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This chapter is for everyone who has helped me out through the rollercoaster
that has been my life the last couple months. Many thanks!
Balcony scene. Avery snogged James. She tasted like cherry.
James said something about muffins in the oven and ran for it.

Okay, here’s the first question:

Did I like it?

I was on the sofa in the hotel suite with the curtains drawn. It was dark, but a street lamp outside found its way through the top. My skin was sweaty and I had shed my shirt and tie seconds after walking in.

I mean, it was a kiss. The usual kind. I’d kissed plenty of ladies before. Nia and I snogged. Wasn’t like that though. None of them had been like that.

But it was Avery.

Avery Flynn.

Best mate extraordinaire.

But even if she wasn’t, what about the bleeding Code? Well, it wasn’t like we were dating, so technically that balcony snog didn’t break the Code. Still, though, I had a right to think the Code was somehow going to appear in my future. Why didn’t I just use my awesome captain-ing ability to dismantle the sodding thing? Oh yes. Because it was an important part of keeping a team together.

Was this a panic attack?

Fucking hell. I rolled over on the couch and stared at the blank television.

I thought about the way Avery looked at me all night—next to me at the table, while dancing with Twataso, outside with the sea spray in my hair. But she was my best mate. I talked to her about zit issues. About girl problems.

Now she was my girl problem. Who the hell was I supposed to talk to now with my two other mates at my throat for blasted Code issues and her the snogger of my precious lippies?

“James?” Albus looked out of breath as he closed the front door. “I’ve never seen you run so fast and not hex Wes for dancing with Lily. I had to do it. What happened?”

Great. The baby brother comes to my aid. My fucking hero.

“Nothing. Had to go to the bathroom.”

“And the toilets there wouldn’t do the trick?” Al sat on the coffee table. “Spill it, James.”

“Piss off.”

Albus poked me in the side. “Get off your high horse, tosser. I’ll send Lily in here if I have to.”

“Maybe she’ll tell me who she’s been snogging.”

Al choked. “Wait—what?”

“Yep. Don’t know who. Wesley knows. He better pray it’s not him. He won’t make it to the Quidditch Final.” I sat up and peeked out of the curtains. No sign of my Keeper.

Al ran his hands through his hair. “Why is all this rubbish happening at the same time?”

“Dunno.” I stood up. “I’m off to bed. Night, baby brother.”

“Don’t think this gets you off the hook.”

I shrugged. “I never think,” I said, shutting the door to the bedroom and staring around into the darkness. “I know.”

I felt like I was being squashed by a giant Quaffle. It was bloody enormous on my stomach and chest—heavy bugger. It made my nose tickle. I itched it. The Quaffle made a noise. Bugger—needed to breathe!
“Wake the heck up!”

I opened one eye. The Quaffle had bright red hair and the face of an annoying sister. “Get off me. And get out. Now.” I rolled and she fell off onto the other side of the bed.

“Al says something is going on with you.”

“Snitch.” I put the pillow over my face.

“So what is it? Wesley got away with dancing with me last night? Al had to do it. You came from the balcony. What happened? Avery tell you about her date with that Italian bloke?”

“What makes you think I’m going to talk to you about it?”

Lily put a small hand on my shoulder. She smelled like salt water. “You usually talk to Avery. You’re not. You can’t talk to the boys. You’re not talking to Al, which makes me think it’s something emotional.”

“Get out,” I barked.

“Ah, struck a nerve.” Lily paused. “And you’re too scared to talk to Mum and Dad. All right, James, either you tell me or I’ll start guessing.”

“Out. I’m serious, Lily. Leave me alone.” I yanked the blankets up to my neck.

“Do you have a sore? Did you find one? How about Costaso? Did he challenge you to a fight—oh, did you lose? I’m thinking it has something to do with Avery.”

“Why?” I snapped, flying around to face her.

“Because of that reaction.” Lily smiled. Her hair was a little wet. “So what did you two talk about? How steamy Costaso’s snogs are?”

“Shut it! Avery bloody fucking kissed me!”

Lily stared at me with her big, brown eyes. She was in complete shock, something I was not used to seeing on Lily. In fact, usually she wasn’t surprised by the crazy and outlandish things I told her, but this time my baby sister was in complete and overwhelming shock. It was a nice change actually.

“Are you sure?”

I nearly rolled my eyes. My whole body actually. “Of course I’m sure! How would I not be sure?”

She shrugged. “Why though?”

“How am I supposed to know? I just said something about my muffins and took off!”

