format: Novel
Chapters: 24
Word Count: 127,424
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: James/OC, Harry/Ginny, Other Pairing

First Published: 10/18/2012
Last Chapter: 04/29/2015
Last Updated: 04/29/2015

Summary:
SEQUEL to Breaking the Quidditch Code * I’m James Sirius Potter. Chaser of the Tutshill Tornados. I have fan-girls. I have best mates. I have captain tendencies (mine’s a King!). I’m part of a legend, except I have a reserve trying to overthrow me, a sister as my heir, a new Code to follow, and Avery. The only girl I’d ever break the rules for. But she’s a Harpy.


Chapter 1: The One with the Media
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For thebakerwhowouldntlook for review #1, for Welsh Green for review #2500, and for PotterMistress for review #6000 as an author. All of you continue to blow me away with your support and amazing kindness.


Now, I present you with the sequel of Breaking the Quidditch Code! Enjoy! 





When the Quidditch world learned of the signing of the famous Harry Potter’s eldest son, James, by the Tutshill Tornados, it was in a tizzy. The announcement was made just two weeks ago in the Tornados’ Stadium (Twister Stadium) surrounded by media of all kinds. But until today, we were unable to get an interview with young James Potter, as he had to finish up his seventh year at Hogwarts, which we are told he accomplished quite well.

So directly after Mr. Potter graduated, we requested an interview to see exactly what makes this boy tick and how he managed to get a starting position on a professional team from a walk-on tryout. For any readers who do not know, it has been over a decade since a walk-on has yielded even a reserve.

We met Mr. Potter in a café down the street from the Potter house in the small wizarding village of Cresta.

Quidditch Weekly: So, James, can I call you James?

James Potter: You can, though I do miss Captain Potter.

QW: I don’t doubt that! Must be strange to go from Captain to regular Chaser, hmm?

JP: Would be weirder to go from Captain to professional toilet cleaner at home.

QW: So tell me, how did you find out you made the team?

JP: Well, you’ve seen the tapes. I’m pretty sure half the country has seen the tapes by now. Jackson Ballo asked me to try my shot against King Henrik Lindt. So I went out and did it.

QW: Just like that?

JP: I wish I could say I used some magical forces to propel the Quaffle up, but no. It was just a great shot. I’ve practiced it for years, so I was hoping it would be. Lindt missed. I scored. Ballo took me into his office and after some questions and a handshake I was on the payroll.

QW: You make it sound so easy.

JP: Trust me. It was anything but easy getting there. But I’m the luckiest guy around.

QW: And how does your family feel about this?

JP: Is that a real question? They’re simply horrified. A professional Quidditch player in the family? How crude, they said. They hate it. They’ve actually disowned me.

QW: Really?

JP: Of course not. They all want box seats.

QW: And on the subject of box seats. Is there any special lady that is going to occupy those seats? I know we’ve been getting mail already requesting the knowledge of whether or not James Potter is single.

JP: Well, I’m not married. Does that answer your question?

QW: Are you on the market?

JP: If there was a market, I would definitely not be on sale.

QW: Sometimes I forget you have been in the limelight of the media since you were born. You’re a natural.

JP: I’d like to think so. You know what else I’m a natural at? Quidditch. Is that not what we’re here to talk about? Or have I been tricked into talking about my family and love life? It wouldn’t be the first time.

QW: Nor the last, I’m sure. Of course. Let’s talk about Quidditch. Do you expect to start this fall after your rigorous summer of training and exhibitions?

JP: Of course I expect to start. I’ve worked too hard not to start. And now with school out of the way I can focus on Quidditch a lot more than I had at Hogwarts.

QW: Talk to me about your Gryffindor team. What can we expect to see from them moving forward?

JP: The graduates are all pursuing their own interests, some in Quidditch and some not. My little sister is Captain for next year and I have full confidence in her ability to pick a stellar team and keep the winning moving forward.

QW: With a little guidance from her professional Quidditch-playing brother?

JP: Naturally.

QW: That must be a lot of pressure for her.

JP: She’s a Potter. There’s always a lot of pressure for anything we do.

QW: I agree. Tell me, James, do you plan to stick it out with the Tornados or move on if a team offers you more money or a better position in the league?

JP: Everything’s step by step, my friend. I can’t tell you what my plans are until I make them, but I will tell you that I have been a Tornados fan since I could stand a broom the right way up, so I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere but here. I’ll also tell you I am in a hurry to get that C back on my chest.

QW: Surely you can’t mean that. King Henrik has been captain of the Tornados for ten of his eleven years with the team.

JP: I never said I want to oust Lindt. He’s a fantastic captain. I just mean I strive for greatness.

QW: Don’t we all? Thank you again for joining us, James. I’m sure this won’t be the last interview.

JP: I have five lined up this week. I figured I’d have to actually start playing Quidditch first…

*

“You sound like an absolute twat in this article.” Bink attempted to refold the Quidditch Weekly and gave up halfway through, tossing it to the ground. “You said the word naturally. Do you know who says that word? Emerson Edwards. Or me when I’m sleep-talking.”

He had a point. Two nights earlier he’d gone on a tangent about cat innards and their noble contribution to society.

I shrugged. “I like to play for the cameras. Is that so bad?”

“Twat.” He fell backward onto the couch.

It wasn’t a normal couch. It was our couch.

During our last week at Hogwarts, Freddie, Bink, and I decided that since none of us had a desire to live at home or a lonely existence in a bachelor flat, we’d continue the roommate chemistry we had at Hogwarts (sans Twitwards). But with my big salary not kicking in until the actual season started and the other two hopelessly unemployed, we had to settle for something less glamorous than I’d hoped.

The flat above my parents’ garage.

Not that it was terrible by any means. The flat had its own separate entrance at the back of the garage and stairs that led directly to the living room. We had a large granite fireplace with huge windows and big, bulky sofas. The kitchen was attached with a counter separating both rooms, stools below. It wasn’t a big kitchen, but as Freddie was the only one who could cook more than a sandwich, it was all we needed.

The hall led to four doors. The guest bath (which Bink and Freddie shared) was on the left. On the right were two identical doors leading to two identical rooms. Fred’s was already a disaster with clothes strewn about. Bink’s was tidy like his hair, as he’d recently taken to putting product in it that smelled like penicillin.

At the end of the hall was the door to my room. I had already painted a big red C over it just in case anyone forgot I had been Captain of the Gryffindor team last year. Just in case. Inside was the master bedroom, though admittedly not much bigger than the other two rooms. I had a new four-poster that reminded me of the Tower, posters everywhere, and a closet filled with new clothes I had to wear to interviews and meetings. I used to just do my team meetings in jeans and a polo. Apparently now I had to look presentable to the public as an image of the brand of the Tornados.

Whatever that meant.

Lucky for me, since I was the one with the parents that owned the place and was the one paying rent, I got the master bathroom. It wasn’t much, but it was enough not to worry about which hair came from whom and why my bottle of shampoo was mysteriously missing. I had also taken to stealing Freddie’s because since I was a professional Quidditch player I needed to have the softest hair in the flat.

I finished my delicious sandwich prep and curled up to eat it in the chair beside the fireplace. It was summer and there was no need for a fire, so we kept it on cool.

“Hear back from the Wasps?” I asked, mouth full of bread.

“Silence is better than nothing,” Bink replied, shrugging. It had been a week since Bink had his try-out. He said it went well, but didn’t elaborate. That obviously meant it didn’t go well.

“Anything else?”

“Nada.” His gaze moved to the ceiling, blond hair spilling over the pillows. “I’ll write a few letters today, but most of the reserve positions are filled.”

I didn’t dare suggest a rec league. The mere mention had almost forced me into hives just a couple weeks ago. Bink had almost as much pride as I did.

“You’ll find something.” I smiled a bit. The truth was, I had no idea if he would find something. Bink always wanted to get into Quidditch professionally, but his attitude was lax. He didn’t do the research. Didn’t put in the hours. He just liked the sport and wanted to play.

“Fred at the shelter again?” He couldn’t contain his eye-roll this time.

Two things were obvious at that point.

One, Fred was volunteering at the local animal shelter a couple days a week and came home smelling like a farm.

Two, Bink had been “let go” by his family. Not to say he was disowned or any of that. He was still in contact with his parents and extended family. But the Legace family had plans for Bink. They wanted him to work for the Ministry. Bink’s father was the administrator of Financial Operations for the Ministry and they had been grooming Bink for the role since he was little. They only let him play Quidditch to unleash his attitude problem on other people.

I thought that was a little odd since it seemed to make it worse over the years.

Case and point: Meta McLaggen.

Ugh.

I had no idea how Rosey put up with him, though they were currently not speaking after an argument I wasn’t supposed to overhear regarding someone leaving rainboots outside the door.

No idea.

Not asking questions.

So Bink wasn’t getting his parents’ money anymore. He had what was in his Gringott’s account and after that ran out, he was officially a bum on my sofa. A very blond and prone to sunburn bum.

He resented Fred for being able to volunteer at will because Uncle George’s shop was consistently raking dough into Fred’s account, though he had no interest in retail. And no interest in spending that money on things like rent, apparently.

“Probably.” I shrugged a bit. Better not to get in the middle of roommate rivalries.

“What’s your life like today?”

I checked my watch. “Interview in a few hours for Witch Weekly.” I grimaced. “Also known as a bunch of questions about my love life, relationship history, and emotional health.”

“Think you can handle that?” Bink smirked, rolling onto his side and propping his head on his palm.

“Hardly. I’ll try to steer it back to Quidditch as much as possible, but I’ve heard those interviewers don’t know a Bludger from a Quaffle.” King Henrik told me that. He had his serious face on.

“Think they’ll say something about Avery?” Bink asked.

Oh, Avery.

*

We were supposed to sit in alphabetical order during the graduation ceremony, but I broke every rule in the Hogwarts book and sat with Aves. I couldn’t help it, standing in the back trying to adjust the horrible cap, nervous that they’d made a mistake and I’d get up there to accept my scroll only to be told I failed Charms or something silly.

Avery placed both hands on my shoulders and then set my cap correctly, a smile playing at her lips. “Promise me something,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say, so I just stared.

“No pushing me into the lake.” Her eyes were twinkly. She paused and straightened the tie which poked out from the top of my robes. “You look very handsome.”

“I dressed myself.” I glanced over my shoulder and Bink was attempting to mess up Freddie’s hair. A few girls were watching, including Amy.

“Are you ready for this, big-shot Tornado?” Avery’s smirk told me clearly she had no intention of treating me any different now that I was a professional Quidditch player. She’d still shove me into a bush.

“Don’t know that I’ll ever be ready.”

It was the truth. As much as I wanted to go start my new career as a Chaser for the Tornados, this was my home for seven years. The stone walls. The dull chatter at dinner. The feeding Victoria Emerson’s socks and denying it so he’d search everywhere. It was what I knew apart from my bedroom at home. And this one involved much less fighting over the bathroom with Lily.

I couldn’t go back now, though.

The doors opened before she could respond and we were greeted with two rows of chairs with an aisle in the center and risers on each side of the Great Hall where friends and family were perched to watch the ceremony.

Avery’s hand slid into mine. “Why don’t we do this together?” she whispered.

“Seems like a trend.” I shot her a sideways smile, letting myself relax, and followed her into the hall.

*

In the two and a half weeks since I told my team about my signing, Avery and I had spent time together for the bulk of it. We rode the train back together. She helped me unpack my bedroom. I had dinner with her and Mrs. Flynn. We sat in the garden and talked through exactly what had happened after my shot went past Henrik Lindt.

It was just like normal.

Except it wasn’t at all like normal.

But we were getting there. Getting back to the way things used to be. As long as I kept my eyes on hers. As long as I didn’t slip up.

Some days all I wanted to do was slip up, but I knew both of us had enough going on in our lives that it would have been wrong to complicate it.

Even though every time she left I wanted to kiss her goodbye.

I didn’t respond to Bink. Instead, I tossed my plate in the sink and retreated downstairs. It was raining (typical) so I jogged across the patch of grass and into the back door of the Potter house.

“You’re not allowed to steal food.” Lily didn’t so much as glance up from the glossy magazine she was reading. “You’re living on your own now.”

I leaned over and stole three chips from her plate. “Thanks, baby sister. Where is everyone?”

She shrugged. “Mum and Dad went to the Burrow. Something about gnoming. They wanted to take Al, but he has a hot date.”

I grimaced. If my brother was on a date, it certainly wasn’t hot. “He take Paloma to ice cream or something?”

“He was wearing a tie when he left.” Lily shrugged again. She finally looked up from her magazine. “You look presentable.”

“I pride myself in it.”

“I saw your interview. You sound like a twat.”

I smirked. “My agent already owled to say I have two bags of fan mail at the office. Clearly that tactic works.”

“Smarmy thing,” she muttered. “You’d better watch yourself.”

“I know how to play Quidditch, Lils.” I ruffled her red hair and helped myself to an apple in the fridge.

“It’s not the Quidditch I’m worried about.”

*

The Witch Weekly offices were in bustling London. They were on the thirty-seventh floor, disguised as a conservative fashion magazine, and had a receptionist with very nice grades. I attempted to keep my eyes off, but she leaned over in just the right fashion when I introduced myself.

Ah, Quidditch.

She led me through a tizzy of cubicles filled with women typing away and answering phones. Their spaces were decorated in photos and article clippings and one already had my Quidditch Weekly article in the corner. I was making good time in terms of a Quidditch rookie.

Finally we arrived in a large corner office with transfixing views of the city. I almost didn’t notice the woman behind the desk, though how could I miss her? The nameplate told me everything. I was to have my interview with the head of Witch Weekly, Clara Robinson.

Clara was a tall and burly woman, filling the space of her leather chair easily. Though she had on a frilly top and probably heels to match, she was not to be trifled with. I had heard stories about her. Abigail used to talk a lot about her when Fred was still being controlled by that crazy woman. About how Clara could ruin a reputation by sneezing at the correct moment.

I hoped the air filter was on.

“Good afternoon,” I said after a moment of stunned silence not to be in some cubicle wondering what to do with my hands.

Clara’s face lit into a smile and she motioned for me to sit down. “I have been looking forward to this for ages, James,” she said.

I decided not to mention it had been a little over two weeks since it was announced. There might have been sneezing.

“Glad you invited me.” Still had no idea why I was talking to the head of Witch Weekly. This woman signed pay checks. I was a rookie. Not even a rookie. I hadn’t even been to my first team practice yet. The most I’d done was shoot one Quaffle past Lindt and suddenly the head of a magazine wanted to talk to me.

“Tell me, has the position sunk in yet?” Clara asked brightly. “That you’re playing for the Tornados? And not just a reserve, either. A …. Chaser.”

The pause gave me the indication either Ms. Robinson had not done her homework or she was trying to work out the differences in the positions. The recorder on her desk was already moving, a red light flashing.

“It hasn’t,” I replied with a charming smile. It was something I’d been practicing in front of the mirror. Ballo told me he wanted me to sell the Tornados, and that was exactly what I was going to do.

After all, he was the one to give me a chance when David sodding Flynn insisted I not play.

I should really visit him in jail for enabling me to get a starting position instead of a reserve. What a man, that David Flynnerson.

I leaned against the arm of the chair. “Really, it’s been a whirlwind of emotions.”

“Oh?” Clara asked, suddenly interested.

“I don’t know how to feel,” I continued, my eyes on her green ones. “It’s all happening so suddenly. What a dream come true. I honestly couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity.”

That I worked damn hard to get, including broken bones.

“This must be such a sensitive time for you.”

“It really is,” I said, mildly concerned about agreeing with sensitivity. It wasn’t a very manly thing to do. “Thankfully, it gave me a chance to upgrade my wardrobe.”

“Oh?” she repeated, eyes wide. “Can you elaborate?”

I could see the headline now: James Potter wears WizardWear Polos.

*

The interview lasted what seemed like ages and spanned subjects like fashion, my emotions, and the difference between a Quaffle and a Bludger. According to Clara, it was “for the readers” because “certainly she knew the difference.”

Right.

It was late when I got back to the flat. Bink was on the sofa again, leafing through Quidditch Weekly with a pathetic look on his face. Freddie was home, hair wet from a shower or a wet t-shirt contest. He was stuffing his face at the kitchen counter.

“They get you to talk about your love life?” he asked, scooping up more pasta and getting sauce down his front.

“I dodged it.” I kicked my muddy shoes into the corner. “Went back to Quidditch and feelings.” It wasn’t as if real fans read Witch Weekly anyway.

“You have feelings?” Fred asked.

“About Quidditch.”

Fred was about to reply, but the door opened downstairs. I glanced around. All three of us were there. Generally, people rang the bell outside. My sister was going to do laps if she was barging in.

Too-light footsteps padded on the stairs. What?

I turned and my face exploded into a grin. “Falcon Cat!” I cried, falling to my knees and scooping the familiar black cat into my arms as she toppled over the final step. She was pretty big now and Avery was feeding her far too much. She had some chunk to her. I nuzzled my face into her fur in a way Witch Weekly would love and squeezed her.

Whatever. I just had a lot of feelings.

“Miss her?” Avery arrived at the top of the stairs, smiling. It was amazing how she was able to look both kind and sexy at the same time. She leaned against the wall and folded her arms, watching me with Falcon Cat. Then she looked over at Freddie. “Share the wealth? I haven’t had dinner.”

“It’s all yours.” Freddie nodded to a pot on the stove.

Avery didn’t wait for me to respond before ruffling my hair and retreating into the kitchen.

“I didn’t know you were bringing Falcon Cat,” I said, standing and holding the cat like a baby in my arms. She was purring. Damn right she was purring. I was the cat master. “Victoria might get upset.”

“Maybe you should stop playing favorites then.” Avery scooped some pasta into a bowl and hopped up beside Fred. “So what are the updates, gents?”

“Lily and I are starting training soon,” I explained, scratching Falcon Cat behind the ears. “Al and Paloma are on a date. My parents want to have a proper celebration for me being signed. Grandmum said something about cake, so I reluctantly agreed.”

Fred moved back into the kitchen and checked a cupboard. “It’ll be fine. There’s plenty of vodka.”

Avery’s gaze turned to the sofa. “Any word from the Wasps?”

“Not a damn thing.” Bink continued through the magazine, though it was clear he wasn’t reading. “No Wasps. No money.” He sighed. “Was it wrong of me to just assume I could play Quidditch after Hogwarts? There isn’t really anything else I want to do.”

I shrugged. Yes, he should have had a backup plan. How could I blame him? I didn’t have a solid backup plan if I didn’t count that Ministry internship rubbish. Which I didn’t.

“You’ll find something,” Avery said.

“What about you?” I kept my eyes on Falcon Cat. “Nervous?”

She paused. “Yeah.”

Avery’s tryout was scheduled Thursday. It had been moved twice already because of scheduling conflicts with the team. I told her third time was the charm. In reality, I was terrified for her. Scheduling conflicts don’t exactly suggest “I want you to play on my team.”

“You’ll be brilliant.” I straightened, hoisting Falcon Cat over my shoulder. “I got a new poster.”

“Tornados again?” Avery asked, hopping off the stool to follow down the hall and into my bedroom. “Ah. Are you going to tell Lindt you have a poster of him in your bedroom?”

“Absolutely not.” I closed the door and tossed Falcon Cat onto the bed. She curled up on the pillow, purring. “He’ll think I’m a tosser.”

“You are.”

“He doesn’t know that.”

“Yet,” Avery said, smirking as she walked around the room. She helped me set up most of it after the boys and I moved in, suggesting specific places for each poster based on the amount of light. All of my Gryffindor garb was on show. She even folded my Quidditch robes neatly into a shadow box and put it on the wall.

I couldn’t help but let my eyes follow her around the room. “You’re going to be fine, you know,” I said after a while. “At your tryout. You’re good.”

“Thanks, Captain.” Avery chuckled, moving some hair away from her face. She looked out the window onto the yard below. “Hey, James?”

“Yeah?” I pulled Victoria out of her cage and placed her on my shoulder. She was throwing dagger-glances at Falcon Cat. Spoiled rotten, she was.

“I need to ask you something.”

“Okay.” How very formal.

“Are we seeing other people then?” Avery turned and I couldn’t look away. I hated how she did that. Okay, I didn’t hate it that much. “Since this didn’t exactly … work out … is that what we’re doing?”

My throat dried.

I didn’t know what we were doing. The past couple weeks had been completely defined by Quidditch-related activities. Getting signed. Interviews. Getting along with my parents. Moving in. I had tried to keep my mind as far away from Aves as possible.

Clearly, not far enough.

I stumbled over a couple words, but gave up. What did I want? It was hard to think about, especially when I needed to be on my game for the Tornados.

But it was Avery. Avery Flynn.

This girl. She was my best friend, but she made me nuts. I wanted her to be happy.

Yes, that was what I wanted.

But she wanted to be happy with me.

Did she still?

I had no idea. Damn it.

“Why?” I asked eventually.

“Just wondering.” Avery shrugged a little too innocently. “Someone asked me out for drinks and I wasn’t sure what I should say.”

“Who?” I said. Way too fast.

“My neighbor.”

“That bloke with the orange tan?” I said. “Absolutely not.”

“James,” Avery said seriously, closing the distance between us. Her eyes were particularly green that day. “Just tell me what we’re doing.”

I faltered again.

“Then think about it,” she said, leaning in to press a small kiss to my lips. My entire body shuddered, but it was over as quickly as it had begun. She brushed her thumb along the collar of my shirt, smiled sadly, and left.

Falcon Cat let out a pathetic meow.

“Oh, shut up,” I grumbled, falling onto the bed with Victoria. They growled at each other. “Avery kissed me.”

Victoria hummed dangerously

“Stop pressuring me.”
 




Voila! Chapter one! What did you think? 


NEXT UP: James' first team practice and meeting.


IN THIS STORY: Familiar faces, new names, and James discovers he's a lot less prepared for a life of constant spotlight than he anticipated.


Chapter 2: The One with the New Code
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For HarryPotterWeirdo. Falcon Cat is a LEGEND. 





The stadium of the Tutshill Tornados was one of my favorite places in Europe. In the world. In the Universe. The League Cup had been lifted in the stadium dozens of times. The pitch was original to its founding in the 1500s, though there were upgrades to the grass and the stadium surrounding it. The foundations of the stands were a century old now and through the corridors behind the seating viewers could see countless images of the Tornados’ past, present, and future.

It was a stadium that took my breath away before I could so much as think. One of the biggest in the British / Irish League. Splattered with shades of blue and gray and the green of the pitch.

It was unreal.

But when I took my first steps out of the locker room before my preliminary practice with the Tutshill Tornados, well, it became real.

I stopped at the edge of the grass, blinking. The sun was high, reflecting off the stands to the east. Jackson Ballo was the only one sitting in the lower box. He had a clipboard and a scowl. A pile of spare brooms were scattered at the foot of the box.

Otherwise, the stadium was empty. No cameras. No reporters. No girls with glittery signs.

Henrik Lindt slapped my back with his bare palm. “Let’s see if you were a fluke, eh, Potter?” He chuckled and moved past me. I’d spoken with Henrik a few times since I’d been signed. He was there the day I completed my paperwork and sat beside me at the public announcement. I was used to the limelight – having the father I did helped with that – but the camera flashes that day were enough to nearly empty my stomach.

Henrik leaned over during the press conference and smirked. “Enjoy it, Potter,” he had said. “Nothing lasts forever.”

The rest of the team filed out behind them. I knew of them, of course. I’d been following the Tornados since before I knew what an actual Tornado was. But meeting them was petrifying. I shook their hands at the press conference, my own embarrassingly sweaty, and tried to stop stammering my admiration.

Tough, skilled Quidditch players didn’t blather on about that.

Besides, Bink gave me shit for being a push-over.

Smoke and Monroe were the Beaters for the Tornados. The two had been on the team since I was born. They were legends. They were ruthless with their bats, showing little mercy even off the pitch. They mostly grunted for communication, though a picture or two showed up in Quidditch Weekly every year of Monroe smiling. He had a waxy sort of face with thick lines and wiry hair. Smoke was bulky with very little hair and skin that made it look like he vacationed in Aruba year round. I tried for years to figure out the nickname, but had no luck. As far as I knew, his parents named him Smoke as a twisted joke.

I was jealous.

Smoke Potter.

Now that was a name!

Jack Barnes was our Seeker. His rookie year was my fourth year at Hogwarts. He was good. Had to be to play at that level, but he was impressive good. In a strange way, he reminded me of Meta. He was able to sort of sneak up on the Snitch. Unlike Meta, however, Jack was a good bloke. He wasn’t the lady killer most Quidditch players were (Smoke and Monroe). He was married with a little girl. He brought her around when I was getting my gear and she looked just like Jack, but if he had bouncy piggy tails. I hadn’t met his wife yet, but he mentioned she worked as a Healer.

Who I was most interested to play alongside, however, were the Torandos’ Chasers.

Alex Winters retired at the end of last season, unexpectedly, to head home and spend more time with his kids. Henrik told me in a hushed voice that Ballo had all but decided to promote one of the reserves to starter before he’d seen me. The paperwork was already filled out and tucked into a manilla folder on the coach’s desk. Then I walked into the picture.

Alyssa Mills draped an arm around my shoulder and bumped me with her hip. “Ready for the big leagues?” she said with a grin. She was one of the other Chasers, the youngest other than me. She’d been a reserve for a few years on the Finches after graduating from the academy in America and then shipped over when she was twenty-three to play for the Tornados. No one called her Alyssa and I had forgotten her name was Alyssa until I saw her formal paperwork on Ballo’s desk. She went by Ali or AliCat to the team, execs, and fandom, and she was well enough liked that no one forgot it. I did hear Ballo call her a Yankee once or twice.

“Do I have to answer?” I smiled a little, taking a few steps forward onto the pitch. Ali steadied me. “No. No is definitely the answer.”

Monroe and Smoke were already in the area, passing a Bludger back and forth between them. Jack was kicking around a few brooms, looking disgruntled. He was picky about his brooms, I had learned.

That was when I was hit on the back of the head with a Quaffle.

Ouch.

“Really?” I said, rubbing my neck. I had to remind myself I wasn’t captain and couldn’t give people laps for throwing Quaffles at me.

I was just a rookie now.

Talk about steps forward and backward.

“Nice block,” said Artemis, coming up behind us and spinning the Quaffle on the end of her finger. Artemis York was a veteran. She had dark skin and dark hair and was shorter than me by a foot, but she was one of the league’s most powerful Chasers. She knew her shit. I had a poster in my room featuring her for four years. Maybe five. I might have had a tiny crush on her.

By tiny, I meant large.

Unfortunately, the press was already buzzing about how I screwed up the ‘A Line’ and ‘A Game’ the previous Chasers had going with Alex.

Because my name didn’t start with an A.

Look here, press. I was a Potter. They should change their names for me.

Albeit, the A Line sounds a lot better than the P Line.

I’d have to owl Albus about this.

“Clearly my head has been mistaken for a shin pad,” I grumbled, still rubbing my neck. It was pounding. “Thanks, Arty.”

She threw the Quaffle at me again, but I ducked and it hit Ali on the side of the face.

Clearly someone wasn’t fond of nicknames.

*

Ballo rounded us up and examined the group dynamic (he shot Ali a look because she was elbowing me). “All right,” he said in his rough voice. It practically spit cigars. “We’re going to run a typical afternoon practice and see how Mr. Potter fits in. We’ll follow our normal drills. Jack, let out the Snitch whenever you want.” I noticed Ballo referred to some people by their first names and some people by their last. What the hell.

Everyone grabbed their brooms. Monroe was hovering, toes skimming the grass.

Ballo stuffed a whistle between his lips. “Oh, and Tutshill?”

We looked on.

“Don’t go easy on him.”

*

When I’d taken my tour of the locker rooms, I noticed seats in the showers. Scoffing, I wondered why they were there. Why would Quidditch players need seats in the showers?

For days like this.

I pulled off my clothes, turned the water on way too hot, and sat down in the shower. I leaned against the wall, letting the water and steam pour over me.

Fuck.

Everything hurt.

This wasn’t like a Gryffindor practice or even a game. I felt like I’d been run over several times by Muggle vehicles then forced to run a 15k and then once I reached the finish I had to cook omelettes to feed Ireland. Even my mind was exhausted, as I spent ten minutes just examining a stray hair on the shower wall, trying to decide if it was mine or not.

“You make it through practice, Potter?” Lindt flipped on the shower in the stall beside mine.

“I’ll let you know,” I grumbled. It hurt to talk.

“Sounds like Gryffindor left you a little ill-prepared,” he said with a chuckle.

“What makes you say that?” I asked. “I’m pretty sure marathon-training would have left me ill-prepared for what I just experienced.”

Constant Quaffle-handling, running exercises, carrying the equipment trunks across the pitch, balancing exercises, and barrel-roll practices.

“Ballo thinks you can handle it once you get used to it,” Henrik commented. “It’ll take a while. And a lot of ice baths.”

“Splendid,” I groaned, arching my back against the water. “You go to Hogwarts?”

“Years ago,” he said. I wondered why I didn’t read about that in his biography.

“Gryffindor?” I hoped.

“Hufflepuff,” he said. I thought of Darian Bay. Then I wondered what the hell happened to Darian Bay. Hopefully he was left to attempt sock-selling in London. But then I felt bad because Bink was currently employed as a bum on my sofa. “Surprised?” he added.

“Can’t say I’m not.” Hufflepuff was such a strange house. Okay, it wasn’t strange. They were Puffers, though! They rarely contributed to the Quidditch world. But rarely didn’t mean never.

“I’d like to go back and fly around on that pitch again,” he said with another laugh. “When I was at school, I captained Hufflepuff to a Quidditch Cup.”

“Hufflepuff has won the Quidditch Cup?” I said, dumbfounded.

“How do you think I knew how to get the League Cup for the Tornados?” Henrik’s water switched off. “Good luck recovering, Potter. We have a team meeting in twenty minutes.”

“Say what?” I said, head falling back onto the tile siding.

“Welcome to the Tornados.” He was laughing even harder as he left.

Son of a bitch.

*

The Tornados’ team meetings were not in the kitchens. Oh, no. Their younger brothers weren’t out patrolling the halls looking for lurking Slytherins. The team had their team meetings on the west side of the stadium in a room of floor to ceiling windows overlooking the sunset.

I swallowed hard and was barely able to select a seat at the conference table. The chairs were leathery and warm.

Henrik sat at the head of the table, his hair still wet from the shower. Monroe and Smoke flanked him, both distracted by magazines with half-naked women straddling motorcycles on the pages. Jack was beside me, a sheet of paper and quill before him. He looked like he was about to take notes.

Was I supposed to take notes?

Godric. Just what I needed. Not taking notes at my first meeting.

Ballo wasn’t there, though. How important could it be?

Ali slid down to my left and whispered, “How’s your body, Potter?”

“In tact,” I replied with a grimace because it was a flat-out lie. “How do you do that multiple times a week?”

“Stamina?” She shrugged. Her accent amused me.

Once Artemis fell into place across the table, Henrik cleared his throat.

“Ballo gave me the go-ahead,” he said. He looked important and regal in front of a crowd, worthy of his nickname. I momentarily resisted the urge to ask for an autograph. “Apparently Potter fit in well enough with our team and he’s going to stay.”

I wasn’t aware there was a chance I wasn’t going to stay.

Ali slapped me on the back and I all but crumbled.

“Potter, welcome to the Tutshill Tornados,” Henrik said and everyone clapped. “We’re a club filled with prestige, talent, and Cups.” That was my favorite part. The Cups. “We plan on continuing our streak of greatness in the League, which means nothing you do better fuck it up.”

Great.

“There are some set rules the members of this team follow.”

This was starting to sound familiar.

“A Code, if you will.”

No. No. No. No.

There was absolutely no way.

Henrik cleared his throat again, perhaps sensing my absolute terror at the idea of following another Quidditch Code. My mind went back to having my ribs broken in the Gryffindor common room.

“Do not, under any circumstances, end up in a gossip magazine for something negative,” Henrik said in his booming, authoritative voice.

With Clara on my arse I wasn’t sure how I’d avoid that one.

“Do not represent the team in a poor light,” he said. “That means do not make a mess of yourself in public or use vulgar language.”

Fuck.

“On the night before a game, your curfew is seven,” Henrik said, eyeing Monroe for a minute before looking back at me. “That is strictly enforced. The last thing we need is a tired player on the pitch. That’s how injuries happen, Potter.”

I should have used that one. Maybe that would have reeled Meta in.

Ha.

“The only exception to that is the tournament in a few weeks,” he added. Henrik adjusted his position in the chair and a few of the others laughed. I’d have to look up this tournament and find out why we were allowed out late.

That wasn’t so bad. We had a couple of those rules in Gryffindor. I’d have to work on the representing the team part, but they were manageable.

“Lastly,” added Henrik, his face turning serious. “That leaves the most important rule.”

I blinked, heart rate picking up just a touch. Like before I kicked off on the pitch. Ali snickered.

“You are not to date a member of an opposing team,” he concluded. “This means the actual team, the reserve squad, and their first farm team.” He was staring right at me. “No exceptions.”

Oh, good.

No exceptions.

I knew I would be paid back for the Code one day.

“Understood?”

“Yessir,” I stammered and the rest of the team laughed.

Shut up.

I couldn’t date anyone from an opposing team.

That was a LOT of people.

The League I was in. Plus the rest of the world. Not that I was going to go hang out with the bloody Finches, but I couldn’t date them. I wondered momentarily if I could date my own team, but decided that was silly, as the only person my age was Ali.

And she was American.

“Brilliant.” Henrik moved to the white board and started scribbling our practice schedule. Jack was copying it down. “Oh. And we have a three strikes system.”

“Three strikes and you’re a reserve for a game,” said Artemis. Her expression told me clearly she had been a reserve for at least one game.

My mind wandered to Avery.

What if she got the reserve position for the Harpies?

This wasn’t just breaking the Gryffindor Code and having people furious with me. And breaking ribs. No, this was real life. I’d be banned from a match.

I’d have to sit on the bench.

James Potter did not sit on the bench.

I’d kick it over. Unruly fucking bench.

See if it ever looked at me again.

What was I going to do about Avery?

Not that I wanted to date her.

Except that I did.

Ugh.

“You okay?” Ali elbowed me.

“Still sore,” I whispered, shaking my head and concentrating on the board. So many practices. So many sore bones.

This was the big leagues, though. No more Gryffindor locker rooms.

This was the real deal.

And I was its starting Chaser.

*

I slept in the next morning, thankfully, and woke to Falcon Cat on my chest. Avery had left her to stay with us since Mrs. Flynn was renovating the flat. Falcon Cat was purring and kneading at my shirt. I groaned, rolling over.

There were voices coming from somewhere.

Did I miss practice?

I checked the schedule on the wall. Nope. Just assholes ruining my life.

The sun was streaming in through the break in the curtains. Make it stop.

“Tory?” I said, voice hoarse. Everything ached. Falcon Cat trotted along the side of the bed and hopped down. She rubbed against the door.

Victoria crawled to the cage door and allowed me to pick her up and pull her into bed. I didn’t want to get up. Or move. Or speak.

Unfortunately, Tory went flying onto my pillow when someone banged on the door.

“Die,” I grumbled.

“Are you coming?” Freddie poked his head inside and then grinned, scooping up Falcon Cat. “They’ve got the tent set up.”

“What tent? Why is there a tent?” I grabbed Tory and snuggled her close to my chest again.

“The Weasleys are celebrating properly today.” He hoisted Falcon Cat onto his shoulder, where she sat, content. “Also, they won’t let me touch the cupcakes until you get out there.”

“Who’s there?” I wondered if I could have Tory balance like that on my shoulder. She would probably eat my shirt.

“The whole family,” Fred said, nose wrinkling. “Uncles. Aunts. Cousins, annoying and non.” He shrugged a little. “Bink’s down there avoiding Rose. Avery helped with the cupcakes.”

“Avery’s here?” I tried not to look too shocked.

Fred rubbed the back of his neck because Falcon Cat was swatting at it with her tail. “Should she not be? Pretty sure she does more family stuff with our clan than you do.” That was true. “Amy’s on her way.”

“How is your little dewdrop?”

Fred flipped me off. “She’s doing well. They already have summer reading for school, so she’s been taking care of that.” He patted Falcon Cat on the head. “Get dressed and get downstairs. I want a fucking cupcake.”

“You are a cupcake,” I grumbled as he left.

Victoria wobbled onto my stomach, humming delicately.

“Avery’s downstairs,” I said, trying to shrug but the pillow was in my way.

She stared.

“Just being all...Avery.” I swallowed hard. Why was this so difficult? I’d made myself a promise. We had to be best friends again before we could take any steps.

But weren’t we? Hadn’t we been back there?

Certainly no one else held the title.

She asked if we were seeing other people. Hmm. Were we? I wasn’t seeing anyone. Then again, I was a little busy getting my arse kicked almost daily by drills and broom exercises. Very little time in there to date.

And someone asked her out for drinks!

Pfft.

She could go for drinks with anyone she wanted.

Right?

Of course not.

I would hex the hell out of them. Wesley Jordan style.

I groaned. “Why the hell is there a Code?” I said, rolling onto my stomach and burying my head in the pillow. Victoria scampered to the edge of the bed. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“FUCKING.” I wheeled around, blankets flying, and spotted Avery. She was in the doorway looking gorgeous in a summery purple dress and her hair pulled back. I grabbed the sheet and tugged it to my chest. “What’re you doing in here?”

“Clearly invading your privacy.” She smirked.

“Freddie was just in to wake me.”

“He said you didn’t get up.”

I hated Freddie.

I pulled the sheet the rest of the way to my neck. “I’m fine,” I said. “I’ll be down shortly.” My face was on fire. I glanced to the floor since looking at her made everything warm. That was the last thing I wanted. Warmth.

Godric. I couldn’t do this.

“Is everything okay?”

I cleared my throat, very aware of how hot my ears were. “Is it ever?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Not now.” I shook my head and leaned over, spying a crowd of ginger and freckles by a white tent out back. “We can talk about it later. Right now I have to go smile and pretend I don’t feel like I want to soak in a hot bath all day.”

“Did you want me to draw you a bath later?”

Yes, Avery, provide me with the image of you drawing me a bath.

I coughed a little. “You know, I’m up.” I dropped Tory back into her cage and leapt to my feet. I tugged on jeans, aware of her eyes on me, and smelled a polo before pulling it on. “Look. I’m dressed.”

Avery laughed. “C’mon, Tutshill Tornado. Let’s go brag to everyone how good you are.” She hooked her arm around mine. “Unless you’d rather stay.” She was smirking in that devilish, sly way she knew I couldn’t resist. I was moderately certain Avery Flynn was seducing me.

And very certain it was working.

“CUPCAKES!” I cried and ran from the flat.

*

When Freddie said everyone was there, he wasn’t exaggerating. Relatives I hadn’t talked to in ages were there. Cousins who annoyed me on a regular basis were there. Bink was charming my Aunt Fleur (or was it the other way around? Either way Victoire was busy cooking up death plots) and Rose was sulking with Albus by the cupcakes.

Cupcakes!

I grabbed one, stuffing it in my face so the sprinkles fell on my shirt.

“Uncomfortable yet?” Albus glanced over his shoulder and then back to me. “Or are you used to all this attention by now?”

“If only I was a Prefect,” I said dryly. “Then I would be used to being the center of attention.”

“Nope. Just the Quidditch captain.” Al rolled his eyes. “What’re you doing over here anyway? Grandmum is inside finishing up the cake.”

“But there are cupcakes.”

“Shocked?”

“Not at all,” I said. I looked at Rose. “Don’t you have friends?”

“I will tell Avery about your sleep-talking the other night,” she shot back, barely opening her mouth.

I hesitated. What had I spoken about?

“Why were you in my flat?”

“Bink wanted to talk.”

“About what?”

“About sodding Quidditch, James,” Rose snapped. “Now shut up.”

“Are you two back together?”

“We were never together.”

I sighed. “You’re tiring.”

“You’re obnoxious.”

“How’s Paloma?” I turned to Albus.

“Fine.” He looked disinterested.

“Did you sleep with her yet?”

There was the blush I was so used to. “I did not,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “Not that it is any of your business.”

“Al’s shy.” Rose ruffled his hair and suddenly I got the image of her and Bink hooking up. I wanted to vomit. Gross. Cousin-best mate snogging sex stuff. Gross.

Albus shrugged off her hand. He had decided to spend his summer engrossed in studying as a last-minute ditch attempt to be named Head Boy. Rose, I had heard, was doing quite the opposite. She was attempting to get him out of the house and down to the pub.

What was Bink doing to this girl?

I had promised everyone I would stay out of it. No Code.

But she was my cousin! And he was my best mate! And both of them were out of their minds.

“Jamesey!” If I didn’t recognize the voice, I would have considered it weird Nia showed up at the party. It was Grandmum, though. She could get away with calling me Turtle Dove. She threw her arms around me, wiggled, and then kissed me full on the lips.

Bloody hell.

“Hi, Grandmum,” I muttered, blushing because Rose and Albus were laughing.

“Look at my famous little Quidditch player.” She was pinching my cheeks.

Grandmum looked good for her age. Her once-ginger hair was now mostly salt and pepper and she looked thinner than she had years ago, but she was healthy. Mum told me not to brag too much about my new job because Grandmum had already occupied every conversation she was a part of with the information.

I tried not to rub my cheeks after she pinched them, but it hurt.

“How was your first practice, dear?”

“Painful,” I admitted.

“You’ll get used to it. Your mother told me how hellish things were for her. I have all of her letters.”

I’d seen quite a few of them.

She ruffled my hair. “Have you had some sweets, dear? Make sure you get them before Louis gets to them. You know how he dotes on you.” That was a good point. Louis was my biggest fan in the family. He wanted to be just like me.

Nevermind he couldn’t balance on a broom to save his life.

Grandmum leaned close to me so Rose and Albus couldn’t hear. “How are things, James?”

“Erm,” I said, pondering. “Things are … okay.”

“How are things with Avery?”

“How do you know about Avery?” I said, a little louder than I would have liked. Luckily, my brother and cousin pretended not to have noticed and continued their conversation about the quality of cupcake sprinkles.

“Honey, everyone knows about Avery.” I realized that my nose-scrunching came directly from her. Grandmum sighed. “She seems to be around quite a bit from what your parents told me.”

Now she was drilling my parents about my love life. Bollocks.

“We’re friends,” I said.

“Just friends?”

“Just friends,” I replied, thinking of Henrik in the chair at the end of the conference table. That was the way it had to be anyway, regardless of the way my mind circled back to snogging her in broom cupboards last term.

Grandmum was about to reply, but smiled at someone over my shoulder. “James, have a good time. The cake will be out as soon as Audrey is done frosting it. Why don’t you mingle, hmm?”

Mingle. Ugh.

That was what they suggested I do after the press conference. Instead, I suggested a private tour of the locker rooms. Luckily, they agreed and were excited to show me all of the things Gryffindor did not have.

I wasn’t the best at mingling when I held no authority.

“Just friends?” Albus asked when Grandmum had filed away to greet some of her old bridge friends. “Are you really going to do this again?”

I shrugged. “I don’t have a choice.”

“You graduated, James!” Albus hissed. “Stop torturing yourself.”

I thought about the bench on the side of the Tornados’ stadium. Nope. That was a place I would never sit.

“I’m busy,” I said, spotting Fred and Amy at one of the tables across the tent. “I have to antagonize the Mr. and Mrs.” I shrugged off his other questions and maneuvered through the chairs all the while being congratulated on my accomplishments.

Before I reached them (they were laughing, not snogging, which I was still impressed with), my wrist was snatched by my talented mother and I was tugged onto the small, makeshift dance floor. She spun me around, smirking, and pulled me against her.

“My son, all grown up.” Mum was wearing her hair up, but loose around her face. Some of it was falling away from the clip. It was as red as ever, just like Lily’s, and she was in a pretty blue dress and shoes. To match the Tornados, I assumed.

“Don’t make fun.” I squeezed her hip. “I didn’t know you were putting this together.”

“It was your father.” She glanced over her shoulder, but didn’t spot Dad. “He wanted to have some big sha-bang to congratulate you.”

I stared. The tent. The food. The family members I fought to remember. Everything was Dad’s idea? Seemed farfetched. Even Professor Longbottom was there discussing what I assumed to be Quidditch with Lily by the salad.

“Are you sure?”

“Certain.” Mum laughed and allowed me to spin her. “You should probably say thank you.”

“Hey, Mum?” I pressed my lips together, considering this.

She looked up. I was glad I had her eyes.

“What would you have done had I not gotten it?”

“Thrown the party anyway.” She smiled.

“Good.” I pulled her into a hug. It was strange, being taller than her now when I had spent so many years looking up to my mother. “Is there really a cake?”

“Can’t celebrate properly without a cake.”

I thought about Fred with the vodka.

“Yes,” Mum said dully, “someone has already spiked the punch.”

“Wonderful,” I said. I paused. “I mean, how horrible. Why would someone do that at a mid-afternoon celebration?”

“Because they’re related to you,” she muttered. Mum kissed me on the cheek. “Go have fun. Talk to a few people, will you?”

“With words?” I asked. She knew how I felt about the relatives.

“Do your best.”

Mum knew quite well I favored certain members of the family over others. I couldn’t help it. The most Dominique knew about Quidditch was that it was played on a pitch and I was fairly certain Louis whispered that answer to her. We had very little in common. So I had very little reason to care. All the same, I nodded to Mum.

“I’ll give it a go,” I said, smiling, and ignoring all of that to go join Amy and Fred. Amy was blushing. “What’s happening here?”

“Absolutely nothing,” Freddie said, shaking his head. “Just discussing things.”

“What kind of things?” I took the seat beside Amy. “She’s a radish. What’ve you told her?”

Amy rubbed her cheeks, but it only made it worse. “Your cousin is devilish.”

“Ew,” I said. “It has to do with sex. Are you two shagging now?”

Redder and redder.

“No!” she squeaked. Fred didn’t seem pleased. “He’s just saying how we should go play hide and seek. Without the seeking.” She turned away, biting her bottom lip.

“Easy there,” I said, kicking Fred. “Enjoy the party before you go feeling up your girlfriend.”

“Can you blame me? One of us should do it.” Fred smirked at me.

Bench. Tornados bench.

“By all means.” I patted Amy on the shoulder. “You let me know if he gets too handsy. Grandmum will have a word with him.” Fred tried to kick me, but missed since I stood. I shot him a cocky wave and made my way back to the cupcakes.

Thank Godric for cupcakes.

I leaned against the table, taking a moment to survey my surroundings. Bink was sulking at a table (Aunt Fleur turned him down?), Rose and Albus were tearing up the dance floor with Molly, Louis, and Roxanne, Fred and Amy had vanished, Grandmum was lecturing Lily about the crumbs on her shirt, and Uncle George was standing on a chair giving a very good impression of the Minister. He’d just been appointed a few weeks ago and was a tall man with a booming voice that made anyone deaf just listening to a speech.

“Enjoying yourself?” Dad moved around the table, standing beside me. His gaze was focused on the dance floor.

“Doing my best,” I replied. “Still achey from yesterday.”

“Hard practice?”

“The hardest,” I grumbled.

“I bet it’s worth it.”

I nodded. That wasn’t even a question. I’d know just how worth it when I played my first game. Hell, my first exhibition game. When I saw the crowd.

“How’re the boys?” Dad helped himself to a cupcake.

“Bums,” I said honestly. I looked over and Dad reminded me of someone older. Someone wise beyond his years. He had lines under his eyes and looked tired. “Thanks for doing this.”

“Your mum did a lot of it,” he said, his ears reddening.

“Yeah, okay. Except I know you did. So say you’re welcome and we’ll call it a deal.” He joined me laughing and handed me a cupcake. “You didn’t have to.”

“Doesn’t mean I didn’t want to,” Dad replied. “I’m proud of you, James. I just wish I’d seen it sooner.”

“If I wasn’t such a jerk maybe you would have,” I grumbled, taking a bite. Yum. Chocolate. I felt awkward in my own skin. Father-son time wasn’t exactly my forte.

A cool breeze moved my hair.

“Call it even?” Dad said, putting an arm over my shoulders and squeezing as he finished off his cupcake. “Avery told me her tryout was rescheduled again for this evening.”

My nose wrinkled. Just like Grandmum’s. “I was thinking about sneaking in to see it.”

“Sounds illegal.”

“Yes, it does.”

“I’ll save you some cake.” Dad ruffled my hair, smiled, and moved toward Mum, who had just walked out the back door. He grabbed her hand, spun her, and pulled her onto the dance floor.

It was gross.

Except not.




A/N: Happy Holidays to everyone! Whatever doesn't offend you! 

I wanted to get something up quickly before I MOVE ACROSS THE COUNTRY. So I may be MIA for a bit. But I'll return with lots and lots of fanfiction! Of course. 

Thank you all again for reading. I am thankful for all of you. 

And I am thankful for James. And his need to kick unruly benches.

Thoughts on what's going to happen next? (Other than what I'm about to post)

UP NEXT: Avery tries out for the Harpies. James and Co. make a trip. And steal something that belongs to a familiar face.


Chapter 3: The One with the Stolen Car
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For kgrl for going through a lot of lengths to read my stories. 




“Are you sure this is a good idea?”

I rolled my eyes. “You practically do this for a living, Freddie.”

He twisted around, disgruntled. “I don’t see why we have to go anyway. She didn’t invite us.”

“It’s a closed tryout.” The mirror wasn’t exactly my best friend. In a desperate attempt to hide from paparazzi, we had decided on dressing in gender-swapped roles.

Yeah. Like girls.

Freddie pulled it off strangely well by now. He charmed his hair all long and flowing with a hat that went low over his eyes. He even shaved and, knowing his skepticism of razors, I was proud. He put on a grey dress, similar to Emerson’s dress, and stuffed some socks in to make it look authentic.

Bink was pouting beside him. “I don’t see why we have to do this,” he said. “Especially since we’re sneaking in anyway.”

“Put on your wig.” I threw the blond curls at him, smacking him in the gob. I didn’t trust us to charm our own hair like Freddie’s. “I want to see if Avery makes it or not.”

“Couldn’t we just dress as ninjas?” Bink said, tugging the wig onto his head. He looked positively miserable and took a moment to flatten the wrinkles of his boxy denim dress.

“Ninjas stand out,” I said. I also donned a wig, which was ginger and full with huge bangs going down to my eyes. All three of the dresses had come from my mother’s closet, including the one I wore with mustard yellow pleats down the front. She had said it was her interview dress. At least I knew no one would be fawning over me.

“And three blokes dressed as women won’t stand out?” Bink countered. He kept adjusting the wig.

“Not as much.” I shrugged.

Okay. Maybe I hadn’t thought out the plan like I’d hoped. All I could think about was how nervous I was for Avery. Granted, her tryout being moved five hundred thousand times didn’t bode well. But this was her dream! Well, reserve wasn’t. But reserves got called up all the time! Especially when stupid starters broke the Code.

That was another thing. If Avery didn’t make it, I’d be free to date her.

Not that I was going to.

But I could. I could date her if I wanted to.

If she got it, I couldn’t date her.

I ran my fingers through the ginger wig.

“Something on your mind?” Fred hip-bumped me. It looked strangely natural in a dress. I’d have to have a conversation with Amy.

“Something’s always on my mind.” I bent down, placing Tory back in her cage and locking it. “Let’s just go. I don’t want to be late.”

“Late for dressing in drag,” Bink grumbled. “Avery owes me a drink. Or seven.”

“She owes me a stripper,” Fred said confidently.

Bink and I stopped and turned. Fred was humming to himself.

I thought it best not to ask.

*

The Holyhead Harpies’ stadium was very different than my Tornados. It didn’t look much like a stadium at all. Four years ago, some billionaire heiress who happened to go to the occasional Harpy game decided to put her money somewhere of good use. To rebuild the old stadium from Godric-knows-when.

Now it was like a contemporary museum of art. The entire exterior was tinted glass with moving images of the current and past Harpies. Everything was granite and quartz and stainless. It was very modern and clean and even the ticket people sat on leather chairs.

All of the glass and angles made it a little more difficult to sneak into than other stadiums.

Not that I made a habit of sneaking into stadiums.

If I could manage this one, maybe I should make it a habit. I could become an outlaw. I’d wear a bandana and get spurs from my boots. I’d have to ask Ali about that since she was American and probably had a full closet with spurs, cowboy boots, and those wheat stalks people put between their teeth. I bet I could make one minty.

James Potter: Outlaw.

We snuck around the side of the building. The lot was empty except a few stray Muggle vehicles. I read in Quidditch Weekly the new coach of the Harpies was into Muggle devices. He was too smirky for my liking.

“See anyone?” Bink whispered. His back was flat against the glass. Luckily, we didn’t see anyone on the other side.

“I see a camera,” Freddie said, peering inside the darkened lobby. “The red light is blinking.”

“Right.” I groaned. Cameras were unanticipated. When I retold this story, I would have to leave out the cameras.

“How do we get in? There aren’t any unattended open windows.” Bink leaned away from the glass and looked skyward. Nothing. No way in. No outside office entrances. Just one massive lobby entrance.

“How did Aves get in?” I said.

Freddie pointed to the doors.

“They wouldn’t just leave the doors unlocked,” I said obviously. “That’s like leaving the Portrait hole open. Slytherins would get in there.”

Fred took three steps and pulled open one of the lobby doors. “After you, Slytherins,” he said.

I poked my head inside, but no alarm went off. No one was in the ticket booth. We stood there for a moment, in the center of the dark lobby, three blokes in dresses.

“Right.” I cleared my throat. “So there are cameras so let’s get out of here.”

Bink nodded to a staircase. “How about we snag some VIP seating?”

“I love getting arrested,” Fred murmured as we took to the stairs two at a time. He drummed his fingers along the wall as we went.

The first landing was the primary lower-bowl seats. Everything was strangely silent without people jostling for a seat and slapping their kids for being unruly. Nothing. Not so much as a popcorn kernel on the ground. Just rows of bright seats facing the green of the pitch.

“You see her?” Bink whispered. “Where is she? Did we miss it?”

I pointed to my watch, which was awesome and a Tornado watch I got for free. “Ten minutes.” Since I didn’t see any of the executives down in the front rows, I hurried along to the next staircase. The last thing I wanted was them sneaking up behind us.

Was I an enemy? I’d have to clarify that.

Box seating was next and we wiggled in an open door further away from the stairs. It was, like everything else, empty. This made me sad since I knew the white linen tablecloth usually featured mounds of tasty food. No drinks at the bar. Just the plush sofas near the edge of the box.

I fell onto the first brown sofa, resisting the urge to chuck the wig down onto the empty seats below. No. In case someone burst in here to interrogate us, I had to leave my femininity on.

Freddie plopped onto the sofa beside me. He twirled his long, brown hair around one finger. “Ever think maybe that was too easy?”

“What? Just walking in and straight up to the VIP box? Hardly.” I was a horrible liar. I glanced at the door, but it was unoccupied. “I wish she’d hurry.”

“Have you ever known Avery to be anything other than on time?” Bink leaned forward on the railing, trying to find the door to the locker room. He pointed three quarters of the way down the pitch. “It’s opening.”

Just as the door opened into a dark room, I spotted a few people walking down to the primary seats. Apparently things were done promptly for the Harpies.

Twats.

Six people sat in the exact middle of the fourth row. The seventh continued onto the pitch and took a seat on the bench with a clipboard. I recognized his face even from the VIP booth. It was the smirky coach of the Harpies, Cooper Bradley.

Yes, one of those douchecanoes with two first names.

I’d never met him, but he annoyed me enough in print that I didn’t want to with his stupid long shaggy hair he pulled into a tiny ponytail sometimes and his stubble and his branded image. It rubbed me the wrong way. Especially that he was a bloke coaching a female team. Not that I was sexist.

I just hated him.

He was speaking to Avery, who held her broom perpendicular to her frame once she was in front of the bench. Her hair was tied back tight and I appreciated the red-ness of her Gryffindor robes. Auction well worth it.

“You bring anything from Uncle George?”

Freddie shook his head. “Didn’t have any pockets.”

“Damn.” I wanted to hear what was going on down there. What he was saying to her.

Not that it mattered. A moment later Avery kicked off and started running average drills Cooper had probably given to her. With a smirk, no doubt.

She looked good. Well, Avery always looked good. Her turns were perfection. Her spine alignment was spot on. I could see the concentration on her face. Well, I assumed it was there. We were far up. I needed binoculars. Mental note for the next time I sneak into a private tryout.

“She’s doing good,” Bink said, kicking his feet up onto the couch in front of us. “I bet she’s been practicing.”

“Well,” Freddie said. “She’s doing well.”

“I’ll never understand you,” Bink muttered. “Have you been practicing with her?”

“No,” Fred said.

“I was talking to James. You’re too busy grooming rabbits.”

Fred scoffed.

I nodded, still watching her looping around the goal hoops. Exactly what we’d practiced. “A few times.” It was more than a few, mostly because the more her tryout was pushed back, the more nervous I became. I think we practiced more for me than we did her. Whoops.

“Who’s that?” Fred pointed to one of the six from the stands, who was now on the pitch grabbing a broom and Quaffle.

“Harpies Chaser,” I replied instantly. I knew that bleach-blond hair anywhere. “The one who stole a Beater’s bat and clobbered Monroe over the head with it last season.”

Bink grinned. “Maybe Avery can put in a good word for me.”

“What about Rose?” I snapped.

“What about Rose? We’re mates.”

“Right.” I rolled my eyes and turned back to Avery. The blond Chaser easily moved up the pitch and began to try and score on Avery. For the most part, Aves held her own. She missed a couple, but they were shots I couldn’t attempt, let alone dream of saving.

It went on for a while. Avery was repeatedly wiping her brow. Her hair was getting loose.

Eventually, the Chaser left the air and returned to the row of seats. She grabbed her papers and began to scribble while Cooper instructed Avery to do a few dives. They looked good. They had better because we practiced that for several hours in my garden. I had combined my practices with Lily’s, so she was there too. Watching Avery in awe because, let’s be real, who didn’t?

Bench! Tornados bench!

“This place is ridiculous.” Bink stood and hopped over the back of the other couch and leaned into the rail. “I can’t believe Avery might get to play here. Lucky bitch.”

“Watch it.” I jumped when her dive didn’t turn when it should have, but she redeemed herself with a barrel-roll. Good girl, Aves.

“I’m serious. The Wasps’ arena isn’t anything like this. Good. Sodding serves them right.” He crossed his arms over the rail. “Looks like the tryout is over.”

Avery hopped off the broom gracefully and shook Cooper’s hand. He said a few things to her, his other hand on her shoulder.

Get your hand off Avery’s shoulder, Two-Names.

Now.

Still there. Still there. Still there.

Git.

“She did well,” I said. “And it wasn’t a quick tryout to get her in and out. Maybe they did have scheduling problems.” Fishy.

“He’s touching her a lot,” Bink noted.

Thanks.

Now both hands were on her shoulders.

My blood was boiling.

“That bloke looks familiar,” Bink said, pointing down to the stands.

“Who? Cooper? That’s the coach.” I rolled my eyes. Avery was nodding. Maybe her nods meant help. She was in dire trouble and required assistance!

I should have been a knight.

“No. On the very end.” Bink wagged his finger up and down.

“Which end?” Freddie stood and scrunched his nose, which I noticed would not help him see any better. He got it from Grandmum too.

“Closest to us.” Bink’s hands moved to the rail and he leaned over the side.

I let out a yell.

That’s because Bink’s blond bombshell wig went flying over the side of the VIP box. It caught the wind, fanned out, and floated to the stands below.

Thanks to the empty stadium and my vocal chords, the wig wasn’t missed.

Eight heads turned. Eight heads saw a wig hit a chair somewhere around the twentieth row and disappear onto the concrete. Eight heads looked up and saw three blokes dressed as women, one with their finger still pointing down below.

“Fancy that,” Freddie said. “It’s Emerson.”

I choked. “What?” Against my better judgment, I raced for the edge, saving my wig before it got caught by the wind.

Fred was right. On the end closest to us was Emerson bloody Edwards, Twitwards extraordinaire. Gelled hair. Tie practically choking him.

“Security!” cried Cooper.

Hmm. It was at that moment I realized the Tornados wouldn’t be very keen on their new starter being arrested before the season began. That would be one strike. How did they deal with arrests? Surely that merited more than one strike against the Code.

Who was I kidding? If Ballo found out, I was toast. Not the good buttered kind with jam.

“RUN!” I cried, pulling off my wig and dashing for the door, the other two at my heels.

“WHERE?” Fred shouted, his shoes skidding on the concrete. The hall was empty.

“Not into security!” I shouted back. I took the first left turn and barged into a stairwell. It was dark and musty and I had no time for railing or safety precautions. Everything echoed, but I knew I had to keep going.

Think of that bench!

Avery was going to be pissed.

I threw open a door and realized we were on the first landing. The one that led to the stands were Emerson Edwards was. What he wouldn’t give to be the one to arrest me. Not that he was a security official. Was he security?

Pfft. Emerson Edwards was not secure.

“Back in the stairs!” I squeaked, trying not to yell in case security was in fact around.

That was when I heard the upstairs door bang open and slam.

“THEY’RE COMING!” Bink cried. His hair was all screwed up from the wig and running and he was already sweaty. He needed to work out when he was unemployed.

“Go!” I damn near shoved him down the stairs and the three of us tried not to step on each other. Unintelligible shouting was coming from above us. Bollocks. Echoing. Gasping. All really undignified.

Great. I was going to be arrested and put in jail and kicked off the Tornados. I’d have to do an exit interview about how I screwed up and then Clara would ask me if I met any nice girls in prison.

I wasn’t made for prison! I was too skinny!

Well, not skinny. Just not burly. I had plenty of muscle.

I should have asked Ali for those spurs.

“I’m not going to die like this!” I cried, shoving ahead of Bink and Freddie and damn near flying down another set of stairs. We had to be somewhere around the basement now.

“Door!” Fred said and I pulled open a heavy green door leading to an underground parking garage with a few scattered Muggle vehicles. It was a lot of open space, lit with some fluorescents. Some of them were rocking over the marked spaces. Everything was grey.

The door slammed shut behind us, creating a repulsive echo.

My heart was hammering. Sneaking in hadn’t required a plan like this. I didn’t have my Captain hat on. I hadn’t anticipating Bink’s wig being so ill-fitting. I hadn’t anticipated him spotting our old roommate I’d hoped never to see again, especially at Avery’s tryout.

Think, James. Think.

“Hide?” Freddie said, though he wasn’t coming up with a place either. The only doors led to the security officials or the fancy entrance meant for patrons. Which would take us directly back to the lobby. Right. No.

“Where? Under a fucking car?” Bink said, pulling the dress away from his body since he was sweating. “Goddamn it, Potter. We shouldn’t have come.”

“Can you drive?” I looked at him, chest heaving.

“What?”

“Can you fucking DRIVE, Legace?” I shouted. My voice echoed. Whoops.

“A car?”

“A RUBBISH BIN. LET’S GO.” I took off toward the nearest car, feeling faint and sick and terrified I’d never get to play as much as one game for the Tornados.

Bink whipped out his wand and unlocked it. Realistically, that should not have worked. It should have had more security than that, but it also looked like it had seen better days. In the 1980s. “Oh.” He cleared his throat and climbed into the drivers’ seat of the blue, rusted-out mess, tapping his wand on the wheel. “GET IN.”

“Right!” I practically fell into the passenger side and Fred took the back. He hadn’t so much as slammed the door when we heard a huge thud. Distracted, I glanced back to where we’d come from.

A security guard’s face was pressed against the small glass window on the door.

What?

“I figured that might slow them down,” Fred said absently.

“Nice.” Bink chuckled.

Maybe I underestimate Freddie every once in awhile.

The door handle jiggled.

“GO!” I cried, voice cracking.

Bink stomped on the gas pedal and I imagined that was how I would die.

*

The Harpies’ arena was situated in a small village away from any large cities. Good thing, too, because we were flying pretty high above the speed limit. Bink’s hands gripped the wheel so hard his knuckles turned white and the car didn’t slow until we were out of village limits.

Eventually, Bink pulled to the side of the road and shut off the engine.

“So,” I said, clearing my throat. “That was fun, huh?”

“I ought to kill you,” Bink muttered.

“Why? You’re the one that wanted to race house elves.”

He rolled his eyes. “That got us in trouble. This could have gotten us thrown in jail. We’re in someone else’s car right now.”

“They probably don’t miss it,” said Fred. He unbuckled his seatbelt and started rooting around under the seats. “Unless they wanted this granola bar.”

“Just because Rosey is a Prefect doesn’t mean you need to start following rules,” I said in a lofty way. Bink was usually the first person to break the rules. To ponder breaking the rules.

“This has nothing to do with her.”

“Either see her or stop talking to her,” I said. “This is just getting obnoxious.”

“I like that word,” Freddie said. “Hey, I found a bag.”

“Of granola bars?” Bink muttered. He was in a rotten mood all day. Ever since I told him he had to go as a blond instead of a brunette because of his eyebrows.

“Leather bag. Fancy!” Fred hoisted a large business bag onto his lap and dove in. I hoped there wasn’t some small dog in there or lizard. Then again, a lizard would have been cool. “Papers. Boring.”

“Maybe they have a name. Maybe this is Cooper’s car.” I laughed.

“He’s a little rich to be driving this, don’t you think?” Bink said, grabbing a few papers from Freddie.

“Candy!” Fred cried.

I held out my hand and he placed a few packaged suckers in it. Not cupcakes, but I’d take it. Or waffles. Godric, I could go for waffles.

“Can I ask you guys something?” Fred said, opening a box of chocolate candy and popping one into his mouth.

Bink grunted, his eyes scanning the documents.

“Why didn’t we just Apparate?”

Silence.

Now that I’d graduated I could Apparate. It wasn’t inside of Hogwarts grounds, unless the Harpies had some weird protection up. I could have just Apparated out of that top box.

Well, hell.

“That’s a great question,” I replied. “That I do not have an answer to.”

I spotted a cow some distance away, sticking its head over the side of a wooden fence. Everything was kind of flat with a few hills in the distance. Very green and summery. There was a ditch to our right. Mental note not to get out of the car if I wanted dry pants.

Erm, dress.

“So.” Bink tapped the papers against the wheel. “We’re probably going to jail.”

“We escaped,” I said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“Yeah.” He laughed a little. One I did not feel comfortable with. “We just stole Edwards’ car. And it says here he’s an assistant to the Minister of Magic.”

Well, fuck.

*

We made it home somewhere around seven in the evening after driving the car into the middle of the countryside, using our wands to wipe any trace of us from the inside, and letting Freddie pet a cow.

All I could think about was if the Tornados got wind of this. Going to jail wasn’t exactly part of the Code, but I was pretty sure Ballo and the execs had a Code of their own. Rule number one: Don’t go to fucking jail.

I hadn’t even played yet!

Great.

Falcon Cat attacked the bottom of the dress when I walked in the door and I scooped her into my arms and carried her up the stairs into the apartment. I wasn’t surprised to see Avery lounging on the sofa. I was surprised to see Lily, though. They had both raided the fridge and had eaten half the ice cream carton, judging by their empty bowls.

“I see you escaped security,” Avery said without looking up. She sounded mad.

“What?” I replied. “Security? We were...”

We should have discussed an alibi to tell Avery while Fred was petting the cow.

“You were at my tryout,” she said simply.

“That was today? Oh wow!” I said and the boys moved past me and to their rooms. Presumably to change. Hopefully. “How did you do?”

“Cut the shit, James,” Lily snapped.

“Watch your tongue, baby sister,” I shot back.

“Why did you go?” Avery asked, finally looking over. Her green eyes looked scary when she was mad. Her brows furrowed and she got all scrunchy.

I looked down at Mum’s dress I was still wearing and decided there was no way I could get out of this one. I fell into a chair and sighed. “I wanted to see how you did.”

“You could have asked.”

“You would have said... I don’t know. Terrible?”

“So?”

I shrugged. “I wanted to see your try out.”

Avery reached up and pulled the black tie from her hair and shook it.

Damn.

BENCH.

“What did you think?” she asked.

“You were amazing.”

“Liar.”

“See? You always think you’re worse than you are!” I said and threw a pillow at her. It was one of those pillows I wasn’t sure why we had. Too small to sleep with. Two big to exist, really. “Aves, you were spectacular. Your turns, especially.”

She looked over. “I almost didn’t make that third dive.”

“Thought I was going to have a panic attack,” I told her.

“You really went as girls?” Lily said. “Seriously, James. If you were sneaking in, why did you need disguises?”

“They were lucky,” Avery said as I opened my mouth. “Pretty sure it was because of the wig they didn’t get recognized. I pretended to be shaken up after the tryout and talked to Cooper and security. They didn’t know who you were.”

I thought about the wig falling. “Pretty sure someone else knows.”

“Right,” Avery noted. “Especially since you conveniently stole Emerson’s car.”

“We didn’t know it was his!”

“You STOLE a CAR,” Avery cried, throwing the pillow back. It crashed across my cheek, but didn’t hurt since it was a pillow. Kind of itchy though. “James, this is serious!”

“I know! I forgot about Apparation, okay?!”

Not okay.

“Where is it?”

“Why was he driving some piece of shit car when he’s the assistant to the Minister?” I countered. “Why, huh?”

“He’s not THE assistant,” Avery said impatiently. “He’s AN assistant.”

I paused. “Yeah, I have no idea what that means.”

“He’s like three assistants down,” Avery said. “He only admitted to that after I drilled him on what the Minister was actually like. He has no idea. I think he’s met him once.”

“Had a nice little chat, did you?” I said. I wasn’t jealous.

Avery didn’t fancy Emerson. She fancied me.

Ha!

Right. Like that was a battle to win.

“Oh, shut up, James.” Avery got to her feet and took Falcon Cat from where she was curled up on the arm of my chair. “I’m going home. The coach probably doesn’t even remember my tryout after that insanity.”

“He won’t forget! He was probably undressing you with his eyes!”

Avery turned.

Right. I should probably not talk.

Ever.

“This conversation is over,” Avery said. She grabbed her bag from one of the stools in the kitchen and paused at the top of the stairs. “I’m about ready to call it quits, James.”

I looked up, voice caught in the back of my throat.

She was frowning. “Fighting just makes me tired after a while.” Avery shrugged, kissed Falcon Cat on the nose, and left.

And took Falcon Cat with her.

Lily grabbed four pillows and crossed the room. I stared.

Then she slammed all of them into my face, jumped on me, and started repeatedly punching me.

Damn it.

She was right.




A/N: For all of those who kindly asked, the move went great. We are settled (after experiencing a few setbacks, including the flooding of our downstairs which I now call the "Great Flood of 2012") and I'm still in the process of setting up my office space (yes, plenty of Harry Potter gems around). It's positively beautiful and I'm so lucky to be here. The best part? Super inspiration! So expect some frequent updates for at least the next month or two! 

Anyway, back to James! I've gotten some great ideas and have planned out the next 10 or so chapters. Cannot wait to share them with you! I also have a George/Ang mini-fic (like 4 chapters? maybe?) that I will post shortly. It's inspired by the tale Freddie tells in Hormones about how his parents got together. Funny. Feels. You know the drill. 

Happy 2013, everyone! Make it the best year yet & don't forget to make a difference! xoxo

UP NEXT: The Tornados do some traveling and James realizes how much he means to people he's never met. Oh, and he develops a friendship. James meets the reserves and Clara makes an appearance. 


Chapter 4: The One with the Threat
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For Jazzercise. 




Practice the following day was just as excruciating. And the day after that. No one mentioned a run-in with the Harpies and I wasn’t receiving owls from the press, so I was lucky not to be nabbed. And arrested. And thrown into prison with a group of Quidditch-haters.

I would be the one stuffed into a cell with Quidditch-hating Slytherins.

What was Clint Lawson up to?

I didn’t have much time to apologize to Avery for sneaking into her tryout, even though I didn’t regret it. She didn’t come over after that and Lily said she’d heard Avery was still waiting on a response from the Harpies. I didn’t know why Lily was hearing things. I should have been the one hearing things.

Admittedly, I was a little busy to be hearing things. The following week consisted of four practices, seven ice-baths, one team meeting (“Doing well with the Code, Potter,” said Henrik), two training sessions with Lily, and one interview with a town magazine out of Tutshill asking about my intentions to provide the community with perks now that a Potter was playing on the team.

“What kind of perks do you mean?” I asked. My tie was uncomfortable. I wished it was one of my broken-in Gryffindor ties.

“Community outreach. Volunteering. Providing complimentary seats at games for orphans.” The interviewer was a tall, balding man in his sixties.

“How about I play a game first?” I asked. “Then I’ll reach into the community. If they’ll have me.”

Dad taught me how to dodge questions. He was a professional. Albus, however, hadn’t learned that yet and got all awkward and red during family interviews at fundraising events and so on. Lily had shoved him out of the way on more than one occasion.

The problem was, all I could think about was Avery. Okay, that wasn’t exactly a problem. I tried talking to Bink about it during one of his whiny unemployed lounges on the sofa, but he told me to owl Nia and have her come over for some fun.

Right.

What would I do if Avery didn’t get reserve? Would I apologize, kiss her, and then tell Cooper Bradley to sod off? Or would that complicate things too much?

Avery fancied me. I knew that. She told me. She wanted to be with me.

I didn’t want her to be with anyone else.

But at the same time I was having practice four to five times a week and trying to avoid breaking the damn Tornados’ Code. Jack was married, but the rest of the team sort of went on their merry way. Ali told me she didn’t have enough time to string a relationship together since she’d rather sleep in her spare time.

Sleep was something I missed.

But I missed Avery more.

And if she did get reserve? If she began playing for the Harpies?

I couldn’t date her. The team would find out and I’d be benched since I obviously wouldn’t stop dating her.

Unless I played so well Ballo wouldn’t let them bench me.

What if I scored all of the goals and became a superstar so I could do whatever I want because Ballo couldn’t afford to lose me?

Right. Yeah. I could throw a Quaffle, but the league was nothing like Hogwarts. I wouldn’t be playing against Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw Keepers. These were people who had worked their way up in the ranks and practiced all year. They didn’t have to study. They just had to keep a Quaffle out of the hoops.

Bugger. Why did they have to have a Code?

“Wanna go to the shelter?” Fred walked out of the bathroom with a white towel around his head and another around his middle. “I was thinking of dog-walking today. They always need dog-walkers. We should get a dog.”

“Yeah, no.” I leaned back against the couch. “How’s Amy?”

“Fine,” Fred replied. “She’s busy today getting homework done.”

“Tough dating a Ravenclaw.” I laughed.

“How’s Avery?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“James.” Fred sat down on the chair and kicked his legs onto the coffee table, creating a puddle from his awkwardly damp leg hair. “What’s gotten into you? Do you need me to knock some sense into you? Literally? I’ll do that for you.” He raised his right hand.

“I’ll pass.” The room was quiet except for the trees outside. Creaky.

“Any reason you’re not with Avery? Or are you just stupid?”

