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After breakfast the next morning Mum went on another packing spree. She repacked the unused pots and pans (I heard this from down in our suite) and came by in a rush to ask if we’d gotten all our clean underwear off the line. I had, by the way. Albus still had some out there, but I did rat him out. Until he prodded me in the back with his wand.

I stood alone in the empty suite after Wes grabbed the remaining bags to take them outside. Victoria’s cage was beside me and she was humming contently with a dead fish beside her. Don’t ask, she wanted it. The room was dimly lit since the curtains were drawn and smelled like salt. I ran my fingers over the counter, feeling strangely nostalgic about leaving. I’d only been in Italy a couple weeks and already I didn’t want to leave.

What made me want to stay?

My eyes wandered around the room. The sofa didn’t make me want to stay, or the lumpy mattress in the bedroom. Or the empty cereal box. I peeked out of the window to the sea. I did like that. Enough to stick around? I wasn’t sure.

“James!” Wesley poked his head in the door. “We’ve gotta get back to Hogwarts!”

I jerked Victoria’s cage up to my chest, breathing hard. “Right. Yeah. We’ve gotta get back to school, I know. I’m coming.”

“Don’t want to leave?” He smirked.

“Not sure.” Truth was, I just didn’t want to go back to Hogwarts. I never thought I’d witness the day I didn’t want to go back to what had been my home for seven years. Unfortunately, most people there (with the exception of Nia) didn’t want anything to do with me. I groaned. Just the place I wanted to go back to. I wrinkled my nose and stepped out, locking the door behind me and preparing for the short journey home and the long journey back to Hogwarts.

Avery was wearing a dress again.

The train ride was less than eventful. We picked the same compartment (as per Wesley’s request because he claimed the floor was more spacious for sleeping). He could have been right, but I didn’t want to find out. I let him snuggle up with a wonky blanket at our feet. Lily and Rose sat beside me jabbering away about something not related to Quidditch, and Avery and Albus sat on the other side, Al falling asleep and drooling on the sleeve of his polo.

I kept to myself for the ride, flipping through a few Quidditch Weekly magazines that had arrived at the house since we left for Italy. Not much Quidditch news. I knew that because the front page was covered with comparing the speeds of all the different Firebolt models. That had been out for two years. Boring. At least there was an article about the Tornadoes doing well and kicking the shit out of the Finches. Who even liked the Finches? No one. Not even the Finches liked the Finches.

It was dark by the time we got to Hogsmeade station and Lily had fallen asleep once again. I let Wesley carry her, mostly because Al was controlling the luggage with his wand and I didn’t want to. I’d get to the hexing later. At some point. I eyed the platform in search of Freddie back from a wacky Weasley Christmas and Bink with his bag full of sweets, but saw neither. They must have caught the earlier train back. After pausing to make an annoyed face, I continued up to the castle in silence.

By the way, it was cold. Not just chilly and having a cloak kept my body warm. Oh, no. It was fucking freezing. Coming from Italy, it was like going to Antarctica. Where were the bleeding penguins when I needed them? I wondered if Victoria was okay in her cage. I stuffed it under my cloak. Cold metal.

The snow was still there. Don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be. It was there, all right. Right up to my knees in places, but for most of the journey there was a cleared path.

Why did I come back to Hogwarts? It was freezing and Italy was warm and inviting and I would have a chance to hex Costaso properly. Instead, I had snow to my knees, wind that was cutting my face, and the daunting task of facing my mates after a few weeks of separation. At least I wasn’t peeved anymore. Well, I was. But not as bad. Now I had a plan, a dashing plan of excellence that would restore my authority of Captain and as a power figure of Gryffindor Tower.

There were only a few torches lit and no students wandering about when we got inside. I already missed Mum, which was saying something since I was certainly not a mummy’s boy. At all. She just knew what to do during times where the room was dark and everyone hated me. Like when I was little and I might have accidentally set Al’s stuffed dragon on fire by poking it with Dad’s wand and then Lily walked in and screamed and then I got scared and threw the wand and suddenly and by complete accident her stuffed rabbit was on fire. They hated me, yet Mum brought some marshmallows and chocolate to ease the pain of my siblings loathing.

Pfft, they just wished they had my mallows and choco squares.

But Mum wasn’t here and I was leading the way up the marble staircase, marching my troops back to the Gryffindor Tower (we shook off some Puffers after the Entrance Hall). I knew what I had to do (Merlin, did Lily always snore this loud?); I had to keep my head held high and call a Team Meeting. A very important legitimately nice Team Meeting.

