For those of you who have told me you use James's lingo in everyday life.
Emerson Twitwards was still in the hallway when I tore out of the dormitory, socks halfway off my feet and wand in hand. My heart was still hammering. I could barely hear myself think. Not that I had anything to think up. I met his pompous eyes with my own, chest heaving as Avery walked up behind me, her face still bright red.
“I assume this is a secret then,” Emerson said with a blatant sneer. He checked the state of his fingernails. “From everyone.”
“What do you want, Edwards?” I hissed, clutching my wand. “I’m assuming since you’re out here waiting for me you want something in return for you not outing me.”
I hated him more than I could possibly imagine. I mean, before I just didn’t like him because of his attitude, voice, the way he dressed, the way he carried himself, his distaste for Quidditch, love of the rules—anyway, I didn’t like him. Now it was a whole other level of loathing.
The way he looked at me, a grin creeping up his cheeks like he had just weaseled a thousand Galleons out of me on a bet or something. His eyes fell on Avery.
I glanced back as well. She was holding herself strange, arms crossed over her chest, and her dark hair fell into her face. She leaned against the doorway.
“I believe you owe me a date,” Emerson said slyly. I wondered what was so interesting on his nails that he kept peering at them. Perhaps he needed another manicure.
“Say what?” I spat.
“You asked what I wanted,” he replied simply. “And I want that date. You can pay, Potter.” He chuckled like it was a joke I wouldn’t understand. “We’ll go to a nice steakhouse or something. We’ll dance. You’ll wear a nice dress—let’s pick something that hugs your curves a little, hmm?”
I couldn’t feel my fists. My fingers were clenched together so hard they had gone numb and my face was a painful magenta. The way he spoke to her—like she was a piece of meat!
Avery cocked her head to the side, staring him down.
“And you can wear those platform heels I saw while I was up there getting Mary’s Transfiguration book,” Emerson continued as if we weren’t fuming beside him. “After the dinner, dancing, and a few drinks we can take a stroll around the lake. And you owe me a kiss as well, Avery.”
We glared at him in silence.
“Well?” Emerson said. He raised a brow. “That is an extremely reasonable offer.”
Avery uncrossed her arms and placed them on her hips. I couldn’t read her expression, but she was frowning, her brows knit together like she knew something he didn’t. She took one step forward so she was close to Twitwards and leaned in toward him. “Let me get this straight,” she said delicately. “You want me to wear a half-slutty dress and high heels to go out to a dinner James is paying for, which consists of dancing, strolling around the lake, and kissing you afterward?”
“Yes,” he replied, now smirking happily.
“Tell the world, Emerson,” Avery announced. “Because I would rather snog Filch’s scrub brushes.”
Emerson’s face colored faster than I expected it to. His humiliation went from his tightened lips to his steaming ears. He threw his hands in the air. “You’re going to regret that, bleeding bitch!” he cried. “Just see who talks to you after this!”
Avery grabbed the collar of my shirt so I wouldn’t kill him for the remark. Clearly she thought I might. She was right because the shirt pulled hard on my neck.
By the time I turned back Emerson was halfway down the spiral staircase.
“Let him go,” Avery said quietly. “I’d rather this happen than go on that date. I’m sorry, James.” She frowned at me. “There’s no way I could kiss him. That’s horrible. I just feel bad now he’s about to spill the beans and it’s my fault.”
I gaped at her, my hands hanging limp at my sides. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, almost laughing at her. “If you would have gone on that date the secret would have been out anyway. I would have murdered him and they would have sent me to jail and then Mum would be unhappy with me. I couldn’t imagine the Howler I’d get. Then the team would fall to ruins and you’d have to live in exile as would-be Quidditch stars that lost their guidance. It’s really your fault the whole wizarding world is now saved.” I grabbed her and pulled her closer to me. “Avery, I can’t believe you just saved the world. That’s pretty impressive.”
She smiled at me, kissing me lightly on the cheek. “I’m sorry if Bink off’s you.”