“You left? James, you’re such an idiot.”

I groaned. “Am not. What was I supposed to say? Erm, thanks a lot, Aves. I appreciate that snog but you’re my best mate and this is awkward. Okay, that would have gone over well.”

“So you think she fancies you?” Lily leaned back into the pillows.

“I don’t know. I can’t even tell. She just went around the village with Twastaso yesterday, how am I supposed to know?” I turned toward the window. “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do now. I’ve never thought of her like that. What if she was drunk? So plastered she doesn’t even remember it?”

Lily pressed her hand to my shoulder. “She wasn’t. Rule that out, Mum was hogging all of the liquor.”

This warranted a laugh. “So do you think she fancies me?”

“That’s something you need to figure out for yourself.” She stood and made her way toward the door. “Look, James, you really do need to figure it out. I know you don’t always want to do things the right way, but you need to this time. This is serious.”

Once she was gone I scoffed loudly. Serious? It was a snog on the balcony. Girls were so dramatic.

I did the right thing and holed myself up in the suite for several hours that morning, tossing and turning and playing with Victoria. She had gas after eating my fancy shoes, though, which wasn’t nice. For once, the Code, Bink, Meta, Clint Lawson, and even Twitwards were driven from my mind and the only person that remained was the person that should have been lounging in that room plotting ways to prank my siblings.

“You like Avery, right?” I looked down at Tory. She hummed. That could have meant yes or not. I needed a more definitive answer. “If you like Avery, hum.” Good. “Well,” I continued, “she snogged me last night. What do you think I should do about it?”

More humming.

This wasn’t getting me anywhere. Thanks, Victoria.

My stomach growled uncomfortably and I wondered if Avery was out there right then—waiting for me to come out and lecture me for leaving. Realistically, what was I supposed to say?

Blimey, what a kiss.

I shook my head. I had to analyze this. I had to think it over. What was best for me? For her? For the team?

But my stomach was being impatient with my lack of a productive thought process. I grumbled and stood up, dressing quickly and narrowing my eyes at the less-than-helpful Victoria. There was only one thing I could do at the moment to make Italy enjoyable for everyone—including Avery.

Leave the subject alone.

The kitchen was empty when I walked out and there was just enough cereal left in the box for me to destroy it. I plopped down on a stool and looked around. Wesley walked in to disturb my breakfast/lunch-eating peace. He tried to smile, but it turned out awkward.

“Lily tell you?” I mumbled.

“No, I saw.”

“You what?” The spoon clattered on the counter beside me.

“I was scoping the balcony from the dance floor because I was going to ask Lily to get some fresh air and then ditch. I happened to look out there at the right moment. I also saw you bail. Record timing on that.” Wesley took a seat across from me. It looked calm. On any normal occasion he should have feared talking to me about anything personal, but he knew my secret. Well, it wasn’t a secret if he looked right out the doors and saw it.

I wondered who else might have seen it. I hope Twataso saw it just so he’d back off.

Why did I want him to back off? I hated him. Why? He was a twat, hence the nickname. Eugh, inner thoughts were getting me nowhere.

“So what do you think?” I went back to the cereal.

“Do you fancy her?”

“She’s my best mate. How do I know it wasn’t just some run-of-the-mill snog that was random and spur of the moment?” I leaned back and stretched. “For all I know she’s in her room thinking about how stupid it is to snog your best mate and she’s trying to think up the phrasing for how to let me down easy.”

Wesley made a face and looked right at me. “Okay, so what are you going to do? You’re going to talk to her, right?”

“I have to think about everyone in this situation.”

“Who? You and her?”

“No. I have to think about us, plus everyone here, plus my team.”

“What in blazes does the team have to do with it?” Wesley was very patient, which is why I liked him. Also, he was a good Beater, but that was beside the point.

“Think about it, Wes. I just flip shits over this whole Bink and Meta thing, only to allow my guard to go down and snog my Keeper. How does that make me look? Granted, I see your expression, snogging doesn’t break the Code. You’re right. But what if she gets attached? Like what if she grew to like me? Can’t have that. Might as well nip it in the butt before it starts. She probably just wanted to see what it was like, you know?” I put my Captain face back on. “I’m surprised it took her seven years to do it, now that I think about it. Yes, that makes sense. Like a test run.”

He surveyed me.

“I’ll go and talk to her about it in a bit.” I tossed the cereal bowl into the sink (it was plastic) and smiled. “Excited for the Puffer game? We’re going to ruin them.”

