Whoaaa I'm back. I'll explain more in the author note at the end.
But before that, I'd like to inform you this sucker is sitting right around
8900 words. WOWZA. Enjoy!
Later, while lounging on the beach, I thought about what Lily had said. All of it. About if Bink and Meta had been consumed by infatuation. What a crazy thing to be consumed by—the infatuation of someone else. And let’s face it, Meta wasn’t exactly the belle of the Yule Ball. Okay, she wasn’t ugly and if you took away her “bitch” tendencies, she was actually prettier than Elizabeth, but it was her heart of pure rot that made her ugly. Apparently not to Bink.
Then again, what made her so attracted to that albino Chaser? He was kind of an ass. He poked fun at people more than Fred or me. He used to tell us how much he wanted her to crash and be taken out so he didn’t get yelled at during practice.
I rolled over on the towel. Avery was beside me on hers. The sun was going down by then and we weren’t going to get tanner, but most of us just wanted to enjoy the scenery. The sky was an orange-yellow concoction of what could have been oil paint. I liked it.
“Are you about ready to head back?” Albus stretched from a few meters away, standing up as he dusted off his towel. “It’s getting dark and Mum will probably worry.”
“She always worries,” I said in a voice full of grumble. I rolled over again and faced Lily’s towel. She looked like she was sleeping. Why did Lily always fall asleep at the most inopportune moments? I wasn’t sure.
“I’m going back.” Albus placed a hand on his hip and Rosey giggled from nearby.
“See you, Prefect,” I said softly and closed my eyes.
I got a swift kick to the ribs.
“Gerroff!” I swung around and caught my baby brother around the ankle, pulling hard until he crashed back onto the sand. “What do you think you’re doing? That bleeding hurt.”
Al’s face was flushed red as he struggled in the dirt, knocking Avery’s towel back. She moved over, scandal written all over her face. He kicked at me again, trying to get me to let go. “You’re always saying that like it’s such a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing, James. It’s an accomplishment. What do you know about accomplishment?”
“Shut up, boys,” said Lily. She threw sand at us.
“What do I know? Who’s the damn Captain of the Quidditch team?” I continued to keep a hold of his ankle. I may not have been a bloody Prefect, but I was strong.
Unlike twat Costaso. I was onto him, wanker.
“Please, James. Like that’s an accomplishment. You fly around and throw a ball through hoops.” Albus rolled his eyes. That sorry prat rolled his eyes at me. “Even Dad thinks you should do something with your life.”
“Don’t bring Dad into this,” I growled.
I slowly became aware of my surroundings. Lily was scowling (Wesley, however, was sleeping through the mess that was our brotherly love). Avery had moved several feet away, abandoning her towel altogether once my fingers were obviously not being removed from Albus’s skinny ankle. Rosey kicked us both. Quite a few people around the beach were staring as well, which forced my face a wonderful shade of pink. Some old bloke with blond hair shook his head.
This was a sibling rivalry, buster. He could butt out.
“I’ll very well bring Dad into this. I don’t get why you do this stuff to him. He’s just trying to protect you.”
“Oh, you too?” I said, louder than I probably should have. I kicked dirt on his chest. “This is ridiculous. He’s just freaking out because I play Quidditch instead of fighting the Dark Lord.”
“You’re such a tool, James. Get off your high horse.”
“Boys.” Lily grabbed us both by the hair. Her grip was tight and my nose wrinkled. “Stop it now. People are watching. Someone, meaning me, is going to tell Mum.”
I groaned. “Why do you have to be on Dad’s side?”
Al looked at me. “I’m not. I want you to see what he’s trying to tell you.”
“And in turn are you going to make him see what I’m trying to tell him? Or is this a one-way street?”
Lily pulled my hair harder. “Quit it now. We’re going back.”
“Bugger off, Lils,” I said. “Come on, Al. Are you going to tell him or not?”
“Do you even have any idea what he’s done?”
“Or what he hasn’t done. Talked to me all bleeding term.”
Lily pulled again. “Up. Now. Albus Severus, don’t open your mouth or I’ll tell Paloma what you say when you’re dreaming.”
He flushed and closed his mouth, swallowing hard.
I didn’t talk to him or Wesley for the rest of the night and they closed themselves off in one of the bedrooms so I had the suite to myself. I lit a few candles and flopped down on the sofa under the giant window. The sea was a dark navy, but I could still see waves. I could hear Albus planning vacation pranks on Lily. We always did pranks. Usually, though, we did them together, blokes against crazy women. I could tell that might not be happening this year.
I sank further into the sofa, feet sprawled out before me. This was stupid. What was stupider was I knew something about what Albus said was right. I knew Dad just wanted me to explore options or whatever. But he didn’t say it like that. He said it like I was wasting my life. I wasn’t wasting my life.
I kicked off my socks and the voices in the other room fell silent. Now I could hear the rustling of curtains from the open windows and the sound of laughter up the road.
I nearly choked. Mum was on the other side of the window, peering through the screen at me with a motherly frown. The moonlight was reflecting off her hair and it made her look even paler. She jiggled the door handle. I flicked my wand to open it, watching her walk gracefully into the room wearing a Harpies bath robe and red slippers.
“It’s like one in the morning, Mum.” I pretended to be tired by yawning horribly.
“Lily said something about you and Al having a row today.” She gave me that look that the librarian (what’s her name again?) gives me, the one where you look down your glasses at someone because you know you’re right and they’re wrong. Except Mum doesn’t wear glasses. That’s what makes her so scary. And awesome.
