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This chapter is for lokita95hp for making my brain work from the review!

For most of the rest of the afternoon, I stayed away from the castle. Lily and I went for a walk while I vented and threw snowballs at unsuspecting bushes. I couldn’t help it—I still couldn’t believe it. Bink and Meta’s fight was still fresh in my mind. My brain was swimming from all the conversations I had with my fellow Chaser the entire term. Not wanting to get the doctor getup. Disappearing frequently. Remedial Transfig my arse! That essay wasn’t even started—finishing it, yeah right.

I felt dramatically betrayed. Lily told me to stop being such a drama queen, but I couldn’t help it. My best mate, lying to me about some McLaggen that pants’ed me in the Entrance Hall while I was trying to get my snog on.

“You should go lie down,” Lily said, placing her hand on my shoulder.

“What if Bink is there?”

“Then talk to him. You’re going to have to eventually.”

I made a noise that sounded like a cross between a groan and a wonky giraffe. “All right, fine. I just don’t want to fight about it. I haven’t thought about what would happen if someone actually breaks the Code.”

“It’s almost break, James.” Lily pulled open the castle doors and shoved me inside. “Tell him you’re going to think about this over break. You have plenty of time. Al and I can help you—so can Avery. You have to do something. People can’t just go around breaking the Code.”

“Still have no idea how you know so much about the damn Code,” I mumbled. “You’re right, though. I have it for a reason. There’s a reason I didn’t go for Paloma—besides Al I mean. Merlin, and all this time too. Yes, something has to happen.”

She gave me a swift pat on the back. “I’m off to dinner. Good luck.”

I wrinkled my nose. “Abandoner,” I said with a small laugh and continued upstairs.

The common room was quiet when I entered. Most Gryffindors had been outside for the blow-up and they were discussing it in hushed voices. Of course they didn’t know about the Code, only about this hidden relationship. A few third years swore up and down they saw the pair snogging in the owlry. I thought Bink had better taste than that. No one from the team was there. Even Emerson wasn’t around to poke his nose where it didn’t belong. He was probably hiding behind a sofa or something.

I took a deep breath, completely unprepared for what was about to happen. Fred and Bink were both inside. Bink was tearing pieces of parchment to shreds and Fred was playing with Victoria on his own bed. Neither was speaking.

“Hey,” I said quietly.

“Hi,” said Fred.

“So let’s talk about this.” I sat down and patted Victoria on her pink pygmy-puff head.

“Don’t really want to,” Bink muttered.

“Already tried.” Fred shrugged.

“Look, we have to get this shit out in the open.” I pressed down on the bed so Victoria bounced up and down a little. “I think I deserve that considering I didn’t know about it for the last three months. Just saying.”

“Quit thinking about yourself for a minute, Potter.” Bink ripped his hangings closed. “I just broke up with my girlfriend.”

My last name stung coming from him. My face got hot. “Look, mate, I realize that. But you can’t just shut yourself up in there. Yeah, I feel bad for you. You and…Meta…broke up. In front of everyone. But look here, you kept it from your best mates. You lied to us. For three months. You broke the Code. And now we’re going to talk about it.”

“Leave it to you to think about Quidditch.” Bink’s voice was gruff from behind the curtain.

“Leave it to—are you serious? I’m your captain. Yeah, I’m your mate, but I have to think about everything all at once. Captain isn’t a popularity contest.” My voice was met with silence, so I took another breath. Fred was staring at the sheets. “Bink, quit being a tosser and let’s talk about this. What even happened between you two?” I was trying to be a cross between best mate and captain. I couldn’t fall back into a comfortable lull, but at the same time I had to stay strong. I had to hold my ground. These were team rules he was breaking and if it was Paloma or Wesley or Avery I’d do the same. That, and for the sake of my best mate, I just wanted to know what happened.