By the time I looked down the spiral staircase I knew it was too late. It wasn’t going to be a smooth transition, Avery wasn’t going to be able to bat her eyelashes and explain about how she kissed me on the balcony in Italy, and I wasn’t going to be able to look at the ground while blushing and telling them how I started to fancy her. Nope. Silence was cast over the room.
The timing, though. How horrible.
I could tell by the growing expressions on their faces that Emerson had long outed us. I could see them over the ledge (Also, why did the whole of Gryffindor House have to be in the common room?), the confusion in Fred’s eyes. The anger on Bink’s lips. The way Albus put his hand on Lily’s shoulder.
“Is it true?” Bink called up, his blond eyebrows almost covering his eyes.
“Is what true?” I countered. Emerson had caught us snogging, not dating. Avery nudged me. Bugger.
“Don’t play stupid,” he said loudly. The rest of the room was still eerily silent. “Were you up there attached to Avery’s face or not?”
I swallowed hard. That Bink Legace always had a way with words. I couldn’t lie. I lied the last couple weeks. So I slowly nodded, biting my lip so hard I tasted blood.
“Fuck,” he said as Emerson rocked back and forth gleefully on the balls of his feet. Bink closed his eyes. “Tell me,” he said, this time his voice much quieter but no less easy to hear, “that you two aren’t dating.”
For most of the room, it wasn’t a big deal if I dated Avery. Sure, they would be upset the stunningly gorgeous (I meant masculine and sexy) Quidditch Captain was off the market, but they wouldn’t have blinked twice. But for the team, all scattered about the room on plush sofas and chairs, it was the ultimate betrayal. The worst type of hypocrite.
I nodded. I was that person. The worst type of hypocrite.
I barely remembered what happened next, but needless to say I was overjoyed to be positioned at the top of the stairs instead of in the direct line of hexes.
Because there were hexes.
Bink leapt to his feet, fury flying from his eyes. Obscenities spilled from his mouth, words others might have mistaken for a jealous rage. His fingers were around his wand, pointing it up toward me and shooting several spells. None of them made much sense and all of them landed on the staircase because of his anger. Fred didn’t. He sat there in a cold shock, turning the information over in his addled brains. He looked hurt.
My eyes flew over to Paloma and I wasn’t breathing. Her jaw was hanging open. Albus was next to her, his jaw matching hers. But he didn’t look surprised. Part of me figured since he knew about Italy he would assume I’d get my head out of my ass eventually and realize I wanted to be with her. Wesley’s expression was the same. He hadn’t moved. He didn’t seem to mind. Maybe he wanted to get on my good side because he wanted to snog my sister. Fat chance. He averted his eyes, though. I didn’t like that.
With one nod I had lost their trust.
“JAMES FUCKING POTTER!”
That came from Meta McLaggen. I had forgotten about her, my heart pounding out of my chest. Her wand was out. Pointed directly at my face.
“Oh, holy shit,” I muttered, ducking down to the right of the stairs. I grabbed Avery and shoved her to the ground. The hex just barely missed my hand. It was a stunner.
“I’m going to fucking kill you!” she shrieked. I couldn’t see what she was doing, but I knew in her head she was plotting my death and the way she was going to present my dead body to future captains as an example of betrayal and Code-breaking. Not that she was innocent of Code-breaking.
What would Dara Wood say?
I peeked around the corner. Yes, the girl was on the way to crazy town. Express train. With padded rooms. Her hair was flung around her flushed face and her hand shook like a tiny purse dog.
“Not good,” I mumbled, turning back to Avery. “Nice knowing you.”
“It was nice while it lasted.” To my surprise, the threat of death made her smile.
“Shut up.” She kissed my cheek. “McLaggen’s about to off us, remember?”
I peeked again. Meta was marching toward the stairs. Emerson had offered her his wand if she wanted two. Seriously? Bink was obviously thinking of another spell to send me flying into something. Fred was searching the couch cushions (I assumed for his own wand).
“Shit, shit, shit.” I ran my fingers through my hair nervously. “It might be time to hide in the bathroom with Tory and hover supplies through the little window.”
“James Potter, get down here right now!” Meta cried. “Face me like a man.”