“Why? You breaking up with Amy because you want to be with her?” I said, voice a little snippy. I was sick of people bombarding me about Avery. We weren’t together. Drop it.

“Yes,” Fred said and my head snapped up. “No, you idiot! But that look you just gave me makes it kind of obvious how you feel!”

“I feel like going to practice.” I hoisted myself off the couch and padded into my room.

“You don’t have practice today!”

“I’m a Tornado! I’ll have practice whenever I feel like it!” I slammed the door behind me.

Stupid Freddie.

Stupid Falcon Cat wasn’t even here.

Stupid Victoria was asleep.

Stupid broom was in Tutshill.

*

“What’re you doing in on a day off, Potter?” Ali was in the locker room, sprawled out on a bench staring at a play chart.

“Sulking.” I pulled off my shirt and felt a little weird since the room was empty except her. Not that I was worried about her looking at me without a shirt. But it was weird. Since I was the only one without a shirt.

Not that I didn’t look good.

I was a Quidditch player. I looked muscular and manly.

I could hold my own.

Unless the bloke was really big or I didn’t have a wand.

I should get a sword.

“About what?”

I shrugged and tugged on my practice shorts and a plain blue tee. “Everything.”

“You’re sounding a little angsty,” Ali said, glancing over with a smirk. “Is spoiled Potter upset he has to take ice baths?”

“Shut it.” I realized I shouldn’t tell a teammate to shut up. I wasn’t the captain. But seriously, I wasn’t spoiled. So shut it, AliCat.

She laughed. “I’m teasing you. What’s wrong, babycakes?”

I’d never understand her strange accent and lingo. “Just having some social problems is all.”

“The place isn’t bugged. I’m listening.” Ali rolled onto her side and propped her head up. She seemed nice enough. Nicer than Artemis, that was for sure. That woman’s mystery terrified me. And her slaps to the back of the head.

“Teenage angst.” I tried for a sarcastic smile as I pulled on a soft white shirt. I changed my pants too, though my face got a little red since Ali never so much as glanced away.

“Are you going to bitch about it or spit it out?” Ali said impatiently. “Or do I have to start guessing? I’m very good at guessing games. Just ask Monroe. Found out how he lost his virginity during a guessing game.”

“How?”

“Why don’t you wait until you’re on the team for a couple weeks before I start rumors, Potter.” She winked at me. Ali was pretty, I’d have to confess. She had that fresh face that always made me look twice at girls. Her smile was infectious.

“I’m having girl issues.”

“Girls!” Ali sat straight up and crossed her legs on the bench. “Tell! Tell!”

“You make it sound exciting. I’m miserable here.” I pointed to my shirt, which I had just noticed was on backwards.

“What’s her name?”

“Avery.” I groaned.

“Is she pretty?”

“The prettiest,” I said without thinking.

“Does she know you exist?” Ali asked, leaning toward me.

“Yes. She’s my best mate.” I paused. I thought she was my best mate anyway. We hadn’t really been doing many best mate things recently.

“Oh, it’s one of those friends-turned-lovers things. I love this plot.” Ali clasped her hands together. “Okay, so what’s the problem? Does she not have feelings for you? Did you get friend-zoned? Should I tart around to make her jealous? I’m really good at that. Did it for Smoke last year.”

“She has feelings for me,” I said, shaking my head. Avery would kill me if she saw me with Ali like that. Or kill Ali. I couldn’t decide which was worse, but I’d definitely get a drink to the face and then she’d start dating Cooper Bradley or Emerson Edwards again. Assistant to the assistant to the Minister.

I was a Quidditch star!

Okay, not a star. I was a Quidditch player. Who hadn’t played yet. Who was only getting attention because of the name stitched on the back of my robes.

“So what’s the problem?” Ali’s head tilted to the side, her hair spilling onto her forehead.

“There are a lot of problems,” I said, thinking back on the entire spring term at Hogwarts. Everything that had gone wrong with the dishonesty and blowing up village blocks and losing blood and kissing her in broom cupboards. “Currently, the main problem is that she had a tryout two days ago for a reserve on the Harpies.”

“The Code!” Ali’s hands moved over her mouth.

“My thoughts exactly.”

“So if she gets it… you can’t be with her.” She looked deep in thought, rising and pacing the length of the row of lockers. Ali’s fingers brushed her chin. “There has to be a way around this. It’s such a great love story. I love happy endings. But neither of you can quit Quidditch. That’s absurd. Unless she wants to go play Quadpot, which I would not suggest as it bores the piss out of me.”

“I think that option is out.” I grimaced. I’d seen a game of Quadpot once. For ten minutes before drifting off to sleep.

“But there has to be a loophole.”

“Any Tornado ever found a loophole?” I asked, hopeful.

“Not one.” Ali’s back hit Henrik’s locker hard. “Artemis tried. She started hooking up with a Falcons player, which isn’t against the rules. But she fell for him hard and they started dating in secret. Well, the tabloids got a hold of it, Henrik got hold of it, and Artemis got to watch the reserve lose the game for us.”

I hadn’t met the reserves yet, but they couldn’t be that bad. They were reserves! Avery might be a reserve. She was fantastic.

“I couldn’t just hook up with Avery,” I said, frowning. I remembered hiding it before. I knew better than anyone I wouldn’t be able to just let it stay that way. Bink was a man who could do that. I wasn’t.

“Have you told her about the Code?”

“Isn’t it confidential?”

“Yes.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Good, Potter.” Ali crossed the room and ruffled my hair. “I don’t think there are any more loopholes, but if I find one, I’ll let you know.” She frowned. “Now let’s go toss around the Quaffle so you don’t suck come August.”

*

Lily blew off practice a few days later, which meant she was still peeved at me for sneaking into Avery’s tryout and probably because I wasn’t opening up about my feelings. Girls always thought things were so straightforward. You could either be with someone or you couldn’t. Well, it wasn’t like that.

But the more I was told I couldn’t be with Avery, the more I thought about kissing her. Touching her hair. Pressing her up against a wall hard. Falling asleep next to her. Kissing her. Kissing her. Kissing her.

Godric.

I took the gap in my schedule and used it to my advantage, visiting Freddie at the animal shelter. When I arrived, he was in the cat room, which was a large square space with climbing toys, balls with bells, and a few cages for the cats who bit more than they purred. The rest of them were allowed out and about in the room, which struck me as odd since the dogs in the other room each had their own cages. I guessed cats could be trusted. I trusted Falcon Cat. It was Victoria who I didn’t trust.

Oh. Case and point.

Fred was on his back on the floor, the cats climbing all over him and nuzzling. “James!” he said, leaning up. A cat climbed onto his chest and forced him back to the floor. “You decided to visit. Who canceled on you?”

“I’m that busy, huh?” I leaned against one of the climbing toys and immediately regretted it as a cat dug its nails into my cargo shorts to climb me instead. “Argh – It was Lily, actually. She doesn’t seem keen with me lately.”

“Maybe because she’s turned into Avery’s spy for information.” He shrugged and scooped up some kitties.

“Spy? She’s telling Avery things about me?”

“I’m sorry, was it not obvious?”

I knew they’d been spending some time together when Avery regularly visited the house, but I hadn’t known Lily was spilling things on my life. At least I hadn’t told her anything of substance. Mostly Quidditch things.

Godric. Maybe that was why she was so irritated. Because I never mentioned Avery to her. She shouldn’t have been mad. I had only mentioned it to Ali, who had kept my secret around the locker room. She also promised to tell me about Monroe in a couple weeks.

“Lily thinks you’re getting a little far ahead of yourself.”

“Ahead of myself? What’s that even mean?”

“Fame, James.” Freddie scrunched up his face. “You’re always busy. Too busy to have dinner with your family once a week.”

“What?” None of them had ever complained.

“Interviews. Practice. Going out with the team. Press signings.”

“That’s required,” I said. “That’s part of the life. I’ll get the hang of juggling it eventually. I’m new to it. Are they all peeved at me?”

“Not really,” Freddie said. “Just a little annoyed is all. I’m sure they thought with you moving in over the garage they’d actually see you sometimes. Don’t worry. I eat your helping at supper.”

“You have dinner with my family?”

“They’re my family too, sod.” He got to his feet, taking several cats with him, and moved to the window. He lined the cats up and they curled up in the warm sun. “Just think about it, okay?”

“I need to tell you something,” I blurted.

Fred made a face. “Shit,” he said. “Can you smell that? When was the last time they cleaned the litter boxes? Disgusting. You want to help?” He pointed at the boxes of litter and other unmentionable substances.

“I’ll pass.” I left him in the cat room. I did volunteer to walk some of the well-mannered dogs, which gave me too much time to think. By the time I arrived back I had myself convinced no one could know about the Code and Avery would have to move on.

And so would I.

*

What better way to get over someone than get away from them?

“Ready, Potter?” Henrik clapped me on the back.

Each year, the Tornados starting roster did a small tour of their farm teams across the country. We had three and an indoor Quidditch league team (hadn’t heard of that until just now) somewhere in Wales so I packed a bag and met the team in the conference room for a couple of days away.

“I put on my charming smile.” I flashed him a grin.

He laughed and went over to Smoke and Monroe, who were exchanging what looked like cigarettes in the corner. Quidditch players did not smoke. It stunted growth and left your lungs wanting. But Quidditch players also did not question Monroe and Smoke without leaving with bruises.

Ali appeared at my shoulder and nudged me. “Hear the news?”

“Jack finally fit into that turtleneck sweater Ballo gave him?” I guessed.

She handed me a flimsy copy of Quidditch Weekly, released this morning. It was open to page twenty-seven.

A small article at the bottom was titled: FLYNN JOINS HARPIES AS KEEPER RESERVE.

“That your girl?” Ali pointed to Avery’s first name in the article.

I couldn’t hide the rough feeling in the pit of my stomach. It made me want to throw up. The mixture of complete happiness and devastation was not familiar to me. It was either all or nothing. Not both. Today it was both. Today I was so happy for Avery and so devastated for my own selfish needs of wanting to kiss her every day.

Even though I’d been the one to say no.

Of course I did. I wanted to be friends with her.

But Cooper’s smirky smarmy smirk made me want to hide her away in my closet.

Okay, that didn’t sound right. Something less creepy.

“That’s my girl,” I confirmed, watching the tiny black and white photo of her fly around in the frame. She was smiling.

“The prettiest,” Ali agreed, chuckling. “You could always just marry her, Potter. You know. Without dating her.” She snorted.

“Right. That would work out.” I rolled my eyes. I’d have to come up with something. Anything. There had to be a loophole somewhere.

No. I was moving on.

She was moving on.

And we had a tour to go on.

*

We were working our way to relevance (as Henrik tactfully put it), so we began with the indoor Quidditch league in Wales. It was a shoddy place with a leaking ceiling and hoops way too low, but they were an exciting bunch. The captain, Miles Fletcher, shook Henrik’s hand for a full minute.

I almost laughed before realizing I had a poster of Henrik Lindt in my bedroom.

There we were presented with the key to the building (Was that like the city? No idea) and we met the government authority figures in the town. There was a small crowd and we did a Q&A afterward. I expected most of the questions to go to the players who had been on the team the longest, but a few came my way.

“How does it feel to be on a professional team just out of Hogwarts?” a girl with bouncing locks of blond curls asked. Reminded me of Bink’s wig.

“Overwhelming,” I admitted, smiling a little. “I was convinced it was a dream until I hauled myself out of the first practice. It isn’t a dream, I’ll tell you that. The ice bath told me that.”

Everyone laughed.

A big group stayed after for autographs. I signed mostly pictures (they had copies of the team photo we had done last week), but a few people brought in Tornados garb and Quaffles. One looked like it had seen better days and belonged to an older man with grey eyes.

“Looks like it’s been well utilized,” I told him with a laugh, scribbling my name on one of the smooth surfaces.

“I used it when I played at Hogwarts,” the man told me. “I’ve been saving it. Was going to pass it down to my grandson.”

“Are you keeping it now then?” I smiled, pointing at the signature before I passed it to Jack to sign.

“He passed away a few weeks ago from cancer,” the old man said. “But he would have just told me to keep it anyway. Get it signed. Save it for a rainy day.”

I sat, stunned. Any flash of a charming smile was gone.

“I’m sorry,” I stammered.

“You’re a good kid,” the old man said, patting my hand. “The Tornados are his favorite team. He was so upset when he found out you were a seventh year – talked about you all the time. He was ten, you see. Wanted to go to Hogwarts with you. Be in Gryffindor. Get to see you captain the Gryffindors.”

My lungs felt thick with water. My eyes stung.

“But he bought that first Quidditch Weekly. With you on the cover.” The man chuckled. The Quaffle was moving further down the line, but no one dared ask him to continue on. “Bought a frame from the dollar store down the street. Put it right above his bed. He started saving his allowance to see a game this summer before he went to Hogwarts.”

I heard Ali sniffle from beside Jack.

I heard myself sniffle. My eyes burned as he swam in and out of focus.

I had no idea. How could I? This was a ten-year-old kid from Wales I’d never met. I’d never heard of.

The old man smiled at me and patted my hand again. “I just thought I’d let you know you already have some fans, Mr. Potter. It’s hard to be famous and be genuine. Just keep your head on your shoulders.” He nodded and continued down toward Smoke, who was now signing the Quaffle at the end.

Everyone was silent. The girl behind him didn’t want to put her picture on the table. Her fingers were trembling.

I realized mine were too.

“Sir?” I blurted and the old man turned around. “Could you tell me your grandson’s name?”

“Nathan.”

Later in the hotel I found myself pacing. The man’s story weighed heavy on my mind. I had been so smug, worrying about Quidditch dives and how I felt about Avery, and this poor man was dealing with the death of his grandson. Yet he still came. He still got the Quaffle signed. He still smiled.

Suddenly things did not seem as glossy as they had before.

Nathan had framed my magazine cover before I so much as played a game. I wondered how many Nathans were out there. How many young people wanted me to succeed. How many wanted me to fail.

I grabbed the phone and rang my agent, Cynthia. It was a recent position, since the Tornados insisted I needed someone to figure out all of my finances and public relations. They didn’t trust me to cover my own tracks and I didn’t trust me either.

“James? Is everything okay?” Cynthia was a Londoner with a swanky sky-high office and a high-backed leather chair. She always wore skirt suits and smoked lots of cigarettes. Her voice made that obvious, even over the phone.

“Sure, sure.” Even though it wasn’t. I couldn’t stop my mind from swimming. I suddenly hated myself for being so selfishly arrogant.

“What can I help you with?” Cynthia asked. She was always like that. Wanted to help.

“I know I’m not exactly raking in a lot of Quidditch dough,” I said, still pacing. The blinds were open before me, illuminating the gas station across the street and the ethnic restaurant with the pulsing light beside it. “But I need to do something. I need you to set up a cancer fund.”

“What?” Cynthia asked. “Like a cancer research fund or something else?”

I paused. I hadn’t thought it through, but I thought of Nathan tossing money into a ceramic pig-shaped bank. “A fund for Quidditch fans with cancer to see some games. Sit in a top box. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Tornados. Just set it up, okay? Transfer a thousand galleons in there for starters. We’ll have some fundraisers.”

She was quiet on the line. “Are you sure, James? You’re doing fine in the public eye right now.”

“Do it,” I said and hung up. I fell onto the bed just as someone knocked. “If you aren’t laden down with chocolate I’d rather not see anyone right now.”

“How about cheap wine?” Ali called. She then keyed into my room. “Sweet-talked the front desk clerk. Sorry.” She bolted the door and flopped down onto the bed beside me. “You look down.”

“Can’t stop thinking about it.”

“Nathan?”

I nodded. I didn’t tell her about the fund. “Is it always this hard?”

Ali let out a sigh. She uncapped the bottle (no cork) and took a long swig. “Yes,” she said eventually. “When you’re in the public eye everything is always hard. Some things are worth it, though. I promise.”

“Do you ever want to do more?”

“Always,” she said, taking a second drink before passing the bottle to me. “But I’m one person. You have to remember, you can’t save the world.”

That reminded me of my father. He always told me, help would come to those who asked for it.

Maybe help was what I needed.

So I took the wine, tipped the watery liquid into my mouth, and told Ali everything that had happened the previous year from the auction to the kiss on an Italian balcony to David Flynn and my own tryout for the Tornados. She listened intently (she was a really good listener), cut in with some colorful comments about Mr. Flynn, and let out quite a few sighs when I admitted things about Avery.

Eventually, drunk on wine and conversation, we fell asleep on the hotel bed, only to be woken a few hours later by Smoke and Monroe letting off firecrackers in the hall. Then again an hour later when we had to be off to Scotland for the next round of public appearances.

It felt better, somehow, talking to Ali about everything. She didn’t hit me with a pillow, tell me I was a sod, or encourage me to owl Nia to have some fun. She listened. She sympathized. She held my hand.

I had found a new friend, as incredibly unmanly as it sounded.

She also promised not to leak to a tabloid I’d teared up when hearing about Nathan. I thanked her for that.

*

The following day we visited two farm teams. The first was in southern Scotland and had a bit of a following in the surrounding area. Mostly people who fancied the Tornados rather than fans of the team. We got some funny questions (“Who uses the most hair product?”) and serious ones (“What made you want to pursue Quidditch?”) and thankfully, no one told me about their grandson who had recently passed from cancer.

It didn’t need to be said. I kept thinking about it.

In the evening we went to the coast and visited another team with our logo on the shoulder of their robes. They looked more professional than the last, each lining up to shake our hands.

They also looked like a boring lot.

When the captain was giving a speech about the quality of people in the city, I found myself staring off into the crowd. There were a few cute girls. Burly blokes. That’s when I noticed Clara Robinson was in the front row, scribbling notes.

Bugger.

Sure enough, when the Q&A session started, Clara got to her feet. The uneasiness around me let me know everyone else had noticed her too. I wasn’t the only one having interviews about my emotions with Witch Weekly.

“James,” she began and I internally groaned. Maybe it was external because Ali elbowed me. “How is it giving up the reins of a seemingly unbeatable Gryffindor Quidditch squad to your younger sister, who will only be a fourth year. I’ve heard around you skipped over two very capable seventh years.”

Good. Hogwarts questions. I could do this.

“I trust my sister fully,” I replied with a smile. “She has what it takes to be a captain of a team. Age is irrelevant. It’s talent and leadership abilities.”

“And you’re saying these other two candidates – Dove and Jordan – didn’t have those qualities?” Clara said. I wanted to tell her the audience was only allowed one question each.

“Both have exceptional talents,” I said, careful to keep the bite from my voice. “But it was my opinion that Lily was the best equipped to lead the team to victory next season.”

“You’re training her then?” she prompted.

“I’m advising her this summer.”

“Some say that shows favoritism,” Clara said.

“Others say I have the team’s best interest at heart,” I said, finally letting some of my irritation seep through. I was sick of this conversation. Paloma and Wesley both told me they didn’t mind and agreed Lily was the better decision, especially since she was able to grow a team from the ground up.

“Next question!” Ballo said into the mic.

*

I was thankful for the third day. It was the day I would finally meet the Tornados reserves, who would be joining us in a couple weeks for full-time practices when the exhibition games were drawing closer. Since Avery was a reserve, I was excited to see what kind of talent we had one step below the starters. Had to be crazy good.

The stadium was large and we were welcomed into its large ballroom where a crowd waited. Everyone was clapping and cheering. Clearly this team had a good following in the region.

We approached the table in front and the farm team entered – the Hurricanes – to even more cheers. They took to the table on the other side of the podium. Both captains spoke. Ballo talked about our intentions for the season and the hope that no one would be unhealthy enough not to play, but noting that if they were the Tornados would be in good hands.

Artemis cleared her throat.

That was when things started to get weird.

The captain of the Hurricanes, a stocky fellow called Mason Labsic, took the podium again to amp up the crowd. But instead of talking about the Hurricanes, he discussed his time called up to the Tornados last season. How he had assisted in providing them with several wins and how his dives were some of the best in the league.

Hmm. I thought I had confidence.

This went on for several minutes until Mason opened the floor for questions. A guy with very spiky hair stood.

“Potter,” he said roughly. “What makes you so good you got the starting Chaser position over Labsic, who has been a reserve for ten years and was almost signed in?”

I stared.

What?

“Forgot to mention that,” Ali whispered from beside me. “Mason isn’t exactly your biggest fan.”

I tried to remember what my father had taught me about interviews like this. When you were made out to be the bad guy before your mouth opened. I couldn’t read the crowd. Couldn’t tell if they agreed or not. Mason was the captain, after all. Surely they wouldn’t want him to leave?

I adjusted my tie. “I went to open tryouts and tried out,” I said, keeping my voice structured. I didn’t smile that time. “I was unaware of any complications or if I was stepping on toes. I tried out. I was signed. That was how it happened.”

“Well you screwed him over!” the guy shouted.

Hell.

Ballo slammed his fist on the table and the murmurs fell silent. “I believe that question is better suited for me, sir,” he deadpanned. “Potter was signed because Potter is a better overall player that fit in with the team. He has the attitude. He has the talent. And he does not tell his buddies to stand up in the middle of a forum and take his frustrations out.” He looked down the table at Mason, who was flushed scarlet. “Potter is thankful for what he has. Maybe others could learn a thing or two from that, hmm?” He stopped. “Yes?”

“Yes,” Mason mumbled.

Great. I had made a friend one day, and an enemy the next.

No other questions were directed at me, so once the crowd got their autographs we were escorted on a private tour of the facility, which was in good condition. The reserves walked with us most of the way, mostly chatting since they knew the starters so well. I kept to myself since Ali was talking to one of the Beaters.

One of the other Chasers hung back as we crossed the pitch. She was tall and leggy with shoulder-length hair and a bright, white smile. “Hi,” she said cheerfully.

“Is that tone to lull me into a false sense of security?” I asked. “I’m not biting.”

“Not everyone shares Mason’s opinion, you know,” she said. “I’m Shelby.”

I filed away her name, hoping I’d remember it after all the new people I’d met these last few days. Shelby. Pretty Chaser.

“James,” I said stupidly, though she obviously knew that. She shook my hand regardless.

“I watched your tryout,” Shelby said with a smile. “You were great. Scoring on Lindt like that. It’s a thing of beauty.”

“I’m sure you’ve done it.” I shrugged, feeling strange. At Hogwarts I loved people talking about how good I was. Here it felt like I was naked. Everyone had seen the tryout by now. Everyone had read the interviews and had heard what Mason and Clara and probably Cooper Bradley had said. I was out in the world and there was no going back.

“Never.” She made a face. “Probably why Mason is always the one to get called up. I can’t score on Henrik.”

“Is it because he’s such a pretty man?” I asked before I could stop myself. It was true. Avery always used to talk about how he could be a male model.

“It’s because he’s good,” Shelby said, laughing. “But he’s not bad looking either. But the rugged type isn’t exactly my type.”

“No? I thought all girls liked the bad boys and unshaven so-and-sos.” Or so I’d heard. From everyone.

“I like boys with freckles and dark, unruly hair.”

Wait.

Godric, really?

My eyes found hers immediately. They were soft and hazel. “You just described me,” I said.

“I also like boys who take a moment to realize I’m talking about them.” Shelby snickered as we headed back into the stadium through one of the locker room tunnels. “Think about it, okay?”

It wouldn’t break the Code, but that wasn’t the point.

I hadn’t even met this girl before today.

But I was supposed to be moving on.

“I’ll keep you posted,” I said before catching up with the rest of the group.

Lucky me (not so lucky me), just as the others were filing into the locker rooms, Mason caught me by the elbow and steered me back into the hall.

“They’ll be back out in a minute,” he said, waiting for the door to close.

I could have been killed right then and there. Empty tunnel. Bloody madman attached to my arm. His eyes even looked crazy. Cheeks flushed with frustration.

“I don’t know who you think you are,” Mason began angrily.

I was angry too. Irritated he’d attempted to make a fool of me in public. I could do that well enough on my own. “I think I’m James Potter.” I wrenched my arm from his grip. “What are you trying to do? Intimidate your way onto the Tornados?”

“You watch your tone,” he snapped. “I’ve been working my ass off to get on that team for ten years. Five years before that I was playing in sketchy rec leagues in Ireland. Have you ever been that close to a goal only to have it ripped away?”

I thought about the end of last season. Just before the open tryouts.

“It’s not a pleasant feeling, Potter,” he continued. “And here you come just wandering into an open tryout and taking all of that away from me. I need you to know I’m not going to stop. I’m going to be on the Tornados by the end of this season.”

“Are you threatening me?” I asked.

“I’m promising you.” Then that son of a bitch slammed me into the wall so hard I was seeing stars. By the time my vision returned he was already in the locker room.

Over the course of three days I had almost cried, started a cancer fund, made a good friend, was half-seduced by a reserve, and was promised I’d be off my team by the end of the season by another reserve.

All in all, fairly eventful.

There was someone, though, I needed to tell. She was conveniently eating dinner with my family when I burst in the back door.

“I’ve been threatened!” I said dramatically, catching my breath.

Albus rolled his eyes. “Story of your life. Eat some dinner. And don’t just pretend to put the green beans on your plate. I always have to eat your share.”

Avery looked up, bored expression on her face. “I got reserve.”

“I was shown a copy of Quidditch Weekly three days ago,” I replied shortly.

“Amazing you look at copies where you aren’t strutting on the cover.” She shrugged and dabbed her lips with the napkin. Then she apologized to both of my parents and excused herself out the back door.

“You do have a way with women,” Lily muttered.

I ignored her and followed Avery out, slamming the door behind me. It was dark. “Aves?” I called.

Then I felt a hard slap across the face.




Beefy chapter! A lot happened and I hope you enjoyed it. I'm changing around a lot in this story from what I had originally planned, so stay tuned for some crazy fun. And plenty more Javery. And cats. And complications. And snogging. 

UP NEXT: Tension. Prepping for the tournament. Figuring out just what a real Hufflepuff is anyway. 

 


Chapter 5: The One with the Breaking Point
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For Abzii. Your words are too kind.






I was almost knocked off my feet. My face was burning. Hell, everything was burning.

It took a moment to get my sense of direction back, but when I did my gaze focused on Avery Flynn. She looked furious. Her cheeks were red and blotchy. Arms crossed over her chest. Foot tapping against the grass.

“What on earth--?”

“No. You don’t get to talk.”

“What is the matter with you?” I rubbed my cheek repeatedly. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch!

“I got reserve, James.”

“I’m aware, Avery,” I replied dryly.

“Did you have fun on your tour?”

“Some of it was fun. Some of it wasn’t.” I thought about Ali. And Nathan.

Then Clara and Mason sodding Hurricane.

Avery reached into her bag and pulled out the Prophet. She shook it open and to the Lifestyle section. I still had no idea why it had a Lifestyle section, but then I realized it was like the gossip column of the paper. I realized because my face was on it.

With Shelby.

I was smirking at her. She was touching my arm, leaning against me on the Quidditch pitch. Laughing. Under our picture read a small caption: Love on the Pitch?

“She’s the sodding reserve!” I said, louder than I wanted to. “Are you joking? Is that what this is about?”

“You go crazy about Cooper and then suddenly you’re snuggling reserves? You’re such a pig, James. Fame has gone to your head.” She stuffed the paper back into her bag and I heard it rip. “Have anymore interviews coming up? I bet they’ll talk about this bint. You know what? I don’t care. You can go wherever you want with the Tornados. Do whatever you want.”

“I signed some autographs and got threatened by the Captain of the Hurricanes,” I replied. “Clearly it was a vacation. You know what, you need to back off. You have no idea what I’m going through. What I’m doing. What I’m dealing with.”

“One less person, that’s what you’re dealing with.” Avery shoved past me and disappeared around the house.

Great. One less person.

On the other hand, at least I knew Avery’s jealousy was still intact.

*

I had no idea how I was supposed to juggle everything. At Hogwarts it had been different. Go to class. Con younger students into doing my Potions essays. Play Quidditch. Yell at people who did not play Quidditch as well as I did. Repeat. Sometimes showering went in there. And nursing Victoria back to health.

She had really taken to the flat. I wasn’t shocked, considering at Hogwarts she had to constantly live in fear that Emerson may undress in front of her. Couldn’t blame her.

I had a routine of taking her out each morning as I dressed for Quidditch practice. I let her waddle around the bed and she hummed contently. One morning a few days after Avery gave me a red bloody print across my face, Victoria scooted toward the window. She hopped onto the sill, humming.

“Please tell me there isn’t a male puff out there trying to woo you,” I said dryly, pulling on a clean-smelling polo. “I can’t take that at the moment.” I hadn’t seen Avery since her outburst and distinct hatred of the Lifestyle section. It was a stupid section anyway.

Victoria ignored me.

“Fine. This better be good.” I peeled back some of the blinds, peering down to the yard below. It was mostly just green grass and a tree or two. But in the tree that rustled the siding at night, I spotted an unfamiliar mug.

That of a cat. An orange cat. A male, orange cat.

“Oh no you don’t!” I cried, grabbing Tory and shoving the blinds closed so hard two panels fell off. TomCat could see right in. Right into the heart of my flat!

What was I supposed to do? It was clearly gawking around to find Falcon Cat, who had probably been eye-flirting with it during her stay.

Great. Even my cat was looking for options.

“FREDDIE.”

He poked his head in my door, hair damp from the shower. “Something wrong? Or did you decide we should have a dog. I’ve been looking around the shelter and I think it’s a good idea.”

“There is a cat in the tree,” I said, holding Victoria close to my chest.

“Sound the alarm!” Freddie cried, thrusting his fist into the air. “To your posts! We have waited for this day – this moment – this hour! On, on! Draw your swords!” He drew an air-sword from its hilt. “And on this day, we unite! We attack!”

“Enough,” I said. I placed Victoria back into her cage and grabbed a sheet. The one I was supposed to put on my bed a week ago but got too lazy to figure out which way it went. Fitted sheets were the worst. “I’m just saying you work at an animal shelter and there is a stray outside. It should be removed.”

Fred sighed and walked to the window, peeling back the blinds. “Where is it then?”

“On the fucking tree.”

He paused. “Where?”

I shoved him aside and pulled the blinds all the way up. Except there was no cat. TomCat had conveniently disappeared into the shadows of mystery. Or it had climbed down the tree and went to find something to chase. Like a ball of string or a boulder.

“Now you’re seeing cats,” Freddie said, clapping me on the back. “We really do need to get Avery back around here.”

I kept my gaze focused intently on the tree. The cat was there. I knew it was there. It was staring at me with its evil cat-like cat eyes.

“Avery isn’t coming back,” I said after a while. My fingers moved across the sill and I realized I hadn’t dusted it in…ever. “Things are done. It’s better if we just move on. She’s a reserve now and she has a lot to worry about. I support her.”

Fred left without saying anything. I assumed it was because he didn’t trust himself not to hit me.

I couldn’t blame him. I’d hit me too if I didn’t know about the Code.

But that bench. I couldn’t work so hard for something only to be benched because I couldn’t keep my hands off my best mate.

Ex girlfriend.

Ex best mate.

Ex Avery.

*


“You still look like shit.” Ali frowned. We were in the locker room after another grueling practice. Plus a short interview with the press. It was getting taxing, but I knew it was part of the life. I just wish the life would leave me alone for a bit to collect myself.

“Good to know.” I tossed my sweaty shirt into a bin.

“She still hasn’t spoken to you?”

I shook my head. “She’s probably busy practicing. And setting aside time for Cooper to bloody fawn over her.” I rolled my eyes.

Not bitter. Not bitter. Not bitter.

“Cooper Bradley? Harpies coach?” Ali tripped Jack as he went for the showers, but he caught himself just before a fall. He flipped her off and disappeared.

“Only Cooper I know.” I coolly tugged off my padding and chucked it into my locker, which smelled much worse than my Hogwarts locker. Granted, at Hogwarts I did much more yelling at people and much less nearly dying.

“I dated him.”

“What?” I swung around. Didn’t expect that. “But you’re… you.”

“Which makes me no less stupid than her,” Ali said, shrugging. “I’d just gotten here. He was charming and attractive. Blah blah blah.”

“How do I get him to leave her alone?” I asked.

“You don’t.” Ali put a hand on my shoulder. “You mind your own business.”

But that is my business. I wanted so bad to tell her that everything about Avery was my business, but I knew she was right. I’d just have to let Avery make her own choices. It wasn’t like reserves were supposed to date their coaches anyway. I didn’t think I should ask anyone about Ballo.

“One step at a time, Potter.” Ali squeezed my shoulder and smiled. “One step.” She grabbed her towel and walked into the girls’ showers. Women’s showers. Whatever.

“I see you’ve developed a bond.” Henrik Lindt was standing in the doorway wearing a charismatic smirk. “With more than one person.”

I shrugged. Stupidly. He still made me awkwardly nervous.

He was also a really pretty man, which was weird.

“Ballo told me about the fund.”

Fuck.

“I think it’s a classy thing to do,” he continued, closing the distance between him and his locker space. “And to insist on no publicity. Many a Quidditch player couldn’t resist the temptation of good press.”

“It would change if I fucked up anyway,” I said.

“Planning on fucking up?” Henrik asked.

“It follows me on a regular basis,” I explained, shrugging off my pants and wrapping a towel around my middle. “It’s only a matter of time, really.”

His eyes were on me. Like he was trying to figure out if I was worthy of being a Tornado.

“Has Mason always been like that?” I asked.

To my surprise, he laughed. “Actually, yes. He’s a bit of a jerk.” He paused, noticing my look. “Okay, he’s a big jerk. He just wants the fame and the spotlight. He’s been trying to pass the Hurricanes off as better than the Tornados for years. He’s a hit-or-miss when he gets a call up. Sometimes he’s spot-on amazing. Sometimes he can’t catch the Quaffle so much as throw it through a sodding hoop.”

“And Shelby?” I prompted.

“Seems as if you have yourself a shadow.” Henrik smirked. “She’s on the team. Might as well test the waters if you’re interested. Merlin knows the rest of the pool is limited.”

I leaned against the cool locker, staring away from him. I was trying to be tactful but it wasn’t working as I was standing there half-naked in a fluffy white towel. “When I was at Hogwarts, we had a rule against dating the members of the team because it would ruin the team dynamic. I never heard of not being able to date members of other teams. That’s a lot of people I have to stay away from.”

Henrik laughed again. He laughed like he’d heard all this before, which he probably had. “At least you have free reign at the tournament, huh?”

“Please tell me this tournament isn’t going to involve me being secretly tied up by Mason so he can start as Chaser.”

“Not at all. No reserves are invited, actually.” Henrik took out a comb and smoothed his hair. It was shiny. “Just the pro teams. A tournament that is more about meeting each other and having fun than it is actual competition. But the games are just preliminary to the night life.”

I looked up.

“You’ll see, Potter.” Henrik smirked devilishly. “Let’s just hope you remember the next day.”

That couldn’t be a good thing.

*

“James? You busy?”

I was attempting to enjoy my evening off, lounging around the flat with a Quidditch Weekly propped up on my stomach. Trying to check out the competition. “A bit,” I said, though my brother could tell when I was lying.

“Can I ask you something?” He walked up the stairs with heavy footfalls.

“You just did, sod.”

He saved his eye-roll until he was in view. Albus flopped down into the chair beside me. “I have a problem.”

“Run out of fabric softener for your sweaters?” I prompted.

“It’s summer.”

“Run out of fabric softener for your sweater vests?”

Albus groaned. “Paloma and I slept together.”

The magazine fell sideways onto the floor as my eyes snapped up. “What?” I couldn’t breathe. My baby brother. Miniature Potter. Prefect Extraordinaire. Blusher Extraordinare.

“Yeah.” His entire face was red. “Last night.”

“In the HOUSE?”

“Shh!” Albus checked over his shoulder and then looked back to me. “Yes. She stayed over.”

“Does Mum know?” I asked. “She’s going to kill you. Seriously. She’s going to grind your bones to make my pre-Quidditch oatmeal. Oh! Salmon patties.” I shook my head. “Are you serious?”

Albus nodded. He shifted on the chair, propping his elbows on his knees as he leaned forward. “I didn’t know who to tell.” His face was getting redder and redder.

“How was it?” I blurted.

He kicked me hard.

“I mean… what happened?” Part of me wanted to know. But he was my brother. So part of me… well, I still wanted to know. Paloma Dove was a fox.

“She was going to go home after we finished studying,” Albus explained.

“It’s summer.”

He blushed all over again. “We started our reading early so we could see each other. Her parents are a little strict so coming to a boy’s house to hang out is less than welcome to them.” Albus ran his fingers through his thick mess of black hair. Nothing happened to it. Just fell right back into a mess. “But then we got to kissing and talking and then our clothes were off and we just sort of…did it.”

I considered this. I didn’t have much expertise in sex (read: none), but there had to be more to it than that. I kindly reminded myself I would rather discuss details with Bink or Freddie than with Al.

“And?” I said.

“And then we talked for a little bit afterward and fell asleep.” He leaned back into the chair like a weight was off his shoulders. “We woke up to a Howler, but it was worth it. I think she’s in big trouble though. Hasn’t owled me today.”

Great. Now my baby brother was getting laid and I couldn’t even get Avery to talk to me.

Not that I wanted to sleep with Avery.

That much.

“Are you glad you did it?” I asked, finally grabbing the magazine off the floor. I heard it start to rain outside. The rain against the roof was loud.

“I don’t know,” Albus admitted. “I’d rather hear her thoughts first. If she regrets it I’ll feel terrible. Like I took advantage of her. In reality she kind of undressed me. Quickly, might I add.”

I chuckled. The image of the two of them fumbling to undo buttons was both disturbing and hilarious.

“Going to do it again?”

He smirked. “You bet I am.”

“Godric.” I rolled my eyes and went back to the magazine.

“Going to apologize to Avery?” he said.

“For what?”

“For being a tool.”

I threw the Quidditch Weekly at his face. “I’m not being a tool. She’s being unreasonable. I need my space.”

“Your private space?”

“Sure.” I shrugged.

“Meaning your private space the entire world knows about?”

“Is that really why you’re here?” I propped myself up on the couch. This was getting outrageous. Since I’d started on the Tornados everyone had been on me about what I’d been saying and who I’d been saying it to. They got to come home and enjoy dinner and spend their evenings in bed with Paloma Dove. I got to go to practice all day, soak in an ice bath, and do interviews.

And you know what, Albus sodding Potter?

It was my dream and I was living it.

Family dinners be damned.

“James, just listen.”

“I’m done listening.” I hoisted myself off the couch quickly, back cracking in the process. Gross. “I have a tournament to prepare for. Henrik said there would be a lot of opportunities to let off some steam. And I intend on doing just that.”

“Avery has a date!” Albus blurted.

I didn’t even glance over my shoulder. “That’s nice,” I said nonchalantly and disappeared into my room.


*

I tried to drive Avery from my mind. I tried to drive Freddie and Bink and Amy and Rose and Albus and Wesley and Paloma and even Meta McLaggen (where was she?) from my mind. It was hard, but I had a tournament. With professional Quidditch players.

The team was more than excited when I walked into the locker room, bag slung over my shoulder. They were chattier than normal. Henrik was laughing at something Smoke said.

Ali clapped me hard on the back. “Ready to let your hair down?”

I could see pieces of my dark hair resting on my forehead. “Pretty sure that’s as down as it gets.”

“I wouldn’t count on it.” Her smirk was a little scary. She knew what we were getting into. I had no idea.

“Let’s give Potter the proper orientation, shall we?” Henrik grabbed his duffle and led the way to the Floo room.

Ali hooked her arm through mine, kicking the door open after Artemis was through. “You ready?”

“I really have no idea why everyone is so excited,” I said. “I’m excited to play. And meet new people.”

She was smirky again. Made me nervous. “I’m excited to meet new people too,” she said. “This is the only place the Code does not exist.”

“And there’s only pro players?” I blurted before I could help myself.

“No Avery,” she said softly. “Sorry, killer. You’re going to have to let the other girls have a go.”

I didn’t want the other girls to have a go.

And I sure as hell didn’t want Cooper Bradley to have a go.

The Floo room was a large square space with four fireplaces glowing on the far wall. The room was painted in a violent orange, a color that wouldn’t look out of place in Uncle Ron’s Ministry office. One at a time my team went through, disappearing to this tournament I’d never heard of until I joined the team.

We were the last two left. I stood before one of the roaring fires, second from the left, and stared at it. I would finally get to play Quidditch for an audience, even though that audience was made up of my competitors. But real Quidditch. With my real team. In the pro league. The highest you could go in Quidditch and I was there at seventeen. I smiled.

Ali looked over and took my hand for a moment. She squeezed it. “You made the right choice,” she said and then leapt forward, disappearing into the fire.

I stared after her for just a moment. She was all right.

It was hard not having Freddie and Bink as my Chasers and not having someone like Avery saving the Quaffle behind me, but these players were as quality as it got. And they wanted this. They wanted it bad. And they achieved it because of talent.

Might as well show the world what I’ve got.

*

To say I was unprepared is like saying a puppy is unprepared for a Calculus exam. A puppy was probably more prepared for that than I was for this.

It was another world.

It was a village. A village built for this purpose and only this. Like the Olympic village used again and again every year instead of only once. The streets were lined with tall, luxury hotels. Just beyond were two Quidditch pitches, both equal in stature. Both giant and grand and out of my most selfish dreams. They towered to the sky, blending with the blue.

Quidditch players everywhere, dressed in their team robes. Canons and Finches (ew) and Wasps. And absolutely no media. Everyone was socializing with everyone else. Artemis was already in sultry conversation with some Arrow and I couldn’t find Smoke or Monroe anywhere.

The thin streets were filled with local vendors all the way to the stadiums. I stopped for a bag of handmade crisps and kept walking, weaving through the players like a maze. Some of them paused to say hello and introduce themselves, though they started to blend together after a while.

I still wished my team could have enjoyed it with me. My Gryffindor team.

“Potter!” Henrik showed up at my side with several other good-looking players, all from the Bats. “This is Frankson, McCourt, and Maxwell.”

I choked on my crisp. It was Maxwell. Literally. Maxwell. The Captain who had put me on the Gryffindor team was playing for the Bats.

He looked about the same, though his hair was graying at an early age. Probably because the Bats were a fucking terrible team. They always lost. Worse than the Canons, and that was saying something. He had some purple marks under his eyes, but he was grinning.

“Look who it is.” Maxwell shook my hand hard. “You made it to the big leagues.”

“You two know each other?” Henrik raised a brow.

“I’d like to take credit for Potter, but I can’t.” Maxwell laughed. He wasn’t a total dbag like Dara Wood. Though he had his moments. On a frequent basis. “I was his first Captain.”

“You were a Gryffindor?” Henrik made a face.

“Better than Hufflepuff,” Maxwell shot back with a snarky smile.

Henrik shoved him and they both laughed and did a weird man-hug thing. “I can’t believe you were Potter’s captain. I have to say he’s in much better hands now.”

“I was my own captain once,” I noted, but no one heard me.

Maxwell shook his head. “Absolutely not. Everyone knows I can out-Captain you.”

“You’re still a rookie,” Henrik shot back. The other two guys were just sort of standing there like spares. Spare guys. “Potter, these are our first opponents. In the locker rooms in an hour, okay?”

“We’re playing already?” I gaped at him. No one gave me a schedule. I expected to at least get settled in.

“First in the line-up.” He grinned and disappeared with Maxwell and Franksoemthing and the other guy with an Irish name.

First in the line-up. Oh good. First to show the world what I was made of. James Potter. Captain of the – no. James Potter. Tutshill Tornado Chaser.

Minus the word Captain. Well, that was sad.

I didn’t have any letters stitched on my robes except my own last name.

And just like after Maxwell took a chance on me, I had to prove I deserved to be there. I had to prove I was worthy of the media attention and the pay and the merchandise that was already coming out with my face and name plastered across it.

Except I did what any Slytherin would do in my situation.

I choked.

*

JAMES POTTER: FLUKE?

The headline was already out in a special edition of Quidditch Weekly. It had been two hours. I was still in the showers and my body was pruny.

Fluke. Fluke.

What if I was a fluke?

No, that was impossible. You can’t fluke your way to captain at Hogwarts.

What if the professors took pity on me? Oh Godric. What if Longbottom took pity on me because of my parents!

Still doesn’t explain all the wins.

Avery! Of course.

Damn it.

“Don’t let it get to you.” Jack was the reason we had won. It was by ten points. Ten. He caught the Snitch and it was one-fifty to one-forty and we won. Only it didn’t feel like a victory.

Everyone else had left an hour ago, but Jack stayed. Even when Henrik came in to drop off the tournament special Quidditch Weekly. So glad they made that, by the way.

Fluke.

Fuck. Maxwell was going to see that. Not that he didn’t just see the game I played.

How did I play that game? Was I drunk? Drugged? Was Clint Lawson secretly controlling me?

No. None of the above.

I just played a really damn bad game of Quidditch as the first game I played as a Tornado.

Marvelous.

I huffed at Jack. Sometimes I thought he was the only sane one out of all of us. Good, married Jack with his steady mind and correct decision-making. He’d already told me he was going to go back to the hotel and order room service, a bad chick flick, and crash. No partying for him since his wife wasn’t there.

Was that what marriage was like?

I couldn’t think about that right now.

“Seriously, James.” Jack leaned against the shower wall across from me. “We all have our off days.”

“My first game? I’m rubbish. I’m a fluke.”

“I probably shouldn’t have let you see that.” He frowned. The water was making the room cloudy and I could see him sweating through his shirt. “You have to know that there is a reason Ballo put you on this team. He believes in you.”

“I got a lucky Quaffle past Lindt.”

“No Quaffle goes by Henrik because of luck,” Jack countered. “Every game he goes up against the very best. And every game he makes them look like complete shit. We had an off game. We’ll pick it up tomorrow.”

“I’m just going to resign,” I mumbled.

“Why don’t you go enjoy the other night games and then go back to the hotel and relax?” Jack said. He looked concerned. Like I was his younger brother. Why were there responsible people around?

What Freddie’s response would have been: Get drunk.

What Bink’s response would have been: Get laid.

What Avery’s response would have been: Go back to the hotel and relax.

Bugger.

“Yeah, all right.” I nodded and rinsed my hair again. I’d washed it so many times I grew concerned about it falling out.

“We still believe in you, Potter,” Jack said, waving. “Even if you don’t.” The door shut quietly behind him and I was alone.

The game had been a disaster from the very start. Maxwell was shouting out some of my signature moves to get in my head. Joking around. But it did just that – got in my head. Got under my skin. I started dropping the Quaffle. I couldn’t find Artemis in the sea of stupid Bats. I threw it to one of their Beaters once on accident. I wasn’t covering anyone. Ali got taken out by a Bludger because of my shit aim. Henrik faced quadruple the amount of shots he usually faces in a game. We were lucky it was that close and Jack could bail us out.

I couldn’t look any of them in the eye.

Maybe Jack was right. Maybe I needed to go back to the hotel and relax.

I couldn’t. I was being swallowed with guilt and shame and flukiness. The Arrows were playing the Harpies, which I considered going to watch but the Arrows were stupid and the Harpies…

Shit.

Avery’s date wasn’t with Cooper Bradley this weekend. It couldn’t have been because Cooper Bradley was in that stadium coaching the Harpies.

So Avery had a date with someone else. Other than her stupid gross disgusting man-boy two-first-name coach.

No. Jack wasn’t right. He wasn’t right at all.

Bink and Freddie were right. I was not going to live my life as a Hufflepuff.

*

The hotels were absolute chaos. As the games came to a close more and more people joined us. There were no curfews or drink minimums or rules. There were people and songs and laughter and more drinks than I cared to admit.

The night blurred together. I was doing a pub-crawl, but in various hotel rooms. Everyone had their doors propped open and no one mentioned the Fluke title from the tournament magazine. Everyone clapped me on the back and shook my hand and asked what it was like to be the son of Harry Potter. I said I was supposed to be an Auror. They laughed. Hard.

More drinks. Shots. Tequila. Something with red food coloring.

Ali said goodnight somewhere around two. She snuck off with a Beater on the Kestrels. Others began to do the same. I started a game of strip spin the bottle, which I never realized was two games. I lost my pants at some point.

The girls were laughing. Everything was spinning.

I was kissing Artemis around four and her back was pressed against the hotel room wall. Some Canon’s hotel room.

Five things were starting to settle and people were passed out in the hallway and on balconies overlooking the street and the Quidditch pitch. Music was being shut off or turned down. I stumbled down several flights of stairs, taking at least twenty minutes to figure out which room was mine after asking the front desk clerk in four languages, three of which were made up.

Under the covers. The room was spinning. I felt sick.

I hated when Avery was right.

*

The pitch was bright. It was around eleven and I was still hungover from the clusterfuck that was the Tournament Village the night before. My head was pounding, but the cool summer air felt nice. Felt rejuvenating.

Artemis was to my left. Ali to my right. Both were equally as hungover. I was awkward with Artemis for all of ten minutes that morning before she pulled me to the side, told me that shit happened all the time at tournaments, stop being weird, and I wasn’t her type anyway but I had good form.

Thanks…I guess?

Jack look stupidly well-rested and on top of his game. Git.

Smoke and Monroe were snickering about the Finches, who were lined up before us. Ugh. The Finches. How I loathed the Finches to my very core. Their corrupt organization and sulky players. It was a place Mason deserved to play. And Clint Lawson. And Meta. The perfect team of gittery.

Scorpius Malfoy could join, but he wasn’t old enough. I’d have to have a discussion with Lily about him now that Lawson wasn’t there.

It wasn’t Jack or the Finches or even Scorpius Malfoy that worried me, though.

It was Henrik. He hadn’t so much as looked at me all morning. Or after we’d been demolished yesterday. He was doubting me and was being really obvious about it. At least Artemis snogged me instead.

“Fluke,” one of the Finches said. Their left wing Chaser. Tall bloke with greasy dyed purple hair and a sorry mustache.

I wanted to shout something back. Some dirt on him. I didn’t know who he was and I didn’t care. I just smirked. I smirked at that sorry son of a bitch.

If there was one thing about James Potter, he certainly knew how to make a comeback.

I was a Quidditch player.

A fucking Quidditch player.

And I was not going to take this.

So I didn’t.

I kicked off hard after the whistle, cool air now becoming cold against my cheeks, and grabbed the Quaffle right away. Pass to Artemis. Her eyebrows raised. Back to me. To Ali. Undercut odd-mustache-bloke. Back to me. Up the center. Dodge a Bludger. Dodge a player. Back to Ali. To Artemis. To me.

To the goal.

10-0 Gryffindor.

Whoops. Tornados.

*

We kept it going – the momentum, the scoring, the celebrating. Henrik was shouting instructions at us and we were following. He faced four shots the entire game. We scored twelve. Jack caught the Snitch once again. Smoke and Monroe lifted me onto their shoulders and I pretended to lift a Cup in celebration.

“Way to go, Potter,” Henrik said on the way back to the locker room.

“You had doubts,” I said. I only said it because I hadn’t played like shit.

“Maybe.” He ruffled my hair. Another older-brother figure. Now I knew how Albus felt but I was a way cooler older brother.

“And now?”

“None.” Henrik smiled and held the door for me. Artemis pulled me into a headlock. How had I snogged her? Really? Ali gave me a big kiss on the cheek. Jack then mocked her by giving me another big, wet kiss on the cheek.

There would certainly be no “Fluke” on the tournament magazine in two hours’ time.

This was what I wanted. Quidditch. To win. To love what I was doing.

“So what’s wrong?” Ali asked once the others had gone to watch the other games. “We won. You played brilliantly. You may have even played better than me, but I won’t admit that outside this room. Why the sour face?”

I shrugged and stuffed my things in the bag. I was glad our games were over. I was emotionally and mentally exhausted.

“What is it?” Ali sat on the bench beside my bag. She started to straighten the clothes inside.

“It still seems surreal, doesn’t it?” I said. “I’m just not used to it.”

“The adrenaline is a bit different,” she admitted. “It’s just not the same as school. As with your friends.”

She could see right through me. She knew. She already knew and wasn’t saying a word. “I think I made a mistake,” I admitted.

“By snogging Artemis?” Ali smirked. “We all do that. I made out with a Kestrel. Broke several of my own personal rules. He was a hot piece though, right?”

I cocked a brow.

“Right,” she concluded. “Come on, James. You know what you can and can’t have. You know what the consequences for all of your actions are. Have you weighed everything?”

I looked at her. “No,” I said. “I haven’t.”

“Maybe you should,” she said softly.

“Yeah, maybe I should.” I zipped the bag. “But for once, right now, I’m going to ride the adrenaline. I made a mistake and I’m going to fix it.” I made for the door, bag damn near dragging behind me.

Ali let out a sigh. “We’ll miss you tonight,” she said as I pushed open the door. “Tell Avery I say hello.”





A/N: Thank you all so much for all of your love and support and snuggles and TOMCAT. 

A lot happened in this chapter. I'm pushing forward like a steam-roller. I have a lot of plans for Javery and Freddie and Bink(ie?) among other things. So I hope you're all on board for some interesting twists and turns. 

Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in a review. I appreciate each one and am working on replying to all of them! 

UP NEXT: Mrs. Flynn. Avery comes back from her date. Someone gets a right hook to the jaw. It isn't James.


Chapter 6: The One with the Honesty
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For Golden Snitch. But James disagrees because you called him Jamie.

 

 






 

I was running on adrenaline and beef sticks.

I took the stairs two at a time, sometimes three when the second stair had something strange and sticky on it. Avery and her mum lived in a flat complex with sketchy shrubbery out front and an odd smell in the hallway. That was probably why she never let me spend much time there. I knew it embarrassed her, going there. Seeing the size of her room in comparison to the size of mine. My house. My family.

The truth was, it never mattered. I liked her flat much better than my house. She had a way of setting up her things – displaying possessions that meant a great deal to her and tucking away memories she didn’t want. She hid things away in boxes, shoved back under her bed to the wall. That was where I found the documents about her father.

Ugh. David Flynn. What a sleeze and a half.

Mrs. Flynn tried her best to make it seem like they were as normal as could be. She picked up wonderful paintings at flea markets and decorated the flat. She cooked amazing meals that never left me wanting. She let us help bake brownies and cupcakes and chocolate chip cookies. At one point she gave me an apron, which I still believe is hanging in the hall closet. It may or may not have been a salon pink. More of a light red, really.

Flat 724. I knocked, hard. Harder than I probably should have been but I was winded from climbing stairs and playing Quidditch and snogging Artemis.

Godric, why did I do that? Stupid Jack.

When the door was pulled open, it wasn’t Avery behind it. It was Mrs. Flynn. She was wearing a white blouse and oven mitts and a confused expression. Couldn’t blame her. I hadn’t seen her much since graduation, just a couple of visits. It was probably no secret I wasn’t Avery’s favorite person.

“Is Avery home?” I half-gasped. Did I not work out enough? Stupid stairs. Stupid Jack.

Mrs. Flynn frowned and shook her head. “I’m sorry, James. She’s out.”

On a date. Not a date with Cooper because he was at the tournament and he was her coach and there absolutely had to be some sort of Code forbidding that sort of treason. And gittery.

“Did you want to come in and wait for her?” Mrs. Flynn pulled the door all the way open.

I smelled cookies. Cookies with raison. Twist my arm, woman.

I looked up. Her eyes were full of pity. “And wait for her to come home from her date?” I replied. “I don’t know if that’s the best idea.”

“Just come inside. I’ve barely seen you this summer, unless you count on the cover of all those magazines.” She grabbed my hand with her red oven mitt and practically pulled my arm out of its socket. Then she closed the door and walked right back into the kitchen. I followed obediently. “When’s your first game anyway, darling? Soon, I hope.”

“Preseason is just a couple weeks away,” I said. “Just played in a tournament this weekend.”

“Tournament?” Mrs. Flynn said, moving to the stove. She peeked into the small oven window, frowned, and shook her head. “I didn’t hear about that from Avery.”

“It’s more of a tradition,” I said, looking around for something to help with. Everything was tidy and put away. I shouldn’t have expected any less. Mrs. Flynn was a bit of a neat freak and control freak. She had to be, micromanaging everything once stupid sodding David Flynn took off. “Just for the pro teams across the world. Just some fun, two matches per team to sort of feel each other out and get to know the other players.”

“Eventful nightlife then?” She smirked.

“I missed you.” I laughed and hopped up onto the counter like I used to.

“You’ve no idea.” She grew quiet for a moment and wiped down a couple plates before placing them in the cupboard. My eyes followed her. The resemblance between her and Avery was unnatural. “I suppose it was selfish of me to ask you in.”

“Who’s she out with?” I asked. If there was anyone I could be natural with, it was Mrs. Flynn. She’d watched so much over the years and I knew how much Avery respected her mother. She probably knew everything aside from a few details. I wasn’t sure how much Aves had told her about Mr. Flynn’s involvement.

“I don’t know if we should be discussing it,” she replied. She didn’t look at me.

“I understand.” I didn’t. Tell me. Tell me. I wanted to hex the bloody eyeballs out of whoever had the guts to take Avery Flynn on a date. And I fully intended on it.

Unless it was like the Minister or something. Then I would have to sort of rethink that tactic.

Or have Dad do it.

“I only met him when he came to collect her,” Mrs. Flynn said, checking the oven window once again. Still avoiding my eyes. “He looked nice enough.”

Ah ha. There it was.

“Nice enough?” I prompted. “Synonymous with complete and bloody tool?”

Mrs. Flynn smiled a little. She pulled the cookies from the oven (oatmeal raison) and used a wide spatula to stack them on a cooling tray. Each one made a small clang. “Something was off about him.”

“Okay,” I said. “Just tell me it wasn’t Emerson Edwards or Cooper Bradley?”

She shook her head. “No, no. I can’t remember his name now, but it wasn’t either of those. I’ve never heard her mention him. She said she’d only just met him a couple days ago in the market. She dropped an orange and he picked it up for her.”

“Market?” I said. “Diagon market? Or Muggle market?”

“Diagon,” Mrs. Flynn explained, finishing the last of the cookies and tossing the mitts to the counter beside the sink. “He’s a wizard. She said he liked Quidditch too. He used to go to Hogwarts, though I think before your time.”

“He’s old!” I cried.

“I’m not sure,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know how old he is. But she said he’s sweet and asked her out and how could she say no?”

I made a disgruntled noise through my noise. How could she say no? I’ll bloody tell you how she could say no. In several hundred languages. NO. It’s easy. Tell him he’s a sod for picking up an orange and tell him no. Easy. Ugh. Fucking hell.

“She should be home soon. Why don’t you see if something is on the television? Do you like it? It’s new.” Mrs. Flynn steered me into the living room where one couch and chair were facing a flat screen television above the fireplace. She was bouncing on the tips of her feet, excited.

“I do,” I replied, flopping down on the sofa. “When didja get it?” I grabbed the remote.

“Just last week. I came into a little extra money.” She beamed.

“Oh?”

“The restaurant gave me a raise.” Mrs. Flynn gave me a blanket (even in a motherly way) and bustled back into the kitchen.

I turned on the television and flipped through the channels for a while, numb to it all.

How could Avery go out with some random bloke? And then of course she’d tell Lily because they were secret spies. And then Lily would go and blab to Albus about it, who is shagging his hot girlfriend and Paloma probably knows now too.

Knows how bad I’ve messed up.

Knows that Avery Flynn is going out with another man and I’m sitting on her sofa like an old maid waiting to hear about the first kiss. Was it good? Too wet? Sloppy? Teethy?

The idea of someone else kissing her was forcing me to press the buttons on the remote a little too hard. I stopped on a show about sharks. I liked sharks. Who didn’t like sharks?

Smaller fish.

What was I? Was I a smaller fish or a shark? Who was this date?

He was a fish. He was definitely a fish. Picking up bloody oranges at the market. What a fish thing to do.


*

I fell asleep sometime during the big shark chase with two great white sharks and one boat. Was this even real anymore?

I woke around eleven. A key in the door. The knob turning.

Most of the room was dark. Mrs. Flynn must have turned out the lights. The television was still on, though muted. Now it was a show about the Amazon. The light flickered across the walls. I was groggy and leaned up onto my elbows to see who it was. To see her.

Avery pushed open the door, her back to it. “I had a nice time,” she said softly. Probably not trying to wake her mum. I couldn’t see the bloke.

“That it then?” he said. Hmm.

“What? What’s wrong with that?” Avery asked. Her hand was still on the knob. The door was open maybe a quarter of the way. She was wearing jeans and a light blazer jacket. Casual date. Good. No dinner and dancing at a rented out museum.

“Let’s do this again.”

“Sure,” Avery said.

“Can I kiss you?”

I may have leapt off the couch. Then I may have leapt over the couch and lunged at the door.

Maybe.

“Absolutely not!” I cried. Then I tripped over a chair and fell on my face. Graceful.

The door flew the rest of the way open and in that moment too many things happened. Firstly, my body ached. I’d skinned my knee through my pants and hit the side of my face on a table. Who was putting tables there? Secondly, Avery almost fell back with shock. The door flew the rest of the way open. She let go of the knob. I finally had a look at the bloke who had taken her out and let me be quite frank when I say I wasn’t expecting who was on the other side of her.

“Look who it is,” Mason said with a smarmy grin. “James Potter.”

“Mason.” I attempted to collect myself and straighten up, but my knee hurt. Really sodding bad. And it was still dark in there. “You absolute piece of filth.”

“What a mouth.” He was still smirking. Arrogantly. Like Twataso on steroids. With Quidditch. “Do you speak to Miss Flynn this way?”

“How did you know I knew her?” I asked.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mason said in a very practiced way.

Avery’s hands went to her hips. “Someone had better tell me what is going on right now. Why do you know each other and why on earth are you in my flat, James?”

“Mum invited me in,” I said. Defensively. She did! There were cookies involved as a form of bribery, I couldn’t be trusted.

“James and I have a brief connection,” Mason explained.

“In that he threatened me,” I shot back.

“In that I am a reserve for the Tornados,” he finished.

Great. He was going to feed her all of this shit and she was going to believe him because she was sour with me and it was going to be like a bad chapter of a romance novel. She would hit me for accusing such an upstanding bloke of something so terrible and he would laugh at me behind her back and ask her out on another date and… was this Emerson all over again? Wow, how does this happen to me?

“I’m sorry?” Avery said, turning to Mason. “We’ve just been out the entire evening, talking, and you never once mentioned you played professional Quidditch. Not once. In fact, when I asked what you did you said you got to do what you love and entertain people. Then I asked again and you changed the subject to me. All night you made me talk about me.”

Mason looked a little taken aback. “What’s wrong with that? I like to know about you.”

“Right.” Avery rolled her eyes. “What’s this about then? Why have you threatened James?”

“No idea what you’re talking about. Potter is a raving lunatic is all. He got on the team by luck.”

“James was my captain,” Avery shot back, her tone sharp. “He deserves to be on that team. He made it fair and fucking square and if you’re threatening one of my friends I would like to know why.” She paused. “Reserve. Ah. Got it. You’re jealous.”

“I don’t have to take this,” Mason said. “I have plenty of information.”

Avery stared. “You took me out to get dirt on myself and James. You took me out to start planting seeds to get him off the team.”

Mason’s smirky smile was back. “And you told me just what I needed to know.”

“We didn’t talk about James the whole night,” she said.

“Just now.” He wiggled his finger back and forth between Avery and me. I was still standing back by the table. “Him being here and you coming to his rescue. The tension in this room is immeasurable.” He chuckled. “It was a pleasure doing business with you, Miss Flynn.”

There are times I’d love to take control. I would have loved, in that moment, to use my wand and cast so many spells on him he’d fade into himself. I wanted to lunge and him and beat him into a pulp for so much as thinking of using Avery. I wanted to just kick him really hard in the shin. Drop him off a building. I wanted to tell him what I thought about his silly games.

Unfortunately for me, I was always too late.

Avery grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back into the hall. She slammed him into the wall, her knuckles pressed tight into his neck. “You listen to me, Mason,” she breathed. “I am not the sort of woman you can play games with. By all means, take my information and do what you will with it, but that will never, ever make you the player James is. And the person he is. So you’d better get lost and sodding do your worst.” Then my darling Avery Flynn got him with a right hook to the jaw.

Blood everywhere. Godric, she was amazing.

He stumbled, grabbing his mouth and nose and staggered down the hall. Down the stairs. Out of the building and for the night, out of my life.

“You just hit my reserve,” I said, but I was grinning like an idiot.

“I’m sorry,” Avery said. She moved back into the flat and flipped on a light. “I had no idea who he was. He was just nice to me. Of course he was.” She groaned and rolled her eyes. “You’re bleeding too you know.”

“Yes, well, a little blood never hurt anyone, did it?” I looked down. Okay, it was a lot more than a little. And it hurt.

“C’mon, Potter.” She took my arm and led me to the kitchen to clean it up. The cookies were in a sealed container by the sink. She handed me one and I hopped onto the counter so she could fix me up properly. “What’re you doing here then?”

“I needed to see you,” I explained. The adrenaline from the tournament was gone. “I played in a tournament this weekend. I needed to see you. To talk to you. I needed…”

“Shh.” Avery cut away the part of my jeans the blood had soaked and put a bandage over my cut. “We don’t have to talk about it now.” She had her bottom lip between her teeth.

“I can’t do this anymore,” I whispered. I felt like my body was breaking just being in the same room as her. “I can’t keep living like this.”

“What’re you talking about?” Avery asked. She straightened and grabbed a bag of peas from the freezer. I winced when they went over my cut. “James, can this wait? I’ve had a trying night.”

“No.” I placed my finger under her chin and forced her to look at me. “It can’t wait. I came here because it couldn’t wait.” Her eyes were flickering across my face. “I made a mistake. A mistake so big that I nearly lost us the first game of the tournament. I played like complete shit because I can’t concentrate. I’m not myself. I’m a shell of myself.”

“I don’t know what that means.” She tapped her nails against the counter.

“It means I’ve been trying to think of something since I joined the Tornados,” I said. My voice was higher than I wanted it to be. “Trying to think of a way to link my former life to my new life and I can’t find it but I can’t keep fighting like this. I’m tired. I’m a Quidditch player and damn it I am not giving you up. I don’t care what I said before and I don’t care what is going to happen in the future. I don’t want to kiss anyone else. I don’t want to be with anyone else or flirt with anyone else or hold hands with anyone else. I just want you. That is all I want.” I was out of breath. The room was hazy and maybe it was because of blood loss or maybe it was because I had the most beautiful girl in the history of beauty in front of me, her green eyes soaking into mine.

“I don’t understand,” she whispered.

“Neither do I,” I said. I grabbed her and pulled her toward me, kissing her hard.

My knee exploded in pain but I kissed her. Again and again and my fingers were in her hair and her arms were around my neck and I couldn’t so much as breathe. Everything was foggy, both in my head and out. Avery Flynn was in my arms again and I was never letting her go. I didn’t care what loopholes I had to find and what sacrifices I had to make.

She was my best friend. My everything.

We kissed for a long time. So long that her legs began to tremble under her and I pulled her onto the counter, in my lap. And we kissed again, my hand steadying her hip.

I didn’t care right then. I didn’t care about anything other than this girl who had been with me through so much. Growing up at Hogwarts together. Quidditch practice and games and finals and hoisting the Cup. Through her father’s terror and our own hormones. The hospital wing and Italy and our families and our trial run at a relationship. They say no one’s perfect, but I don’t know who they are. Avery Flynn was perfect.

Perfect for me.

Avery’s breathing was unsteady when she finally pulled away and her hair was messy. She blinked a few times. Her eyes were locked with mine. “What have you been hiding from me?” she asked.

I hadn’t expected that, but I wasn’t surprised.

“Too much,” I replied. My body ached.

“C’mon.” She took my hand and hopped off the counter. She helped me off and I limped with her down the hallway into her bedroom.

It was the same as it had been every time I’d been there over the years. Bed in the far corner. Window to the right. Wardrobe on the same wall as the door. Posters of Quidditch teams and players and hundreds of pictures of her mates. So many of her and me making goofy faces. Avery loved to document what we’d done – the adventures we’d gone on. I’d forgotten so many of them happened.

She closed the door and locked it. Then Avery flipped on the small lamp on her bedside table.

“Why didn’t you kiss Mason?” I asked. I stood by the door, unsure of where this was going. Where she was going.

“There was something…off.” Avery shrugged. She closed the blinds and pulled off her shirt. She was wearing an inappropriately thin tank top under it. I could see her bra through it. Godric help me.

“How do you mean, off?”

“I knew he was changing the subject to not talk about himself,” Avery explained. “No bloke does that unless he has a reason. Criminal. Hermit. Famous. Whatever. But if someone can’t be honest with me, I don’t trust them. Definitely not enough to give them a snog.” She wiggled off her pants.

Godric. Godric. Godric.

I looked away, my face on fire. Every bit of me was on fire.

“Besides, I’m used to you anyway.” The wardrobe door creaked as it opened. “You are always open and honest about yourself. You’re not ashamed of it. So if he had a reason to be I had a perfect reason not to snog him.” She laughed. “Go on and turn around. I’ve put on clothes.”

“Good.” She was now wearing a pair of pajama shorts which were not covering much more.

“C’mon. We’re going to bed and we’re going to talk. You’re going to tell me the truth, James Potter, or I will kick you out of bed.”

“That’s quite the motivation,” I said, watching her climb under the covers. She pulled them up to her neck and gave me a very sassy smile. I missed that. So many times since graduation I’d seen frowns from her. Those smiles were like currency.

I pulled off my shirt and pants and crawled under the blankets beside her. It was warm already. Her body was warm as she curled around me, her head on my chest, arm draped over my stomach, leg twisting with mine. Just like we’d always done as mates.

We were never truly mates, were we? Just biding our time until one of us figured it out. The truth.

“Tell me what you’re keeping from me,” Avery whispered. I felt her breath against my chest. Her fingers began making circles on my ribcage. “There is a reason you have been so distant, isn’t there? There is a reason I should forgive you for being a complete and total tool.”

I frowned and squeezed my eyes shut. “You probably shouldn’t forgive me,” I replied. “But it’s something you should understand at the very least. But forgive… that is on your shoulders. Though I have always known you to find the good in people.”

“Sometimes to my own demise,” she said.

I wrapped an arm around her, my fingers moving lightly through her hair. “There is a reason I pulled away.” I cleared my throat. I had to be honest. Tell her the truth. “After graduation I was starting to see clearly again. I knew we were back on track with our friendship. We were moving past everything. I was ready to fight again. For us.”

“And then something happened,” Avery said. “I knew something happened.”

“It’s the Tornados,” I said.

“No.”

I squeezed my eyes tight again. “It’s the Tornados,” I repeated. “They have a … Code. And the penalties for breaking it are slightly more severe.”

“You have got to be fucking kidding,” Avery said. To my surprise, she was snickering. The kind of laugh when you have entertained the possibility of the impossible.

“It is against the Code to date a member of an opposing team,” I explained. “This includes reserves and the professional team itself.”

“And the consequence?”

“For the rest of the Code, it’s a three-strike system with mini punishments Henrik didn’t elaborate on. But the third strike for those and the first strike for dating an opposing team member…” I paused and my teeth moved together. “I get benched. I don’t get to play. A reserve gets my slot. For one game. And each time it happens, basically as long as it’s ongoing, I am benched.”

“So you don’t just go bald?” Avery asked. She was poking at me now and I twitched.

“I’d much rather go bald,” I said.

“Well.” She cleared her throat and sighed hard against my skin. “That would make sense as to why you pulled away after I had a tryout. Why you snuck in to see how it went. Why you have been a complete jerk.”

“That would be why,” I mumbled. My face was red again.

“Thought of any loopholes?”

“Not one,” I said. “I’ve been trying. Ali has been helping me.”

“Ali? Your teammate? That American girl?”

I nodded. “She’s a good person. You’d get along well with her. Funny and smart.”

“And?” Avery said.

“And what? American? Cheeky?”

“Is she pretty?”

I looked down. “What?”

“I’m teasing, James. Hell.” She laughed and propped herself up for a moment just to kiss me. “I don’t give a shit if she’s pretty or not. She’s not me.” Saucy woman.

“Too right you are, Aves.” I kissed her again. And again.

“What’re we doing then?” she asked. “And don’t bloody say snog buddies again or I will do more physical harm to your body.”

I shook my head and fell back into the pillows. “I wish I knew,” I whispered. “Tonight, let’s just not know, okay? I have the day off from practice tomorrow since they were anticipating a great deal of hangovers, so for tonight let’s just not. Let’s just be us tonight and get back to…us.”

She smiled. “Let’s just be us.” Avery settled back in and resumed twirling her fingers around on my skin. “So who did you kiss last night that made you feel so unnaturally guilty?”

My face flushed again. “How on earth do you do that?”

“I’ve known you a long time, James.”

I groaned. This woman, I swear. She was something else. “Artemis.”

“The bitchy one?”

I nodded. “The bitchy one.”

She burst out laughing and I prodded her.

“Not funny! It is not funny! I was very drunk and depressed and Jack had told me to go back to the hotel and rest after fucking up the game and I was just not having it!”

Avery wouldn’t stop laughing so I poked at her some more. And then grabbed her sides to tickle her and then somehow kissed her again and that was what we did for a very, very long time.

Tonight was ours.

 

 






A/N: Look at all that Javery in one chapter. LOOK AT THAT.

Thank you all for reading. And just so you know, I know I'm behind in answering reviews. Like, way behind. But no worries. I'll get to every single one of them as promised. I'm still settling in in my new city with my new puppy and my new job. But I'm writing and posting! 

Feel free to check out the other 3 stories I'm posting if you have down time between chapters of this beastie. 

To answer the questions - No, I don't know how long this will be yet, though I do have a lot of exciting twists and turns and subplots. 

Please let me know your thoughts :) 

UP NEXT: The night ends. Reality sets in. Bink and Freddie are really effing confused. 

 

 
 
 


Chapter 7: The One with the Family Wager
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For Kira. For the John Green comparison. 




The light streaming in through the gap in Avery’s curtains broke the spell of the previous night. I stirred, groggy and tired. Avery was beside me, her eyes focused on a book. I didn’t know how long she’d been awake.

The night was like the kind of dream you can barely remember at first but then slowly comes back to you the longer you think on it. Before falling asleep Avery told me her captain, Crystal Little, wasn’t quite the captain I was. She was more keen on becoming mates with the team than demanding their focus. The Harpies’ reserve team, the Sparrows, didn’t respect Crystal all that much which is why their practices hadn’t gone so well thus far.

She also told me Lily knew something was up and she was trying to figure out what it was. That baby sister of mine had snuck into my flat on a couple of occasions to find evidence of why I was being so weird.

In retrospect, I didn’t realize I was being so weird. I was caught up in everything. Hell, I was still caught up in all of it.

“Good morning, sunshine,” Avery said with a smirk, glancing over from her book. It was in a plastic cover from the library. “How did you sleep?”

“You have no idea,” I mumbled and yawned. Her bed was like sleeping on a cloud. Seven clouds. Plus a litter of kittens. “I feel normal again.”

She dog-eared the page and tossed the book to the floor. Then she kissed my cheek. I was glad she didn’t kiss my lips because I could feel the wonky morning-breath thing happening and the last thing I wanted was for Avery to be aware of that. “What’s today then?” she asked.