“Shut up, Potter. I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Will you stop calling me that—since when do you call me Potter?” My voice rose with my temper. I pulled back his curtains. Bink flipped me off. “What’s bleeding wrong with you? You’ve been a right pain in my arse for weeks now. Lying about finishing essays and getting sick at Halloween—do you really think I’m just going to get a pint of ice cream and tell you everything is going to be okay? It’s not, mate.”

Bink closed his hangings again. “Sod off.”

I looked at Fred, but it didn’t seem as if he wanted to get into it. “Son of a bitch, Bink! What the fuck happened with Meta?”

“James,” whispered Fred. “Maybe you shouldn’t prod now. Maybe you should give him some time.”

I groaned and fell back onto the bed. I sounded like the bad guy. How did I end up being the bad guy? I shut my mouth. Being sensitive was hard for a bloke that was as manly and macho as I was. I just wanted to be a good mate. And a good captain to my team.

“How did it go?” Avery sat beside me in the common room, both of us facing the snowcovered grounds of Hogwarts. I enjoyed that window. “Did you get to talk to Bink?”

“I talked to him. For all of ten seconds. He didn’t want to talk.”

“I’m not surprised. Questioning right after he broke up with his girlfriend. That has to be hard.”

“Yeah, of course,” I said quietly. “It’s definitely hard for him. He just wants to put off a lecture. Probably hopes I’ll forget.”

Avery put an arm around my shoulder. “He’ll talk, don’t worry.”

“Dara Wood never told me about this rubbish,” I mumbled. “She never told me about people breaking the Code all over the place—about what I’m supposed to do when they go rogue on me and start calling me Potter.”

“Bink called you that?”

“Sounded so weird,” I said. “I mean, when we’re joking around it’s one thing. When it sounds like Edwards or Clint Lawson, it’s completely different. I didn’t know what to do.” Stupid Clint Lawson and his making me speechless and his ugly snouty face. I could kick it.

“Dara didn’t say it would be easy,” Avery said. “She said it would be hard, but she thought you could handle it and Meta couldn’t. I think you can handle it.”

“I hate this,” I said in a whiney voice. Then I coughed and regained my manliness. “It just makes me so mad. I haven’t been mad at Bink in…well, I can’t remember how long it’s been. A while anyway. Blimey, I am the worst captain ever.”

“Just take care of what you need to now and then don’t worry about it when you’re in Italy. We’re going to have a great time.”

We sat in silence for a while and I listened to the whispers behind us. Some people said the team was falling apart. Others said they wanted to try out after Bink and Meta took each other out. Some were talking about flobberworms. I thought Darwinism got rid of those Puffers already. Apparently not.

“You’re right,” I said suddenly. “You’re absolutely right. How are you always right? I have to take care of this. If it was anyone else I would have already been down their throat. How do I know the line between best mate and captain?”

“You can be sensitive, but you have to enforce the rules. You can’t treat him differently. He knew that once you were made captain. He can’t take advantage of that.”

I stood up. “Right again, Aves. Right again. I have to do this.” I marched upstairs and opened the door. Fred had put Victoria back and was now reading a magazine on his own bed. Bink’s hangings were still closed. Emerson was still gone, probably out bird watching or doing something equally as mind-numbing. “All right, Legace. If you want to play games like this, that’s fine.”

“James, give it a rest,” Fred said, irritated.

I ignored him. “I am your captain. I can’t treat you any different just because you’re my best mate,” I said. “I understand why you’re upset, but I don’t really because you won’t tell me any of your side of the story other than the craziness I saw down on the snow today. Over break I’m going to come up with your punishment for breaking the Code.”

“Oh, fuck the Code!” Bink yelled, ripping back his hangings. “Fuck the fucking Code and go to hell, Potter!”

“Go to—What has gotten into you, man? I’m trying to do my duty here. I’m trying to be a good leader.”

“Fuck off,” Bink said. His blond hair was sticking out at weird angles and his pale face was flushed all sorts of reds. “I knew you’d react like this—like the whole world is ending just because of the fucking Code. Fuck off, Potter.”