“I’d rather not!” I yelled back down.
“Coward!” Bink added. He kicked a chair out of his way.
I looked at the wrong moment, a curse hitting me hard in the chest and sending me back into the wall next to the door. The wind was knocked out of me and the room was fuzzy for a moment, my spine tingling.
My body sank to the floor, knees giving away under me. My lip was bleeding since I bit it. Couldn’t move unless I wanted my ribs to twinge with pain. Avery’s hand was in mine.
“Back off.” There was a large bang. That was Lily’s voice.
I crawled to the stairs, my ribs aching, and looked down. Meta was on the floor several meters from where she was the last time I looked, her hair splayed on her face like seaweed. She practically growled.
My baby sister was standing in front of Albus and Paloma now, her wand raised and her hand shaking. Crazy ginger.
Meta looked ready to off her too, so I grabbed my wand, choking back saliva, and cast a shield charm in front of my sister. The hex Meta sent bounced off her and disappeared into the ceiling.
I owed her a firewhiskey. Or ten.
“Get down here, Potter!” Meta’s focus returned to me once she could see my head sticking out over the stairs. Damn messy hair. Quick giveaway.
“Still not sure that idea is in my best interest,” I said shakily, holding my ribs. They hurt like hell.
“And you fucking Avery is in ours?” Bink roared.
“Hey!” I cried. “Watch your mouth!” I grabbed the side of the wall and hoisted myself up, leaning against it. Avery put her hand in mine again.
“James,” she warned in a whisper.
I groaned, closing my eyes tightly. “I’m not going down there,” I mumbled. “Meta’s going to kill me.” I glanced down again to see Emerson giving Lily a detention.
She flipped him off.
I could barely hear anything. The common room was so loud my head ached, whispers forgotten for assuming conversations. Did I hear someone say I gave her a love potion? Like I was that smart. Albus could get away with giving love potions. Not me. I’d have to ask Paloma if she felt obsessed with him lately.
Not that she would be speaking to me any time soon.
Fuck. Was Elizabeth crying? Nia was on the other side of the room throwing glass bottles at the wall. Who was going to clean that up? One shattered after another, cutting into the conversations I couldn’t understand.
“This is fucking outrageous!” Bink cried, abandoning the idea to pull a repeat of Meta’s hex for a dramatic storm out of the room. Fred followed, not saying anything as his hair flew back behind him.
I grabbed the rail, taking to the stairs, and dodging a curse from Meta. It barely grazed my hair.
“What are you doing?” Avery said, following me.
“Gotta talk to them,” I said, my ribs burning as I clutched them, taking the stairs two at a time. Another hex shot between us. Lily shot one at Meta, hitting her in the face and sending her over another chair. Another detention.
“James, this is ridiculous.” That came from Wesley. He looked halfway insulted.
“Can’t do this right now,” I said, pushing past him to get to the portrait hole.
The little shit shot a stinging hex at my shoulder. I winced, doubling over before turning on him. So much for thinking he wanted to be on my good side.
Lily got there first, jelly-legs jinxing him. “Oy!” she cried. “Hex my brother and I’m never speaking to you again.”
“He broke the Code!” Wes cried from the floor.
“The confidential Code,” I reminded him, dodging another curse from Meta and launching myself through the portrait hole, landing flat on my stomach.
I stared up into an empty corridor.
“Where do you think they went?” Avery asked quietly, her breathing hard. Her hair was singed from a hex and I felt horrible.
“I know exactly where they went.” I stumbled to my feet, right hand on my side, and began the long walk. The shock was still obvious on my face—how had such a great night gone so bad? From a hilarious date, amazing snog, to trying to find my mates and explain why Emerson Twitwards came gleefully down the stairs announcing my face stuck to Avery’s.
Avery followed me without question, but I could tell she was nervous. The less than warm reception to our relationship (Thank you, Emerson Edwards) made me nervous too. Lily was the only person who seemed like she didn’t want me thrown out the tower window. Maybe Albus, but I couldn’t tell since I was busy being thrown back against a stone wall. Maybe Lily already new. It might help me sleep a little at night.