I found Avery on the beach, legs sprawled out on a towel and sunglasses covering her pretty eyes. She looked up at me, expression unchanged and unreadable, and said hello. Just like that. She used the word “hello” instead of something else. Things were not good.

“Hey, Aves,” I said. I didn’t sit down. Things were already awkward enough. The problem with the whole situation is I had no idea what I was supposed to say. I kept thinking about the taste of cherry and the salt spray and stuff that was not relevant to the conversation I was supposed to be having.

“How were your muffins?” Still unchanged expression. No hint of a sarcastic smile. Shit.

“Erm, burnt. As I thought they would be.” Last night seemed like a foggy dream. “Look, Aves, we need to talk.”

“Obviously. What time did you make on that sprint? Couldn’t have been more than two minutes. Tops.”

“It was a blur, can’t remember it.” I got frustrated. She was toying with me. I hated it.

“You could be a runner.”

“I just…”

“Compete for medals and stuff.”

I ruffled my hair. Son of a bitch. Son of a Meta McLaggen. Eww, hopefully she never got the chance to reproduce her awful spawn.

“Victoria could be your mascot.” She was talking too fast.

“Look, can we just pretend like it never happened?” I blurted out. My chest was rising and falling rapidly.

Whatever she was about to say next, she stopped. Mouth open. She closed it and I heard her teeth fall together. Then a brief cough. “Yeah. Um. Okay.” Then she looked back out at the sea and the breeze blew through her hair. “You’re in my sun.”

And so I was. I moved back, no words coming to mind. I stood there awkwardly for a few minutes, staring at my best mate. Her jaw was tight. Her muscles were stretched. There was a sparkle, glitter or something, on her cheek. I felt another panic attack coming on, so I stepped back. “Uh, see you later then. Bye!” I jogged the other way and stopped just after the end of the beach, glancing back.

She was still sitting, alone, watching the water.

“Afternoon.” Costaso brushed past me and continued onto the beach.

I choked. “Where are you going?”

He turned. “I’m sorry?”

“Where do you think you’re going?” My voice was gruff and as manly as it could have been given the current situation.

“To talk to Avery.” There it was again, him saying her name all weird and Italian. “I’m sorry, aren’t you her family? I’m Costaso. You are?”

“Avery didn’t mention my name?” I leaned against a fence post. Looking cool attempt failure. Costaso’s face remained blank. “It’s James. And I’m not family, I’m her best mate.”

“Ah, I understand now.” He smiled. It was an irritating smile. “The protective best friend. Don’t worry, best mate, I’ll take good care of her.” He turned and was gone down the sand. Costaso sat down beside Avery and she looked over. She smiled. Bugger.

For some reason, as I stood there watching him smooze his way into her good graces, the insults wouldn’t come. I wanted to think so many mean and rotten things about him, but the truth was, Costaso was there and I wasn’t. He had moved in to my territory and set up camp. I was left with a large fence indent in my arm and damaged pride. Good thing Wesley wasn’t there to see it.

“So did you do it?” Wesley whispered from beside me.

Son of a bitch.

I coughed to regain superior manliness. “I talked to her.”

“And you told her what?”

“Nose out, Wesley. Go Beat some Bludgers.” I turned and searched through my pockets for my wicked aviator shades Victoria almost ate. “We’re just going to forget about it. Obviously by the look on her face she was thinking the same thing. Just a brief mistake is all. Twataso is out there hitting on her and all is right in the world.”

“And you’re not going to hex him? Seems like an unfair deal to me.” I could hear the smile in his voice.

“Avery and I agreed we should date. She’s going to date. I’m going to head back and write a Quidditch Captain worthy letter to Nia in hopes that she’s not as crazy as I think she is.” With a shrug, I headed back to the suite. I felt my legs dragging.

Nia wrote back by Friday, her busy scrawl telling me she couldn’t wait to see me and to have lunch in Hogsmeade together (now when did I mention that?). She sounded excited, which is exactly the pick-me-up that I needed. The week had flown by for the most part, with Avery spending time down at the beach, sometimes with Costaso and other times with Al and Rose. Wesley kept me company when I didn’t kick him out, something I was secretly thankful for because Victoria didn’t get me sometimes. Lily was in and out but since she wouldn’t tell me who she was snogging that made it difficult for me not to hex her. Oh, I was going to find out, Lily. I was. Mark my wordies.

Being alone and trekking around the village for the next few days gave me plenty of time to think about what I had left behind. Though I wanted Avery to help me come up with a Code punishment, at least I was able to sort through my emotions about Bink Legace.