“The world is not—son of a bitch. If you and McLaggen can get your heads out of your asses between now and after break that is great. I am not having some stupid lover’s quarrel tear my Quidditch team apart.”

“I said fuck off!” He threw a large shoe at me. Bink had big feet. It clocked me in the side of the head.

That was when I dove at him, pushing the other curtains aside and pushing him back onto the bed. “I will not! This is insane! You’re acting ridiculous!” Fred was trying to pull me off and I struggled with Bink’s shirt. “I have to take care of this now.”

“James, get the fuck off, mate,” Fred said, finally tearing me away and throwing me onto my own bed. “Leave him alone. He doesn’t want to talk about it. He doesn’t want to hear your Quidditch shit right now.”

I stared at them both. “Oh, sure. Bleeding take his side. What am I supposed to do?”

“Be a friend!” Fred said.

“Oh, but if it was anyone else, you would tell me, be a fucking Captain, Potter, and get a pair.” I left, slamming the door behind me. Avery was still by the window.

“How did it go?” she asked.

“How do you think it went? How did you think that was even a good idea? What a disaster. Now both of them hate me. I bleeding hate both of them. Fuck them. I’ll get new Chasers—hey, second year! You want to be a Chaser? I have spots open. Spots for best mate too. You interested?” The boy went green and scrambled for the stairs. Bugger on him.

I felt like I was going crazy, shaking all over and so mad. I hadn’t been that mad in so long. I felt the distance, the pressure of everything. Avery put her hand on my thigh. “James,” she said, “it’s going to be fine.”

“Potter.” Meta was looking quite a bit better than earlier, but her face was still in the same sour expression.

“McLaggen, what do you think you’re pulling here?” I said, jumping to my feet. “Breaking the Code for three months? Are you insane? Is that why you’ve been so much of a bitch? And you wanted to be Captain.”

“That’s just special for you,” she said. “Maybe if I was made captain I would have gotten rid of the Code ages ago.”

“And then something like this would have torn apart your fucking team!” I shouted. I didn’t care people were staring. Avery tugged at my pants leg. “Just be ready for whatever it is I cook up when you get back from break.” I had to take charge. I was losing my authority by the second.

“Piss off, Potter. Go find some first years to boss around.” She walked right out of the common room.

Too many eyes were on me. Nia flipped me off from the couches. What the fuck did I do to her? I sank back down.

“James, calm down,” Avery said. “You’re going to be fighting with your whole team soon if you don’t.”

“Where are Wes and Paloma? Bring them over here. I have a bone to pick with them.”

She smiled. “Don’t drag Wesley into this. He’s going to Italy too, remember?”

“I hate this.”

“Paloma is talking to Al.” Avery smiled, bending her neck slightly to see behind me. “You can be happy about that.”

“Maybe Al is her cover because she is secretly dating Wesley and breaking the Code. I hate being the Captain. I’m going to just quit. Meta would love that. Maybe Edwards wants the post. Merlin knows he wants anything and everything better than me. I should just make him the captain and see how Bink Legace likes that. Ten points for being a twat.”

“We should probably get you packed to leave tomorrow.”

“I don’t want to go back up there.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“I hate them, you know.”

She took my hand. “You don’t hate them. They’re your best mates. We’ll talk about it later, okay? For right now let’s just get some clothes into some bags so you can leave after your meeting tomorrow.”

“I have a meeting?”

“With Professor Longbottom. James, you need a vacation.”

I groaned. “Yes, I suppose I do.” Once again, Avery was right. My team was falling apart around me and I was at the center of the apocalypse.