“Yeah, a bit of one.” I blushed in the dark.
She touched my arm. “Want to tell me about it?”
I made a face.
“I won’t tell Wesley we’re having a talk, I promise.” Mum smiled and the sides of her eyes crinkled. I wondered if they had always been like that. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“Just Al being a shit brick is all.” I got a look for saying “shit,” but I was over it. “He thinks I don’t know what Dad is all about, you know? He thinks Dad is always right and I’m always wrong just because Dad likes him better.”
“Your father doesn’t like Al better than you, that’s ridiculous.”
“He thinks I’m wasting my life not fighting evil or doing Charms or whatever it is I’m horrible at this week.”
Mum grabbed my legs and put them over her lap. “James, your father is proud of you. I’m proud of you. The two of you don’t see eye to eye at the moment, but did anyone say seventeen-year-old boys needed to relate to their fathers? I know your uncles had a hard time relating at that age. I think the two of you will figure it out, but don’t for a moment think that your father loves Albus any more than he loves you. That’s not the case at all.”
“You mean you don’t love me more than Al?” I shot her a grin.
“Oh, shut it.” She kissed my forehead. “Try to get along for now, though, huh? You’ll figure things out with your father. I think you both have thinking to do about the subject. You used to be so close.”
“We did.” I sighed and leaned back. The candles were burning lower and wax dripped against the saucer I placed them on. “Long time ago.”
“Just think about what you want, okay? Just do that. What do you want, James?”
I was somewhere around ten and the back garden was impossible to navigate without a parchment map (complete with scribbles) and kitchen knife for the weeds (sorry, Mum). Al was in tow, checking my back for goblins and other creatures of doom. He was nine but could have been three for as much help as he was. Six-year-old Lily was on the porch with a princess crown and a scowl because we wouldn’t let her play.
The fort was close to the back fence, an enclosure of sticks and scraps of fabric I called Fort Blinking Brilliant. I crawled in first, secured the perimeter or whatever I was supposed to do, and then called Albus in. He whined about getting scraped by a rogue twig on the way in. I told him to walk it off.
There they were—right in the corner. Two brooms. They were from Mum’s collection in the attic she never touched anymore and three weeks earlier I found them while trying to find my Merlin toy Mum hid because I was grounded. Little did I know I would hit the jackpot.
Since Al helped me shimmy up there I split the booty and grabbed him a broom. We hid them under our beds, and then took them out to the fort as soon as possible. The question remained: When to use them?
Today was that day. I handed Al the one that didn’t look as cool and I took the awesome one. His grin covered most of his face. I felt the broom vibrate in my hands.
It wasn’t as if Mum and Dad hadn’t let us ride brooms before. There were rules before. Not too high. Couldn’t go above Mum’s height. Had to stay by the fence. Only fifteen minutes. Twenty minutes. Okay, thirty minutes and you can see the Quaffle, but that’s it. I figured Dad wanted me to be a Seeker.
But today I wasn’t going to have height limits or time limits or Quaffle limits. I raised my right hand and Albus did the same.
“I solemnly swear I am up to very good.” I smirked. Albus giggled. I could hear Lily whining from the porch. If she blew the cover I was going to stuff her teddy bears in the wood chipper. We didn’t even own a wood chipper, but I was sure going to find one.
Once we kicked off from behind the fort, I felt elated. The October wind went through my hair and it was cold on my face. It was like a whole new way of breathing being able to go as high as I wanted. I shouted at Al to get back toward the tree where there was a visible hole. I grabbed a few apples from the ground and soared higher, not even losing balance in the process.
“Nice one, James!” Albus cried, hovering in front of the tree. He waved to Lily.
I glanced back to make sure the face of Mum or Dad didn’t appear in one of the kitchen windows and turned my attention toward my little brother. He was trying to get his messy hair out of his face (something I was familiar with). I soared up, spun, and threw an apple.
The git saved it.
I flew back a bit, higher, and then went in again. This time I score with a spinning apple off his right hand. Brilliant!
Again. He got a piece of it, but it went in. Again. That one went right in, I was a genius with dive moves. Again. Bugger, Al saved it. Again. Again. Again.
I cheered loudly, whooping and throwing my final apple into the air. It missed my head by a few inches, but I caught it before it fell. Then I threw it past Al. He made a face at me. I laughed and floated to the ground in a mixture of emotions. There might have been tears of awesome joy.
My skin froze. Dad was standing on the back porch next to a very scared-looking Lily. He had grilling tongs in his hand. Definitely didn’t anticipate grilling in October. He was frowning, a bad sign. Those tongs didn’t exactly look friendly.
We shuffled across the yard (kitchen knife and parchment forgotten, later to be found as rusty mess and rabbit food) with the brooms in our hands and our heads hung too low for comfort. I could hear Al whimpering. I wasn’t exactly sure why, though I figured it had something to do with him being the good little boy.
“How many times have you done that?” Dad asked when we got closer, the tone in his voice unreadable. “How many times have you taken those brooms out to ride them without supervision?”
I jumped to the answer. “Just this time!” I said loudly. “This was the only time.” Al nodded rigorously.
“You don’t want to be a Seeker do you, James?” he asked.
Was that a trick question?
“I want to play,” I said quietly.