I considered. I didn’t have Quidditch practice or any scheduled interviews. For the first time in a while, I had the entire day open for whatever I wanted.

“I have to check on something.” I rolled over and grabbed my phone from my jeans pocket. I hit speed dial number four.

“This is Cynthia,” said my agent. She yawned. “What’re you doing ringing today? You have the day off. Enjoy it.”

I raked my fingers through my hair. “I need you to start getting things sorted for that fund I told you about. Find a process to queue the kids. Run it by me before you do anything. I want to have a fundraiser in the next few weeks.”

“Are you sure you need me?” Cynthia teased.

“I appreciate this,” I said. “I just want to make sure it’s on the right track. Start putting a form together to reserve boxes. It just depends on the kids’ favorite teams, but we’ll have to have some fast-track ordering for boxes. The kids and their families.”

“That’s going to cost a fortune, James.” She sounded concerned.

“I don’t care what it costs,” I replied. My eyes were fixed on the blank door. “That’s why we’re having a fundraiser. Get the details. The venue. The invitation list. Run them all by me before any decisions are made.”

“You’ve got it,” Cynthia said.

“Thanks, love. You’re the best.” I hit end on the phone and tossed it onto my jeans.

“I don’t suppose I’m going to be let in on this important endeavor?” Avery asked. She was leaning against the pillows, hair spread over the fabric.

“I wanted to tell you when I got back from the tour,” I explained. I didn’t look at her. Couldn’t. “I started a fund for cancer patients. So they can watch Quidditch matches.”

“That’s specific,” she said.

I told her about Nathan. About the Quaffle I signed. About how transfixed I was with that man and his story and how close it brought everything to me. Before I had distanced myself so easily from the other side. Even at Hogwarts I dealt with fans at the after-parties and before games wishing me luck, but that was all it was. Now it was closer and more personal. These people genuinely cared. They held onto hopes that to some may just rest on some athletes flying around on brooms, but to them it was a symbol of hope. What they had. What they wanted.

She was quiet for a moment. “Do you need help?” Avery asked eventually. Her fingers traced up my bare back and made me shiver.

“I always need help.” I laughed a little. “But yeah, that would be brilliant. I think Cynthia is taking care of most of the details, but every little bit counts.”

“Did you tear up?” Avery asked.

“What? No. Of course not. I’m masculine.”

“All the more reason to find those emotions deep in your black heart.” Avery snickered and scooted up to where I was on the bed. She leaned her head against my shoulder. “I think what you’re doing is a really good thing, James. And you’re doing it for the right reasons.”

“Maybe that cancels out the other things I’m doing selfishly,” I mused.

She smiled and kissed my shoulder. Her lips were warm. “This isn’t going to work, is it?” she asked.

“I can’t see how it’s possible,” I said. “Not unless I get traded from the Tornados or we never actually get together. Which seems like torture to me. I couldn’t be like this and not be with you. And let’s face it, even if we told people we weren’t together and then showed up at events and went out to dinner … pretty sure that by definition that counts unless we start going out with other people too.” I paused. “Nope. That sounds terrible.”

“We could try it though,” Avery said, shrugging. The strap of her tank top was falling onto her arm. I resisted the urge to set it right. “Go out with each other. Go out with other people. Keep things casual.”

“That sounds like a terrible idea,” I said. “I don’t want to go out with other people.”

“What about Shelby?”

I grimaced. “She’s a nice girl, but she isn’t for me. Reminded me a little of Nia but with a better head on her shoulders. And Quidditch-playing abilities.” I wrapped an arm around her, resting my hand on her hip. “Besides, how long could we go on like that?”

“Until you propose,” she teased.

I flushed.

“I’m kidding, idiot.” She nudged me in the ribs. “Don’t even think about that. My mum would kill you with a baked good should you so much as consider it.”

“Pretty sure my parents would have killed me long before,” I said, though I wasn’t so sure. Dad might even throw us a party. He seemed fond of the idea of Avery and me, but we were still too young to go thinking about things like that. I hadn’t even turned eighteen yet.

We weren’t even actually together.

“Keep thinking on it,” Avery said with a smile. “We’ll figure it out.”

“And until then?” My eyes were on hers.

“Until then we hide.” She didn’t appear to care, not so much as blinking. Avery twisted her fingers in with mine and kissed me again. “We hide and we run and we make up for all the time we’ve had fighting.”

“The fighting wasn’t so bad.” I thought back to when she kissed me in my flat. Or the way she looked when she was angry. Nothing short of sexy.

“I slapped you.”

“Okay I was not fond of that part.” I rubbed my cheek at the memory. “We should go away for a weekend or something. When we don’t have practice or interviews or dates with other people.” I laughed, hoping she knew I wasn’t serious about that last part.

“We should,” Avery agreed. She kissed me again. I loved when she kissed me and I loved not reacting like I had in Italy. Running. I didn’t want to run anymore. “Somewhere exotic. Somewhere no one will see us.”

“Anywhere you want,” I said, which was something I rarely said. I felt different today. Something had changed. I felt like myself again. James Potter, Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team (Of Awesome).

“Let’s go back to your flat first.” Avery forced me onto my back and crawled over me in a way I can safely say made me never want to so much as consider glancing away.

“Not exactly exotic, but okay.”

Then she pulled on a lace shirt and jean shorts. “C’mon then. I haven’t properly seen Bink and Freddie in too long. And I should tell your sister we’re not sore with you anymore.”

“My sister is always sore with me.” I grabbed at her wrist and pulled her back on top of me. “Do we have to go?”

“Should we just wait for my mum to come home from work and off you?” she asked, kissing the tip of my nose.

“Point taken.” I hopped off the bed after her and tugged on my clothes from last night. Odd walk of shame outfit given the lack of shame that happened. Then I blushed because I considered it a walk of shame outfit. Godric.

“I’m still mad at you, you know,” Avery said. She peeled back the curtains and let in more light.

“As you should be,” I replied. “Though I’m still mad at you.”

“What? For what?”

“You haven’t been the greatest best friend,” I said with a smile creeping onto my lips. “I’m certain you should have guessed there was another Code and I couldn’t see you and that I’m always thinking about you. It’s rude of you not to have guessed, actually.”

Avery rolled her eyes. “One of these days, Potter.” She took my arm and we left together. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

*

Freddie and Bink were couch-ridden when we arrived and both looked equally as stunned that we arrived together.

“Am I drunk?” asked Freddie.

Bink sniffed Fred’s drink and shook his head. “Are you two drunk?”

I considered this but then shook my head when Avery narrowed her eyes.

“You should probably tell them, James,” she said and helped herself to a soda in the fridge.

“About last night?”

“Did you two shag?” Bink asked. It was absurd how excited he got.

“No.” I looked at Avery.

“About why,” she said softly and settled in between my roommates. “About the Tornados.”

I groaned. “This doesn’t need to be discussed right now. How are you two? How’s Amy? How’s Rose?”

“Amy’s in trouble with her parents for spending the night here.” Freddie’s face moved into a cheeky grin. Yes, his entire face. “So she’s grounded. She said she wasn’t feeling well anyway so it’s no big deal. That way I don’t catch her bug.”

“Spending the night or spending the night?” I asked.

Fred shook his head.

“Rose is Rose.” Bink shrugged indifferently.

I hated him sometimes.

“Seen her lately?” I prompted. Bink nodded. “Kissed her lately?” Bink nodded again.

Avery sighed. “The Tornados have a Code and James is not allowed to date a member of another team, reserve or not. Boom.” She made a swoopy hand gesture too.

The boys were silent. They exchanged looks.

“I’d like to say this is karma,” Bink muttered after a while.

“Want to go back to shagging McLaggen?” I shot back.

“I’d rather not,” he said halfheartedly. “Though I’m sure the feeling isn’t mutual. I’m good.”

“Arrogant sod,” Freddie said. “So what’re you going to do then? Just not date? Snog buddies again?” He snorted. “Come on, James. You can’t go on like this. What’s the punishment then?”

“I’m benched.”

They stared.

“Not like forever though, right?”

“Each time the rule is broken,” I explained. “So basically if we keep at it, I keep getting benched. Permanently.”

“But you’re too good to be benched!” Bink said. “You’re seventeen on the bloody Tornados – they can’t bench you. Talk to your coach. I’ll talk to your coach.”

It was strangely nice having Bink stand up for me like that knowing he didn’t have a Quidditch team to complain about. I felt for him, but it was nice all the same. He was happy for me and though he didn’t show it very often, it was there.

“It’s the rule,” I said. “Happened to Artemis before. The reserve lost the game. What if we’re close to playoffs and I get benched? Doesn’t that sound terrible?”

“But it’s Avery,” Freddie said, frowning. She kissed him on the cheek. “Aren’t there exceptions for Averys or something?”

“None,” I replied. I moved to the fridge and grabbed the first unhealthy thing I could find. Leftover pizza. “Unless she wasn’t a Harpy or I wasn’t on this team. Who knows what rules other teams have.”

“I’ll date Avery if you’d like,” Bink said with a sideways grin.

“You already tried at Hogwarts,” I shot back.

“Oh come on. You know I wasn’t actually going to date her, right?” He leaned up, elbows on his knees. “I love Avery, I do. But she’s not exactly my kind of girl.”

“Easy?” Avery prompted.

“Quit talking about my cousin!” I whined. Bink should have just gone for some other unsuspecting girl. Like Nia. Match made in bloody heaven. “And I don’t know. What makes you think you wouldn’t have?”

“She’s always been off limits, mate,” Bink said, shrugging. “Always. Since first year she’s been off limits and all of us know that. I was trying to get a rise out of you at the party. And from the swelling in my jaw, it worked.”

That was the night Clint Lawson went off his rocker and attacked me. And Avery. I didn’t remember much of it – just that Avery came to my rescue and walked me back to the hospital wing while I muttered incomprehensible things. I’d like to take a lot of that back. But not the night we spent in the hospital bed. I never wanted to take that back.

I caught her eye and she smiled.

“Right well, could you just either be with Rose or not be with her?” I said. “This is getting ridiculous.”

“I keep trying to end it!” Bink said and Freddie rolled his eyes. “She’s the one who keeps coming back and then pushing away and she’s confusing me but I can’t help it. I can’t help any of it.”

“Addiction?” I asked dryly.

“Something like that.” He shrugged. “She did encourage me to go on that tryout with the Falcons though.”

Falcon Cat would totally play for the Falcons. She had the sass.

“Tryout?” Avery said.

“Had it yesterday up at the Falcons’ place. Pretty sure it was a pity tryout.” Bink leaned back into the cushions and moved his gaze to the ceiling. “I did all right. Not well enough to get signed, but I’ll wait for my letter before I pout too much.”

“You’ll get it,” Avery said, squeezing his thigh.

Ah, Falcon Cat. “Hey, Avery,” I said.

“She was at the vet,” Avery replied, somehow knowing exactly what I was going to say. “Mum dropped her off that morning to get her shots.”

“And now?” I looked over at Falcon Cat’s little food dish in the corner and her cat-scratching post she never used. Instead she used the side of Bink’s bed.

“Yes, she can come stay again.” Avery rolled her eyes like she hadn’t already made up her mind. She was smirking. I loved her smirk.

“Even with the attack cat from the tree?” Freddie asked. He got up and pulled back the living room curtains. “James, do you see it? I can’t see it, but I couldn’t before so you should let me know if we’re in real danger being here.”

“Sod off.” I hopped onto the island counter and shook my head. “It was there.” I told Bink and Avery the story of TomCat and how he was real and I needed to keep a very careful eye on Falcon Cat while she was here. He was a wild predator. Like that Disney movie. Couldn’t be trusted.

Both of them did not react in the way that they should have. They laughed.

Gits.

*

The fam welcomed Avery back with open arms. Not that she’d left. According to Lily, she was around the house more than I was. All the same, they set her a place at the table beside mine and Albus fumbled with her cutlery. His brow was sweaty.

I realized why when Paloma Dove walked swiftly around the corner looking radiant. She didn’t look nervous or shaky. She said hi to Avery and gave me a hug (awkward) and then took her seat. Mum asked her something about her hair and how the shine remind her of Freddie’s a bit and I disagreed because it wasn’t even that shiny.

“What happened?” Lily whispered.

“Oh, you’re speaking to me now?”

“It appears we don’t hate you anymore.”

“I’ll explain later,” Avery said softly, placing the green napkin in her lap. Lily nodded.

“You will not. This is our business.” I flicked her leg. She flicked mine back harder.

“Are you two together again?” Lily asked. “Because if you are Albus owes me money.”

My eyes snapped to my little brother, who was smiling sideways at Paloma. She was twirling her fingers around strands of hair. Stop with the sexual tension it was inappropriate.

My parents were none the wiser, as they were making eyes by the stove.

Great. All I needed was Wesley to wander in and start trying to get fresh with my sister.

“No,” Avery answered. “But there’s a reason.”

“James is a twat?”

“Other than that,” she said.

“I’m right here!”

Lily and Avery shot me very similar grins. I didn’t like either.

“You were off all day?” Dad asked, sliding the butter dish onto the table in front of me. “No interviews or anything?”

“Nothing. All day. Recuperating from the tournament.”

“How did that go, anyway? Did you make any friends?”

I thought about Maxwell. And Jack. And Artemis. Bugger.

“We lost and then we won,” I told them and then explained a little more about the tournament. I left out all the raging party details and me having one (or ten) too many. And the kissing Artemis part. That was still weird. And casual. Which made it even more weird. Dad clapped me on the back. “And I didn’t fall to my death,” I added and he gave me a look.

“I’m glad you have a day off,” he said. “They work you too hard.” Before I could say anything, he added, “I know. It’s professional Quidditch. I know, I know. Your mum’s been there. Which is why I can hate it just as much.”

“Anyone want to knock me up so I can come home?” I offered.

Mum threw a chicken wing at me. I had barbeque sauce all down my cheek. Well-deserved. Top aim, Mum.

“I’m glad you can finally have dinner with us,” she said, taking her seat on the other side of the table. “I think I’ve seen you more in magazines than in person lately.”

“They’re really good pictures though.” I helped myself to some food, hoping the attention would be diverted soon. I had enough of talking about me when I was in interviews and on the pitch. I was sick of it.

I paused, fingers just barely touching the butter knife.

I was sick of talking about myself.

Well, that was a change.

Avery nudged me.

“What?” I said.

Mum laughed. “I asked how Bink and Freddie are,” she said. “I haven’t seen much of them either.”

“Fred has taken to napping at the shelter and Bink is breathing, which is better than last week when we weren’t altogether sure whether or not he was alive.” I shrugged. Still needed to figure out what to do about that. Bink was delicate. Had to be handled with care.

That was not something I should say to Rose.

Though I should mention something to her. I was mostly sick of hearing about their romps together all over the flat. Not that it was made clear, but it was a visual in my head and I didn’t appreciate it. Gross. Cousins.

And brothers. Albus. Ugh.

And he bet on Avery and I.

“What was your bet?” I whispered to Lily, very aware everyone at the table could hear.

Her face went red. “No idea what you’re talking about.”

“Me and Avery. What was it? I want to know? How much money?”

She ran her fingers through her ginger hair. Mum did the same thing from the other side of the table. I stared.

“THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE IN ON THIS?”

Avery was scarlet. I was getting there.

“It may have been a family thing,” Dad said slowly.

“And Paloma,” Albus said.

“I was just a witness!” she piped up.

I exchanged looks with Avery. “You approve of this?” I asked because she was giggling.

“Come on, James. It’s not that bad, is it? They saw an outside perspective.” She bit the corner of her lip and I had the sudden urge to kiss her but stopped because … table full of gambling family.

“Okay so who bet for us and who bet against us?” I said impatiently.

“Everyone bet for you,” Lily clarified. “It was just how long. If you two are together now, I’d get a good chunk of money, mostly from Albus but I’m blackmailing him for something else.” There was that sassy grin. Captain material right there.

Albus looked very uncomfortable. This time, Paloma joined him.

“We’re not,” I said to Lily. “But thank you for turning my lack of relationship into a humiliating way to make a few coins.”

Avery nudged me. She didn’t press me to tell them why, and I was glad. I didn’t want to have to explain something like that. Especially not to my parents.

“Wait another week,” Dad whispered. “I’ll give you half the money.”

Dad makes a joke. Well done, Dad.

I busied myself with dinner. I couldn’t stop thinking about last night. About what we’d said and how I may or may not have lunged across the room when I noticed it was Mason. Nothing was safe now. We may not have been together and he may have no concrete proof, but he was a manipulator. I wouldn’t put it past him to use every bit of our friendship against us.

I’d just have to be smarter than him.

It wasn’t going to be easy. He knew now that Avery was my soft spot – my weakness. And I obviously did not have many of those.

Ish.

But how? How could I go back to normal with Avery and still play for the Tornados and keep Mason the hell off my pitch? That sounded like a tall order.

I’d think of something. I had to. I didn’t have a choice. It was either dream or dream girl and I wasn’t willing to give up either. There had to be a loophole. Maybe Ali had thought of something by that time. Maybe Artemis found a way around it.

Maybe Jack had some stable advice that didn’t suck. Probably not.

Avery reached over and held my hand under the table.

*

That night we snuck into a movie without paying (I left a bunch of Muggle money under the seat. Guilt.) and walked home in the darkness. Avery kicked at the gravel as we talked about everything we’d missed. Her practices since she was picked up as a reserve. Cooper Bradley’s fondness of her (ugh). My own practices. Henrik being a Hufflepuff (weird). Seeing Maxwell. What exactly Mason had done and said. What Clara was like.

We held hands. No cars went by. No photographers screaming to take my picture. Just two people walking on the side of a gravel road in the summer heat.

Bink wasn’t on the sofa when we returned. The porch light was on. His bedroom window was dark. I knocked a couple times, since his usual perch was the couch watching re-runs of bad reality television at that hour. Unless he was in there hooking up with Rose, but he draped a Quidditch towel over the handle when he was in there with her.

Nothing.

“Not home?” Avery asked, arching her brow. “That’s not like him. Maybe he made friends.”

“Impossible. Bink’s too rough around the edges.” I sighed and pushed open Fred’s door. “Oy – where’s albino?”

I stopped dead.

Godric Gryffindor.

Avery appeared at my side and gasped. Then she quickly moved into the hall.

I was momentarily stunned. Fred and Amy were in his bed, both half clothed, snogging. Limbs were tangled and blankets were on the floor, among other undergarments.

“James – out!” Fred choked, grabbing the blanket and throwing it over Amy.

“Good to see you,” I stammered and ran into the hallway. Then into the kitchen. Then I sat on the floor behind the counter because damn it I would not be able to see anything. Avery peeked over the side. “I’m fine.”

She smiled. “Thinking about trying for Amy now? She’s pretty.”

“I hate you.” My ears were red. My cheeks were red.

And yet somehow, the only thought I had was – why is everyone hooking up but me?

Suddenly Emerson’s taunting V-Card insults were in my head.

Shut it, Twitwards. What was wrong with a V-Card? Nothing. That’s right. Absolutely nothing. Because even if I would have wanted to shag someone like Nia I’d be sitting on this floor right now regretting that choice. In Bink’s eyes I knew he regretted things with Meta, even though they ended up sort of fancying each other.

That was weird.

Nothing was wrong with me not hooking up. Nothing. When it happened, it happened. I wasn’t any less of a teenage boy because of it.

Fuck. This was ridiculous.

Avery was still looking at me with a smirky smile. How could she be so calm about this?

She moved around the counter and slid beside me, hand coming to rest on my knee. Her thumb moved against the fabric. “You should probably learn to knock.”

I elbowed her. “I don’t remember you ever knocking coming into my room in the Tower.”

“Why would I? You fancied me and just didn’t know it yet.” There’s that arrogant, smirky smile again. What a confident woman.

She wasn’t wrong.

“James!” Fred’s footfalls thudded in the hall. “What in the bloody—?”

“Bink puts something on the door!” I shouted, trying to forget about Avery’s hand on my knee. It was making me think. A lot. I couldn’t help it. I was also trying to get the image of half-naked Fred out of my head.

“I didn’t think—” Fred paused and slapped his hands against the counter above me. I jumped. “Just in the future. Knock. Always knock.” He groaned.

“So how’s it going in there?” I asked.

“I’m in the hallway,” said Amy. I reddened again. “And it was going fine, thank you.”

Fred laughed and I heard him walk over to where Amy’s voice was. “Now where were we?” he asked.

“Get over yourself. Avery’s here.” Amy moved around the side of the kitchen counter. She was sloppily put together with wrinkled clothes, but always looked pretty all the same. “So. What’s this about the pair of you not fighting anymore? Are you back together? Can I be your wedding planner?”

Godric.




A/N: Ah, that's refreshing. A little banter. A little tension. 

Thank you all for the kind words and support. I appreciate it. 

Next Time: Where the heck did Bink go? 


Chapter 8: The One with the Tea Party
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For ScarletRoses. YOU NAMED YOUR DOG BINK DO YOU EVEN UNDERSTAND HOW AWESOME THAT IS?! 

For nott theodore ... for seeing the progression. 

For Jess94, for pointing out that same thing in that same chapter.

For "Jimmy" who had one of the best reviews I have ever read. 

And for velociraptors. Because ... well, duh. 




While Avery did her best to explain our situation to Amy, Fred dragged me into his bedroom. I didn’t sit on the bed. He closed the door with a tight snap and rounded on me like I was TomCat and he was me.

“How could you not knock?” he said.

I blinked. “Because I’ve never knocked in our dormitory or at your house or here?” I guessed.

Fred paused. “Okay. Fine. But still. Do you even understand what was happening?”

“I may be a virgin but I’m not daft,” I muttered. My ears were red again. Could I re-do today and just not come home at all and stay out on the gravel road snogging Avery? Because I would like that.

“We almost shagged!” Fred cried, throwing his arms into the air. Calm down, buddy. “I haven’t shagged a girl since batshit crazy Abigail. Do you even…?”

I held up a finger. “Please don’t finish that sentence.”

Fred fell onto the bed and sprawled out. “She told me she loved me,” he said. “In response to me telling her I love her.” He draped an arm over his eyes, face all sorts of red. I was happy to see his hair was all over the place looking not-so-soft.

“So you love each other.” I swallowed hard.

“Yeah. We do. We love each other.”

“What’re you going to do when she goes back to Hogwarts?” I asked. Seemed obvious.

“Keep loving each other?”

It was a question.

*

Fred and Amy left a little while later to head to the animal shelter. Amy wanted to spend some time in the cat room taking care of the underfed sick ones and Fred wanted to walk the biggest, meanest dogs and try to change them. He called it Doggy Anger Management. Not very creative and I fully expected to find his arms bandaged when he returned.

Avery and I fell onto the sofa and turned on a movie, followed by another movie. She was in my arms again, drifting off during the boring parts as I ran my fingers through her hair.

I just kept thinking. That was never a good thing.

How could I get around this?

How could Fred be almost shagging Amy?

Where the hell was Bink Legace?

What was Mr. Flynn eating in prison? Ha.

Avery sighed a little. She was asleep. She looked calm. She always looked calm unless she was about to hit me in the face. Or take down Lawson.

I just wanted to know what the hell I was supposed to do. Where I was supposed to go from here. Instead I was a little lost and considering just taking her and disappearing from England. We didn’t need Quidditch or our friends or family. We just needed each other. Right?

It was like a jolt of energy snaked up my spine.

Avery blinked and stared up at me, the right side of her face bathed in the light of the television, flickering. Her leg was twisted around mine, fingers wound into my shirt. She looked drowsy, like she could drift off again at any moment.

“I love you,” I whispered as the credits to the movie started to play. The room darkened against the black screen.

Avery was quiet for a moment and my stomach knotted. Was that too sudden? We weren’t even together. I shouldn’t have said it. It was actually pretty stupid. I should probably take it back and say I said I love loo. I love the loo. That was what I said. How could she possible even assume that I loved anyone because that was absolutely absurd and only Hufflepuffs said things like that.

Instead, I waited. I laid there, fingers still in her hair, and waited.

“About time you realized,” Avery replied and I could barely hear her over the credits music. “Though I owe Lily ten Sickles.”

If there was any response I was waiting for (one specifically came to mind), it wasn’t that.

Avery leaned up on her elbows and kissed me for a while. It was true. Everything about it was true. I loved the shit out of Avery Flynn and I didn’t care who knew it.

Except it was going to get me benched.

“I love you too,” she said against my lips, eyes still closed. “Though I thought you’d be daft for at least another few weeks.”

“Don’t pay Lily,” I said, kissing her again between each word. “She’s a bint and I’m making Paloma Captain.”

“Only because you want to train her and see her in those tiny shorts,” Avery said, pulling herself against my body.

“Will you borrow her tiny shorts?” I mumbled, breath coming shorter now. I was kissing her harder, my fingers cupping the side of her face as her leg curled around my body.

“Maybe,” Avery breathed. Her hair was spread out over the pillow and suddenly I was over her, kissing her lips and her neck and her collar bone. She gasped a little as my teeth brushed her skin and I shuttered. I couldn’t help it. She smelled amazing.

My hair was in Avery’s fist. My lips were back on hers and I was having a hard time breathing.

That was until the door downstairs slammed and I fell unceremoniously off of Avery and onto the floor with a loud thud and injured backside.

Son of a bitch.

Avery was giggling. I was still trying to catch my breath because I’d gotten a little carried away thinking about her in those little shorts Paloma wore around the pitch. Godric, I was a sucker.

We met eyes for a moment, both of us realizing the phrase we’d used in that conversation. Before either one of us could comment, a familiar face appeared at the top of the stairs.

“You have got to be shitting me,” Gaia my favorite bartender said, annoyed. In her arms was a passed out Bink Legace with his mouth hanging wide open and his arms all spaghetti below him. “I just bloody walked ten blocks with this son of a bitch. He passed out at block three. Left my sodding wand at the pub.”

I couldn’t stop staring. Gaia looked the same. Still sassy as shit. Still beautiful. Still my go-to to make Avery jealous (even though that was pretty much impossible nowadays).

“How?” I said after Gaia dropped Bink in a chair and let his head hit the arm. Hard.

“He’s a mess,” she said and took the seat on the sofa next to Avery now that she’d sat up and flattened her hair. “Didn’t get his tryout so he comes to the pub and tries to drink me out of stock. Haven’t seen a kid his size put it back like that before. Starts ordering all the mixers and pours them together and steals my shaker and makes himself something that looks like the liquid plague.” She made a face. “Within ten minutes he was beyond real sentences. Told me some interesting gossip though.”

“Ah?” I swallowed hard. Bink knew way too much.

“Rose is your cousin, isn’t she?”

I stared. “What did he say?”

“Not my place.” Gaia smirked and crossed her legs like a sassy she-devil and I hated her for it. “So I figured I’d bring him back while he was still breathing and not crying.”

“CRYING?”

Avery shot me a dirty look. “Thank you, Gaia.”

“So are you two a thing again?” she asked. “I’ve been watching the papers and you’re quite the ladies man, Potter.”

Another dirty look from Avery.

“It’s complicated,” I said.

“Yeah. That mark on her neck makes it look really complicated.” Gaia stood up and ruffled my hair before making sure Bink was breathing. “I have to get back to the pub, but make sure he drinks a lot of water and tell him the next time he comes in I’m giving him juice and that’s it.” She waved, smiled, and left.

Avery and I looked at Bink. He was drooling a little.

“What’s he going to do?” she whispered, standing and covering the mark on her neck as she walked over to his sleeping form. “Without Quidditch, I mean. His parents already don’t want him coming back until he wants to be Minister or something stupid. You think he’ll cave?”

I shrugged. “No way to know. I don’t get why he’s not getting these tryouts. He’s good. I worked with him for years. I know how good he is.”

“Maybe he doesn’t mesh with teams.” Avery smoothed his hair back away from his face. “I wonder what he said about Rose.”

I already knew. If two of us had said it today, it was only a matter of time until it came out of Bink’s mouth.

*

“The tournament went well.” Henrik Lindt was at the front of the meeting room with a dry erase marker in his hand he hadn’t used yet. Instead, he was tapping it on the table and making Jack jump each time. “But there’s a lot we need to work on. The good news is, we have a little bit of time. The other good news is I now have a lot of information on the other teams.”

“Did you flirt again?” Ali asked, groaning.

Henrik smirked. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“What d’you mean?” I whispered to Ali.

“At every function Henrik tends to … play to his handsome features for information.”

“I do not!” Henrik said, his stubbly cheeks reddening. “I just ask.”

“With that smile,” Ali said matter-of-factly. “And he leans in like he’s genuinely interested in that girl. The girl who happens to be new to the team and has huge doe-eyes.” She did an impression, blinking a lot and puckering her lips. “But it works.”

Henrik changed the subject and went into the Falcons and their defensive work. His scribbles on the board reminded me of Dara Wood. Freddie and I used to play tic-tac-toe during tactical meetings and I always won because I cheated.

“What happened?” Ali whispered out of the corner of her mouth. We were at the back half of the table and hadn’t gotten a chance to talk since the meeting started. Practice was a mess of passing and sweating so there were no side-conversations to be had.

“Good and bad,” I said. Jack looked over and then turned back. He was like my dad.

“And?”

“We made up,” I said, pretending to take notes on formations of the Falcons even though I didn’t give two shits. “Bad is that I’m in love with her and she’s a Harpy.”

“At least you know.” Ali shrugged. “Not much you can do, is there? Maybe you can get away this weekend and pretend you’re taking some time. We have Saturday and Sunday off this week. I’m heading to my Grandma’s in London for her birthday.”

“Thrilling,” I said.

“My grandma can put back more tequila shots than this team,” she said.

I stared. “What’s she doing in London then?”

“Came back to be with this creep of a guy she met while coming to a game last year,” Ali said, shaking her head. “Fell in love or something. Whatever. They can have old-people sex if they want.”

“I want to leave,” I said.

But I said it loudly.

“What, Potter?” Henrik said, turning away from his charts. “Too much for you?”

“Absolutely not,” I said. “I meant I want to leave so I can go kick some Falcon ass. You know who my cat is NOT named after? The Falcons. They’re a pushover of a team. They’re probably full of Huff—” I cleared my throat. “Slytherins.”

“More than likely.” Henrik gave me a very twinkle-eyed-I-know-what-you’re-up-to look and I tried to ignore it. “Unfortunately, your enthusiasm is combined to this room since we don’t play them for two months. But it is appreciated and maybe it will spread to Monroe who is digging the shit out from under his nails while I’m talking.”

Good. Now everyone was looking at Monroe and I turned to Ali.

“I’m going to get benched,” I breathed.

“Take the weekend and think about it, okay?” she whispered. “But you have to stay for Jack’s party Friday night.”

“Jack’s having a party? I wasn’t invited. Jack hates me since I snogged Artemis.”

Ali rolled her eyes. “Going to pretend I didn’t visualize that.” She shook her head and kicked me on the shin. “It’s a party for Jack’s wife. She’s thirty-five this year and he’s going to get inappropriately drunk and handsy with her all night.”

“I’m there.” I wanted to be the sober one when Jack was drunk for once.

I turned back to Henrik as he switched gears to the Holyhead Harpies and what a big tool Cooper Bradley was. Now that was something I could take notes on.

*

In order to mask the fact that I was in love with my best friend, I brought all three of my best friends (plus Amy) to Jack’s party on Friday. It was the dictionary definition of an adult party from the outside. Posh cars outside, no keg, and ties.

At least I looked good in a tie.

Adults were sneaky about partying. There weren’t any plastic cups or chip bags layered on the dining table, but I could see it in their eyes. A guest just had to give it an hour or so before the wine started taking over. Not to mention the craft brews.

Jack and his wife, Sandra, were hammered by the two hour mark.

Bink, surprisingly, was recovering nicely. He was using his albino charm to sweet-talk Ali (who could see right through him from what she told me, but thought he was adorable so she humored him). After a while, he moved to discuss tactics with Smoke.

Fred and Amy were the hits of the party. Jack and Sandra took to them immediately, having them tell the packed living room about their adventures at the shelter. It was strangely awesome. Everyone was laughing because Freddie, like his father, knew how to tell the shit out of a story. Amy looked at him in admiration and corrected him when he over-exaggerated just how big the Great Dane was (“No, Freddie, it was not the size of a small house,” she said. “Dog house?” he offered).

After Bink and Smoke were joined by Monroe, Ali snuck away and found Avery, Henrik Lindt, and myself in the kitchen enjoying nameless snacks and champagne. She grinned her sassy American grin and stuck out of her hand.

“You must be the infamous Avery Flynn,” she said tactfully. “I’ve read a lot about you and heard about your antics from Potter.”

“Did he tell you he snuck into my tryout because over his dead body was one of his players not getting on a team?” she said.

“Snuck in?” Ali said, raising her brows at us.

“In drag,” Avery added, sipping her champagne.

“Is that true?” Henrik asked. Avery was staring at him like she knew how handsome he was and I was a little jealous. Not jealous that Henrik would steal Avery, but kind of jealous I didn’t look all rugged and Lord of the Rings.

“There is no proof to back up that argument,” I said.

“How about an abandoned wig that fell from the top box?” Avery offered.

“You wore a WIG, Potter?” Ali said, laughing so hard she had to steady herself on the table.

I popped some nameless snacks in my mouth to keep from answering. My face was on fire. Damn it, Avery.

“So how do you like Cooper?” Henrik said, leaning in a little. Don’t you try that look, Lindt.

“He’s all right.” Avery shrugged. She knew how I felt about him.

“All right meaning horrible?” guessed Ali.

“They dated,” I butted in and Ali punched me in the arm.

“He knows Quidditch,” Avery said like a politician.

As I continued eating, I kind of liked that Henrik was flirting with Avery. She was flirting right back too. He had no idea. No idea about any of it. He didn’t even see the stolen glances across the table when I went to grab another bottle of champagne.

Ali, however, saw all of it. And she smirked the whole time.

*

Jack stole us away somewhere around midnight and gave us a sloppy tour of the house. It was big and out in the English countryside. Somewhere. I didn’t ask too many questions in case he was actually a spy and I was kidnapped and tortured for information. The downstairs was pretty general, but the noise tapered off once we were on the third landing. The walls were lavender.

“Is this where the magic happens?” asked Ali, looking at all the closed doors.

“Is there even magic?” asked Henrik.

“Oh, there’s magic,” Jack said, giggling. Ha. Who’s the drunk one now, Jackie? “But not up here. This is where the kids are.”

“Kids?” Avery said, pinching my side. I had to bite my tongue to stop from yelping. She was a little drunk herself, cheeks tinted pink. “How many?”

“Two kids. Jonah and Chloe. Four and six.” Jack pushed open the first door and a light was on inside. It was a large room with butter yellow walls and colorful flowers painted everywhere.

An older woman was perched on a velvet sofa with a story book in her hand. Both kids were watching with mouths open, clearly impressed.

“Hey, cookies,” Jack said with a sloppy grin.

They waved and scrambled to their feet, racing over to half-tackle Jack, almost sending him back into Avery. Henrik steadied her. Yeah, you would, Lindt.

“Who’re they?” Chloe said with big eyes. They were enormous. Really. Wow.

“This is Henrik. He’s the Captain of Daddy’s team.” Jack slapped Henrik on the back. “And AliCat. She’s from the United States. Remember where that is on the map?”

“Yankees!” Jonah cried.

Jack ignored him. “And this is Avery. She’s on a different team, but she’s really good. She’s a Keeper. Remember who’s a Keeper?”

“The Captain!” Chloe pointed to Henrik and looked very proud of herself when he nodded.

“I didn’t know you were a Keeper,” Henrik whispered to Avery, who nodded.

Back up, King Henrik, you sod.

“And this is James Potter. He’s our new Chaser. Can you say hi to James?” Jack was leaning against the wall.

Both Chloe and Jonah launched at me, grabbing me around the legs and holding on like I might fly away. I briefly wondered if that was true. I patted them awkwardly on their hair.

Kids were weird. Not that I didn’t like kids. Hell, I grew up with a family full of them, but by now most of them were older. I didn’t have to take care of young kids. Just annoying cousins that wanted to play games at family functions instead of just staying away from me.

These were small. Fun size.

“Nice to meet you,” I said, unsure.

Avery was snickering. So were Ali and Henrik.

“Looks like they’re fond of you, Potter. Want to babysit?”

“Not funny.”

Jack stepped back into the hallway. Avery followed. Then Henrik. Then Ali.

I stared, but still had the kids awkwardly attached to my legs. Jonah was squeezing the circulation out of my left thigh.

Then Henrik reached forward, grabbed the door knob, and closed the bloody door.

I looked over at the sofa. “Hi. Uh. Hi.”

The woman smiled warmly at me. “They’re your kids now,” she said with a brief laugh. Then she stood and walked into the connected bathroom, closing the door. I heard the shower start. Are you effing kidding me? You’re going to shower when I have children attached to my limbs?

I would not panic. There was no way I was going to panic. Absolutely not.

“Let’s play a game,” Chloe said.

“Sounds marvelous,” I said. I tried the door handle. It was locked. My wand was downstairs. Why was my wand downstairs? “What’re we playing?”

“Tea party,” Jonah said. He was smirky. I was wary of smirky people. Especially children.

“Here.” Chloe let go and half-dragged me over to a child-sized pink table in the corner. She forced me into a chair and then shoved a thick-rimmed hat over my eyes. I adjusted it. The hat was pink. The plastic cups were pink. The plastic tea pot was pink. The plastic saucers and plates and sugar dish were all pink.

It was a mini Puddifoots with less Nia. And sexual innuendos.

“There we go.” Jonah took the seat to my left. Chloe was on my right. A giant plush bear was in front of me and it appeared I took the spot of a stuffed dragon. Sorry, mate.

So there I was. Sitting at a miniature pink table playing tea party with two children. And a bear who had a hat similar to my own.

“How do you take your tea, Jamie?”

NO. NO ABSOLUTELY NOT.

“Two sugars, please,” I forced out and Chloe pretended to plop two sugar cubes in my pink cup. I steadied my hand. “And cream please.”

Might as well be honest.

She pretended to add cream. Then she gave Jonah seven pretend lumps of sugar and I wondered if he was going to get diabetes from this game.

I sipped obediently and Chloe gave the bear some tea. His name was, curiously, Mr. Lion. It was a very solid, Gryffindor name and I approved.

Ugh. I used to be the Captain of a Quidditch team and I was playing tea with children.

How the mighty fall.

“How is your tea, Jamie?”

I grimaced. “It’s brilliant, thanks.”

“Care for some cakes?” Chloe asked.

“Sure, thank you.” I nudged my pink plastic plate forward.

She pretended to cut a piece of cake and slide it into my plate. “It’s carrot cake. My favorite.”

“Aces,” I said.

“ACES.” Jonah said. It wasn’t even real sugar, mate.

The water was still running in the bathroom. The hall door was still closed and I still loathed everyone on the other side of it. I was babysitting through a party.

“Do you like my daddy and mommy?” Chloe asked like she was questioning my intensions.

“I do,” I said.

“Will you be my boyfriend?” she blurted.

“Ah,” I said, choking on my pretend tea and cakes and dignity. “Well.”

“Do you already have a girlfriend?” Chloe asked, her previously wide eyes now narrowed and angry. “Because you should tell me if you do.”

“I do. I have a girlfriend. And it’s not nice to have two girlfriends at once because then they fight and it just gets messy.” Nia knew that all too well.

“I wouldn’t fight,” Chloe said. Now she was whining. “Be my boyfriend, Jamie. I think Jonah is boring and I like you more and you’re handsome. Like the Prince in all the movies.” She motioned to a shelf stacked with Princess movies.

I looked over. “Which Prince?” I said. Then I shook my head. “Chloe, I can’t be your boyfriend. But you are very pretty.”

Her eyes watered. “I wanted to be Rapunzel.”

“Is your hair long enough?” I asked.

That was when she started sobbing. Uncontrollably.

Jonah was picking at his toenails.

I had no idea what to do. She was crying. A little girl was honestly crying over the fact that I wasn’t going to be her boyfriend. They weren’t pretty, innocent sobs either. This was the real deal. Frown, wet tears, and that horrifying whining weepy noise.

“Ah! Um! Stop please?” I said. Then I paused. “Wait, did that make me Flynn Rider?”

Chloe blinked.

“Son of a—“ I stood quickly and the chair fell over behind me. Jonah was balancing the cup on Mr. Lion’s head now. “Listen. It’s been a great time. Thank you kindly for the tea and near-proposal. I have to rejoin my party and oh look there’s your nanny who trusted a seventeen-year-old kid to watch two children which was a truly terrible life decision.”

The woman stepped out of the bathroom with a white fluffy towel around her head. “What did you do?” she asked, seeing Chloe’s devastated expression.

“I wouldn’t be her boyfriend?” I guessed.

She sighed. “Why on earth not? She’s not proposing, Potter. Do you know anything about children?”

“I’m supposed to lie?” I said.

Chloe was sobbing again and the woman sat in the small pink chair and added pretend sugars to Chloe’s cup. Jonah was sharing his chair with Mr. Lion.

I side-stepped to the door and ripped it open, thankful it was unlocked. Jack had ventured back downstairs with Henrik and Ali, but Avery was still in the hall. She was leaning against the opposite wall, giggling.

“Hear everything?” I asked, closing the door behind me.

“Every little thing,” she said. She closed the distance between us after checking each end of the hall and kissed me. “You still lied anyway.”

“I know. I’m a terrible person.” I kissed her and my hands moved around her.

“James?” Avery whispered against my lips.

“Are you turned on by my ability to rangle children?” I breathed, kissing her again and pressing her back against the wall.

“You’re still wearing the hat,” she said.

Well, fuck.


*

Eventually (after snogging in a closet), we made our way back to the party to find Amy doing karaoke, Freddie demonstrating the best way to swim in the air, and Bink in the kitchen surrounded by people I didn’t know having drinks. He was laughing though, swirling his glass as he talked to a pretty girl with dark brown hair.

Things were going great. But it was the kind of great that could never last.

That kind of great seemed to be following my lately.

“Good to see you, Potter.”

Ugh.

“Evening, Mason.” I nodded to the reserve, who was in a stupid tie and stupid pants with a stupid matching blue shirt. All in all, it was pretty stupid.

Mason had a bubbly glass of champagne at his lips when he spoke. “Good evening, Avery.”

“Great to see your jaw healed,” she snipped and excused herself to get a drink. Bink poured her one and whispered something into her ear. She whispered something back, nodding to Mason.

“I see you’re breaking some rules,” Mason said softly, finally taking a drink. His eyes did not leave mine, which was creepy and made my skin crawl. He reminded me of Twitwards a lot, but with a bigger agenda and less bird-watching.

Could bird watching be code for girl watching? Could bird be code for Avery?

WAS HE WATCHING AVERY?

“Rules?” I said.

“Like I don’t know,” Mason replied. “I’ve been a reserve…”

“For ages,” I said, wishing I had another drink. I needed it. “Hurricanes are good, though, right? Brilliant team from what I hear. Congrats on that. You’ve made quite a name for yourself.”

“Changing the subject won’t help, Potter. I know what you’re trying to pull behind their backs. You won’t get away with it.”

“Are you going to say meddling kids because I don’t think I’ve had enough champagne yet.”

Bink was starting a dance. Everyone was following his movies.

Update: Bink had no moves.

“Look, Potter, I want that spot on the team.”

“Do you? You can have it, you know.”

“What?” Mason almost spilled his drink. His brows flew into his hair. His stupid hair.

“Yeah. When you’re better than me you can have it.” I grinned, shouldered past him, and joined Avery and Bink.

“Drink this!” Avery cried over the music which had gone from the mundane light rock when we arrived to some techno stuff with one hell of a beat. She shoved a tall glass of something peachy in my face and I tipped it back.

It was brilliant. Like peaches and pears and some sort of liquor. Sort of tasted like fall.

“What is this?” I searched around for the bottle.

“Bink made it,” she said loudly.

“What? Out of what? Please tell me I’m not drinking like body parts or something.”

Bink appeared at my side. “Are you for real right now? Body parts, Potter?”

“I don’t know your life,” I muttered and finished the glass. “Gaia teach you a thing or two at the pub while you were drinking her out of stock?”

“Passing the time,” he said, shrugging. “You like it, though?”

“Yeah. Brilliant.” I stared at him for a while. His cheeks were flushed from the alcohol and his blond hair was up all over the place. His tie was loose around his neck. “You okay, mate?”

“I’m going to make another batch!” he cried and ran back toward the crowd shouting the same thing. They cheered, the drunk bastards.

“What did he say?” Avery said, nodding to Mason.

“We need a plan,” I said softly, still watching Bink. I was right, though. We needed a damn good plan and I was going to use my weekend off to think it up.

While I was at it, I was going to get the heck out of dodge and take Avery Flynn with me.

Misery loves company. As does James Potter.




A/N: 

Me: DTTT isn't done yet so I'll have to update Heroes first. 
Me: *arrives home, Internet is out* 
Me: *opens DTTT and rereads 500 words of DTTT chapter 8*
Me: *furiously types the entire chapter* 
Me: Just kidding pretend I didn't say that it's done I did it right now thanks. 


ANYWAY. I hope you all enjoyed the chapter. And Jonah. Because, reasons. 

NEXT UP: James and Avery disappear for a weekend to figure things out. They need a plan. James should really be more specific about the kind of plan he needs, though.

 

 


Chapter 9: The One with the Romance
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For "AMAZING" who snagged my author review number 6500. I really REALLY appreciate everything you guys do and it means so much to me that you would take time out to leave some thoughts on the chapters. Thank you!! 




If we were going anywhere to escape the presses, it was going to be the States. Since I was little I had a weird fascination with the States and since Ali kept talking about it I couldn’t get it out of my head. She even showed me pictures of her backpacking trips up and down the mountains. The mountains didn’t look like that in Great Britain.

To be clear, I didn’t grow up in the center of London, but I also didn’t grow up around pigs and horses. So when I saw the “Kilarney Ranch” sign when Avery and I arrived, my nose may have wrinkled. I also may have made a colorful comment or two regarding the yellow grass.

What? It was yellow.

The place was enormous and somewhere in a place called Wyoming. Wherever that was. I didn’t study American geography at Hogwarts except for that one time Freddie, Bink and I tried to plan a tunnel system from Amsterdam to Mexico. It didn’t go as planned, but we still had the documents under Freddie’s bed at home.

There was one ranch house made with dark wood. It was surrounded by a fence and yellow grass and lots of empty space out back. I could hear animals. Big animals. Beyond the ranch stretched the foothills of the mountains and further than that the bigger mountains. I briefly wondered what was on the other side, but then I remembered that two dogs and a cat movie and thought better of it.

“This place is beautiful,” Avery said, tossing her backpack onto the dusty porch. An old hound was laying there with his ears on the decking. “Look at the sky. It goes on forever.”

I mentally named the dog Eagle Dog.

I did look and she was right. Everything was blue with tiny puffy white clouds breaking up the color.

“Think they’ll find us here?” I asked, instinctively looking over my shoulder. Just the long twisted gravel drive back toward the road. I couldn’t even see another house in the distance. Everywhere consisted of rolling hills, grass, and some trees and fences.

“I hope not. I like it here.” She scratched Eagle Dog behind the ears and pushed open the door. It creaked. “Hello?”

“The note said they would probably be gone,” I said. I’d booked the place only the day before, hoping to get away from both the media and my flat for a while. It was through a Muggle travel agency and the couple was on holiday for a couple weeks traveling to Niagara Falls for their honeymoon. They were renting out their house for the time. And their animals.

Attached to the fridge was a list of how much and when to feed the animals.

“Horses?” I said, gaping at the ripped sheet of paper. “I can’t feed horses. They have mouths the size of my head.”

“How very Gryffindor of you,” Avery teased and laced her fingers in mine. “I’ll feed the horses, how about that?”

“I’d like that.” I shrugged. I was still plenty brave. I just didn’t like horses. They could kick hard. I’d seen a documentary on that once. Or maybe it was a made-for-tv movie.

I followed Avery inside and there was less dust than I expected. It was simple enough – living room with weird furniture patterns, kitchen, dining nook, big windows, and two bedrooms in the back behind the bathroom. It would do for the weekend. For our weekend.

I was still piecing together how we got to this point. How Mr. Flynn wedged himself between us during school and how we closed the gap. It took a while to get back to where we were – mostly my fault – but we got there. We were there right now.

We explored the rooms and made tasteful comments about the décor. Then, since the sun was setting, we fixed sandwiches for dinner and returned outside to Eagle Dog to eat.

Watching the sunset in Wyoming was something like I’d never seen before. There were a thousand colors all bouncing off tiny clouds as the sun sank into the mountains. I couldn’t look away, even when I blinked and all I could see were tiny black dots. Avery gave half her sandwich to Eagle Dog.

I uncorked a bottle of wine and lit a few candles on the front porch. “Nice out here,” I said stupidly because I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Peaceful,” Avery replied.

“So what are we supposed to do about this us thing because I’ve only just realized I love you and how am I supposed to do this with being benched and King sodding Henrik breathing down my back and Cooper so fucking obviously wanting to be your husband?” That might have come out in one breath. I took a deep gulp of wine.

Avery looked over. To her credit, she was handling this situation much better than I was. Probably because she wasn’t going to get benched for snogging me.

Maybe she would. Cooper wasn’t to be trifled with.

“Anyone know we’re here?” Avery asked.

“Just Ali.”

“Then relax.” She scooted closer. “We have the whole weekend for you to have a freak out about you leaving the oven on or some rubbish.”

“I believe I said I left muffins in the oven…”

“I should have just moved in with Costaso.”

“Not amused.” I scooted away and pulled a thin blanket off the wooden bench behind us. “I’m being serious, though. I’m good with Quidditch and plays and giving my team a schedule. I’m not good with stuff like this.”

“James,” Avery said, placing a hand on my thigh and I jumped. “You’ve been in love with me since Bink took us to the grotto. You’ll find a way. You always do.” She smiled and looked back at the fading sun.

She had a point. I had a very long track record of always finding a way, whether it be with her or Quidditch or my family or the press. I always found a way. I was breaking the Tornados’ code wide open right now and I’d have to find a way around it. I wasn’t give up my dream, but I wasn’t giving up Avery either. Especially now that I’d just found her again.

Huh.

I really had loved her since the grotto, hadn’t I?

I would not be repeating that to anyone quickly. Love wasn’t a masculine trait. It was a Gryffindor one, though. Dad never let me forget that.

Neither did Mum because they snogged all the time and it was burning holes in my eyes.

“What’re we going to do about Bink?” I asked.

“Support him,” Avery replied. She was swishing the wine around in her glass. “Whatever he decides to do we just have to be there for him.”

“And Freddie?”

“Try not to leave him near open flames?”

I wondered what would happen between Freddie and Amy when she went back to school and they didn’t see each other for months on end. I wouldn’t put it past him to Apparate to Hogsmeade on her weekends to see her and have a quick snog (among other things).

And what about when Rose went back to Hogwarts? Would Bink give a damn?

I had far too many people in my life. My mates. My family (was Lily still seeing Wesley? Albus and Paloma still shagging?). My enemies (Where had Emerson been? Mason was also being strangely quiet. Clint Lawson was probably trying his luck at Quadpot. Was Meta my enemy?). My team (If Jack ever stuck me in a room alone with his kids again I would claw my way out).

There was just too much happening at once. All while I was trying to concentrate on Quidditch and actually playing my first game.

I looked over at Avery, who appeared to be concentrating on the tall grass just past the drive. If it kept up like this I’d never see a professional Quidditch match and everything would be for nothing. I’d get sent down to the reserves and live out my pathetic existence like Mason on the Hurricanes.

“I told you to relax,” she said, not bothering to look.

“I can’t help it. I’m nervous.”

“You’re always nervous. It’s annoying.”

“Aves, this is my dream.”

“And you’re pursuing it.” She did look over then and I could tell I’d taken things a little further than I should have. Especially on a pseudo-romantic getaway. I was bad at romance. Ask Nia Baker. “If your dream is more important than figuring this out, that’s fine. Just tell me now because I’m losing patience waiting for you to figure out your life.”

“Of course it’s not. I mean it is. But it’s not.”

I needed a bigger shovel for this hole.

“Let me know when you figure it out.” She placed the empty wine glass on the deck and went inside. The screen door bounced back before settling. I heard the bedroom door close and two lights flipped off.

Great.

The horizon was the lightest of gray against the navy backdrop above me. I could see every star. Like little golden snitches up there. There weren’t any street lamps or car lights or shop windows. Just the front porch, a lot of tall grass, and the sky. The perfect place to do some thinking.

Only thinking was what I didn’t want to be doing.

I’d just told a girl I loved her. That was way more than fancying. Love.

“Love is when you literally cannot picture your life without the other person,” Mum had said when I’d asked her what it meant years ago. “When they would leave a hole too big in your heart to fill.”

I stood and walked inside, abandoning the wine and blanket. I walked straight past the living room and into the bedroom. Avery was by the closet tugging on her white cotton night shirt. Her hair fell in static waves over her face. She swiped it away, unamused.

“I’m scared, okay?” I blurted, standing in the doorway. “I’m scared of losing you the same way I thought I had before. I’m scared of losing my career, something I’ve been working toward since I could stand. I’m scared of Lily dropping the ball and Albus being some sex god – please don’t ask – and Freddie moving on with his life and Bink being depressed. I’m scared of being a fluke. Getting all this hype and not being any good against real players.” I leaned against the door frame, raking my fingers through my hair. I was sweating a little. “Of Dad being disappointed and Mum patting me on the head and saying oh well, honey, at least you tried your best. I’m scared of Mason using his ammo to hurt people that I care about and I’m scared of everything. Mostly of you.”

“Of me?” Avery pulled the rest of her hair from the neck of her shirt and twisted it into a low pony-tail.

“One of these days you’re going to wake up and realize you can do way better than me,” I said, speaking fast now. I wasn’t thinking. I was blurting and I temporarily blamed the wine. “That you’re sick of my shit and my crazy antics and you can do better. I’m terrified you’re going to realize it and call it quits.”

Avery took her time wrapping the hair in a band. She wiggled off her jeans and folded them, placing them on the stand beside the bed. She tugged on some plaid pajama shorts. She was unbelievably beautiful and I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

“James, you’re an idiot,” she said eventually with a deep sigh. “You just are. And I love that about you. For someone with so much, you’re always worried things are going to disappear before you can enjoy them.” She took a few steps toward me, fingers twisting in her hair. “It’s cute.”

“I prefer mysterious and devilishly good-looking,” I muttered.

“It’s sexy,” Avery said, closing the distance between us. She placed two fingers in my belt loop, tugging me toward her. “I’m not telling you not to be scared because you should be. The world’s a scary place. But not of me.”

“You’re going to…” I began but her other hand went to my cheek and into my hair and I forgot what I was going to say.

“We’ll figure it out, okay?” Avery said. “Okay?” she repeated when I didn’t react because her hand was still in my belt loop and in my hair and it was distracting. I nodded. “I promise.” She stood on her toes and kissed me.

I pulled her against the door and we kissed for a while. I had to remind myself just to kiss Avery when I was thinking too much because that changed the worrying into a completely different feeling. I slid my arms around her waist and moved her against my body, kissing her harder.

When the kiss broke sometime later, I leaned my forehead against hers. “It’s going to be fine,” I said, mostly to myself.

“It is. And you owe me breakfast on the porch to make up for being a shit.” Avery kissed me again and pulled away. She broke into a quick run and leapt onto the bed, bouncing as she hit it and messed up all of the covers.

Throughout our friendship we’d shared a bed a zillion times, roughly. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d really slept apart when in the same room. Tonight, though, I paused in the door. I didn’t know what to do.

Avery grabbed the blankets and pulled the up to her middle. She fluffed her pillows and went for the bedside lamp, only to glance up at me. “What’re you doing?”

I flushed. “Standing?”

“Are you being serious right now?”

I pointed at my legs. “Definitely standing.”

“Get in the bed, Potter.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I flipped off the light and joined her under the blankets. Suddenly things were like they always used to be. I stretched and pulled her beside me, her head on my chest. I kissed the top of her head and she draped a leg over mine. A bare, smooth leg. I was trying not to think about that but I was and it was the only thing I was thinking about.

“I love you, James,” Avery said with a yawn. “Even when you’re a shit.” She snickered. “Especially when you’re a shit.”

“You sure Bink isn’t your type? I hear he’s smoother with the women.”

“I could never take him to the beach.”

“He upgraded his sunscreen,” I said conversationally.

“Ah. Well, in that case I’ll give him a snog tomorrow.”

“Good, good.” I yawned and sank into the pillows, my fingers absently running through her hair. The same as I’d always done.

It was just us out here in the middle of nowhere. Just James and Avery in a house with a dog in the States. Nothing spectacular or hidden or frightening. Just. Us.

*
Things were the same when I woke, except Avery’s hair was now in my mouth so I had to try to spit it out without waking her. I could see the saliva in her hair and made a mental note not to mention it.

The sun had already come up. I had no idea what time it was since the digital clock beside the bed was blinking twelve.

I carefully withdrew my arm from around Avery and stood. Then I replaced the covers up to her neck and kissed her forehead. She didn’t stir, so I pulled on some cargo shorts and made my way into the kitchen to make good on a promise for breakfast on the porch. I’d ruined the romantic evening by being a twat. The least I could do was attempt to cook breakfast for a romantic morning.

I really needed some sort of romance 101 course. No doubt Nia would be the instructor and suggest plush teddy bears and boxes of chocolates and lots of kisses. It was really obvious how I failed with her. That, and being in love with Avery probably didn’t help.

How did I not realize? We’d been friends for so many years and I thought that’s just what we were. Chalked my jealousy up to just hating Twitwards. I hated hormones and decided I was boycotting.

After breakfast.

I whipped up some eggs and toast with strawberry jam. I even cut the toast into triangles to look fancy. I tried for bacon, but burnt it and had to give it to Eagle Dog. He thought it was satisfactory and then drooled all over my hand.

“Morning.” Avery was standing behind the kitchen counter, hair flattened a bit and her white shirt full of wrinkles. It almost covered her tiny shorts.

“Hey,” I said, unable to not grin. I kind of liked that her cheeks were pink.

“Smells like bacon.” She leaned against the counter on her elbows.

“I burnt it.”

“Eagle Dog?”

“He liked it.” I shrugged, my own face going red. How was I a man and couldn’t so much as cook bacon? What rubbish. That was in the man handbook. Rule one: Grunt. Rule two: Understand the basics of preparing bacon.

“Do you need help?” Avery moved fluidly around the counter to where two plates and two glasses of orange juice with bendy straws were placed. She grabbed a couple napkins and paused. “We’re in Wyoming, why not?”

“Why not what?” I said, grabbing the plates.

“Why not?” Avery repeated and took a bottle of champagne out of the fridge. She uncorked it so quickly it made me want to ask her the secret and poured a bit into each glass of orange juice. “There. Romantic breakfast.” She grinned in a cheeky way and picked up both cups. “Shall we?”

I balanced both plates in one hand and pulled open the front door. Then I kicked open the screen door and Eagle Dog bounded out ahead of us. I took two steps onto the porch and bumped the screen door with my bum so Avery had it, but she didn’t. It slammed shut behind me.

“James,” she said, shoving open the door and standing in its place.

“What?”

“James.” Her tone was forced and she wasn’t looking at me. She was looking out into the tall grass.

I turned immediately to see what had happened and my throat closed up. Both the plates dropped sending egg and toast everywhere (Eagle Dog was thrilled by this). They shattered, sending a few pieces of china up onto my legs.

“Do you think they recognize us?” I whispered in a last ditch attempt to find some humor in the situation.

Avery didn’t answer. She was downing both mimosas.

I turned to the congregation of journalists and photographers that had camped out on the front lawn. Pictures were already snapping and there was nothing I could do to stop it. They were shouting questions and comments and speculation.

Hell, they had a lot to speculate about.

“Why don’t you have a shirt on?” called one. He had a Daily Prophet Sports badge pinned to his chest.

“Why is she dressed like that?” Oh, that was Witch Weekly. Fantastic.

“Are you two an item?”

“Are you hiding this from the outside world?”

“What will your captains think?”

“A Tornado and a Harpy!”

“Get inside,” I said out of the corner of my mouth, backing into the cabin with Avery already inside. I closed the doors tight, locking them out of instinct. Avery went to each window and drew the curtains until it was so dark inside we had to flip on the lights. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

“How?” Avery breathed, falling onto the sofa. “How would they know? I didn’t tell anyone.”

“The only one who knew was Ali,” I said. “I didn’t tell Bink or Freddie.”

“Not your parents?”

“Yes, my parents phoned up the press and told them we were here.” I rolled my eyes. “But no. Not even them. I just said I was going away for the weekend and they told me to use protection and then it got weird.”

“Then it had to be Ali.” Avery rolled onto her stomach and I tried not looking at her legs because it wasn’t the time to be staring at her legs.

“There’s no way,” I said. “Ali has been helping me. She’s my mate.”

“Maybe she’s been helping you because someone paid her off to get you off the team,” Avery replied. “Like Mason.” She grimaced.

“I can’t believe you went out with him,” I said.

“I can’t believe you’re bringing that up right now with both of our faces about to be on the front page of every Quidditch-related magazine.”

I groaned. “Fine. But it wasn’t Ali.”

“Maybe you’re so trusting of her because she’s a pretty girl who doesn’t want to get into your pants,” Avery said.

“Jealousy suits you,” I muttered, sitting on one of the stools in the kitchen. This was getting crazy. “I haven’t even played one game yet. They don’t even know about the Code and they’re still fixed on this. What a nightmare.”

“We better think up a plan,” she said. “I don’t think your King Henrik is going to be too thrilled about this.”

“Can’t imagine so.” In fact, the scenario I’d dreamed up sounded a lot like him saying “benched” over and over again until every other word sounded like benched and it was its own horrifying language.

“Not exactly in our favor, coming out dressed like we were.”

I looked down at my bare (manly) chest and khaki shorts. Then over to Avery in her too-tiny shorts and legs for days and the baggy cotton shirt. We hadn’t even done anything. I’d like to get credit if we had, but we hadn’t.

“What’s the plan?” I said.

“Break up?” she guessed.

“Are we officially together?”

“Not the time, James.”

“Right. Can’t we just say it was Albus. Albus and Avery.” Ew.

“You really look very little like your brother.”

“I’m blaming him for this.”

Avery buried her face in the throw pillow. “Maybe we should just call it quits until your first game. That way you can play and there’s no way Ballo would let Captain Lindt bench you.”

“And if I’m a fluke?”

“Then you can quit Quidditch and we can have babies and live happily ever after working at the pet shelter with Freddie.” Avery shrugged, snickering.

“Great plan, Aves.” I sighed. “Do we really have to do that? Call it quits?”

“I don’t see any other option, do you? We’ll just casually have a snog alone in your flat when Bink and Freddie are in the other room and we’ll wait it out. You’re too good for them to bench. Let’s be honest.”

“I’m not that good. I’m a rookie.”

Avery looked up and the florescent kitchen lights were reflecting off her eyes. “You’re that good, I promise.”

“Is that our plan then? Just call it quits until the end of the summer?” Even saying it out loud made me hate everything. I didn’t want to call it quits when I’d just realized I could never lose her. And here I was… losing her.

“It’s all we’ve got.”

“Or,” I said. “Or I could just overthrow Henrik and become Captain of a team I’ve never technically played a game for.”

“Let me know how that works out for you.”

I tipped back the bottle of champagne (sans orange juice) and then sighed. “We have to head home, don’t we?”

“I can’t imagine this will be very romantic anymore.”

“I have to talk to Ali,” I said.

“Ask her Mason’s favorite color,” Avery muttered darkly.

I didn’t reply. Instead, I went into the bedroom and stuffed the two things I’d unpacked back into my bag. I was going to do the same for Avery, but then I realized there may be personal things and I called for her to do it herself. She threw one of her bras at me and I froze, uncertain of what to do.

I really was a virgin. Hell.

Then Avery put it up to my chest. “Pink works for you,” she said. “Not to mention lace. Well done, Potter.” She snickered and I pushed her onto the bed so we could snog for a while before we had to leave.

The chattering press outside knocked me back to my scenes so I put on a shirt while Avery got dressed. We put a bunch of food in Eagle Dog’s dish and lifted the barrier to the doggie door for the back yard. I patted him on the head. What a good dog.

“Ready?” Avery looked around to make sure we weren’t missing anything. She always did that.

“Wish I wasn’t,” I murmured and took her hand.

With a crack, we Apparated back to my apartment.

Bink and Rose were snogging half-naked on the sofa.

Rose shrieked. Bink yelped because she kicked him and fell sideways off the furniture. His belt was undone and his shirt was off.

I tossed my suitcase onto the empty chair. “What are you fucking doing?”

“Don’t you KNOCK?” Bink cried.

“Not when my weekend is interrupted by fucking press!” I cried, angry again. “Someone called them and told them where we were.”

“Where were you?” Rose asked, buttoning her shirt.

“Wyoming in the States.”

“Why?” she said.

“Because I sodding wanted to me. Why were you two snogging?”

“Same reason.” Bink shrugged and flattened his hair. “So they just showed up? Who knew you were there?”

“Ali,” answered Avery. Bitterly.

“So then she told them.” Rose shrugged.

“No. She wouldn’t.”

“Maybe she would. She’s that kind of pretty that might be devilish.” Bink grinned and Rose threw a pillow at his face. “She’d be the only person, right? Wait, did Fred know?”

“Of course not. He’d tell one of the dogs and be caught on camera or something.”

“He wants to adopt a dog, by the way,” Bink said casually. “A wiener dog.”

“He would.” I brushed my fingers through my hair. “I have to get to the stadium and head off Henrik before he finds out.”

“Got caught then?” Bink said.

“We both walked out onto the porch, half-sodding-dressed.” I narrowed my eyes. “You figure it out.”

“I hope you aren’t flashing anything on the front page. Gross.” Rose kissed Bink on the forehead. “I have to go spook Albus. He’s about to try making another move on Paloma but I find humor in messing that up.”

I stared at her. “Did I ever tell you that you’re my favorite cousin?”

“Add it to my tab,” she said and disappeared down the stairs.

I rounded on Bink immediately. “What are you trying to do? Just monopolize my cousin long enough for her not to find someone who actually gives a shit about her?”

“Relax, Potter.” Bink made a face. “She’s the one that came over here. She kissed me first. Let it go.”

“I won’t let it go. I’m going to hex the shit out of you if you don’t let her alone.”

“She said she’d be back tonight.” Bink winked and I hated him.

“Watch yourself.” I turned to Avery. “I have to go see if I can straighten this out with Henrik. Mind staying here?”

“I think I’m going to head home, honestly,” Avery said. “I should give Mum a heads up she’s going to see my face everywhere tomorrow and may get some questions.”

“What’s our story then?” I said, heart hammering. Calling it quits.

“You needed a weekend away from the spotlight,” Avery said calmly. How could she always be this calm? Well, except that time she blew up half of Hogsmeade. And that time she hexed the shit out of me in the hallway. “I knew a person with a cabin in the middle of nowhere and offered to do with you. We considered getting together, but we decided it was a bad idea with how busy our lives are and have decided to stay friends. Got it?”

I swallowed hard.

“Wait are you staying friends?” Bink said. “Seriously? Because this back and forth is getting hard to follow.”

“Pot. Calling kettle.” I threw another pillow at him. “And it’s the only way to get past it.”

“Or you could just say fuck them.”

“I’d like to play Quidditch after trying so hard to get on the team,” I shot back.

“Yeah. Me too.” Bink rolled his eyes and stood. Then he disappeared into his bedroom and slammed the door.

“Don’t be so hard on him,” Avery said softly. “He’s dealing with things the best way he can.”

“Shagging my cousin?” I hissed.

“Maybe.” She shrugged. “I’m going to go give Mum a heads up and hope Cooper doesn’t take this too hard.”

“Because he wants to be your boyfriend?” I said. “Fat chance.”

“It probably wouldn’t hurt for me to be seen in public with another boy in a week or so. Just so the rumor fades.”

“No,” I said, faster than I intended.

“Why not?” She was snickering because she knew exactly why not.

“Same reason as everything else,” I muttered. I grabbed my Quidditch bag. “I’ll see you later, okay?”

She kissed me. “Don’t lose your temper. You get stupid when you lose your temper.”

“No idea what you’re talking about.” I grinned and kissed her again before Apparating to the stadium. I needed to confront this before I chickened out or had the bright idea to go somewhere else.

The locker rooms were empty. As was the conference room and the showers. It was an eerie sort of empty that made me wonder whether or not I was in a B-list horror flick. At least it had been recently steam cleaned and didn’t smell like … Quidditch.

I set my bag beside my locker and walked down the hall toward our entrance to the stadium. The walls were lined with pictures of the greats – former captains, record-holders – and at the end was a charming picture of King Henrik. I contemplated telling him I had a poster of him just to get on his good side.

I pushed open the heavy white door to find it was raining. The pitch was already soaked and no brooms were in the air. Usually on our off-days some of the reserves would train in the stadium in case they were called up. No Shelby or Mason or the other ones whose names I couldn’t remember.

I glanced up to the stands and wasn’t shocked to see Henrik sitting under a large black umbrella. He was staring out at the pitch.

I walked toward him and once I was out from under the overhand, my clothes were immediately soaked. It was that cold summer rain I both hated and loved. My shoes sank into the mud and I scraped them on the side of the cement before walking up a dozen stairs to get to where Henrik was. He looked up, but didn’t offer me shelter under his umbrella. His face was level and a little bit of stubble grew around his chin and mouth. He knew. He had to know.

“Potter,” he said.

“Look,” I replied immediately. “I want to explain.”

Henrik didn’t seem interested. He took a magazine from the left side of him, where it had been hidden, and placed it onto his lap. “Pre-Print issue forwarded to me.”

There it was. Right there on the front page of Witch Weekly (of course). My shocked-as-shit face just after I’d dropped the plates. Avery behind me in her too-short shorts looking just as shocked. The headline read: Rival Lovers Caught.

“Fuck,” I muttered, sitting beside him on the wet bench.

“Benched for our first match, Potter.”

“We’re not seeing each other,” I said desperately, though I knew it wouldn’t do any good. “She’s my mate and we were trying to get away for a weekend just so the damn press would leave me alone. We thought about getting together, but we’re staying friends.”

“I don’t give two shits.” His eyes were like stone. “You knew the rules and you broke them. Our first preseason game you’re on the bench. Is that understood?”

“Yessir.”

“Now if you’re going to go on a romantic weekend with someone, do not pick a Harpy.” Henrik shoved the magazine back onto the bench. “You’re a talented player, but not too talented not to follow the rules. I don’t know how they ran things at Hogwarts while you were there, but there are consequences if anyone breaks my Code.”

I frowned. I upheld the Code for Meta and Bink, but never for myself. I always preached so much about the rules and how they were there for a reason, but I was never punched for breaking the rules. My seventh year I broke all of them, I think. Never had a punishment beyond my team being pissed. I was above it, as Captain.

I wasn’t Captain anymore and I was getting a taste of my own medicine. It was horrible.

“Do you understand, Potter, or are we going to have to make it two preseason games?”

“I understand.”

“You understand…”

“I understand, sir,” I said, chewing on my bottom lip.

“I would suggest if you’re going to hang out with her, you keep out of the public eye for a while. This won’t be easy to kill off. Good luck.” Henrik didn’t smile. He gathered up the magazine and his umbrella and walked away, leaving me feeling like a tool on the wet stands as it continued to rain.

The water dripped off my hair and down my back. I was benched for the first preseason game and more if it happened again. I’d lost Avery yet again and my Captain was disappointed in me.

And I had to find out who had hinted to the press exactly where we were.

When I did, I wasn’t going to be nice about it.




A/N: Well, it was only a matter of time before they had to get caught. Now they just need to find a way around it. Or rock it. 

I hope you enjoyed this chapter! The setting for the first part of the chapter came from something I was inspired by as a drove the other day. 

So who the heck outed them? And how? 

UP NEXT: Dealing with the press and getting to the bottom of who the jerkface is. 
 


Chapter 10: The One with a Plan for Bink
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I want to thank everyone who nominated and voted in the 2013 Dobby Awards. Breaking the Quidditch Code earned a Dobby for Best Villain. Who knew David Flynn was finally good for something? THANK YOU SO MUCH. *sobs*




It started how I knew it would. I could see the press lined up at the end of our drive where the Potter grounds barrier ended. Stupid, really, considering the whole family could Aparate to work and where the hell were Lily and Albus going to go? They had Floo anyway.

Avery owled me two days later saying the press had cornered her twice and had been to visit her mum no less than ten times. They wanted the dirt on her. On both of us.

At a casual press conference where Ballo introduced our new padding, sponsored by some broom-cleaning company, I had several questions about Avery Flynn. It didn’t take them long to figure out she was a reserve for the Harpies and that we’d been on the same team in school. I put on my charming, douche smile and told them Avery was going through a hard time and we agreed to get away since we didn’t get to see much of each other anymore. I repeated that we were just friends and that Avery was seeing someone else, something we agreed on the night before. The press didn’t look convinced, but they didn’t have firm enough evidence to dispute it. Henrik was tense in his chair beside mine.

It was almost a full week later when I ran downstairs because someone was pounding on the door of the flat. Usually people just walked in – especially my family. Lily had a sick pleasure of catching Bink watching rom-coms.

I yanked back the door to find Ali on my doorstep, hair soaked from the rain.

“It was fucking MASON.” She shoved past me and into the stairwell.

“What was Mason?” I said, closing the door as the rain started to pound against the cement patio. “Did he get a Twat of the Year Award because I nominated him.”

“Who ratted on you to the press,” Ali said, ringing out her hair and starting up the steps. “I just cleaned out my locker because I have to clean something when I get really bad anxiety.”

“Explains all my ironed workout shirts,” I muttered.

“The day we talked about the little ranch house we were standing in front of my locker,” she said once we reached the top of the stairs. Ali went straight for the dish towels and dabbed her face before using her wand to quickly dry her clothes. “When I was cleaning, I found a tiny microphone in the top corner. The light had been taped over. The wire went up into the lockers, but I tore that shit apart and it went straight to his reserve locker in the row behind mine. Tape was still rolling and everything.”

I was stuck between blinding hatred and being really impressed Ali tore apart the lockers.

“So Mason heard everything and told the press at just the right time,” she finished. “I’m really sorry, James. I should have given him a concussion the last time we practiced with them.”

“At least you’ll get a chance during the first game,” I said, shrugging.

“It might not even be him. It could be one of the other reserves.”

I sank onto the couch, weighing my options. I could kill Mason. That was always an option.

But I was also a sucker, so killing probably wasn’t the best bet. “I have an idea.”

“Does it involve machetes?” Ali said, following when I started into my bedroom. “I think it should, if it doesn’t, by the way.”

I grabbed Victoria’s cage out from under my bed and lobbed it onto the covers. She was purring as I pulled her into my arms. “Tory, look. I need your help. Some ass-hat has decided to have a go at Avery and me and I need some advice.”