And they hated me for it. Meta threatened me with several sharp objects, one of which was a bobby pin and I wasn’t sure what sort of enchantments it possessed. Wesley wasn’t happy only because he was exhausted from our trip. He could just suck it up. Paloma was in bed by the time I requested her presence and narrowed her dark eyes at me on her way to the kitchens.

It was Fred and Bink I was most worried about. When I told them about the meeting, but shrugged, put on shoes, and left the room. It was clear they weren’t talking to each other, but they weren’t talking to me either. I wasn’t actually clear why Freddie wasn’t talking to me. He wasn’t known for grudges.

Avery stood next to me when I arrived back to the common room and said, “All right, Captain, you’ve had a few weeks to think about it. Let’s see what you’ve got to say.”

We walked to the kitchens in silence and Avery sat in Meta’s usual chair. The one at the very end of the table that I faced. Not the one next to me. My new right-hand man-woman was Paloma. She wouldn’t do. Not that I didn’t think she was an amazing woman and teammate, she just didn’t know me or know when to prod me when I rambled. I tried to shake the alone feeling gathering in my throat—that sense of abandonment by my family and team and best mates.

Once everyone was seated in the dim kitchens and a few elves brought out angel food cake and strawberries, I cleared my throat. Awkwardly.

Well, this was new. I had my entire team in silence before me. Not just silence anticipating what valuable knowledge I was about to bestow upon them, but instead an eerie silence that suggested they wanted very little to do with my Captioning needs. Meta strummed her long fingernails on the table making a noise that reminded me of horses.

“Okay, team. First of all, sorry about this late thing. The train was going slow.” I paused for a refreshing sip of lemonade. “I realize it’s late and some of you—yes, I see your scowl Paloma—were sleeping. I just felt the need to confront this situation immediately instead of letting it fester.” I thought about the word fester and how it sounded like an infestation. Pfft, infestation of Slytherin.

More finger-nail-tapping.

“Anyway, here’s the deal. I’m going to lay it out quite plainly and then you can give me your opinions.” With that, I took a bite of angel food cake. I was sweating and sweat was gross. Manly, but seriously sick. “This past term was filled with bullshittery that we, as a team, need to fix. I should be the first one setting an example, and for that, I am sorry. I failed you in a lot of ways.”

“James, don’t be stupid, you’ve been a wonderful captain,” said Paloma.

“Let him go on. Go on, failure.” Meta smirked.

“Eat a slug,” Paloma hissed.

Meta rose from her seat.

“Ladies.” I put up my hands and Meta sank down again. “What I’m trying to say is that the Code has been established for years before I was on this team. That is why Gryffindor is a winning team. The Gryffindors stick to the Code and don’t let other things get in the way of winning. When you joined, you agreed to these terms and to follow them. I did the same thing.” I paused. “Some of the rules of the Code, however, are less punishable than others. It is up to me as Captain to decide which are which. Examples are receiving detention and not representing Gryffindor house well. Those are less punishable because there is wiggle room. Maybe of us have already broken them and I am sorry to say I am included in that. Punishments depend on the reason for the detention—on what you did to not represent Gryffindor properly. Get what I mean?”

I saw a couple nods. At least Wes and Paloma were paying attention. They mattered. They were the future of the scarlet and gold Quidditch.

“That being said, I think we all need to reevaluate how we act in the presence of others. During the next practice we will be running instead of flying so we can all think about exactly what being a part of this team means to all of us. Unfortunately, something like dating another member of the team has to be taken more seriously. I’m sure that is understandable, even to the offending parties. If either of you weren’t worried about the Code, you would have come out and admitted it, ah, four months ago. There will be a punishment for breaking the Code—don’t look at me like that, McLaggen—just as you can assume there will be a punishment if Paloma dates Wesley or Freddie dates Avery.” I almost laughed.

“I would like to apologize, though, for the way I handled the situation.” This was the formal part of my captaining speaking. “I was in absolute shock and should have handled it better. I wasn’t exactly prepared and this will help me with further situations. So I’m sorry for being a complete shit brick about it and a shit friend to you, Bink.” I avoided his eyes. “But I want to talk to you about that later. You might not want to talk to me, but—ah, fuck—anyway, I want this meeting to be short. I’m sorry for being a shit Captain and I’ve had a lot of time to think it over, among other things.”

My team was staring at me. Paloma rubbed her eyes.

“Practice is still on for tomorrow afternoon. Please be there five minutes early read to run.” I finished off the angel food cake and looked up. I saw Meta shooting visual daggers at Bink from across the table. This was going to be harder than I thought. “Bink and Meta, you’re dismissed.”

“So you can talk about us?” Meta snapped.

“Don’t say us like I want to be any part of that,” Bink said. He stood up, blond hair poking out all over the place. For some reason, it was relieving.