Bink had been my best mate for ages. The blond bombshell was blunt, honest, and even a tad rude sometimes, but that’s why I loved him. He said a lot of the things I thought, especially in relate to Emerson Twitwards. That was why I couldn’t wrap my mind around how secretly dating Meta McLaggen would be more important than being honest with his mates. Was she that good in bed? Eww. Strike that image.

He was used to dating the pretty ladies, even bringing a girl over in the summer from Beaubatons. Sly dog, Bink Legace. Girls that practically worshiped him for being blond and pale and suave, something I’m sure he picked up from me. But Meta was the furthest from worshiping him. Maybe that’s what he liked. My brain hurt thinking about them together when I’d seen them put up a front the entire term. Fighting at Quidditch, ignoring each other, etc. It all made sense though. All those stupid times Bink vanished from team meetings or didn’t show up on time to other things. Sodding liar.

I shook my head. I was somewhere near the top of the village and could see most of the roofs from there. It was nice. I had to enjoy the rest of break. I was in Italy! This was no time to worry about Bink or Meta (especially) or the snog Avery gave me on the balcony nights ago.

So why was it still fresh in my mind?

Because I hadn’t been snogged in so long. And it was weird. She was my mate. We were mates. Two peas in a pod. To apples in an orchard. Two Bludgers in a Quidditch match. Oh, I was clever with that last one. Once again, I shook myself out of it (this time almost losing my aviators). I couldn’t keep thinking about it. It would drive me mad.

The next few days were annoying. Al kept prodding into my business about Avery (either she told him or Lily did, because that shit brick knew what happened, and by default, so did Rose). I hexed him a few times and got one back. My leg hairs were singed. He was lucky we were in a magical community because ickle Ally wasn’t seventeen. I told Mum on him.

I avoided him too. He kept saying stupid things anyway.

Dad came in once to talk to me. He didn’t mention Quidditch, but I could tell he wanted to. I could also tell he cared about me, but he was going about it all the wrong way. He was conservative with me. I wondered where my dad had gone, the one that used to sit around and laugh all day. The worst part was, I knew I was wrong. Not totally wrong, but I knew he was looking out for me and that I shouldn’t have been such a teenage snot back, but he was wrong too. He told me to go for what I wanted. He told me not to give up. He forgot.

Dad left soon after telling me that my spirits would pick up after going back to Hogwarts and to try and avoid fighting with Al because he has a delicate self esteem. Delicate my arse, he could insult with the best of us. Potter trait? Maybe a brother trait.

So with Al my enemy, Dad under my skin, Lily and Wesley pressing me for details about irrelevant matters, Avery hanging out with Costaso, Rose being Rose, and Mum being clueless about the whole situation because she was busy actually having a good time, I had plenty of opportunities to focus my attention on the Code and the punishment for breaking it.

It had to be something intense, something that would not hurt them, but would cause them enough public humiliation to not want to go against the Code again. They were breaking rules, and I had to uphold them. But not like a Prefect, because Prefects were tossers like my brother. Who wanted to patrol corridors? Not me.

First of all, definitely laps. I was going to make those sods run until they couldn’t run anymore. Until they passed out and threw up. Okay, not that long, but I was going to make them run a lot.

Public humiliation. That one I could do.

I looked over at Victoria, who was playing in the sand beside me (well, nestling in it anyway) and she hummed. We were on the beach, alone, and the tide was coming in. She was unaware, but I watched her carefully so the water didn’t get there. Oh, yes, Tory, we were going to take something from Bink. And hopefully from Meta. I hated her so damn much. Part of me wanted her to just sign with a reserve team and get the hell out of Hogwarts, but the other part of me needed her to win the Quidditch Final (and yes, I already assumed we would be in the Quidditch Final).

I smirked, a thought coming to me. Ding ding ding. That was it. The punishment for breaking the Code and the way I was going to regain my authority as Captain. Of course I would need the help of the rest of the team, but why shouldn’t I? Those buggers needed to know what would happen to them if they ever broke the Code.

Hilarity. For me anyway.

At dinner on our final night in Italy, the table was overjoyed. Everyone was happy and passing side dishes. It was in the ballroom, but it wasn’t decorated fancy or anything, just a bunch of people coming together for a dinner and some of them getting enough booze in them to dance. Dad and Mum were one of those couples and I hid my face under a napkin.

Avery looked over. “Excited to go back?”

“Honestly, not really,” I said. “I was getting used to the warm weather and James Potter time.”