She chirped a little and pawed around in my hand.

“Yes, but it’s not like I have a machete,” I whispered. Ali snorted. “I need to put this loser out of commission but also get to keep Avery because before I know it she really IS going to start seeing someone else and then I’ll have to buy a machete. Or make one. I’m sure there’s some DIY tutorial on machete-making.”

“I’ll look,” Ali said.

Victoria continued to purr.

“Of COURSE I have to get her back, what kind of question is that?”

More purring.

“Is this about Falcon Cat?” I rolled my eyes. “You need to get over that. You’re so stubborn. This is not about you.” I placed her back in the cage because she was no help in this situation.

“Maybe you should take a break for a couple days,” Ali suggested.

“Isn’t that what I just tried to do? Talk about a bust.”

Ali pushed some treats into Victoria’s cage. “No, I mean by yourself. Go back to Hogwarts or take a tour of an ice cream shop or something. Take some time to think.”

“I’ve been thinking too much,” I mumbled. It was true. I had been racking my brain for a week straight trying to figure out how to avoid getting benched for more games. At one point I had the nonsense idea to quit the Tornados.

“How’s your Gryffindor team doing this summer? Do you see much of them?”

“Two of them live with me,” I said. “Technically three if you count my sister.”

“She’s the new Captain, isn’t she? That’s brilliant. How’s she dealing with the authority?”

“She’s not tough enough,” I replied. “She’s going to let Wesley walk all over her because he’s a gushy little man that brings people flowers. Who has time for flowers? It’s Quidditch! It’s serious and bloody and people break arms and I, for one, don’t think flowers make things better. They’re going to lose the damn Cup next year because of Wesley and his flowers.”

I didn’t know if Wesley ever actually brought anyone flowers. Or if he intended on it.

But he COULD.

“Why don’t you check up on them then?” Ali suggested. “I’ll babysit Falcon Cat and Victoria for the day, how about that? Get a little pick-up game with your team going. It’s an excuse to check up on your sister and spend some non-suspicious time with Avery.”

It didn’t sound like a bad idea. Getting Bink on a broom would be even better for him than spending evenings getting escorted home by Gaia.

“I knew you didn’t rat us out,” I said after a while, watching her feed Victoria.

“I could have alerted the press a lot sooner than that without going through all the arrangements for Wyoming,” she replied with a laugh.

“Just watch Victoria around Falcon Cat. She gets jealous.” I ran my fingers through my hair, staring around the room. We had two days of from practice and if the rest of my old, familiar team had something to do, they could deal with it. I was their Captain. Sort of. “Oh! And make sure Falcon Cat doesn’t go flirting with TomCat. Romeo and Juliet my arse.”


*

It was easier than I thought it would be rangling the group and getting them to the Quidditch pitch at Hogwarts. Things hadn’t changed in the month or so since we’d been gone other than the stands were cleaner than normal and my locker didn’t have my name on it.

To combat this, I took some permanent ink and scribbled my name inside. That new Chaser would have to struggle living up to my greatness. Or at least look at my name the whole damn year.

Everyone brought their brooms and pads and Gryffindor robes (non-pink variety). Paloma asked why I didn’t wear my Tornados robes.

“I’m a Gryffindor here,” I said and was surprised that I got a little choked up about it.

I sent them outside to await orders. All of them left without complaint.

All except Lils.

“Is this for your benefit or mine?” she asked with that sassy smirk she acquired from me. And also Mum.

“Yes,” I replied, nudging her. “Ali thought it would be good for me, but I’d like to think it benefits more than one person.”

“You okay?” Lily leaned against the door and looked up at me. I remembered when she was so young I never wanted her to touch a broom. Less than a year ago.

“Trying,” I replied.

“Avery’s out there,” she said with a smirk. “Seeing someone else my arse.”

“I’d like to play my second game,” I whispered. I wondered if the place was bugged. Mason would bug everything to get his shot at being called up permanently. “It’s just something I needed to do to get away and see you lot again. Having a Hufflepuff as a Captain isn’t easy.”

“I bet not. At least it’s not Darian Bay.”

“Like he could play professionally,” I scoffed.

When we pushed open the door and walked onto the pitch, it was like seven years of Hogwarts all blurred into one moment. I could hardly believe this wasn’t my pitch anymore. It belonged to my little ginger sister who I didn’t think knew what she had achieved. My gaze moved from the stands to the grass to the five players eager to fly.

“What’s the drill, Captain?” Freddie called with a laugh.

I looked over a Lily.

She elbowed me. “You be captain today. I’ll take notes.”

“LAPS!” I called to my cousin. “And also make me a drink!”

*

We ran drills well into the afternoon and had some fun switching around positions. Bink mooned Avery so Wesley could score a crude goal. Paloma hit Bink over the side of the head with the Beaters’ bat for trying the same tactic with her. Lily was flying great, every so often shouting an order at Wesley or Paloma. I figured she didn’t think she had the right to Captain over the graduates.

Even though I had to go home to the dramatics with the press and Mason and Clara and wondering when the hell Emerson Edwards would pop out of the woodwork, Ali was right.

A weight lifted off my shoulders and for the day, I was just at another practice with my team. My unearthly talented team. I paused to watch some of the dives Bink was doing and the moment Freddie swept the Snitch right from under Lily’s nose.

Avery, of course, was unbeatable. Sometimes I wondered how she could possibly be a reserve. She barely let anything pass, and the ones that did were because she was laughing at something stupid or proving that there was no way I could hit the side of the hoop and NOT have it go in. She was right.

I tried to give everyone the same amount of attention, but it was impossible. My eyes kept straying back to her. How many times in Quidditch practice had I looked at her? Even the times before I realized how I felt?

Bollocks. I’d have to boycott these feelings things because they were getting in the way of my career.

“Captain – permission to fall in the grass?” shouted Wesley, who I was happy was not giving flowers to my sister.

“Permission granted, peasant.”

Lily followed suit with Paloma landing softly behind her. Good on you, Paloma Dove, playing babysitter so I didn’t have to hex anyone on my pitch. Lily’s pitch. The pitch.

Bink and Freddie disappeared into the locker rooms to see if anyone left anything cool in their cubbies. Probably to talk about deep things they didn’t want anyone else to hear as well. Bink had that look in his eyes – the one where it was obvious he was having fun, but he missed it so much it hurt. The one I probably mirrored.

Avery slowed her broom at my side, tucking the spare hairs back into her pony tail. “Good practice for you, Captain?”

“How did I leave this place?” I said.

“They probably wouldn’t let you sleep on the pitch,” she replied. “Oh look, there’s James Potter, weird homeless Quidditch guy.”

“I would be the cool homeless Quidditch guy.”

“With lice in your beard.”

“I don’t have a beard,” I insisted.

Avery shrugged. “Do you feel better? Being here?”

I nodded and shoved some hair away from my face. Damn attacking wind. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when I get home, but here it’s nice.” I was also keeping an eye on Wesley as he inched closer to my sister. “It’s familiar.”

“I feel that way sometimes. I love practicing with the Harpies, but it’s weird not being on a team with my mates. Not being able to really joke around during practice.”

We had jokes here and there, but Avery was right. Joking with Ali and Artemis was not the same as throwing a Quaffle at Bink’s head to get him to swerve. Smoke and Monroe were the same. They didn’t even speak during practice unless it was to ask someone for a cigarette or call someone a shit for not rolling in a dive properly. Smoke had three awards for dive-rolls.

Everything was different, but it was adult. It was the big-leagues and how could I possibly be bitching about having everything I’ve ever wanted?

Except I didn’t.

“Don’t even say it,” Avery said, shaking her head as she drifted toward where Lily, Wesley, and Paloma were sitting.

“What? I wasn’t saying anything. I was going to call and check on Falcon Cat because I have this feeling Ali would totally cave and let her make eyes at TomCat.”

Avery turned, looking back at me. “C’mon. I’ll race you.”

“And lose? Okay.” I shrugged and took off after her toward the hoop and around and everywhere. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her and in the end, I lost the race. I didn’t mind, for once. It also helped Bink and Freddie weren’t outside.

“Just snog already!” called Paloma.

“Gross,” said Lily.

“If you won’t do it, Potter, I will,” said Bink. He walked out of the locker room with a smarmy smirk. I missed that. He was such a smirky guy. Smirky, sunburnt guy judging by the red lines on his face and neck.

I did kiss Avery in the air, grabbing her around the middle and tugging her into my chest.

“Peer pressure,” I breathed.

Avery’s green eyes tore into mine. “Yeah, me too,” she said and kissed me again.


*

The team brought out picnic baskets and a few bottles of wine and plopped them onto a large checkered blanket at the center of the pitch. It was Lily’s idea, probably part of her plot to get me out of my funk. I’d been in a funk since Henrik made that damn announcement.

I had to come up with a better idea than sneaking off to Wyoming with Avery to get some time together. I had to overthrow Mason and his douchery, figure out where Twitwards was hiding, write a letter to Italy explaining not to let Twataso out, and at the same time make sure Cooper Bradley wasn’t going to try and funny business. Oh, also I had to make sure I stayed on my team considering it had been my dream since I was little.

I took a swig of wine and passed the bottle around, scolding Lily when she took a drink.

“You think you lot will be any good this year?” Bink asked, laying back against the blanket and tossing halfed chips into his mouth. He caught about a fourth that he attempted.

“Hard to tell with three people,” Lily replied. “I hope we can find some sort of talent. I’m hoping Haley Star can try for a Chaser position instead of just being a reserve. She’s wicked talented.”

“Good snogger too, James?” Freddie commented and I punched his leg. He squealed.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just have to put in the extra time to fully training new Chasers. That’ll be hard, seeing as you’re not a Chaser.” Bink tossed more chips. “Jamesey-poo can stop back by on his breaks, I’m sure.”

“She can handle it,” I said. “I trained two Beaters.”

“You told them to aim and said have at it,” Avery muttered.

“Best training they ever had,” I shot back.

“Still wish we had someone that had been on the team for more than a year,” Lily admitted. “It’s stupid because I know we’ll be fine, but it’s always easier to get a second opinion.”

She was right. When I doubted drills, I went to Avery or Bink or Freddie. They’d been on the team for years and knew what worked and what didn’t. All Lily knew was what I’d told her at home and the training she had during the second half of last year. Paloma and Wesley weren’t much better off since I made them run so many Beater drills they couldn’t have paid much attention to our Chaser drills. Other than practicing with the entire time, I didn’t make Bink, Freddie, and me run that many. We knew what we were doing and we executed it well. Besides, I had to make time to yell at the rest of the team for mucking about.

At that point, Meta was always mucking about.

“One of you lot should stop by every so often,” Paloma said.

“It can’t be Albus,” I said.

“He’s rubbish at Quidditch. That’s a terrible idea.”

“Yet another reason you were on my team, Dove,” I replied.

Paloma shook her head. “I mean like, if you don’t have work or something. When you were off training Lily when McLaggen quit, Bink was the one that stepped in with drills. Why couldn’t he help us this year?”

I looked from Paloma to Bink. As I expected, his head moved off the blanket and his gaze shot to the Beater. “What d’you think, Legace?”

“Don’t see why I couldn’t,” he said, desperately trying to play it cool. I could see his cheeks turning pink. “I’ve got some spare time.”

“Between drinking,” Freddie said.

“Only if you want to,” Wesley added. I suddenly wondered how much of this conversation was rehearsed. “It’s not like you have to if you have work and stuff … but if you don’t … we could probably talk to Sinatra and see if you couldn’t be the coach or something.” He shrugged. So planned.

Bink, thankfully, took no notice. He was looking between the three youngest Gryffindors like he’d been awarded Best Ass or something only Bink would give a shit about. “You think?”

“I think it’s time for some regulations to be lifted,” Lily said. “The Code is gone, so I think having recent graduates as possible coaches should be a thing as well. I’m sure the other houses would agree.”

“I’m sure Darian Bay would agree,” I muttered. “Now that he’s all alone and hopeless.”

“He’s always been hopeless,” Avery said.

“I’ll do it then,” Bink said, leveling his voice because he was a cool guy like me. Not as cool as me, but with his sun-plastered skin, how could he be? “I’ll put in a few owls and we’ll see what happens.”

Bink Legace, Coach of the Gryffindor squad. Had a nice ring to it. I had to admit I was a little jealous in that moment he was the one that could go back to the pitch and keep playing and yelling at players and watching kids grow into stars.

That wasn’t my life anymore, and I was happy to hand off the torch to Bink and my sister.

Lily shot me a wink when the group was digging in to sandwiches and jam. Sassy little thing. She had been hanging around Avery too long.


*

Later that night, Freddie went to the shelter because they had pug puppies and the rest of the family decided on movie night. Bink was off “training,” whatever that meant, so Avery and I had the flat to ourselves. Thank Godric because it had been way too long.

We spent most of the night wrapped in each other’s arms on the sofa, talking over the events of the day and the past week. About how Lily had planned the whole coach thing. How I only hexed Wesley four times, which was good for me. And about how Mason was behind the Wyoming debacle.

“I don’t know how to get him back,” I said, pressing the back of my head into a throw pillow. “I’m trying hard enough not to dropkick him the first time I see him. It’s probably more than a one-game suspension for beating the shit out of your teammate.”

“At least two,” Avery said. Her head was against my chest and my fingers were in her hair. “Don’t let it bother you. The universe will work itself out.”

“You’re drunk.”

“I’m serious. Just let it be and stop being so worried about revenge. It’s karma.”

“He made everything worse. How can you say that?”

“Because I’m smart.”

“You’re no Ravenclaw.”

“Thank Godric. Fred would have a thing for me.”

I snickered. Falcon Cat jumped up on Avery and settled on her hip. “I’ll try not to think about Mason. I’ll just play hard and we’ll take it one step at a time.”

“Exactly.”

I paused. “You have a plan, don’t you?”

Avery didn’t respond.

“Aves,” I warned. “Do not get mixed up with this rubbish.”

“What’re you going to do? Dress in drag and follow me around…?”

“I’m serious – actually, that’s not a terrible idea,” I said. “Tell me if you’ve got a plan.”

She didn’t say anything, but didn’t have time to say all that much since Falcon Cat pushed a crazy set of claws into her thigh and she shrieked, toppling off the couch. “What is that NOISE?”

It was a shrill ringing coming from Bink’s room. Then it stopped. Then it started again. “I KNOW that noise. I know that.”

“This isn’t a quiz, James,” Avery said, rubbing her hip and limping off down the hall. “Why the hell does Bink have a phone? And why is there a poster of bikini-clad women on brooms in here? Like that attracts girls.”

“Ugh,” I said, thinking of Rose. I followed her and peeked my head into Bink’s very unkept room. “There – on his dresser. Answer it.”

“And say what?” Avery yelled over the ringing. “Bink Legace’s Bachelor Pad – how may I direct your call?”

“He would be so happy if you said that,” I snickered.

She shot me a look and picked up the phone. “Hello?”

A long pause and some gibberish from the other end. I tapped my fingers against the door frame and secretly hated whomever was on the other line.

“Yeah. Right now? All right then.” Avery hung up and looked over. “That was Gaia.”

“Oh, I don’t hate her,” I said.

“What?”

“Nevermind. What did she say?”

“Bink’s down there,” Avery said, twisting her lips to the side. “She said we better come down.”

“To the pub? Weren’t we having a good little almost-snog on the couch?”

“Mind out of the gutter, Potter. Let’s go.” She ruffled my hair and I hated Gaia all over again.

*

Bink was at the pub, all right, but not in the manner I thought he would be. After being carried home repeatedly by my favorite bartender, I thought he would be asleep, lying the length of the bar with his shoes untied and drool on the granite.

Instead, what I found was Bink Legace standing next to Gaia serving the locals. Not just uncapping a beer or wiping glasses. He was full on shaking martinis and garnishing cocktails and having smirky conversations with pretty girls. He had on a tie and a black apron around his waist and his hair was sticking up a bit, doing that thing mine did all the time. Hair-stealer.

Avery and I took stools at the bar and Gaia caught our eye with a brow-raise. I shrugged. She purposely walked down to the other end to serve another couple and Bink spotted us.

He blushed. Fast.

“Hey there, Legace. I hear you’re quite the bartender,” I said with a grin.

“Piss off. It’s not a career.”

“I don’t know why you think I’m judging you,” I said, grabbing a cocktail napkin to wipe off the counter. “I’m not. I think this is brilliant. Now I’d like anything you didn’t spit in.”

Bink smiled a little and turned to Avery. “Did Gaia phone?”

“She’s proud of you,” Avery said seriously. “And so am I. Coach and bartender. Just don’t serve drinks to the team. They’ll get mad about that.”

“If I’m caught,” he said and winked. Bink grabbed a few bottles and started mixing several things together. Half of them I couldn’t pronounce.

Once we had some fruity concoction in front of us, Bink went to serve more customers.

Avery leaned toward me. “Our little Bink, growing up so fast.”

“Serving alcohol,” I said cheerfully. “Do you think he likes it?” I didn’t need an answer. Seeing him spin a shaker and pour it while keeping direct eye contact with the customers was enough. “I’d like to take credit for this, being a pub-associate for a long time.”

“You would,” Avery said, elbowing me. “Let’s get drunk and make stupid life decisions.” She held up her drink and clinked it with mine.

“Can’t argue there,” I replied, downing it.

“More?” said Bink. “You’d better be tipping well. I deserve at least as much as that last smarmy interview made you.”

“Cheers to that,” I said, raising the empty glass. “I may have called the Potter house … charming.”

Bink put way more liquor than juice in the mixer.

*

The entire world was spinning. The whole universe. Everything spun like a colorful top and I hated the shit out of that top because it was spinning and who the fuck asked it to spin? Not me. That’s who. Probably TomCat. What an asshole.

I rolled over and light was coming in through the curtains. Painful, blinding light of doom.

Victoria was humming too loud and she was being a bitch.

Someone mumbled beside me. Oh, good, it was Avery.

Good. Our clothes were still on. If lost my V-Card and didn’t remember it someone would have been injured. Probably Mason, just for good measure.

I blinked a few times as her face swam into view. She had lipstick on that was smeared across her cheek. She hadn’t been wearing lipstick at the pub. I tried to remember what happened after the fourth round Bink brought us, but it was hurting to think about. Everything was pulsing through my head.

My shirt and shoes created a little path from the closed bedroom door. Also on the floor was a glittery yellow wig, a see-through piece of white fabric, a bow-tie, and Avery’s shoes. A spilled jar of Floo powder was beside the wall, powder leaking out onto the carpet.

Did we go somewhere?

I pressed my hand against my forehead, willing it to stop hurting, but the willing only made it hurt more. Everything was still spinning. Getting up would be a terrible idea. “Aves,” I said, voice cracking a little because it was sore. At some point I had been yelling.

She mumbled something and rolled away from me. Thanks for the help, love.

Suddenly, the door slammed open and bounced off the wall. Avery jerked awake, whimpering because of the light. Bink was standing there looking horror-struck.

“I am so, so sorry,” he said.

“What?” It was hard keeping him in focus.

“You left me a voicemail on the phone,” he said, brows so high they disappeared into his hair. “I made the drinks too strong. James, I’m sorry.”

“About what? Like I’ve never had a hangover before…” Worst one of the century, but whatever.

Freddie appeared at his shoulder. “I CANNOT BELIEVE you got bloody MARRIED and I wasn’t even invited.” He was waving a picture in his right hand. A Polaroid of Avery and me.

She was in a white dress. I was in a bow-tie. She had the white fabric on her head – a veil. We were holding up our hands to the camera.

From instinct, we both looked at our hands.

Bollocks.




Oh well shucks. That happened. 

Looks like James found his loophole after all ... 

Thank you all again for voting for my crazy story to win a Dobby! You are all absolutely fantastic and mean the world to me. I hope you continue to follow James' silly antics. It means a lot to me. 

Also big thanks to Aditi_Draco95 for nominating Avery as "Best Original Character" as well as nott theodore, AlPotterfan, and ~chocolate for their David Flynn nods. 

UP NEXT: Let the freakout begin. 


Chapter 11: The One with the Vows
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For everyone. Because I tortured most of you while you waited for this chapter. Sorry it took longer than usual! 





My head was throbbing. Not the kind of dull headache you get when you’ve been sitting under florescent lights for too long. No, the kind from a horrific hangover mixed with complete confusion, making the entire room thump to the rhythm of the ache.

I couldn’t function. Even when Fred crossed the room and delivered the polaroid to the blankets on my legs I couldn’t move.

Avery picked up the photo and examined it. “We got married,” she whispered.

Fred tapped his foot. “And some people rudely weren’t invited.”

“Considering I can’t even remember it, you need to shut your mouth,” I snapped, but even that hurt. I took a closer look at the photo.

It was a Muggle photograph, so we weren’t moving. Even though, there was motion in the shot. My arm was draped around Avery’s shoulder and the veil was lopsided, comb sticking out of her hair in the back. We were laughing. Our cheeks were flushed and our eyes were red and wrinkled at the sides. Laughing at something, though I don’t know what.

“We’ll have to see what happened,” Avery said. She tossed the photograph onto my lap. “There chapel’s name is on the back. Get dressed. We’re going to talk to them.” She paused. “You don’t have practice today, do you?”

“This afternoon.” Everything was still thumping, so I reached for a few aspirin in my bedside stand. “We can take care of it now.” If I could get up. And function. And possibly stick my head in a toilet for ten minutes.

“Need company?” Bink asked, grimacing. His cheeks were still red with guilt. Like he shoved us down the aisle himself. Was there even an aisle?

“We’ll be okay,” Avery said, not looking at him. She pulled a t-shirt over her tank and flattened her hair. “This is probably something James and I should handle ourselves. Especially before the media gets ahold of it.” She groaned and I know she was thinking about the Wyoming Incident. I was.

“Call or owl if you need me.” Bink shrugged and grabbed Freddie by the arm, tugging him out of the room and closing the door.

Avery turned. There were purple lines under her eyes and mascara clumped on her lashes. “We’re married,” she said again.

“We’ll fix it,” I assured her, finally climbing out of bed to what felt like an earthquake and tugging on a shirt and pants that didn’t smell like tequila. They smelled like Falcon Cat, but not tequila.

“How are we going to fix it? We’re MARRIED, James.” Avery was pacing. It wasn’t often she took to pacing and even before Quidditch matches she was calmer than the rest. Her patience astounded me, but perhaps it was the hangover that sent it out the window. It was gone. Her fingers moved through her hair as she paced, back of her neck a solid and uncharacteristic red.

“Aren’t there ways?” I said. I grabbed the photo and turned it over. “Look! We got hitched at Merlin’s Magic Chapel… what’s that mean?”

Avery rounded on me and I sensed with the patience went the guessing games.

“It means,” I continued, “That we got married somewhere magical. We’ll just go get it undone or annulled or whatever and we’ll be fine. The press never has to know and we can go back to just being together and me being benched.”

I paused. Avery paused.

“Don’t even think about it, James,” she muttered and flattened her hair again because she ruined it being stressed.

“All I’m saying is we could be together if we’re married.” I shrugged. It was a crazy, ludicrous, silly idea but it still made me pause. We didn’t have to act like husband and wife or anything, but the Code wouldn’t be broken. I wouldn’t be benched for kissing a Harpy in public and Henrik wouldn’t avoid my stare anymore.

On the flip side, I would be married to Avery Flynn, my girlfriend of only a few weeks considering how long it took us to actually get together and how long we were broken up because of stupid David stupid face Flynn.

Avery would be my wife.

Wife was such a crazy word. I was too young to think about that. Husbands and wives had kids and stand mixers and joint Gringotts accounts. They thought about decisions before they made them and they didn’t get benched before they played their first game for their dream team.

I may have been of age and out of Hogwarts, but I wasn’t prepared for that responsibility. The protectiveness I needed to have - the selflessness.

In my head, I was still James Potter Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team and occasional fit-thrower.

Avery looked as if something may shortly be thrown at my head. “I am not being married because of your Quidditch career. Put on your shoes. We’re going to Italy.”

“What?” I said. “Why?”

She rolled her eyes. “Merlin’s Magical Chapel is in Italy. We walked by there a dozen times last holiday break. Costaso made a joke about it when I was spending time with him.”

Twataso. Of course he’d make a joke. It was probably crude. Or a sugared proposal Aves didn’t understand.

What if we saw him? Oh Godric what if he married the two of us? WHAT IF HE WAS MY BEST MAN?

“Shoes, Potter.” Avery laced her own sandals and gave up trying to flatten her hair, eventually tying it up on top of her head. She scooped the fallen Floo Powder into her hand and cast an annoyed glance over her shoulder.

I shoved my feet into shoes and followed her to the fireplace in the living room.

Bink and Freddie were on the couch staring at their hands.

“Sorry,” Bink muttered.

“I would have caught the bouquet and the garter,” said Fred.

Avery rolled her eyes and threw the powder into the fireplace. We watched green flames erupt in the hearth and she grabbed my hand without waiting. Avery Flynn was scary without patience. She was determined and angry and confused. I was just confused and a little interested at how she bit her bottom lip when frustrated.

It was strange, me wigging out less than her about something.

Then again, we came from moderately different worlds. I had a feeling the press would make that painfully obvious if they got the information. They already colorfully displayed her as a home-wrecker in their previous article, even though I was “single” and the only home I had to wreck was with Bink, Freddie, Falcon Cat, and Victoria.

Victoria probably considered it wrecked when Falcon Cat moved in.

Anyway. Avery shouted and pulled me into the flames. We were spinning in each other’s arms and soot poked at my eyes like a dull blade. A dull, manly blade like a sword that went through too many battles without being sharpened.

Finally we fell out of a bare fireplace and the hot, sticky air pushed at my limbs. I was okay, but my pants were covered in gray soot and Avery had to rub it off her cheekbones. She was unphased and straightened, dusting me off because apparently I was unable to do it properly.

“Let’s go,” she said, tugging me in the direction of the door.

We’d traveled there by Floo in December, so we knew where we were. The large wood door led to the street just a block down from the ballroom where Avery kissed me on the balcony. Just a few streets up from the beach where she cried.

I followed her north as the streets wound and vendors were putting out their stock for the day. It was hot already, but smelled like morning and the salt from the water. A smell I’d all but forgotten.

Merlin’s Magical Chapel was tucked between two cafes serving espresso and sandwiches on yellow tables. It wasn’t a large venue and I remember glancing at it long enough to notice the cauldron painted on the sign when we’d been here last. I was preoccupied searching for Avery.

Now I’d found her. And she was technically my wife.

My head still ached and I knew I should eat at some point.

Avery stopped just short of the door, which was at the end of a cobbled walkway and flanked by white lilies. The two windows out front were colorful and stained glass, but otherwise the building was a simple white.

“Ready?” she asked.

“I’ll follow you in,” I replied.

Avery tugged open the door and we were in a small lobby with a desk to the right. There was a padded bench opposite it, where I guessed people waited to get hitched. Photos that looked as if they were covered in fog hung around the room of couples kissing. None of them looked drunk or falling over or considering their next shot of tequila.

An older woman with a gray braid down her back looked up from the desk. She had thin glasses resting on the tip of her nose and a pen hovering over a long piece of parchment. “Can I help you?”

“Absolutely,” said Avery, moving to the edge of the desk and placing her hands on it. “We were here last night. We got married.”

“Oh, that’s lovely!” the woman said. “Congratulations! You must be thrilled.”

We decided to ignore that part.

“Listen, is there any documentation?” Avery asked impatiently.

“What do you mean, like the marriage license?”

“A video or something,” she replied. “Something assisting me in keeping the memories alive and showing our parents.” Tactful, Aves. Very tactful.

“Sure thing, honey,” the woman said and Avery visibly flinched. “We usually wait until they are combined into the package you ordered, but each wedding comes with a delightful video of the nuptials. If you’d like, I can take you into the chapel to watch it since it hasn’t been formatted yet. Would you two like that? You seem so happy.”

Happy. Right. Okay.

“I’d like to see it, yes,” Avery said. She wasn’t even trying to smile, which amused me even more.

The woman rose from the desk and waddled through the double-doors to the chapel.

My first thought: I can’t believe we got married here. Mum was going to have a fit.

The room was dark and covered in plastic fake flowers with purple candles suspended near the ceiling. There were hard wooden pews the length of the room, about twenty rows, and each had a hideous assortment of dusty flowers. At the front of the room was a blue alter and carpeted stairs with a white wreath on the far wall just below a tall stained glass window depicting a bride and groom out of the 1980s with sleeves almost covering the bride’s face.

This was where I married Avery Flynn. In a dusty chapel between two cafes with no family or friends.

Even though we were going to get it annulled or whatever the wizarding law was for marriages (shockingly, this had not come up at Hogwarts, nor had I given it any thought, as I never planned to get stupid-drunk and make this poor of a decision), it was still a disappointment knowing I let down Avery. She may not have wanted to get married, but at the very least I could have provided a better place to do it.

Like on the beach down by the ocean or by Eagle Dog in Wyoming. Somewhere memorable and dusted.

The woman led us down the aisle and if there was deja vu, I didn’t get it. Avery was right behind her, damn near marching to see this video.

It worried me, what I might find. If the video was filled with absurdities and me yelling what I loved about Avery and her telling me to shut my mouth. I still hadn’t taken off the ring now in its home around my finger. I’d have to be practice. Hopefully everything would be solved before then and I could go back to being benched.

The moment of weakness when I considered staying married was gone. Avery wasn’t part of the Code and it wasn’t her fault what I was going through. She didn’t need to be punished by having a husband because of my Quidditch requirements. I wished there was another way. A way to be with Avery and kiss her in public while also destroying the Finches.

The woman wheeled a television stand in and fiddled with the buttons. “Sit, sit. This will be magical!” I wondered if that was their slogan.

Avery and I sat on the first pew and it was hard against my back. I craned my neck a little, dreading what was before me. I didn’t dare tell Aves this was a bad idea. I bit my tongue and watched.

The music at the start was terrible. Someone in the back playing a trumpet or tuba. The camera was focused on the officiant - a tall guy dressed as Merlin. Yes, purple robes and giant beard and pointed hat with little pinprick stars. Godric, this was the place I married Avery. I could make sure a ranch house in Wyoming was perfect, but the wedding? No way.

The officiant held a book I horrifically recognized as my text book for Potions. Had I been toting that around or did he have his own copy he used for marriage purposes?

Finally, the trumpeting stopped and a flute started. The camera turned to the entrance we’d just come through, and focused. There I was in my regular clothes, plus some tie, a boutenierre, and a tall top hat that did not belong to me. I tried not think of how many people had worn it.

I was obviously piss drunk. I stumbled once, grabbing onto a pew for support, and laughed hard. Why hadn’t they stopped it? It was clear I wasn’t in my right mind. But the place was dusty and it was clear there weren’t as many people getting married in this little wizarding destination as before. I reached the end of the aisle and held onto the officiant’s arm a moment.

“Is that my Potions book?” I asked and it was only because I knew what I’d say that I even understood the sloppy rubbish coming out of my mouth. On-Screen Me cleared his throat. “Get it together,” I said to myself.

“A little pep talk?” Avery whispered from beside me.

“Shut it. I bet you’re a damn mess when you come out.”

She was smiling a little at me trying to remain standing. Fish out of water.

Now a clarinet was playing and I had serious questions about whether or not one person was playing every instrument or four. They couldn’t afford to dust fake flowers, but they had people playing instruments? Get a cleaner and play music from a record player, come on.

The camera remained on me and I was kind of glad it did.

Once the clarinet started, it was clear my interest was sparked. I looked up and blew some shaggy hair out of my eyes. Then it was all there. I’d seen her. My jaw fell lopsided and my brows creased. I bit my lip and suddenly I was okay to stand. I was grinning.

For that one fleeting moment, it looked as if I knew exactly what I was doing and had made a totally rational decision. Though I don’t remember it, for that moment I was a groom, marrying the woman he loves.

The camera turned and Avery was at the end of the aisle. She was in the same clothes from yesterday, jeans and a solid-colored shirt, but a veil was stuck sloppily in her dark hair. Her eyes were prominent, outlined in dark coal and making her look mysterious. She held a grouping of those horrible plastic flowers, but it made her look the part even more.

Avery was grinning. She wasn’t even stumbling. She was just walking straight toward me grinning like an absolute idiot.

We were quiet, watching as our on-screen selves approached each other. Officiant-Merlin scolded us when we almost kissed as she reached me and Avery threw her plastic bouquet at him and told him to watch his mouth. We held hands.

Officiant-Merlin started the ceremony. I didn’t listen to much of it, but watched my expression. Complete bliss. It was clear even though I was drunk, I had no intention of listening to what he had to say. I stared hard at Avery and didn’t let her go. She was blushing. For a moment, I forgot we had too many drinks at Bink’s expense and (other than the tacky background) it looked like we really were getting married.

“Do you?”

My head jerked up from concentrating on Avery and I blinked. “Do I what?”

“Take Avery Flynn to be your wife.” Like it was obvious.

“Yeah. Yeah, she’s okay.” I winked and Avery kicked me right in the shin.

“And do you, Avery Flynn, take James Potter to be your husband?”

“I do,” Avery said without a hint of sarcasm.

“Would you like to recite vows?” Officiant Merlin asked and I groaned from the pew.

“I didn’t prepare anything,” I said on screen.

“We didn’t prepare to get married.” Avery’s sarcasm had returned quickly. “We don’t have any vows.”

“Anything you’d like to say?” he asked.

Avery looked back at me. “Just that I’m glad I poked you in the eyeball, James. I’m glad I played Quidditch and I’m glad I kissed you on a balcony and I’m glad I fell in love with you.”

I was clearly caught off guard and nervous. “I’m glad I told you I left muffins in the oven,” I blurted. “I’m not good at this. I’m shit at this. Can I just kiss you because I’m much better at that. If I’m not, you can take back this whole wedding thing and no hard feelings.”

Avery laughed, both on screen and beside me.

“Does anyone object to this union?” At that point, the camera panned around the room. There were two guys in the back standing at the ready, trumpets in their hands. A different woman wearing a name tag like the receptionist from today. The camera panned back to us. We weren’t listening again.

Officiant Merlin declared us husband and wife and I didn’t wait until he finished the sentence before I was kissing her. I tugged her close and the veil toppled off to the side. When we broke, an inappropriately long amount of time later, she grabbed it and stuffed it back into her hair. Then we held hands and skipped up the aisle to a jazz trumpet duo.

The camera cut and the old woman turned, grinning. “Beautiful, wasn’t it?”

“I wonder if anyone asked how drunk we were,” I said.

“Drunk on love, darling,” the woman said and I wasn’t sure how serious she was. “The video won’t be ready for at least a week, though. But we have your mailing address for the package you requested.”

“Package?” Avery’s train of thought derailed and she looked from the screen to the woman. “What did we order?”

“I’m certain Cynthia gave you a copy. No matter.” Without explanation, she wobbled back to the receptionist desk and we followed obediently. She fiddled with a stack of papers. “Yes! There you are. Mr. and Mrs. Potter.”

Godric.

“I took your last name?” Avery asked, gaping at me.

“You get better seats at events with it.” I shrugged. “And extra chips at restaurants.”

“At least it’s not a legal name change yet. That will be a simple fix.”

“Don’t like being Mrs. Potter?” I asked.

Her cheeks flushed. “Knock it off, James.” Avery grabbed the papers and leafed through them. “We didn’t. Are you serious? We ordered the most expensive package. In two weeks we can expect to receive photos, both 8x11 and wallet size, mugs, hats, a poster, keychains, oh my god the list goes on for a page. JAMES.”

I grabbed the papers and shook them around a bit before just throwing them back on the desk. “Listen, we need to cancel this.”

“The order?” It was like I told her to stick a puppy out in the rain.

“The marriage,” I replied. “We need to get it annulled please.”

“But didn’t you see the video? You seem so in love.” Fuck. Her eyes were even watering. It was like people didn’t regret getting married at Merlin’s Magical Chapel.

“We are in love,” I corrected her because if I let Avery talk, she was going to leap over the table and grab the stapler. “We’re in love, but getting married was a mistake and we need to undo it. Please kindly tell me how to go about this, as I’d like to get it handled as soon as possible.”

“Why? Don’t you want to try being married? You might enjoy it.”

“I’m seventeen,” I snapped. “I’m not even eighteen for another couple weeks and I’m not ready to be a husband with a fence and sticky hands and gold accounts.”

“What?” she said.

“Nevermind. Tell me how to undo this marriage.”

The woman frowned and looked from me to Avery, who I had to assume was staring daggers at her because she started shuffling through more papers. “We don’t do that here,” she said. “You have to see the judge. You can be a walk-in, but you’ll probably have to wait a while. He has a little hearing and then will grant you the ‘undo,’ as you so refreshingly named it. Here’s the address and your paperwork.” She looked like she might start crying, so I grabbed the stuff and Avery followed me back outside.

It had warmed considerably since we arrived and I could almost feel the sea spray in my hair. “Any idea where Pearl Street is?” I said, consulting the slip of paper. “Let’s get this done.”

“I remember passing it,” Avery said. She was quiet now and the wind whipped her hair back behind her shoulders and toward the cafe. “Costaso made a comment about the history of the street, how there were shops selling expensive jewels, but the one there the longest was a pearl shop.” She looked left and right. “Apparently they were fake and got shut down, but it was a nice story.”

“Did he offer you that information?” I said as we picked a direction.

“I asked seven times where the pearl shop was, as I was looking for a gift to take home to Mum.” Avery’s smirk was back. The beautiful, sassy smirk that meant she had gotten her way. “He eventually told me and I said they should rename the street to Faux Pearl Avenue. He wasn’t fond of that. Like I was insulting his family.”

“Twataso,” I muttered as we turned to a road that dead-ended at the beach. A few people were already out enjoying the sunshine and dipping their feet in the water. “No word from him, right?”

Avery looked over. “Hmm?”

“Aves,” I said, tone with a hint of warning. My body still ached from the night before and the headache was dull. I had no patience for Twataso or the potential of him being in contact with my wife. Ha. Wife. How ridiculous.

“He sent me a letter in February,” she said. She wasn’t looking at me, but out at the waves rolling in. “It was when things were going well for us, so I didn’t tell you. I didn’t want you Floo’ing here and threatening him.”

“I would have kicked his ass!” I shouted.

“James.”

“I would have threatened him from a distance and then talked bad about his hair.”

“Exactly.” Avery nudged me with her hip.

“What did the letter say? Confess his love? Spaghetti recipe?”

She rolled her eyes and pointed to another road, which we took a left on to move away from the sea and try to find Pearl. “He wanted to see how I was and if I’d changed my mind. He told me he enjoyed the time we spent together and thought you’d pressured me into not being with him because you were jealous. He said he missed me.”

“Did you write back? Did you send a Howler? OH that is a nice visual.”

“I did write back, but I did not send a Howler.”

“Why the shit not? Perfect way to get the message across.”

She stopped and gave me a look.

“What did your letter say?” I rephrased.

“I told him it was kind of him to write, but that it wasn’t going to happen.”

“You were nice?” I grimaced. Being nice to Twataso. I had put a lot of his smug comments and smirks in the back of my mind, but they were falling forward again. I really hated that guy. And Twitwards. I wondered what Twitwards was up to since I stole his car and he was at Avery’s Harpy tryout, something I was still very skeptical about. Probably assisting the assistant to the Minister. Big job, buying coffee.

“I was nice,” Avery said and that was that. There was a tone in her voice that told me to leave it, so I did.

We walked a few more streets down before finding Pearl with unpowered icicle lights draped across the businesses and tapestries draped over windows. It reminded me of a village center with locals selling fruits and vegetables and pottery to tourists. It was already starting to get packed and I smelled a grill somewhere.

“The judge is on Pearl?” I asked, pausing to stare properly. This was a marketplace full of things Mum would be mad at me for not bring back to her. “What’s the address?”

Avery unfolded the paper. “3110 Pearl Street. Seems to be going down this way -- c’mon.” She tugged me to the right and past several people trying to sell us some pink fruit. “See? 3113. 3112. 3111.” She paused before one of the few buildings made of wood. It was shiny and tall with dark doors and a gold knocker. A plaque to the side read: JUDGE LIBBENS.

Libbens. I already didn’t like him. Making us pass that fruit. Now I was hungry and the hangover was making it worse. Stomach was screaming at me. Felt like I hadn’t eaten in days.

As we approached the door, I was surprised at how calm I still was. I got married last night. Once the media found out, I was toast. By my friends, family, team, and fans, though Mason was trying to fix me even having that last category. Still, Avery’s fists were clenched at her sides and she reminded me of a ninja, just without all the masks and stuff.

She was ready to kick someone’s ass for letting us get married while we were drunk. Break out the ninja star, Aves. She was having none of it.

This was also apparently when she ripped open the door so hard it slammed against the wood of the building. A lot of people turned. The nearby vendors snickered. I wondered if they knew.

The lobby caught me off guard. So much that Avery had to physically pull me inside because I was in awe of the marble floor, white statues, and a very tall counter straight ahead. There was a crystal chandelier overhead sending glittered specks all over the floor.

“Are we still in Italy?” I whispered because it seemed like a place to be quiet. Like a library or the kitchen when Mum’s mad.

Avery didn’t reply. She marched straight ahead, almost knocking some woman with a briefcase out of the way, and up to the counter. Her eyes barely reached the top and a man in some powdery white wig leaned over looking menacing. Seriously menacing with the wrinkles around his eyes and the big disapproving frown.

“Can I help you?” His voice boomed across the lobby.

“I need to see the judge,” she said. “I need to discuss a marriage.”

“Getting it annulled by the wizarding court?” he boomed. So much booming.

“Yes.” Avery paused as he stared her down. “Sir.”

“There’s a four hour wait.” He threw some blank papers back down at her. “Fill these out. Have your information ready.”

“I could write up my life story in that wait time,” I muttered. I might be late for practice if the actual meeting took too long. The media might have it by then. My mother might know by then. Lily might be throwing a bridal shower by then. Falcon Cat could have gotten out and snogged TomCat! NO.

Avery, smart girl she was, didn’t like the wait either. She scoffed. Booming Man looked back over the counter. “It’s very nice of you to assist me,” she said sweetly. Laced with sugar, like the way she talks to the professors when she wants something.

“You’re quite welcome, Miss…?”

Oh, Avery you little fox.

“Mrs. Potter,” Avery said flatly. “This is James Potter.”

I hated the perk. It was uncomfortable being ushered to the front of lines, but sometimes it had its benefits. I was assisting in exploiting them, of course, but they were there. My father. For as many years as we had a strained relationship, I guessed I should have done something with our last name other than letting it get me a stupid amount of Quidditch interviews.

Avery knew what she wanted. She wanted this marriage ended and she was doing anything to get that accomplished. How very Slytherin of you, Avery Flynn.

“Potter?” The booming man was suddenly lacking boom.

“That’s right,” Avery said, all sugary and sweet again. “James’ father should be along soon. He wants to make sure everything is done correctly.”

“Your father?” he said, looking at me. “Harry Potter?”

“Good ol’ Dad.”

Avery grinned. “I’ll go sit at the end of the line then. Thank you for your assistance.” She turned to me. “James, honey, would you mind running out for some food? I’m starved and tired and might just nap in the hallway. I’m too stressed.”

“Let me put in a call,” the man said before I could respond. “Let me see if I can shorten that line for you.”

Avery turned and I’ll be damned if she didn’t bat her eyelashes at booming man with the white wig. “Oh, would you? That would be so lovely.”

Honey? Lovely? Here’s to hoping this flirting did not last long.

Blegh.

When he disappeared into the back room, Avery looked at me again. Her sweet, innocent smile had turned into a devilish, wicked grin.

“Please tell me it’s not bad that I want to snog your face off right now?” I said softly.

“You’d better.” She leaned in and kissed me, running her teeth along my bottom lip. “You’d better always want to snog your wife.” She laughed and pecked my lips one more time.

Wife. Avery Flynn was my wife.

Avery Potter?

My head still ached.

“Good news, Mrs. Potter!” The booming man with less boom was back and cheerful. “We’ve had an opening.” Brown-nose speak for they pushed other people back to fit us in. Part of me wanted to tell him to stuff it and that just because my dad saved the world and wore really weird glasses, it didn’t mean I should exploit it.

But I didn’t tell him to stuff it and followed Avery into the back room. It led to a hallway filled with photos of people I didn’t recognize in flowy robes and then opened into the back of a large courtroom.

Way larger than something like this warranted.

The room was tall with at least forty rows of long wood benches. Big canvases filled the walls with paintings that reminded me of the realist section in the museum. Painted to look like a photograph, but with oils. Naked babies and angels and stuff.

At the front of the room was a guy with a typewriter, a single table with two chairs, and straight ahead I saw the pair of witness stands and the podium. A giant podium the judge probably had to climb seven ladders to reach. Maybe an exaggeration, but it was tall.

“Proceed to the front and your hearing will begin,” booming man said and dismissed himself. The door closed and the room was silent. Even typewriter man was watching us.

As we walked, our shoes created echos throughout the space. Awkward. My heart was beating faster than before. No idea why. We just needed to get a drunk marriage canceled. Nothing special. No murder trial or the case of the missing naked baby painting stolen by a famous art thief and hidden in a warehouse in New York. Just regular everyday drunk wedding at Merlin’s Magical Chapel.

In unison, we took seats at the table. It was empty and cold.

A door opened somewhere behind the giant podium. Then it shut. Typewriter man was typing now. Avery placed the stack of papers before us. She ran her fingers down each side to make sure they were perfect.

Over the edge appeared a man that made booming man look tame and kitten-esque. This guy was a lion. His brown hair was wiry and wild and he had a beard that blocked half his face. He was younger, but still probably in his forties. He had that look about him. The kind that suggested he’d hex you out the door if you so much as got cheeky. His eyes were dark and the robes made him look a little like a super villain.

He sat and everything was silent again. My breathing echoed a little.

Judge Libbens.

His name made him sound like a derpy guy with a lopsided smile and crooked stare. He was anything but. Libbens was stern and scary. He put my professors to shame. He even put Headmistress Sinatra to shame, and that was saying something because she had the same “you’re in trouble” look Mum had.

“I see you would like to annul a marriage.” Libbens’ voice boomed. This was a booming establishment. So uncomfortable.

“Correct,” I said. Probably wasn’t the best time for clever commentary or cheek. He did not look like a man accustomed to cheek.

“Why?”

Simple, clear question. Why. That’s a great question. I looked to Avery.

“We were married by mistake,” she explained. “We rushed into it on a whim last night surrounded by love and the ocean--”

“And liquor.”

Avery stopped short, her mouth still open.

“I see people like you in here every day, up from that Merlin’s Marriage Monstrosity,” Libbens barked. “Get married by mistake when they’ve had one too many lemon drops and they think they can take up my time with their mistakes. Do you understand how many people have made this mistake before you?”

“A lot?” I guessed.

“Yes, Mr. Potter, a lot.” He huffed. “I know your type and frankly, I am sick of you.”

“My type?” I said, looking up. Stupidly, more than likely. “What’s my type? Moderately tall with unruly hair and brown eyes? The eyes were passed down. Mum has them. So does my sister, really. She’s the Captain of my old team--” Avery elbowed me hard in the ribs.

“Celebrity.” His voice was dripping like the words were saliva and I squirmed. “You celebrities think you can walk around being invisible. The rules simply don’t apply to you, do they? You can galavant around my village making fools of yourself and then just hit undo in the morning. Is that right, Mr. Potter?”

“No, sir,” I said. Sir seemed right.

“You do,” Libbens said. Avery was twisting her hands in her lap. “Just because your father saved the wizarding world and you’re on the front page of all these broom magazines, you can do no wrong. Let me tell you, Potter, I am sick of you lot wasting my time. You need to live with your mistakes like the rest of the community.”

“It wasn’t a mistake marrying her,” I said. Louder than I intended. It echoed. “It was a mistake marrying her like this. When we’re this young and without our family. If we’re still together in a few years, I fully intend on doing it properly. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

It wasn’t. I hated to admit it, but on some of the nights before Avery and I were really speaking again, I’d considered it. What it would be like to marry Avery for real. Big white gown and a top hat that belonged to me. Flowers I hated and someone’s clumsy kid throwing petals down the aisle. The kiss. I thought about it even when I knew I shouldn’t.

And last night, no matter how genuine it looked on film, wasn’t it.

“So you’re the exception, Mr. Potter? All of those other people were where they were supposed to be, and therefore were less deserving of an annulment?”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” I said and Avery elbowed me again.

“Listen, Mr. Potter.” Libbens sounded serious again. “I am through with your cheek and your excuses. It was your decision to get married and just because you are an elitist celebrity does not mean you can come to my court room and pretend it didn’t happen. I will not have my time wasted by you. You will abide by wizarding law in regards to marriages and that is final.”

“Wizarding law?” Avery said.

“You signed a contract,” he explained. “The contract is in front of you. Kindly read section three, part B.”

Avery ruffled through the pages and pulled out the contract we signed the night before. My signature was a mess. She slid her finger down the text until she reached the paragraph Libbens suggested. Her eyes moved, but her mouth didn’t. Until --

“No.”

“Excuse me, young lady?”

“Absolutely not,” she said, glancing up. “There is no way this is legal. You cannot require this.”

“What?” I said, looking at the paper but it was too far away to read. “What can’t be legal? What’s the requirement?”

“NO.” Avery was furious. Her fists were balled together and she slammed one on the table. “It was a simple mistake. We are not here because James is well-known. We are here because this is unacceptable and needs to be cleared up.”

“You made the choice. Come back and see me in thirty days, Mrs. Potter.”

“What?” I said, finally grabbing the paper and skimming it.

There it was.

Thirty days.

Wizarding Marriage Law required anyone with a valid marriage license to remain in the union for thirty days before filing for divorce. Sure, we could separate and go about our lives, but we were legally married for thirty days no matter what.

“You mean you didn’t read the contract before signing it?” Now Libbens was toying with us. I barely signed on the correct line. I actually wrote just below it, near where the date was supposed to go, and drew an arrow to the correct line. Of course I didn’t read the damn contract. PRETTY SURE IF I WOULD HAVE READ IT, MAYBE THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN A DIFFERENT OUTCOME.

Probably not, as I was hammered, but maybe.

“No, sir,” I said through my teeth.

“I’ll see you in thirty days,” Libbens replied. He smacked his lips and banged the gavel once. “Dismissed.” Then he was gone.

Typewriter guy packed up his scroll in a briefcase and left through the door behind us.

We were alone.

We were alone and still married.

“You’d think someone would have let us in on that before we got all the way here,” Avery whispered, leafing through the contract again.

“Fairly certain the man at the desk wanted us to find out for ourselves.” I regretted Avery name-dropping now. “He probably knew. Who knows if the chapel people know or not.”

I leaned against the back of the chair, which bent under my weight.

She shook her head. “We’re married. We’re married for a month.”

“You don’t have to say it like that.”

“Be serious, James. We’re married and we haven’t even been engaged.”

I shrugged. There wasn’t a way around this. It was the loophole to the Code, but there was no loophole to the loophole. It made me dizzy thinking about. This was something we had to ride out for thirty days and come back and take care of. It was a signed contract and Libbens wasn’t hearing any of our famous-people excuses.

Excuses from Mr. and Mrs. Potter.

Godric.

“We don’t tell anyone,” Avery said, back to running her fingers through her hair. “We got married in Italy and no one was there. We’ll hide that stupid expensive wedding package when it arrives at your place and not tell anyone. We’ll swear Bink and Freddie don’t tell. We’ll come back in thirty days and get it taken care of. Agreed?”

“Don’t you think that sounds a little too easy?” I asked.

“What do you mean? It sounds logical.”

“Okay, Ravenclaw,” I said, “But at the same time, when does anything pan out logically? Think about it. It’s too easy. The press is all over me and they’re slipping notes under your mum’s door to get a good story about how you’re secretly a bad girl that sets fires to dumpsters.”

“Let’s go.” Avery’s chair made a horrible noise as she rose. “We’ll take it one step at a time. We’ll act normal.”

“And I’ll still be benched,” I said.

“Do not even pretend you want to be married as a way to play your first game, James.”

“Not as a way,” I said. “But it wouldn’t be a bad perk of the whole thing.”

She didn’t reply. Instead, Avery gathered the papers and headed for the door from which we entered. I followed swiftly. I needed to learn to control my cheek. I needed to calm Avery down.

I needed to find a way to keep this from the press.

 




A/N: Sorry again the chapter took longer than usual. I'm actually working on a big original fiction novel right now on top of this, 30 Days, and Hormones, so your patience is so appreciated :) Thank you all for being awesome! 

UP NEXT: Well, James tries to find a way to keep it from the press. I'm sure you can already assume how that's going to go.


Chapter 12: The One with the Fundraiser
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For coltruple. Glad to have you aboard :) 




The kitchen door was unlocked and all I could smell was a roast. Mum didn’t make roast often in the summer and now that I thought about it, when was the last time she actually made a roast? Like a real one. Not the kind from a box or brought from Gran’s and passed off as her own. Not that Mum couldn’t cook. Oh, she could. But goddamn she hated it. One year, Dad bought her an apron as a joke. It gathered dust until I bullied Albus into being a French maid for Halloween.

The dining table was empty except for Mum, sitting behind a steaming mug of coffee. She didn’t look up.

It had been two hours since Avery and I left Italy. We apparated back to my flat and the boys weren’t there. We fed the animals, hugged, and I told her everything was going to be fine.

Two hours and Mum was staring into a mug of coffee. There was roast happening.

“They called me for a quote,” she said after a dramatic pause. “That phone never rings except when there’s trouble and why would this be any exception?”

“A quote?” I believed this to be the safest response.

“It appears Witch Weekly got the story first.”

Clara.

Clara Robinson.

“Mum,” I said, sinking into the chair opposite her. I briefly wondered if this was a good idea because women liked to throw drinks. “It’s not what you think.”

“You know what that reporter said?” Mum asked. “She asked for my opinion on the rushed wedding. On the elopement. She asked if I thought you’d be together forever.” She looked up and her eyes were red. “I had a reporter tell me my son was married.”

“Mum,” I started again.

“Your father doesn’t know yet,” she explained. “I was the only one home. No doubt it’ll hit the Ministry any moment now and he’ll find out that way. Lily’s at St. Mungos for the day shadowing. Albus went to the park with Paloma, which I’m guessing means they’ve found a cozy bush to snog behind.”

It was like she took tweezers to my heart, plucking it bit by bit with her words. I never wanted Mum to find out this way. How could I? She was everything to me. She was my support system when Dad was against a potential Quidditch career and Lily was negative seven and Albus thought I wanted to shag Paloma. She was the only one who fully trusted me because, truthfully, I was just like her. I just never quite got that ‘see through people’s lies’ stare down.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“James, what happened to you?”

“What?”

“I don’t even know who you are anymore.” Mum shook her head and took a sip. “This entire summer you’ve been racing off to practice and fundraisers and interviews. You haven’t had time for anyone. You haven’t let anyone in.”

“In where?” I asked. I didn’t make the very obvious ‘pants’ joke.

“Your head,” Mum insisted. “You already know what attention is like. You’re our son. But you’ve taken it to an entirely different level. Now you’ve run off with Avery and gotten married without so much as a note. Hey, Mum, thanks for raising me and supporting me -- oh, by the way, I’m going to get hitched in Italy because I really enjoyed it from the vacation you paid for.” She scoffed.

“It’s not like that,” I said.

She shot me the look. The ‘you’re interrupting me and I am going to hurl a wooden spoon at your head’ look she acquired from Gran. Lily was getting good at it too.

“James Sirius Potter you are grounded.”

“What? I’m of age. I don’t live here.” Probably not my shining moment on replies.

“I don’t care.” Mum crossed her arms. “I’m going upstairs. You’re to go to your flat and stay there and I’m not sending up the roast when it’s done.”

I had rarely been actually grounded in my life. Usually, Mum grounded me and then felt bad and brought up sweets and talked to me like a human as to why my behavior was incorrect. Dad just got all rage-y and slammed doors. He usually forgot about grounding me. He was a busy man, my father.

Mum meant it this time, though. She was disappointed. I was her oldest son and nothing was happening like it was supposed to. I was a professional Quidditch player. One injury and I was jobless, not to mention my resume wasn’t exactly stacked for a real career. I was constantly in the papers for doing something absurd.

Then I went and got married without even telling her.

Imagine, finding out your eldest son got married from a reporter.

I couldn’t imagine it, so I nodded and left. No roast.

Bink and Freddie were still gone so I flipped on some lights. I had to warn Avery or she’d be blind-sided. Witch Weekly grabbed the story fast. Chances are, her mum might be grounding her this very moment.

The phone rang a few times before she picked up.

“Aves,” I said.

“They called Mum.” Avery’s voice caught a little.

“Come over. We’ll make a plan.”

“I don’t want to make a plan, James. I want to get out of this.”

“We can’t,” I countered. “We have to make the best of this. We can’t let them beat us.”

“Are you seriously thinking about the stupid press right now?” she snapped. “Stop being an idiot. My mother just had to find out via phone interview with your saucy best mate Clara.”

I knew it had to be Clara. We couldn’t keep it from them. Not when we were wandering about Italy and got snarky with the judge. There was no way it would be kept a secret if someone could make a buck off a photo. I knew what the front page of Witch Weekly would look like tomorrow.

“I want to see you,” I said. “We’ll make a plan together.”

“Good bye, James.” The line went dead and I tossed the phone at the sofa. A lot of good that thing had done since we installed it.

So the Quidditch world knew we were married and I had practice in two hours. I had no idea how to play it. Like we were thrilled to be together? Avery didn’t seem to like that idea. But to say we had made a mistake … that would feed right into the gossip and the articles and the nonsense. That would keep the code in place and keep me on the bench if I kept seeing Avery, which I had every intention of doing.

I couldn’t read her, though. I couldn’t do what she didn’t want me to do.

Goddamn it.

It was scary to think how my father would react. And Lily and Albus. Sure, they’d see it for exactly what it was - a drunken mistake. But they will be disappointed. Probably ashamed. I couldn’t imagine Albus being ashamed of me. It would be like the Paloma nonsense all over again.

Lily would either be ashamed or stupidly excited, feeling as if this would bring us closer together since Avery and I don’t have the best track record of making things worse. Just a couple weeks before this marriage nonsense we were barely speaking.

David Flynn’s fault.

I called again and Avery answered. “I have practice today,” I said.

“Shoot straight,” she replied dryly.

“Why are you mad at me? I’m trying to make this right.”

“You’re trying to work this,” she whispered and i heard a door snap shut. “You’re trying to work this into your advantage for your Code and I feel like I’m a pawn in it.”

“Aves. Come on. If we have to do this, which, by the way, we do because it’s out in the open, then we should get what WE want out of it.” I ran my fingers through my hair, pacing before the sitting room window. “I just mean that I’m sick of always trying to hide things or get around things. I want to play Quidditch and I don’t want your family to get hounded or you to get hunted down by the press because of this. You shouldn’t be in gossip magazines. You should be in Quidditch Weekly because you’re a damn good player. I don’t want a night like that to make things bad. Things just got good.”

“A night like what?” Avery asked.

“You saw the video too.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I did.” I heard the smile in her voice.

“So what do you think?” More pacing. So much pacing. All of the pacing.

“All right,” she said after a pause. “We’ll do things our way. I’ll come over tonight, but right now I’m making Mum some Irish coffee and explaining what happened.”

“And practice?”

“We’re a happy married couple, but we’re very disappointed it was leaked as fast as it was,” she said calmly. “We wanted some alone time after the Wyoming incident.”

“Yes, dear,” I said. I told her I loved her because it was true and put the phone back on the hook.

I could do this. We could do this together. Couldn’t be any worse than the fallout after the Code when Bink went nutso and Meta tried to off us.

Meta McLaggen. What the fuck was going on with her?

I didn’t want to know. She wasn’t shagging Bink and that was all I cared about.

Shagging Bink. What the fuck was going on with Rose?

Ugh. Gross.

I decided to put that nonsense on the backburner until this marriage stuff was taken care of. At the very least I had to concern myself with not walking in on Al and Paloma.


*


I apparated directly into the conference room. It was empty, but I found my team lacing up in the locker room throwing towels at Artemis, who used her wand to light them on fire when they got too close.

Once the door slammed behind me, everyone looked up.

It was that “yeah, we heard but we have no idea what to say” look. Like when I had to talk to Al after I walked in on him and Paloma. Awkward. A whole lot of awkward.

Ali was the person I looked to. She bit her lip once the white practice shirt was tugged over her shoulders.

Henrik was still at his locker, floppy hair sticking up weirdly. Artemis let the last flaming towel drift to the floor. Monroe and Smoke stood shoulder-to-shoulder, frowning. Jack ruffled his hair and looked concerned.

“Hey, I got married,” I said. “Did it make the magazines yet because it just happened so I haven’t had time to see how amazing I look.”

“They got your good side,” Ali said. The silence broke with that as the team laughed and Monroe patted me on the back and Jack gave me one of those weird fatherly hugs. He still didn’t remember anything about the tea party fiasco, which I was thankful for. Artemis nodded, probably because she couldn’t fathom how I’d conned a girl into marrying me.

Henrik was the only person to look skeptical, but he was right to. It was only days ago I’d been banned from the first game and he saw my reaction. It wasn’t dignified at all. This was an obvious ploy to get back into the game and even though I didn’t find the loophole on purpose, I did find it.

He shook my hand, said congratulations, and told the team to hurry up since we were burning daylight.

Ali and I were the last ones out and linked arms walking toward the pitch.

“Loophole, Potter? I wasn’t serious with the suggestion.”

“I wasn’t serious with the marriage,” I whispered.

“I knew you looked hungover,” hissed Ali. “You sly thing. What’s Avery think of all this? Did you get it taken care of?”

“Wizarding law,” I reminded her. “We have to stay married thirty days.”

“So you’re making the best out of it.”

“I want to play,” I told her.

Ali nudged me with her elbow. “Good. The last thing I want is that asshat Mason to play. He doesn’t have the right rhythm.”

“I have the rhythm?”

“Well, you name doesn’t start with an A, but I think you’re doing all right.” She patted me on the back and we mounted our brooms for practice.

Henrik kept an unusually close eye on me for the duration of the drills, but otherwise things were pretty much back to normal. Jack asked if we were going to do a reception for our family and friends and I told him it was so spur-of-the-moment we hadn’t discussed it. We could get away with not doing it, of course, but it still tugged at my heart. I was too young to get married, but the idea of being married to Avery wasn’t freaking me out as bad as I thought it would.

Hell, my sister dancing with Wesley freaked me out more than this.

For once, Avery was the one on edge and I kind of liked that. If possible, that made me love her more.


*


Before my arranged meeting time with my now-wife, I knew I had to handle the family dramatics. Still getting used to being grounded.

Dad helped Mom in the kitchen as she pulled the roast from the oven and my siblings were seated a little too formally at the table. There were placemats. Pretty gold ones with white trim. The Christmas placemats.

There were four.

Everyone saw me come in, but no one spoke. Instead, Al busied himself with shining the silver and Lily leafed through a magazine (not Witch Weekly). Dad wiped his hands on his pants and went to fetch wine glasses from the cabinet.

“Does the grounded thing come with a silent treatment?” I asked.

Still, no response.

“Fine,” I continued. “You lot sit there and I’ll talk. I know all of you are angry and disappointed and think I’m a nutter. Maybe I am a nutter, but there’s nothing I can do about it now. Things got crazy. I didn’t tell you a lot because I was trying to do things on my own. I was trying to be an adult and make choices and you know what I did? Messed everything up and now I’m looking up from the bottom of a hole.” I took a breath, horrified that it trembled. “I’m going to fix this. I promise I’m going to fix it, but you have to understand for just a moment that maybe I’m not just skipping around letting life knock the wind out of me. Maybe there’s a reason for some of it that I’m trying to handle.”

Mum slid both oven mitts off and returned them to their hooks over the sink. “There’s a reason you got married and didn’t bother to tell any of us?”

“Come on,” I said. “Do you really think I just ‘didn’t bother’ to tell you? Like I’d be able to keep it from any of you.” I groaned and fell back into the door. The glass rattled. “The second we realized what happened, we went back to get it fixed. On our own. Taking responsibility. Immediate responsibility, by the way.”

“Oh, the I was going to tell you excuse,” Lily commented.

“I don’t need this from you,” I snapped. “You lot have absolutely no idea what I’m trying to go through right now. A Code, being benched, having finally landed the one girl who has been under my nose since the boat ride… I am doing the best I can. And if that’s not good enough for you, I’m sorry.”

I threw the door open behind me and turned to find all four pairs of eyes on me.

“I’m goddamn trying,” I said and left.


*


Avery appeared through the fireplace a half hour later with a thermos full of Irish coffee and a frown. “Mum’s a mess,” she said. “Not so much about what happened, but the calls and owls that are already arriving. We have to set this right.”

“I know.” I uncapped the thermos and helped myself before telling her my family’s reaction. “Cold and starved. I snapped a little. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t do any of this on purpose.”

She slid onto the sofa next to me and kicked her legs into my lap. “Let’s make a plan then.”

“It has to be a plan for us though.”

“For us?”

“I’m sick of trying to do everything to make everyone else happy.” It was true. The eggshells we walked on were long ground into sand and I couldn’t look over my shoulder when we moved forward. Trying to keep things calm messed us up before, and that wasn’t going to happen again. Not on my watch. We had to do this for ourselves.

“All right, we’ll do it for us. What’s your plan, Potter?”

“Well, Mrs. Potter, I think it starts with deciding what we want.” She elbowed me for calling her that, but I didn’t mind. It sounded good. And also hilarious. Besides, if she needed to get into a concert venue or big wig meeting, the last name might help. “I want to be with you. I also want to actually be able to play in my first game. Lastly, eventually, I’d like to give Clara Robinson a piece of my mind.”

Avery leaned further onto the arm of the sofa. “Noted. I want to be with you. I want to be recognized for my Quidditch abilities rather than being hounded by the media for being your arm candy. Lastly, eventually, I would like to hex Clara Robinson while her back is turned.” She paused. “No, while she’s looking directly at me.”

“Feisty,” I said, smirking. “The fundraiser is coming up. Bring your wand.”

“Will she be there?”

“I don’t think she’ll pass up the chance to see me with tears in my eyes.”

“How unmanly of you,” Avery replied, trailing her fingers down my arm.

“Sometimes you have to take a day off from being manly. It’s overload.”

“Noted,” she replied. Avery closed her eyes and exhaled through her nose. “Let’s do this then. We’ll be happily married for thirty days. We’ll be together without having to sneak off to cabins and you’ll play your games. When the media grows bored of our tameness, my picture will fall out of the papers and I’ll go back to being a reserve Keeper. We’ll discuss the options with Clara later.”

“And after the thirty days?” I prompted.

“We’ll cross that bridge when it comes. You know we’ve never been good at long-term goals.”

I adjusted on the sofa and snuggled in beside Avery. “I’m grounded, apparently.”

She snorted. “You are? What’s that mean?”

“Mum’s cross with me and I don’t get roast.” I kissed her. “Worth it.”


*


Cynthia set up everything. The hall and the guest list and the catering. She mailed out tasteful invitations and put my name nowhere on them. She also told me it was stupid for how many hits my career was taken not to put my name on it, but I told her I didn’t want it to seem like I was doing this for my career. I wasn’t.

I was faking a happy marriage for my career, but not this fundraiser.

When that Saturday evening arrived, I stood in front of the mirror for a while adjusting three different ties before settling on my scarlet standby.

Freddie poked his head in. “Ready? Amy’s here.”

“I can meet you,” I replied, still watching my reflection. Freddie left and the front door slammed a minute later.

Tonight was something unlike any event I’d been to. It was for something. Not just a nameless charity scraping money together while Quidditch players drank and socialized and talked a little trash. Tonight was about Nathan. About every Nathan who framed a magazine cover or wished so hard for something they didn’t know if they’d ever achieve.

It hurt to think about, to consider the loss of anyone close to me. To imagine the grief felt by Nathan’s grandfather was unthinkable.

Yesterday I told Avery I’d meet her there. I knew why, even though when Bink asked I told him it was closer to her than coming here. It was because with her standing with me before I left, I’d think about her. About what would happen if I lost her. I’d frame magazine covers and tabloids and the first sparkling collar she bought Falcon Cat.

Grief is a terrible thing. It turns you into something completely different.

Yet I think it makes you realize who you actually are.

Tonight I had to be everything Nathan thought I was. The heroic Gryffindor, captain of the Lions, winner of the Quidditch Cup, Tornado from an open try-out. I had to be everything he wanted me to be and everything he assumed I was.

His memory deserved the best.

The most respect.

I wiped my eyes, shut off the lights, kissed Victoria, and left.


*


The room was every bit as stunning as Cynthia said it would be. She rented a golf clubhouse overlooking a course, though the sun was setting now and creating an orange glow over the grass and in through the grand windows. The room was massive with tall ceilings and round tables decorated with flowers and gold plates. There were three bars around the room and plenty of people already had drinks and were mingling.

It was astonishing. So many people I knew were there - Quidditch players, executives, and people I knew had no connection to the Quidditch world. Cynthia must have pulled a lot of strings.

She must have also name-dropped, but watching the sealed envelopes being dropped from pockets into the donation box, I didn’t care how many times she used my last name.

On the back wall, between two bars, was a long stretch of table filled with grand frames. Inside each frame was the photo of a boy or girl. From reading the descriptions I realized each of these children had passed away in the last year. Each of them was an extraordinary Quidditch fan. There were photos of their bedrooms decorated in posters or them waving flags at matches.

I spotted Nathan too fast.

It hurt.

Nathan was a small, mousy boy with curly brown hair and one of those shit-eating grins. Like when you look at someone and just know that smile is easily twice the size of a normal person’s. In the photo he was in front of a wall of posters and artwork. Pictures of Hogwarts and the Tornados and players zooming in and out of the frame.

Around his neck was a Gryffindor tie, undone like mine so often was.

There was a hand on my shoulder. “I was hoping to find you before you saw this.”

I wrapped my fingers around Avery’s. “That’s a picture of me. That’s our team photo.” I pointed behind him. Avery and I were both waving and my tie … was undone.

“You’re loved,” she said.

“Do I deserve it?” I whispered.

“Every day.” Avery kissed my shoulder. “You look handsome tonight. I like the ode to Gryffindor tie.”

“Thanks.” I turned and was satisfied that she took my breath away yet again in a long black dress, hair tied back in a loose way that made strands fall over her ears. Effortless. “You clean up nice, Mrs. Potter.”

“Don’t start with that. Let’s get you a drink and a seat. Freddie and Amy are there already. Bink’s off getting shots because he says the room’s full of people who rejected his abilities.”

On a normal night, I would roll my eyes and say Bink is a fool for letting this get to him when he has something great that makes him happy. Tonight was not a normal night, though. As we found the table, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Nathan’s face again.

Tonight was not about me.

“James.” Amy kissed both my cheeks like some French person and handed me a glass of champagne. “This is so beautiful.”

“Thanks. My agent really took care of everything. She’s brilliant. She also thinks I’m a nutter.”

“Then she really is brilliant,” Freddie said. He raised a glass from his seat across the table. His tie was already undone and draped around his shoulders. “Really, mate. It looks great.”

It did. It absolutely did.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing. Not a decoration or a photo or a centerpiece. Something else.

“You okay?” Avery slid a drink into my hand and we took our seats after a cluster of people came by to shake my hand. That cluster included the captains of plenty of Quidditch teams.

“Fine,” I told her and grinned at a few other people, thanking them for coming out for the cause. Captains and players and executives shaking hands and patting my back. It wasn’t until Cynthia took the stage that people found their seats and food appeared before them.

She spared no expense, as she was instructed. Great food and top quality drinks.

First, Cynthia thanked everyone for coming and talked about what an important cause this was, not only for me, but for Quidditch itself. I stopped listening for a while, not because I didn’t like her speech, but because every sentence reminded me of Nathan’s grandfather standing before me. Holding the Quaffle, looking content with life and at peace.

Was I at peace?

Could I hold a Quaffle to a player if it was Lily?

Why was I even playing Quidditch?

All questions I never wanted to answer and never wanted to consider.

I was James Potter Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team of Awesome and these weren’t things I was supposed to be thinking about. I should have been concentrating on my shirtless calendar or the skimpy girls in the first row of matches or what new kind of Firewhiskey is out.

It wasn’t until Cynthia started talking about the inspiration for this fundraiser that my attention was caught. Avery’s hand fell into my lap.

“When James first told me to do this, I was skeptical,” Cynthia said with her trademark smirk, fingers flourishing into the air as she spoke. “I did some digging. I found the trigger – the boy that touched his heart enough to melt that tough exterior we all know he puts up.” The crowd laughed. Some because they thought I had a tough exterior. Some because they scoffed at the idea. “His name was Nathan. One conversation with his grandfather told me all I needed to know – the tragically short life of this little boy as he hung onto the only constant in his life – Quidditch. Oddly, he enjoyed professional Quidditch, but his heart was in Hogwarts Quidditch. For those of you who attended Hogwarts, you know what it’s all about. Blood, rivalries, and the common room parties full of alcohol nicked from the kitchens.” More laughter. “Nathan knew he would never be able to play at Hogwarts with his medical issues, but he wanted to watch more than anything.”

Everyone was quiet now. I fidgeted and Avery tangled her fingers with mine. I took a few drinks and realized she had handed me Firewhiskey. What a keeper.

Pun intended.

“Nathan’s grandfather took him to a game last year,” Cynthia continued. “He was ten and for his birthday, he was promised a grand surprise. So when his grandfather pulled off the blindfold and Nathan realized he was at Hogwarts, he started crying. The game, too, was a perfect Hogwarts Quidditch game to attend. Injuries, and a tie game decided by a shoot out and some amazing saves by a Keeper currently in attendance.” People looked toward our table, but we were married so they didn’t seem weirded out by this. “Nathan didn’t stop talking about it for weeks. About how he couldn’t wait to go to Hogwarts and see the Quidditch teams all year and save his allowance to see James Potter play for the Tornados once it was announced. Unfortunately, Nathan’s life was tragically cut short before he could, but it is because of his boy that we are here tonight promising not to let empty allowance jars keep children like him from their dreams.”

Applause. Some people stood and others cheered, but I was stuck to my seat staring at Cynthia because she had done exactly what I imagined. I couldn’t put together the event or make a speech like that or even look that many people in the eye and say that. My wildest inclination of this event didn’t include half as many people.

When the cheering subsided, Cynthia lowered her hands, grinning.

“The money raised from the silent auction and donations will be put to multiple causes,” she continued. “The bulk will be contributed toward boxes at each stadium in the league so children can see the game. Other funds will be donated to St. Mungos for research and the rest will start a line of clothing which will have seventy-five percent of its proceeds go toward making Quidditch dreams come true.”

More cheering.

“Now, I know I’m going to be met with a scowl, but I’d like to invite James Potter up here to say a few words.”

My eyes widened. What. No. That’s not what I signed up for.

I had her do it because I was content sitting in my chair. The only interviews I wanted to do were silly Witch Weekly ones and about the game of Quidditch. I could handle interviews about the game. I knew how to answer questions and keep things in my favor.