“You’ll be one heck of a Chaser. We’ll have to get you more practice in of course so you can compete with everyone else, but you’ll be great. Those were some great moves. Your Mum will be proud, but I’ll tell her you got it from your grandpa.” He looked proud of himself for that little jab.
I stared, mouth completely dry.
“You didn’t do too bad either, Al. You like Quidditch?”
He made a face. “I like flying.”
Dad smiled warmly. “You’re both grounded, but you looked good out there. Bring the brooms inside, I’m getting the grill ready for dinner and you need to wash up.”
Al rushed in the door, followed by a let-down Lily, and Dad put a hand on my shoulder before I could go. He got down knelt down on the back porch and looked at me, his green eyes looking right into my brain I felt like.
“I didn’t want to say this in front of Al and Lily, but you looked great out there.” He smiled again. “Really great. You’ve clearly inherited that. You’re going to be a Quidditch player.” He paused. “Is that what you want?”
I beamed. “Since I went to my first Tornadoes game.”
Dad clapped me on the back. “Just try your best and don’t give up if that’s what you want to do.”
“I won’t.” It sounded so out of body, like I wasn’t even the one saying it. “I want to play Quidditch.” I thought about my room, filled with posters and figurines and play charts. Truth was, I’d always wanted to be a Chaser. Ever since I saw one of the Tornadoes players score a goal by twisting his broom and throwing upside-down.
“Good boy.” Dad got up and opened the door wide enough for me to go inside. “Do what you think is right.”
Mum left after covering me up with a blanket and I fell asleep soon after, tossing and turning on the sofa. I kept thinking about the way it felt when I shot the apples at Al. The way my mind just melted away. And then Dad saying how great I looked. I did look great, didn’t I? He smiled. It was so genuine.
We used to be like that all the time, watching Quidditch together and spending time talking about plays and fun stuff like that. Maybe he didn’t think I’d keep going with it. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t understand him. We used to have so much fun.
Now he wanted me to stop doing what I thought was right.
Bugger on him.
But like Mum said, hopefully we’d get it figured out sooner or later. Maybe. I hoped.
“Oy, open the bleeding door!”
I jumped, falling off the sofa and landing on the hard ground below. Groaning, I lifted my head and stared at Avery, who was standing with a smile on the other side of the window. I had to close the damn curtains. “What do you want?” I called.
“Let me in. You’ve got a letter.”
I flicked my wand and she entered, sprawling out on the sofa I had just vacated. I sat on her legs. “Who’s it from?” I asked, taking the parchment and turning it over in my hands.
“No idea. Open it, I want to know who’s writing to you that isn’t your Mum.” Avery smiled and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. She smiled.
I was clearly as confused as she was. From the looks of it, the boys were still asleep. The room was bright from the large window behind me and the kitchen hadn’t been touched. Avery nudged me in the shoulder.
My name was written in a pretty cursive, something somewhat familiar but I couldn’t quite place it. I peeled it open and took out the paper, choking a bit when I read the sign-off.
Hey, cutie! How are you doing? I can’t believe you’re in Italy. I’m still at Hogwarts since Mummy wanted to go on vacay with her new love to Canada for skiing. It’s dull around here without you and the boys, though I heard all about that row you got in. Bink was going to stay for break, but decided to leave a day late. He looks like he hasn’t slept. Have you slept? It would be better if it was with me, you know.
I miss you so much, James. It’s like a piece of my heart is in Italy. I know I was sour with you the last few weeks and when I found out you went on a date with Lizzy my mind went insane. But you’re right. We weren’t exclusive. We might be able to change that sometime this term though, love. I have a feeling we have too much chemistry to ignore it.
Can’t wait to see you when you get back!
Have fun in Italy!
Gah, why did she do this? Women were so complicated. How did she expect me to understand any of that rubbish?
Avery ripped the letter out of my hand and finished it with a scowl on her face.
“Sometimes I can’t believe that girl,” I said, yawning.
“Me either. What a twat.” She took her wand, pointed it at the letter, and it burst into flames.
“Aves, what are you doing?” I said, jumping back.
“Oh, sorry!” She put it out quickly, saving enough for me to read who it was from and some hugs and kisses. “I didn’t think you wanted it.”
“I don’t, but blimey!” I made a face. “I didn’t think you’d put the bleeding thing up in flames. I’ll have to write her back, though, or she’ll send me more and more. Seen any parchment around this place?”
“Nope.” Avery stretched, arching her back against the sofa. “I think I’m going to be off so you can write that letter back to stalker-girl.”
“Where are you off to?” I picked up the blanket and folded it.
“Costaso invited me for a cup of tea down by the beach.” She smiled warmly, standing and moving toward the door. “Do you think this outfit is cute enough?” Avery motioned to her denim skirt and white airy blouse thing. “I think it says casual but adorable.”
“Erm, yes.” I scratched my hair earnestly. “It’s nice, but Costaso? Why?”
“He seems nice.”
“He seems like a real wanker, Aves.”
“Of what? His deep desire to act like a tool in front of my best mate? Hardly.”
Avery narrowed her eyes. “I’ll see you later, James.” Then she was gone and I was standing in the living room in my pajamas with no idea where she was going other than by the beach. Bugger.
Where was Freddie in a woman outfit when I needed him?
“Who was that?” Albus sauntered out of the bedroom with his hair at odd angles and a t-shirt hanging loose off his body.
“Avery,” I said, irritated. “Comes to deliver a letter then runs off to have bloody tea with Costaso, Italian jerk.”
Al cocked a brow. “You okay?”