“Shut up, Legace. Doesn’t this bother you?” She motioned to the rest of the team, still seated and asked to stay.

“You bother me! This is your damn fault, woman.” Bink threw open the door.

Meta caught it, dark hair in a fury around her face. “Potter, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”

“You broke the rules, Meta. You should understand there are consequences.”

“Fuck off!” She slammed the door behind her.

I sank into my chair. “Bloody hell. I knew that would be difficult but Bink didn’t look at me once. Meta’s just a bitch, though.”

“James,” Paloma said, “can you tell me why we’re still here?”

“Oh! Oh, yes. Sorry. We’re going to discuss the punishment for breaking the Code.”

“Isn’t that sort of a Captain thing?” asked Wesley. “I didn’t know we got a say.”

“We’re a team, Wes. I make the final decisions, but we’re a team. I want to run a few things by you.” I paused to look from face to face. “I’m thinking that laps isn’t enough. Both of them hate each other. Both of them are tearing this team apart and though I’m not saying it’s just their fault, I’m saying this festering secret is the reason we’re all in such a mess right now.” There was that word, festering. Infestation of Twitwards. “So here’s my idea. A combination of work and public humiliation.”

“Isn’t that harsh?” asked Paloma. “What if they’re scarred from it?”

“Meta’s a bitch and Bink is tough. They’ll be fine.” Fred said this, pushing his chair back. “All right, what did you have in mind? I have a few ideas I’ve been thinking about over the holiday.”

I smiled. “Here’s what I’m thinking.”

I heard a deafening squeal the next morning. One would think that it would be at least breakfast time before I went deaf, but no. There weren’t any candles lit and the shades were still drawn. Bink’s hangings were closed. Fred was snoring with his legs hanging off the side of the bed and I heard Emerson muttering about banshees. But the scream didn’t come from any of them. I shouldn’t say scream because it wasn’t life-threatening or horrific, it was a squeal. A squeal only one girl was capable of.

“Oh, Jamie!” Nia ripped back my covers and exposed a bare chest and green boxers. “I’ve missed you so much! Why are you still asleep? It’s five in the morning! You have class today.”

“In several hours,” I muttered, trying desperately to grab for the blankets. She was having none of it. “Why are you here?” I was practically whining.

“I couldn’t wait for breakfast to see you. Oh, Jamie, this is so wonderful!”

“Who the bloody hell is Jamie?”

She giggled. “It’s my nickname for you, silly! You can pick one for me. I am going to suggest sugar or darling or cutie pie.”

How about annoying crazy girl?

“I don’t need a nickname, but thanks.”

“Jamie, you’ll grow to love it.”

That was a girl’s name. Jamie was so a girl’s name. Well, okay, there were blokes named Jamie, but not me. I had an S at the end of my name and it would stay that way. “Look,” I said, sitting up and pointing my wand at the candles so the room had a little light. Fred snorted in his sleep. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation after I just got back from Italy, but here it is. We’re not going to have nicknames for each other.”

“You call Avery Aves.” She said this shortly.

“And I call Fred Freddie, what’s your point? You and I aren’t having pet names for each other unless we hit a different status.”

“What does that mean?” Nia folded her arms in the semidarkness. Her face was sharp.

“It means call me James and I’ll call you Nia until I decide a nickname is appropriate. Don’t call me Jamie. Makes me feel like a prat.” I grabbed for the covers.

“Can we hang out later?”

“I have Quidditch practice.”

“Oh! Will it be exciting?” she whispered. “Can I come watch?”

“It’s just laps. Don’t bother.”

Nia looked put out. “Why are you making your team run? Isn’t that a waste of time? What about tomorrow?”

I groaned, hoping the inquisitiveness of Nia wasn’t going to wake my roommates. Well, I couldn’t care less if it woke Emerson because he was as good as a damn Slytherin. “My team is running as a punishment, Nia. And no, it isn’t. And maybe, but I have something going on tomorrow night.”

“With who? Elizabeth? That dirty—”

“No! With the team. I’ll see you at breakfast.”

Nia didn’t move.

“Seriously, I’ll see you downstairs at breakfast time.” Once she was out of the room I rolled over and threw my head into the pillow. Victoria was making a noise that sounded annoyingly like laughter.

“Good luck with that,” muttered Bink from behind his hangings.

“I really hate women. I want you to know that.”

Nia was indeed at breakfast. In fact, she saved me a damn seat. With eggs and toast and even a random piece of fried chicken. Where she got fried chicken, I’ll never know. I sat between her and Albus, who was the only one of the Potter children that managed to get sun without getting fried on our holiday. My shoulders still hurt.