Sure enough, Fred and Bink were both in the Gryffindor locker rooms. Bink was pacing in front of the chalk board and Fred was drawing circles behind him, the piece of chalk down to under an inch. When I entered I was met with raised wands.
“Hey,” I said carefully, putting up my hands to show I wasn’t armed. My rear end was, but not me. “Look. I want to talk to you two.”
“Sod off,” Bink said. “Should bloody shave all your hair off.”
“Boys,” Avery said softly. “We were planning on telling you tomorrow.”
Fred rolled his eyes.
“Oh? And how long has this been going on?” Bink said, his brows high and his tone disbelieving.
“A week!” I said loudly. They were being unreasonable. “A test drive of a week.”
“You’re an asshole,” Bink spat, grabbing his cloak. He pushed past me and left the room.
“C’mon. Freddie,” I pleaded, trying to grab his arm.
“Sod off.” Fred followed Bink out, slamming the door hard behind him.
I sank onto the bench in front of my locker. Avery put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it. “I’m sorry,” I said quietly.
“Um, for what exactly?” she said. “I recall it was me who told Emerson to snitch on us.”
“This is my fault,” I said. “I’m the tosser that got us into this mess. Now my mates hate me, Meta is going to sneak into the boys dorms and kill me in my sleep, and the rest of the Gryffindor House thinks I’m a d-bag.” I sighed dramatically, not even bother to make myself try and sound manly. I was pitiful.
“James, I’m happy.” I felt my cheek burn as she kissed it. “They’re just in shock. Let them have some time.”
“What about Quidditch practice Sunday?”
“We’ll practice Quidditch,” she replied with a hint of a shrug.
I glanced up at her. How could she be so positive when Meta wanted to go Queen of Hearts on our asses?
“James, calm down.” She smiled and my stomach did tiny flips. “Just give it time. It’s going to be difficult. I mean, BInk did it and you two are still friends.”
“After like a month and a half and him having no hair!” My hands reached up and tangled in my own hair. I would miss it if it was gone. It was soft. Softer than Freddies. Totally.
“Whatever it takes,” Avery said.
“Meta was bald too, love. Get your wig ready.”
Avery smirked in a devilish way. “I’d rock it.” She winked.
When we returned to the tower later after a flying session in which I lazed about on my broom for an hour or so, the environment had dramatically quieted down. People were still whispering from their perches on the windowsill or on sofas near the fire, but the team wasn’t there and my siblings weren’t visible.
I bid Avery a simple, silent good-bye (I figured a kiss would push my luck at that point) and walked up the stairs, ribs still aching. I would go to the hospital wing but then Madam Bones would ask questions and I couldn’t have that. The dormitory was still. All three beds other than mine had their hangings shut tight.
Mine was covered in feathers. From my pillow, which was shredded and on the floor.
“Mature,” I muttered, pushing the feathers onto the floor. I felt bad, but I knew the House Elves would clean it up. I scribbled a tiny masculine-looking Thank You note, thinking of Aunt Hermione.
“Finally alone, Potter?”
“Shut up, Edwards,” I snapped, grabbing Tory’s cage so I could feed her.
“Bet you wish you could be me right now.”
That did it. My eyes snapped over to his bed. “You? Single. Alone. Wearing dresses. Not having any authority and mucking up someone else’s life because a pretty girl refused to be blackmailed into snogging you? Pfft. And still everyone hates you. Fat chance, git.”
He was silent for a moment. “It’s for your own good. Someone had to take you off your high horse, Potter.” His tone was full of bitterness.
“Oh, yes,” I said sarcastically, sliding Victoria in a few treats. “Someone that talks behind curtains and sneaks around manipulating people. Ace job, shit head.” I shoved more treats in, wanting to feed her Emerson’s whole wardrobe. He was such an asshole.
I thought about that. About what I told Avery before. Then I smirked.
“Night!” I said cheerfully.
Saturday was, if it was possible, worse.
I woke up to an empty dormitory. And shoes that had no laces. I had to use twisty ties from Tory’s food. I also locked the rest of my belongings in my trunk since my Charms book was glued to the bedside stand.