I had no idea packing for a vacation was going to be as hard as it was. For one, how many pairs of pants was I supposed to bring? T-shirts? A sweater for those cold Italian nights? Were there even cold Italian nights? A scarf to wrap Victoria in? Shorts? What the heck should I pack? I grabbed a few books for light reading (nothing academic even though I had to work on a few essays over break). My bag was overflowing thanks to Avery who thought I should be prepared just in case. Just in case of a hurricane and a flood along with a drought, heat wave, and ice storm apparently.

Bink stayed on his bed with his hangings closed. Fred closed his own as well.

I made enemies. Emerson noticed this immediately when he entered. It was as if he could feed off the negative energy. He took a deep, relaxing breath.

“How are you today, Potter?”

I flipped him off and Avery shot me a look. “Fine, thanks. Not in the mood for any salad today.” I snickered at myself. I was too funny sometimes. Avery just shot me another look.

“Erm, okay. How is your Quidditch team doing? Word around the common room is things aren’t looking too good. Too bad, really. I know Dara Wood spoke to me at the end of last season about captains. I have to say I think she made the wrong choice. Meta McLaggen seems like a much more able candidate.”

“I have so many things I want to say to you,” I snapped. “I’m not going to, though. I’m just not. I’m going to hate you internally and let Avery see how much of a pile of douchery you are. A huge, sodding pile. Do you hear me? Huge pile.”

“Hope your friends forgive you,” Emerson said lightly. “I don’t think they will. You have a bit of a temper on you. I don’t blame you, though. I’d have a temper too if I wasn’t getting any action from any girls.”

“Emerson, I think you need to mind your own business,” Avery said flatly. “It doesn’t concern you what the Quidditch team does. James doesn’t discuss Head Boy shit with you. Not really sure what there would be to discuss.”

He stared, open-mouthed with a bit of spittle on his lip. Then he went right to his bed and closed the hangings tight. What a trend. Hmm, Head Boyery following the Quidditch players. Who knew?

I let out a loud sigh and turned to Avery, my eyes doing all the explaining that this situation sucked more than need be. If that Emerson conversation would have happened back in the ye ole days of Bink and Fred being my mates, one of them would have stuck up for me at some point in there. Thrown a shoe at Twitwards or something. I just let him talk to me like that. Like I let Clint Lawson tell me off. What right did he have? What bleeding right?

“You’re packed then, James,” Avery said quietly. “Try and get some sleep, will you?”

I nodded. She left the room, closing the door with a soft click behind her and suddenly I was in a large, dimly lit dormitory with four beds, three of which had their hangings closed tight. I took my time taking off my shoes and socks, discarding them in the same pile as all the other dirty clothes in the room. They mixed in with Bink’s and Fred’s. I wondered if they would torch my socks. More than likely the torchery would ensue once I left for Italy and they had freedom at last, though I figured Fred was going home to his family for break. Bink usually stayed because holidays with the Legace’s meant too many people and too much arguing over the quality of the fruit cake. Bink never ate the fruit cake, so he never knew.

I closed my own hangings, but pulled Victoria up so I had a bit of company in my dim wandlit bed. She hummed softly and scooted across the blanket.

What a mess all this was. I kept thinking it. I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t help but do every what-if scenario, including Meta and Bink trying to off each other in the middle of one of our matches, causing me to lose. I didn’t lose. I was the captain. Clint Lawson would have a field day making me speechless over that piece of trivia—losing, Potter? What are you, losing now? You scrawny loser. He would probably call me a string bean like Emerson.

I was no string bean. I was a powerful, manly bean of justice!

Victoria fell asleep before I did. I just kept playing scenes over and over in my head. Fred and Bink forming their own Quidditch alliance. A Potter mutiny. Emerson replacing me as Captain. Bink refusing to be friends again. Meta being a bitch. Well, you know.

Avery being disappointed. My parents being disappointed. Dad being right.

The meeting with Longbottom was brief the following morning. He wanted to touch base with me. I could see a glint in his knowing eyes. He knew something was wrong with me. He could see it written all over my face, but that didn’t mean I had to say anything even after he asked me many times. I figured none of my relatives ever went through anything like that with any authority figure, so I proceeded to lie and tell him nothing was wrong in order to be very original. Take that, relatives!