“Eh, I’ve been better. Sorry for being a shit yesterday by the way.” I figured Mum would want me to say sorry to him even though he ticked me off. He was my partner in crime during the whole Quidditch thing, so I could cut him a bit of slack.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m sorry too.” Al clapped me on the shoulder.
Awkward not-so-manly brotherly moment.
“What’s the plan for today?” Albus said, moving away and back toward the bedroom door. “I know Dad said something last night about some formal thing tonight.”
“Bugger,” I muttered. “I guess I’ll take out my shirt and tie. I have business to take care of.” With that, I retreated into my bedroom and closed the door tightly. Victoria was nestled tightly in the corner of her cage humming contently. I tapped on the side and smiled. She made a disgruntled noise.
“Oh, Tory, we’re going to hunt down some Italian bloke today.” I grabbed some shorts and a collared shirt, putting them on and staring at myself in the mirror. I looked pretty damn good. Pretty damn good. “Problem, though. I don’t know where she went. So I’m going to find her.”
I thought about her sitting on the sofa with the letter on fire. Her eyes were bright and there was a hint of a malicious grin on her pretty face. Well, Costaso thought it was pretty anyway.
Not that it wasn’t.
Because it was.
Not like in that way though.
I shook my head. I had to get it together. I’d write that letter to Nia later. I had fish to fry. Fried fishes. In lemon juice and grease and breading and some effin’ extra virgin olive oil.
The fish I had to fry was nowhere to be found, though, so when I came out of the suite ready with everything except an awesome cape, I looked a little like a turd. The wind tossed my hair and shirt and Rose, who was watering flowers outside her window, giggled at me.
“Shut it,” I muttered. “Did you see where Avery went?”
“Costaso came up here a while ago and asked her down by the beach,” Rose replied. “He’s quite the hunk, isn’t he? Imagine them having a long distance relationship and him coming to visit. The girls would go wild.”
“I’m not imaging anything so stupid.” I slammed the door on Wesley and Albus who were munching on cereal and started down the road.
“Hey, don’t forget about the party tonight. Your Mum says you lot have to wear ties. It’s a fancy event I guess.”
“I’ll wear what I want,” I mumbled moodily, turning the corner and making my way down toward the beach.
What business did he have taking her down there? I wondered how much protection was down there for a girl like Avery. She could take care of herself and all, but what if this stranger led her into a trap? Blokes that floated flowers over to girls could not be trusted. Especially foreign ones. Well, he wasn’t foreign here, but that wasn’t my point. My point is that I did not approve and he needed to get lost.
Just like Emerson Edwards.
Geez, couldn’t these pompous twats just get a life already and leave my best mate alone?
It was hot and my shirt was sticking to my back. Okay, it wasn’t super hot or anything considering it was winter, but it was sunny and that made all the difference. I forgot my sunglasses in my room. The light was glaring off windows and troughs of water.
The beach was bright and it looked hot, same as the day before. I scanned the line of businesses behind it. There was a boutique full of pink things. A flower shop. A fancy restaurant that wasn’t open yet. A little pharmacy.
There it was—a small café.
No sign of Aves or Costaso. I really needed to come up with a name for him I could use frequently like Twitwards. Twataso? Hmm, that could work. It could work.
I walked closer to investigate, ducking behind a tall flower cart and over next to a low stone wall. Some kid with a surf board looked at me. Like there were even waves worthy of surfing, get out, kid.
They weren’t sitting outside, which is where I immediately expected them to be.
I wrinkled my nose and moved closer, shuffling across the street (almost being run over by a lady with a basket of bread). I stuck my head into the door and immediately smelled coffee and tea. I scanned the lines of booths and tables, but no Avery. No Twataso.
That could really stick.
Ticked off, I sank down onto the sidewalk. This wasn’t over.
They weren’t in any of the shops—not lurking waiting outside of the restaurant or browsing around the boutique or snogging behind the daisies in the flower shop. I scanned the beach. No sun-bathing. Where the hell were they? Had he already kidnapped her? Had he thrown her body off the side of the cliff?
That was crazy.
My head flew left and right. I moved back toward the way I came. I was going to find them.
Okay, well maybe not. Turns out, the village was larger than I thought it was with confusing pathways I couldn’t navigate and hills my legs did not agree with. I was a Quidditch player, not a mountain climber. My neck hurt from looking back and forth, staring into the windows of shops and creeping out a little girl that started tugging on the pant leg of her dad. I saw a flash of a knife before vanishing.
Seriously, though, did I have to dress like a woman to get this done?
“James, what are you doing?” Lily was a few meters in front of me with her hair half up in curls and a button-up shirt loose around her collar bone. “Wes and Al have been looking for you for ages. We’re supposed to be getting ready for tonight.”
“What time does this thing start?” I checked behind a rock. Yes, it wasn’t very plausible, but it was a possibility.
“In about an hour. Everyone is waiting for you.”
“Yeah, idiot, she’s been there for a while. Where have you been?”
I groaned. “Never mind. I’m coming.”
“If my hair doesn’t get done in time it’s your ass.” Lily flipped her hair and continued in front of me.
“Who did you snog?” I said, running to catch up with her. I tugged on her shirt.
“I’m not telling you, James, nor will I ever tell you.”
“Because you would kill him.”
“Only a little. Maybe I’d even let him live. Come on, Lils. You’re thirteen, who’ve you been snogging?”