Flurries were falling outside and I noticed as I took the stairs one at a time that there were numerous students out by the lake in bright red scarves. They were running back and forth playing a game. I wasn’t invited.
I was never not invited. I did the inviting. I was the captain! I had a team! Team James Potter Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team!
“Hey, James.” Lily was alone at the table next to the giant window. There was a stack of parchment in front of her and a third year Potion’s book.
I sunk into the chair next to her. “Never got to thank you for saving my ass,” I mumbled, head falling onto the table in front of me.
“Had to,” she said simply. “If my big brother finally gets common sense and stops fearing commitment no one is going to mess that up.” Her eyes sparkled. I loved that Lily could find the light in dark situations like Avery. I had a hard time doing that. “That, and Meta could have easily killed you. That spell looked like it hurt.”
I winced; my ribs still felt like they were on fire. Instead of focusing on that, I tried for a smile, fingers moving back and forth on the wood. “I think you’re the only one who feels that way.”
“I won’t be,” Lily said, putting her hand on my arm. “I knew something was going on. You do a horrible job of hiding the fact that you’re actually happy. And I’m happy for you, you know.”
“You must be,” I said, raising a brow at her. “You hexed Wesley.”
“Yeah, he’s peeved with me now but he deserved it.”
I finally managed a smile. “Good. Maybe he’ll stop looking at you like you’re a piece of meat and start realizing that you’re better than him in everything. Except Quidditch. You’re not allowed to play Quidditch. Too fragile.”
She hit my shoulder with the Potion’s book.
I spent Saturday night alone guarding what was left of my possessions. The boys were out somewhere. Emerson was probably off bird watching or gloating to the whole Hufflepuff house that he destroyed James Potter’s life. Which is what he did. And those Puffers were probably ready to turn on me. Darian Bay is probably raising the yellow flag now in an attempt to overtake the house of scarlet and gold. And then Kay Davies will saunter out of her den from hibernation and try and shag Freddie and his defenses are low so she would totally succeed and then Abigail would be upset (which is okay, because she is a bitch). Then Clint Lawson would declare himself the President of Hogwarts with a big staff or something for Scorpius Malfoy to lug around. Then I would be banished to the Forbidden Forest and forced to live with plants I don’t know about because I never studied hard enough in Herbology and Nia wouldn’t even bring me stale crackers.
I shook my head. That seemed legitimate.
Victoria wobbled across my bed and stared up at me with sparkly eyes.
“Tory, this whole thing is a mess,” I mumbled, grabbing my pillow and putting it in my lap. I rested my chin on it. “I couldn’t have mucked it up more.”
She hummed and snuggled into my leg.
“I know, right?” I said, groaning loudly and glancing up to make sure no one walked in while I was whining to my pet. “All I wanted was Avery. And my friends. And my siblings. And I wanted all of them not to hate each other, while I continued to snog Avery exclusively.” Another equally dissatisfied groan. “And now I feel weird. I don’t know what she’s thinking. We’ve been friends forever. This is weird. Now suddenly everyone hates me because of this. And they hate her because of me—she kissed me first! That’s not fair.”
Victoria hummed again, blinking.
“Yeah, I know. I just can’t help it. It’s not her fault.” I ran my fingers through my tangled mess of hair. “I have to fix this. But I don’t even know how to talk to her about it. About my relationship with the guys. Fuck, I just called it a relationship. I’m going to be talking about feelings next! BAH!” I fell backwards, hitting my head on the headboard. “I really need to go to the hospital wing.”
Victoria crawled up onto my leg. Her tiny movements tickled. Then it hurt because I laughed and my ribs were killing me.
“Fine,” I snapped, placing her gently back in her cage and closing it tight. Then I locked it with a charm just in case. “I’m going, I’m going. Nagging woman.”
The hospital wing was dark when I arrived. Madam Bones was at the far end messing about with linens. She glared at me over her glasses. “What have you done now? Killed your whole team?”
Other way around, I thought bitterly.
“Bad end of a hex,” I mumbled in response, pointing at my ribs. “Just wanted to know if I should take it easy or if there are other things I need to be doing. Potion or something.”