Longbottom let me go after explaining he was there for me if I needed anything.

I needed him to beat some sense into Bink, but I figured that was illegal so I thought it unwise to ask.

Still, though.

By the time lunch rolled around I was shuffling my feet everywhere I went. My head was droopy. I wasn’t used to a droopy head and it was relatively heavy for my taste. Avery was sitting cheerfully at the Gryffindor table with toast and jam and other lovely food I wasn’t in the mood to eat.

Here I was, Captain James Potter, lonely and depressed and without Chasers. Or best mates.

“Ready for Italy?” Avery said, clearly excited. And she should have been. She wasn’t captain.

“Yeah,” I mumbled. Which food was the most depressing? Sandwich spread looked depressing, right? It was all mashed up and beaten and broken. Like me.

“Give it a rest, come on.” She put a hand on my back and put two sandwiches onto my plate. “We’re going to another country with your family. It’s going to be fun, okay?”

“I’m leaving on such a bad note.”

“With Bink and Fred. No one else.”

“Well, with Meta too.”

Avery shot me a look.

“Okay, okay. But with Nia. She flipped me off yesterday. And with Elizabeth then probably too, though I never know what I do to these girls. I wonder if Mary still thinks I’m a hip, fly bloke.”

“Not anymore if you say stuff like that.” She laughed as Lily and Wesley joined us. “It’s going to be fine. You’re not leaving Wesley on a bad note.”

“Yes, I am. I’m going to hex the grades out of him over break if he even thinks about my sister.” I narrowed my eyes at innocent Wesley Jordan with his hair and his eyes and his lunch of sorts. “Yes, I know, Lily. Shut up, James.” I rolled my eyes. “And with Paloma—I don’t know, but I just know we’re in a fight.”

Wesley eyed me. “You’re really not okay, are you?”

“No. No, I’m not.”

Avery forced me to eat some food, but I hid most of it under my napkin. I felt ill, especially when Fred sat down at the end of the table with Roxanne and Hugo, and Bink sank into a seat beside Paloma. Fred didn’t seem to be conversing with Bink, so that made me feel slightly better, but neither were speaking to me.

I tried to think of Italy, but my insides were empty. Not because of lack of food.

Being at the Hogsmeade train station made me feel slightly better—at least I didn’t have to look at everyone or hear the whispers about my tangled team. It was cold, so I was bundled against the snow flurries and Avery laughed at the fact that she couldn’t see my mouth over my big scarlet scarf.

We picked a large compartment near the back where Avery, Lily, Al, Wesley, Rose, and I could fit comfortably. Immediately Al launched into a book, kicking his feet up onto Rose’s lap (she was catching up on Charms—seriously, Rosie? You’d never make it in Quidditch with that academic attitude). Wesley fell asleep across the floor in front of us, using his bunched up cloak as a pillow. Lily stopped me from drawing on him.

“We have a couple weeks away now so we can just relax and leave school out of it.” Avery smiled. She had most of the seat to herself now that Wesley was on the ground and I was far off glaring out the window, so she sprawled out.

I was surprised to see her wearing a black dress under her robes. It was visible since the robes were falling back onto the seat and floor. The dress should have gone below her knees, very classy, but because of the way her legs extended toward me I could see a snippet of thigh and holy shit why was she wearing that?

If she didn’t pull those straps up soon someone else would be looking. I couldn’t believe they just fell down her shoulders like that. Sure, as of then I was the only one looking. I tried to look away—to Albus. To Lily. Her shoulders had little freckles.

Her legs looked soft and light and the way the dress sat against her body would surely make Albus look over in curiosity. Avery’s hair fell against the seat. It was getting long. I thought she last had it cut over the summer. It curled in places.

I shook myself out of it. She should be wearing something warm. She probably wanted to impress my folks since they had me invite her to Italy. She looked impressive.