“Yeah, it has been lovely.” She dabbed at her face with a napkin. I noticed the stiffness in her arms. “I’m ready to go back, though.”

I was about to question Costaso’s views on the subject, but I didn’t need to. Bugger showed up right at my elbow to talk to her. He was so somber, like a sodding idiot. Twataso, yes, that was what he was called in my days of sanity.

“Avery Flynn,” he said like a real ass hat, “could I have a word with you? On the balcony?”

She excused herself from the table and followed him.

I threw a roll at Albus.

“What?” he hissed, green eyes like fire.

“Do you have a pair of Ears on you?”

Albus gaped at me, reached into his pocket, and pulled out a pair of Extendable Ears. Even though he was annoying, I could count on him for stuff like that. Prefects might have been annoying, but they were smart. I put one close to my own ear and threw the other toward the open door leading to the balcony. Lily rolled her eyes at me.

“I’m really sorry you have to go,” Costaso the twit said. He leaned against the railing. “I’ve had an amazing couple weeks with you.”

“It has been fun,” Avery said. I heard the temper in her voice.

“Look, I know you’ve been a bit under the weather lately, but I need to ask you something.”

“Sure,” she said quietly.

“Can I write to you? I feel as if there was so much unsaid between us and I need to say it. You’re beautiful and wonderful and I would like to see you again. And again. Would you mind me writing?”

“I wouldn’t mind,” she said flatly. If she wouldn’t mind, why was she talking like that?

Albus looked at me expectantly. Pfft, go away.

Costaso’s expression matched my own. Puzzled. “Will I see you again?”

“Probably not.”

“Well, will you write me back, beautiful Avery Flynn?”

Avery switched her stance and put her weight on one leg. “Look, let me be honest with you. Once I go back to Hogwarts, I’m going to dive back into classes and Quidditch. Yes, I play Quidditch. Don’t look so surprised. The only thing we’ve talked about for the last week is how pretty my face is and how you’ve done this and that with your fishing boats and inherited all this money. You could sub me out with any girl in this room and you wouldn’t know the difference. I’m a Quidditch Keeper and I take pride in that more than what my physical features are, especially since I can control how good I am at Quidditch.” She paused and my heart raced. “So you can write to me all you want and mourn the loss of your sub-par puppy love, but I won’t be writing back.”

I nearly cheered right there at the table. Seriously, I had to bite my tongue hard to stop from jumping up and doing a hip-hip-hooray for Costaso’s dumbstruck facial expression. Take that, Twataso!

Avery smiled, kissed him lightly on the cheek, and said, “I look forward to your letters.” Then she took her seat and continued eating her cheesecake. “James, take the Ears off already, you look like an idiot.”

I gaped at her. “Oh. Yes.” I tossed them back to Al.

“Don’t even say it,” she said. There was a smile on her lips. I could see the cherry. “I know you want to say it, but don’t.”

“What? I told you so? Of course I don’t want to say that. I wouldn’t dare.” I smirked and stole a bite of her cheesecake.

“Hate you so much, James Potter.”

A/N: Whoohoo! Okay, a lot to cover in a short span of time.

I know a lot of you want to bring harm to me because of the length between updates. Hopefully things will be a lot easier to accomplish now (not promising weekly updates like before, but things slowed down). To give you a glimpse into the last couple months: I finished college, I graduated, moved into my first apartment, set up my first apartment, got a job as a writer, applied to be a copyeditor, got ENGAGED, went to the Sunday night showing of A Very Potter Sequel (did any of you go?), and reread the entire BTQC. So wowza. So I'm SO sorry for the update and the filler chapter, but you all know this one had to come for plot reasons. The next one is already started and I'll give you a mini preview in a few.

Question: I have been asked by several people to start a Twitter account where I would give updates on my stories, funny James/Oliver/Jane/Avery/whomever snippets, and random other things. Would anyone be interested in following or would it be a lost cause? You could even harass me for updates, haha!

As for the chapter: What do you think? I know most of you probably want to hit James. Yeah, me too, but trust me. That's all I can me. How about the chapter image of Costaso? Or should I say...Twataso? Favorite quotes? Favorite things? Miss Freddie's addled brains yet?

Lastly, up next on BTQC:
We've gotta get back to Hogwarts! Oh, and some alumni are coming to down for a shin-diggery. And it's getting in the way of Quidditch practice. Oh, and the punishment for Breaking the Quidditch Code.

Sorry for the long a/n! Thank you all for the overwhelming support while I sorted things out!

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