“Are you excited to start the rest of the year off? I can’t believe it’s our last term.” Nia spread butter on my toast. Meta was practically snorting from across the table.

“Yeah, real excited. I’m just trying to keep my shit together.” I grabbed the knife and bread from her.

Nia beamed just as Bink walked by.

“Hey, Legace, got a new girlfriend yet?” Meta said with a snarky smile.

“Die, McLaggen.” He flipped her off on the way to the front of the table. I was glad Longbottom was deep in conversation with another professor.

“Oh. That.” Nia wrinkled her nose. “Yeah, you should probably do that.”

I saw Avery sitting a few seats down with Lily laughing about something. She was eating fruit. Wesley was on her other side. Emerson was drooling from across the table. I was being prodded by Nia. Bollocks on this.

The running went better than I thought it would. Everyone kept to themselves (except when Bink and Meta swore at each other) and after a couple hours I let them go with water and attitude. I hit the showers alone and let the water fall down over me, thinking about my team.

We hadn’t had drama before when Dara was captain. The only drama consisted of her and me going at it because she was a sodding bitch and how I did not have a stick up my arse. But now suddenly, with a team full of seventh years and a couple fifth years, there were dramatics. People sleeping with people and then hating them. I heard Meta snap so many things at Bink that I would definitely not say in front of Mum. How were they even supposed to play on the same team? Let alone win. Fucking non-Slytherins ruining my life. What a contradiction.

Afterward I retreated upstairs to an empty dormitory. Fred was in the library looking up spells (it wasn’t for academics, don’t feel so shocked) and Bink was leafing through Quidditch books in the common room ignoring the chatter. Emerson was somewhere being a twit with a bloody badge up his arse so I had the room to myself. Well, and Victoria, whom I took out to feed. She hummed quietly and ate real pygmy puff food instead of ties or socks that belonged to Twitwards.

The door opened and I was about to swear loudly until I noticed it was Avery. Her hair was falling around her shoulders and she was wearing a blue sweater with a lion on it my grandma sent her for Christmas. Grandma Weasley always figured Avery was an adopted grandkid. Especially when I told her about Aves’ dad, the bloody bum. He hadn’t written back in a while, which made me rather skeptical. All of my detective sensors went off just thinking about it, but I stopped once she sat on the end of the bed.

Avery tucked her feet under her and petted Victoria with a smile. “Do you think this Code stuff is going to work? Do you think all of it is really necessary?”

“You’re kidding,” I said, on the other side of the bed. “You know I have to discipline them. They broke the Code and they have to pay for it.”

“I just mean shouldn’t you find out what really happened first? Like, the real story?” Avery’s eyes were wide and green. “What if they really liked each other?”

“But they broke the Code.”

“Wouldn’t you be upset if you dated Paloma and then you had to do what you’re making them do?”

“I wouldn’t date Paloma. I’m not stupid.”

“Yes, you are.” Avery raised a brow.

I wanted to shove her playfully, but she was out of my reach. For once. Instead, I shrugged. “Erm, I guess so. I think the consequences are actually tame compared to what they would have done back in the day. I’m thinking hanging by thumbs here.” I tried to be casual, to be plain old James Potter, but I felt weird in my own skin. I tried to concentrate on Victoria, but she obviously liked Avery better and wiggled over to her. Bugger. I put my hands on my lap. Then I ruffled my hair and put them back. Fuckin’ shit.

“Guess so. I just hope one day you don’t eat your words.”

“I’ve already broken the Code, but it’s not like I fancy anyone on the team. Unless I suddenly turn gay and then I think I’d go for Bink. I’d have to aim higher than Freddie with his addled brains, seriously. Dunno what Abigail sees in him.” Change of subject. There it was! There it was!

“I’m just saying, you might regret it. Not saying it won’t be fun.”

There it went.

“Is that what you came up here wanting to talk about? About how you are unsure about the consequences? Since when are our conversations like this?” I paused. “Since when do you sit on the other side of the bed? Since when…are we weird.”

“Since now.” Avery stood up and brushed the pygmy puff hair off her pants just as Emerson bloody fucking Twitwards walked in the door. “Good evening, Emerson.”

“Ah, Avery, you’re looking ravishing this evening.” Emerson bowed like a tool.

She looked at her baggy sweater and jeans. Brow raise. “Yeah, okay.” She went for the door.

I had to admit, though, Twitwards had a point. I liked the sweater. Gryffindor pride! He was still a prick, though.

“Avery, I was thinking about heading to Hogsmeade soon. Would you care to join me?”

“I have Quidditch stuff,” she said flatly.