And yet I was still looking. I ripped my eyes away, wondering about what Al thought of all this. Or what Wesley was thinking, that perverted sod. I knew he was staring. I almost jelly-legs’ed him right then and there. His snoring stopped me. For now.

I grabbed a book from Al’s bag. It was for sixth year Transfiguration. Son of a—eugh. I threw it back at him. “What are you on about having school books with you?”

“I have three essays due for that class when we get back.” He narrowed his eyes strangely, sliding the book back in its place.

I made a disgruntled noise. “Yeah, me too, but I’m not going to do them on vacation. Crazy brother of mine. Who knows, maybe Paloma likes that.”

“James!” he hissed.

“Oh, geez,” I said, sounding slightly aloof. “Everyone knows. It’s not like you’re hiding that you fancy her.”

“It’s true,” Lily said, smiling a little too bright. Al threw a quill at her. It hit Wesley.

“I don’t care,” Al said. “Don’t bring it up anymore. I don’t want Mum and Dad questioning me about girls.”

“Is that why you brought Rose? To make it look like you’ll never get a girl?” Lily chuckled.

I half-expected that to come out of my mouth, but she beat me to the punch. I had never been so proud.

“You’re so funny. Wait until I start the vacation pranks. You’re first.”

Lily kicked him from across the compartment. She narrowly missed Wesley’s head. “Just try it. I have plans for you, big brother. Big plans, ironically enough.”

“Ah, sibling love.” Rose smiled warmly from behind her book.

“You mean you don’t love Hugo the way I love Lily and James?” Al chuckled.

“If by love you mean push his head into the toilet, then yes, of course.”

“Rosey, why don’t you have holiday plans with a boy over break?” I asked, wanting to meddle in more business that wasn’t my own. “Have you taken a fancy to any of the Hogwartian boys? How about dear Wesley here?” Lily punched me in the shoulder.

“Sorry, James, I’ve taken a fancy to blonds.” She laughed and I wondered if she was serious or kidding. That was the thing about being the girl that came from Aunt Hermione and Uncle Ron. She had a big heart, but was smart enough to hide it. Blast those two getting married! Uncle Ron would hear about my dismay. While I bitched about the Slytherins. He loved that.

Talking Slytherin about the Slytherins!

Oh, I was just plain good.

Three hours later the mood had changed dramatically in the compartment. Wesley was awake and playing Wizard Chess against the black pieces. He was losing. Geez, first years were better than him. Lily and Rose were both passed out, their heads placed delicately on Al’s shoulders (Lily was drooling though and I made a mental note to tease her about it later). Al was snoring, which Wesley kept laughing at.

Avery slept on the seat beside me, her head in my lap as I looked out the window. It was dark by then and every so often I saw a few lights off in the distance, but not much. I stared down at Avery for a moment, her hair falling this way and that over my legs and onto the seat. Her arm was draped over her head and the other was tucked gently under her cheek. The dress rode up to her thighs. What a view Wesley must have been getting from the floor. I checked to see where his eyes were.

She looked really peaceful, so I tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. Her lips pressed together. They were slightly chapped and the skin around her eyes was dry. She complained earlier about leaving the lotion back in her room.

I must have watched her sleep for ages.

When I looked out the window the lights of London were brightening the compartment so I could see the drool now making a puddle on Al’s shirt.

Avery sniffled. I smiled.

A/N: Hey everyone! I hope you enjoyed the chapter before Winter Break for dear James. How was everyone's holidays and new year? Have fun ringing in 2010? This year is going to be SO exciting for everyone, including James haha. I graduate from college this year! Whoohoo!

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the wonderful reviews. I've been behind on writing lately because of school, being sick (ick), and the start of my new blog (the link will be put on my author page if you're curious). I appreciate all the wonderful support everyone has given me.

What do you think is going to happen in Italy? Any theories?

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