I didn’t know how to make emotional speeches, especially when there was a giant lump in my throat.

Could I even talk?

I coughed. Okay, I could cough.

“James,” Avery muttered because people were staring and clapping and shouting “Speech!”

“Bugger,” I said, putting on that charming smile I thought I’d left at home. I stood, letting Avery’s hand fall back into her lap, and wove my way between tables to the front. Cynthia clasped my hand and grinned. There were glossy tears in her eyes.

“Thanks,” I said, moving before the podium. People were on their feet clapping and someone spilled a drink on someone else. I think it was a Falcons player, so that was fine.

Eyes were on me. People were eating and drinking and being merry and I was at a dusty podium in a suit and the tie was too tight. I pulled it away from my neck and a few people laughed.

The thing was, I could see Nathan’s picture in the back.

That wasn’t the only thing I could see.

“You know,” I began, “This isn’t exactly my thing. I grew up – well, you lot know how I grew up. It’s not like my family was out in the country. We were all well except a few stints in St. Mungos or that one time I dared my cousin to jump off a roof and he pushed me off first.” Freddie raised his glass from our table. “I lived in a world where I was protected. I put on a smile for the media. My family was healthy. At Hogwarts, the hospital wing cured everything except Freddie’s brains.” More laughter and he flipped me off. “I was in a world with a safety net. If I strayed too far, it was hidden from me and I kept moving toward my own goal.”

I ran my fingers through my hair, loosening what little gel I stuffed into it before I left. “I cared about my own goals deeply. Pursuing Quidditch. Winning my father’s approval. I also cared deeply for the goals of my friends and teammates. Sometimes, their goals outweighed mine. But not once can I remember considering the people I didn’t interact with on a daily basis – what they might be struggling with that’s keeping them from reaching their goals. I knew what was keeping me from a Quidditch career. What was keeping that third year from being a journalist? How about that fourth year Ravenclaw from inventing the next great Potion? In short, it was during a signing when Nathan’s grandfather told me about the Quaffle that I realized this.” I paused. “That I knew I had to change it.”

I laughed a little because it was almost absurd. Some seventeen-year-old kid standing before a crowd of professionals and legends telling them about goals and dreams. But there I was, privileged Potter kid, telling them I had made a mistake. And I had.

“I want it to be known that I’m not going to give up on this,” I said. “I have personally purchased a box for every Tornados game this season and I will see that it is filled to capacity, even if they’re fans of the opposing team … or Henrik Lindt. I guess he has a few lady admirers.”

More laughter and Henrik tipped his hat. He was wearing a hat because he could pull off a hat.

“I want to bring this to the attention of the media. I want to see that this is not overlooked.” I motioned to Nathan’s grandfather, who was sitting at a table in the back with a Quaffle as the centerpiece. “And I will personally deliver Quaffles to that man, each signed by a different Quidditch team. I may be a rookie and hell, I haven’t even played a game, but some things are more important than keeping up appearances in calendars and gossip magazines.”

That got a lot of people to lift their glasses. I wasn’t the only one hounded by Witch Weekly about my wardrobe and emotions.

“Cheers to Nathan,” I said and Cynthia handed me a fresh drink. “Let’s drink to his memory and the future of all the bright children out there who think their dreams are unattainable.”

Everyone raised their glasses.




A/N: WHOOSH. 

Had to hurry to get that one into the queue before the holiday closure! 

The next update may take a touch longer, because I'm going to try and reread all of BTQC before I continue. Or I may get a few chapters in and get the itch to write. Who knows? Just an FYI. 

The other two WIPs are on schedule to be updated once the queue reopens.

I don't know about you, but I'm quite proud of James.

UP NEXT: James and Avery are ... married. Let's see how that works. 

 


Chapter 13: The One with the Kidnapping
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For UnofficiallyNotVernonDursley for writing a poem about Victoria. 




The fundraiser was a hit. We raised several times the amount I imagined we could and my hand ached from shaking everyone else’s. The food was marvelous. The drinks were plenty. At the end of the night I snuck off to a corner with Nathan’s grandfather to talk about my plans and his past and what Nathan thought of the Gryffindor – Hufflepuff game I had no idea he attended.

When the banquet hall began to empty, Avery took my hand and led me to the fireplace to Floo home. “Ready?” she asked.

I looked over my shoulder to the stained tablecloths and empty glasses and handshakes. “Sure,” I said and so we returned to the flat over the garage.

To my distaste, there was a giant box in the living room. It arrived days earlier than anticipated and the tape was cut. Bink and Freddie and Amy still weren’t back from the fundraiser, but I had a feeling I hadn’t put the flat number on the address form and the box went to the house.

I groaned and pulled back the cardboard flaps. Mugs and calendars and mousepads (what?) and t-shirts. A bunch of bullshit plastered with our faces, mildly drunk but looking happy.

“Did they just want to look?” I said, rifling through the trinkets we would have to burn immediately.

Avery bent down too and I resisted the urge to look down her black dress because this was a serious moment. “No, they got it.”

“Got what?”

She sighed. “The video.”

“Shit.” I straightened up and looked at our television. The video wasn’t there. “We have to get it back. What if they watched it? Me stumbling up the aisle? Happy image for my mother, I’m sure.”

“We didn’t even have proper vows,” Avery murmured.

“You did! I talked about snogging you.”

“As you should,” she said with a shrug. “It’s only been a few days. It’s already a nightmare. We don’t know how to properly be married.”

“Are you supposed to consummate a marriage?”

“Now isn’t quite the time, James,” Avery replied in a dry tone. “But I believe so.”

I looked her up and down, considering this but then getting a little freaked out because I was supposed to be freaked out about something else and instead I was checking out my smoking hot wife. “Right. Video.”

I expected to walk in to a vacant living room and the watched video popped out of the machine below the television. Instead, I was led into the living room by the sound of my own voice and Avery’s and Officiant-Merlin’s.

Avery’s fingers slipped into mine and we entered the living room together.

No one heard since their backs were to us and Officiant-Merlin was asking about our vows.

Dad and Mum were on the couch (eating POPCORN) and Lily was on the sofa. Wesley (ugh) was visiting and at her feet on the floor with another bowl of popcorn. Albus and Paloma were on the other sofa, her feet draped over his legs.

Most of them laughed at my nervous reaction to the vows and Aves nudged me.

Paloma did an “aww” when we kissed.

Mum shut it off when the video was over, but still no one turned. “Well?” she said.

“What a shit chapel,” Albus said with a laugh. “Have to hand it to them though… they’re unconventional. Bink told me it was all his fault.”

“His fault?” Dad said.

“Bink’s got this new job as a bartender and got them hammered in celebration. Apparently when they woke up the next day they had no idea.” My brother shook his head. “Bink feels horrible.”

“Where are they tonight?” Dad said.

“Went to the fundraiser James had set up.”

“Fundraiser?” Dad asked. “Why didn’t we hear about this?”

Albus leaned back into the sofa. “Probably because James is petrified to talk to you because he thinks you’re disappointed. You know how he handles disappointment.”

Not well. Too right, baby brother.

“What’s it for?” said Mum.

“Bink told me James set up a fund to get kids with cancer boxed seats at matches,” Albus said and it appeared Bink told him a lot of things out of the guilt of getting me plastered enough to marry Avery. “Arranged this huge event with all the Quidditch players and big-wigs tonight. Formal thing. Black tie.”

“Does James own a black tie?” Dad asked with a smirk.

“I wore my Gryffindor tie,” I said and everyone jumped and spun around.

Avery and I stayed in the doorway, both wearing somber expressions. I didn’t know how this was going to go with them seeing the video we wanted so desperately to keep to ourselves and them now knowing about my fundraiser and the truth about how we got married. I had an easy out of the door through the kitchen behind me, so didn’t dare move.

Part of me was mad at them, though. The whole lot of them just getting some popcorn and having a good laugh at that moment.

“James,” Mum said. “You should have a seat.”

They stared at the two of us like we were in a zoo. Like we needed figured out.

“I can’t,” I said and Avery shot me a look. “I know I haven’t been the best son or brother since graduation, but I’m trying. And if all you lot do is sit around and gossip about me instead of supporting me, then I have nothing to say to you. Hope the video gave you a good sodding laugh.” I rolled my eyes, tugged on Avery’s arm, and left through the kitchen door.

“James,” she said when we were back in the flat. The roommates still weren’t home. “That may have been your chance to get back in with your family.”

“If that’s how they’re going to be, I’d rather not.”

“Don’t you think you’re being dramatic?”

“For once – no.” I shook my head and kicked the box over to the corner of the living room. “I think I’m going to head to bed.”

She raised a brow. “Ah. A cue for me to leave then. That’s rare.” She kissed my forehead. “Phone me tomorrow, okay? I have practice most of the day. We’ll see if Cooper gives me a look or if Crystal occupies him by batting her eyelashes for a few hours.”

“Have you played at a Harpies practice yet?” I asked, peeling off my Gryffindor tie and tossing it onto the counter.

“Nope. Just the Sparrows practice.”

I made a face. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Kick ass at practice.”

“Always do, love.”

*

Fred and Amy returned an hour later, raided the fridge, and then escaped to his room to do unmentionable things. There was a towel over the knob.

Bink returned an hour after that looking miserable. From the couch, I asked what he’d done.

“Had a row with Rose,” he said.

“About what?”

“Everything,” Bink grumbled. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You fancy her?”

“Stop asking,” he said with a sigh. “Because I don’t know the answer.”

He locked the door to his room.

Around one in the morning I retreated to my room and let Falcon Cat curl up on my chest. She purred and nudged my chin. There was a knock at my door. My roommates seemed unlikely as Fred was probably naked and Bink would rather skin himself than talk about his feelings.

For as manly as I was, I’d been talking about feelings way too much lately. Bullshit.

“C’min,” I said after a while.

The door opened and Dad was there. Strangely, I’d been expecting Lily or Albus. Not my father. He kicked off his shoes and looked at the veil that was left on the carpet.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey,” I repeated, still staring at the ceiling. Falcon Cat meowed a hello.

Dad sat on the edge of my bed and scratched Falcon Cat behind the ears. “James, I think we ought to talk.”

“About bloody what?”

“Everything,” he said without a hint of humor. “I think we should talk about everything.”

“What if I don’t want to talk about everything?”

“You may not want to,” he said, “but you need to.”

I straightened up on the covers and moved Falcon Cat to my lap. She curled up in a little ball, purring. “What makes you think I want to talk to you about it? You lot shut me out.”

“It was a mistake.” Dad situated himself so he sat directly across from me with his legs folded. “I know what it’s like to be shut out, and I know it was a mistake. Your mother and I were hurt and we didn’t know how to react. We didn’t think we’d have to react to something like that for a long time and still, we thought we’d be warned.”

I groaned.

Dad raised a finger to silence a snarky response. “I’m trying to apologize, James. We’ve been too hard on you. We’ve stayed on the sidelines, thinking that’s what was right. Let you live your own life. You are very capable of handling things yourself and you proved that. The thing we didn’t realize was that you wouldn’t ask for help when you needed it.”

“I did ask sometimes,” I mumbled.

“I mean from us,” Dad corrected. “We thought if you were overwhelmed, you’d come to us. That’s what you used to do. You used to write us or come to us when it got to be too much and we could help you. We made the mistake of thinking that was permanent.”

It wasn’t a mistake. I knew I should have. I was too busy taking care of my own life and helping Bink and walking in on Freddie and Amy.

“Instead of supporting you,” Dad continued, “We let you handle it yourself. We let you fall too hard and scramble to get up. Do you have any idea how horrible I feel about that? Looking back, I should have seen all the signs. Everything. But I didn’t. I thought you’d just handle it yourself.”

“I tried,” I said.

“You did well.” Dad patted me on the knee. “Now let’s talk. I’m sorry I didn’t come bother you before, but it’s never too late to fix things.”

“Fix things?” I said.

“It’s going to be fine,” Dad replied. “Tell me everything.”

I did. Goddamn, I did. About Avery’s tryout and the new Code (new confidential Code, but bollocks on that) and Avery going on a date with Mason and Mason alerting the press about Wyoming and me being so in love with Avery that I didn’t know what to do. About Bink being the new Gryffindor coach and me hosting a teaparty for Jack’s kids. Everything since graduation, I spilled to my father.

Finally, I reached the fundraiser and he outright hugged me. “Didn’t think about asking your father for money?”

“I’m trying to handle it on my own,” I said.

“I mean as a donation.”

“You donate to plenty of stuff.”

“I’d like to donate to Nathan,” Dad said.

I blushed a little because this was all still new. “Dad? What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“Take it one step at a time,” he advised and even though it was vague, it was true. “You’re going to work through this thirty days with Avery and go on proper dates and be a proper couple for once…this time without horrible people in your way and the press breathing down your back. You’re going to go to practice and take ice baths and be ready for that second pre-season game. You’re going to find a way to get back at Mason because karma is for Hufflepuffs.”

Keep in mind I’d never heard my dad say an ill word against Hufflepuff.

“You’re going to have a talk with Rose about Bink. You’re going to tell Albus if he and Paloma are going to shag they have to take it elsewhere because we know about it and it’s weird at breakfast now.” Dad smirked. “And, most of all, you’re going to let me know when you’re overwhelmed. I have a pull with the press and I am absolutely not afraid to use it.”

“What about Clara Robinson? She ruins careers.”

Dad cocked a brow. It was a good look for him. “Clara? Don’t worry about her. Clara and I go way back. I’m the one who put her on the map.”

“What?”

“Post-war interview,” Dad said with a sly smirk. “That’s what got her the gig at Witch Weekly and she worked her way up. It was her first big interview.”

“Why’d you give it to her?”

“Because back then, she asked the right questions. She wasn’t always obsessed with power.”

I couldn’t imagine that.

“One step at a time,” Dad said and patted Falcon Cat on the head. “Enjoy it, though. The thirty days will be up before you know it and then you’ll go back to dealing with the Code.” He shook his head. “Why teams have to have Codes is beyond me. Members of Gryffindor dated while I was in school and no one went bald or had pink goddamn robes. Pretty sure it does more harm than good.”

I thought about the ‘fluke’ headline and agreed.

Dad ruffled my hair. “Ask for help when you need it, okay?” he said and I nodded. “Because whether you think I do or not, I have some people I can have a word with.”

“Is this like speaking with someone’s parents in school?”

“No.” Dad laughed and opened the door. “It’s like speaking with the owner of someone’s company when they’re an adult.”

I laughed a little and was partially scared at the idea of Dad having more pull than originally anticipated. I looked up, but said nothing.

“You’re a Quidditch player, James,” he said as he stood in the doorway looking overly fatherly. “Act like it.”

I raised a brow as he left.

Damn.

*

Dad was right. Absolutely right.

I needed to act like a Quidditch player. I was too busy trying to shuffle everyone else that I forgot to just be myself and let things happen. That’s who I was at Hogwarts. That’s how I captained my team and since the Final I let that mentality slip to try and impress everyone.

That’s not how it was going to be anymore.

Sure, I’d still be looking out for my mates and concentrating on my dreams, but I was also going to concentrate on myself and having fun.

Fortunately, I had a perfectly good excuse.

After a week of crazy practices and ice baths, my birthday was approaching. Sure, the week also included making up with my siblings (who weren’t actually sore with me) and having a heart-to-heart with Mum about her eldest son getting married, but I was looking forward to Saturday.

My eighteenth birthday.

Each year for my birthday we did something different. Usually the day was for the family to celebrate (Grandmum used it as an excuse to get everyone together in the middle of summer) and the night was for my mates. Last year we met up in Diagon Alley for drinks and more drinks and then additional drinks. The year before that we camped and had drinks. The year before that Bink took us to his family’s cottage on a lake in Switzerland and we also had drinks. Every year the same faces were there along with some new ones (Bink liked to invite pretty ladies back with us).

This year was different. Mum told me Friday we weren’t going to have a family gathering.

“Why? Doesn’t Grandmum want one?”

“She’d want a family gathering daily if we let her,” Mum mumbled. “No, it’s something else. A bit of a surprise for you.”

“Good surprise or don’t-get-James-too-drunk-or-the-press-will-have-a-field-day surprise?”

She raised a brow. “Watch yourself, James.”

“It’s tequila shots. They ruin me.”

Mum appeared to have very little patience for me talking about alcohol the way I did. “Be safe, okay? You’ll have a good time.”

“Do I need to prepare? Wear a special shirt?”

“Wear a shirt,” Mum advised. “There’s your tip.”

“Will it be cold? Will I need coasters? What about money? How about a yellow glittery wig because, oddly enough, I have that.”

She didn’t ask. “Bink and Freddie will collect you tomorrow morning around eleven.”

I could just get them drunk tonight and have them tell me. Ha.

“They won’t be home tonight. They’ll be preparing.”

Damn. Damn Mom powers.

*

As much as I thought she’d be wrong, when it hit midnight, no one was there. At least my mates were usually good for a midnight shot, but the flat was empty and the lights were off. Falcon Cat watched television with me and Victoria purred on the coffee table and gave Falcon Cat threatening looks.

Every so often I glanced out the curtains to make sure TomCat wasn’t lurking on a tree branch.

Around two, I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer and fell asleep on the sofa with Falcon Cat next to my face and Victoria on my hip.

One hour later, the lights still off, someone put their hand over my mouth and a blindfold over my eyes. I was groggy and they got to my hands before I could struggle. Falcon Cat hissed and Victoria was just Victoria and probably suggested they take Falcon Cat too to get her out of the damn flat.

I assumed it was Fred and Bink, but part of me also considered I was for real being kidnapped to be used as blackmail against my family for thousands of Galleons.

Falcon Cat purred so I assumed she was being petted. If it was the kidnapper, at least they were nice.

After a moment of people fumbling around the flat, I was damn near shoved down the stairs and put into a car. A real, Muggle car. Like the kind we stole from Emerson.

Okay, it also sounded a little like that car, but anything new made that awkward rusty sound so I wasn’t concerned. I just hoped Bink hadn’t stolen another car because he couldn’t sodding drive.

Classical music was on the radio.

Okay. Freddie could be into classical music. He did correct Bink’s grammar from time to time (even when he was sleep-talking) and was into weird stuff like going to the Opera. Still strange for three in the morning on the night before my birthday. Well, morning of my birthday.

Not exactly get-pumped-up music.

“Can I ask where we’re going?” I said.

No answer. Apparently no, I could not ask.

I figured we’d Floo. Maybe the venue was close. Some crazy club party at three in the morning? Camping? What had I not thought of? They had to be doing something crazy awesome if they kidnapped me in the middle of the night. Granted, I was tired. An hour of sleep was a little less than I wanted.

We kept driving.

Come on. Birthday shots. Birthday shots. Birthday shots.

Maybe they got a puppy.

Maybe they got an entire herd of puppies and were taking me to the farm.

Wouldn’t puppies be asleep at three?

Probably three-thirty by now.

“Is it three or three-thirty?” I asked and no one answered. “Are we going to a puppy farm?” I added and again, no one answered.

I wished I could get my blindfold off, but my hands were zip-tied together. Not exactly the fuzzy handcuffs Bink tried using last year when I wouldn’t cooperate. I couldn’t even see out the bottom of the blindfold.

I wiggled back and forth, but no one was beside me in the back seat of the car. I’d crouched down, so it was definitely a car. Not anything bigger. There were two people in the front judging by my kidnapping.

“Fred. Bink. You can at least tell me if we’re going to a puppy farm. Did Mum tell you I’d been talking about puppies?”

No answer.

This was getting obnoxious. Sure, they could come in and kidnap me and be all suspicious, but it was getting less fun the longer I bounced in the back seat of the car.

“Are we at least having birthday shots?” I said. “Not tequila. That has dangerous effects.”

Still, nothing. We were driving really fast now. Probably on country roads outside of town. Very, very fast.

My wand wasn’t on me. That was odd. Usually my wand was always on me.

Bink and Freddie wouldn’t forget my wand on purpose.

“Come on,” I groaned. “Fred, I’m going to tell Amy you’ve still got feelings for that tart Abigail. And Kay Davies. And ManClaw.”

Nothing.

“Bink, I’m going to tell Rose you are in love with her and want a real relationships and feelings and you want to hold her hand in public.”

Nothing.

“Oh, COME ON what the FUCK.”

The car pulled over and stopped. Silence.

Bink and Freddie got out and opened the door to my right. One of them grabbed me by the arm and tugged me out.

“Birthday shots?” I said.

“If you insist,” said a voice and holy motherfucker it was NOT Bink or Freddie.

That’s when I got decked in the face and fell onto the side of the car, sliding down.

With the hit, my blindfold was knocked sideways.

Even in the darkness of the countryside, there was no mistaking the two faces smirking before me. They were not who I expected to see, nor were they who I expected to see together.

Mason was the one who punched me. He was more likely to be here than the other and he was dressed in all black looking like a fucking tool. His knuckles had a little blood on them. Behind him was a vacant field with crops up to his middle. I couldn’t see any further. Too dark.

I struggled, but my hands were still zip-tied.

Fuck fuck fuck I was literally tied up and being beat up by Mason the crazy ass reserve.

It was who was beside Mason, though, who caught me off guard.

Emerson “Twitwards” Edwards was there in his best pinstriped suit and tie, arms folded and a smug expression across his face. “Hello, Potter.”

“Fucking what?” I spat, unable to hold it in. “I have several questions.”

“I wish you wouldn’t,” Mason said impatiently. “You like to talk. I’m done hearing you talk.”

“Did you seriously drive me out to the middle of nowhere to beat the shit out of me and leave me in a field because I’ve seen those documentaries.”

Mason rolled his eyes. “It’s your birthday, isn’t it, Potter?”

“Happy birthday to me,” I said. “And that was not what I meant by birthday shots.”

“Looks like you’ll be missing the celebration.”

“Are you SERIOUS?” I yelled. “What are you even going to do? Is this how you’re going to get on the team – beat the shit out of the kid who hasn’t even played a game and make him miss his birthday party? Goddamn. Get it over with. I feel like I deserve better.”

Mason was clearly impatient, but Emerson put a hand on his arm.

“How do you two even bloody know each other?” I asked. “Are you dating?”

“If you must know, I sought him out after watching the broadcast of the Tornados taking a trip to see the Hurricanes on tour,” Emerson replied tactfully. “You know, after my car was stolen.”

“Your car was stolen? That’s unfortunate, mate.”

“By three blokes in wigs.”

“Freddie’s wasn’t a wig,” I said.

“Not even going to go there,” he replied. “I would have thought after Hogwarts your blatant disregard for others would subside, but I was wrong.”

“You mean my disregard for you? I have plenty of regard for others. Just not you. You’re a twat.” I looked at Mason. “So are you, mate. Come on. You think I’ve got it out for you, but if you want to blame anyone for signing me, blame Ballo. Fuck, I was blacklisted. He broke all the rules – not me.”

“I heard about that,” Mason said with a smirk. I didn’t like that smirk.

At all.

“If I’m not out here for birthday shots, can you at least tell me your evil plan? My face hurts.”

Mason and Emerson exchanged smirky smiles. They were really horrible “bad guys.” They needed to watch more movies. This was boring, though it was a nice warm July night, so I had that going for me.

I wondered what Avery was doing now. If she had been helping Bink and Freddie, or if she was up to something else. What was she getting me for my birthday?

Oh GODRIC what if she was going to sleep with me for my birthday?

I paled.

“What’s wrong, Potter?”

I choked a little. “I’m fucking tied up next to a rusty car in the middle of nowhere. I’m peachy.”

“Scared is a good look for you.”

Little did they know what I was actually scared of, but either way it wasn’t masculine at all so I let them think what they wanted.

Seriously, though, what if Avery went out and bought some slinky lingerie.

I could barely hold it together when she had on the tiny shorts.

I had to stop thinking about this. I was being kidnapped.

I shook my head and looked back at Emerson and Mason. “So what are we doing then? Having a bit more fun and then dumping me in the field? Driving me a little ways?”

“Still have your V-Card, Potter?”

I groaned. “Twitwards, there are no words to accurately describe how much I can’t stand you. I think you out-rank Mason given our past.”

Mason leaned down and grabbed me by the collar of my shirt. “Just letting you know not to get too comfortable on the roster, Potter. Hell, maybe you won’t even play your first game.”

“I’m banned from the first game,” I said smartly. “And I technically already played at the tournament, which, you know, is just for pro players so they didn’t invite you.”

Mason’s eyes flashed. Emerson steadied him.

“Say,” I said to my ex-roommate. “Why were you at Avery’s tryout anyway?”

“The Minister is interested in the Harpies.”

“You’re full of shit,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You don’t even talk to the Minister. You just wanted an excuse to watch Avery get her Keep on. Still fancy her?” I watched him. “Fuck, you do? Come on, mate, she’s my wife now. Don’t fancy other people’s wives.”

“Don’t think for a moment anyone believes you got married on purpose,” spat Emerson. “You were probably drunk or drugged or doing it for publicity.”

“Yes, that’s why we didn’t announce it and sell it to the papers,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You’re the worst at knowing famous things, Twitwards. Stop fancying my wife. It’s awkward.”

“I’ll fancy who I please,” he said, which was of course an admirable comeback that even made Mason scoff. “Listen, Potter, she won’t put up with your shit for long.”

“And she’s going to come running to you?” I laughed. “Fat chance. You ordered her a salad.”

“What?”

I sighed. “Can we just get this over with? It’s my birthday.”

Mason got back in my face and pressed his forehead against mine, which was weird. “Happy Birthday, Potter. Enjoy your dream while it lasts. I have a friend called David who bets it won’t.”

What.

Then Mason punched me again and everything went black.




A/N: Thanks for your patience while I went on my crazy writing-spree of Hormones while taking a break from this one. But I was able to reread a lot and I can't wait to plan out the rest of this story and show you all what I have planned.

UP NEXT: James wakes up. Unpleasantly. It's his 18th birthday. 

 


Chapter 14: The One with the Birthday
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For PotterJAM97. Sorry your cat thinks you're crazy.




When I woke, groggy, I knew right away more damage had been done than just the punch that knocked me out. Everything hurt. My head. My back. My ribs (hadn’t my ribs gone through enough last year?). My legs.

The sun was up and beating down hard on me. I was on my back, staring at the clear blue sky. It hurt to stare.

Before I moved, I surveyed the damage. What hurt. What didn’t. Just from opened my eyes I realized they’d tossed me in the field with the tall weeds. So far, no sign of snakes.

Or Slytherins.

Something smelled revolting, though. Like a sewer was nearby. I made a face. Gross. The sooner I got out of here the better.

The blindfold was draped around my neck from when I slid down the car and my hands were still zip-tied behind my back, which meant I was laying on them and my hands were numb. Fuck.

Everything hurt.

I wiggled, eventually able to kick up my legs (ow) and sit up.

That’s when I realized what the smell was.

Apparently, when you kidnap someone and knock them out, it is also customary to find four pieces of roadkill and drape them over a person while they bake in the morning sun.

Spectacular.

Dead animals on my body. Godric Gryffindor.

I leaned over and threw up, which also didn’t smell spectacular.

As I got to my feet and stumbled to keep my balance because they did something to seriously fuck up my left knee, I looked around. The road was about fifty meters in front of me (they seriously dragged me that far? My hair must look astounding) and on all sides the field stretched and rolled with the hills and trees popping up. I saw no houses.

Great.

Happy fucking birthday.

This was an outrage. It was my eighteenth birthday and I was covered in animal guts (when I stood the actual roadkill fell to my feet) and blood and everything hurt.

The worst part was, Mason and Emerson didn’t actually get anything out of it. I didn’t have practice for another day and a half and had no photoshoots scheduled. I’d be fine by then, if I could find my way out of this damn field.

It didn’t put Mason on the team.

I guess Emerson got a little revenge since we stole his car. Mildly deserved.

He still fancied Avery, though. Come on. He ordered her salad.

Salad.

That was just crazy. Avery was a burgers and chips sort of girl.

Avery.

She was expecting me at whatever birthday celebration Bink and Freddie planned. When they arrived they’d find me not there.

Some guard cat Falcon Cat was.

Victoria – hopefully she was okay.

I glanced up. It had to be somewhere around noon judging by the sun, which meant I was out for a hell of a long time. No cars were driving by.

I started the hike toward the road looking like a bloody homeless man. The weeds parted with each step and some I kicked out of frustration, but that hurt so I stopped.

Kidnapped by Mason and Emerson.

I’d never live this down.

Wasn’t there some sort of punishment for the assistant to the assistant to the Minister for kidnapping someone? Especially a Quidditch player. And a Potter.

I wondered if that was part of the Code. Do not kidnap other players.

I’d be speaking with Lindt about this. Putting it into the Code. Or at the very least throwing Mason off the reserve team because what the fuck.

They weren’t stupid. They’d have alibis in place to cover their tracks.

The night was made to scare me. To give me a good fright, knowing there was more to come. A warning about the future.

As if I didn’t have enough warning flags going off right now.

I fell twice, unable to catch myself with my bound hands, and mud caked itself onto my pants and shirt and chin (humiliating).

David though.

Could he be serious, or just trying to fuck with me?

How would he know, though? That I was blacklisted? Even if he was playing me with that, the two were too similar to be a sick joke. I only knew one David and he was rotting in jail.

That didn’t mean he didn’t have visitors.

But how the hell did he find out?

Why the hell was this happening and oh fuck did I seriously have roadkill in my shoe because someone was going to die today.

The sun was really hot.

Really brought out the blood smell. Seriously.

Did Mason know David Flynn? Was he working with Flynn to get me off the team after my snarky letter at the end of the year?

Perhaps the suggestion to visit Flynn in jail wasn’t a bad idea.

I made it to the road eventually (and without falling onto it) and started back the way the car had come from. Still, no houses. No cars. No wives waiting with a wet towel to wipe the mud and blood off my face.

They were probably worried.

Fuck, I was worried.

*

I walked for two hours. Two fucking hours with my hands bound behind my back and blood smelling fantastic and my limbs aching from what I assumed to be kicks and punches after I was out. One rib was bruised at best, broken at worst given it was hard to breathe.

Finally, I spotted a tiny gas station with one pump and a selection of snacks and drinks.

Seeing as I couldn’t open the door, I eyed the clerk inside and motioned to it.

A little old bloke opened the door, ushering me inside. He looked me up and down. “Had a shit night?” he said.

“Something like that.” I looked around. “Can you help me out with some scissors?”

“Need to use the phone?” he asked as he snipped the zip ties from my wrists and I massaged them. The ties had cut into my skin and blood was caked there as well.

I almost jumped at it, but then I realized I didn’t know anyone’s phone number. None of them were committed to memory – they were in a book on my counter. I didn’t even know our flat number since we rarely used it.

“Don’t know anyone’s number,” I muttered, wiping some of the extra blood on the (rare) clean portions of my shirt. “Thanks anyway.”

“You smell like shit.”

“I smell like roadkill,” I corrected.

“You get into some weird stuff?”

I had no idea how to answer that. “A couple blokes wanted some revenge,” I said. “Clearly they got it.”

“You live far from here?”

“I don’t even know where here is, mate,” I said, looking out the window. Nothing about the parking lot or hills or trees looked familiar. I couldn’t exactly give him the name of my town, seeing as it was a wizarding village and he’d think I was bonkers.

The man eyed me for a moment and went behind the counter. “You own a wand?”

“Say what?”

He held up a trick wand that shot little streamers. “They’re fun for kids.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Is that your way to ask?”

“Hmm?”

“If someone’s a Muggle or not.”

The man smirked and the wrinkles raised on his face. “I’ve got some Floo Powder in the back. C’mon, kid. Get home and have a shower.” He nodded to my ring. “The wife won’t be happy about you stinkin’ up the place.”


*

I hit the floor when I got to the flat, unable to sustain my balance on whatever the fuck they’d done to my knee. It buckled and I damn near ate the flooring.

The lights were on. The curtains were open.

“Oh my GOD.”

Thank Godric.

“James!” Avery hit the ground beside me and rolled me over so my head was in her lap. “What the fuck happened? Where were you? It’s like three in the afternoon.”

I blinked up at her. She was in this pretty, sparkly dress that barely covered her bum (so my head was on her bare thighs) and she had on a little makeup and glittery eyeshadow and her hair was all curled at the bottom. She looked stunning.

I, on the other hand, had seen better days.

“I thought it was Bink and Freddie,” I began.

“You thought what was?” Bink was nearby on the sofa. Freddie was beside him from what I could see. “We came to get you a few hours ago, mate. You weren’t here. Victoria was out.”

“Fuck – is she okay?!”

“She’s fine,” Freddie said. “She’s in her cage eating your socks.”

“Falcon Cat?”

“Falcon Cat is also fine,” Freddie replied. “She’s in the window making eyes at TomCat.”

“Not amused,” I muttered and ran my hand over my ribs. “Healer. I need a Healer. Bones are not exactly positioned properly.”

“James, tell me what happened,” Avery said, cupping my face in her palm. Her eyes were glossy. I hated making her eyes glossy. It made me guilty. Not that I was guilty this time.

“Kidnapped. I was definitely kidnapped.”

“What? By who? Where did they take you?” Her eyes flashed. Oh lord.

“Mason,” I said but my ribs hurt so I took a sharp breath. “And Twitwards.”

“Emerson?” Bink, Freddie, and Avery said in unison.

“His car,” I said. “Still runs like shit.”

“We need to get you to the hospital.” Avery frowned. She was trying to hide it, but I recognized the fury instantly. I thought about what my father said – about getting back at Mason. It appeared the karma was yet to catch up to him.

I was in no state to think up revenge plots. I had to fix myself.

“They kidnapped you on your sodding birthday?” Bink said. “Low.”

“Where is everyone?” I said.

“At your party,” Avery said with a sigh.

“My party?”

“Yes, love. We threw you a party.”

“What kind?” I asked softly.

“Oh, you know, an all-day-crazy-ass-party with drinks and cocktail waitresses and friends.” She sighed. “I’m so sorry it’s ruined.”

“What? It’s not ruined.” I sat up, but then went right back into Avery’s lap. “I want to go. I wanna go to my party.” Yes, at that point I was whining. “I want my birthday shots.”

“You’re injured. And you smell like shit.”

“Like roadkill,” I corrected. “They knocked me out and draped me with fucking roadkill.”

“You can’t go to a party like that.”

“You bloody well watch me.” I sat up and took a breath, and then used the coffee table to hoist myself all the way up.

Bink and Freddie were wearing vests with nice shirts and ties, looking dapper.

“I thought it was you lot coming to take me somewhere,” I said with a brief laugh.

“What’d they say to you?” Bink asked.

I gave them the cliffnotes version about Mason’s warning and Emerson being a twat and admitting he still fancied Avery. Then told them about the wonderful condition I woke up in.

Avery was furious. Not the kind of sexy furious that made me want to kiss her. No, this was on an entirely different level. The kind of fury I imagined her having when she blew up half the block when she found out what really happened with her father.

“Oh,” I added, peeling off my disgusting shirt in front of everyone because I didn’t give a fuck. I threw it on the ground and Falcon Cat wandered over to sniff it. Even she looked horrified and jumped onto Freddie’s lap to get cat hair all over his pants. “Mason also said he was working with a David to make sure I didn’t play my first game.”

“You’re banned from the first game,” said Freddie.

“And I played the tournament – right? That’s what I said.”

“David?” Avery said, not side-tracked by the silliness that was Mason. “Meaning my father?”

“That’s the only thing I can think of.” I kicked off the roadkill shoes (ow) and peeled off the roadkill pants (ow ow). “He played right into the sentence of me being blacklisted. He knew. I’m pretty sure he has at least contacted your father.”

“He’s in prison,” Freddie moaned. “This is insane. Can he just enjoy the prison food and move on with his life?”

Avery sighed. “We’re going to put this right, James.”

“Can we put me in the shower first because I can’t go to my birthday party like this.”

She rolled her eyes. “I’ll help you.”

“Yeah you will,” Bink said with a smirk and Fred high-fived him.

“Get his mother,” Avery snapped at the two of them. “She can heal his ribs and whatever other damage they did.” She looked at me. “You’ll have to take it easy tonight, James.”

Bink snorted and got up. “If you get in the shower with him he’ll never make it to the party.”

“NOW, Bink.”

“Going!” Bink grabbed Freddie’s hand and the two of them ran for the door before Avery pulled out her wand.

“He’s probably right,” I whispered and she cracked a small smile.

“This is serious,” she said, helping me down the hall to my bedroom. “They actually kidnapped you. They hurt you. I am going to ruin their lives.”

“Let it go for today, hmm?”

“Aren’t you furious?”

“Of course I am,” I said. “They’re working with your father, the man who almost ruined both of our careers. But it’s my birthday and I’m spending it with my friends and my gorgeous wife.” She shot me a look. “And after a night of absolute hell and walking along a country road baking in roadkill for a few hours, I’d like to go to my birthday party and forget that for a while.”

Avery kissed my lips – the one place that wasn’t disgusting – and smiled. “Whatever you want. Let’s have a good time and then we’ll make a plan.”

“Plans are my favorite.”

She started the shower and tested the water for me. She frowned, though, and looked at my knee and the way I leaned against the bedpost. Then she put in a stopper and drew a bath.

Avery Flynn, drawing me a bath in a tiny, tiny sequined dress.

Fucking hell.

I tilted my head to the side and watched and even when she caught me she said nothing. Probably because I’d been kidnapped and had the shit kicked out of me so she’d let that slide.

“Get in, killer.”

I hobbled into the bathroom. “You put in bubbles.”

“I’m so domestic.” Avery smirked and left the room so I could get into the bath.

Once I was in and my body relaxed, I called for her to sit in there with me for a bit. Who doesn’t want their sexy significant other in the bathroom when they’re in a bubble bath?

“Are you okay?” she asked softly.

“I’ve been better.”

Avery took a wag and got it wet and bubbly and wiped the caked-on blood from my arm, draped on the edge of the tub. “Emerson really came to my tryout because he still fancies me?”

I nodded.

“You seriously told him he ordered me salad?”

I nodded again and she laughed. “What are we going to do, James?”

“One step at a time,” I told her and covered her hand with my wet hand. “We’re going to take it one step at a time, but this time we’re in it together.”

“No secrets?” Avery said with a tiny smirk.

“No secrets.” I squeezed her hand. “And no blowing up village blocks without me. I’d like to be involved.”

“Agreed.”

*

Mum rightfully freaked out when she came into the bathroom and saw my face all bloodied and bruised. She threatened several people, said several colorful phrases I have never heard, but she did fix my ribs and my knee. She did what she could for the cuts and bruises, but I had some pretty neat battle scars. I asked her to save the one on my face, which I hadn’t known about. Big fucking gash across my cheek.

I didn’t tell her who did it even though she demanded to know. I lied and told her I didn’t know, but they clearly got what they wanted – that I didn’t see who it was and they didn’t talk.

Yes, I shouldn’t have lied. She was my mum and she wanted what was best for me and she also would have taken her wand, marched straight up to Mason and hexed him into next Tuesday.

Too much paperwork if she did that.

This was something I needed to handle with Avery and the rest of my mates. Something I would handle.

And if it got overwhelming or to be too much, I would do as I promised Dad and ask for help.

Right now, though, I was going to go to my birthday party dressed dapper as a motherfucker with a giant gash down my cheek and I was going to get drunk as humanly possible with my mates.

And Avery.

*

The party was at a yacht club. I’d never been to a yacht club, nor did I think about them often, but this particular one was badass. Giant windows from floor to ceiling overlooking some giant body of water (Ocean? River? Lake? Didn’t particularly care) and tables covered in food and drinks. Avery let me know immediately that since I owned none of the yachts, I wasn’t allowed to touch them (bummer), but that she’d get me a drink.

Everyone was there. It was insane.

My Tornados Quidditch team. The reserves I liked (not Mason). My mates from Hogwarts. The mates of my mates from Hogwarts. My brother and sister (I slapped a drink out of Lily’s hand).

Basically, anyone on my list of people I thought were all right were at that party decorating the dance floor or chatting or getting drinks at the bar.

A few people fussed over the cut on my face, but I waved them off. Lily threatened me if I didn’t tell her, so I told her to sod off and that we’d talk later because I wanted to have fun at my birthday party, for which I was five hours late.

No one seemed to mind. Everyone was a zillion drinks in and the music was loud and the dancing was close.

Now that was my kind of party.

Avery put a drink in my hand. Bink put a drink in Avery’s hand.

All was well.

*

Somewhere later in the evening, everyone (even the late people) were drunk. Hammered.

Of course I wasn’t because I am responsible.

Psh.

I cornered Rose at a table, though I guess that means I didn’t corner her as we were not at the corner table, but instead one just outside of the dance floor. “Talk to me,” I said.

“About what?” she said, downing an amber-colored shot.

“Legace.”

“What about him?”

“You guys have a row recently?”

“We always have a row.”

“What for?” I said.

“Because he’s in love with me.”

I made a face. “You think so?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Rose asked. “I don’t know, James. I’m not cut out for this. I don’t do relationships. Sure, I fancy him, but he’s a mess. He doesn’t know what he wants. One day he wants to have it be just us, the next day he wants to go have a shag with Gaia or whomever else. He flees.”

“Think he’s scared of you?”

“Bloody better be,” Rose replied and poured herself another shot. She had the whole damn bottle over there. “I’m not a big fan of relationships either. Hugo usually gets in the way of that anyway.”

“He hasn’t killed Bink yet.”

“That’s because we snog in your flat.”

“Snog?” I said. “You mean shag?”

Rose laughed and shook her head. “Snog, Potter. Snog.”

I looked from her to where Bink was (quite literally) shaking his ass on the dance floor. “He is in love with you, isn’t he?”

“We’re always fighting,” she said.

“Ever think if you took the next step the two of you might actually be happy?”

“Sounds stupid.”

“Then stop damn snogging,” I snapped. “This is getting ridiculous. The two of you are ridiculous. This isn’t healthy.”

“Legace can’t do anything healthy,” she said.

“Just watch out for him,” I told her. “I don’t want either of you getting hurt, but for once I don’t feel protective over my cousin, I feel protective over my mate. Don’t you go fucking with his heart, Rose.”

She narrowed her eyes and took another shot.

I almost replied, but Avery grabbed my hand and tugged me onto the dance floor. “How’re you feeling?” she called over the music.

“Much better!” I said when I grabbed her hips and pulled her close to me. “I like that we can do this in public.”

“What a pervy husband you are.” Avery pressed her body tighter to mine and I was very aware of how many layers of fabric separated our bodies.

The music was fast and I couldn’t look anywhere but in her eyes. Fred bumped me as he danced by with Amy. Haley Star waved from across the dance floor and I barely registered it.

“You make me crazy,” I told Avery.

“As I should,” she replied and bit her lip and I almost hoisted her over my shoulder and ran out the door right then. But it was my birthday party and having my first shag half-drunk in a closet was probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.

Then again, it was a better idea than getting married by Merlin with dusty fake flowers.

At least I was making the best out of it.

When the song ended, Avery excused herself to get more drinks and I watched her hips sway all the way to the bar. My thoughts were interrupted by a hip-bump. I looked over to find Shelby beside me.

“Hey,” I said with a grin. Nope. Not just fantasizing about my wife. Not at all.

“Hey yourself. You’re looking sexy tonight.”

Fucking what?

“Thank you. You clean up nice.” Is that something you’re supposed to say to a girl? Goddamn, I’m horrible at this. How did the girls at Hogwarts even put up with me?

To my surprise, Shelby giggled. “You make a sexy married man.”

“Really?” I said, raising a brow.

“So sensitive and mature.”

My thoughts about fifteen seconds ago weren’t either of those things.

“Thank you,” I replied because I had no idea what to say to that. I didn’t think I’d ever been called either of those things.

“Want to dance?”

“Um.”

“C’mon! It’ll be fun!” Shelby didn’t give me time to reply before she whisked me onto the dance floor. It wasn’t twenty seconds into her grinding her body against mine before another girl cut in I didn’t recognize and this happened again thirty seconds later. I was being passed around the dance floor at my own birthday party!

I considered whether this was good or bad.

I stopped mid-dance when I saw Wesley.

“ONE METER APART,” I yelled at him, motioning to the very small gap between him and my sister.

“James, that’s crazy,” she said.

“Wand is in my back pocket,” I noted in a sing-song voice and Wesley was quick to back up. “Splendid.”

Before I could be swept off by another girl, I ducked into the mess of dancers and found my way out the other side. Holy shit. What was that about?

“Looks like your loophole worked in more than one way.” AliCat was sitting on top of a table with a glass of wine and a smirk. “You’re quite popular tonight.”

“I can’t tell how drunk you are.”

“Mildly. Had a few.” She swished the wine around in her glass. “You look like you’ve had a few more.”

“It’s my birthday.”

“Then you need even more.” Ali handed me a bottle of beer and I chugged it. “Enjoying yourself?”

“Absolutely.”

“You were a bit late to your own party. Not great tact.” She laughed.

“I had a great reason.”

“Shagging your wife?”

“Actually, no,” I said. “I was kidnapped by Mason and some git from school that was Head Boy, beaten up, and left zip-tied in the middle of a field with roadkill all over me… but I like yours better.”

“Mason?” Ali damn near dropped her glass. “Are you fucking with me?”

“Wish I was. He definitely wants on the team. Apparently his not getting the slot is all my fault and has nothing to do with anyone else.” I rolled my eyes. “Not thinking on it tonight though.”

“Why the fuck not? Let’s get a machete and go after him.”

I contemplated this plan, but it had too many flaws. Look at me being a Ravenclaw.

Besides, the plan didn’t involve disguises and what fun was that?

“It’s my birthday,” I said with a smile. “I’m going to get stupid drunk and deal with them tomorrow.”

“You going to tell Lindt?”

“Truthfully, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I replied as the room began to quiet and a giant fucking cake was wheeled into the room. “But I will tell you I intend on fighting and showing them why you do not fuck with James Potter or his team.”

AliCat smirked, but said nothing since Bink and Freddie ran over to grab me and whisk me away to blow out five zillion candles. After, Bink shoved my head into the cake and then I threw back half a bottle of wine and began what turned out to be a spectacular cake fight that would certainly show up on the cleaning bill. Before shoving a piece down Avery’s dress I assured her I would pay for that.

Everyone sang an off-key “happy birthday” and drank and ate and danced and snogged and a few people got slapped for copping a feel (Bink?).

Even Artemis was having a good time.

Avery found a gold crown and gave it scarlet stripes with her wand. She pushed it onto my head and kissed me hard. “Happy birthday, sexy.”

“Thanks, love.” I grinned. “Better than snog buddies, eh?”

“Much better.” She squeezed my bum and I jumped, but before I could retaliate Avery disappeared back into the crowd of chanting and dancing people.

The confetti was scarlet and gold. Everything was scarlet and gold.

Fuck Twitwards. Fuck Mason (he needed a nickname).

They could warn and threaten and put roadkill on me, but as I looked around that room I knew they didn’t really get to me.

I was a fucking Quidditch player.

I was acting like one.

*

“James, at least stand up properly.”

“I am.”

“You are literally lying on the floor.”

I rolled over. “Rosey, you’re a buzzkill. Knock it off. Have another shot.”

“The party’s over.” My cousin laughed, staring down at me so her ginger hair stretched toward the ground. “Avery’s trying to find your other shoe, but she’s not much better off than you are. How much did you have?”

“I don’t drink,” I said.

“NO ONE DRINKS.” Bink grabbed Rose around the middle and hugged her.

“Ever,” I agreed, but still didn’t get up.

“What’re you doing Legace?”

“Let’s go back to my flat,” he said.

“And do what?” she asked, narrowing her eyes. “Have a nice chat about Gaia?”
Bink, instead of getting angry, pouted. “Rosey. C’mon. Look at James on the floor. He needs your help getting back to the flat. And taking off your top. I mean, you might need help with that. I’ll help you.”

“Pig,” Rose muttered, but she steadied Bink when he was about to topple over.

“I don’t want to see that,” I said and rolled to my other side. Confetti covered me. “AVERY. MY WIFE. WHERE ART THOU.”

Avery fell down on the floor beside me. “Found your fucking shoe, Potter.” She was snickering and pushed her cheek into my shoulder.

“Thanks, Potter,” I said and then laughed way too hard.

She kissed me. “Let’s just stay here.”

“On the floor?”

“Sure. Forever.”

“Drunk you is funny,” I said.

“That’s because it’s rare,” she countered.

“Remember that time you hexed the fuck out of Nia?”

She smirked. “Remember the time she thought she had a shot?”

“You’re sassy.”

“You’re sexy.”

“I want to take off your dress with my teeth.”

“I want to let you,” she shot back.

“I am going to throw up,” Rose said. “C’mon, you two. Up you get. We have to get you back before you fall asleep on the floor and the clean-up crew accidentally throws you away.”

“Can’t have that!” I said.

“Rose is going to date me,” Bink said. “Is that allowed, Potter?”

“Didn’t you just do it anyway the last time you asked me?” I said.

“It’s a formality.” Bink shrugged and Rose ignored the lot of us. He helped me to my feet and I helped Avery and draped my arm around her. “Seriously, though. Pretty sure Rose and I are going to go get drunk-married right now. That’s how bad she wants me.”

“Legace, you’re full of shit.” Rose looked around. “I don’t see Freddie anywhere.”

“Do you see Amy?” Avery asked. “They have been attached lately.”

Rose shook her head. “They must be back.”

There weren’t many people left now. Some people still slow-dancing to the last song and emptying out the bar.

“Hey, I’m going to lose my V-Card tonight,” I told them.

“I’m going to take it,” Avery said.

“Fucking yeah you are!” Bink cried.

Rose groaned. “No one is losing anything,” she said. “Honestly, you lot are impossible. How did you make it through Hogwarts without getting killed?”

“Almost got killed yesterday, but that’s not Hogwarts, right? Am I still in Hogwarts?” I paused. “DO WE HAVE A POTIONS ESSAY DUE TOMORROW?”

Rose dragged me by the collar to the fireplace. “We have to Floo back. We’ll go one at a time and I’ll take you lot one at a time. Is that understood?”

“Absolutely,” I said clearly. “But seriously, do we have one due tomorrow because I forgot to get a sixth year to do that and they’re really good with messing up grammar like I do.”

Rose rolled her eyes and took Avery first in case I got any ideas.

“You gunna shag tonight?” Bink said.

“I don’t know.”

“Probably shouldn’t,” he said softly.

“Didn’t you just cheer when I said it?”

“Not the right night.” He looked at the fireplace.

“You haven’t been hooking up with Rose,” I said.

“Nah.”

“You love her?”

“Yeah.”

“You gunna date her?”

“Dunno. She’s not into that.”

“Neither were you.” I rolled my eyes. “When you figure it out, let me know. It’s difficult keeping up with you.”

Rose returned and took Bink next.

I looked behind me and was surprised to find a very drunk Henrik Lindt with a half-empty wine glass and a smirk. “Hey, Captain Hufflepuff.”

“You can get away with that,” he said. “It’s your birthday. Happy birthday, Potter.”

“Thanks, mate.”

“Hell of a party. You were a bit late though – everything okay?”

I laughed. “Yeah, I think so. Sorry about that. I’m usually on time to any event with alcohol.”

“I figured as much.” Henrik smirked. “You’re doing well in practice.”

“Less ice baths each week,” I said.

“The line looks really good.”

“It’s not the A line though.”

“Looks better than the A line,” Henrik said seriously. “Just watch yourself, okay. The line looks good, but don’t get too comfortable.”

I met his eyes. He knew something. Of course he knew something. He was the captain. I made it my business to know everything about my players when I was the captain.

“Absolutely,” I said with a nod. “I won’t. I’m looking forward to the second pre-season game.”

“I just have to figure out who the fuck to replace you with for the first one.”

“Not Mason,” I said.

“Oh?”

“He’s a twat.”

Henrik laughed and patted me on the shoulder as Rose reappeared. “Have a good night, Potter. See you in practice tomorrow afternoon. Don’t be too hungover or I’ll make you do some brutal drills.”

“Yessir,” I said with a grin and Rose threw the powder in the fireplace.

*

Avery was passed out in my bed when I got back, her heels on the floor by the door. She hadn’t changed into pajamas, just fell asleep in her sparkly dress on top of my blankets waiting.

“Aves?” I whispered, shedding some of my fancy clothes.

“Hmm?”

“Ready for bed?” I asked, considering what Bink had said. He was right. For once.

“Mmhm.”

I walked over to my dresser and pulled out the bottom drawer. It was where I kept Avery’s things from when she stayed or went or left something. I draped the spare set of pajamas over her stomach.

“Where did you get these?”

“You left them before,” I said. “I washed them and put them in your drawer.”

“I have a drawer?”

“Sure. I put pink paper in the bottom because you’re a girl.”

“I don’t actually like pink…you know that, right?”

“Just so people know it belongs to a girl.” I shrugged.

Avery smiled and sat up. She was a little wobbling putting on the pajamas and I didn’t look away because she was my wife or mostly because I absolutely couldn’t look away because holy shit wow.

She kissed me briefly and crawled under the covers with me. “Happy birthday, James,” she whispered. “I got you a present.”

“You threw me a party,” I said and laughed. “You don’t have to get me anything.”

“Shut up, Potter. You know you like presents.”

Guilty.

“Then what could you have gotten me?”

“Bedside stand. Top drawer.”

I raised a brow and tried not to reposition her as I leaned over and grabbed a wrapped box out of the drawer. With one hand I tore away the paper and opened it.

It was empty.

“Are you breaking up with me?” I said with a laugh.

“Inside is the plan.”

“What plan?”

“The plan for Emerson and Mason, whom I’ve realized you haven’t bestowed with a nickname.”

She knew me well. “There’s no plan,” I said, shaking the box just in case there was a hidden compartment.

“I know.” Avery smirked and kissed my jaw line. “But there will be. And it will be good.”

I briefly considered how sexy it was that she took charge sometimes. Usually she just sort of let me fuck up my own life and coaxed me through the hospital wing when I got too far in over my head. That fury, though. That look on her face.

Avery Flynn was done taking shit from other people and done dealing with the consequences.

That’s my girl.

“You looked happy tonight.” She reached up and closed the box, tossing it onto the ground. “You’ve been so stressed lately I forgot what it was like to see you happy in public and not just with me. I’m glad you decided to do the party.”

“Me too,” I said, kissing her forehead. “I am happy, as misguided as it seems.”

She snuggled into my chest and fell asleep within minutes. I was awake a little longer, sobering up and considering my options from here on out.

For my enemies, it meant war.




A/N: I was rereading some snippets of BTQC (Halloween) and desperately missed the crazy that is intoxicated James. Hope you enjoyed his maturity in this chapter. 

I want to say a quick thanks (as I have) to those of you who popped over to my new story, The Keeper's Daughter, to check out the first chapter. I'm excited about that story especially now that 30 Days is wrapping up. I hope you enjoy it too. 

NEXT UP: James tries to find a plan to get what is in his best interest while showing Mason and Emerson exactly what he's made of. Plus, he has to figure out this whole David situation now this his birthday is over.


Chapter 15: The One with Fern
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For The Sassy Bones for the shout-out I only just now saw while making sure no one stole my story and lemonpeeps.




“Thank you for joining me, Beth Walterson, on The Q Network!”

Loud applause.

“I know you already recognize my guests and I can tell by the cheers you’re excited to meet them!”

More applause. Louder. Louder. Screams.

Screams? Come on.

“Please join me in welcoming live on the air, James and Avery Potter!”

Avery tensed beside me, but said nothing. Heh.

We stood and waved, our free hands laced together. We faced a giant studio audience on risers and they stared at us on the set of Beth’s Quidditch Talk on The Q (Quidditch) Network. It was a program with good ratings and the followers had their own nicknames. I didn’t bother finding out what they were.

The only reason I agreed was because Beth knew her shit about Quidditch. At least her writers did, anyway, and the interviews aired on her show before weren’t all about relationships and clothes and bloody feelings.

Feelings were for tossers.

Mostly, she had on people like Henrik Lindt, players in the prime of their career doing great things. Not rookies who hadn’t played a single game.

But when your name is in every Quidditch Weekly and most of the Prophets, even Beth Walterson can’t ignore you.

I agreed. I also bribed Avery with a homemade chocolate cake (aka Fred would make it) to get her to agree.

We sat and the applause died down.

It was live. Live on the air. I had to watch my tongue. Mum was nervous about that.

“How are you?” Beth said, her tone light and excited.

Okay, I could work with this.

“Great, great,” I said. “Happy to be here.” Turned on the charm smile. Not even kidding, right when I grinned three girls in the audience squealed. I’d just turned eighteen. I was scrawny and though I was proud of my looks, I didn’t think they warranted THAT much attention.

Avery never so much as batted her eyelashes when I smirked. We would have to have a discussion about the eyelash batting.

“And how are things as a married couple?” Beth was all smirky about the married thing. Like it was our little secret – a code word.

“About the same, really,” Avery replied and she had a charm smile of her own. “Just a different last name is all.”

“How adorable,” Beth said and a few people aww’d. “Now, James, you’re set to play your first game for the Tornados in just a couple weeks and Avery, you’re doing great things for the Sparrows – which, for those of you who do not know, is the Harpies outrageously talented reserve squad.” Beth. Great woman. “Tell me, has the stress of the upcoming matches altered your relationship?”

I shook my head. “It’s harder to get away and have a quiet dinner, but we’re still the same people we were back in Hogwarts.”

“Is it hard playing on different teams? I’ve heard your Gryffindor squad was close.”

“The closest,” I said. “It was an honor to captain them, and yes, it’s unbearably hard to be on a different team and know she’s not the one keeping the Quaffles out of the hoops behind me, but I suppose Lindt is all right.”

The audience laughed. Henrik was going to give me hell for that tomorrow.

Beth looked to Avery, who also nodded. “The Sparrows are a great time and I’m lucky to have them in front of me on the pitch, but it’s different. We don’t all live in the same dormitory or eat in the Great Hall together. We are mates.”

“Do you keep in touch with the rest of the team?” Beth asked.

“I live with the other two Gryffindor Chasers,” I said and there were a lot of squeals because, believe it or not, the media had caught on to who I was rooming with and both Bink and Freddie had been featured in one article or another. “My sister, who was the Seeker for the second half of the season last year, lives nearby. The two Beaters are over frequently. We all keep in touch.”

For Al’s sake I left out the part about him shagging Paloma.

Stupid Al and his stupid sweater vests shagging Paloma Dove.

“Sounds cozy,” Beth said with a laugh. “How are you finding the big leagues, James? Different than practicing with Gryffindor?”

“A bit different now that I don’t call the shots,” I said and everyone laughed. “It’s tough. A lot of long days and ice baths.” Clearly, I said the right thing. Lots of mental images going through the audience. “But I wouldn’t give it up for anything. The Tornados squad is an honor to work with. They have so much talent and the fact that they share it is unbelievable.”

“How is the relationship with your two new Chasers?”

I grinned. “Perfect,” I said. “AliCat and Artemis are fantastic, funny, and they know what they’re doing. They’ve even showed me a thing or two, which I’ll never admit to them of course.”

“Obviously,” Beth said and laughed. She tilted her head to Avery. “And tell me, Avery, how is it knowing you could get called up at any moment to play for the Harpies?”

“Exhilarating,” Avery replied and though she hid it well, I knew it to be perfectly rehearsed. “Though I definitely don’t hope anyone gets injured, it will be nice to get a taste of that if it ever does happen.”

“At least you’re first in line,” Beth said with a grin.

“Absolutely,” Avery said.

The subject changed and we answered a bunch of Quidditch questions and then some funny ones like how our parents responded to us getting married and what’s this she hears about me having a cat that stemmed from Transfiguration? All in all, it was a great interview and the crowd went wild and I didn’t swear or strip naked or do anything to humiliate the family during the live broadcast.

Backstage, I grabbed Avery and kissed her. We shared the same dressing room, so I locked the door behind us. She flopped onto the plush pink sofa and groaned.

“Harpy problems?” I asked.

“Hmm?”

“Come on. It was obvious.”

“Cooper’s a pain in my ass,” Avery muttered, closing her eyes and kicking off her shoes.

“Has he asked you on a date, because I have a feeling he’s going to do that.”

“Against the rules,” she replied. “It’s nothing. He’s still not letting me practice with them. I’m getting no league shots against me. Just reserves. That’s brilliant, but I want to face the shots from the actual league players so I know what I’m up against if anyone gets hurt.”

“Won’t let you? What’s that mean? Don’t you have regular reserve practices?” I hated ours. Mason was pratting around like a sod trying to tell the other Hurricanes players what to do and Shelby was giving me eyes. Lots of eyes. Thankfully, they were only once every fortnight and I hadn’t had one since the kidnapping incident.

“Oh, we have regular reserve practices.” She spoke through her teeth. “But Cooper always finds something different for me to do. Practicing certain drills. Anything to keep me off the fucking pitch during those times. At one point he sent me for tea. Tea. During a Quidditch practice.”

“In Wales?” I asked. “What do you make of it?”

She was quiet, wetting a rag and dabbing the heavy television makeup off her face. Then she sighed. “James, you know what I make of it.”

“Your father?”

She shrugged and tossed the rag across the faucet, swinging water into the basin. “It wasn’t Cooper who put me on the team, it was the General Manager. Said GM is currently in Australia getting sun and working on his fifth wife. I have a feeling others are more easily swayed.”

“And you think your father got to Cooper.”

“Among others, yes.”

What a perfectly lovely human, David Flynn. Father of the year.

I fell onto the sofa and left my clothes and makeup (yes, makeup) on. “D’you want to speak to him then?”

“And say what?” Avery slid beside me and leaned her head onto my shoulder. “Hey, Dad, great to see you. How’s jail? Lovely decorating they have going with the white on white. Anyway, did you by chance make it so even though I’m on a team I still can’t actually play? What, you did? Oh, that’s nice, good thing I snuck in my wand so we can have a replay of me blowing up an entire fucking village block-“

I patted her hair. “Yes, well, maybe we should just leave you at home.”

“Fine. No wand.” She smiled. “Let me borrow your machete.”

I considered how serious she might be. I concluded she was very serious, considering his name was not only attached to her career, but now attached to my kidnapping.

Fucking Mason with no nickname.

“Let me test the waters,” I told her and we watched the next guest go on from the television in our dressing room. “I’ll go have a visit with David Flynn and see if he really is up to something or if someone is tossing his name around to avoid detection.”

I didn’t know which idea I liked least.

*

I did just that. On Tuesday after practice and yet another ice bath since Lindt thought my comment about him was ‘funny,’ I dragged myself up the steps of the Wizarding Prison, Fern.

Yes, a prison housing some of Britain’s most dangerous criminals was named for a plant.

After Azkaban closed far before I was thought about, they built a series of seven prisons across Europe, the closest being Fern. It was out on an island just off the coast of Scotland. No apparating, obviously, so I took a rocky boat through cresting waves to the island. I only threw up twice, which was more than could be said for a blond girl near the front.

Fern looked like an old, molding castle. Its guards wore armor and carried swords with their wands. Inside was just as dreary. Everything was a shade of gray. The visiting room had chairs from last century and the plump bloke behind a thick layer of glass gave me a look when I said who I wanted to visit.

“Flynn? Bloody why?”

“I’m his son-in-law,” I said because I couldn’t help myself. Really.

“Sorry to hear.”

“Me too. He’s a pompous twat.”

“Glad we agree.” The man got on a radio and made a few comments while I waited. There was a pamphlet about how the prisoners were treated. One was smiling as he ate green mush.

As big of a talk as I had, I didn’t think I could eat green mush. Hell, I’d had enough by the roadkill draping.

I stuffed my hands in the pockets of my jeans as a tall fellow (in gray) led me to where I’d see David Flynn. It was a long hallway with no windows and the occasional light fixture. I heard prisoners yelling. Some in English, some not. Pots banging against walls.

“In here,” the man grunted. He opened a door to the right, entering into a visitor center.

It was just like in the movies – long row of chairs, glass, phones, and the same thing on the other side. A few prisoners were talking to people further down. The gruff man pointed to the second stool in and I took it.

I waited. I waited for a long damn time. It was about a half hour of sitting on the stool counting ceiling tiles when David Flynn finally sat across from me in a gray jumpsuit. He was unshaven and his hair was unruly. Otherwise, I spotted the few features he passed on to Avery.

Flynn picked up the phone. “What do you want, Potter?” he asked.

“Numerous things, but I’m not stupid enough to think you’ll deal in information,” I said casually. I practiced what I’d say a lot on the boat ride over (interrupted briefly by losing my lunch). “I know what you’re up to, even in here, and I want to know why you won’t give up.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Flynn rolled his eyes. “I’ve been in here for months. I haven’t heard from you since your last letter.”

Ah, yes. One of my finer moments.

“You’re playing hands from inside,” I told him. “And I know you are. So cut the shit and let’s talk about what you want.”

“Big talk for such a small guy.”

“I’m not even short,” I snapped. “I’m an average height for a bloke my age – nevermind. You listen here. You can do as much as you want to me, but I want to know why you’re still trying to ruin Avery’s life. She was a good enough person to forgive you for what you did to her and her mum and take you back into her world, but then you fucked that all up. It’s over now. You fucked up too much, but you’re still prying. Why?”

“I’m not prying,” Flynn said.

“You are.”

“I heard you got married.” He nodded to my ring. “Congratulations. I read about it in the paper. What a noble thing to do.”

“Sad you couldn’t walk her down the aisle,” I shot back.

“I’m sure the two of you stumbled enough down the aisle even I couldn’t hold you up,” he replied calmly. “Don’t look at me like that, Potter. I’m not the only one who knows you didn’t marry for love. And now you’re using Avery to get what you want – the press off your back.”

Not entirely true, but not entirely false either.

“I want you to leave her alone,” I said.

“And if I don’t? If I continue to pull strings?”

“I will cut the strings,” I said softly, leaning toward the glass. My breath fogged it.

Flynn smirked, just a little. “Potter, my strings run different ways. I give people what they want. They give me what I want. It works very well.”

“Why are you working with Mason?”

“He’s charming, isn’t he?”

“That’s not exactly the word I’d use,” I muttered.

“Quite talented, I hear,” Flynn went on. “In fact, I wouldn’t rule out him playing on the team this year. All he needs is for one person to get hurt, after all. He is the captain of the Hurricanes. Just one person.” His eyes twinkled. That sinister look that told me all I needed to know –the plan was already in motion. Whatever David Flynn and Mason had agreed upon was already in the works and, if I was reading the expression right, I was powerless to stop it.

Whatever Mason had given Flynn, it was worth the ability to destroy me so he could play on the Tornados.

What did he have to give Flynn, though? A pardon? Cigarettes? A dirty magazine?

That still didn’t explain why Avery wasn’t playing.

“And Emerson?”

“Who’s Emerson?”

“Twatty boy in a bowtie.”

“Ah. He was here with Mason,” Flynn offered. “Didn’t speak with him other than to answer a question to validate who I was. He seems like a good match for Avery, don’t you think?”

Bingo.

“That’s why you’re doing it, isn’t it?” I snapped, louder than I should have. The guard gave me a look. “You don’t want her to play so she’ll quit and end up resenting me and breaking it off with me and going for Twitwards. What’s he giving you then?”

“He has some pull,” Flynn replied.

Of course. Assistant to the Assistant to the Minister.

I stared for a solid minute, legitimately wondering if Bink and Freddie were going to pop out from another booth and say they fooled me. Birthday jokes! How in Godric Gryffindor’s pants could David Flynn be working with both Mason, my new enemy, and Twitwards, my original enemy? I still wanted to know how the fuck they met.

Is there an ‘I hate James Potter’ fanclub out there?

“Let me get this straight,” I said, holding up an index finger. “You’re having secret weirdo conversations with Mason and Emerson. They’re doing something for you – which, by the way, probably won’t happen only because I know they’re both shit at coming through on things – and in turn you’re helping Mason get rid of me so he can make the team and ruining Avery’s career so she’ll date Twitwards? Do you even know he ordered her a salad?”

“Not just that,” Flynn said, ignoring my last part even though it was really important. “I’ll also write you a letter in the same style as yours after you’re off the Tornados and your entire life is ruined.”

I wrinkled my nose. “I got signed as a starter to a professional Quidditch team. You don’t think I can play my way onto another one? I sure as hell do.”

He smirked. The sinister one. “That’s fine. I’d love to watch that happen after what is in the works.”

Yep. In the works.

His tone said it all. David Flynn wasn’t just going to get me hurt or showcase how great Mason was.

He intended on destroying me. Whether that meant my reputation or actually destroying me, wasn’t clear.

*

I didn’t tell Avery right away.

Yes, I knew that the hiding how much of a douche her father was during seventh year caused us to breakup. I wasn’t going to outright hide it. She left that morning for a Harpies practice and said so far Cooper hadn’t given her a separate task. I didn’t want to show up and ruin it.

Instead, I went home and found my baby sister in the garden practicing drills.

Did I mention how proud I was?

Super proud.

Like Albus-hexing-Slytherins proud.

“Hey, baby sister,” I said, strolling up looking extremely casual and like I hadn’t just spoken to my father-in-law who admitted to wanting to destroy me in some form or another.

Lily leveled her broom some twenty feet above me and shifted bangs from her eyes. “Oh, no. What’s happened now?”

“What?”

“You have that look about you. Something’s wrong.”

“Kidnapping hangover,” I said, like it was a thing.

“Mum told me about that. I know you’re hiding something. You’re terrible at it, James.”

“What? I’m wonderful at secrets. I know all of Freddie’s secrets.”

“Everyone knows Freddie’s secrets,” Lily muttered, floating toward the grass. “What’s going on?”

Her brows raised and she tossed her broom toward the bench. She was genuinely concerned. Not that I was surprised, she spent the better part of fourteen years being concerned about me. I spent the better part of it threatening people who looked at her.

Worth.

“Look, let’s just say I’m having a bit of a problem staying where I need to be.”

“Who the fuck is trying to ruin your life now?” Lily snapped. “I am getting a little sick of this. Give me a name. I’m going to take care of them.”

I raised a brow. “How exactly are you going to take care of them?”

“I know people.”

“Who do you know that can ‘take care’ of people? You’re like seven.”

Lily smirked. “I’ve aged a lot since my tryouts, don’t you think?”

“Don’t change the subject. Are you in contact with Slytherins? You know how I feel about Slytherins.” Mason was probably a Slytherin. Did he even go to Hogwarts? Was he educated? Home-schooled in a dungeon on the wrong side of London?

Who the hell taught him to work with criminals to get your way?

And what in Godric’s name was he offering David Flynn?

“You don’t change the subject,” Lily snapped, prodding me in the chest with her index finger. “Who’s messing with your life and what are they trying to pull?”

I knew I should trust Lily in the same way Dad convinced me to trust him. She’d done nothing but help and protect me over the years, but saying it out loud meant it was real.

“Let’s just say I know who kidnapped me,” I explained. “And they have quite a few goals. The main goal, however, is getting rid of me.”

“Getting rid of you?” Lily said. “Like offing you?”

“No idea.” I shrugged, stuffing my hands in my pockets again. It was sunny and I squinted whenever I looked away from her. “Either offing me or, I’m assuming, ruining my reputation so even talent can’t save my career.”

She sighed and made a face. “You know, in normal families the big brothers aren’t world famous Quidditch players and the younger sisters don’t normally have to figure out a way to save their career.”

“We’re Potters,” I said and tousled my hair. “Also, you meant baby sister. You’re not just younger. You’re a baby.”

She ignored me. “We’ll figure it out, James. All of us. Together.”

I didn’t know what she meant by ‘all of us,’ but it was comforting.

Lily knocked me away from thought by slapping my shoulder. “Now go tell Avery. I know you’re only here because you’re trying to figure out how to tell her. Go. I have practice.”

I huffed. “Your left turns are off,” I said as I walked away and she threw a rock at my arm.

*

I waited outside the Harpy’s locker rooms for Avery on a modern bench that went with the rest of the glass décor. I hadn’t returned since her try-out, mostly in fear of arrest in case they discovered my identity in some awesome high-tech camera. Turns out, they didn’t and Twitwards hadn’t outed me.

After the kidnapping, I wished we would have driven his car into a ditch or at least let the cows Freddie petted kick it a few times.

Practice ended and several of the Sparrows said hi on their way out. One or two Harpies left too. All of them smiled and waved. They knew me by now. Avery’s doting husband.

I couldn’t even think it with a straight face.

Regardless, I waited for twenty minutes after the first Sparrow left.

Then thirty. I started pacing.

Forty-five.

Eventually, after an hour, I knocked on the doors. “Hello?” I called. “Aves, are you in there?”

No answer. I pushed it open, but kept my eyes closed.

“Hi! Boy out here! Please don’t be naked because I don’t need a lawsuit today!” Maybe that was what David had suggested. Me seeing a naked Harpy and being blasted as a terrible person and sued and effectively ruining my life.

No, that couldn’t be it. I could talk my way out of that.

I opened my eyes. No one.

With a disgruntled sigh, I walked over to Avery’s locker. It was untouched. Her practice gear hung neatly on hooks. I wondered if she even got so far as to open her locker.

Clearly, Cooper had other plans for her. Again.

I closed the locker and made my way down the attached hallway toward the stadium. It was dark and lined with legendary Harpies players in the same way that the Tornados did. Each photograph had a spotlight, but otherwise the path was dim. No sign of her.

The doors squeaked when I pushed them open and light flooded the entry. It was still too damn sunny and I left my aviators at home. Damn. With a hand above my brows, I searched the pitch for any sign of her. No one was on the grass, but just as I was about to give up and head home for a chat with Gaia, I spotted someone in the stands.

Two someones, actually.

Cooper Bradley sat in the same section from which he’d watched Avery’s tryout. His feet were crossed, up on the chair before him. He was chatting on a phone.

Avery was – wait, what?

I squinted, just to see if I was right.

Avery was picking up water bottles and trash from practice. She had garbage bags sorted in to trash and recycling. As I watched, she speared two wrappers and shoved them into the left bag.

She was cleaning. The all-star Keeper of Hogwarts was cleaning up after a bunch of Quidditch players.

I thought of what reaction I would get for going over there. Cooper would be smarmy, charming, and a tool. Avery would probably get mad at me for intervening in what was clearly her battle.

Psh. She wasn’t doing well with the battle so I marched down the sidelines of the pitch.

Okay, I didn’t march. It was more of a swift power-walk.

Regardless, I tried to look tough.

Avery spotted me some twenty meters away. I actually saw her groan internally.

That’s real love, folks.

“James, what’re you doing here?” she asked when I was near enough. Cooper was still on the phone.

“I came to escort you home after practice,” I announced. “Only you didn’t come out after practice so I came to find you…cleaning.”

Another internal groan. “I’ll only be a few more minutes.”

“How’d practice go then?” I said. Louder this time so Cooper looked over. “How did the Sparrows do with the Harpies? Great, I’m assuming. You’re an ace Keeper. I mean, you were originally named as the starting Keeper, so I’m going to assume you’re getting some great practice time in case someone gets hurt.”

“Leave it, James.”