“Surely not every night.” Emerson laughed nervously. “We can schedule around it.”

“Oh, okay.” Avery put on a smile and my temper flared like I never expected it to. My fists clenched tight around the pillow. “Then no.” With that, she left and I let out a loud puff of air.

Then I laughed. Emerson threw back his hangings.

I hated that I kept thinking about that kiss. The one with Avery, not the ones with Nia. Every time I tried to fall asleep I just pictured it—out on the balcony with the music from inside and those other two slightly-creepy couples out there snogging each other’s faces off. Then suddenly Avery snogging me with her cherry lips and me bragging about my muffins. The scene replayed. What the fuck was that? Obviously, it wasn’t anything feelings-oriented, but damn. It was a good snog. As far as snogs were concerned. She better not have learned from Twitwards or I’d hex the shit out of him. Seriously.

Throughout most of my classes the next day I kept running it out of my mind. Of course, there wasn’t much else to pay attention to since I had stupid Transfiguration that I was bollocks at and then some Potions which was stupid and boring. Avery sat on the other side of Freddie, who was actually beside me and said a few words every once in a while. We weren’t fighting anymore (were we at ever? I wasn’t sure) but we weren’t best mates either. Hopefully after the ceremony.

Avery didn’t sit with me at dinner either and it was making me fucking crazy. I wanted to tell her about Clint Lawson getting a wet paper ball stuck to his hair in the corridor and that one portrait on the fourth floor snogging Sir Dimwit in the Astronomy stairwell. She was talking to Lily and Albus. And Hugo, strangely enough. Get the fuck out, Hugo. Go find your own friends. I swear, he could have been a Puffer if it wasn’t for Uncle Ron drilling it into his head that Puffers are bad news. Well, dumb news. Either or.

Professor Sinatra stood up at dinner in all of her gray-robed glory and smiled out at us. Longbottom looked over at the Gryffindors expecting ace behavior. Fred was still trying to get Roxanne to eat green beans by stuffing them into her face resulting in her having green chunks of veggie and him having a black eye.

“Attention students!” Sinatra shouted and Fred stopped threatening to tell their parents and Roxanne stopped rolling her non-black eyes. “I have a wonderful announcement to make and I think you will all be very excited about it. Next Saturday Hogwarts will be keeping up with a tradition long overdue considering the last time we held it was around ten years ago.”

“Please tell me it’s some awesome tournament where I can get rid of my little sister,” muttered Fred. “I’m thinking dangerous dragons or something.”

Sinatra tried to quiet the whispers. “Hogwarts is playing host to an Alumni party! Isn’t that exciting?”

“Bugger,” said Fred. “Maybe I’ll just chuck her out of the Astronomy Tower.”

“Judging by that shiner she might get you first,” I said.

“So basically, it’s a party where alumni of Hogwarts will return to look around the castle, have tours around the grounds, and party it up in the Great Hall. Fifth years and above will be allowed to attend.” Lots of groans. “A good many of your parents should be coming, as well as recent graduates and others. That means you have to be on your very best behavior and represent your houses correctly.” Sinatra smiled widely. “Now aren’t all of you excited?”

What Sinatra didn’t know, however, is she ignited a firestorm of female emotions that I did not want to deal with.

I knew it would happen immediately, and it did. Girls I didn’t know were batting their mascara-clumped eyelashes at me. I had no idea why they wore that crap; it made my eyes water just looking at them. Awkward. Nia was practically glued to my hip and by ten I was glad to have the excuse of Quidditch to get her the hell away from me.

The ways girls reacted to dances was a mystery to me and something I wanted to be as far away from me as possible. Why would they care about something our ‘rents would be at anyway? I wasn’t asking anyone because I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go. However, as Quidditch Captain it was probably my duty to show everyone how to be awesome.

“You peeved about the Alumni gig?” Fred asked, jogging to catch up with me as I walked up the spiral staircase.

“Yeah, sounds stupid.”

“I mean because it’s during one of our scheduled practices.”

“Aw, what the fuck?!” I yelled, kicking open the door. “Why is this happening? Can’t Sinatra at least check the schedule before she ruins my life?” I grabbed a few bags of clothing, patted Victoria on the head, and turned to go. Bink looked up. “Hey, mate.”

“Hi.” He looked back at his book. “What are you two doing so late?”

“About to go damn protest this shit.” I walked back out the door, careful not to let Bink in on anything. “All right,” I said as we reached the bottom of the stairs. “Let’s go meet the others and do this.”

Fred and I bumped fists.

We woke Bink by pouring large amounts of ice water over his head. He screamed like a girl, but Twitwards didn’t wake up because he had silencing charms surrounding his hangings. Blond hair stuck all over his face, we grabbed Bink by the shoulders and shoved him out the door, shirtless and swearing like Uncle George.