Lily rolled her eyes as we turned the corner onto the street where our cottages were. “Let me think.” She paused, letting her curls fly around her face. “Um. No.”
I let out a very frustrated noise, but before I could convince her to tell me, Mum’s face appeared out of the doorway. Her hair was the same half-done mess of curls.
“James Sirius Potter! Where have you been? We’re running late as is.”
“If people would tell me what is going on, that might help.”
“Sorry,” I muttered and made my way past the first suite where Lily returned to letting Mum tame her red hair. I could see Rosey in there putting some sort of powder on her nose.
The door to the girls’ suite was open and Avery was at the counter applying eyeliner. It looked like she was going to stab herself in the eye with that bloody stick. “I’ll never understand you girls and that weird makeup crap. Can’t you just do it with your wand?”
“Actually much easier like this,” Avery said without looking over. “Where have you been anyway? I heard your mum spazzing out a bit ago since you weren’t there. Find a nice Italian girl to snog?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“I’m not into Italian girls.” Avery smiled.
“I am so not amused,” I said, closing the door behind me. “How was your date with Costaso?”
“It wasn’t a date.”
“And that thing with Twitwards wasn’t either?”
Avery stopped lining her eyes and looked over. “What do you want, James?”
“I hate that guy.”
“Tell me why.” She stood up. “Why do you hate him if you don’t even know him?” I watched her fingers trail across the table delicately.
“I…I don’t know. I just don’t have a good feeling about him. He’s not right for you. He’s not. He’s a twat. He’s Twataso.”
Avery let out a sigh. “All right. I have to get ready. I don’t have time for this right now. I still have to get my hair done and steam my dress. Go tell Wes and Al you’re back.”
I left with narrowed, confused eyes and walked next door. What the hell was her problem? She would have made most of those things into jokes in the past. Ha ha, I went on a date with this crazy bloke, blah blah he was like this, so on and so on.
My fish remained unfried and I had no idea what I was supposed to wear to this fancy shin-dig.
“Where were you?” Albus had his arms folded. He was wearing plaid boxers and a blue collared shirt. Should have worn green to make his obnoxious eyes pop.
“Out looking for someone.”
“No one out there to look for,” he said, walking back into the bedroom and slamming the door.
Wesley kicked up his shoes. He was already dressed. “Your family is a riot, mate.”
“Shut your hole, Jordan.”
He laughed. “In the best way possible, of course. I’d take this over the giant family Christmas any day. Dad always has to go of course. Not that I don’t love your extended family of red-headed insanity, it just gets overwhelming. But seeing your immediate family. Now that’s a trip.”
“I said shut it.” I paced back and forth across the living room floor. “I can’t even think straight. Did you know Lily kissed someone?”
“Lily?” Wesley shifted on the sofa and placed his hands behind his head. “Nah, she doesn’t really tell me things like that.”
“Find out who.”
“Because I need to know. She trusts you and I need to know.”
“I don’t know if that’s what I should be talking to her about.”
I looked over. “Look, I’m your captain and I think you need to find out. I don’t need to entrust with you the information as to why I need this data, I just do. Got it?” I thought about her slender freckled face and how it shouldn’t be attached to anyone else’s.
“Yeah, I understand.” Wesley glanced down at his fingers.
“Unless you already know.”
“I don’t.” His fingers were interesting.
“Good. Lying isn’t good for your complexion.” With a smile, and the knowledge that he already knew who my baby sister has been snogging, I walked back into my bedroom and decided on the black tie.
There was a ballroom off the lobby area, a giant room with ceilings draped in white fabric and chairs adorned with thick navy ribbons. My family’s table was in the far corner, close to French doors leading out to some sort of balcony overlooking, you guessed it, the sea. In the center of our table was a square vase with some orange and yellow flowers (I didn’t know the names, but Lily did, though I couldn’t bother to remember them). In front of me was an empty square plate. I wondered about square plates. What was the point of them, really? If I wanted to eat my food in a circle I couldn’t. I would have to eat it in a square. It wasn’t any fancier than the other plates, just pokier.
Avery was to my left, wearing a short white dress with black lacy stuff in the middle and a gold belt situation. It looked like soft material. I thought better than asking her if I could touch it. I’d probably get hit or thrown into the bushes, like usual.
Lily was on my right so I could keep a good eye on her. I could never be too careful. I saw some other boys her age sauntering around like they knew who they were going to wink at. I’d give them something to wink at. Wesley to her right, then Dad, Mum, Rosey, and Albus rounded out our group of slightly dysfunctional wizards and wizettes. Albus poked at the flowers. Dad fiddled with the napkins. He looked uncomfortable in his shirt and tie.
I grew up on this crap. For as long as I could remember, the ‘rents were being invited to this memorial dinner and that recognition fiesta or whatnot. Even Mum’s Quidditch league honored her a bunch of times. She should have stayed with Quidditch. It would be wicked cool to tell all my mates about having a Quidditch player for a Mum.
I’d be able to tell my kids that.
Well, except the whole “Mum” part. I wouldn’t be a Mum.
The place was filling up, and that was saying something considering it was huge. The dance floor was toward the front in front of the stage where a band was setting up. No, not the cool sort of band where I could rock out and loosen my tie a bit, but the kind with string instruments and guys with perfectly combed beards. Women in long satin gowns were finding their seats and guys my age were looking grumpy, just like me. I wondered where they were from and what other European schools there were all around the continent. I’d have to ask Avery later about Italian bloke schools. But then again, why would they go on holiday in their own country? I settled on the fact that they had to be from out of the country. Maybe Romania. Or Russia. Or America. Or even France to add in a country without an “a” at the end.