Who can blame me? I got mad. I hated how much talent she had and how she wasn’t playing. Hell, she could have made the big leagues if David Flynn didn’t get in the way and there was more than one person playing Keeper (I got lucky – three Chasers to a team!).

“No, seriously though. What if someone gets hurt? Isn’t it a little counter-productive to have you not practice? What’s the GM going to say when he comes back and sees he went out on a limb for pure talent, only to have it shoved in a corner when it could be helping the team win?”

Avery was giving me a pointed and annoyed look.

“Oh, but what if someone sees you during a Sparrows game and picks you up and lets you practice properly?” I said. “Then you go on to be some big name Quidditch star and the Harpies are left feeling salty when they lose twenty games straight, go to the bottom of the rankings, and people start making up silly nicknames for the players based on how bad they suck.” I looked at Cooper. He was still on the phone, but no longer paying attention to the line. “What nickname do you think they’ll have for the coach?”

“Let’s go, James.” Avery tied the bags and shoved them toward the aisle. “Cooper, I’m leaving for the day. It was an inspiring practice.” She rolled her eyes and he said nothing.

I escorted her back to the locker room, where she slapped me hard on the shoulder.

“What’s with you?” she snapped.

“You weren’t playing.”

“Which has what to do with you?”

“Everything.”

Avery didn’t dignify it with a response. She grabbed her bag from the locker and tossed it over her shoulder. “I’ll handle it myself, thank you.”

“Handled it really well into trash and recycling. Tell me, does that help your Quaffle-toss? I bet it does.”

“I will physically injure you,” she muttered and shoved open the door to the hallway I’d originally waited at. “Just leave it alone. I’d love to know how many stupid drills I’ll have to run at the next Sparrows practice because of what you just said – really, silly nicknames, James? You’re not Captain anymore. You can’t just go around mouthing off.”

I considered this. “Yes, I can. Clearly, I’m going to be ruined anyway so it’s only a matter of time. Might as well be brutally honest until it happens. I’m banking on before the first game. Maybe even the second exhibition game.”

She turned and walked backward in front of me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I’d rather not have this discussion here.” I motioned to a few cameras lining the walls. I didn’t know if there were on or had audio, but it made me uncomfortable. “I went to Fern today.”

Her eyes widened. “Let’s go back to your place.”

“Are we going to snog?” I said hopefully.

Avery grabbed my arm, ready to Apparate. “You’ve been living with Bink and Freddie too long.”

*

Neither was home when we arrived, though Freddie did leave a note asking (again) if we should consider adopting a dog. Bink’s schedule was taped to the fridge. He was at the bar working until early morning.

“Sit,” said Avery, nodding to the sofa. I did. “Now tell me what happened at Fern.” She paused and held up a finger. “And don’t leave anything out. Remember the last – zillion times – you left something out.”

That was something I thought about on the way back from Fern this afternoon. How I’d tell Avery. What I’d tell her. How I’d word it to sound less extravagant and dramatic than it was.

No matter how many versions of the story I went through, I knew what I had to do.

So I did. I told her the truth, exactly as it came from our conversation. I even added the bit about the salad, which David Flynn ignored rudely. Everything.

She was quiet. She paced the living room, every so often reaching up to push hair away from her face. This is how Avery thought. How she developed plans.

It was no longer a plan to get back at Emerson and Mason for thinking they could kidnap me and leave me in a field. This had evolved into something dangerous. A situation that could impact our lives. That would impact our lives.

“So?” I prompted after a solid thirty seconds of silence.

Avery sighed and leaned against the wall. “I wish he would have just stayed gone,” she said with a shallow laugh. “I thought this was over. I don’t know if it will ever be over.”

“Unless you divorce me, marry Twitwards, and I am in a gutter selling Gryffindor socks.”

“Of course they’d be Gryffindor,” she murmured and closed her eyes. “We need a plan, James.”

“I don’t know how much we can do. Their plan is already in motion. Whatever they’re going to do to me, it’s already happening.”

She made a face. “How could he possibly think if I couldn’t play for the Harpies I’d quit Quidditch, break up with you, and date Emerson of all people?”

“Salad,” I said.

“Do you think we should talk to your father?”

I made a face. I knew I had to eventually talk to Dad, especially if this got over my head, but it being the beginning stages I didn’t want to seem like a twit. “Not yet,” I said.

“And if this plan explodes tomorrow?”

“Then we’ll have tonight,” I said like a real sap. “It’s probably too late to save me other than doing damage control, but I’ll look into it. You, however, are a different story.”

“You can’t convince Cooper to let me play by insulting him,” she deadpanned.

“What about other teams?”

“You think my father doesn’t have the same pull on other teams? I’m sure Cooper is getting something out of this. Funding for new Quaffles or a date with some owner’s daughter.”

I groaned. “Promise not to break up with me when you’re forced to quit Quidditch?”

She pushed off from the wall and smirked. Godric, I loved that smirk. “Quit Quidditch? If I have to, I’ll play for the goddamn Sparrows forever.” She leaned down and gave me a quick kiss. “I have to go.”

“Wait, where are you going? What about that snog? My stupid roommates aren’t here.”

“I need to go have a talk with Emerson. It appears there has been a misunderstanding.”

*

She did.

I found out the next morning when Avery sauntered in and tossed Emerson’s St. Mungo’s bracelet on my chest.

“One down,” she said. “He won’t be asking me to dinner anytime soon.”




A/N: Thanks for reading! And all the amazing things everyone has said about the ending of 30 Days and the start of my newest story. 

How did everyone like the return of the very charming David Flynn? 

UP NEXT: A familiar face, a lacy store, and James learns something about Avery.


Chapter 16: The One with the Distractions
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For omgjamespotter and 12tmnt34.




“Falcon Cat. Shut it. It’s not even morning yet.”

“It is morning,” Freddie said from the doorway. I didn’t ask why he was in the doorway as I woke up. “And that’s not Falcon Cat.”

“Are you making cat noises again? I told you that wasn’t going to get you a promotion at the shelter. I also told you there are no promotions because you aren’t being paid.”

Fred huffed. “It’s coming from outside. Maybe it’s the mysterious TomCat you’ve grown so fond of.”

I leapt out of bed. “It better not be!” I said, rushing to the window in naught but my boxers. This matter was important. “Where’s Falcon Cat?”

“Currently throwing down her hair,” Freddie muttered. “Did you want toast with your rage?”

“Put a sock in it.” I threw back the curtains and had a pretty good look at the side yard. There was a tree, but leaves were masking its branches. Stupid summer. “I don’t see a cat.” There it was again. The meow. “HE’S TESTING MY PATIENCE.”

Bink told me to shut up through the wall.

I yelled back and asked if Rose was in there.

Rose said hi through the wall and then told Freddie to make her toast.

I rolled my eyes. “This is a serious matter,” I said, grabbing some rain boots (closest shoes) and heading for the door. I was going to find that cat. Falcon Cat was my cat and she didn’t need her mind on some demon TomCat with no way to support the two of them.

“You’re in your underwear,” Freddie said, but I was already down the stairs and outside.

I rounded the garage and hurried under the big tree. Freddie was watching from the window.

“TomCat?” I called. “Where are you? Show yourself, coward!”

No cat. But there was another meow. This was getting absurd.

“James?”

I blinked. For a moment, I carefully took inventory of what I wore. Plaid rain boots. Plaid boxers (different color combination). That was it. And I could have used more of a tan.

Behind me, in an unfortunate turn of events, was Nia Baker. She was fully clothed and looked a little different even though it had been only a couple weeks since I’d seen her at graduation. She looked good. Cut her hair. Got some of those highlights. Dark crap around her eyes. But she looked happy in the way that people do before they say anything.

“This isn’t what it looks like,” I said. I looked up. Bink and Rose had joined Freddie at the window. They were all eating toast.

“What does it look like?” Nia raised a brow. “You’re almost naked shouting at a tree.”

“To be fair, I’m not shouting at the tree.”

“Just in its general direction?”

“There’s a cat up there.” I nodded to the branches covered in leaves.

“You’re shouting at a cat? Is it trapped?”

“Trapped in the act of trying to make eyes at my cat,” I mumbled.

Nia smiled. “You haven’t changed a bit,” she said.

I wanted to remind her it had literally only been a couple weeks, but I didn’t. Instead, I nodded. “I doubt I ever will,” I said.

“I heard you got married.”

I waved the ring. “Yep.”

“You’re going to owl me when that shit goes to hell, right? Because you’re too young to get married.”

Oh, Nia. What a great sport she was. Such a supporter of my relationship with Avery. Couldn’t exactly blame her given she was on the receiving end of some brutality from Aves.

“So you’re at my flat,” I said. “Alone. At my flat.”

“You never gave me a tour,” Nia said playfully.

“But you randomly stopped by. Why?”

She stuck out her tongue. “Fine. To business. I have some information for you.”

I paused. It could be information about Puddifoots opening a new branch in Diagon Alley or something obviously sexual, but at the same time it could be information I needed. About David Flynn or Mason or TomCat.

“Tell me then.”

Nia bit her lip and I remembered right then and there why we went on that date.

“I can’t tell you here,” she said softly. “Can we go upstairs?”

“Yes,” I said, glancing over my shoulder. “But we’re doing the one foot on the floor rule.” Dad told that to Lily before, though she never brought any boys home. I hexed them all first. He said it again when Wesley visited this summer. Again, hexed before he got that far. The rule stated when you’re in the bedroom, one foot has to be on the floor at all times. Also known as, no getting fresh on the bed.

Albus did not follow that rule.

Hey, maybe he did but I didn’t want to know the details.

Nia followed me upstairs and tried not to laugh as my rain boots made absurd noises on the floor. Fred, Bink, and Rose were still in my room.

“Found your cat,” Rose said, pointing outside. “Oh, whoops. Nope. He’s gone.”

“I didn’t see a cat,” Freddie announced. “Nia. Nice to see you again. Here. Not at Hogwarts.”

Nia waved. “Pleasure, boys.”

The three of them shot me very puzzled looks, but left when I shot them an angered one. Bink shut the door. I knew their ears were pressed against it.

“All right,” I said. “What’s this information and why did we need to be inside?”

Nia sat on the bed and scooted back so her feet didn’t touch the floor. What a girl. She swung her legs, but made no moves. “As you may not know, I have some ties in the Quidditch world right now.”

“Darian Bay?”

She grimaced. “Let’s just not go there, okay? I’ve been seeing someone who might be involved in an attempt to ruin your life…to put it nicely.”

My eyes widened. “The plan. Who are you seeing? Do I need a machete?”

Nia sighed. “He’s being blackmailed,” she said. “Blackmailed into helping. I wish I knew more, but from what I overheard, it’s going to happen just before the first exhibition game.”

“I’m not even playing that game,” I said, perplexed. “Lindt benched me.”

She leaned back on her elbows. “I don’t know. I just know that’s the plan. Whatever it is. I also know it’s dangerous and it’s meant to keep you from playing Quidditch. He said something about you getting out of it last time because of someone called Ballo?”

“How do you have ties in the Quidditch world and not know Ballo?”

She stared. “By ties, I meant I’m shagging someone in the Quidditch world, James. I’m not being quizzed on it.”

“Sorry.” I leaned against the window and the glass cooled my back. “Something dangerous. Just before that first game. To keep me from playing. Goddamn. They’re really not letting this thing go.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Nia asked. “I’m being serious. I know we kid around a lot, but I don’t want you to get hurt. You’re a nice guy with a big heart. And as much as I hate to admit I know anything about Quidditch, I know how talented you are.”

It felt good to hear her say that. I was pretty sure that was the most she’d said about Quidditch … ever. And it was nice of her.

“Thank you,” I said. “If you figure anything else out, please let me know. I’ll try to piece it together.”

“I hope you figure it out,” Nia said, hopping up from the bed. She opened her mouth to add to it, but then stopped. “Ugh. Freddie, stop breathing so loud.”

I looked at the closed door.

“I BREATHE PERFECTLY NORMAL THANK YOU.”

*

Avery had errands, so I met her at the shopping center and filled her in on my visit from Nia and the information.

“You were wearing your boxers the entire time?” she said.

“Can we please focus on the important things?”

She smirked and elbowed me. “Fine. Just before the first exhibition game. That gives us a little time to figure it out and stop it.”

“I’m thinking… kidnap Mason and just drop him in a stable with horse droppings,” I said.

She shot me a look. “You need to talk to Lindt about this. Tell him what happened. Worst-case scenario, even if things don’t work out, Mason hopefully won’t get the call-up.”

Even if things don’t work out. Meaning if I get offed.

“I don’t want to whine to my captain.”

“Better idea?” she demanded.

“Yeah, okay, I’ll whine to my captain.”

Avery wrinkled her nose. “The problem is, we have very little evidence. We have our own accounts of what happened when you were kidnapped. We have that elderly gent you met in the petrol station. But we don’t have hard evidence. They’ll have alibis placing them elsewhere and will have covered their tracks. Without something solid, we have nothing other than you vanishing for a few hours and turning up looking like shit … which, we obviously could have made up.”

“Mum saw me,” I said.

“And she could be making that up too,” Avery argued. “We have no hard evidence linking Mason and Emerson to the kidnapping. Which means we can’t rely on that to get justice.”

“How about we rely on whatever you did to Twitwards to get him in the hospital?”

Avery linked arms with me and we went down a moving staircase. “That won’t work for Mason,” she said. “Unfortunately, he’s smarter than Emerson.”

“So he’s smarter than a box of crayons. Not by much.”

“Much smarter,” Avery added. “He’s been trying to get on that team for years. Years. He’s ruthless. Emerson just wanted a girlfriend, a shag, and to get revenge on you for making him look like a fool so many times. But trust me when I say he will still follow-through on whatever he promised my father. I’m guessing it’s a pardon from the Minister.”

I groaned. The very idea of David Flynn back out and about spitting my name at people was beyond hate.

We walked past a few clothing shops and Avery paused before wrinkling her nose and continuing. Her heart wasn’t in shopping today.

“What I’m saying is we’re figuring this out from the ground up,” she explained. “Without evidence, we have to find evidence.”

“This isn’t any fun,” I muttered as we walked by a shoe store. “I just want to play Quidditch and sign posters.”

“I just want to play Quidditch,” Avery shot back. “It’ll be fine, okay? I’m going to find a way onto the Harpies even though Cooper has been bought and you’re going to keep being famous and play your first game.”

“I might not even play the first game I’m benched from,” I said.

“You might be benched from the second anyway,” Avery said, shrugging. “That’s the day after our thirty is up.”

Bollocks. So it was. The first exhibition game was a week before, yet I couldn’t play.

Technically, we could just stay married for the second so they could see how fantastic I was before benching me again.

I didn’t want to think about that. If we didn’t figure out this stupidly sinister plot, I wouldn’t make it to watch the first game, let alone warm the bench.

“And my father?” I said.

“Talk to Lindt first. One step at a time.”

Avery stopped and peered to her left. Then back to me. Then back to the shop. She smirked.

I glanced. Ah.

“C’mon.” She tugged me inside a very pastel lingerie shop.

Lingerie. Like tiny pieces of silky and lace fabrics all over the bloody place. On mannequins and draped across countertops and on models in photographs. All sorts of undergarments. The kinds that are normal and the kinds that are for wedding nights and the kinds I should not be looking at right now because oh Godric Gryffindor this was going to end badly.

“Should we change the subject?” Avery was in front of me, walking backward, with a sly grin.

“I’m not sure this relates to the plan,” I said. Quickly. I said this very quickly. And loudly, as the clerk shot me a look.

Was I disturbing the customers? Great.

“Can I help you find something?” she asked.

Avery smiled. “I think we can manage. Thank you.” She took my hand and led me past rows of things I tried desperately not to picture on her. This was torture. It was just plain mean.

And awkward when she draped a pair of lacy things in my hand.

“What do you think?”

“This is fabric?” I blurted.

“Should I try it on?” Avery asked.

“Is that sanitary? What if other people tried it on?” I whispered. A few browsing girls looked at me in disgust. “Am I not supposed to say that? What are the rules in here?”


“The rules are… don’t drool on the merchandise.” Avery plucked the lace things from my hand and tossed them back onto the counter. “No. I think we need something more fun, don’t you?” She led me into another connected room.

This is where they kept the sheer things and the fitted things with ribbons for straps and the silk nightgowns that more reminded me of napkins.

Unfair, Avery Flynn.

She took a hanger and placed it against her bust, letting a black silk nightgown fall over her figure and skim the tops of her thighs. There was a lace trim. I didn’t notice much else other than my voice when I (loudly) shouted at her to tell me the price because I had money and I needed that in my life.

Yeah. Really loud.

I did this several times and the more she pulled things off hangers, the more irrational I became. I tried to fight it. I was a grown wizard. I graduated Hogwarts. There could be press tailing me right now snapping photos through the window of the store. I had people plotting to ruin my life.

But I went weak at the knees when this woman held slinky clothes against herself.

Call me shallow if you want. There was nothing Avery Flynn didn’t look sexy in.

It was just a bonus if there was more skin.

“James?” Avery waved her hand in front of my face. “I’m going to try this one on.” She held the first black nightgown and had the rest draped over her arm. “I just want to make sure it looks right.”

I sat outside the waiting room in a plush purple chair twirling my thumbs. There was a bloke beside me on his phone looking bored. How was he bored? Did he know where he was? This place was sensory heaven. So many fabrics and it smelled like melons. The good kind. Like summer melon outside at a picnic. I wondered if that was a smell.

Not that I’d get it. It’s obviously not manly, but it smelled nice. Maybe Avery could smell like that.

No. I liked whatever it was she wore. Did she wear perfume? Did she just smell nice?

So many life questions.

Avery opened the door. I didn’t know she was going to open the door. Part of me hoped she’d try the nightgown in privacy and make her own judgment call so I didn’t have to be part of this moment.

Not that I didn’t want to.

I did. Oh, Godric, I did.

But Emerson’s stupid voice kept playing through my head. The v-card. The stupid v-card. I’d never done anything like this before – watch a girl try on lingerie – especially in a public place with this bloke totally not looking at his phone anymore sitting beside me.

Avery looked … well, Avery looked like I knew she’d look. Perfect.

It was silk and cut low with tiny straps and lace. As I thought, it barely went over her bottom. She was tan. How did she get so tan? How did her hair spill over her shoulders that way? Did she just wake up like that or did she do something with her hair to make it do that? How did her legs look that long? How was she so unbelievably sexy that she could take a serious conversation about my potential ruined career and turn it into me pondering if pulling the fire alarm would give us enough time to shag in the dressing room?

“You like it?” Avery said, biting down on her bottom lip.

Yeah. I couldn’t even talk. I just opened my mouth a few times and then punched the guy next to me in the thigh when he wouldn’t stop drooling. Seriously. Drooling on the pretty purple sofa.

Erm. Super masculine purple sofa.

She smirked and retreated back into the dressing room to change. I let out a sigh and fell back into the sofa. My heart couldn’t take much more of this.

I heard Bink and Freddie asking when we were going to do it. Shag. We’d been together for a while now and we were married. You’re supposed to shag after you get married. Something about rose petals on a bed and I totally failed that one. Worst husband ever.

She returned fully dressed and with the same sassy smirk.

“Ready?”

I narrowed my eyes. “You’re the worst,” I said.

“By worst you mean the best.”

“Yes, well, I assumed you knew that.” I took the clothes from her and put them on the counter, paying for the lot. I made her carry the pink bag, though. I drew the line at pink bags.

“Was that a good change of subject?” Avery asked as we wove through the crowd.

I nudged her. She knew the answer. “Should we do it soon then?” I said. “You know, shag?”

I could tell had she been drinking, the liquid would have soaked the floor in front of us. “Should we shag soon?”

“Right. Yeah. I can see how that would come off as insensitive. In retrospect.”

“James.” Avery stopped and steered me to the side of the hall, next to the window of some cooking shop with knives on display. Was this a commentary on the situation? “We don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with. If you’re not ready, you’re not ready.”

“Wait, me?” I said.

“Sure. I don’t want to pressure you into anything.”

I gaped at her for a minute as people brushed by us. “Hold on. You’re waiting on me? You’re ready?”

She bit her lip again. “Sort of been ready. Yeah.”

“For how damn long?” I shot back.

She laughed nervously. “Look. Let’s go back to your place, hmm? Your parents invited me for dinner. I love dinner. Don’t you like dinner?”

I grabbed her hand. “Wait. Seriously, how long have you been ready?”

Avery looked uncomfortable, which wasn’t a common look for her. “Can we drop it?”

I didn’t want to drop it, but people were starting to stare as they walked in and out of the kitchen shop. I nodded and we went home and dropped off the pink bag in my bedroom. We had dinner with my parents and said nothing about David Flynn or Emerson or Mason or the first exhibition game. We did talk about practice and my tie collection and TomCat. Dad didn’t agree with my idea to cut down the tree.

When we got back to my room, however, I closed the door and Avery pulled the receipt from the bag and tucked it into the pile with all my other receipts I was ignoring.

“Aves,” I said. “I want to talk about this.”

“It’s not a big deal,” she insisted, her cheeks turning pink. “I just know you wanted to take things slow and have a relationship and I get that. Hell, we broke up right in the middle of it so it’s not like I was concerned.”

“You never said anything,” I argued.

“We were kind of busy trying to save our careers.”

“This whole time you were waiting for me?”

She groaned. “James, it’s not like that. I wasn’t just waiting around pining for a shag. I just figured when you made the first move it’d be fine. I’m not in a hurry. We’re young and it’s a big step. There are consequences for big steps and we haven’t talked about them.”

“Like what?”

“Babies,” Avery said seriously and I made a face that suggested immediately I didn’t want a baby. “Diseases.”

“Why? You think I have a disease?”

“You’re a virgin, love. You don’t have a disease. I hope.” She snickered and nudged me so I laughed too. “I don’t have any, if you’re wondering. But it’s something we haven’t talked about.”

“How does one… talk about it?”

“Like we are now,” Avery said. She smirked and kicked off her shoes. “Don’t look at me like that. Like I was keeping some big secret from you.”

I leaned against the window. Same as I’d done when Nia was in here this morning, but this time I was fully clothed and something far different was on my mind.

I opened my mouth and then closed it again. Something I’d been thinking about for a while surfaced. “Aves, you don’t have your v-card, do you?” I said, arms folded.

Avery looked up, her expression not so much as flickering. “No,” she said. “I don’t.”

“You never said anything.”

“Not some of my proudest decisions.”

“We’re best mates,” I stated. “We told each other everything. We still do.”

“Don’t get into this honesty debate. You’ll lose.”

I sighed. “I’m serious. Even before the relationship. You never mentioned it. Even after I told you about all my sloppy makeout sessions with girls over the summer, you didn’t say anything.”

She leaned back on the bed and hoisted her feet up and then under the blankets. “Last summer,” she explained. “A boy called Francis – do NOT laugh at that, James Potter – A bottle of wine. A few nights. A few mistakes.”

I tried really hard to focus on the name and not the fact that some bloke had so much as touched Avery Flynn. I tried not to react how I used to, hexing guys for talking to her. Before I realized I fancied her. I tried not to consider how many ways there were to find this Francis and teach him a serious lesson.

I tried. And I succeeded.

I sat at the foot of the bed. “You regret it?”

“I try not to regret things,” Avery said softly. She draped an arm over her eyes. “It’s what I wanted then. In the moment. I try not to regret things like that. Do I wish I would have realized I fancied you sooner? Sure. But then you just would have yelled something about a different pastry burning.”

I flushed. Not my finest moment either.

“Are you mad?” she said.

“Why would I be mad? Kind of embarrassed, frankly.”

Avery nudged me with her foot. “You could take him.”

“Obviously,” I said with a huff and crawled under the covers with her. I wrapped her in my arms. “Aves?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m not ready,” I said.

She kissed me. “Thank you for telling me,” she said and kissed me again.

Avery tried on the rest of the outfits for me and I played music as she walked the catwalk of my bedroom. After a while I tackled her onto the bed and we had a great snog that didn’t result in babies.

A really, really great snog.

*

It’s crazy how when you’re so absorbed in your own crazy threat problems, you forget about the things around you. Okay, I didn’t forget about TomCat or that Freddie promised to make Avery a chocolate cake, but other things dissolved. I had a harder time keeping up with whether Rose and Bink were snogging or fighting since I was spending so much time tailing Mason and watching my back.

I worked hard at practice to show Lindt I was exactly the player who threw the Quaffle past him a couple months ago. I took ice baths and hot showers, careful to check for toasters in the water.

I couldn’t remember which days Freddie was at the shelter and which he visited Amy since she was un-grounded. They still weren’t allowed back at the flat and had to keep Amy’s bedroom door open while Fred was over. He mentioned wanting to shag her, but the timing wasn’t right.

Obviously. The door was wide open.

I didn’t tell Bink and Freddie about my decision not to sleep with Avery yet. I should have. I shouldn’t have been ashamed, but I didn’t look forward to the looks they were going to give me. The – why the bloody hell not?

Sure, I’d look back on this and slap myself on the back of the head.

But the truth was, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready for the consequences of a baby or mutant or Surprise Slytherin. I wanted to focus on our careers and we’d have plenty of time for a shag after we got out of this mess.

If I got out of this mess.

It occupied my mind more than I wanted it to. My turns were off at practice and Lindt noticed. Ballo noticed. He gave me extra laps and AliCat asked what the hell was the matter with me.

All the things.

At least family dramas had subsided. Lily and I practiced every Wednesday evening and I told her how shit her dives were and she told me where I could stick the Beater’s bat. Albus was around a lot and, because of that, so was Paloma Dove. She sunbathed in the backyard one day and I dumped cold water over myself. I couldn’t help it.

The parents were doing well, despite Mum’s attempt to weasel out of me who kidnapped me so she could have them arrested and killed (her words, not mine). Dad told me a few more times that he was here for me.

I knew that. I did. And I wasn’t trying to hide information from him.

I just wanted to go to him when I knew I really needed it. When I could no longer rely on myself.

This time I would. I’d ask him for help.

Not yet, though. Not quite yet.

*

Because of the focus I had on trying to find Mason’s plot and what he had offered David Flynn in order to have my career destroyed, I missed a few things. Rose’s announcement that she had accepted an internship for her final month of the summer in Greece. Bink’s rage in which he threw every glass in the cabinet at the wall while drinking whiskey. Albus purchasing a new set of sweater vests for the fall. Mrs. Flynn inviting me to dinner (I had practice – whoops!).

The one that made me feel the worst, though, happened on a Friday night.

I stopped by the pub after practice, before heading home, and ordered a drink from Gaia. “Where’s Legace? Thought he worked tonight.”

“He’s on the schedule. Didn’t show.” She wiped out a few glasses and lined them neatly behind the bar.

“That’s not like him.”

“It’s not,” she agreed.

“Might have something to do with Rose taking that internship.”

Gaia frowned. “I don’t know,” she said. “He was here yesterday and the day before…snapped at the customers, but he was here.”

“Maybe Mason kidnapped him too,” I said, still furious Mason had no nickname.

Mason Jar?

I’m the worst.

“Owl me if something’s wrong?” Gaia said when I finished my drink and paid. “I want to make sure I have coverage if he’s just not showing up for work anymore. I also have to set aside time to properly kick his ass and I’ll need a good pair of heels for that.”

I smirked and gave her a salute before heading home down the gravel road.

It wasn’t like Bink to miss working at the bar. He took a lot of pride in that job and had only missed one day because he had the stomach flu. Even then he owled so far ahead he found a replacement and still showed up for the final hour, ducking into the bathroom to throw up every ten minutes.

It couldn’t be Rose.

I mean, it could be Rose. Something could have happened. She did take the internship in Greece. No more midnight snogs and arguments that wake me two hours before my alarm.

No more pretending to be indifferent, but secretly fancying the pants off her.

Literally? Ugh.

The lights were off when I keyed open the door. “Bink? Freddie?” I called. No answer. Falcon Cat meowed from the top of the stairs.

I checked their bedrooms and found them vacant. No notes on the fridge.

“Great,” I mumbled, ready to develop a locator for Mason when I noticed a wrinkled envelope on my bed. The window was open, so an owl must have been inside.

OR THAT DAMN TOMCAT.

I looked over my shoulder. “You better not have a suitor,” I said to Falcon Cat.

She got sassy with me and walked away.

“You’re replaceable,” I muttered and grabbed the envelope, ripping it open.

J-

Please come. Amy’s in the hospital. Emergency.

F

Oh what the real fuck.




A/N: 

Eek - thank you all for your amazing continued support. 

I actually finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell two weeks ago and it's books like that that make me appreciate all of you even more. Seriously. You're so cool. Cooler than sliced bread. All that jazz. 

UP NEXT: 

James gets to the hospital - quick, and finds a friend so broken he hardly recognizes him. Rose gets ready for her final interview. Henrik lets his true feelings about the marriage slip through. Things start to get rocky and James knows he must do something drastic. 


Chapter 17: The One with St. Mungos
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 For omgjamespotter and DancingMooncalf. 




I was late.

Really, really late.

By the time I found Amy’s room at St. Mungos, the waiting room was packed with friends and relatives. People stood and read magazines. Others paced the room and the hall.

Avery spotted me and leapt from her seat. “Where’ve you been?” she whispered.

“Only just got the note,” I said softly. “Practice. Stopped by the pub to see Bink. What happened?”

Bink joined us, having heard his name and spotted an opportunity not to talk to Amy’s Uncle Clemmon. “Is Gaia peeved? I spaced and forgot to owl when I got the note.”

“She’s getting heels to properly kick your ass,” I told him.

“As she should.”

I turned back to Avery. “Where’s Freddie? What happened?”

“We don’t know,” she said, keeping her voice down. “Freddie’s in there with her and her parents right now. I overheard something about a bad fall and something to do with a head injury.”

I frowned. That was nothing to mess around with.

We sank against the white wall and I noticed several Ravenclaws in attendance. Some from the Quidditch team (no sign of Abigail). Haley Star slept in the corner, her head on the arm rest. Even Lily, Albus, Paloma, and Wesley were playing chess at a coffee table.

They all heard before me. They had time to set up a chess board and have a match before I arrived.

Worst friend award.

“Have you seen him?” I asked, leaning closer to Avery.

“Once. He walked out of the room for a moment to use the loo. His eyes are red.”

I wasn’t surprised. Freddie wore his emotions on his sleeves – even if they weren’t proper emotions like the ones he had for Abigail and Kay Davies. He was honest and kind and had addled brains.

We stood against that wall for another hour, watching Lily kick the shit out of everyone in chess. Haley Star woke and came to give us hugs.

When the door opened and Freddie walked out, I took the opportunity and told the others to stay where they were. I rushed up to him and put an arm around his shoulders, which were sunk into his body. His hair looked unwashed and he had stubble where none had been before. How could he get stubble in one day?

Had it been going on for more than a day?

“Freddie,” I said.

He looked over, eyes focusing. It actually took him a moment to recognize me.

That was how bad this was.

“James,” he said. “Hey.”

“Mate, what happened? Do you mind me asking? I want to see if everything is all right.”

“It’s not.” His voice was weak. When was the last time Freddie’s voice was full of pain? He didn’t do pain. He just ignored the problems and kept moving. He kept his head up. He didn’t let torment get to him, yet here he was with glossy eyes and a trembling chin. “It’s not all right.”

I steered him away from the gaze of the waiting room and embraced him. “Can I do anything?” I said.

“Stay here?” he said.

“Anything, mate.” I hugged him tight. I didn’t let go for a long time, partially because he was my friend but also because I thought I might cry if I did.

It hurt so bad to see him broken like that. Like he might never smile again.

After a cup of tea, Freddie told me Amy fell a few days ago while they were volunteering at the shelter. Down a flight of concrete stairs. She hit her head, but she said she was fine. She laughed it off and picked a few flowers and tucked one behind his ear. She told him she loved him and kissed the tip of his nose.

Freddie stared off into nothing as he recounted the story.

He went to her house last night to bring her roses because he passed a shop after his shift. She wasn’t there. No one was there. He got worried, so he checked her friends’ houses. The restaurants she frequented. Nothing. He tried to drive away his paranoia, so he came to St. Mungos. She was there. She had been for hours after slipping into unconsciousness while watching a movie with her parents.

“It’s my fault,” Fred breathed. “I should have made her see a Healer. I shouldn’t have let her laugh it off – it was serious, you know? I just let her brush it off because she smiled at me. How could I be so inconsiderate?”

I slapped him on the shoulder. “It’s not your fault,” I said, even though I wasn’t certain he was actually listening. “I promise. You couldn’t know it was serious. She could have just scraped her ear and you wouldn’t have known the difference. You can’t pin this on yourself.”

“The flower’s on my bedside stand,” he said.

I frowned and put my hand over his. “She’s going to be all right.”

“How do you know, James? Seriously. She hasn’t woken up. She’s not conscious. This happened yesterday. Amy is just in there breathing.”

I squeezed his hand. “I know because it has to be all right. If things don’t work out for someone as good as you, then someone like me has no hope.”

He laughed at that – just a little. “We could make it through her last two years at Hogwarts, you know.”

“I have no doubts.”

“I was going to marry her.”

“You’re going to marry her,” I assured him. “And if you make me wear pink I will lose my shit on you.”

“Amy’s choice,” Freddie insisted with another small laugh. He looked over his shoulder at the closed door. “I should go back in. You know, in case she wakes up and has questions.”

“She’ll probably want to know how the movie ended.”

Freddie smirked and squeezed my hand back. “Thanks for being here, James. I know you’re busy.”

“I already owled Lindt and told him I won’t make practice in the morning.”

“What? You can’t do that. Seriously. You’ll get in trouble.”

I shrugged. “So what? This is important and I’ll stay as long as you need me to.”

Freddie nodded and we hugged before he returned to Amy’s room.

I didn’t trouble him with the drama of my life – the David Flynn / Mason debacle. The career nonsense. None of it.

Even though I was certain things were going to get rocky for me very soon, I couldn’t bring myself to create a storm in Freddie’s hurricane.

I walked back to Avery, who had lost in glorious fashion to my baby sister in chess.

“She’s starting to play people a second time,” Avery said, joining me against the wall. “That’s how many games she’s played where they start with people – playing the winner.”

“Rubbish. How’d she get that good?”

Bink huffed. “I’m going to find her weakness.”

“I’ll physically harm you,” I said out of habit.

That was when I realized Rose wasn’t there. Not that Rose was a good friend of Amy’s, but they’d hung out several times this summer together and were on good terms at Hogwarts. They were about as close as Lily and Amy. Or Albus and Amy.

I didn’t ask Bink where she was. His vacant expression told me not to.

Avery put her head on my shoulder. “Owl?”

“Huh?”

She pointed to the window, where someone let in a barn owl. It flapped its wings (causing a few feathers to float onto the chess board) and, unsurprisingly, dropped a letter at my feet.

“Yes, this is exactly what I need,” I muttered and ripped it open.

I expected it to be some form of threat from Mason, but instead I found my Captain’s handwriting.


James,

Tomorrow’s practice is mandatory. Please be in attendance like you agreed when you were signed to the team, or your consequence is to be benched from our second exhibition game as well as the first.

Fondly,

Captain Henrik Lindt

I sighed and showed Avery the letter.

“Then you have to go,” she said. “You can’t be benched again. How else are you going to show them what you can do?”

I didn’t reply for a while. Instead, I peered around the room as the owl left. Amy’s mum walked out of the room, retrieved a glass of water, and returned. The door was loud as it slammed shut.

“If playing means I can’t be there for my best mate while he goes through this, then I don’t want to play.”

She laced her fingers with mine and we slid to the tile floor to wait for news.

*


It amazed me that one practice (after missing zero) could mean being benched. Artemis had missed a total of four. AliCat missed one when her mum was in the hospital back in the States. Smoke and Monroe had both missed two. Jack and Henrik were the only players with perfect attendance – besides me.

I tried not to worry that David Flynn had something to do with this.

I actually didn’t believe he did. I believed Henrik was still onto Avery and me. Like we were cheating his system and he wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t blame him. We were cheating his system. Not on purpose, but if the shoe fit…

Cinderella shit up in this team.

We had another two weeks to stay married. So far, things were fine. Like Avery said in the interview – everything was the same except her last name. Which she hadn’t even legally changed yet, so technically she was still Avery Flynn. But Potter helped us sell the whole thing.

Two weeks and then we would see just how hard Henrik Lindt came down on me for breaking the Code.

Stupid fucking Code. I was sick of the Code. That’s why I stopped it for the Gryffindor team. Sometimes it works – like in the case of Bink and Meta. That straight fucked up our team. And my friendship with Bink for a while.

But sometimes, in the case of Avery and myself, the Code doesn’t work.

This Tornados Code doesn’t work.

I’m not the Captain, though. I can’t just tell Henrik to stick the Code somewhere unpleasant, because he’ll give me all sorts of laps and tell me to give Mason a call myself so he can have my slot.

I got on the team because of Ballo.

Henrik Lindt wasn’t going to show me the same compassion if I was messing with his team. Especially if I was a rookie famous Potter messing up his team.

AliCat told me once that though Lindt was a pure legend, he worked his way up. He played at Hogwarts and then in the rec leagues. Then on the farm team. Then on the reserve team. Then he got the call for the pro leagues.

I flashed a smile and skipped all those steps.

Okay, it was a little more complicated than that. I took a chance on a ruined career and it paid off. Henrik didn’t show up to open practice and challenge a pro player.

Then again, he wasn’t desperate. No one told him he couldn’t play Quiddich.

And Godric, that was happening again. Again David Flynn was behind the pure ruin of my career. Frankly, it was getting old. How many times did I have to panic and find a plan to keep my head above water?

Maybe this plan would end that. And me.

Dark stuff. I didn’t like dark stuff.

Avery nudged me and pointed to the entrance to the waiting room. Rose stood with her hands in her pockets. She looked nice and I remembered Albus saying something about an interview. She had those black interview-y pants and a nice pleated shirt.

Ugh. I knew what pleats were.

Too much time alone with women.

Bink looked up and said nothing.

Rose sank down on the side opposite Avery and leaned her head on my shoulder. Apparently my shoulders had a lot of comforting abilities today. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “I didn’t realize until I got home. How is he?”

I thought about Freddie’s red eyes and lifeless face. “He’ll get through this.”

She sighed. “I was packing and went for a jog because it’s such a nice evening… then I was trying on interview outfits for tomorrow and saw the note… This is dreadful.”

“Interview outfits for tomorrow?” Avery prompted.

“I have to interview for Greece,” she said. “I’ve already accepted, but out of those people they narrow it down to certain fields. There are ten slots and twenty people.”

“You’ve got it in the bag,” I said and patted her head. “You’re a Weasley. Charming, kind, and sometimes a little mean when you’re talking to your cousins.”

“Not my fault you make terrible decisions,” Rose mumbled into my shoulder.

“Pot calling kettle,” I said and almost nodded to Bink, but I didn’t. He was having a hard enough time dealing with the idea of Rose leaving. I couldn’t keep up with it. One day they fancied each other and the next they weren’t speaking. Too dramatic for me.

Why were both of my mates having major issues right when I was about to get offed?

“Yes, well, hopefully in Greece I’ll get my head on straight.” Rose laughed a little.

“You think so?” I said softly. “Or you think you’ll just distance yourself and get a distraction and oiled up Greek men?”

She shrugged. “Either is better than where I’m at now.”

Bink stood up and went to the loo.

“You could be a little nicer,” I whispered.

Rose huffed. “James, listen. I’m not trying to keep you out of my personal life – which I’m not sure is a place you actually need to be – but please don’t try to understand what’s going on between myself and Bink. He isn’t ready for a relationship and I’m not sure he ever will be. I don’t even know that we’re right together. We just have problems controlling our lust.”

I grimaced. “Come on, Rosey.”

“I need to leave,” she said firmly. “Then he can find a nice girl he fancies properly and I can focus on myself instead of forgetting I have other job interviews because I’m waking up hungover in his bed.”

Another grimace.

“It’s for the best,” she said.

Avery nudged me since Bink was returning.

“Whatever you say, cousin,” I replied and we fell silent.

After another hour, a group of us found the café and there weren’t many choices in the middle of the night. Just pre-packaged salads and stale donuts. I ate four glazed and Avery had three with sprinkles. Like we were going near the salad.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be down here too long,” said Avery. “Fred might need us.”

“Everyone knows where we went,” I assured her. “Besides, that room is too quiet now that half the people fell asleep in their chairs.” I tucked Lily in with my coat before coming down to the café.

“You think she’ll be okay?” Rose slid beside me at the table to avoid sitting next to Bink. Haley Star, Albus, and Paloma had joined us.

“Wish I knew.” I shrugged. “I just wish Freddie wouldn’t blame himself. He couldn’t have known.”

“Wouldn’t you?” Avery said, her eyes fixing on mine.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I suppose I would.”

We let the conversation wander into Quidditch and Hogwarts and the train back to school – what it would be like not to be on it.

“Give me a ceremonial seat,” Bink said. “Like put a sign with my face on it so no one sits there. Then tell me how handsome I am for the entire trip.” I wished the smile would reach his eyes.

“I already have the signs printed,” Paloma said with a smirk.

“Have you been practicing?” I said.

“Yes, Captain.”

I grinned. She was all right, that Paloma Dove.

Rose and Bink continued to pretend the other wasn’t there.

*

We fell asleep in the waiting room around two in the morning, letting Rose have the sofa since she had to leave early for her interview. I caught Bink draping a jacket over her and he told me to shove off and fell asleep with his knees pulled to his chest in the corner.

I wasn’t woken for a few hours, until Freddie shook my shoulder.

“Eh, mate?” I said, groggy and trying to figure out where I was and why my back had shooting pains. Right. I slept on a tile floor.

“Shh.”

I didn’t wake Avery and got to my feet, letting him lead me down the hall away from the snoozing waiting room. “What’s going on?” I said.

“I just spoke to one of the Healers.” Freddie’s eyes were redder than before. They had purple lines around the bottom.

“And?”

“They say she’s probably not going to make it through the night. They’re trying everything, but apparently the brain bleeding is really bad and it’s getting into some bad areas… I don’t know. I didn’t listen to most of it.” He wrung his hands together. “James, they think she’s going to die.”

I was speechless. My jaw fell and I stared at my best mate so hard I found myself tearing up. “Freddie…”

“I’m not prepared for this,” he whispered, voice shaking. “Not now. Not when I just found her.”

It was all I could think to do – I hugged him. He cried onto my shirt and I just hugged him and patted his back and smoothed out his hair because I literally had no other ideas. I wanted to be there for him and tell him everything would be fine and that he could borrow one of my ties for the wedding, but even that wouldn’t do any good now.

Freddie was at the lowest point I’d seen him and there was nothing I could do but watch it happen.

“Tell me something,” he said.

“What would you like to hear?”

“Anything. Distract me. Tell me a story. Tell me what’s going on with your life.”

I actually laughed at that. “Freddie, you don’t want to know what’s going on in my life.”

“Tell me. I want to know. Really. I’ve been a shit friend lately.”

I snorted. “You? Come on, mate. You’ve been the best friend. I’ve been a rubbish friend out at all those practices and gallivanting around town with Avery. You’ve been the best.”

“You were gallivanting?”

“Absolutely. Professional gallivanter right here, folks.”

Fred drew away from my embrace. “Did something happen other than the Mason kidnapping thing? Does this have to do with what Nia said? Avery said she took care of Edwards. It’s very like her to do that. You should keep her.”

“I plan on it,” I said. “And yes, it has something to do with what Nia said.”

“Before the first exhibition game… what’s that mean?”

I groaned. “Freddie, this isn’t the kind of thing…”

“Tell me right now or I swear to Godric Gryffindor I will toss Falcon Cat right onto that tree with TomCat.”

“Do you admit there is a TomCat?”

“James.”

“Fine.” I groaned. “The basic version is Avery’s father is working through Mason to get something – I’m assuming, related to him getting out of Fern – and in turn, he is helping Mason get rid of me so he can play on the team.”

“Get rid of you? What’s that mean – can’t you just try out for another team?”

“It means get rid of me,” I said. “So I can’t try out for another team. Which, I’m sure, is a perk for Flynn.”

Fred let himself fall against the wall, hands in his pockets. “You really think they want to off you?”

“I don’t know what they want,” I said. I glanced over my shoulder to make sure we didn’t have company. “But I know it’s not just telling people not to give me a look anymore. It’s real.”

He rubbed his eyes. “Are you scared?”

My first instinct was to tell him of course not. I was James Potter Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team of Fucking Awesome. I owned a cat named after a bird of prey. Also a pink pygmy puff, but she had a lot of sass. I was a Potter. My father beat the Dark Lord. My Grandmum killed a woman.

Of course I couldn’t be afraid of some twat in prison and the Captain of the Hurricanes.

“Yeah,” I said. “Really scared.”

*

Here’s something that happens when someone else is in the hospital.

Your mind always wanders to yourself. What if this happened to you?

As I tried to get comfortable on the tile floor long after Freddie returned to the hospital room, I switched places with him in my mind. I was the one who watched Avery fall and hit her head. I went to find her at her mum’s flat and they weren’t there. I checked everywhere – even went to Cooper’s office, but Avery wasn’t there. I considered maybe she left me for Twitwards, but decided to try St. Mungos. You know. Just in case.

She was in room 728.

Unconscious. Lifeless body positioned neatly in the center of a bed with blankets tucked around her up to her middle. A white hospital gown. Pale. So pale.

Freddie was handling this much better than I would have.

Had Avery been in that bed, everything would freeze. My life and my career and my family. Nothing would feel real anymore.

I would cry. I was sure of that.

Something that was not very common (or at least not admittedly so).

That’s when I got to thinking, which is a really bad thing. What if that scenario was flipped.

What if it was me in the bed and Avery in the chair beside me, hand in mine? She’d seen me countless times in the Hogwarts hospital wing. None of those injuries were serious, were they? Just some blood loss, cuts, and a few things Madam Bones thought were worse than they actually were.

I probably could have left after ten minutes for a few of them.

Madam Bones probably had a crush on me.

Anyway.

What if I was the one unconscious? I very well could be. What was this plan? What was this rubbish being cooked up by David Flynn?

I started to sweat.

Would Avery be beside my hospital bed before the first game? Crying? Clutching my hand? Avoiding the waiting room?

My eyes stung more now. Thinking about her blaming herself. She would, too. She’d think it was all her fault for not solving the puzzle or blowing up another block to protect me. As much as I tried to shield her from the world, she did a pretty good job of showing it who was boss.

I sat up in the dark waiting room.

If I was going to beat this, I had to pull my resources. At least try.

*

“James. It’s five in the morning. The sun isn’t up.”

“The sun’s a lazy bastard,” I said.

“Language.” Dad rolled away from me. “And it’s not Christmas. There are no presents.”

“Except for a kick in the ass,” Mum muttered from the other side of the bed. “I am actually plotting your death, James.”

“Funny. You’re not the only one.”

That woke Dad right away. He sat up and grabbed his glasses (still round, yeah) off the bedside stand. “What’s that mean?” he said. He had his Auror voice on now.

I used to pick on him about that.




A/N: 

Firstly, sorry for my poor attempt at answering reviews. It turns out life is insane, but I do promise to get to EVERY SINGLE ONE of the unanswered ones. I will always respond to reviews. The problem is I don't have a boring office job anymore ... all day I'm out and about and have no computer access. So I promise to get to ALL of them. 

Secondly, welcome to the new people who just found BTQC/DTTT! 

Thirdly, sorry about the sad chapter. Except not really. 

Fourthly, someone better be glad (GAIA) James finally went to Harry. 

NEXT UP: A talk with the 'rents, back to the hospital, Breaking News, and the Healers rush into Amy's room. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Chapter 18: The One with the Breaking News
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 For dracodarlingxx for review 300  - thank you!! 




Dad, Mum, and I sat downstairs around the kitchen table. Mum put on some tea as I laid out the unfortunate details of my situation. For the first time in my life, I told the truth. The whole truth. Everything from the previous year with details I’d left out with even Bink and Freddie – David Flynn’s truly menacing reach. The details from this summer. When I went to visit him in Fern. The kidnapping. What Nia told me.

Dad listened intently, pausing his concentrated expression only long enough to take a sip of tea. His mind worked and Mum made colorful comments under her breath. Turned out, she’d told Dad she knew this had something to do with my Quidditch career – the kidnapping.

“Do you think it’s serious enough they’d off me?” I asked after I recalled everything I could remember up until the evening in the hospital.

Dad shook his head, which made me feel a lot better. “If they off you, they risk turning you into a martyr. You haven’t played and you already represent living the dream. Everyone would turn against Mason. There’s no way they’d off you. Not before you played.”

“But apparently it’s supposed to happen before the first game,” I said.

“The first game you aren’t playing.”

“Won’t be playing the second either,” I reminded him. Practice started in two hours and there was nothing that would make me go, especially with what Fred told me that night.

Speaking of which, I had to get back to the hospital immediately.

“Whatever they’re planning isn’t to off you,” Dad said and his voice sounded full of logic and reason. Structured. How did he get this way? Years of Auror training, probably. It wasn’t Hogwarts that made him that way. Mum used to tell me how moody he got. “No, Mason and Flynn have more to lose if they off you. Murder trials are no joking matter and we already know so much that we could link evidence, even if it isn’t hard. They’d both be tied up in court. They don’t want to kill you, James.”

“The way you’re saying it makes it sound like the other option is worse.”

Dad chuckled. “I don’t know about worse, but there are a lot of ways to ruin someone’s life without killing them.”

“Wonder if the papers will help,” Mum muttered darkly. “I’m sure they’d jump at it.”

“I don’t know.” Dad rubbed his temples. “Whatever it is, they’re going to make sure you don’t play for the Tornados and can’t play for any other team. That means they want to either injure you or ruin your reputation so bad that even your talent won’t help you.” When he mentioned the injuring part, Dad’s jaw tensed.

I knew he was worried about me.

“We’ll figure this out,” he continued. “We will.”

“You sound confident.” I shook my head.

“I had practice.” Dad clapped me on the shoulder. “Let your mum and I make some calls and see what we can dig up. You go back to the hospital and be with Freddie. He needs you.”

Mum gave me a kiss on the cheek and gave me a lunch she packed without me realizing. There were cookies inside for everyone.

*

Only Bink was awake when I got back, leaving me to realize Freddie had not emerged again. Rose was gone and her spot on the sofa was empty.

“You should have gone to practice,” Bink said when we walked away from the waiting room. “You need to play that second game.”

“Not worth it. I would have been shit anyway.”

“At this rate you’ll never play.”

I laughed. “Come on. If I want to be with Aves, I’ll never play anyway.”

“Can you transfer?”

I shrugged. “Probably not. Ballo was the only one to take a chance on me. I doubt anyone else will.” I ran my fingers through my untamed hair. “Let’s not talk about it.”

“We’re not talking about Rose,” he said before I could bring it up. “I don’t want to.”

I shot him a look. “Fine,” I said. “But we’re going to have to eventually.”

“I’ll talk about her after her interview.” He leaned against the cool, tile wall. “Once she’s for sure leaving. Then we’ll talk about it.”

I figured that meant he was going to drink and rant and tell me how he actually felt about Rose.

I didn’t push it. I wanted to, but I didn’t.

*

I thought it was Avery who’d wake first, but instead it was Fred, emerging from Amy’s hospital room looking torn and tired.

“Have you slept?” I asked, but knew the answer. If Avery was in there, would I have?

He shook his head.

“How is she?”

“Same as before,” Fred replied, staring at a spot on the wall to the left of my head. “Not any better.”

“Not any worse,” I said hopefully.

He shrugged.

Being unable to give encouragement or threaten someone really made me uncomfortable.

“Is there anything we can do?” said Bink, shoving his hands in his pockets. He liked hospitals as much as I did. Maybe less, given he didn’t have someone in the waiting room to comfort him.

Freddie shrugged. “You’ve done enough. Thanks for being here.”

Bink clapped him on the shoulder. “We wouldn’t be anywhere else. Hell, James is missing a game.”

“A game?” Fred said as I desperately made the chopping gesture to Bink letting him know too late that I hadn’t told our other friend about the game-missing. “You said it was just practice you were missing.”

“That’s right! Bink’s mistaken. And a fucking idiot.”

“James.”

I groaned. “Lindt said if I missed today’s practice I miss the second exhibition game, but I the joke’s on him! I was already going to miss it because that’s after the thirty days is up and Avery and I aren’t breaking up.”

Fred surveyed me and my cheeks turned pink. “I’m proud of you,” he said.

“For fucking up my career before I play a game?”

He shook his head. “For knowing what you really want.”

“What I want?”

“Avery,” he replied. “You want Avery and you’ll give up your career for her.”

“I didn’t say I’d give up my career…”

“You would, though, wouldn’t you?”

How could I say no to a bloke in a hospital waiting to hear if his unconscious girlfriend had passed away?

It would be lying, anyway.

“I would,” I admitted. “Of course I would. I’d like to have both, though. And I’m going to try hard to have both.”

“What?” said a voice behind me. “You’ll try to have both me and Nia?”

Fred cracked a smile for the first time since he’d been out. He turned and grabbed Avery by the arm, tugging her into a hug, which she returned in all of her Avery-ness. She kissed his cheek and put both hands on his cheeks when they pulled apart.

“It’s going to be fine,” she said right to him, uttering the phrase I’d been too afraid to be wrong about.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“It’s going to be fine,” Avery repeated firmly. “I promise you.”

How could she do that? Just look someone in the face who didn’t know if their girlfriend was going to make it through the night and tell him everything was going to work out. That it would be fine. Then again, she didn’t know Fred had been told Amy might not make it through the night.

Maybe she had more Captain material in her than I did.

“Thanks,” Fred murmured. He hugged her again and excused himself to Amy’s room to see if anything changed.

Avery put her arm around my middle. “Where did you run off to in the middle of the night?”

“Fred shook me awake,” I said. “He wanted to talk.”

Bink cleared his throat. “As touching of a moment as this is, I have to owl Gaia again. She asked for updates. You should probably owl your Captain and let him know you’re still at the hospital.”

“He can sod off,” I muttered.

Bink shrugged and padded off back to the waiting room, leaving Avery and me to our thoughts.

After a while, she hooked her arm through mine. “I meant what I said. I do think it’s going to be fine.”

“You have a lot of confidence.” I kissed her briefly and we headed off for breakfast, where I admitted where I’d been the rest of my time during the night. I still hadn’t heard from Mum or Dad, but I assumed they were pulling strings or making calls.

To who? Their old friends from the war? Quidditch executives? The prison system?

I didn’t know. All I knew is for the first time in my life, I was truly worried, even if Dad was probably right about them trying to kill me. So I probably wouldn’t die (probably), but is there a fate worse than death?

No Quidditch. Obviously.

At breakfast, Avery held my hand over the table and smiled. It made me feel better, especially when Lily joined us and said a group of Healers had rushed into Amy’s room and slammed the door shut.


*

The sun was well into the sky by the time everyone woke in the waiting room. Another chess tournament began and the rest of us tried to focus on the television, but it was playing the Quidditch Network so I wanted very little to do with it. I heard enough about the Falcons from Lindt. I didn’t need to watch a bio on their Chaser, who grew up in Brooklyn. I don’t care how you grew up, just how you toss a sodding Quaffle.

Lily beat Wesley and Paloma before challenging Albus. Bink even tried to help, but she destroyed the pair of them.

Rose arrived around ten and we got her up to speed, letting her know that since the Healers went into Amy’s room, they hadn’t come out. We were in the dark.

She looked nice, all dressed in her outfit for the interview with her hair in curls around her shoulders. It was a good look for her. Professional and firm. Sort of like she was as a Prefect. I could imagine her in Greece for this thing, though admittedly I’d forgotten what it was for. Something important. Promising. No doubt something Aunt Hermione encouraged and Hugo whined about.

“How’d it go?” Avery asked. Bink was listening from where he cleaned up the chess pieces, but didn’t look over.

“Brilliant,” Rose said with a smile out of place in the room. “I think I really nailed it. I’ll find out tomorrow once all the interviews are over, but I’m really excited. I think I got it. They seemed really impressed.”

“That’s wonderful,” Avery replied. “I’m really proud of you. You deserve it.”

Bink left the rest of the pieces for Lily to clean up and excused himself to the hallway.

I followed him out. “Bink…”

“Leave it, James.” He walked toward one of the sets of windows past a row of rooms. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You can’t just keep quiet and leave,” I said.

Bink glanced over his shoulder. “I can do whatever I please. Say, Meta owled me for a shag. You think I should go for it?”

I hoped my expression said quite enough on what I thought of that. “We need to talk about this. How you feel.”

“Potter,” Bink said, “I am not talking about my feelings with you. I’m not a Hufflepuff, nor am I your girlfriend. Or should I say, accidental wife?”

I rolled my eyes. “Don’t bring that up on me. We’re happily married.”

“For two more weeks,” he said, moving to the window. “Then what? You can’t just stay married. You don’t know a bloody thing about marriage. You’re just trying to save your own ass.”

I tried not to get mad. I knew he was projecting since he was pissed Rose might leave for the final month of summer. It was tough not to be frustrated with him, though.

“You should tell Rose how you feel.”

“Sod off, Potter,” snapped Bink. “I don’t feel anything. If she doesn’t fancy me enough that she can leave, then I don’t fucking care. She wasn’t that great anyway. I’ve had better.”

“That’s my cousin!”

He flipped me off. “Go find your wife and snog for the cameras. In two weeks you’ll probably be off the team anyway.”

I stomped back to the waiting room. Hmph.

That was when I noticed Avery’s horrified expression. I looked from her around the room and many of the faces were the same. They were all looking at the television, where the tag BREAKING NEWS scrolled across the bottom.

My face was above it.

Oh, fuck.

A female reporter’s voice arrived over a video of me, which was taken at a practice. “Sources have confirmed that James Potter’s whirlwind romance and marriage are, indeed, fake. We’re told he staged the marriage to long-time friend Avery Flynn as a way to get around team rules now that he is on the roster for the Tutshill Tornados.”

The image went from me to a photo of Avery and me at dinner, one I didn’t know was taken.

“Our source tells us that the entire marriage is fake and the pair showed up at court the day after to get it annulled, only to find the judge was not so easily swayed by his last name,” said the reporter. “The judge then required Potter and Flynn to remain married for thirty days, two weeks of which is left. To cover the scandal, they have faked a happy marriage, lying to the media and countless friends and family.”

The image changed from our photo to a smirky picture of me as Gryffindor Captain.

“We know Potter was happy as the Captain of his Gryffindor squad at Hogwarts,” continued the reporter, “and we also know from an interview he’d like to Captain the Tornados. Having not played a single public game for the team, at what lengths will he go to take over? Is he less like his father than we thought? Has being a child of fame turned him into a manipulative teenager willing to play the system to get what he wants? One thing is for sure, James Potter is not to be trusted. I’m sure Tornados fans are disappointed, to say the least.”

The network went to a commercial break and I realized I couldn’t breathe. There it was. Out in the open. Everyone knew my marriage was a sham. Everyone. Not just Lindt and the team. Everyone who watched the Quidditch Network. Everyone who read tomorrow’s papers. Everyone.

Avery turned, jumping when she saw me. She didn’t say anything, but her eyes were glossy.

I knew what this meant. The attack wasn’t just going to be on me. She would feel a lot of it, too. People would be prying into her life again. Trying to get her mum on the phone. Figuring out where her father is.

Unless part of the plot is to leave him out of it.

Of course this had to be the plot. That source? It wasn’t the judge. It wasn’t that rubbish secretary.

It was Mason. I knew it was Mason.

The eyes in the room turned from the commercials to me and I was frozen.

It was starting. It had already started, here while I was in a hospital waiting for news about Amy. They were going for my reputation first and had something else planned for later.

“James,” whispered Avery.

I didn’t know how to respond.

*

I locked myself inside the bathroom stall. As much as Bink pleaded, I refused to come out. The waiting room was still packed with people. Some who knew about my fake marriage, others who had expressions or horror I didn’t expect. Haley Star looked taken aback. Rose, who I thought Bink told, looked murderous.

Nope. I was not coming out of the bathroom unless Freddie asked for me by name.

“James, come on,” Bink said, knocking on the stall door.

“Nope. I’ll stay here and wait for my Howler from Lindt, thank you.”

“Avery went to warn her Mum.”

“Good. They should both go into hiding.”

“What’s your plan?”

“Owl AliCat and ask for her machete,” I murmured, bringing my knees to my chest as I balanced on top of the toilet.

“She has a machete? I should have been shagging her.”

I steadied myself and kicked the door. I saw him jump. “I’m serious. I have no idea what to do. What’s going to happen. I have absolutely no idea why this room smells like cinnamon.”

“I have toast,” he said.

“I want to go back to Hogwarts.” I stood and leaned against the cold, stone wall. “I want to go back to the way things were. Getting drunk on weekends. Playing Quidditch. Being the Captain. Before David Flynn rode in on his Nazgul and fucked everything up.”

“But you can’t,” Bink said.

“But I want to.”

“Besides, for most of that time you didn’t even know you fancied Avery.”

I shrugged a little. Not even convincing enough for myself. “Probably better for her.”

“Don’t say that.”

“She got mixed up in all this nonsense.”

“You were the one to help bring down her father,” Bink said to the stall door. “You overheard everything and made it happen. If it wasn’t for you, she could be playing for lightbulb money or whatever the fuck that shit was. I wasn’t listening half the time.”

I closed my eyes. “This is only the beginning.”

“Then we have to make it the end,” Bink said.

“How’re we going to do that? We’re in a bathroom.”

“You’re in a bathroom. I’m trying to lure you out with my flawless prose.”

“There are days I wonder if you’re the one related to Freddie,” I mumbled and then looked at the locked door. “He’d come out if something else happened, right? I mean bad?”

He didn’t reply. “Maybe we should check on him.”

“I’m the worst friend.” I turned and pressed my forehead into the wall. “Sorry, mate.”

Bink laughed, but only a little. “Come on. I spent my summer so far being a total douche to both of you and trying to figure out if I fancy your cousin or not. I’ve been the worst. Let’s not have a competition. You have a group of morons trying to off you. I’m going to make sure they don’t.”

“How’re you going to do that?”

There was a click and the stall door opened. “By getting you out of the fucking bathroom,” Bink said and grabbed me by the arm.

“I could have been peeing!”

“But you weren’t!” He tugged me to the sink and pointed at my reflection in the mirror. “James Potter. Gryffindor Captain. Husband?” Bink wrinkled his nose and I noticed the tip was sunburnt. He was always sunburnt. “This isn’t you. Hiding out in a bathroom stall because now your problems are out in the open.”

Bink was right. Also, I looked good for only having a few hours of sleep on a tile floor. Really good tosspot hair day, as my relatives fondly called it.

“And we’re going to fix them?” I said.

“We’re going to end this disaster before they take me down with you.” He smirked and gave me a shoulder nudge. “I just got a bartending gig and a coaching gig. I’m not getting mixed up in this nonsense.”

I nodded to the door. “We should check on Freddie.”

“He’s checking on us.”

The door opened and Freddie walked in with his hair tossed (not at all good-looking like mine) and his head hung. He looked just as miserable, but now his eyes were puffy.

“Hey,” he said weakly.

We crossed the room and tried to comfort him in the best ways we knew how. I hugged him. Bink patted him awkwardly on the top of the head.

“How are things?” Bink asked. Super comfortable environment. In a bathroom covered in porcelain tiles. Blue ones, at that.

“Worse,” he said. “I mean, Amy made it through the night. But her breathing isn’t really right. It’s slowing down. The machines are beeping and no one will tell me what they mean. They just sort of look at me and the head-tilt. Her parents can’t stop crying.” Freddie said all of this without looking up.

“Sorry,” I mumbled and patted his back. “Anything else we can do? D’you need yogurt? They have yogurt downstairs.”

“Have you eaten?” Bink asked.

“Can’t eat. Can’t do anything.”

“You have to eat,” Bink replied. “Seriously. Something. Anything. Pudding. Sweets. Bugs. I don’t care, but you have to have something in your stomach or you’ll make yourself sick. I’m not in the habit of cleaning up sick.”

The thought of it nearly made me sick and I realized I hadn’t eaten enough with my gorging on donuts in the cafeteria.

Fred leaned his head against my shoulder. His breath was hot. “Fine,” he mumbled into the fabric of my shirt. “I’ll have something. Not complicated.”

“Sandwich complicated or four course meal complicated?”

“Get me pudding,” Freddie said. He pulled away and still didn’t look at us. “I should go back. Check on things.” Then he looked up at me. “News was on in Amy’s room. Sorry your marriage being a sham got out, James.”

“Only a matter of time,” I said, frowning. “Clara is very quick to listen to people like Mason.”

“Have a plan?” he said.

“Not yet, but it will involve you wearing a blond wig.”

“Wasn’t a wig,” Freddie said and he actually smirked.

Bink held the door and we walked back into the hall. People were staring from the waiting room – most, I’m sure, ready to off me for lying – but we ignored them. Instead, we helped Freddie to Amy’s room and he paused outside the door.

“It’ll be okay,” Freddie said to me with a sad smile. “You always make it through.”

“So do you,” I told him.

“Maybe not today.”

There was a loud beeping noise coming from Amy’s room that sounded more like a shriek. Healers came from down the hall and shoved past us to get inside. I heard who I assumed was Amy’s mum sobbing from inside. Someone called Freddie’s name.

He no longer knew Bink and I were standing there. Freddie was inside that room even though Healers were pushing him out. He ducked under two (Bink was holding the door by now) and lunged for the end of the bed. Freddie pulled himself up and clutched the blankets at Amy’s feet. I couldn’t see higher than her ankles since the room turned away from the hall, but Amy’s parents were in the corner out of view and there were Healers everywhere.

Machines blared. Bink didn’t close the door.

We stood, watching Freddie clutch the blankets in his fists and cry. He didn’t wail or make any noise, but tears were staining his cheeks and his chin trembled as the Healers shouted codes to each other. White noise.

A Healer with bright blue hair spotted us and told us to shove off. Bink didn’t move. In fact, when confronted by the blue-haired Healer, he snarled. Like a bloody dog.

That’s when I heard it. The sound in every medical drama I watched at three in the morning. Something so common I couldn’t be confused. The sound of a non-existent heartbeat. The straight line beep. Never ending.

That was the moment Fred broke my heart. He sank to his knees and brought his legs to his chest, sobbing into his jeans. Amy’s mother walked around the side of the bed, visibly trembling, and put her arms around him. Mr. Amy’s Father followed, hugging them both.

He really would have married Amy.

Fred Weasley and Amy Viveca. Maybe he would have taken her last name. Freddie Viveca. Freddie’s the kind of guy to want kids. If Amy wanted them, they would probably have had at least twenty. Quidditch players. Painters. Dreamers. Jokers.

But they would be kind. With big hearts.

Potential addled brains.

As I watched Fred cry on the hospital floor, I pictured the entire life he could have had while the machine sang from inside. A small wedding on the coast. Purple. It would have to be purple. Adopting a puppy and getting cross with it for peeing on the floor. Lying in bed with Amy and telling her how beautiful she was and how lucky he was. Vacationing across Europe. Backpacking. Tasting wine in Paris. Children. Grandchildren. Grand-dogs.

Bink’s eyes were glossy. I could hardly see, so I knew the stinging was from tears.

I realized I had worked so hard at Hogwarts and at that open tryout because my dream was Quidditch. Doing what I loved and having a career in it.

Freddie’s dream wasn’t Quidditch. His dream was to fall in love.

And it was plucked from him.

Beep.

His entire future.

Beep.

There were red blotches on his face.

Beep.

In a blur, the heads of Freddie, Mr. Amy’s Dad, and Mrs. Amy’s Mum snapped up.

Beep.

The Healers rushed to the head of the bed and I lost visual. I exchanged glances with Bink.

Beep.

Fred scrambled to his feet. His hands grasped the blankets again.

Beep.

Beep.

Beep.

It was there. Her heart was beating and the Healers rushed around the room turning dials and performing spells on her body. Everything looked serious.

I jumped when Avery put a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw her red eyes and flushed cheeks. That’s the moment I figured out how she did what she did. How she could be so overwhelmingly positive.

I turned and put both my hands on her cheeks. I said, “A beautiful woman once said, everything is going to be okay.” I kissed her. “Everything is going to be okay, Avery.”

Her eyes moved away from mine and into the room where the Healers were shaking hands and Amy’s mum was losing her shit in Amy’s dad’s shirt. Fred was outright sobbing and smiling.

Avery Flynn was right again.

Everything was going to be okay.

*

After the Healers cleared out and Amy’s parents walked down the hall to fill out paperwork, I snuck in the room and closed the door behind me. I opened my mouth to tell Freddie I was there, but stopped when he began to speak.

“I know you can’t hear me,” he said softly to the unconscious Amy in the bed, “But you’re alive.” There was a pause and I heard him kiss her skin. “You’re alive and they’ve said you’re going to be fine. They’re starting you on this medicine that goes straight into your blood and will fix whatever’s wrong.” Another kiss. “Just promise me something, okay? Promise me we won’t be back here for a long time. Maybe if you have the sniffles, but Grandmum can solve that straight away. Promise me you’ll live longer than me because you’ve taken years from me tonight, Amy.”

Freddie sniffled and coughed. “I never knew I could love someone. Not like this. Not when I’m eighteen. I’m not about to let you go. They can’t have you. You belong here, where I can annoy you properly. We still have to tell James about the sex thing. I want to properly see the look on his face.”

Sex thing? What sex thing? Goddamn.

He chuckled and sniffed again. “I’m going to marry you. And when I propose, it will be grand and romantic, but I want you to know that right now. I’m going to marry you and we’re going to start a shelter for dogs and you’re going to have to put up with my nonsense for the rest of your life. Because I love you. I’ll always love you. I need you here. Please stay with me.” He was crying again.

I opened the door as quietly as possible and left him to his tears.

That was love. That was true, real love. I admired him for it. For going through what he did and still having the energy to feel what he did.

I found Avery in the hall. She was avoiding the waiting room same as I was.

I closed the distance fast and pulled her to me, embracing her hard.

“James – what the hell?” She gasped when I squeezed a little too hard.

“Don’t leave me,” I whispered, surprised that I was crying by this point. “I don’t tell you enough, but I need you. I need everything about you. I love you and everything is going to be okay.”

She smiled and kissed my cheek. “I’m your wife, James. I’m not going anywhere.”




A/N: Ah, a tiny reprieve before things start to take off again. The good news is - Amy's okay! Well, she's going to be okay anyway. That scene gave me all the feels when I wrote it, so I hope you enjoyed it. 

Thoughts? 

Also, I have been writing ahead as much as possible and I can tell now that the story will probably be less than 30 chapters total. That being said, I probably won't do an epilogue on this one. I'm going to finish it and wait a few months to see how I feel about James. If I can't give him up and still have the same itch I've had since I started BTQC to write him, I may tackle another story that I already have an idea for (but can't share because spoilers). I have no idea if anyone is interested in another story, but I wanted to be transparent with you guys! 

UP NEXT: Lindt reacts to the marriage news, mature disguises for a spy mission, and the plan changes. Not in a good way. 

 


Chapter 19: The One with the Burnt Pie
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For babybarakat and IAMTHEONEWHONOX and awsomonium. 




The reaction was swift, even if it was deafened slightly by my stay at the hospital.

Front page of the Prophet. Cover of Quidditch Weekly. Scrolling across every wizarding news station on television.

Pretty soon, Clara Robinson had an interview with Merlin from the Chapel, who was all too delighted when he found out who I was. Then the interview aired with the judge.

“These pompous celebrities think they can go get drunk and married and have no consequences? Ha!”

His exact words.

Avery unplugged her mother’s phone and told her not to go into work.

I couldn’t do the same for my parents. Dad told everyone at the Ministry to shove off because he had important business to take care of. Mum got asked to take the afternoon off when she hexed a reporter.

The worst was my Howler from Lindt. It wasn’t even a proper Howler. He didn’t yell. He requested my presence in his office that evening.

“Going to go?” asked Lily, who was eating grapes with Albus on my sofa. They weren’t too keen on media attention either. Half an office was camping just outside our property line.

“Have to, don’t I? Already missed the randomly mandatory practice, resulting in my disallowment from the second exhibition game. At this rate, I’ll never play.”

“At least interviewing pays well,” Lily said and shrugged.

“He’s probably going to tell me I’m off the team.”

“The captain can’t kick you off the team, though. Ballo has to do that.”

“Ballo probably will.”

Lily tossed a grape at my head. “Ballo gave you a shot. He’s not going to go back on his word because you got too drunk in Italy and married your secret girlfriend. Did you kick Meta off the team when she was shagging Bink? No, of course not. She was too good to replace.”

My baby sister had a point. If Ballo booted me, they would lose all the Potter revenue. The spotlight.

Maybe that didn’t matter to him, though.

“Just go before I get anxiety,” Albus muttered.

“Before YOU get anxiety?” I said. “This entire flat is full of anxiety. Freddie’s still at the hospital with Amy dreaming up wedding plans, Bink is waiting to see if Rose will be gone the rest of the summer, and my life is in the process of being destroyed…again. If you don’t want anxiety, go to the park.”

“You know how long it’s been since I’ve been on a slide?”

I picked up the bag of grapes and dumped it on my brother’s head.

*

Henrik Lindt’s office was down a long, empty hall from the locker rooms. The door was shut, but light poured out through the gap at my feet. I knocked four times and held my breath.

It took me a while to get up the courage to leave. I dressed in a button-down and tried to smooth my hair, but it didn’t do much good. My hair might be softer than Al’s, but it was just as crazy.

The door opened. Henrik’s face was like a stone. He nodded so I entered.

I sat in one of two leather chairs facing his desk. He got a desk. I didn’t have a desk, but I wanted one so I could get leather chairs and a fountain pen.

“Hey,” I said, breaking the silence. Epic silence.

“Potter, we need to have a talk.”

“Are you kicking me off the team?” I blurted. Lily told me not to do that. It wasn’t tactful.

Come on, Lily. I’m not tactful.

“What?” Henrik sat in his own winged leather chair and folded his hands on the calendar draped across the top of his desk. “Am I kicking you off the team?”

“Yeah. For being a git.”

“Look, James, I need you to be honest with me here. It is apparent from the first team meeting you haven’t been the slightest bit honest with me and I’m disappointed. I thought you, coming from your Captaincy of Gryffindor, would appreciate honesty and loyalty.”

The loyalty part was Hufflepuff, but I got his point.

“I haven’t lied about everything.” That was a really bad defense.

“I want the truth.”

“About…life?”

Henrik rolled his eyes. Hufflepuffs were supposed to be patient. “About everything. Right now. I want you to tell me the truth about you and Avery Flynn. What’s going on now. What was going on when you were signed. Before you were signed. I need to know.”

“Should I ask if that’s an invasion of privacy?”

“No. You should not.”

Right.

I remembered why we didn’t get leather furniture for the front room. I began to sweat, my arms sticking to the rests and inside of the chair. Awkward.

“Now, James.”