Freddie, Wesley, and I were in all black from our hideous Velcro shoes to our cloaks and masks. Bink, however, was shirtless and wearing flannel pajama pants. Lucky, because he usually wore boxers. I only knew that because I lived with him. I didn’t know what his boxers looked like, but I did know he had lots of blond hair on his legs. Blimey, anyway.

We shoved him in front of us while he swore and all the way into the corridor outside of the common room.

“What gives?” he said loudly. “What time is it?”

“Shut up and walk.” Wesley disguised his voice as something very deep and un-Wesley like.

It was obvious Bink knew it was us, but still. He was the one walking down the stairs and in the passages with no shoes on and soaked hair, not us. I was quite snuggly warm.

The girls were already there with Meta when we arrived, though Paloma was holding her arm which hinted Meta had put up more of a fight. What a bitch.

Meta and Bink met eyes. “Fuck you,” said Bink. “Die,” said Meta. How did they ever even look at each other?

“You’re here for a reason,” I said loudly and in my best intimidating voice. Freddie was shaking with laughter and I wanted to Emerson-punch him. “Because you broke the Code and you were assholes about it. Just saying. So you need a punishment. And since I’m—I mean, and since James Potter Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team is such a fair Captain, it’s not going to kill you. Hopefully.” I paused. “All right, minions, prepare for phase one.”

Fred and Avery brought out two chairs and forced Bink and Meta down in them. Meta was struggling and tried to kick Avery’s shin. Then they took out their wands and bound both to the chairs. Meta was screaming obscenities so they taped her mouth. Bink just told her to shut up so I left his go.

“The Gryffindor team is one machine. If there is one rock on the road, everyone stumbles. Or something like that. Anyway, you guys fucked it up so now we’ve—I mean, everyone—decided that you should go without something for a while. You’ve left us—I mean, them—without confidence and hope and confusion about whether or not we—they—can trust you.” I stopped, looking at Bink’s eyes. His brows were furrowed, but not in an angry way. In a shit way. Like a guilty way, something Bink was not accustomed to. He looked at Meta, and then back at me. “Begin phase two.”

While Paloma and Wesley watched, Fred and Avery took out their wands again. They each muttered something (the result of Fred’s research in the library) and bits of blond and dark brown were floating to the floor. Soon there were large clumps. I saw Meta’s eyes shooting daggers at me. Serious ones. She wanted to hex me—bad. Bink just sat there, limp in his chair. He was breathing, though. I had Fred check.

Meta and Bink were left with no hair.

It wasn’t permanent, of course, but they didn’t need to know that. Actually, it would only stay that way for a day before growing back rapidly to the way it was when cut. Simple spell.

“Okay. We have now taken something from you, similar to the way you took our friendship and stepped right on it. Do you have anything to say before phase four?”

“What’s phase three?” Bink asked.

“This is. The talking is phase three. Bugger.” I scratched my head and saw a hint of a smile in his eyes.

He cleared his throat and met my gaze. “I’m sorry.” He whispered it in a low voice, hoarse and scratchy.

I fought the seriously feminine urge to go hug him. I had no idea where this random urge came from, but it was awkward with him sitting there under a dangling candle-light and looking so pitiful. Then he says he’s sorry. After we’ve just bloody cut off all his hair. I stepped back into the darkness to hide my expression—even though it was under the mask.

“Erm, yes. Good,” I choked out, regaining composure. “McLaggen?”

Avery untaped her mouth with a flick of her wand.


“Well, that’s not productive,” I said, retaping her mouth. “Meta, you need to realize what you did was wrong. You agreed to these terms when you signed on for another year. It’s really not as bad as you think it is.”

“Phase four?” Fred said into the silence.

“Yes. Good idea, Weasley. Erm, fuck. Minion. Good idea, minion.”

Bink laughed. “All right. What the hell is phase four? I already have no damn hair and have to walk around a bald albino.”

“With style,” I said, as Paloma and Wesley brought forward t-shirts. “For the next twenty-four hours you are required to wear these fancy amazing t-shirts brought to you by Uncle George. Fuck, I mean, a completely anonymous unaffiliated partner. Wesley hoisted the first over Bink’s head. It read, I’m Bink and I like Broomsticks. Paloma put one on the struggling Meta. It said, Cannot be Trusted. Even with Puppies.

“Don’t try to take them off. If you do, I’ll know.” I smiled. “All right, minions. Let’s escort these two back upstairs to bed. I can see McLaggen’s goose bumps from here. It’s cold. I need a blanket.”