Madam Bones, still glaring at me in a way that suggested she knew I had something to do with the duel (which I didn’t because my sister took care of my light work), grabbed her wand and swished it around a few times. I felt my heart rate quicken as my skin glowed momentarily.
“They’re broken, Potter.”
“What’s broken? My heart?”
She rolled her eyes. “Your ribs. Your ribs are broken.” Why was she being so impatient with me? “You’re staying here tonight. I need to put bandages on you and you need to be here not getting in any more trouble.”
“I wasn’t—” I stopped, thinking of walking through the common room if Meta was in there. “Yeah, sure, I might as well camp out here for the night.”
Madam Bones through a stack of sheets and a pillow onto one of the beds. They were all unoccupied. “Stay in bed tonight. Get some sleep. You might want to stay here most of the day tomorrow.”
“I have practice tomorrow, sorry,” I replied smartly, tucking the sheets in like Mum taught me once.
“There is no way you can fly with partially fractured ribs,” snapped Madam Bones. She put her hands on her wide hips.
“Then I won’t fly,” I countered. I was certain the team would just love that. And by certain I meant they would hate me even more and try to pull a mutiny.
“Just get some sleep. No funny business. I’ll leave a potion on your bedside table you can drink when you wake up.”
Who the hell even used that term anymore? Funny business. I kicked off my shoes and got under the covers, looking around the large hospital wing. The ceilings were high and all the other beds were empty and stripped, a set of sheets and pillowcases set delicately on top of them. The curtains were all back against the wall. Nothing interesting to look at except a painting of an old guy handing over a bag of gold.
I pulled the blankets up to my chin and stared at the ceiling. Madam Bones was shuffling papers and then walked back into her office, closing the door with a soft click. She walked out a moment later and placed a bottle on my beside table, suggesting I drink a little then and the rest in the morning. I lit the candle beside my bed with my wand. At least I would be armed if Meta stormed in demanding my head on a platter.
The potion tasted horrible and I thought about spitting it out after she left, but if it would make my ribs start feeling like it was them wanting to kill me instead of Meta, I had to deal with it. Bones vanished into her office and the hospital wing was silent again.
“Figured I’d find you in here.” Albus was at the door, his dark hair falling in his face. Lily was standing next to him holding a book. I hoped she didn’t bring me homework. It was a Saturday after all.
I pointed to my ribs under the blanket. “Apparently they’re broken. Who knew?”
“Meta probably,” said Lily quietly in an angry voice I wasn’t used to. She pushed a chair over to me, but sat on the bed instead, curling up near my feet as Albus took the chair. “You okay?”
“Fine,” I said. “It hurts but nothing I haven’t experienced before. Victoria just wouldn’t rest until I came down here and checked them out. She’s always on my case for something.”
Albus rolled his eyes. “Have to stay here all night?”
“Unfortunately. Bones doesn’t want me going to practice tomorrow but I will anyway.”
“James!” Lily cried, smacking my shin.
“I’m not going to fly!” I insisted. “But I have to go. I can’t bitch out now that everyone knows. They would corner Avery.” And I would hate it.
Albus leaned back in the chair for a moment. “How did it happen?” He surveyed me over his glasses.
“Meta hexed me, I flew into a wall, and then they broke.”
“I meant the relationship, you idiot.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well…the short version is I fell for her a long time ago and had no idea. Apparently protective-older-brotherness also means you can possibly fancy the pants off your best mate and know nothing about it. Until she kisses you in Italy and throws you off your game and makes you say shit about muffins.” I ruffled my hair. “Then I sort of kissed her at the grotto after all of you left.”
“That was a while ago,” Albus noted.
“We agreed to be…snog buddies.” My face colored at the thought.
“You are so anti-commitment,” Lily muttered under her breath. “Anything to avoid the title.”
“Not avoiding it anymore, am I?” I asked, brows raising. “After Twitwards asked her out before the Quidditch match I lost it. Quite literally. I’m a little ashamed at my brute honesty, but she liked it. And she’s been my girlfriend for a week.”