“How long do you think this is going to last?” I heard Wesley whisper it to Lily. He was trying to be cooler than he was. I could see the suave attitude all over his dark eyes.
“No idea,” she said quietly. “I’m guessing a few hours. Dinner, dancing, ditch?”
I surveyed the room again, eyes fixing on a few beautiful ladies two tables over with bright hair and brighter eyes. One glanced my way. Hey, girlie, I’m the Quidditch Captain, you know. She had no idea. She looked away and I saw her make eye contact with Albus. Fucking git.
There was suddenly a shadow over my pompous square plate. I glanced up and almost choked. Costaso (or shall I say, Twataso?) as beaming at Avery with white teeth. He wore something that looked like it was picked out of an Armani catalogue. Yeah, I knew what Armani was. Think a sports, manly bloke like myself didn’t know fashion? Truth was, Nia showed me the magazine, but I still knew. I knew man stuff like steak and potatoes and fashion stuff like Armani. Beat that, Twitwards.
“I had a great time today, Avery Flynn.” He said it with such a flair to him, goddamn jerk. Oh, then he decided it would be appropriate to kiss her hand. There was a wet mark left on it.
My lips pressed together so hard they went numb. Avery’s face was glowing, her eyes downcast.
“Thanks. I had fun too.”
“Would you do me the honor of having a dance later in the evening?” Costaso smirked.
“I’d like that. Sure.” Avery placed her napkin delicately in her lap.
“I’ll see you then, love.” With that, Twataso was gone and my plate lit up again.
Rosey let out a feminine squeal. “Oh, Avery, you’re so lucky. He’s such a dream.”
“He’s not getting anywhere near you,” Albus said. I made a mental note to high-five him after dinner. “That bloke is a creep, not a dream.”
Rose rolled her eyes. “Jealousy does not suit you, boys.”
My face felt hot. I wasn’t jealous. Of a guy like that? Pfft. He could dream on. He was just doing what people in England did to foreign girls. Put on the charm. There was something exotic about people from a different place that spoke in a different language. But why the hell couldn’t I put a stop to it?
Because Avery and I agreed we should date.
What was I doing in Italy? I wasn’t dating anyone. I didn’t even find anyone to date. Maybe I should have gotten on that. I still could. The possibility was there. I could go tell the blond girl at table six that I was the captain of a Quidditch team, the hero, and she would fall right then and there. I could date her. Too bad she looked like she put more thought into showing her grades than her smarts (that was a real candle, not a fake one, idiot).
Then again, why did I care about that? About smarts?
“Could I have everyone’s attention please?” There was a bloke on the stage in front of the orchestra wearing a fitted tux and yellow tie. There was a big flower sticking out of his jacket pocket and it reminded me of something Twitwards would wear, silly tosser. I adjusted my own tie to make sure I didn’t look like that. All was safe. “I want to thank you for being here with us this evening. This is our formal kick-off of the holiday program we do here each year. And what a turn out!”
I tuned him out, watching Avery twist her fingers together like she did before an exam. Her nails were a soft pink color. I wondered if she painted them often. I didn’t think so, mostly because of Quidditch. The guy was still talking so I looked over at Dad. He was clearing tuning out the speech too. Well, at least I knew where I got it from. Al was listening. Sodding Prefect.
I thought back to the response letter I wrote Nia. It was short, sweet, and just the thing to keep her at bay a little longer. Longer for what though? So she wouldn’t write while I was on holiday? I’d give just about anything for Fred or Bink to write. Both were peeved with me, though, so I couldn’t see them doing that. I understood why. I’d be peeved at me too, but at least I would have understood that I was a damn captain too.
Why wouldn’t he tell me about the Meta thing? Even after?
No, but seriously. What did he see in her? If it was infatuation, why did it go on so long? Maybe she was really good in bed. She looked rather feisty. Eugh, that was a gross thought. I mentally blocked it. But she was the star Seeker, why would she go for Bink? I could see her crossing sides and flirting with Clint Lawson, the sick sod.
This was getting out of hand. Meta should be fooling around with a Slytherin. Bink should be talking to me. Freddie should be talking to me because he had nothing to do with the entire ordeal and Avery should punch goddamn Costaso Twataso in the tan creeper face!
“James, are you going to eat?”
I jumped, nearly elbowing Lily. Her eyes were full of curiosity and I wondered if she was ever overwhelmed by deep internal thought. “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I’m going to eat. Eventually.”
“Could have served something other than green beans as a vegetable,” muttered Dad, sipping on a dark drink that I knew had some sort of vodka in it. Mum shot him a look. “I’m just saying, they don’t appeal to the masses. Now corn, there’s a choice.”
“Corn is a starch.” Mum smirked and took a sip of her own drink. She was something like four in already and her face was flushed among the freckles.
“Not funny.” Dad laughed and put his hand on hers.
Oh, blimey, cut it out. Those two were worse than their kids. Albus made the same face, glancing over at Wesley, who was laughing. Lily elbowed him.
The plates were being cleared magically and the orchestra up front had started to play louder now. One couple was already gracing the dance floor. Gracing? I had to get out of this tie soon, it was making me think in fancy words. Bugger.
“Lily, aren’t you going to dance, dear?” Mum smiled.