I didn’t have much of a choice, sitting in his intimidating office, so I told him everything. How Avery and I started dating second half of our seventh year. How we broke up because her father was, well, a lot of words Henrik told me to stop saying. How we tried to be friends, but it didn’t work. How I tried to do the Quidditch star thing and move on, but I couldn’t. How I left the tournament early to see her.

How we tried not to date, but failed. How we tried not to fall in love, but failed.

How we got drunk and got married and agreed to cross the bridge of the thirty days when it arrived, making it easier for those around us.

“What were you going to do when it was up?” he asked. “Stay married? Get separated and then break the Code again? Potter, this is insane.”

“You’re telling me,” I agreed. “Look, I’m not expecting you to have any sympathy for me, but I’m not sorry.”

“What?”

“I’m not sorry,” I repeated. “I love Avery and I’m going to do everything I can to keep her.”

“You’re risking your Quidditch career.”

“I’m risking your Code, not my career.”

“I’ve heard otherwise.”

My head snapped up. It actually hurt. “From who? About what?”

Henrik shook his head and pieces of perfect hair fell into his face. He pushed them away. “I’m not at liberty to discuss this matter with you. Just know you’re treading on thin ice.”

My heart raced. What if Mason had gotten to him?

If he had, wouldn’t Mason already be on the team?

Unless they couldn’t just kick me off the team because of the bad press. They had to force me into doing it myself.

That was crazy. No way Henrik was risking a Cup because of something stupid like that.

“Fine. So if Avery and I are still dating each other after the thirty days, I’m benched?”

“That’s the Code,” Henrik said, voice somber. He was no longer looking at me. “If you are still a Tornado and Miss Flynn is still a Harpy. Those are the rules.”

His gaze was fixed on the fountain pen.

“James, be careful,” he said.

Henrik Lindt had been compromised.

*

“Someone got to Lindt?” Bink said, raising a brow. He was back at the flat when I arrived, determined to avoid Rose when she received notice via owl about her interview. “Think it’s whomever let slip on the info to Nia?”

“I don’t know. It can’t be Mason or the fucker would already be on the team.”

I paced the empty sitting room. Avery was with her mother. My siblings were at the house spying on the reporters at the end of the driveway. Mum was making roast so loudly I could hear the pans being thrown against the sink.

I had a real habit of letting my problems impact my family.

Dad’s owl arrived when I walked in the door, but he didn’t have any news. He did say the timing of my “breaking news” was convenient, considering it was right after he started to ask questions.

It might go deeper than we think, he wrote.

“I still have two weeks until the first game,” I said.

“Unless the plan has changed.”

“What do you mean?” My head snapped up. Falcon Cat came sauntering into the room with a toy mouse in her mouth.

“I mean, what if after Nia told you, things changed? What if they found out she blabbed?”

Something I didn’t consider. It wasn’t foolish to consider the dastardly plan to off me could change. Maybe the weapon was changed. Maybe the time and place.

Maybe the date.

“I can’t let Avery get hurt,” I said quickly. Bink nodded from behind the kitchen island. “I can’t let her get into this. You know she’s going to try.”

“In her defense, she has saved your ass several times, you know.”

“I know, but this isn’t Quidditch anymore. This is real life with real blokes willing to leave me for dead in the middle of a field after beating me senseless.”

Bink took out a piece of parchment and scribbled something. He tied it to his owl’s leg and tossed it out the window. Literally tossed it right out the window. Like he was winding up to hit a Bludger.

“What’s that?” I said.

“We need a professional,” he replied.

“For what?”

“Look, James, we need to take care of this. Your father is doing what he can on his end, but it’s getting ruthless. The media is accusing you of everything under the sun and the fans are going to riot against you if we don’t take care of it.” Bink shrugged. “I’m saying we should take matters into our own hands.”

“How?” I flipped on the television and muted it. A commercial was playing for a blender.

“Find out what they’re planning.”

“You want to abduct Mason?” I said. “He probably has a guard now. Same with Twitwards. Flynn is in jail. He’s not going to sit down with me again and spew answers.”

Bink was quiet, but his eyes weren’t on me. They were over my shoulder.

“Maybe going to Fern won’t be necessary,” he said.

The door downstairs opened.

“I got your owl and brought what you said – what’s going on?” It was Freddie’s voice.

Bink nodded to the television and I turned. “We’re going under cover, boys.”

BREAKING NEWS

David Flynn released from Fern Prison after being pardoned by the Minister.

*

I hated lying to Avery, but this was one mission she couldn’t know about. It was too dangerous. I just got her back and I wasn’t letting her go. Not this soon.

We met in my bedroom for a tactical session and Freddie prepped the disguises. As he worked, he updated us on the situation at the hospital. Amy was getting better and let Freddie read to her for hours on end as she looked out the window. Sappy shit, but they liked it.

He didn’t stop grinning. I told him on our mission, there was no grinning.

“You can’t stop me from grinning,” he announced.

“I will kick you.”

“I’ll grin when you do it.”

Bink threw books at both of us. “How are the disguises coming?” he said.

Freddie nodded to the fabric. “We’re not going as women this time.”

“What? Isn’t that our thing?” I said.

“Until wigs fell at Avery’s practice,” he replied, shaking his head. “No, we need real disguises if we’re going to get to the bottom of this.” Fred tossed me a bunch of fabric and a zipper nailed me in the face. “What’s the plan, anyway? Who are we spying on?”

I paced, turning the dark fabric over in my hands. “Twitwards is a pawn in this. We don’t know where Flynn is, but I’ll bet he’s with Mason. He’s the ring-leader. He wants me to fail almost as bad as Flynn and he’s the one circulating nonsense in the Quidditch world while Flynn was in jail. It’s him we need to take down.”

“Tonight is tactical,” Bink explained. “We aren’t taking anyone out. We’re getting information so we can let Mr. Potter know. Then we’ll come up with a plan.”

“What if things go wrong?” Freddie asked, peeling off his shirt.

“Don’t panic and think about something else.”

“Like what?” I said, scoffing.

Bink shrugged and tossed his own shirt on my dresser. “I’ll think about how Rose got the internship in Greece and is leaving in three days. That should occupy me for a while.” He wore a smile. The worst kind.

Freddie and I exchanged looks, but said nothing.

It was time for a mission. We could make Bink talk about feelings later.

*

Latest intelligence (the “locked” drawer in Henrik’s office) told us Mason lived just outside London in a house passed down to him from his older brother. From the outside, it was a nice bachelor pad with a yard sporting overgrown grass and a bench.

“He doesn’t water his flowers enough,” said Freddie.

We approached from the south, crawling in the grass (thankfully, not mud) so we were shielded from view. There were two cars in the drive, but the sun made it impossible to see whether or not any lights were on.

Freddie was very smart for this mission. We weren’t in public, so we couldn’t blend in. We couldn’t be girls. We had to get information without being seen. At all.

He got us light camouflage with face paint. I really appreciated face paint. It was probably on the top of my list of things I appreciated.

After Falcon Cat and snogging Avery.

For the first time, Bink and Freddie were difficult to distinguish if I couldn’t see their eyes. Even their hair was covered in knit caps.

It was too hot for knit caps and I was sweating.

“Do you hear anything?” I hissed to Bink, who was ahead of me by a meter.

“Nothing,” he whispered.

We crawled and my elbowed sank into the dirt. Grass kept going up my nose, urging me to sneeze, but I held it in because do you think my father sneezed when battling Voldemort?

Maybe. I never asked.

Bink flattened the grass under the fence, which was thankfully three horizontal boards instead of a proper fence. He crawled through, followed by myself and then Freddie.

“Oh, a gnome!” Freddie said quickly, though excitedly.

“Shut it, Weasley. We’re getting close.” Bink had a lot of talents. I didn’t know one included crawling through long grass, but it was nice to know he knew what he was doing. His elbows were barely dirty. “Keep up.”

By the time we made it to the side of the house, under a window, we were winded. Lindt did not make us do enough crawling drills and I was wiped. I tried not to pant.

I was panting.

We pressed our backs against the siding and closed our eyes. Thankfully, there were people inside. Voices.

“It’s not like we can wait.” I didn’t recognize that voice.

“Obviously. Our cover in the league has been compromised and we’re holding on by threats and Potter’s idiocy right now.” That would be David Flynn himself. In the flesh. “Soon he’s going to have another goddamn fundraiser and win back the public.”

“Did you release the statement this morning, Emerson?” Mason. That one was Mason.

“I did, yes.” Twitwards.

I wondered what statement. All I heard was about Flynn being released. I didn’t hear a statement.

“Let’s see how Potter deals with that one,” Flynn said, chuckling. Even his chuckle was douche-y. “No matter. With his father poking around at the Ministry, this needs to happen swiftly. You have already made too many mistakes.”

“We have done exactly what you asked of us and are getting what you promised in return.” Mason sounded annoyed. I would be annoyed if I was hosting a criminal in my bachelor pad too. Couldn’t bring home the ladies for a while. Sorry, Mason. No manipulative dates with my wife.

Ha. My wife.

“You’ll get whatever I give you,” Flynn retorted. “And you’ll be grateful.”

Mason laughed coldly. “You will make sure Potter is permanently out of the game and make sure Emerson gets your daughter. That was your promise and you will deliver.”

“Are you threatening me, boy?”

“I am promising you,” Mason said.

There was a shifting of furniture and a few gasps.

“Let me make myself very clear,” David Flynn said. His voice was hushed. “I am taking care of Potter because his poking around landed me in jail after he notified Avery of what was going on. If you get to play in big-boy pants because of it, I couldn’t care less than I do at this very moment. You’re on your own there. I will not, however, have you threatening me. I promise those who do that do not live to tell the story.”

This was like a bad western movie. I pictured Flynn inside with cowboy boots and a pistol.

“Is that understood?” Flynn said.

Nothing, so I assumed nodding was happening. I didn’t see a flash of green light, so I knew that’s what happened.

“The plan has changed,” Flynn announced. “Tell no one. Your faults have led to too many people knowing and Potter has been warned. He’s looking for clues. He thinks he has another two weeks to whimper about. We’re taking him out.”

Bink and Freddie looked to me. I gulped.

“And Avery?” Twitwards said.

“I don’t intend on doing anything to my daughter,” Flynn said. “But if she puts herself in the line of fire, I don’t intend on sparing her because of stupidity.”

His daughter. Those are the words of a father.

In that moment, I remembered a time Avery and I were in her bedroom. We were around thirteen and stretched out on the carpet eating cheese and crackers. Her hair was back off her neck, knotted.

Avery flipped over the cracker box and snickered.

“What? Cracker humor?” I said, stuffing cheese in my mouth. Sans cracker.

“No. You could win a getaway.”

“Where? Canada?” I barely got the words out. I was a classy boy.

“It’s a wedding getaway. Like, you get the wedding of your dreams and then a honeymoon to some island with palm trees.” She shrugged. “I’ve never seen palm trees.”

“Probably have to be an adult to enter.”

Avery squinted at the fine print and nodded.

“Freddie said all girls plan their weddings when they’re like five. He just went out with Helena Arthur and she is wearing her mum’s wedding dress and wants to get married in wine country.” I grimaced. “Did you plan your wedding, Aves?”

She shook her head. “Not like that.” She took out another cracker and spread cheese across it. A little too hard, because it flaked into her lap. “Just little details.”

“Like what?”

She shook her head. “It’s stupid.”

“That never stopped me,” I announced.

Avery laughed. “Fine. I want to get married outside. In the summer. In a strapless dress. And I want…” She trailed off, focusing on her cracker. I nudged her knee. Hard. “I want my father to walk me down the aisle.”

“Your father?” I wrinkled my nose, but then quickly unwrinkled it when I realized she was serious.

“Sure. I know he left when I was little, but he’s still my father, you know?”

I nodded. I didn’t really know. I harbored so much hate for a man I never met.

Just a few months later she took back everything she said in her bedroom that day. After a father-daughter fundraiser for Puddlemere. My father took Lily and asked Avery to come, but she faked sick. I visited her to find half the glass in her flat shattered against a wall.

As I sat listening to David Flynn talk about how he wouldn’t hurt Avery on purpose, but would let her hurt herself, I sank back to that day she wanted a father. A real father. Just someone to care about her and be there for her.

Also in that moment, I was positive I hated him more than he hated me.

No one hurts Avery. No one.

Chairs shifted against the floor and I guessed we were below the dining room window.

“Pleasure seeing you, August,” David said, I assumed to the voice I hadn’t recognized. “This time, how about we don’t blab half the plan when threatening the coach, hmm?”

“I apologize, Mr. Flynn. I didn’t know Cooper would spill while shagging some girl fresh out of the castle.”

My eyes bulged and I looked to Bink and Freddie. They caught the same thing.

Nia Baker was shagging Cooper Bradley. This August bloke threatened Cooper, which is why he wasn’t playing Avery.

I went back to the shagging and grimaced all over again.

Freddie nudged me. “August Wells?” he whispered.

I shrugged. “Who?”

“Owns the Tornados, Harpies, Falcons, and Finches.”

I kept thinking: How could this possibly get worse? I needed to stop thinking that because it kept getting worse.

David Flynn was working with the owner of multiple teams. Which was why Cooper wasn’t playing Avery. Why Lindt looked spooked for the first time.

Why I was on a downward spiral.

But what would Flynn have on someone like August Wells that made them work together? Surely Wells could have told Avery’s father to “stuff it, convict” instead? What was in this for him?

August cleared his throat. “Emerson, can I offer you a ride back into the city?”

“Please. My car hasn’t been working since it was stolen at the start of the summer.”

“Did you ever find the culprits?” asked August.

“No, sir. Though I’m sure karma caught up with them.”

August scoffed. “You can’t rely on karma, boy. You have to catch up with them.”

I rolled my eyes. Typical bastard. Little did he know, Twitwards knew it was us who stole his car and he left me to rot with roadkill as a result.

“Great advice, sir,” Twitwards said.

Flynn cleared his throat. “The first phase is in motion. Take care of it, Edwards.”

The door opened and shut. A car started in the garden and I waited to breathe until the engine was far enough to become a dull hum.

Mason cleared his throat. “August Wells is your eyes and ears in the league, as he should be given you were at Hogwarts together. Loyalty is important. He has half the coaches and managers aware of our situation. Emerson got you pardoned by the Minister. I have acquired all the necessary tools for our plan with Potter. Everything is fine. Won’t you relax?”

They were at Hogwarts together.

Ugh. Twats.

“You’re dismissed, Mason.”

“Yes, sir.” A door closed.

The room was quiet, so I leaned my head back onto the siding, thinking. This was more complicated than I could have imagined. Half the league was in on the plan to take me down and it didn’t look like they were involved because of their hatred of me. Flynn clearly had force, especially with August Wells involved. He must have made some pristine promises.

I didn’t have two weeks to win the public over. I didn’t have two weeks to do anything. It was going to happen soon. Possibly this weekend? Possibly tomorrow?

Though I now knew who was involved and how menacing the ordeal sounded, I was no closer to knowing what was happening and when it was going to take place.

The tone of Flynn’s voice made me expect the worst.

I had to talk to my father. I had to hide.

I had to fight?

I didn’t know what I had to do, but for the moment I was stuck to the side of Mason’s bachelor pad in pure fear.

And my allergies were acting up. What a time! I had important plot things to consider. When? Where? Would they come to my house? Or snatch me up after practice? Would Lindt even let me on the pitch? And what of Avery? It sounded like she would be there, or at least find out swiftly what happened to me. I didn’t want her to get involved. This wasn’t her war.

Though she would insist it was. It was her father.

How much did that really matter? He hurt her enough.

Bink jerked his head toward the way we came. We heard enough and Flynn wasn’t talking to himself, so there was little more we could learn.

I nodded. Freddie went first, crawling through the grass quietly, along the house in case Flynn went to the window for a view of trees and an unkept garden.

I followed.

Then I sneezed, so that was inconvenient.

It happened fast. Flynn was at the window, his entire body leaning so he could spot the three of us. Bink with a furious expression. Me looking like an ass. Freddie staring over his shoulder, confused.

Flynn went for his wand.

Mason came flying out the door with his own wand.

There was only one thing to do and it was much easier now that I wasn’t wearing a dress.

“Run!” I shouted, scrambling to my feet and barely missing a hex from Flynn’s wand.

The grass went up in flames around me as I pressed my toes hard into the dirt. This wasn’t just running away from spying on Avery dating or trying to check up on her tryout. This was actually running from the bloke trying to off me.

Because I sneezed. I needed to have a conversation with my father about allergies in the heat of battle.

“Bloody – go!” Bink shoved me forward as he twisted to shoot a spell at Mason. It hit and Mason fell against the house in a lump. “Bloody git. Just because he isn’t that good at Quidditch – GET OVER YOURSELF.”

In that moment I kind of wanted to watch Bink kick the shit out of Mason.

Instead, I ran. I ran hard, tearing through the grass and leaping the fence before racing for the trees. Freddie shot hexes as well, though his missed. The grass was on fire. Smoke was everywhere. Flynn was screaming a lot of swear words, ordering Mason to do something quickly.

Mason was still being a lump, so he did nothing.

The door slammed. That had to be Flynn coming after us.

Maybe the plan was going to change again and it would end here – today.

“Go, James – faster!” Bink shoved me forward and into the trees as he fired hexes in the direction of the house. I couldn’t even see it anymore with the smoke and flames. My lungs ached from running.

I dodged a tree and followed Freddie. Eventually, my feet began to catch roots and my face paint began to leak down my face. Too much sweat. Still, Bink pushed us on.

“Is – he – following?” I gasped.

“Yes!” Bink cried. “And it appears he went running in Fern! GO!”

When was the last time I ran this much?

Never. That was the last time.

I leapt over a fallen tree and we cut to the right, toward our safe spot. “Wait!” I cried.

“What? WHAT?” Bink shouted.

“Remember last time?” I gasped, pushing off from a tree so I didn’t hit it head-on.

“Last time? You mean Avery’s tryout?” Bink said, firing a nasty-looking hex through the trees. Yellow light. Which one was that? Puss was probably involved.

“Yeah! Remember – the car – when we said we didn’t – have to steal it?”

“POTTER SPIT IT OUT.” Bink knocked his leg on a branch and cried out from pain.

I grabbed the back of Freddie shirt, halting him (and also choking him a bit – sorry). Bink ran into us full-force, but I grabbed his shirt at the collar.

I closed my eyes, spun, and apparated the fuck out of there.

*

We startled Falcon Cat when we arrived back at the flat, but I didn’t have time to console her. David Flynn knew where I lived. There was a protection spell on the grounds, but Mason got through it, so I was willing to bet he could do it again.

“I have to talk to my father,” I breathed, grabbing my knees to stop myself from being sick. Too much running. Too fast. Needed a nap.

“Now?” Bink said. He closed the blinds. “We need to think this out.”

“We lost that time when I sneezed,” I said. “Stay here. Bolt the door and put a spell on it. I’ll send a message up to let me in. This isn’t a plan anymore. This is in motion.”

To their credit, Bink and Freddie tried not to look concerned.

I tipped my knit cap and took the stairs two at a time.

The air was cooling as the sun went down. I saw no invaders, even though I expected to. When a bunny leapt out of the bush, it scared me senseless. I did some bizarre ninja move, but then felt like an idiot when I saw it.

Typical James Potter.

I shouldered the backdoor open. “Dad?” I called. “Mum? Urgent fuck-up by your eldest son!”

I received no answer.

“Albus?” I called. “Lily? Paloma? Wesley? TomCat?”

Nothing. No note on the fridge. I sniffed. That was an odd smell. Like burnt pie. I loved pie, but Mum knew not to burn it. Only Americans like AliCat liked things like burnt marshmallows.

I tugged open the oven. A severely overcooked pie was in there, so I flipped it off and tugged out the pan with mitts, setting it on the counter. The crust was a solid black and flaked when I poked it with a fork.

Mum wasn’t one to leave pies in the oven. Even if it was Albus baking for a sweater-vest party, he wasn’t one to mess things up either. Actually, the only person who would leave a pie in the oven in this house was me.

I drew my wand, stepping slowly into the living room. It was empty, but the window was open. A breeze blew back the sheer curtains.

That was normal. Right? Breeze? Window?

The television was on and a bowl of popcorn sat untouched in front of it. Popcorn was Lily’s favorite. She was never one to leave it alone. In fact, rather than share it with me, she would stuff a fist-full into her mouth.

I was momentarily distracted by the television, which was showing a commercial for a neat vacuum that knew which things were rubbish and which things (like receipts) needed to be saved. Very good product, I imagined.

I almost turned away when the regular programming started up, but once I saw my face, I couldn’t.

Granted, it was a great photo of me. Smirky. Looking like I ran the Quidditch league.

Then I realized why they decided on that particular photo.

BREAKING NEWS

I was getting sick of this breaking news bullshit.

POTTER FAMILY BEING HELD HOSTAGE BY ELDEST SON. WANTS CAPTAINCY OF TORNADOS OR LITTLE SISTER DIES.

I stared.

First of all, who was going to believe that?

Second of all, I was much more likely to off my brother over a captaincy spot than my sister. She had to look after my Gryffindor legacy.

I shook my head. I WASN’T OFFING EITHER OF MY SIBLINGS.

Potter family held hostage? Where was I holding them hostage?

Better question.

WHO THE FUCK WAS HOLDING MY FAMILY HOSTAGE?

 







A/N: Why, hello there. The crazy has been turned on (thanks for sneezing, James) and things are about to get crazier before they get calmer. James is just trying to get through being a rookie (if he ever gets to play) and here comes David Flynn trying to be a legit super-villain. 

Get a day job, man. 

Also, I finally got around to putting the cute Dobby ribbon on Breaking the Quidditch Code for its 2013 Dobby! Thanks again to those who nominated and voted - you're the best! 

UP NEXT: James gets a phone call. A plan is made. James proves he is much more like Harry than he realizes. 


Chapter 20: The One with the Negotiations
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For hoodwink and Dobby101. 




The back door opened and closed. I thought I locked it.

The television was going on about how I was armed and dangerous, willing to do anything to get to the top. The next picture was a little more disturbing – me at practice for the Tornados. I looked like a lunatic, but I suspected I was just in the middle of a sentence. Probably calling Artemis a prat.

Footsteps. I ducked into the hall, gripping my wand so tight my knuckles turned white.

They were here. The same people who took my family were here for me. To throw me to the media. To throw me in jail.

Was this the plan? Frame me and put me in jail? It made sense. It ruined my reputation and made it so I wouldn’t play Quidditch again.

Still, did everyone believe this nonsense? It was impossible. I was James Potter. Darling of the Quidditch media.

Well, until I lied to them about my marriage.

I hadn’t done damage control on that one yet.

The steps grew closer on the wood floor. One person. Soft feet.

Emerson?

I heard them move into the living room, so I thought I’d catch them first and rounded the corner, wand ready, curse on my lips.

“James?”

“Aves!” I ran at her, throwing my arms around her. “They’ve got my family! The plan has changed! Your father set a bunch of grass on fire – which was easy because Mason doesn’t water it properly.”

She returned the hug, but pulled away, confused. “What?”

I shook my head. “No time. I’ll send an owl up to Bink and Freddie. You have to stay up there with them and be safe. They barricaded the flat. It’s safe for you.”

Avery actually laughed in my face. “I’m not going anywhere. I was at Mum’s and saw the thing about your family – what happened? Where are they?” She saw the popcorn. “Someone has them.”

“Someone has them,” I agreed, nodding. “I just got here. The boys and I went to do some spy work.”

“I’m surprised at your face paint instead of a wig.”

“I’m maturing,” I said, shrugging. “Nevermind. We overheard Flynn telling Twitwards and Mason and August Wells that the plan changed. It’s in motion now – I’m willing to bet this was phase one. Of course. How could my father poke around at the Ministry if he is kidnapped?”

“My father really went so far as to kidnap the most famous wizarding family?” Avery said, glancing around the room for more clues. “He really is an idiot.”

I nodded. That I agreed with. “I’m guessing Twitwards or a minion did it, though I have no idea how. My parents are far more resourceful than I am with a wand.” I motioned to the television. “Do you think anyone will believe I kidnapped my own parents and am threatening to murder my sister? Don’t people connect the dots? I couldn’t get captain over this. They’d give into my demands and immediately arrest me.”

“James, of course they will. That’s what they’re going to do.”

“What?”

“They’re going to play it out just like that,” Avery explained. “That you’re off your rocker and power hungry. That you didn’t think it through. They’re going to meet you somewhere and arrest you. Put you in jail.”

“The Ministry or your father?”

“Let’s hope the Ministry finds you first,” she mumbled.

I paced the room, waiting to hear sirens. Nothing. At least the spell on the grounds still worked to keep out most people.

“I have to find them,” I said.

“You’re going to get yourself killed. We need a plan.”

“I need a machete,” I said. Pacing, I ran my fingers through my hair. “Do you think they’re figuring out how to get onto the property?” I shifted the curtains, but didn’t see anyone at the end of the drive.

“No.”

“No?”

Avery shook her head and leaned against the sofa. “No. If what you’re saying is the plan, then they won’t come here for you. They’ll wait for you to come out and publicly shame you. Arrest you and let your fans watch you fall.”

“I barely have any damn fans. I didn’t even play a damn game.”

This was a disaster. If I stayed, my family was a hostage. If I left, I gave them exactly what they wanted.

“Avery, I have to rescue my family.”

She smirked. “You’re more of a Potter than you thought you were, hmm?”

“Don’t tell my father,” I mumbled. “I can’t be bothered to fight Dark wizards when I’m playing a full season.” I paused. “If I play a full season.”

Avery placed a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “Listen. You have to think like them.”

“Like your father? Okay, get me a silly mustache and tweed pants and I’ll get into character.”

“My father owns neither of those.”

“Don’t question me. I’m thinking like my nemesis.” I always thought my nemesis would be Twitwards or Twataso or Darian Bay. My father-in-law hadn’t crossed my mind.

“Let me start,” Avery said with a knowing smile. I momentarily wanted to kiss it away. “You have to be smart. They aren’t going to hurt your family. No one hurts the Potters. My father isn’t that stupid. He’s just using them to get to you, who he doesn’t care about killing apparently. They’re alive and probably watching television wherever they’re being held. It’s only a matter of time until your mum lures away a guard with her gaze and they’re sprung.”

I grimaced. I did not like that visual.

“Don’t run in to save them. It’s stupid and it’s going to get you killed.”

“What do you suggest?”

Another smirk as she wrapped her hair around a finger. “A plan.”

*

Bink and Freddie let us back to the flat after we answered a series of questions I didn’t remember prepping with them. At one point, Freddie asked which bell pepper I favored: Yellow, green, or red. I said red, which must have been correct because the lock clicked and the door swung open.

“I had to make sure it was really you,” he insisted, closing the door and locking it behind us.

“Based on my preference for vegetables?” I asked.

“Your love of food goes deep.”

We sat in a circle in the living room and Avery explained the situation. To their credit, Bink and Freddie didn’t interrupt, even when Falcon Cat sauntered in and started batting at my shoelaces.

“So,” Bink began, “We have no idea where they’re being held, no idea how Flynn wants to strike to get James, and no idea how far this chain of douchebaggery extends?”

“Basically,” Avery said, nodding.

“Any backup?” he asked.

“It’s safe to assume we can’t trust James’s team,” Avery said and before I could interrupt, she shook her head. “I love all of them, but they could be on the receiving end of a convincing blackmail, don’t you think? I’m pretty sure Lindt is being blackmailed with his slot as captain. Maybe his family? Spot on the team?”

Ugh. It made sense.

“The family is out,” Avery said. “The rest of the family could be a possibility, but I don’t think it’s wise to get more of them potentially captured or hurt.” She looked to me and I nodded. “Amy is out for this round. We can try owling Paloma and Wesley, but I have a bad feeling they might be with your family.”

“What?” I said. “You think Wesley’s dating my sister?”

“Not the time,” she muttered. “I called here a few hours ago and he picked up.”

I groaned. What a mess.

“That leaves one person,” Avery said.

“Falcon Cat?” I guessed.

“Nia Baker.”

I exchanged looks with the boys. “Not it,” I said and shoved my finger against my nose.

Freddie was last so he flipped us off and grabbed some parchment.

*

Nia arrived an hour later. It had started to rain and her hood was pulled low over her face. She said the password, which was salami sandwich, and joined us in the flat.

“I heard the news,” she said and shrugged off the cloak, draping it over the railing. “Of course I didn’t believe it, but it’s going to be difficult to get around it. Even if it’s proven false, that’s what people are going to associate you with.”

I fell back into the sofa. “I’m going to fight Dark wizards instead. This Quidditch business is rubbish.”

Nia nudged me and sat down. “So what’s the plan? I said I’d help and I want to.” She finally spotted Avery and smiled. “Hey! Still in the honeymoon phase? Or did the media sort of mess that up?”

“I’d rather not discuss it,” Avery said, but she was still wearing the ring.

She was still my wife.

Hopefully not a soon-to-be widow.

*

The plan was simple. Sort of.

Bink and Freddie were going to don (female) disguises and check the list of locations for my family. We knew they wouldn’t be easy to locate, but they were to gather clues of added security, a struggle, or people who recently asked for autographs.

Avery was studying the news stations, looking for clues in phrases and photos about where they could be located or what Twitwards was feeding the media. After, she was to put on one of her slinky dresses and visit the assistant to the assistant to the Minister himself for information.

It was her idea. I suggested taking a bowl of salad as an offering.

Nia was heading back into the Quidditch world to poke around and ask innocent questions while being her bubbly, Tactnia self.

I was going to lock Falcon Cat and Victoria safely inside my room with lots of food just in case and go to my father’s study for additional information. I knew he wouldn’t keep information on Flynn at the Ministry – too risky. It would be in his locked drawer. The one I conveniently made a key for several years ago when I stole the Marauder’s Map.

Thanks, Dad.

After I found what I was looking for, we were to meet back at the flat in four hours with a tactical plan to spring my family, take down David Flynn, and save my career.

Things just don’t happen the way you want them to.

Especially when you’re up against a bitter lunatic, a sad reserve, an assistant’s assistant, and the random owner of several teams.

Somehow, the fort debacle seventh year with Twitwards seemed less complicated now.

*

I found the information where I assumed it would be. Dad’s study was dark, lit by a few candles at the edge of the desk. I spread out the papers and folders, careful not to let wax drip on any, and began to read.

He was right in saying he hadn’t found many leads, but there were a lot of things there already. I skimmed.

Blah blah blah Ministry garbage.

Blah blah – Oh, Emerson’s uncle was the assistant to the Minister. What a leg up.

There was an entire folder devoted to Mason. According to several reports, this wasn’t the first time he got fired up for not being bumped to the Tornados. Before AliCat got the call, he set a building on fire. They didn’t kick him off the Hurricanes because of “fan loyalty” and “no actual proof it was him.” Two pages later it stated the Ministry found his Hurricanes Captain pin at the site.

On the next page it listed Mason’s relatives. His aunt was in Magical Law Enforcement.

This was explaining a lot. Their connections made it easy for Twitwards and Mason to fly under the radar. Easy to get the pardon onto the Minister’s desk. Easy to ignore Mum’s statement about my kidnapping (which she never told me she did).

There was also a thinner folder containing documents (many were blacked out) explaining David Flynn’s Quidditch league connections. An August Wells was named as his Hogwarts roommate. In a clipped newspaper article, Wells was quoted saying one day they would be “owners – side by side.”

The pieces continued to slide into place.

Emerson got Avery (yeah, right).

Mason got my spot on a professional Quidditch team (less likely).

David Flynn got sole ownership of a Quidditch franchise, his record terminated, and the elimination of the boy who took away his dreams (might happen).

I stuffed the files back into Dad’s desk and locked it. No one needed to see this. No one needed to get hurt over it.

Part of me knew someone already was. Why had I sent Bink and Freddie out to spy for me? How could I explain away their loss if something happened? Amy would put me through a wall if Flynn didn’t do it first.

And Avery. No matter how many times she took care of things with Twitwards, this was different. He had reinforcement now. His reach was further. I put her directly in harm’s way.

When did thinking of myself ever yield good results? Even Nia was out helping me.

I locked the office door and slipped back into the living room. There were still no media beating down the door or Ministry officials popping their heads in the fireplace. I had to assume Avery was right. They wanted a public showcase. They wanted to ruin me.

They were well on their way, I decided when I looked back to the television. I tapped up the volume.

“We’re being told now things have taken a turn,” said the anchor. She was a pretty woman with dark hair and dark eyes. “It appears Potter is sick in his hostage-taking. He has taken his former best friends after forcing them to dress in drag for his amusement.”

I actually rolled my eyes, though I knew it wasn’t the time.

Like I had to force Freddie to wear a dress. Honestly. Just ask Amy.

“This situation is getting serious. I’m being told Ministry officials are trying to make contact with Potter to negotiate.”

I waited. No contact.

Then the house phone rang. The one Clara called on to break the news of my marriage to my mother. Though tempted to unplug it, I picked it up.

“Yeeeeello?” I said casually.

“Is this James Potter?”

“Considering the rest of my family has been kidnapped by a madman, I am the only one left here,” I said. Avery was out there somewhere and I only hoped she was okay. “What can I do for you, mate?”

“Please make your demands.”

“What’s your name, mate?”

“Scorpius.”

I paused. “Scorpius bloody Malfoy?”

“Please watch your language, Mr. Potter. State your demands in order to negotiate for the release of your family.”

“You haven’t even graduated yet,” I said. Seriously. He was to take over the Slytherin Quidditch team next season. Lily and I spent an entire day drilling about his moves.

“Internship, Mr. Potter,” he said tactfully. “Now, I repeat, please state your demands.”

“You do realize I don’t have my family, right?”

“You do have your family. They have been kidnapped. By you.”

“Let me level with you, mate.” I leaned my hip against the dining room table, which Mum always told me not to do because I would fall and break myself. After losing my footing and almost falling and breaking myself, I stepped away. “Do you honestly think I could kidnap not just my siblings, but my entire family? You remember who my father is, yes? Who he defeated? And you’re assuming I, Quidditch fuckup extraordinaire, am going to kidnap him? Fat chance.”

Scorpius sighed in a manner that was very rehearsed. “Very well, Potter. I will inform the Ministry that you are unwilling to negotiate.”

“Can you hand a grown-up the phone?” I asked.

The line went dead.

After this was over, I was going to ask Dad to have a word with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement for letting an intern handle a negotiation.

Unless it was Mason’s aunt’s doing.

Unless my father was no longer alive.

*

Avery didn’t return to the flat at the time of the rendez-vous.

Nia was the only one there and looking frazzled. I glanced out the front curtains, but slammed them shut. No Avery there. No Avery from the fireplace. No Avery Flynn Potter anywhere and I was about to go batshit insane if my wife didn’t walk through any door in the next minute.

“James,” Nia said, noticing my absurd pacing. “She’s probably fine. She might be scouting a lead.”

“I don’t need her scouting leads,” I said, louder than I wanted to. “I need her here. Safe.”

She shook her head, smirking.

“What? Don’t smirk. I’ll call you Bink.” He was too smirky. And now he was kidnapped.

“Just – it’s nothing.”

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“NIA.”

She was startled, but nodded. “I was just thinking about you and Avery. It seems so obvious now, doesn’t it?”

“What seems obvious?” My patience was waning. I was no Hufflepuff.

“How in love with each other you two were,” Nia said. She was smiling again, but it made my heart hurt. “I mean, I know you two were mates before seventh year, but just thinking back and how you noticed each other and you tried to play it off as being protective and she tried to go on other dates… but you were so in love. And so in denial.”

I wanted to argue, but I couldn’t. Nia was right.

Nia Baker was actually right.

Part of me wondered if I had been in love with Avery Flynn since I met her in the boat on our way to Hogwarts.

Now she wasn’t here. I kept the television muted to the “high risk hostage situation” in case there was a development, but I still hadn’t seen Avery’s face.

There were photos of the kidnapped lining the bottom of the television screen and Avery was right – Paloma and Wesley were there as well. My entire immediate family, their significant others (ugh, Wesley) and my two best mates.

“Fine.” I leaned into the kitchen island to stop from pacing. “Tell me what you found out. Please tell me you found something.”

“Cooper got a call four hours ago, when I got here,” Nia explained, keeping her voice low. “The plan is, obviously, in motion and you were right. They want to get you publicly to kill your reputation. That is their first move. They want Cooper to do an interview after you’re caught about why he thought you were a bad move for the Tornados. They sent him the script.”

“I don’t think he needs a script for that,” I muttered.

“And Avery was right about your team.”

I looked up. “Blackmail?”

Nia nodded and her frown created small lines on her cheeks. “Every one of them. Even your friend – that AliCat one. She apparated back to America to make sure her parents were safe. Each one of them is being blackmailed with someone they love – except Lindt. His entire life is that team. That’s what he’s being blackmailed with. His career.”

I felt a pang in my heart for him. The loyal Hufflepuff.

“All of this is happening because of me,” I said.

“It’s happening because a grown man is acting like a child who wants to take over the entire sandbox instead of sharing,” Nia said.

“But it’s me, isn’t it?” I said, my eyes darting around the room. My hands felt clammy. “I’m the one who started this. I’m the reason my family is kidnapped and might be tortured. I’m the reason my best mates were caught in drag – though that was pretty funny. I’m the reason my team, the people who met me two months ago, are being blackmailed with their families and careers. It’s me. Once Flynn gets me, he’ll give up on the others.”

Nia pressed her lips to one side. “Do you think so, though?”

“Why wouldn’t he?” I asked.

She stared and it felt like she was looking into me. “Why would he?” Nia sighed and continued. “I don’t think he will, James. He wants anyone associate with you stamped out.”

“You think he’ll still take Lindt’s career.”

“And you know exactly who would love a captain slot for a professional team…”

My eyes widened. “He wouldn’t. The Tornados would suck.”

Nia shrugged. “I don’t think it matters.”

I thought about it for a while as I watched the seconds tick by without delivering my wife. Without any news. Without a kidnapping notice on television or an owl to tell me she was safe. I started to panic. I let Falcon Cat crawl from my lap onto my shoulders and I paced some more. Nia suggested a plan, but I was out of plans.

I needed Avery. Avery was my plan and I was doing a rubbish job of keeping her out of danger.

*

The phone call jerked me awake two hours later.

Nia slept through it, her head resting on the arm of the chair and her legs falling over the other side. She never took off her shoes. “In case we have to run,” she said. I didn’t tell her, but I appreciated her being here. She told me over and over it was going to be okay. I didn’t know if I believed it, but it was nice to hear it.

“Hello?” I said into the phone, a little loud because that was the way wizards spoke into Muggle devices. “Aves? Where are you? What’s happening?”

“Oh, Potter. It’s great to hear your voice.”

Definitely not Avery.

“Flynn!” I spat. I walked into my bedroom so as to not wake Nia. “Where is she?”

“She’s alive,” he said. “If that’s what you’re worried about.”

“She’s your DAUGHTER, you low life scum piece of – “

“Watch yourself, Mr. Potter.”

I took a breath. This was not how Avery would want me to react. She would want me to be calm, collected, and have a plan. But she was so good at plans. Especially ones that didn’t involve dressing as women and spying.

“Tell me what you want, Flynn,” I said. Calmly. Well, through gritted teeth, but it was close enough.

“I’m already getting what I want,” he said. He laughed. Godric, he actually laughed. Like an evil super-villain, minus the cackle. “Now I want to know what you want.”

“My wife!” I snapped. “My family! My friends!”

There was a pause. “It’s astounding that you didn’t mention your career.”

I rolled my eyes and paced my bedroom. “Unlike some people, I happen to care more about the people I love than a fucking job.”

“Has it always been that way?” he asked.

“What do you WANT, Flynn?” I shouted, losing my temper again. “Let me talk to Avery. This is absurd. Why hasn’t she been on television yet?”

Flynn chuckled pompously. I’ll bet Emerson taught him that. “My ruse would be for naught – oh, no, the public wouldn’t believe you captured Avery after going through so much to keep your fake marriage intact. She is staying with me in a secret location.”

“What are you going to do with her?” I asked, voice catching. I hoped he didn’t catch it, but I knew he did.

“I haven’t decided yet,” Flynn said and the line crackled a little. “It depends on you, Mr. Potter. If you go through with everything and give yourself up, I suppose I’ll let her go a little scratched up. If you don’t… I have a few people sporting wands here who would love to do a little damage to someone since they don’t have immediate access to your family.”

I thought about what Nia said. “How do I know you’re not going to just off her after I give myself up?” I asked.

I could almost hear his smirk. “You don’t,” he said. “But you don’t have a choice, do you?”

I didn’t. I was backed into a corner. He had my family. He had my friends.

He had my Avery.

“Tell me what to do,” I said.

*

I shook Nia awake. She blinked away the sleep from her eyes. “Is everything okay?”

“No,” I said, surprised at the weakness in my voice. “But there’s something I have to do.”

“James…”

“I need you to stay here,” I told her. “I’m being very serious. I need you to stay here and look after Falcon Cat and Victoria. They have some food, but I need you to wait for someone to come around. If Avery doesn’t come back and neither does my family, owl Amy and ask her to care for them.”

Nia nodded. She didn’t complain or try to stop me.

Just then, the door downstairs opened.

“AVERY?” I cried, though I knew it couldn’t be her.

“James?!”

It was my cousin Rose. When she made it to the top of the stairs, I saw the mascara streaks down her face and her red eyes. She looked between myself and Nia. “What’s going on?” she said, parts of the words caught in the back of her throat. “Where’s Bink?”

“Everything is going to be fine.” I grabbed a jacket. I didn’t know why I would need a jacket, but it felt comforting.

“Where is Bink?” she repeated.

I jerked my head toward Nia. “She’ll fill you in. I’m going to get them.”

“Get them – JAMES!”

I groaned. “I don’t have time, Rose. I’m really sorry. I have people to save.” I thought about Avery and her father’s threat. I didn’t know if he would actually let his henchmen harm her, but with all the damage he was doing, my doubts were slim.

“I didn’t – James – I am supposed to go to Greece in the morning!”

I’d forgotten about Greece with all the nonsense happening with my own life. I frowned. “I’m sorry,” I said. I was. Yet another example of James Potter thinking about himself. “I’ll try to deliver him back to you before you leave.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she said. Uncharacteristically, Rose Weasley was weeping. Nia put an arm around her shoulders. “I never told him I love him.”

That made me turn. “You love him?”

“Of course I love him you fucking idiot.” That was more like Rose.

“Then why were you going to Greece?” I asked, tugging on some shoes. I would probably need shoes.

“Because – hic – it’s not going to work. I’m going back to Hogwarts in the fall. He is a charismatic bartender – I’m a jackass Weasley Prefect with a temper – it’s worthless and it won’t work and I wanted out before he had a chance to tell me he met someone better.”

I straightened and looked from Nia to Rose. I really didn’t have time for this, but I made time for it.

“Rosey,” I said, cupping her cheek in one of my hands. “Bink loves you. He really, stupidly, outrageously loves you. And as much as I hate it, I hate him moping about because you’re shattering his albino heart more.”

“He loves me?”

I rolled my eyes and kissed her forehead. “If he’s not back by the time you leave, please leave him a note. You have to tell him. He has to know.”

Rose flushed and more tears rolled down her cheeks. “My orientation starts early,” she whispered.

“Leave him a voice message then.” I pointed to the phone. “Godric knows someone should use it for good instead of evil.”

“Where is he, James?” Rose said and I barely heard her.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But goddamn it, I’m going to find them all.”

I didn’t tell her how. I didn’t tell her my side of the bargain, but it was worth it if Flynn kept his word.

It was worth giving up everything to save the people I loved. Even if I was saving them from paper cuts and cheap beer.

*

David Flynn had a very specific list of requirements before he freed my family. An even longer list to free Avery.

I didn’t care.

Before I left my flat, I found one of Avery’s rings she used to wear (before we got married) and strung it through a chain. It was an emerald jewel with a silver band her mum found at a boutique when we were thirteen. I hooked it around my neck and stuffed it under my t-shirt.

I wrote her a note and left it under my pillow. It took me a while to figure out the words, but in the end I wrote:

Avery Flynn Potter,

I love you. I love you with everything I am and I will do anything to keep you safe. I used to think life was just me getting to my next goal, but it’s not. What we had – that was life. I’ll never forgive myself for the moments we lost and the times I slept instead of ran my fingers through your hair or the time it took for me to realize I couldn’t live without you.

If I make it back to you, I want you to know that I want to marry you. Really marry you. Sober, with our families, exchanging real vows in proper wedding clothes. Maybe we’ll bring Merlin, though. I liked him.

Don’t consider this a proposal. I want to do that properly, too.

If I make it back to you, I want to marry you. I want forever, Aves, and I don’t give a fuck about what team I’m on or if I’m playing Quidditch or stamping letters at the Ministry. I just want you.

Yours, James

I wanted to say so much more, but there wasn’t time.

David Flynn instructed me to put on my Tornados practice jersey so I looked just as off-balance as the media played me out to be. Ruffle my hair. Look unkept. That part was easy, considering I’d been freaking out since my family was kidnapped.

I said good-bye to Rose and Nia, neither of which knew what I was doing, and headed down the stairs. I left the Potter property and apparated into Diagon Alley.

The reporters were waiting. The ministry was waiting.

David Flynn was waiting.




A/N: Hello! So sorry for the delay. I had some personal issues that had to be dealt with before I could concentrate on creativity. Hopefully this update makes up for it! 

Also a quick thank you to those of you who nominated my stories for Dobby awards and for all of you who voted for Hormones in the two categories it was in. It means so much to me to have your continued support. 

Good luck to all of you participating in NaNo - I'm going to give it a go again this year! 

NEXT UP: James does what Flynn wants, only to be utterly shocked by the lengths Flynn is willing to go to get what he desires. James tries his best not to be a cheeky bastard (the whole time). 


Chapter 21: The One with the Cage
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For Celeste. 




Flynn was specific with his requests.

I was to show up silent and alone. No backup. Not that it mattered – he took away my backup and I wasn’t about to put the rest of my family at risk.

When prompted, I was to tell the Ministry I wasn’t telling them the location of my family until my demands were met.

I was to be arrested in Diagon Alley, which was partially roped off for negotiations. It was public. The Ministry officials were surrounded by onlookers.

Flynn didn’t request for me to look over and see a little blond boy, probably five, wearing a Tornados jersey with tears in his eyes upon spotting me.

That part ached the most.

But I did it. I did all of it.

Nia asked before I left why I didn’t just go to the Ministry – tell them the truth. Explain it was Flynn who was holding my family hostage because he was such a twat and that I had nothing to do with it. My answer was simple.

“I would rather lose my career than risk Flynn finding out I’d gone to the Ministry through Twitwards’ minions and decide to do something drastic,” I’d told her. The man was extremely unbalanced and it was clear if he’d taken the time to kidnap the famous Potter family, he would dispose of them just as easily.

The apparition-proof handcuffs hurt and cut into my skin, but I said nothing. I simply told them what Flynn instructed me to say, deadpanned, and they arrested me. Scorpius Malfoy was there, grinning. It made me wonder about Clint Lawson for a moment, but that was driven from my mind when an official kicked my legs out from under me so my body slammed into the ground. With no hands to catch me, blood found its way from my knees, shoulder, and nose.

When I looked up, I saw the cameras.

I tried not to imagine Nia and Rose watching from my flat.

Or if my family had access to a television. This would be big news, after all. Even for the people who didn’t believe I’d kidnapped my own family.

“Only a matter of time before one of them Potters went off their rocker,” I heard someone in the crowd say. That reminded me of stories Dad used to tell from his Hogwarts days.

A man in a tight uniform with large front teeth hoisted me to my feet. My knees buckled, but he steadied me. “Easy, Potter,” he said and made sure I could support my weight before letting go. I made eye contact. He looked away.

I said nothing. Flynn told me to say nothing.

I couldn’t trust him, of course, but if there was a sliver of a chance for Avery to make it out alive, I had to do this.

That chance was shrinking by the second.

As I was being steered away by the officer, I wondered how he could possibly let my friends and family go. He wasn’t stupid, as jackass-y as he was. He knew my father knew he was involved. He knew Bink and Freddie certainly had information. If he let them go, they could ruin his careful plans. How would he be able to take over a Quidditch team if the people with the information got out?

I paused outside the door to the Ministry’s Diagon Alley branch.

“He’s not going to let them go, is he?” I whispered, eyes wide in shock.

The officer raised a brow. “What, Potter?”

I wheeled around, twisting my body so I could see the crowd photographing me get arrested and gossiping. I spotted Flynn halfway back in a khaki coat.

He was grinning.

Oh, Godric, what have I done?

*

The officer escorted me into a small room with mirrored walls and a table in the center. He motioned to a chair, so I sat. Flynn had less requests for this part, only to stay quiet and someone important would fetch me.

I now had no doubt they would spin this as an escape, though I had no idea why since they just saw me give myself up. The blood wasn’t my best look, either. Flynn didn’t mention blood. My practice jersey was going to be stained.

This entire operation was illogical, but I couldn’t figure out a better course of action. I had to save my family and friends. Currently, though, my hands were locked behind my back and the blood was drying on my face. Not very heroic. I didn’t even know where my family was being kept.

The door opened behind me.

“Ah, Potter. Great to see you.”

I groaned. “Oh, come on. Really?”

Emerson walked around the table to stand in front of me. He tented his fingers, looking particularly smug in a new suit with hair gel.

“Did you always gel your hair?” I asked. “I feel like I would have noticed.”

He ignored me. He was really good at ignoring people.

“You’ll be pleased to find we have a few moments alone,” Emerson said with a grin. Not a regular one – one like Costaso. I didn’t know why I would be pleased with that information. “Afterward, you’ll be fetched and the fun begins.”

“I don’t even want to know,” I muttered. “Where is Avery?”

He met my eyes, his own glittering. “We’re keeping Avery Flynn tucked away safely. We aren’t quite sure what to do with her yet, though you’re upholding your end of the bargain quite nicely.”

“No shit,” I snapped. “I’m here. Someone is fetching me. Let Avery and my family go.”

“That’s not up to me,” Emerson said. He turned and started to pace with his hands lightly folded behind his back. “She came to see me a few hours ago, you know. I’m sure you do. I’m sure it was you who sent her there.”

A stab of guilt made its way into my stomach.

“Anyway, she tried to reason with me.”

I wanted to respond. I wanted to so badly, but I didn’t. As much as I wanted to tell him how big of a twat he was, I also wanted to know what happened to my wife.

“I respect her for trying,” Emerson continued. “She was almost convincing, but I think it was that which made me realize I was never getting what I wanted out of this maniacal scheme.” He placed air quotes around the last two words. “So I changed directions.”

“Head interrogator?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

“Potter, you have been an arrogant asshole from the moment you got on the train to Hogwarts,” Emerson said. He leaned over the table, pressing his palms into the laminate surface. “You have made people’s lives miserable and because of your fucking charm and last name, they let you get away with it. Some even thanked you for it.”

My upper lip wrinkled. I couldn’t remember anyone thanking me for ruining their lives.

“You made my seven years at Hogwarts go from something I dreamed about when I was a child to something I dreaded at the end of each summer,” Emerson said.

“Are you serious?” I said. “You have to be joking, mate. You do remember how you were, right? Because I’m not the only one who didn’t want you sitting next to him in class.”

His eyes flashed and I realized I might not have been in the best position to talk back. I tried to wiggle out of the cuffs, but there was no give.

“Potter, you deserve what you’re going to get for what you put people through,” Emerson said, straightening up. His grin was back. “Avery deserves better than some punk like you.”

“Am I supposed to get off your lawn too?” I said. Ignored again.

“I think Mr. Flynn has come to the conclusion that your uses are limited,” he continued. “I happen to agree with him. Most of your fame has been acquired through charisma and luck.”

“And last name,” I added because he forgot that part.

“Your family, too, has the same pride. Pretty good idea pinning it on you.”

“Pinning what on me?” I said. Too quickly.

“You don’t need to know the details,” Emerson said, shrugging. “Blackmail works on everyone, Potter. You should know. It’s why you’re in this chair. Your family especially reacts to blackmail. You’re proud and heroic and too emotional to be in charge.”

“Oh, yes,” I said in a lofty way, wrists digging into the cuffs. “Far too emotional to leave someone for dead with roadkill draped across their chest.”

“I bet that was quite the smell,” Emerson said, chuckling. “Anyway. Your transport should arrive any minute. I need to get prepared for my big debut.”

“Debut?” I said. “Starring in a musical?”

Emerson placed his hand on the door knob. “Oh, no. You just broke out, beat the shit out of me, and left me for dead to escape, realizing you would never get the captain position or continue with the Tornados, so now you’re headed back to take care of your family.”

He left when I didn’t reply. I just stared blankly, like an idiot.

Take care of my family.

That was the plan all along. David Flynn was going to kill my family and pin the murder on me? How as that possible?

There was no way.

Emerson was feeding me lies. He did mention blackmail, so that was a second option. Flynn could blackmail my family when letting them go, knowing if they breathed a word he’d kill me without a second thought. But how long could that last? Until they killed me or let me go? Were they planning on keeping me locked up the rest of my life? Where?

One thing was clear: David Flynn had a lot of time to think over the last few months in prison. Should have used that time alone to dream up cake recipes.

I didn’t have much time to think about it when two blokes in black clothes walked into the interrogation room. One overturned the table and spilled a vial of what looked to be blood on the floor. Oh, yes, from my fight with Emerson.

I wished I could have a real damn fight with Twitwards.

Well, maybe with my wand too.

Which had been taken from me upon arrest. I missed my wand. I hoped they didn’t snap it. It was a quality wand.

“Here to escort me, boys?” I asked playfully. The other man slapped me on the back of the head, which I did not appreciate.

“They said you’d be cheeky,” he muttered. He sounded like a Slytherin, for sure. Clint Lawson-esque, but beefier.

“I resent that,” I said. “I’m just very clever and have wonderful comedic timing. It was a documentary I watched at age six. Changed my life forever. Would you like the recommendation?”

They didn’t reply. Instead, the first bloke finished off the crime scene and the second pulled me to my feet. I staggered, but didn’t fall. This blood loss and injury thing wasn’t my forte.

How did I play professional Quidditch? What a wimp I was.

Played? Past tense? Of course past tense now.

How on earth could Flynn keep all this blackmailing going? Forever? Did he threaten AliCat so bad she wouldn’t let anything out for the rest of her life? She was American. Being a risk-taker was in her blood.

Unless he was actually going to kill the hostages.

“Let’s go, Potter.”

“Okay, random transport bloke.” He elbowed me in the ribs and I doubled over.

Less cheek. Okay.

The hallway was empty except for a sleeping guard as we turned a corner.

Nope, not sleeping. Blood everywhere.

Guard was dead.

GUARD WAS DEAD.

“You KILLED someone?” I cried, nodding toward the TOTALLY DEAD GUARD. “He was probably just trying to support his little guard family – you seriously killed someone? Is Flynn OFF HIS FUCKING ROCKER?”

Granted, I knew the answer to that, but as we rounded the corner and I saw the puddle of scarlet blood on the floor my stomach turned.

“Don’t throw up,” said one of the men.

“Did you just dry clean your outfits?” I snapped and got elbowed again.

The hallways were narrow and painted a horrible olive green. There were no photographs or awards. Just numberless doors with no windows lining the corridor.

They kicked open one of said doors and I found a stairwell. We went down. My voice echoed.

“What did the guard do to you?” I asked. “Did he threaten to tell someone you were busting me out and blaming murder on me?”

They didn’t respond.

“Seriously. Do you guys have families?”

“Of course not,” one of the blokes said, but was silenced by the other with a look.

I guessed you couldn’t have a family to survive long in whatever world they were in. The killing innocent people world. They didn’t have anyone to protect. No one to blackmail so they would turn themselves in.

Ugh. I had too much family.

And still I had leagues of family who were left in the dark about what was happening. They would know, now, that the Potters were kidnapped, but none were daft enough to believe I would do it for power. Grandmum knew me too well for that. They all did.

They also knew about blackmail and risk and weren’t stupid.

The guy without the family opened a door to the basement. Four floors below where I was. It was dark and lit with flickering bulbs against concrete walls. This was like those scary movies Freddie loved – but he would be telling me not to go this way. Yelling it at the television, actually.

The guard who had elbowed me took out a key. “If you try and run away, our instructions are to kill you immediately. Then we place a call and the rest of them are killed immediately.”

Ah, more blackmail.

I shrugged. “Whatever, mate. This is starting to become normal to me.”

He unlocked my handcuffs and tossed them onto the concrete floor of the hallway.

“Ready?” he asked his partner.

“Ready,” said the man without the family.

Just then, the first man pointed his wand at the other and killed him. Right there. Avada Kedavra’d his ass. He fell to the ground in a mangled heap, smashing his head on the basement floor. More blood.

“You killed him!” I cried, pointing at the guy repeatedly. My eyes bugged out of my head. DEAD HE WAS DEAD.

I started to feel a panic attack coming on. For someone with a famous family, I didn’t handle fear well.

“He knew too much.” The man took my arm lazily.

Before I could say anything else, he turned and apparated, holding my upper arm, which still ached from my fall outside.

I saw two dead people today.

Flynn wanted me so badly, there were two people dead because of me and I followed all his rules.

What would happen if I didn’t follow his rules?

Suddenly the idea that he would be fine killing my family seemed real.

That made my stomach turn again. When we arrived, I collapsed and lost my breakfast on the man’s shoes. He kicked me and I rolled over onto my back, coughing.

Ugh.

My body shook.

“Get up, Potter.”

I didn’t move. I didn’t want to move. I wanted all of this to be over.

Seriously. How fucking extreme was all of this? People were DEAD. My family was KIDNAPPED.

Over a snarky seventeen-year-old boy and the power of owning a Quidditch team.

“Where the hell am I?” I said, annoyed now. I wiped my face on the back of my hand and finally looked around.

The place was unfamiliar. It looked like another basement, but this time it was a giant room with rubbish like boxes and containers and metal objects in piles around it. The ceilings were low, so I couldn’t see around it. How far the room went. It was cold and I could barely see my breath. We must have been far underground for that in the summer.

The murdering-guard man lifted me by my hurt arm and dragged me forward.

“We’re late,” he muttered.

“Oh, good. We’re late because SOMEONE had to pause and MURDER other people.”

“Quiet,” he snapped.

“No big deal, just pausing to murder over here – continue on!”

“Potter. I’m warning you. I will make a call.”

“And say what – Potter’s being a cheeky bastard? They pretty much expect it.”

He groaned. “I knew I didn’t want this assignment,” he mumbled and we turned a corner.

In front of me was a giant cage. Not like an animals-in-the-zoo cage with bars and comical beach balls, but like a room made of a metal fence. There was one door in the front, and then metal fencing for all four walls and the ceiling. Inside was a single chair and a closed box.

“What’s in the box?” I asked.

At that, he chuckled.

“What?”

“I don’t think you want to know, but you’ll definitely find out.”

The man unlocked the door and shoved me inside. “Sit down,” he said, so I did. I didn’t mind sitting.

Until the chair arms sprouted handcuffs and cuffed me in. And then the chair legs cuffed me in.

Then I wasn’t keen on sitting.

The man chuckled and put something into his phone. It dinged.

“That’s a Muggle device,” I said matter-of-factly.

“I know,” he replied. “I’m not against Muggles, Potter. I just think you’re a privileged douchebag.”

“You didn’t have to bring me to a random basement in a cage to tell me that, you know,” I said. “Twitwards did a nice job of it upstairs.”

“Twitwards?” he said.

“Oh – Yeah, I used to call him that. His last name is Edwards and he is a twit.”

The man raised his brow. “And that was what you came up with?”

“I was young!” I whined. “And he was trying to date the girl I fancied. Come on, man, he ordered for her at a restaurant – he ordered her salad!”

The man ignored me. “Stay here, Potter.”

“Really? I was about to leave and order takeout. Did you want anything?” My eyes narrowed.

The man punched me in the face and I blacked out.

*

When I woke, I was alone in the cage. My arms and legs were still bound and the box was still closed. I was a little nervous about its contents at the way the man laughed. Torture supplies? Admission into the Slytherin House?

Ew. Torture supplies would be better.

Trying to figure out where I was, I squinted to get a better look at the boxes surrounding the cage. It was difficult since there was a stereotypical interrogation light above my head, but mostly they were just cardboard boxes and metal parts and stacks of rubbish. I saw a few newspapers and empty Quaffle sacks and – wait, what?

I leaned as forward as I could in the chair and squinted. Those were Quaffle sacks. The kind we used at practice. Beige and cloth, perfect for transporting Quaffles for a drill. Henrik made me carry them from the locker rooms because he said it “builds character.”

There was a logo, but I couldn’t see it properly.

I started looking around again. I spotted two more empty Quaffle sacks (one with a giant hole) and a broken Snitch off to the side of a newspaper pile.

Quidditch. There was a lot of Quidditch here for it to be a normal basement. That ruled out commercial establishments and most businesses.

It didn’t rule out professional or minor-league Quidditch stadiums, though.

Flynn needed an in. Which meant if this was a stadium, it would either have to be one August Wells owned … or where he had sway. The Tornados and the Hurricanes were both on that list.

That left what – Harpies, Falcons, Finches as well. Five possible stadiums I could be in.

The Falcons were in southwest England. Harpies in Wales. Finches in Massachusetts in America. Tornados near the Welsh border. Hurricanes in the south.

Did the air feel particularly American? I couldn’t tell. Why hadn’t I asked AliCat what American air felt like? Were there more bald eagles in America? Just flying around minding their business and screeching at outsiders?

I knew nothing of American basements, which I regretted at this moment.

It made the most sense for this to be the stadium for the Harpies, Tornados, or Hurricanes, but I couldn’t logic-out the other two. Flynn was smart.

I needed a plan. How did I make plans without my mates? They were so good at this. I didn’t even have a disguise. I needed a disguise. I was bound to my chair, though, which meant I couldn’t even get a wig.

How long had I been out? My neck ached, meaning it had been a while if my head was hanging limp. Not to mention my head hurt. How long had it been since I took a punch like that to the face?

At the sound of footsteps, my head jerked up.

I groaned when Mason rounded the corner. First Twitwards, and now this bastard.

“Good morning, James.” He unlocked the cage door.

Morning. It was morning. Rose was leaving for Greece today.

“Pleasure, as always,” I said through gritted teeth.

Mason entered the cage and locked the door behind him. “I insisted on coming to see you in all of your perfect state. Don’t you love it down here? It’s so roomy. I thought you would be right at home.”

Hurricanes or Tornados.

“Where is Avery?” I said.

“Touch, touch. Avery is alive.”

“WHERE is Avery?” I said. “Godric, you people can’t hear to save your lives. Maybe that’s why the guard was killed.”

Mason didn’t reply to that. Instead, he casually wandered around the cage like he was admiring art at a museum. “You know, I did think this was a little extreme at first.”

“People are dead, Mason.”

“But now that I see you down here, I quite like it.”

“Dead. Like murdered.”

He continued walking in a pompous circle around me. “I agree working with David was not the most logical thing I’ve ever done, but it was definitely the most liberating.”

“More or less liberating than burning down a building when AliCat made the cut?” I asked.

His eyes flashed. “How did you know about that?”

I cocked a brow. “I’m a Potter.”

“Exactly the reason you have to be taken out,” Mason said dismissively.

“Wait – do you lot really plan on offing me?” I asked. All he did was snicker. “Seriously. WHERE IS AVERY?”

“She’s alive,” Mason responded and I realized that was what Flynn told him to say. He had instructions too. To keep me in this chair, but also to get under my skin. Both were being accomplished.

“And my family?” I said.

“Alive … for now.”

“Does Flynn seriously think he can get away with killing Potters?” I said. “And blame me? Come on.”

“Maybe he won’t kill blood Potters,” Mason said offhandedly.

Paloma. Wesley. Bink. Freddie.

The color must have drained from my face, because Mason laughed again.

“How do you think the captain badge would look on my robes?”

“You’re already a captain, fuckwit,” I snapped. I was growing tired of these games. And the blood. And the killing. And the pompous grins. “You have no idea who I am. You just jumped onto the bandwagon of a psycho who wants to off me just because I ruined his plans to make a metric butt-ton of money off his daughter he left when she was four. That’s it. That is literally the thing that started all of this nonsense.”

“Don’t care, Potter. I’m going to be captain of the Tornados.”

I snorted. “Right. Okay.”

“That’s my end of the bargain,” Mason told me.

“Yeah. Of course it is.”

He looked over. “Literally. That’s it. The strings are being pulled now.”

It was my turn to smirk. “Let me tell you a little secret, Mason. Firstly, I’m still pissed I haven’t thought up a nickname for you. I feel like a bit of a failure on that front. Second, you can pin a badge on your robes all you want, but you’ll never be captain. The fans love Lindt and are loyal to him. They can’t stand you because every time you’re called up, you fuck up a game. I’ve watched your tapes. Granted, it’s probably nerves because you play pretty well for the Hurricanes, but you’re a professional fuck-up and you’re just going to do that to the Tornados.”

“I – “ Mason paused, perhaps to realize who he was speaking to. “I will kick everyone off that team and discredit Henrik Lindt if I have to.”

“Clearly,” I said with a brief laugh. “You do realize this is like, evil villain territory, don’t you? Do the laugh. Come on. I’ve been in an echo-friendly environment for hours now and no one will do the laugh.”

Mason flipped me off. “Anyway, I just wanted to tell you good-bye and thank you for your spot on the Tornados.”

I wanted to tell him he wouldn’t get away with it, but as Mason locked the cage again and sauntered off, I realized he already had.

*

A nameless guard bloke (not dead) slid a newspaper under the cage door an hour later. My face was on the front. I couldn’t read much since it was in small print, but they were blaming me for offing two blokes and beating the tar out of Emerson Edwards. I was pleased to see they did a number on him. He looked like he thought they were just going to use makeup – they didn’t.

They hadn’t released my family as of printing, either. Another headline read: Potter Family Still Missing Due To Son’s Kidnapping.

What a headline. Could be read multiple ways.

An hour after that, the cage door opened again and my teeth damn near barred as David Flynn walked in. He locked the cage behind him and called out to someone I couldn’t see that he would be a little while.

He tented his fingers just like Emerson.

David Flynn looked like a tosspot. His hair was neatly folded at the top of his head and he wore a vest with a white button-down and neatly pressed black trousers. Like he was going to a casual brunch with a client.

Before he spoke, he opened the box just enough so I could see what was inside.

Pliers. Knives. A blow torch.

These were torture supplies.

I WAS GOING TO BE TORTURED OH FUCK.

“Where is Avery?” I asked, trying to be calm and collected. My wrists rubbed against the metal bars holding me in.

“Alive.”

“DO YOU PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT A LOCATION IS?” I cried. “I want to speak with her. I want to know she’s alive you fucking douche factory.”

Flynn raised a brow, but sighed. “You really should trust me more.”

“Oh yes, let’s go to marriage counseling and hammer that out RIGHT NOW.”

Flynn moved his hand to silence me, but took out his phone. “You are not to speak,” he said. “But if this will calm you, I will prove to you that my daughter is alive.”

“You shouldn’t even be able to call her that,” I muttered. I thought about Avery’s mum. Oh, Godric, I forgot to write her and tell her everything was going to be fine. She was just as in the dark as my grandparents, which maybe was a good thing. She didn’t need to know how deep this went. Unless she was going to become a pawn in it.

He put the phone on speaker. “Do not speak, Potter, or you will regret it.” It rang. And rang. And rang. I thought the worst, until a gruff male voice answered.

“Yeah, what?” he said.

“This is David Flynn.”

“Oh – sorry, sir. What can I do for you?”

Why were these fuckwits so scared of him?

The smirk on Flynn’s face was disturbing. “I need you to put sweet Avery on the phone.”

“Want me to hold it for her?” the man asked.

Avery was tied up.

“Of course, nitwit,” Flynn snapped. “Now. This is important.”

There was a shuffling of footsteps and the man on the other end of the phone cleared his throat. “Avery. Avery – OY, Avery. Your father is on the phone.”

“Burn in hell,” she said.

Avery said it. It was definitely Avery. My wife. My beautiful, gorgeous, daring wife.

Then she cried out after the sound of skin on skin - the man slapped her.

“DID THAT MOTHERFUCKER JUST SLAP MY WIFE BECAUSE SO HELP ME GODRIC GRYFFINDOR-“

“James?!” Avery yelled.

David Flynn hung up the phone. “I told you not to speak.”

“HE. HIT. MY. WIFE.”

“I’d hardly call her your wife,” he said calmly.

“We’re married. Though you don’t know much about that, do you?” I asked.

I was ignored.

“James, we’re going to play a game.”

“Quidditch? No, that was Mason.”

Ignored again. “You’re not leaving. I have very clear instructions on what will happen to your blood-related family, but the others are still in question. So if you do as I say, nothing will happen to them.”

“I’m pretty sure you said if I did all that other shit, you’d let them go? Did you let them go?”

“I’m sorry, did you think you were in charge of this operation?” Flynn asked. “Because you’re not.”

“Let me ask you something, DAD, why are you SO pissed off at me? Seriously. You had two men killed. You kidnapped the wizarding world’s First Family. You are obviously going to off me once everything is in place with your minions – did I really fuck up your life THAT bad?”

Flynn rounded on me and for a moment his hair was out of position. Then he straightened up and calmed himself. “The answer is yes,” he said. “You fucked up my life that bad. And now I am going to fuck up yours.” He sounded weird swearing. Wrong.

“Done. Okay, can I bail now? I’ve missed breakfast.”

“You’re insufferable.”

“I get that a lot,” I said. “So, tell me what August Wells has to do with this operation. He has all the power and you’re a convict. Why would he work with you?”

“Sometimes, Potter, loyalty to old pacts is all you have in life.”

I snorted. “Of course. I always say that, especially when Freddie owes me a sandwich from that one time when we were four.”

“Mr. Wells and I have an agreement.” He shook his head. “But it doesn’t concern you.”

“I’m pretty sure everything in this plan concerns me,” I shot back. My wrists were starting to bleed. “Indulge me. Clearly I won’t be able to say that much longer.”

Flynn chuckled in that smarmy way he did. “Let’s just say August and I have been friends since our first year at Hogwarts. He is a most loyal friend and understands that the league would be better with me involved than without.”

“How do you have that much goddamn pull in the league?!”

“You should know a little about charisma, I think.”

“You have as much charisma as a pet rock,” I muttered. “You really wormed your way into the Quidditch league with words and a smile?”

“And people who wanted the same things I did.”

“Which are?” I pressed.

“New regulations. Limited power from general managers. More money from corporate sponsorships. More money, in general. I know how to obtain that money. It could build new stadiums, get higher quality players from other leagues, but right now they want to pass on it. August is smart enough to know his pay check will increase significantly if he backs this plan.”

Money. All this shit was about money, and I was just the icing on the cake.

A great icing, though. Like Man Power Icing.

“So… offing me is going to help you get the money?” I asked.

“This plan is going to guarantee I am in position to change the league,” Flynn explained.

“You’re such a fucker.” I shook my head and tried to pull at my wrists and legs, but nothing gave. My arms were hot with blood. “Seriously. You’re ruining lives to get a decent paycheck. You tried to use your own daughter to further your plan. You are a coward.”

Flynn laughed and walked back over to the box. “You know what? I don’t even want to use some of these. I skipped working out yesterday. This should sub nicely.” He tugged off the vest and rolled his sleeves to the elbows. Like how I used to wear button-downs at Hogwarts.

Then David Flynn punched me in the face. Blood splattered from my lip onto the concrete floor. He punched me again. Then in the head. White-hot pain flashed through me. Then in the shoulder and chest and stomach and kicked the entire chair over so I slammed my head on the floor.

Everything was blurry and ached, but he didn’t stop. He kicked my shoulders and my stomach and kicked my ribs so hard I knew they were broken. I wished people would leave my ribs alone.

It hurt to breathe – like someone was slicing my insides every time I inhaled.

The cage crew dark. Maybe that was just my vision.

I didn’t remember slipping into unconsciousness, but I was happy to.

*

When I woke again, the chair had been placed upright and my entire body exploded with pain. I was alone. It hurt to breathe. It hurt to be alive. I felt bruises forming on my face and legs. At least one rib was cracked. My shin hurt so bad I thought that might be broken as well.

I was glad there was no mirror.

But I got to hear Avery’s voice. She was alive. At least for now, she was unharmed, but annoyed. And slapped.

I was going to find whomever did that and kick his ass.

Once I got my wand back.

Seriously. My father-in-law just beat the shit out of me. The humor was not lost on me, but I couldn’t laugh. I couldn’t breathe. Ugh.

Instead, I started looking around the basement again. The light above me had been bumped during my ass-kicking, so I could see letters and numbers on boxes better. The box closest to the first Quaffle bag had the number fourteen on it. A blue piece of fabric was poking out of the top, but it was impossible to see what it was.

To the left, I saw an out-of-commission Bludger.

A box labeled – Ship to Germany.

A box labeled – Clara Robinson.

A box that had previously been mailed and opened. I couldn’t see its contents, but there was an address on it. An address!

The writing was horrible. Chicken scratch, worse than mine. I couldn’t make out what it said. What city I was in. If I could just figure out that address, it might be able to tell me which stadium I was in.

I was knocked from my thoughts when a far-away door slammed against the wall and a tall, bulky man appeared from behind a stack of boxes. He looked relieved to see me. I cocked a brow.

Another man from the door yelled, “Keep watch there – DO NOT TAKE YOUR EYES OFF POTTER.”

Bulky Bloke nodded and stationed himself in front of the cage. He had a gun.

Seriously. Wands were so much better in these situations.

“What’s up?” I called to him. He didn’t answer. “Your mate sounded nervous. Is he nervous?”

No answer.

“You realize I know where we are, right?” I said, even though I didn’t really. “If you fuck up, I could get out of here in a minute.” No answer. “It’s fine. I’m being blackmailed anyway. With my family and friends. Of course you don’t have a family and friends, since you’re in this line of work. Don’t blame you. I saw them kill two guys today and they didn’t even do anything wrong. Just knew too much. Do you know too much?”

I saw the skin on the back of his neck redden.

“I’m sure you’d be fine though,” I said offhandedly. “No wife or husband or kids or a dog – aw, I didn’t think about a dog. I hope that guard didn’t have a dog.” I paused. “I should have let Freddie get a dog.”

I should have let a lot of things happen.

How long was I caught up in this mess of lies and stress? Concentrating on my career and stupid interviews and stupid rules?

I missed so many nights with Avery we could have been sleeping in the same bed just talking. I could have counted her eyelashes or something else totally embarrassing I wouldn’t tell Bink or Freddie about.

“I’m sorry, Potter,” said the man at the cage. “But David Flynn’s plans are to kill you.”

I wanted to be shocked, but I wasn’t. After the guards and the media craze and the look in his eyes before he hit me. He was unstable and after blood. He wanted everything and that included me dead. I didn’t know what that meant for my friends and family, but I only hoped he created a trail so convincing no one would believe them even if they told the truth about me.

I should have made Bink tell Rose he loved her. Told him how unbelievably talented he is at everything he does.