“Fuck off,” Bink said, kicking Fred in the shin. “I don’t even have a shirt on.”

“Watch your mouth,” said Wesley. “There are ladies around.”

“Shut up, Wesley,” Bink said, but he was laughing.

Even though things weren’t exactly solved by the time I went to my meeting the next morning with Longbottom, I felt better than I had in weeks. Well, okay, not much could trump Avery telling off Twataso, but still. I felt damn good. Bink said he was sorry. Meta was still a bitch, but who really expected that to change? And Avery…well, she helped. Fred and I were back to being mates—well, less awkward ones anyway. Things were slowly on the path back to sanity.

“Why were you out of bed at three in the morning, James?”

I damn near had a heart attack. I was sitting across from Longbottom in his office. He was in a corduroy chair and I was in a metal folding one because his others were getting upholstered that day. They needed to—bleeding looked like they were from the 1900s.

“I’m—I’m sorry? What?”

“I know you were out. Why?”

“How do you know I was out? I’ll have you know I was sleeping soundly in my bed dreaming of bunnies and bumblebees.”

He raised a brow. “I saw you and stepped behind a suit of armor. I watched you pass with Fred Weasley and Wesley Jordan. Should I call them in here to explain? Or should I just ask you what the all-black outfits were about? You’re not hazing anyone to join a Quidditch club, are you?”

“Oh, bugger. No, no.” I scratched my forehead. “Ah, it’s really hard to explain. Can I just say it won’t happen again?”

“James. Please don’t give me a reason to write to your family.”

Ah. The thought of Mum getting a letter from Longbottom about me traipsing the castle at three in the morning was unbearable.

“We were coming back from a secret meeting.”

“Discussing what?”

“Erm,” I said, my palms sweating. I was the Captain. I should be able to think on my feet. “Discussing Wesley’s confidential problems.”

“Excuse me?” Apparently Longbottom did not like being left out.

“Yes, he has some internal issues he’d rather me not mention, which is why he needed to meet me late so we could discuss how he could stop being such a hindrance to the team. You see, his issues cause him to miss a lot of team stuff and sometimes hit the Bludgers wrong, but he loves the game and who am I to deny him that, really? He just doesn’t want anyone to know.”

“And Mr. Weasley?”

“Wes loves Fred like a brother.” Totally untrue. Fred actually pantsed him last night and Wesley threatened his life. “Of course he trusts Fred.”

“I wish you wouldn’t travel all over the castle just to have a personal chat,” Longbottom said after surveying me for a while. “If you do leave the common room after hours could you please restrict it to that area of the castle? I do not want to have to worry about you.”

“Sorry, Professor. Won’t happen again. I think we have it all figured out.” I ran my fingers through my hair. We’d better have it all figured out.

“All right. Well, then I actually only have one more question for you and then if you have anything for me you’re welcome to say it.”

“Nada. What’s your question?” I was practically out of my seat ready to get some serious lunch.

“Why do Meta McLaggen and Bink Legace have no hair today?”

Ah, shit.

“No idea. Weird fashion trends this spring, sir. I’ve heard it came from London. Meta does like to keep up on fashion and Bink hates his blond locks. Perhaps they decided to go it together.”

“Okay, okay.” Longbottom folded his hands. “And would you care to explain the shirts that will not come off? Mr. Legace’s is highly inappropriate.”

“I don’t find that him liking broomsticks is anything short of the truth. He collects the older models like the Cleansweeps. Has fourteen of them at home.”

“You think I’m daft?”

“Professor, I can’t be responsible what members of my team do and don’t do for fashion. Being beautiful hurts, you know? Maybe the shirts are an expression of that? I have no idea.”

“All right, James. You can go.”

I practically sprinted out the door. Fuck fuck fuck!

“How many times?” I asked Bink at dinner, pointing to his shirt. Originally, it was a fresh shade of pink. It was now a murky shade of green.

“Tried to get it off once before I realized it changed colors but didn’t come off,” he said. “Seriously, the Slytherins have been at me all day for this. You’re a right pain.”

“Yeah, you too, mate.” I sank down onto a bench and grabbed a plate of mashed potatoes. Nia was nearby giving me the let’s-go-to-the-dance-together look. Bugger off. “You don’t have much longer with it on though. Then Lawson will stop trying to be your boyfriend. You seen McLaggen? I’ve heard she wants my head. That part was Freddie’s idea actually. Brilliant Weasley that he is.”

“The hair was that shit’s idea? I hate him.” Bink continued to eat. He looked so damn weird without hair. The candlelight was actually reflecting on his head. “I haven’t seen that woman all day. I hope everyone is tearing the mickey out of her.”