“I would, but James would hex Wesley so there really isn’t a point, is there?”
I saw Dad try and stifle his laughter. “Just like your uncle Ron. Well, and George. And Percy. And Charlie. And Bill.”
I shot a smile at Wesley. “He’s a good hexee.” I got a middle-finger below the table.
“You kids want anything to drink? I’m going to get refills.” Dad polished off his drink and took Mum’s glass as well.
I shook my head. Not even alcohol would make this bore-fest more enjoyable. Plus, the blond from table six was drinking enough for the both of us. What was that, number seven already? Al and Wesley went with Dad to help him carry.
“Why didn’t you order one?” I asked Avery, crumpling up my napkin and tossing it on the table in front of me.
She shrugged. “I was going to go dance and didn’t want a drink to get watery from the ice. I hate that.”
“Makes sense.” There were more couples on the dance floor now, swaying back and forth, spinning, and smiling. My arse was stuck to the seat. Figuratively, not literally of course. “Dancing, huh? Those people look like they’re having an awful lot of fun.”
Wesley squeezed back into his seat on the other side of Lily. He tossed back a small drink and stood up again. “Avery, come on and dance.”
My mouth slid open.
“Love to, Wes. See you, James.” Avery smiled and followed him through the maze of tables. Wesley spun her (What the hell? When did he learn how to dance?) and they started to dance, Wesley leading in and out of the other couples, fast, while Avery stayed on the toes.
“Come on, Lily.” I grabbed her hand.
I pulled her toward the dance floor. “Mum says we need to bond more. Let’s bond.”
“You have to be the stupidest guy I know. You know that, right?” Lily said, aggravated, but once we got onto the dance floor she spun melodically and let me lead. “I don’t see you dance often, James.”
“I’m not incredibly fond of it without the influences of alcohol,” I said, scanning the crowd for Wesley’s malicious eyes.
“This is nice sister-brother bonding time.” Lily let me dip her and she spun out for a moment. “I guess those dance classes when we were little paid off. Much to your dismay.”
“Those classes are where I developed my whining skills.” I caught sight of Avery’s dark brown hair across the floor.
“Dad and Mum are having a good time.” Lily pointed back toward the table where the ‘rents were making kissy faces and Albus looked visibly sick. Rose was writing something.
“Yeah, they’re embarrassing.”
“I think it’s cute.”
“Who were you snogging?”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Give it a rest, James. Seriously. Look, Avery and Wesley are moving back this way—ahh.”
“What?” My head snapped over to where she was looking and I saw just exactly what. Costaso tapped Wesley on the shoulder, face full of sneer, and cut in. Avery kissed Wesley on the cheek (Jellylegs for that one? Maybe later.) and let Costaso put his grimy arm around her waist.
“Stop squeezing my hand, turd.” Lily wrenched her fingers out of my grip.
“Do you see how he’s touching her? Look at that. All over her.”
“His hand is on her back.” Lily cocked a brow at me. “Get a grip. But then again, I’ve seen you dress in a costume to follow her around and make sure boys don’t so much as look at her. Why haven’t you dressed up to follow me around?”
“You don’t date.”
“But I’ve kissed.”
“Who? Who have you kissed?”
She laughed. “You’ll never know.”
Avery was biting her lip when she wasn’t talking to Costaso, who was spinning her. He was talking most of the time. His grip was hard on her back, the creases of her white dress very defined. My face was hot and I spun Lily a few times just so she would stop harassing me. Avery looked over.
Her eyes were such a soft green. I reached up and ruffled my hair out of habit.
“James.” Lily tilted my head toward her. “I said I’m going to have more of my drink. Did you want to come back to the table or dance here by yourself like an idiot?”
“I’m going to stay.” My eyes turned back to Avery and she hadn’t looked away. Costaso was talking.
“Yeah, okay, tosser.” I heard Lily’s footsteps fade away across the dance floor.
I moved toward Avery. Her hand wasn’t tight in Costaso’s like his was. Her feet barely moved back and forth and her face was a little flushed. I moved between couples, never breaking eye contact. The green of her eyes was screaming at me and breathing hurt my chest. My body ached. I heard Costaso’s Italian laughter. Avery’s chest was rising and falling rapidly. I could see each lash, black framing her beautiful eyes.
Costaso turned when I tapped him on the shoulder. “Could I cut in?” I even did a little bow. Some bloke behind me ran into me while dancing, but I kept my balance. He was with the blond from table six. I swallowed hard while Twataso surveyed the situation.
“Avery?” he said lightly, as if unable to believe some freckled bloke with messy hair and sneakers (did I forget to mention the sneakers? Victoria ate my nice shoes) could possibly ask to cut in.
“Thanks for the dance, Costaso.” She removed her hand from his grip and moved around him, not parting her gaze from me. Then she took my hand and led me to the edge of the dance floor furthest from our table. “What took you so long?” she asked.
“Dancing with my sister.”
“Is that what that was?” Avery smiled and placed her hand in my own and the other on my shoulder.
“Shut it.” Her waist was warm when I put my hand there, careful not to be forceful like Costaso. I couldn’t describe the strange feeling. My muscles tensed up. “She’s a good dancer.”
“Until you saw Costaso, then suddenly you couldn’t dance.”
“I hate that bloke.”
Avery laughed. “You hate everyone, James.” I loved her laugh.