I should have helped Freddie start planning his future wedding. Told him he was one of the most inventive people I’d had the pleasure to meet.

I should have let Falcon Cat talk to TomCat.

I should have listened to Victoria a long time ago about Avery.

I should have cooked with Mum more. Lightened up on Lily about Wesley. Maybe not hexed Wesley (as much). Complimented one of Al’s sweater vests. Talked to Paloma more instead of awkwardly leaving the room as I pictured her with my baby brother.

I should have told Dad I loved him more. I should have actually looked into what he did to defeat the Dark Lord and respected him for it. Instead of being so obsessed with my own footprints that I ignored where I came from.

I should have properly married Avery. I shouldn’t have been scared about having sex with her because nothing should have been scary with Avery. She was everything to me.

I thought about the letter I left her.

If I make it out of this.

If.

I wasn’t going to make it out of this.

I shouldn’t have given her false hope where there was none.

I should let her go.




A/N: As I re-read a lot of BTQC/DTTT, I realize Harry should have taught James hand-to-hand combat. To be fair, he was bound in a chair this chapter, but he really isn't much of a fighter without his wand. Poor boy. 

At least we know in the face of death/torture/punching, James keeps his cheek. 

UP NEXT: Flynn prepares for the first part of the next phase of his plan, a part which makes James sick to his stomach. James has a surprise visitor and finds out where he is. He also gets to team up with an unlikely person.


Chapter 22: The One with the Green Light
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Happy Holidays! 




“So,” I said to the guard. His back was still to me and no one had yet to join us. “Do you mind loosening these restraints?”

“Nice try, Potter.”

“I’m serious,” I said, struggling against the metal. “If he’s going to off me and I’m trapped in this cage, what’s the problem? I don’t have a wand. I don’t have a sword. I just want to wipe my eye because there is still fucking blood in it.”

He sighed.

The basement smelled like rust and nursing home. Old books (but not the good kind) and sweat. I assumed there were abandoned unwashed uniforms around. I just wished I knew which uniforms – Tornados or Hurricanes?

“Come on, mate,” I said. “He’s going to off me anyway.”

The guard turned. “I’ll let you out of the chair for ten minutes. Then Greyson will be back.”

“Greyson? What pompous twat belongs to that name?”

“Rich coming from a Potter,” he said, but smirked. For a guard employed by Flynn, at least he had a sense of humor and hadn’t murdered me yet. That was nice. He waved his wand and the metal straps binding me to the chair were gone. I released a gasp I didn’t know I had and immediately rubbed the raw wounds. Fuck, it hurt. “Greyson is the other guard assigned to you while Mr. Flynn gets into position.”

I reached up and touched Avery’s ring under my shirt. It was still there.

Somehow, I had to escape and find her.

“Position?” I said. “What’s taking him so long to off me? It’s not like he needs information or the combination to my Quidditch locker. Personally, I thought he’d be quick about it. Also, I thought maybe he’d do it in public and make it look like an accident.”

The guard frowned, but he was facing me now. He had scars down the side of his face and bright blue eyes. The kind that looked sad even when he wasn’t. The state of his clothes gave me the idea he slept on the floor last night.

“He wants you to suffer.”

I motioned to my ribs, which were still making it difficult to be alive. Each breath was ragged and sharp.

“Really suffer,” the guard continued. “He has this idea that you’re the sole reason everything spiraled downward for him. When he traced back his misfortunes, he landed on you and because of that, he wants you to suffer.” He shoved hair away from his face and I noticed now he wasn’t making eye contact. “Before he kills you, he’s going to make you watch him kill one of your mates.”

Everything froze. My lips parted and the ensuing breath hurt so much I almost lost it right there. “One of my what?” I said, voice higher than normal. “You’re wrong.”

He shrugged. “Greyson is fetching the monitor for you to watch on.”

“Which friend?” I said. Not that it mattered. Any one of them would be the worst. And my fault. Where they were right now was my fault.

“I don’t know his name,” the guard said, glancing back toward the door and then returning his gaze to me to make sure I wasn’t trying anything. “Pretty sure he was going to off the pretty brunette, but then the blond one got cheeky and he’s going to off that one instead. I don’t think Mr. Flynn likes cheek.”

Bink.

David Flynn was going to kill Bink and make me watch.

I tried not to let it show on my face that simply telling me Bink was going to die was enough torment, but the guard saw through it. Bink couldn’t die. There was no way Bink could die. He was too talented and too funny and was keeping the sunscreen companies in business. He was going to coach Gryffindor next year and pour crazy fruity drinks that make me marry girls. Well, one girl.

I leaned back in the chair.

Did his parents even know he was missing? Had they spoken to him since they told him to get lost after he didn’t take a job at the Ministry?

Godric. Rose. Rose was leaving for Greece today. I thought about her mascara-stained face when she told me she loved Bink. She never told him. He never told her.

And they wouldn’t. Because of me. Because David fucking Flynn was going to kill Bink.

“You know, Greyson should be here by now,” the guard said.

“Fucking fantastic,” I grumbled.

I thought back to a few weeks ago. Parties in Gryffindor Tower and being late on Charms assignments.

“I know there was some sort of an accident, but I think it was just traffic.”

Why was Flynn traveling via car?

The guard shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m sure he’ll be here soon, though.” The man turned and frowned. “I’m sorry, you know.”

“You’re what?”

His eyes looked sad now. Properly sad. “My son is six and has your jersey. I do have a family. I do have friends. And I’m sorry.”

He didn’t need to explain much else, but he stretched. I wondered why he was stretching. Was he tired? Sleep deprived? He didn’t look sleepy.

That’s when I noticed the wand sticking out of his back pocket.

He returned to facing away, guarding the cage.

Holy shit.

But – if he was actually trying to help me – that would put his entire family in danger. His six-year-old son. Maybe he knew what I was doing for my family. Who they were. The possibilities.

“What’s your name, mate?” I asked from the chair.

“Walter Knudsen,” he said without pausing.

“Thanks, Walter.”

I took a breath. If anyone could save Bink, it was me. And maybe Rose. I had to get out of here, get an owl to her, and swiftly locate my family. The problem was – where could they be? They wouldn’t be daft enough to hide us in the same place. That could go wrong quickly. Maybe they were in one of the other stadiums. Once I figured out which one this was, I could head to the other.

Would Flynn hear I was gone and off them anyway? Plant a trail so it looked like I went bonkers and offed my own family?

He wasn’t that good. Was he?

I had to find them and do something heroic and spur-of-the-moment because I didn’t have a plan and rescue them all before Mr. Flynn touched one blond hair on Bink’s head.

If he hadn’t already.

My heart hammered so hard it made my ribs hurt. Godric, my entire body hurt. How was I even going to make it out of this cage if I was in this much pain?

That’s when I thought about Avery. She was somewhere else entirely.

I wondered if when word got out I escaped, they would kill her anyway.

I had to try. I had to do something.

Anything.

I had to hope I’d make it out of this. Even if I didn’t, I had to hope I could rescue my family first.

I leapt to my feet, keeping the sharp pain from my voice, and crossed the cage swiftly. I reached through the fence, snatched Walter’s wand, and stunned him.

That part went great. Really great.

Unfortunately, when I tried to pull the wand back through the cage to unlock it, it didn’t fit. Instead, the force sent it flying. It settled by some boxes.

The wiring was too small to reach through and Walter’s keys were in his pocket. Two meters away from me. His gun was also on the ground. Two meters away.

The basement door opened and slammed against the wall again. Great.

I straightened up in the cage, aware how bad this would look to the newcomer. “Well, fuck.”

Fucking Greyson with his monitor so I could watch Bink die. It was already too late. He would probably off me right away anyway since I stunned Walter.

Let’s just talk about how you STUN someone to get them out of your way, not KILL them. My mind floated back to the Ministry guard in the hallway. Did he have a family? Friends? A six-year-old son? It ached.

Okay. I needed a plan.

Stand here and look fierce.

Okay, it wasn’t a very good plan. Maybe when Greyson walked in with the monitor I could overpower him and drop-kick him into some boxes and steal his wand and stun him. Or – the torture tools!

I grabbed a blow-torch. Leaving me in here with the torture tools was stupid, Flynn.

“Come get me, fucker!” I cried, trying to sound fierce but my voice caught at the end and I doubled over in pain.

Footsteps, but no menacing return of the threat. Come on. I thought I was quite convincing.

Then I looked up.

Oh my god.

“Language, James.”

My mouth fell open as my father – Harry fucking Potter – came racing through the labyrinth of boxes toward the cage. He looked just as bad as I did. Cuts everywhere. Bruises. Blood down the front of his work shirt from yesterday. His glasses were still intact, though.

“I stunned him,” I said, pointing to Walter. “But then the wand fell.”

Dad’s gaze followed my pointing and nodded. He almost stepped on Walter, but I stopped him. He raised a brow as he unlocked the cage.

“He gave me the wand,” I said.

Dad nodded, not needing any more explanation. He used his wand and tried four charms before the fifth worked. The door swung open and I was in his arms, my ribs poking against my insides but I didn’t care. I buried my face in his chest and everything threatened to spill over.

Avery and Bink and having my ass kicked and letting my life slip away.

“Not now,” Dad said, backing away and putting his hands on my shoulders. The look in his eyes – I wished I could explain it. Like he knew exactly what was happening to me. Like he knew exactly how to get us out of here. “Where’s Avery?”

“I don’t know,” I choked. “She’s not here. He has her.”

“You have to go home,” Dad said. “I’ll get Avery. Everyone else is safe.”

“How – where are we? How did you find me?”

“There isn’t much time.” Dad glanced over his shoulder and then back to me. “We were being held at the Hurricanes stadium. Mason was keeping watch and Paloma seduced him into giving away your location. Then he came in to fix a light Wesley broke and your mother round-house kicked him to the face. We had to fight off a bunch of guards and everyone is pretty beat up, but they’re heading to the hospital and there’s a protective spell on the house. You have to get there.”

“I have to get Avery,” I said seriously.

“James, you are beyond injured.”

“I have to get Avery,” I repeated, louder. My voice broke again. “Avery. I’m getting Avery.”

“Okay,” Dad said, giving in without much of a fight. “Let’s get out of here and we’ll get her. There are guards everywhere now. They don’t know I’m in here, but they assume someone’s coming to break you out.”

“We’re … Tornados?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Do you know any good ways out of here?”

Despite my enormous facial pain, I smirked. “I do,” I said. “Remind me to send AliCat a giant bouquet of roses once we make sure her family is all right.”

He didn’t ask questions. “Lead the way, son.”

I grabbed Walter’s wand and tugged Dad the opposite way as the door. I knew that door went to the front stairwell. There was another emergency door on the opposite side of the lobby, but I didn’t know where it came out. I just knew what wall it would be on.

We hurried through the rows of boxes and leftover junk, careful not to make additional noise. My body burned as we went and I gripped the wand too-tight at times. It didn’t matter.

My family was safe. My mother kicked Mason in the face.

“Flynn wasn’t there yet?” I whispered.

“Not yet. He was en route, I overheard.”

“Good. Thank Godric.”

“Why? Why was he on his way instead of being here?” He shined his light against an empty wall and frowned. We had to get out of here soon, but there was no door. No fucking door.

“He was getting a monitor set up here so I could watch him murder Bink,” I said breathlessly. Again, everything threatened to spill over, but it didn’t. Adrenaline stopped it.

“Murder – he was going to kill Bink Legace?”

I nodded. “He wanted me to suffer.” I turned alone the far wall, hoping. It was dark. “He had a Ministry guard killed when he was transporting me. Then one of my transporters was killed for knowing too much. I’ve seen two dead people today. I didn’t want to see a third.” My voice caught. I hated this. It was very un-Gryffindor.

I staggered against some boxes, but they didn’t fall. Dad held my elbow.

“There!” he whispered.

Sure enough, a door appeared a few meters in front of us. It was an emergency exit, meaning an alarm would sound.

“Sure we can’t apparate?” I asked Dad. I had learned my lesson by now.

He shook his head. “Anti-Apparation spells all over this stadium. I’m sure there’s a place you can, but it wouldn’t be the room you’re held in. They will have monitors set up to detect it. This will be just as bad, won’t it? That alarm will go off the minute we open this door.”

I exchanged glances with him. “I think Avery might be at Mason’s place in the country. That’s where we went to see what Flynn was up to – right before you got kidnapped. He was staying there.”

“Can you get us there?” Dad asked.

I realized I still had the blow torch in my hands. “I can get us there,” I said.

“It’s going to be fine,” he told me.

“I know,” I said. Did I believe it?

I did. For the others. I believed my family would be fine. I believed my friends would be fine. I hoped to Godric Gryffindor that Avery would be fine.

Me? That was still up in the air.

*

When we kicked open the door, the alarm was deafening. Immediately, we knew every guard in the stadium was after us. I knew where to go. I knew exactly where we were going.

Last month, before things got out of hand, AliCat and I spent an afternoon after practicing wandering the stadium. I was stressed about interviews and things with Avery and she was stressed because her date the previous night went terribly after the bloke asked her for free season tickets. So she showed me all the places she went to be alone – hallways and secret passages and empty offices, which were a lot like the empty classrooms at Hogwarts.

Just less covered in drop-cloths.

This made it easy for me to lead Dad upstairs and through some passageways not occupied by guards. They might not have known there were there – Mason certainly didn’t.

“Where’s it come out?” Dad jogged behind me and I noted he was in remarkably good shape. I guessed catching bad guys kept him working out.

“Locker rooms,” I panted. Ow. Ow. Rib. Ow.

“Which will be… empty?”

“No idea,” I said honestly. “But they’ll be there!”

I heard shouting from a hallway off to the left, but we veered right and raced down another corridor framed with white walls and no paintings. No one was down here enough to warrant it. We were still two floors below the locker rooms when I elbowed open a door.

“What’s this?” Dad said, but he nodded when we walked inside and he realized we were in Ballo’s office. “Okay, why?”

I shoved his decorative dresser out of the way and there was a passage. Ballo hated having to walk all over the place since his office was nice and quiet, so he had a passage installed to get directly to the conference room.

“He says it saves time,” AliCat had told me. “I think he’s just lazy.”

At that moment, I wanted to kiss Jackson Ballo for being lazy.

“I’ll go first,” I said.

“Son,” Dad warned, but it was too late. I was already in the passage. Once I crawled in, the ceiling heightened so I could stand properly. He followed and closed the door behind us. “James, everything is going to be fine. We’re going to get out of here.”

I was racing up the stairs, in great pain, when he said this. I stopped and turned.

“I love you,” I said.

“What?”

“I love you,” I repeated. “I realized in that stupid cage I don’t say it often – or at all – and I’m really sorry. I’m sorry for fucking everything up – I know, language – and I’m sorry for getting you kidnapped and me almost killed and I’m sorry I made Mum kick someone in the face. I thought by giving myself up I was saving you, but he had other plans.”

Dad actually chuckled. “You have no idea how much I know how that feels,” he said. “And I love you too. A lot.” He stepped onto the stair below mine and ruffled my hair. “Thank you for asking for help.”

“It got you kidnapped!” I said desperately. “If you hadn’t started asking around, they would have kept with the plan that started before the Tornados first match, not now. Not sudden.”

He shrugged. “Did you look at the papers?”

“Yeah.”

“Then it was damn good you asked for my help.”

My turn to shrug. “Fine. I guess. But at the very least I’m grounded for almost getting everyone killed.”

“Whatever you say, James.” Dad kissed my forehead. “Come on. I have a daughter-in-law to save.”

I turned and continued up the steep staircase. “I was going to marry her, you know.”

“You did.”

“Properly,” I huffed.

“You will.”

I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to give myself false hope, but as long as I got Avery out, everything would be fine. She would be fine and safe and no one would be slapping her.

Fuck, I just remembered that fuckwit slapping her.

I was going to destroy his life.

We emerged from a closet in the conference room, which was strangely empty. I thought a guard would be stationed, but then I remembered the building was going nutso when the alarm went off. They must be searching for us.

“C’mon.” I shoved open the doors leading into the locker rooms, which were already empty. I was about to tell my father the best way out of the building, but then I heard it.

Singing.

Real, actual singing over the sirens.

We exchanged puzzled glances. Dad jerked his head toward the men’s showers. We tiptoed toward the noise.

The singing continued. In Latin. On a lower note, I recognized the voice and almost laughed.

“Henrik goddamn Lindt.”

His voice broke and he choked. “Potter?” he sputtered. The water turned off and a towel flew off the rack. Henrik’s face swam into view. He was about to say something, but took in the appearance of my father and me. “What bloody happened?”

“No time,” Dad said. “But if you didn’t notice, there are guards stationed all over this stadium. You might not want to be naked. Did you not hear the alarm?”

“He was singing,” I said, beaming. “It was truly beautiful, Captain.”

“Where is he? Where’s Flynn?” said Lindt. He knew more than he let on.

“I don’t know,” I said. “We have to get out of here. He has Avery. He had me, but I got busted out.”

“I saw all that nonsense about you kidnapping your own family over the captaincy – is anyone believing that?”

I shrugged. “I didn’t have time to figure it out before my face was busted in.”

“Point.” Lindt nodded toward the locker room doors. “You can apparate from the pitch.”

“The pitch?” Dad said. “But the stadium-“

“Not the pitch,” Lindt said, knowing immediately what my father would say. “I had it changed my first year as captain. In case of emergency. They think their spells cover it, but they don’t.” He paused and the alarms echoed off the bathroom walls. His lips pressed together. “Get out of here, Potter. Potters. Go find Avery.”

Dad went for the door, but I paused.

“Lindt, I’m sorry about everything,” I said quickly.

His expression didn’t change, but his jaw tightened. I knew he must be backed into a corner the same as everyone. “I’ll see you at practice, Potter.”

*

The problem with apparating from the pitch was we would be seen. We would be out in the open with shields as the only thing to protect us. How many times could an Unforgivable Curse bounce off a shield before it gave?

I was going to find out.

The hallway outside the locker rooms was empty and I suspected it was because the guards were told normal operations were happening in the stadium. They knew Lindt was there and they didn’t want Lindt to know they were there. Which was stupid. They shouldn’t have had me there anyway.

“Dad?” I paused before the door leading to the pitch. We did practice runs just over a week ago – how to fly out properly to the audience going bonkers.

I tried not to think of the first game.

“Yeah?” He pressed his palm against the door. It was only a little bigger than mine, but worn. Potter-esque.

“I need to tell you something.”

He looked over, clearly aware we didn’t have enough time for this. The sirens were blaring through the stadium. “Okay,” he said.

“If I don’t make it out of this-“ He tried to interrupt me, but I stopped him. “If I don’t, I want you to know I’m sorry. Not for this rubbish, but for – like – not appreciating you more. Not letting you tell me how you defeated the Dark Lord and all that shit. I’m sorry I couldn’t be the son you really wanted.” I frowned and rubbed the back of my neck.

He shook his head, smiling a little. “James, you were everything I wanted. You are.” He tugged me against his chest and hugged me tight. “You want to know how I defeated Voldemort? The same way you tried to defeat David Flynn. I gave myself up to save my friends and family.”

I looked up, eyes wide as I took in my father. His warm smile and tight embrace. “You gave yourself up?”

“You might be the only one in the family – in the wizarding world – who didn’t know that,” Dad said. “I did. I ended up finding a loophole to defeat him while doing that. I found motivation. Did you find a loophole?”

I considered this. I knew there was an answer, or he wouldn’t have asked the question.

“Let me rephrase,” Dad said over the sound of the sirens. “Did you find the piece of his puzzle he put in incorrectly?” He was grinning now.

What did Flynn do wrong? It couldn’t have been Walter. Or his plan with me.

“Oh,” I said, inhaling sharply. Godric, that hurt. “He made a big mistake.”

“Yeah?” Dad said, pulling apart and resting his hand on the door again. “And what was that?”

I smirked arrogantly. “He took Avery.”

Dad’s grin couldn’t have been bigger. “Let’s go, son.”

He shoved the door open and the sirens got blindingly loud. Dad put up his shield first and I followed fast, racing for the center of the pitch. Curses were on us instantly. Guards with wands and guns and light was everywhere. It was the middle of the day, but I couldn’t see the sky.

My shield was fading and it hurt to keep up. My sides were splitting from the inside.

I stumbled.

Dad lowered his own shield and grabbed my arm, pulling my toward the grass as he was hit with a curse that created a nasty cut on his arm. I gasped. He didn’t flinch.

In that moment, I watched him as we ran. The concentration on his face. The sheer determination. Narrowed eyes. Lips pressed close together. Shaggy black hair flying back out of his face. Hand gripping mine tight.

My father was the bravest man I knew.

“James – go!”

Shit. That was my cue.

I tightened my hold on his hand though it hurt badly and I felt myself slipping away from the situation. No. Avery.

He had AVERY.

I shook it away, lowered my shield, and spun. Something hit me – my leg – but it was just blood. Just a tap compared to what I’d endured.

We landed the same place Bink, Freddie, and I did yesterday. In the trees outside of Mason’s country home. This time we didn’t have disguises with battle paint, just blood-stained clothes and fury. I figured that would be enough.

My knees buckled under me. Turned out that last hex took off a chunk of skin from my calve.

“Oh, fuck,” I gasped, clutching a fist-full of leaves.

Dad looked like he wanted to say something, but straightened up first. “Remember why you’re here,” he said calmly.

That snapped me out of it as adrenaline took over. Avery was swirling in my mind. Her beautiful brown hair and green eyes. The way she laughed and gave me that look when I was exaggerating. Her finger trailing circles on my stomach. Her sheepish smile. Her saucy stare when trying on skimpy clothes to make me uncomfortable. Her body in those skimpy clothes. The face when she concentrated on schoolwork. Her eyes when she was saving a Quaffle.

Avery kissing me on the balcony in Italy.

Kissing Avery on the beach of the grotto.

Telling Avery I loved her on my living room sofa.

Loving Avery.

I brought myself to full height, an inch or so shorter than my father, and gripped Walter’s wand tight. “Don’t let me kill anyone,” I said.

Dad just smirked. He knew I wouldn’t actually kill anyone, but I could tell he appreciated my vigor. “Let’s go get Avery, hmm?”

We didn’t have a plan this time. There was no time to hash out a window-climb or negotiations. We marched straight up to the door.

Then I kicked it down instead of using my wand.

I might have been fueled by a lot of rage, since I remembered someone slapped my beautiful wife and I wanted revenge.

Here’s what I expected: A zillion guards with their wands and guns at the ready and David Flynn with a knife to Avery’s throat.

Here’s what I saw: A zillion guards, all knocked out and sprawled out on the ground. David Flynn nowhere to be seen.

Avery Flynn Potter retying her shoes and wiping blood off her hands with a damp paper towel. She started when she heard the door, glancing up.

She did a double take before realizing it was me.

“What…?” Dad had no idea what happened.

I did.

Avery Flynn didn’t need to be saved. She never needed to be saved, only to be supported.

She straightened up and tossed the paper towel onto one of the unconscious guards. “James,” she said and it broke my heart to see the tears pouring down her cheeks. “I thought you were dead.”

“It takes more than a blow torch to kill a Potter,” I said and Dad gave me a THEY REALLY USED THAT look, but I didn’t say anything. I hopped over some of the guards, grabbed Avery, and kissed her like I haven’t kissed her before.

I pulled her close, my hands on her back, and kissed her like I wanted to since I found out she was taken. Since I got that phone call. She melted into the embrace, her arms finding their way around my neck, and we fell back into the table before finding a balance.

I tilted my head to the side and deepened the kiss, drawing her close.

Nothing else mattered in that moment but the girl in my arms. The woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with – code or father or career be damned.

I forgot about the guards and my father as we kissed, our mouths open and distracted. I never wanted it to end – that kiss, her. All of it. I wanted it all.

Until Dad awkwardly cleared his throat. The fantasy vanished and I remembered we were in Mason’s house with unconscious guards all over the place. I blushed. Avery blushed. We both turned to look at my father.

Also I knocked a vase off a shelf because it belonged to Mason and was ugly.

“How did you do this?” He motioned to the guards. Now that I concentrated, there were approximately twenty. They really had twenty blokes on Avery and Walter standing outside my door?

Avery shrugged. “It just took one idiot to open the door for a hyperventilating, weepy mess of a girl,” she said casually. “Then I grabbed his wand, stunned a few, and kicked the shit out of the rest.” She reached up to touch my cheek, which stung. “It wasn’t a big deal, really. I was just about to come and find you. I thought the worst.”

“It’s a long story,” I told her.

“I want the short version before we go anywhere.”

I told her the condensed story of what had happened after I got the phone call about her being taken. Turning myself in. My transport. The dead guard and transport bloke. Getting the royal shit kicked out of me. Spotting the boxes and narrowing down my location. Walter. Dropping the wand. Dad coming to save me. Henrik Lindt singing in the shower (I couldn’t leave out that part). Escaping and apparating here.

“Hold on,” Avery said, raising a finger to her lips. “You told me a rib was broken.”

I nodded to my ribs. “Broken.”

“You’re – you came in here prepared to take on twenty men when you have a broken rib?” She looked horrified.

I pulled her to me and kissed her again. I was in excruciating pain and my vision was clouded with black dots, but I didn’t care. “I came to rescue you,” I told her. “Only when I got here did I remember this was the girl who destroyed a village block.”

Avery turned to my father. “And everyone – they’re safe?”

“As far as I know, yes.”

“Oh!” I said and the two of them looked over, startled. “Which one of these asswits is the one who slapped you over the phone?”

She gave me a look. “I’m pretty sure I took care of it, James.”

“Tell me.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“Pretty please?” I gave her my best puppy dog brown eyes face.

She caved and jerked her thumb in the direction of a guard lying by the window. I smashed his nose with my heel.

“That’s better,” I said with a grin.

Avery straightened the dress she had worn to get information out of Twitwards. It was nice – a slinky red number with bright red lipstick. The lipstick was almost gone now, but I assumed some was transferred to me. She turned again to Dad. “Mr. Potter, how can I apologize for my father’s behavior?”

His expression softened into a smile. “It’s not your apology to make,” he told her. “You didn’t know what he was capable of any more than the rest of us did.” He looked around. “Do you know where he might be? He never made it to the Hurricanes stadium and wasn’t in Tutshill when I left with James.”

We were all three thinking the same thing. To his knowledge, the only one still captured was Avery. Unless he knew she had disabled his minions.

“We should leave,” said Dad. “Get home. Get you fixed up, James. You look like a disaster.”

Avery laced her fingers with mine and squeezed. “You look heroic,” she whispered.

For a moment, I thought maybe I would make it out alive. I wouldn’t have to give Avery that letter. I could surprise her in a few weeks when I thought of a proper proposal.

That was until David Flynn stepped out from behind a wall and shot a curse straight through my damn heart. Green light.

My fingers tore from Avery’s and I flew back against the wall. Before completely blacking out from either the curse or the shooting pain through my body, I watched my father turn, disarm Flynn, and knock him out all in one wand movement.

He really was the bravest man I knew.




A/N: It always gets worse before it gets better. 

Bit of a roller coaster there. But hey - Harry Potter! 

As those of you who follow Hormones know, I am in the process of traveling and also moving in a short span of time, so the queue closure is coming at a wonderful time. Hopefully this can keep you content until I get settled in my new place and then regular updates will resume. 

Also for those of you who asked, I have no idea how long this story is going to be. I was re-reading chapter 23 the other day and it seems to be wrapping up, but I have at least 2 more planned. BUT I'm also planning to re-read all of BTQC and DTTT in one go and usually I get ideas from that, so I'll keep you posted. 

Thanks so much for all of the amazing reviews and support - you're awesome! 

UP NEXT: James figures out if he's dead or not. James also figures out if everyone else is dead or not. 

 

 


Chapter 23: The One with all the Love
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

 

For Aftaminas and dee. 




Was I dead?

Well, I wasn’t in crazy amounts of pain, so I must have been dead.

Did I go on to the other side, or become a ghost? I could haunt Freddie. He could keep me around to scare Hogwarts students out of trying to hit on Amy. I would do that for him.

I wondered how Amy was doing – if she was all right now. If they released her from St. Mungos.

I thought about if Rose left Bink a message before she left for Greece.

I thought about Avery. How her body folded into mine while I kissed her.

How her father shot a jet of green light right into my chest.

A killing curse.

My father-in-law killed me. I knew some people had issues with their in-laws, but that was a touch extreme.

He wanted to kill me that entire time. He wanted me to watch him murder Bink Legace, one of my best friends. He wanted me to suffer like he had.

Worse. He wanted me dead.

And he did it. Right there. In front of my father and my wife. He killed me.

“James?”

“I see his eyelids flickering. Do you think he’s having a dream?”

“Dogs move their legs like they’re running in a dream. Do you think he’s batting his eyelashes in his dream?”

“Sorry, Avery. Looks like he found a new dream-lady.”

“James isn’t suave enough, even in his dreams.”

“I am so,” I grumbled. I forced open my eyes and found the lights far too bright to make out any shapes. I heard her voice though – Avery. I heard her tiny hint of sarcasm. The smile in her voice. She was okay. She was alive.

“James!” I felt Avery’s arms fall over me, but it didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel a ton of anything, really.

“Tell me things,” I mumbled. I felt a little floaty.

“You’re at St. Mungos.”

“Hate St. Mungos,” I grumbled and tried to open my eyes again. This time they adjusted to the light, a little. The walls were white. There was a blue curtain. She was telling the truth.

“Who?”

Avery kissed my cheeks and my lips and my nose and my forehead. “Your parents are downstairs handling things. I’m here. Bink’s here. Freddie’s here. Lily and Albus are here.”

“The others – they’re okay?” It was difficult to speak. My throat felt closed. My chest ached. Literal chest aching, not figurative.

“They’re all fine, mate,” Bink said. “Paloma and Wesley went home to their parents.”

“Where’s Rose?”

I saw his blond brows raise. “I’m guessing she’s in Greece now, isn’t she?”

“Have you been to the flat?”

He shook his head. His body started to focus and he was still wearing the damn dress he was captured in. “None of you have?” I looked at Avery, remembering the letter.

“None of us. We came straight here to get examined and then when we were released, came to make sure you were all right.”

I reached out for him and Bink tentatively put his hand in mine. “I’m sorry,” I told him.

“Don’t be. You look like shit. I’m way more attractive than you right now.”

My eyes narrowed and I squeezed his hand. A little, because it was difficult. “I’m serious. I need to tell you things.”

“You should rest now, mate,” Bink said. “We’ll talk about them later. Everything is going to be fine.”

I nodded. Everything was going to be fine.

“Your dad?” I said to Avery.

“High security holding cell,” she answered promptly. “They’re extracting information via the truth serum before sentencing him.”

“Without possibility of a pardon? Or visitors?” I choked out.

“No possibility,” Avery said with a hint of a smile. She took my hand from Bink’s and kissed it. And my wrist, which I saw was still sliced pretty bad from the metal on the chair.

“Amy?” I blurted, looking at Fred.

“She’s fine. She’s actually being released in the morning, so I’ll probably spend the night here with her.” He raked his fingers through his probably-still-soft hair. “She was watching old movies, so she didn’t actually see any of the coverage. Which was good. She thought I was just spending time with you guys.”

I released a breath. “Good,” I said. I spotted Lily and Albus at the end of my bed and my eyes burned.

“Don’t do it,” Lily said. “If you cry, I’ll start crying by default and I’d rather not.”

“Just rest, James,” Albus said. He must have been very proud of his hot girlfriend for what she did to get them out of there.

“One more,” I insisted and they groaned, but nodded. My vision was getting fuzzy again and the lights weren’t helping my eyes stay open. “How am I alive?”

There was definitely a green light. I was knocked off my feet.

To that, Avery smirked. She tugged on the neck hole of my shirt and for a moment I thought she was going to undress me, so I almost told everyone else to get lost. Instead, she found a chain pressed against my skin and drew it out. On the end, was her ring I took with me.

“The curse hit the ring,” she explained with a knowing smile. “It still did plenty of damage and you’ll have a nice scar on your chest, but you’re not dead. It didn’t kill you.”

I stared at the ring as she held it before me. Glittering, but blackened by the curse.

Avery saved my life.

That little piece of her is what saved my life.

*

When I woke again, it was night. I didn’t know which night, but it was night. Now I could take in more of my surroundings. I was in a private room and a television was on, but muted, in front of the bed. There were flowers everywhere – like I was in a garden. Cards. A signed Quaffle.

How long had I been unconscious?

I felt better and less drugged now. There was still pain from my ribs, which I recognized to be wrapped, but overall I was better. Then again, comparing the current pain with stumbling through the woods with blood pouring from open wounds wasn’t fair.

Avery was on the only chair beside my bed with her legs dangling over the side. She was the one watching the television. I wondered if this was an Amy situation – like if my family and friends were in the waiting room outside.

I cleared my throat and she whipped around, the grin immediate. She started to get up, but then stopped herself.

“Are you okay?” she whispered into the darkness. Her face was being lit by a commercial now.

“I’m alive,” I said with a smirk. It didn’t hurt as much to smirk now. “Hey, do you remember that night we spent in the hospital wing at Hogwarts? After Clint Lawson cut me and I got all loopy and you saved me?”

“You crawled into bed with me,” she said.

“I did,” I replied. “We have a thing for meeting in hospitals, don’t you think?”

“I do.”

“We should probably make the best of it.” I winked.

Avery rolled her eyes, but she was grinning. Like a fool. She pulled herself up off the chair and climbed into bed from the bottom. She wrapped her body around mine and I didn’t flinch, mostly because I was on fire everywhere she touched. Not from pain.

She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Fierce and strong and curvy and perfect. Perfect for me.

I wrapped an arm around her so she could settle in under my shoulder and she kissed my chest, which I realized didn’t have anything covering it. Just a blistering scar in the shape of a ring. I had to tell Dad we had matching hero-guy scars now. Under the blanket, I was in my boxers.

“They took off my clothes,” I said.

“They were soaked in blood, James.”

“Like what you see?” I teased.

“Hush.” Avery kissed my bare chest again.

“My parents out there?”

“Everyone is out there,” she said. “No one’s been home. Not yet.”

“And Rose?”

“What?”

“Is Rose out there?”

“No, why would Rose be out there?”

I considered this, but shook my head. “Just wondering,” I said. Did she really leave for Greece? How much did she actually love Bink if she left? Then again, that wasn’t fair. This trip was important to her. It was her life. I told her Bink was going to be fine and he was.

Luckily.

“I love you, Aves,” I mumbled into her hair.

“I love you.”

“I wrote you a letter, you know.”

“Did you?” she mumbled.

“In case I didn’t make it out.”

She touched the chain against my chest. “But you did. Can I still read it?”

I considered this. It would ruin my real proposal, but everything in that letter was genuine.

“Of course you can,” I whispered, kissing her hair again. “You can have anything you want.”

She brought her lips to mine for a little while, her fingers trailing over my stomach again in that way that made me want to float away. Even though I was hurting and a little drugged and the last couple days were easily the worst of my life… that night was perfect.

That night was my favorite night.

*

I had been unconscious for two full days before waking up to my friends and siblings around me. The curse badly damaged my chest and heart, but it was repairable and they worked hard to make sure everything was all right. It was.

The next few days were a blur of people in and out of my hospital room making sure I was all right. They threw information at me and I tried to retain everything, but it was difficult with everyone being fuzzy to look at.

After they escaped the basement of the Hurricanes facility, Dad went to get me and Mum took everyone to St. Mungos. She was too worried about Wesley’s bleeding and the gash on Al’s leg to fix them herself. She admitted everyone for testing but herself and immediately phoned Clara Robinson to “get her sorry arse to St. Mungos or Mum would kick it straight to Tokyo.”

That sounded like Mum.

She made Clara turn on the cameras and told them the real story – everything she knew and some things she only recently found out thanks to Paloma’s seducing skills. About David Flynn last year and my career and being blacklisted from every team. About Mason and Emerson and all their contacts, which had been shared with her from Dad. About our family and their being kidnapped and the fact that it wasn’t me – that it was blackmail. She grew teary on the television because at that point, she didn’t know if I was alive. She hadn’t heard from Dad. She also didn’t know the location of Avery, but she knew we couldn’t be together.

Mum made a full statement and the Ministry was dispatched (feeling like fools) to collect the unconscious guards at the Hurricanes’ facility. They did. Mason and Emerson were both found and arrested. Lots of guards were arrested. Everyone was arrested.

They showed me a photo of Mason’s face after Mum kicked him.

Such a proud moment for me.

After that, Dad sent the Ministry a message saying we were alive, but I was hurt. The wizards picked up Flynn from Mason’s house and Dad took Avery and me straight to the hospital. They caught my parents’ reunion hug on live television. I wiped away guilty tears when I watched it.

Fred spent the night with Amy and went home with her when she was released the following day to get settled. He hadn’t grinned like that in months.

I sat Lily and Albus down and told them how much they meant to me. I didn’t let them interrupt.

I made Bink sit with me for a long time talking about nothing before I finally admitted what had happened. That Flynn was going to murder him and make me watch. I’d wrestled with whether or not to tell him, but knew firsthand that secrets did much more harm than good. He had a right to know.

His face went paler than usual, but he gripped my hand hard. We said nothing, but we sat in silence watching the muted television.

He knew how I felt. I knew how he felt.

“Go home,” I told him eventually.

“What?”

“Go back to the flat. There should be a message on the answering machine for you.”

His brow arched. “No one uses that rubbish phone.”

“Rose does,” I said, not looking at him.

Bink said nothing. He ran. The door slammed behind him. I smiled.

I found out later that evening from Freddie that Rose’s message said she was going to Greece – but not because she wanted to. Because her worry about Bink made her into a wreck and she was instructed by Nia (forcefully) not to go looking for him because that wasn’t what I wanted (she was right). So she went to Greece to distract herself until she heard news so she didn’t do anything stupid. Too many emotions.

In the message, she told Bink she had something to tell him. Something important. And asked that if he wanted to know, to please come to Greece. She left an address.

He barely heard the city when he apparated.

Bink found her on lunch break, eating at a small café overlooking the water. As the story was told, he said nothing. He wove between the occupied tables, grabbed her, and kissed her. He told her he loved her. The adrenaline and worry finally caught up with her and she cried in his arms and told him she loved him too. Apparently he cried too.

Romantic sappy shit.

But I grinned hearing Freddie retell the story the next day.

Mum lost her shit eventually and just cried while she told me how much she loved me. I said it back – a lot. I wanted to make up for a lot of lost time. She was the one person I took for granted because I assumed she would always be there. To me, my mum was immortal. But she wasn’t immortal and we snuggled in bed like we used to when I was four and watched Quidditch.

Preseason had started and the Falcons and Wasps played first.

Dad and I spent an entire evening locked away in my room. We talked. About our lives and our dreams and our pasts. He told me pieces of his life at Hogwarts. I told him the story about Avery’s date with Emerson and the salad. He made the same “who orders salad” face I did.

It was nice. It was really nice.

Through my almost week-long stay in the hospital, I made Avery promise not to go to the flat and read the letter. Not until I was released. She let me have her ring to keep me safe, so I didn’t take it off. It was a constant, even when Mum brought me new clothes from home.

Avery told me her mum sends her love and was horrified to learn her own ex-husband had been the center of almost murdering her daughter and her daughter’s husband.

Ha. Husband.

The night before my release from St. Mungos, Freddie came in with a photograph of David Flynn’s mug shot. He looked miserable, but my brows raised at his obviously broken nose.

“Someone in jail mess him up?” I asked.

Freddie chuckled. “Not at all,” he said. “After Uncle Harry stunned him, he kicked him in the face and busted it all up.”

I grinned. I tried asking Dad about it, but he changed the subject.

“He won’t fare much better in there,” Freddie continued, holding the photo up to the light. “The way I hear it, lots of folks are big Quidditch fans in Fern. Lots of Tornados fans.”


*

Finally, I was able to leave the hospital six days after arriving. The healers said my heart and chest had recovered fully, but they warned against too much activity in the next two days. I was instructed to stay around the flat and relax. Minimal energy.

Mum stocked the fridge. Bink wrote and asked if I wanted him to come back from Greece and help for a few days.

My response: So I can watch you and Rose grope while I’m injured? Fat chance.

They needed a vacation. They needed to make up for lost time the same way I did with Avery.

I sent Freddie off to the shelter and my parents handled any requests for interviews.

“HE ALMOST DIED ARE YOU EVEN SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?” That was Mum. I heard her from our flat.

The most I’d done so far was given an official statement to the Ministry while I was still in St. Mungos. Just the facts. Nothing to my fans. Mum was right – I needed a break.

I did exactly as the Healers ordered. Avery helped me up the stairs and unpacked my hospital things. She fed Falcon Cat and Victoria, who hummed contently, and set me up with a makeshift bed on the sofa. I wanted to watch the preseason Quidditch matches.

“Have you spoken to Lindt?” she asked.

“Not since the escape,” I replied. “He told me he’d see me at practice. I’m sure he knows I wouldn’t be an asset right now.”

“Do you want me to owl him?”

I shook my head. “When I’m better, I’ll go have a talk with him and Ballo. Get to the bottom of everything that happened. Dad said the Ministry is doing a massive sweep of internal operations and the Quidditch league, so that should take time. Weed out anyone working with your father.”

“Which includes August Wells, I assume?”

“Correct,” I said. “The Tornados will get a new owner.”

“Dad will be so disappointed it isn’t him,” Avery said with a small chuckle. “Maybe someone not-so-murderous will buy it.”

Falcon Cat hopped into my lap, curled up, and started to purr. “I missed you too,” I mumbled and kissed her pink nose. “Did Tory bully you while I was away having my ass kicked? Or did Aunty Nia let TomCat in here to knock you up? Because I’m not above hexing her.”

Falcon Cat just purred.

“James?”

“Yeah?”

I looked up and she was giving me the same puppy dog face I’d used on her for years. “Go on then,” I said. “Go get it. I’m going to sit here and blush like an idiot – don’t forget I wrote that as I was walking to my death! I’m not usually that sappy!”

I didn’t know if she heard the last part. She was already in my room, under my pillow, snatching the note.

“Read it out here – I can’t stand this.”

Avery emerged from the hallway and unfolded the letter. She sheepishly leaned against the wall, hip jutted out so I was momentarily distracted. I wanted to touch her constantly. Never let her leave my bed. Unfortunately, people had to eat and stuff so that was out of the question.

Her green eyes skimmed my handwriting. She said nothing.

“Aves?” I breathed.

Finally, her gaze found mine. She was crying.

“I love you,” was all she said because the rest of the words wouldn’t come out. She let the letter fall and Falcon Cat sat on top of it. Then Avery crossed the room, crawled on top of me on the sofa, and kissed me.

We kissed for a long time. Her tears mixed with mine.

“I want to marry you properly too,” she whispered eventually, when we broke apart.

“Not just because I’m a handsome hero now?”

“In spite of it,” she teased and kissed me again. “I can’t believe what you did. Everything you did.”

I wrapped my arms around her tight. “Stay with me,” I told her.

“I’m your wife, James. I’m not going anywhere.”

*

She stayed with me for two days, on the sofa watching Quidditch and making out. Just an insane amount of snogging. Both because I wanted to make up for lost time and because I desperately loved kissing her. It was like I was on fire every time she touched me.

Avery helped me around the flat and cooked even though I insisted I was fine and could make a simple sandwich. She told me with Freddie away, I was likely to burn something.

I didn’t disagree.

She even helped me outside into the back garden to coach Lily again.

My baby sister was doing so well. She knew the drills like the back of her hand and was getting better at her “captain voice.” It startled me when she lectured me on grabbing the last chip.

Perhaps negative six was now negative four.

Lily and Wesley were dating now. It turned out she told him they couldn’t see each other like that after the school year ended because she had to concentrate on being captain and looking after me. Once Avery and I got back together, they started going on proper dates. It wasn’t until they were kidnapped together and fearing for their own lives and mine that they decided to be together. At least give it a test run.

She made me promise not to hex him.

As much.

Also, as it turned out, my fans weren’t all that peeved once they realized David Flynn was behind all of the nonsense and I was just trying to save my family. Once they saw a leaked photo of me from a security camera with my entire face beaten in and limping and with broken ribs – well, they came around. Most of the garden at St. Mungos was from fans and it was my team who sent me the Quaffle. Speaking of the team, their families/friends/careers were fine. AliCat visited me while I was at the flat, but she hugged Avery first.

“Oy,” I said.

“Stay together,” AliCat told Avery. “The thirty days is almost up. Just stay together.”

“But James has to play,” Avery said like it was obvious.

I had forgotten all about the stupid thirty days and stupid media and stupid everything. I had no intention of even fake breaking up with Avery.

Tornados be damned.

AliCat turned to me and smirked. “I found a loophole.”

“And what is it?”

“It’s a surprise,” she said.

“You’re the worst,” I muttered and turned back to the Canons match.

*

Lindt was in his office when I stopped by on the Tuesday before the first exhibition game. He was scribbling notes into his plays book and didn’t notice me walk in. I didn’t blame him – I didn’t catch him singing in the shower this time.

I also looked different. Over the course of the week, my cuts had diminished and though my ribs wear still healing, even they didn’t hurt. I now had a scar on my calf and two on my arms. I started telling people I was in a bar fight just to see what they’d say. Avery gave me a look.

“Fine,” I had said. “A cage fight. I’M NOT LYING.”

I slipped my foot against the tile floor and my captain looked up. He smiled, pleased to see me.

“Sit, Potter.”

I did. In a giant leather chair before his desk.

“We need to talk,” he said.

“I understand.” My palms were sweaty. He was going to kick me off the team. I was a liability. It was because of me his entire career was threatened.

“Thank you,” said Lindt.

“What?”

“Thank you.”

“For my service? I can get my things and go?”

He blinked in a way only a patient Hufflepuff could. “Thank you for being brave,” he explained. “For doing what you had to do in order to make sure everyone was safe. For recognizing Mason to be someone who would go to extremes in order to get what he wanted. For saving my career.”

“I’m the one who almost lost your career,” I said stupidly.

“You didn’t,” he said, shaking his head. “I was an idiot and selfish and projecting my jealousy onto you. It wasn’t as easy for me to break into the world of professional Quidditch, but I realized after your mother’s report that it wasn’t easy for you either. Then again, with your talent it wouldn’t have taken you long anyway.”

“I haven’t played a game,” I admitted.

“You didn’t have to,” Lindt told me. “I want you to know we here at the Tornados support you. I didn’t want to disturb your recovery, but can I assume you are able to play now?”

“I am.” The Healers cleared me this morning.

“Now, I’m not going back on my word regarding the first exhibition game,” Lindt explained. “You broke my rules. Nor am I going back on my word for the second exhibition game. I admit that one was harsh, but I am keeping my word.” Clearly he heard about Amy in the hospital. “You will start one week from today at our season-opener against the Harpies.”

I nodded, unable to believe my luck. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.”

“Captain. It’s Captain, James.” Lindt was smirking in that handsome way only he could manage. I still didn’t tell him about the poster on my bedroom wall.

“Yes, Captain,” I stammered. “And…about Avery…”

“That will be all, Potter,” he told me.

With a quick nod, I hurried to my locker to gear up.

Everyone seemed happy to have me back. Mason was subbing in during practice when I was at the hospital and captured. They hated him. Artemis told me she knew something was up when he got extremely arrogant and missed the goal hoops by three meters, but she didn’t ask. They started to get together a plot to overthrow Mason and have one of the other reserves called up, but by that time things took a turn and I “kidnapped my family” so it got weird.

“None of us believed it,” said Jack the morning of the exhibition match. They called up Shelby to take my place. “You may be extreme, but you aren’t cruel.”

“I think I just got a compliment?” I guessed and Monroe nodded.

Jack patted me on the back. “At least play your first match before kidnapping your family is all I’m saying.”

“I’ll give them a fair warning.”

Even though it was an exhibition game, the game was sold out. Every Tornados game was. Henrik told me not to worry about dressing, so I reserved a box at the top of the stadium and invited my family and close friends to have a night of Quidditch.

“Should I order you a drink?” Avery asked as we fell behind my parents, climbing the steep concrete stairs toward the box. “What do you want?”

“I’ll catch up,” I said. “I have to miss the first half.”

“Why?”

I squeezed her hand. “I think I owe my supporting fans an interview, don’t you?”

Avery frowned and pulled me to the side of the staircase so groups could pass. The rail pressed against my back. “James, you’re not obligated to do this. You don’t owe anyone anything. You’re still healing.”

“I want to,” I said and was surprised my mind floated to Nathan. He’d want me to speak up. I needed to speak up.

She smiled and pressed her lips to my cheek. “If they ask you leading questions, remind them I blew up a village block,” she whispered.

We said goodbye and Avery made her way to the box and I veered right to the offices on the fourth landing. There were fans everywhere. The buzz of the Tornados was outrageous this year, even without me in uniform for the game. They were on the front page of the last four Quidditch Weekly magazines, not to mention the couple when I’d been signed and Mason was a tosspot.


*

“Wow, that was some story, Mr. Potter. I’m so impressed by your bravery.”

“I am a Gryffindor,” I said. The lights were getting a little hot and I felt the makeup begin to melt. I hated wearing makeup for interviews, though it made my jaw lines look awesome.

“Tell me, do you have anything to say to your fans after this ordeal?”

That was the question I’d been pondering since I woke up in St. Mungos alive and on the mend. What I’d say to the people who followed me. The ones who supported me and bought my jerseys and really thought I could achieve my dreams, even when I didn’t think I could.

“I do,” I replied with a short nod. “My fans are a unique bunch, seeing as I haven’t played an actual game yet. They follow me because they believe in me, not because I’ve proven myself a high-scoring Tornado. They know I can. I make mistakes and they scold me. I follow my dreams and they give me a push. I doubt myself and they swell with pride and tell me I can do anything. That I’ve already done so much.” I ran my fingers through my hair, ruffling it. The hair stylist behind the camera visibly flinched.

“It’s an obvious thing to say, but thanks. It’s been an uphill battle to get here, but I’m not giving up. I’m not going anywhere. I want to be a Tornado because this organization refused to be swayed by people with rubbish motives.” I didn’t know what else to say. My throat tightened and I realized too late my eyes burned. “I love this game. It has been my dream as long as I can remember and to be here – to tell you parts of this story – is an honor. I only hope I live up to the hype in my first game. I’m nervous.”

“Nervous?” said the interviewer, a broad-shouldered man with stubble. “I hear you tore it up at the private tournament and have a Cup history at Hogwarts.”

“We’ll see during the first game,” I said with a brief laugh, trying not to cry because I was James Potter and crying on television was not on my to-do list.

“Why aren’t you playing the exhibitions, again? Does Ballo not want you getting hurt?”

“Something like that,” I said. I thought of Avery in the box and wondered what the hell we’d do. We could stay married and ride it out while we continued to date, but we both knew that wasn’t right. We wanted to be properly married with a ceremony we remembered and vows we stumbled over. She wanted the white dress and I wanted to try not to cry when I saw her in it.

I hoped whatever AliCat cooked up, it would at least help.


*

The Tornados won their first exhibition game by two hundred points. Shelby looked fantastic in my place and gave me a giant inappropriate hug after the game. We popped a bottle of champagne in the locker room and Henrik drank most of it.

“To a new season!” he called.

“To that fucker Mason being gone!” yelled Artemis.

“Didn’t you almost shag him?” whispered AliCat.

“Almost doesn’t count,” Artemis insisted. “Besides, he kisses like a goddamn mop. Turns out a snog throws off his game completely, and I’m into a good shag before a game, so that could never work.”

My nose was permanently wrinkled after overhearing that.

“Wish you were playing Thursday, Potter.” Artemis clapped me on the back. “Can’t wait to give those drills a go against an actual team.”

“We’ve got the whole season,” I said and took the champagne from Jack. If, you know, I didn’t break the Code and end up benched for the foreseeable future.

“Plus the playoffs and Cup game,” she reminded me.

“Of course. Silly me.”

*

On Thursday, the Tornados won by seventy against the Wasps. I spent the game in a private box with Avery that time. A date. An actual date.

“Your team is doing well,” she said after Jack caught the Snitch.

“They’re all right. I’ll be letting Smoke know his turns need work.”

“You wish your turns were as good as Smokes.”

“GodIknowhe’ssodamngood.”

Avery smirked and leaned her head against my shoulder. “Tomorrow morning, then?” she asked.

“Tomorrow morning.” It was the thirtieth day tomorrow. Hard to believe a month ago we got so drunk at Bink’s part-time job that we got married. Then we tried to hide it. Then it came out we were not being super authentic, which people seemed to forget about once they thought I kidnapped my own family.

Honestly, who believed that?

I bet the count of people who bought that story would fit on one of my hands.

Oh, wait. The Ministry.

“Any other ideas?” Avery asked, pulling me from my irritation at the Ministry.

“Snog buddies?” I offered and she pinched my arm. “What? We had something good going there.”

“Until you turned on a shower and told me you wanted to date me,” she said.

“Right. Yes. That.” My face reddened. “Though you make it sound much less romantic and dramatic than it was.”

“We were fully dressed and soaked.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m teasing,” Avery said and pulled me in for a kiss. “It was romantic. It was dramatic. It was lovely and I don’t want to go back to not being with you. We’ll figure it out.”

“We’ll meet back at Judge Twat’s courtroom then?”

“Then you’ve got a game to play,” Avery said with a cheeky grin.

She was right. Back to being a boyfriend and playing my first professional Quidditch game all in one day. Tomorrow would either be the best or the worst day, but I was eager to find out.




A/N: Apologies for the delay  - I moved to a new apartment and have been getting settled while also trying to post. I also landed a new job I start soon - WOWZA. 

For those who asked, I know it is apparent in this chapter things are beginning to wrap on this story. This is as far as I've written, but there (obviously) is a bit more. I just don't know how many chapters worth. What I want to do is reread the ENTIRE thing from BTQC on and then write the ending, whether that is one more chapter or five more. I have no idea right now.

That being said, there will be no epilogue for this story. I'm still toying with whether or not I want to write more James in the future. I know there aren't as many people reading as before from when the HP movies were still going on, but James is someone I've grown very fond of. I've decided I'll wait a few months after I finish this story and decide if things are done with him or if I'd like to do a story with him a few years down the road. Up in the air! 

UP NEXT: AliCat's loophole. Judge Twat. The first professional game of James's career, and hopefully not the last. 


Chapter 24: The One We Face Together
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For Haley. For Ali. For Kira. For Erin. For Ramita. For Gaia. For Kristina. For all of you who have followed James' story for the last six years. 

This is the final chapter.




I put on a tie because I wasn’t sure what to wear when you canceled a marriage. I assumed reporters would be there – by then they’d worked out how long thirty days was and had probably scoped out the location for light placement. Clara Robinson no doubt had a prime spot right inside the courtroom.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Bink said. He and Freddie sat side-by-side on the kitchen island with ice cream sandwiches. “You love her. Just stay married.”

I shook my head and straightened the tie in the reflection of a photo. “I want to date her properly. In public. I want to propose to her in some ridiculous fashion so she has a story to tell – erm, when we’re older. I want to remember our wedding.”

“Fucking sap,” muttered Bink.

“You want to shag before you get married?” said Fred.

I ignored them and flattened my hair.

In the wizarding world, what we were going to do was similar to an annulment, but they called it a Veil Separation. I read they used to make the girl wear a veil and speak honestly if she wanted the marriage to be voided, or if her hand was being forced. Load of rubbish – they’d better not make Avery wear anything. She’d curse them to the States.

“You’re sure she wants to go through with it?” Freddie asked.

“That’s what she said.” We’d had the conversation several times. As much as Aves enjoyed dropping my last name at convenient times and walking into the Tornados stadium without being stopped, she agreed on the marriage situation. We were young. We needed space to make our own mistakes and grow before we threw all the cats in the same bag.

That image disturbed me.

“How’s Amy feeling?” I asked before they could quiz me on my decision. Maybe I should have left early and taken a book.

Did I own any books that weren’t Quidditch-related? Probably not.

“Brilliant,” he told me. “She’s better every day.”

“Good enough for a shag?” I countered.

“Sod off.”

“You started it.”

“She’s volunteering in the cat room with me today.”

“Don’t you take Falcon Cat this time.”

“I told you, I lied. I didn’t really take her.”

“She’s been acting different,” I said.

“Are you sure it isn’t your fictional TomCat?”

“You’re dead to me,” I muttered and ruffled my hair. “Wish me luck, boys. I’m going to get veil-y separated from my gorgeous wife, then snog her for a while. See you at the game?”

“We’ve made a banner,” Bink said, motioning to a rolled up poster-board in the corner.

“Do I want to know?”

“Not really. There’s glitter, though.” Bink pointed at the pink sparkles lingering in his hair. I just thought he went to a rave last night.

I straightened the tie one last time and bid them goodbye. The next time I’d see them was at the game. Hopefully, I’d be playing. I’d been practicing as if I’d play, but Lindt knew today was day thirty. So did Cooper Bradley, but as far as I knew he was barely practicing with Avery, let alone having her grace the bench in case their starter was injured. Pfft.

*

Italy was Italy. Bright and warm and full of vacation memories and drunken blurs from a month ago. I walked past the hotel ballroom and looked up at the rails on the balcony where Avery first kissed me. You know, before I shouted something about muffins and ran off.

I wove through the crowd surrounding the courthouse and was right about the reporters. As it turned out, they knew how to count. How disappointing. A few shifted sideways to make a path and my eyes began to ache from the constant camera flashes. It was sunny – was a flash really necessary?

I wished I would have made Bink and Freddie come with me.

Or that I’d come with Avery.

Shifting through reporters alone made me feel … well, it made me feel like my father.

A few blokes in suits held the door for me and I was thankful the crowds didn’t extend inside. Probably rules against the media. I knew, however, I’d be facing them when I left.

Unless I remembered I was a wizard and could Apparate without answering their absurd questions about my marriage.

I didn’t have all day. I had a Quidditch game to (maybe) play.

Clara Robinson wasn’t in the courtroom. In fact, the room was empty. Each wooden row was populated by only a few remaining tissues from the first hearing of the morning and a long scroll of paper extended from a magical typewriter to the floor.

“Aves?” I tried in case she was hiding under the judge’s platform, but received no answer.

I checked my watch, which I’d borrowed (stolen) from Albus. I was two minutes early. Avery should have been here by now.

I took a seat at the front and placed my hands in my lap. What are you supposed to do with your hands when you sit down without looking like you’re praying or hoping for a second serving of stew? I tapped my fingers on the bench.

Judge DoucheFace took his place behind the podium. Witnesses filled the bench to my right. The typewriter began to set the scene.

Still, no Avery.

Introductions were made. A weird ceremonial Veil Separation candle was lit.

Still, no Avery.

It wasn’t until the judge tapped a stack of papers in front of him that I realized Avery wasn’t coming. She had signed her separation papers last night and left them in the drop box. I didn’t even know that was an option and she didn’t bother telling me.

For some reason, Avery Flynn didn’t want to be here with me.

She didn’t want to see this through together, and my fingers had trouble holding the quill as I signed my name.

James Potter.

Veil-y Separated.

To Avery Flynn, who was no longer Avery Potter.

Not that she was ever actually Avery Potter because she didn’t go through the legal requirements to change her name, knowing we only had thirty days, but it was nice to think about from time to time, her having my last name.

Not that she had to. If we really did get married in the future, I could be James Flynn.

No, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

But she could stay Avery Flynn if she wanted. Or be Avery Flynn-Potter.

Okay, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Where was Avery? Why had she signed the papers last night and why wasn’t she supporting my body weight as I staggered through the hall toward the endless monsters that were reporters. Why. Why. Why.

I pictured this moment a great deal over the last month and in each scenario she was beside me. As she’d always been, even during our difficult times.

Had I expected too much?

But really, was there a hint in her tone before that suggested she wasn’t going to be here?

As I walked into the vacant lobby, I could see the frames of the reporters outside through the frosted glass window. There were so many. Avery would know what to say – why we separated in a veil way and why I hadn’t played the first two exhibition games and why the hell wasn’t she here with me to do this? We agreed to meet. We agreed to do this together because, well, we got married together and shouldn’t we get separated together?

Unless she didn’t want to be together?

This better not have anything to do with me playing on the Quidditch team. I told Avery I’d figure something out. I wasn’t giving her up again – especially not after that whole her-ring-saving-my-life ordeal and if Henrik Lindt couldn’t deal with that I’d have a discussion with Ballo and get traded to a team that wasn’t my dream-team but at least I could play on.

She had to trust me.

Did she trust me?

I was a mess.

“I’ll be watching today, Potter!” said a burly man with an upturned mustache. Really, there was wax and it was curled like an old west villain.

“Watching?” I said.

“The game. Your home opener against the Harpies. Good luck!”

I groaned. “Thanks, mate.”

But really. Thanks.

Because that’s when I remembered I could Apparate.

*

To make myself feel better, I decided Avery went in early to have a long talk with Cooper Bradley about letting her simply sit on the bench in case their starter got hurt. Yes, that would be it. There was no way she could be kidnapped, dead, or want to break up with me. Nope.

Probably.

I arrived at the pitch early, showered, and dressed all before the rest of my team was there. I couldn’t think about this now. Today was the first actual match of my professional career and I had to drive everything from my mind – including the Veil Separation and the fact that I almost died just over a week ago. I couldn’t think about Bink and Rose or Freddie and Amy. I couldn’t think about my parents or Albus shagging Paloma or Lily being the captain of Gryffindor next year.

I shouldered my broom and headed out onto the pitch as the early crowd began to file into the stands. I took a seat on the Tornados bench and let my broom fall in front of me.

Today was about me.

It was about all the years I’d dedicated to Quidditch. All the late nights studying charts and flight patterns and inventing new drills that would work for each of my players. It was about how hard I played and how passionate I was on and off the pitch. How I went to an open try-out on a whim. How I endured press and media and Clara Robinson and put together a fundraiser for a boy named Nathan and got the Hurricanes Captain arrested.

Today was about me.

James Sirius Potter. Previous Chaser. Previous Gryffindor Captain. Previous unemployed bum. Previous Public Enemy Number One. Previous open-tryout-attendee.

Current Tutshill Tornados Starting Chaser.

Suck it, Mason.

This was my life now. My dream. I had sacrificed so much to get here and today I was able to live it.

I was a professional Quidditch player.

My dream.

My eyes stung a little, so I knocked off the mushy shit so I didn’t actually cry. That would not bode well for a successful and handsome Quidditch player.

Some people had signs. There was a lot of Tornado blue in the stands. As I watched, they filled with fans eating ice cream and hugging and trying and failing to start The Wave. It never worked properly and I didn’t know why they tried. Also it looked goofy as hell.

The Harpies bench across the pitch was vacant. I supposed coming out to see the crowd wasn’t something everyone enjoyed. It was my first game, so I’d see how it really affected me later.

I rubbed the back of my neck. The sun was warm today. I’d have to remember the black under my eyes.

“Hey, Potter.” Jackson Ballo took the seat beside me on the bench and patted my shoulder three times. “Ready for today?”

“Hardly,” I admitted.

“You’ll be fine.”

I wanted to be thinking about stats and wiping the arrogant smirk off Cooper Bradley’s face, but all I could think about was the cold courtroom I faced alone this morning.

Did she think it was too hard to face that with me beside her?

Or did she just not want to face me?

“I hope so,” I said. I blinked away the images of Avery swimming before me. I wanted to ask Ballo about dating her, but couldn’t bring myself to disrupt his happy mood.

“Make me proud today,” he said and smoothed the wrinkles in his khaki trousers. “I took a big chance on you.”

“I know you did, sir. I’ll do my best.”

“You’re capable of more than that.” He gave me a sideways smile and headed off toward the locker rooms.

I’m capable of more than my best? The fuck did that mean?

*

Since I was in my gear, I didn’t bother going back to the locker rooms. I should have since Lindt’s pre-game pep talks were legend, but I couldn’t bring myself to face AliCat knowing she was all smirky about the Code and I didn’t know if that was even an issue anymore.

Was I single?

GODRIC GRYFFINDOR I NEEDED ANSWERS WHERE WAS AN OWL I NEEDED TO SEND IT TO AVERY RIGHT NOW.

“Hey, Potter.”

I jumped. “Lindt. Hey. I’m acting completely normal and level-headed right now.”

He sat and raised a skeptical brow. “Right. You ready for today?”

“Aren’t you supposed to be giving the team a talk to fire them up?”

“The whole team isn’t there,” he said and nodded to me. His perfectly sculpted hair didn’t even move. How did he get it to do that without looking like it was weighed down with gel? Freddie would know.

“I needed some air.”

“You’ll get plenty of it during the game,” he said. Henrik was smiling.

“I’m sorry,” I admitted. “I had a rough morning.”

“Veil Separation. I heard on the news.”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry, mate.”

I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to say anything else. Instead, I focused my eyes on the visiting team’s locker room door. Avery might be coming out of there soon – if Cooper let her sit on the bench today. Now that David Flynn was out of the picture, hopefully she’d get to play during practice. I didn’t know much of anything anymore.

“Listen, Potter,” Henrik said and leaned forward so his elbows rested on his legs. “You’ve been through a lot this last year, but you’re sitting here about to play your first professional game.”

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t know what he was getting at.

“From what I’ve heard, you dealt with players trying to overthrow you, disobeying you, you breaking your own rules, having your future stripped from you by your girlfriend’s father, and then suffering through what you wanted to be your dream.” I didn’t ask how he got that information. It was probably printed in every paper by now. There were always people willing to talk. “You almost died last week doing what you thought was right. Hell, you probably didn’t give it a second thought.”

“I gave it a few second thoughts,” I mumbled.

“The point is, you’ve done a lot and very little of it was to further your own motives,” Henrik explained.

“Pretty sure all of it was to further my own motives,” I said. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

He shook his head. “Think about it, James. You’re not here because you’re selfish. You’re here because of everything else you are. Passionate. Brave. Thoughtful. Kind. Witty. Smart.”

“I think you’re naming your own traits, Henrik. Are you trying to get me to compliment you? I have a poster of you on my wall.” Damn it. Almost got through the whole summer without telling him that.

He laughed and for a moment, so did I. The stands were almost full. The refs sailed overhead as they checked the hoops for tampering. “I want to say thank you,” he said.

“What?”

“For everything,” Henrik nudged my shoulder with his. “Whether you want to admit it or not, your actions saved this team and the people on it. Plus, I’m certain, countless others.” I thought about Bink. “Today is about you.”

“What?” I repeated and finally looked at him. “How could today be about me?”

“Today is about you,” Henrik said again. “I am honoring you and your bravery by giving you this game.”

“How can you – you’re not making a lick of sense. Are you drunk, mate?”

He clapped me on the shoulder, hard. I didn’t flinch though because he was Henrik Lindt and he definitely wasn’t allowed to know that hurt. “I’m sitting out today, James. Good luck.”

“Sitting out – I don’t play Keeper, Lindt!” I shouted as the crowds began to cheer. “I know the hoops aren’t that big, but I’m pretty sure you’re a better Keeper than I am!”

“No shit.” Henrik tugged off his robes and tossed them onto the bench. Then he took out his wand.

“I think a spell might be cheating,” I said, standing in case I had to defend myself.

“Think, Potter.”

I staggered backward when his jet of yellow light hit me on the right side of my chest. “Lindt – what in the – “ I looked down, hoping I wasn’t dead.

Was I dead?

Everyone was cheering.

There was a solid gold C on my chest.

“Today, you’re Captain James Potter again.” Henrik clapped my shoulder and this time I lost my balance and fell right onto the bench. I must have looked like a fucking idiot because he added, “You earned it, Potter.”

So my eyes were prickly and I must have been crying because everything was a blur.

Today I was the captain of the Tutshill Tornados.

Henrik sat beside me. “It’s safe to say you’ll need to rally your troops before kick-off. I’m sure you have a lot of pep talks saved up for this moment.”

He wasn’t wrong.

“Wait, I don’t understand.”

Henrik knew what I was going to say. He nodded behind me so I turned.

I wiped away the totally unmanly tears, but once I saw Avery Flynn in a Tornados uniform they came back at full force. She sauntered – and I really mean sauntered – across the sidelines with AliCat and Artemis and the rest of the team with her broom shouldered and looking like she was born to wear those robes.

Avery’s hair was pulled back away from her face, but stray bangs escaped. She didn’t bother pushing them away. She only smirked in that devilish, sexy, amazing way only she was capable of.

“Surprise, Potter,” Henrik said from beside me. “Ballo felt we needed a quality reserve that knows your style of play.”

“No fucking way,” I sobbed, barely able to pull myself up. I managed, and shoved Avery’s broom off her shoulder and kissed her hard. She laughed into my kiss and dried my cheeks with her thumbs when we pulled apart.

“Sorry for bailing on you this morning,” she said.

“I thought – Aves…”

“I know exactly what you thought. It wasn’t easy, but I knew it would be worth it.”

“How?” I nodded to her robes.

“They owled me yesterday,” she said, grinning like an idiot. The crowd was roaring and the Harpies were on the pitch and I didn’t give any fucks. “I signed the papers last night because I had to be fitted for my robes and given a physical evaluation this morning. They asked if it could be a surprise and given what you’ve been through, I knew you could endure a little more.”

“Horrible woman,” I said, kissing her again.

“Whatever you say, Captain.”

I saw Ali over Avery’s shoulder and she was grinning.

The loophole. That was the loophole they’d found so that Avery and I could be together. There was no rule in the Code to prohibit players from dating members of the team or the reserve team.

Though many days before compared to it, today was the greatest day of my life.

Today I was Captain of the Tutshill Tornados and today I was playing my first professional Quidditch match. Today Avery would be in the hoops and today I would be alive to see it, thanks to her.

“All right, team,” I said, stepping away but maintaining very suggestive eye contact with my ex-wife-now-girlfriend, “Let’s win this fucking game.”


*

That’s exactly what we did.

Cooper spent the game yelling from the pitch and waving his arms like a lunatic. At first he tried telling his Chasers Avery’s weaknesses, but soon realized she wasn’t in the air enough as a Harpy for him to know any.

She played out of her mind. Poised, collected, and perfectly comfortable, Avery Flynn saved many more than she let in. I think she played even better than I did, seeing as she hadn’t even been training with a professional team during the summer. She was a natural and some saves distracted me enough I had to force my mind back on the Quaffle and not what our evening tonight was going to contain.

As promised, Henrik sat on the bench and relaxed. At one point he took a nap on the grass.

I called all the shots – I fucked a few up, but overall I was able to pinpoint what needed to be said and what didn’t. Smoke and Monroe fell into step immediately with what I was after and hit Quaffles hard. I needed to introduce Paloma to them – they’d love her.

And I played – well, I played pretty damn well. I kept my head up and my grip tight. I used my entire body in a pass and read the Harpies’ Keeper as well as I could.

The day was a chaotic blur and at the end of it when I crashed into Avery because Jack had caught the Snitch, the Tornados came out victors with a score of 380 – 150.

We fell into the hoop snogging and Artemis had to remind us to come down before we were the front page of next week’s Quidditch Weekly.

I kept kissing her anyway.

“Well done, Potter,” Henrik said after the team was showered and exhausted and running on pure adrenaline. I may have cried again in the shower and hoped no one heard. “I’ll keep you in mind when I retire.”

“You’d better,” I said and tried to sound cocky but it came out kind of like OH MY GOD REALLY ARE YOU SERIOUS WOW.

The party after the win was legendary. Jack said they usually didn’t party after every came because then they’d be hungover for practice, but this was a special occasion. I don’t remember half the night, but I woke up under a table the next morning at Ali’s flat.

I was the front page of Quidditch Weekly and every sports-related publication in the wizarding world that weekend. Except the photo wasn’t me snogging Avery in the hoop (though that was included in the article). Instead, it was a shot of me during the game flying with a Quaffle and looking particularly regal with the C very visible on my chest.

CAPTAIN POTTER RETURNS was the title.

Henrik replaced my robes and told me to keep the ones from my first game. “You’ll need them in a few years,” he said.

On the same day, Dad brought dinner to the flat while Bink and Freddie were away canoodling with their girlfriends. He slid a box across the kitchen island and I opened it.

“You’ll need this in a few years,” he said and his eyes were glassy.

In the box was a silver band with a round diamond attached. I looked up.

“However and whenever, we’ll support you.” He smiled and I fucking teared up again. It was becoming a habit, unfortunately.

*

As August faded and my brother and sister escaped to Diagon Alley to buy books and robes for their next year of school, it finally hit me that I wasn’t headed back to Hogwarts with them. Freddie and Bink were both taking it hard knowing they wouldn’t see Amy and Rose until Halloween when we crashed whatever party Gryffindor thought was worthy, but I found myself strangely indifferent.

Hogwarts seemed like worlds away now. The auction for new robes. The blanket fort. The insane amount of time I spent in the Hospital Wing (and detention). My brother’s blossoming feelings for Paloma Dove. My sister’s unfortunate fondness for Wesley.

Avery kissing me in Italy.

Me kissing Avery next to an underground lake.

Telling Avery I had to be with her in the shower of the locker rooms.

Falling in love with Avery only to be cruelly ripped apart.

It felt like half a lifetime ago.

And yet now as my siblings and parents readied for their journey back to Hogwarts tomorrow, I was locked in my bedroom with Avery Flynn. We were wrapped in each other’s arms with our shoes in the floor and somehow I knew even though we weren’t making the journey back to the castle, what lay in front of us was a much more exciting adventure.

The Tornados and practice and interviews and the months it would take me to craft the perfect real proposal. Cooper Bradley and letters from David Flynn and the eventual reappearance of Clint Lawson and Freddie bringing home a Great Dane.

Whatever derailed us, we’d face together.

The End. At Least For Now.




A/N: Honestly, I didn't think chapter 24 would be the end of this story. I thought James would go on forever. I wanted so many things for him. I wanted to reread his entire journey before writing the ending. But this is what came out and as such, James ended his own story. For now.

I have been writing James Potter for more than six years. In those six years I've gone through so many life events - college graduation, new jobs, marriage, moving across the country - and it was an honor to watch James change along with me. From the James who cared more about studying Quidditch than realizing his sister was growing up and his brother was an actual badass, to the James who would put other people before himself and walk into scary situations because he knows it is what is right. 

He has grown so much as a person through these two stories and letting go of him is not easy. He is a part of me. That's why there is no epilogue to this story. Because maybe it's the end and maybe it isn't. We'll see.

As always, I want to thank every one of you who has read and/or reviewed this story. It was my first Next Gen and will always be the story closest to my heart. I have read every review. Every single one will get a response - I'm working slowly, but diligently. You are all the reason I am here and I hope you know I do this for you. Thank you to those who have shared their James-related experiences with me. The person who named their cat Falcon Cat. Those who started using Talking Slytherin and Grades in real life. 

I guess James would tell me to stop being mushy. So I'll say thank you. I hope you keep reading my other stories and maybe if in another six months or a year I decide I can't live without writing James, you'll see his face pop up on HPFF again. 

Thanks for the laughs, the memories, and the Dobby award in honor of the asshole David Flynn. 

Stay tuned for more Georgiana Wood, Freddo Weasley, and now Teddy Lupin.

Cheers.


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