I was about to respond and add that I wanted to tear the mickey out of him for being a pale bald bloke, but instead I focused on the letter now sitting in front of me, sopping wet from my gravy. Sick. It was in Mum’s handwriting and I heard Al let out a, “ooooh” from further down the table, sodding git.


Please write me back when you get a chance. I’m worried about you. Your father and I talked about our Italy trip yesterday and you really weren’t yourself. I didn’t see much of you for the last week or so. Please don’t let the drama with your team influence your mood (or your grades). I hope you work everything out, but please don’t hesitate to ask for help. Remember, your father was a Captain while he was at school and I played for many years, so we know our way around the Quidditch pitch. Did you get it all sorted out? How is your relationship with Bink? With Meta? (at that I snorted)

I’m hoping to hear from you soon, dear. Oh, and I just got a letter from Professor Longbottom on express owl. It says you’re doing wonderful so far and your meeting today went great. I’ll send this back with his express owl.



I stared at it. Longbottom covered for me. What in Merlin’s name was that about? He knew I was out balding Bink at three in the morning and yet he didn’t tell Mum what I was doing. I didn’t get a Howler. Was Longbottom suddenly becoming cool? No. No way. People that worshiped plants were so not cool.

“Get in trouble?” asked Lily with a smirk.

“Sod off; no, I didn’t get in trouble.” I tucked it in my shirt pocket so I could write Mum back later. I was officially confused and blocked out what my siblings said next. Avery was pushing food around on her plate with a fork.

Nia flopped down beside me. “What a day, Jamie!”

“What did I tell you about that? I’m going to think of something horrible to call you if you keep calling me that woman name.” I narrowed my eyes and too many people started giggling at my new name. Bink quickly shut up as he met my icy stare.

“Oh, lighten up. I’m just having a little fun.”

“It seems everyone is at my expense.” I stood up, stretched, and walked out of the Great Hall, leaving my potatoes abandoned for some selfish looter and my dignity as well. It was freezing damn cold outside, but it felt nice. The grounds were covered with several inches of fluffy snow and there were large Hagrid-sized footprints coming from his hut. A few led out to the lake, which was now iced over. I wondered about the safety of the Giant Squid and if he needed something for the winter.

“You’re going to catch a cold.” Avery pulled her cloak tighter around her. “Jamie.”

“Bugger off. Real men don’t catch colds.”

She was standing several feet away from me. I did feel cold.

“Suit yourself. You still going to snog her if she calls you that?”

I shrugged. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I did know I was standing awkwardly with my best mate talking about snogging Nia, but I knew little else.

“Well, let me know.” She reached down to pick up a piece of parchment that fell from her pocket and into the snow. “Aw, damn.” Pressing it against her cloak, she tried to try it off.

“Who’s it from?” I secretly hoped it was from her father. He hadn’t written through the entire Italy trip and I hadn’t heard his name since the Quidditch match. I didn’t want him to do this to her—to randomly disappear after seeing her play. To get her hopes up and then vanish again. I wanted her to be able to send someone other than my father a Father’s Day card that year. Not that Dad wouldn’t love it, but I know Avery would love to send it to someone else.

“Oh, Costaso wrote me this morning.” She stuffed it back in her pocket.

“Even after you told him off?”

“Guess he is in love with me or something.” She shrugged, turning back toward the door. “I might as well write back.”

“He didn’t even know you liked Quidditch. You hate him.”

“I don’t hate anyone. Okay, take the back, but I don’t hate Costaso.”

I was now numb to the cold, just thinking about that smarmy git writing letters by candlelight to Avery. “You can’t be fucking serious.”

“I’m not.” Avery had a cocky smile as she looked over her shoulder at my beet red face. “But wow, you’re funny when you get peeved. If you want to read it you can. I have no intention of writing back.”

A/N: Hey everyone!! I hope you enjoyed James's overhyped Code punishment, haha :) I do enjoy his overdramatic tendencies, even though he will never admit it. He also likes Glee, but will never admit it.... haha, only joking. Or am I ?

Anyway, I hope you liked the chapter! It's officially summertime! Do any of you have awesome plans or vacations for the summer? I'm going to do a LOT of working!

Remember that Twitter stuff I was talking about before. It's going to be a HIT! Head over to my blog for details :) I know a lot of you are already following it for updates. It's on my author page at the top! If you have awesome questions or just want to bug me, feel free to comment there, my MTA page, or send me a PM in the forums :)

You're all so wonderful! I can't believe we're almost at 1,000 reviews for this beast! Can't wait to read your thoughts on Javery, Freddie's addled brains, Longbottom covering for James, and, well, Meta and Bink BALD!

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