Once I started to sweat more than was entirely natural (even for a Quidditch player), Avery and I made our way back toward the table. Her hand was in mine and it was soft. She was laughing at something I said. I couldn’t remember. My mind wasn’t working much anymore. Must have been the thought of Costaso bailing, the sodding loser. I hadn’t seen him since I cut in. Yet another point for Team James Potter Captain of the Quidditch Team.
Unfortunately, the table was less enthralling than I thought it was be. Dad and Mum were dancing off to the side of it, Dad nearly spinning Mum into the wall. They were giggling. Dad’s glasses fell off at one point and Albus had to find them under the table. Rosey was tugging at his arm to dance. Lily and Wesley weren’t there, but my guess was they ditched like they had planned.
“Balcony?” Avery’s voice was quiet in my ear. She nodded to the cracked door leading out to the nearly empty balcony. I figured she was trying to spare me from my parents. Mum giggled and kissed Dad’s nose.
“Yup.” I made a beeline for the door, pushing it open and feeling the cool night air on my face.
There were two other couples out there. One far to the left staring over the edge pointing at things less interesting than the water. The other couple was making out against the wall. More power to them. Avery led the way to the very edge and placed both her hands on the rail like a kid seeing the ocean for the first time.
“It’s stunning, isn’t it? I love the way the moon reflects off it over there.” She pointed out to the right. Her hair kept getting blown into her eyes. She laughed. “I could stay here forever.”
“It’s quite the place, huh? So much different than Hogwarts.”
“I like it that way. I needed to get away for a while.”
“You and me both.” I smiled and wrapped my arms around myself. I was cold, but too manly to say anything.
“It’s just nice to forget about things like Quidditch and schoolwork for a while.”
“I hope you’re not forgetting about that Puffer match we have coming up.”
She hit me playfully. “Like I could ever with you as a best mate.”
I leaned forward and my eyes followed the roofs of each house down to the beach. I could see a few people playing in the water. “So what’s the plan for the rest of the evening, Aves? I was thinking we’d bail sooner or later since Mum is down who knows how many cocktails and she’s going to be grinding on Dad any minute now.” Sea air was surprisingly chilly.
I could see Avery’s freckled shoulders even better in the moonlight. She didn’t speak for a few minutes and her dress was flowing back behind her making a loud rippling noise in the silence. “They’re just in love,” she said, hurriedly putting on chapstick. “They deserve to show it.”
I made a disgruntled face. “They’re parents. That’s never okay.” I laughed, but the breeze swallowed it up. “At least I have other things to look at tonight.”
She turned toward me and brushed a few strands of hair behind her ears. “Like what?”
“Well, like you. You look great tonight, Aves.”
Avery’s lips were soft when she kissed me. Her fingers found their way through my hair and I felt her warm body press against mine.
Those lips were familiar. Lips I had watched talk for years before, spouting on about Quidditch and my lack of Charms talent and ones that had tasted salt talking about her father. That laughed after my jokes.
Avery Flynn’s lips were a part of my best mate.
I stumbled backward into the rail, eyes wider than ever. My lips were stinging, fingers shaking. I looked at her, beautiful, moonlight-lit Avery that I couldn’t even describe anymore since I thought the word ‘moonlight-lit’ did the damn trick.
Her eyes were dancing, hand covering her mouth. I could tell she wasn’t breathing.
“Okay!” I said, voice higher than normal. I hoped the other couples didn’t hear me. I tripped over my feet going to the left. “Well, I left my muffins in the oven so they’re probably burnt and I’ll just have to be going so I can get them now!” I tried to smile but showed more teeth than natural. My heart was beating so fast my chest hurt. I could feel it in my throat and my stomach. My body was so hot I wanted to rip open my shirt, though some intelligent part of me told me that was probably a poor idea.
Avery stared at my insanity.
I couldn’t handle her eyes on me. I fidgeted. I felt weird in my own skin, awkward and pale.
“Let’s just not bring this up, eh?” I squeaked that out and ran for it—into the ballroom where I nearly tripped and took out the whole table, shoving past Wesley and Lily (Jellylegs the next time I could remember it!), and out onto the vacant street of Italy.
I didn’t remember the run back to the suite. It was a blur of darkness and fairy lights and the scent of Avery’s perfume on my clothes.
I was in my room, door locked, staring at myself in the mirror over the rustic dresser. I looked like a mess, a bleeding mess.
The taste of the chapstick was still on my lips. It was cherry.
A/N: So, like I said, I've been gone a little while. I've been working on and off on this chapter for a while, though I need to get it up here so I haven't had a chance to actually edit it. Ah well, right? The reason I've been absent for a while is because of that awesome internship I got, plus job-searching, and schoolwork. When I said I thought I'd have more time this semester...well, wow, was I wrong? Sorry about that, everyone. I'll try to update either story much faster for the rest of the semester, but it's getting chaotic now that graduation is coming.
So anyway, a few more updates for you. I have that blog that is linked on my author page. Just some thoughts and whatnot. It'll also be a little while before H&S is updated because I haven't had a chance to start the next chapter and with the schedule I have this coming week...wowza, not sure that's going to happen.
But I hope everyone is doing great! I just got done with a fantastical Spring Break :) Oh, and the chapter image was supposed to be Costaso, but I found a picture of Avery in that dress and couldn't pass it up. Next chapter perhaps?
Onto the story...that was a jam-packed chapter of insanity! Full of a flashback, moments between the siblings, and even a little kiss-action at the end. So what did you think? Favorite quotes? Scenes? And what did you think about that ending??
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