“I can’t believe you hid it for a week,” Albus said, almost laughing. “No offense, James, but you’re not the best at hiding things. Especially girls.”
“Lily knew something was going on,” I said. “I think the boys almost caught on yesterday when we came back from our first official date. We went to that new pub. We were really going to tell them today. Had it all planned out. Tell Bink and Fred first, explain everything, then tell the team, and then tell everyone else if need be.” I groaned into the blankets. “That worked out really well, didn’t it?”
Lily touched my leg with her hand, gently this time instead of smacking it.
“When you take a break from thinking about how pissed Bink and Fred are at you,” Albus said, kicking off his shoes and putting a set of sheets on the bed next to mine. He stretched out the blanket and placed it over top. “Take a moment to think of all you’ve accomplished. If you would have told me at the start of this year that you’d be in a relationship. With one girl. I would have definitely laughed in your face. I’m still tempted to, but you’ve grown so much. Especially after that whole Paloma ordeal.”
“You make me sound like a woman.”
“Yeah, well,” Albus said, laughing. He paused and glanced back over his shoulder at me. “We’ll have to get you some salmon patties to celebrate, yeah?”
Lily threw a pillow at me, hoisting herself off the end of the bed and going over to my other side. She slid the sheets on the other bed. “I think salmon patties sound lovely. Maybe a trip to the kitchens is in order.”
“What are you doing?” I asked both of them, looking back and forth between them.
“You don’t think we’d let you hang out in the hospital alone, did you?” Al said, raising a brow as he slid the case onto the pillow. “Of course not. We don’t do enough nagging as is. We need to get our quota in for the month.”
I rolled over, groaning loudly. But I was smiling.
I almost had to pull a Freddie and escape from the hospital wing, but I managed to get out with another Potion for bone strength (that tasted like dirty water and sour grapes) and tight bandages around my middle. Albus and Lily walked me down to the pitch, but left before I entered the building. They stayed awake with me late into the night, even when I didn’t want to talk anymore I just listened to them go back and forth about the quality of the fourth year Charms textbook. I didn’t sleep much, but I didn’t feel tired either.
They were a relief to me. To have. As much as my friends and my team were my family, I really couldn’t have asked for better siblings. When one of them didn’t hate me for getting eyes from his woman and the other wasn’t trying to off me for hexing the man that fancied her. Well, fancied before. Since she hexed him.
The locker room was full when I arrived. Everyone was changing into their practice robes. I made my way over to my locker and tossed on my sweatshirt. There was no sense in me wearing robes if I wasn’t going to fly. I leaned my head against the locker.
“You okay, James?” Paloma asked, her eyes finding mine. I could tell she didn’t trust me—didn’t want to get into it. But she was still polite.
“I’ll be fine.” I managed a weak smile and went to grab my broom. I retracted my hand.
“Didn’t see you come in last night,” Bink snapped darkly, rolling his eyes. “Have a rendezvous, did you?”
Avery ignored Bink as her eyes snapped over to me. “You didn’t come back? What happened to you?” She crossed the room with a few quick steps. “I didn’t see you at all yesterday.”
“Hospital,” I said quietly. “Let’s not talk about it, shall we?”
“Holy shit, are you okay?” Paloma said. Then she covered her mouth.
“A few broken ribs. I won’t be flying today.”
“Of course,” Bink said, rolling his eyes. Avery shot him a look.
I put on the hardest face I could muster. “Let’s go, then. It’s ten after. Get in the air and start the passing drills.”
No one moved. Paloma lifted my shirt and gasped at the bandages. Bink and Freddie continued to wax their brooms. Avery stood beside me. Wesley was trying to pretend he was busy, but he was red in the face and fuming. I could tell by the color of his neck as he faced away from me. Meta hadn’t even bothered getting changed. She was sitting on the bench with her long legs crossed in front of her.
“Hey,” I said, louder this time. “We’re on a schedule here, folks. Get in the air and start the drills like we do every practice.” I paused. “Please.”
Still didn’t work. No one moved. Meta tapped her foot.
“Okay,” Paloma said, picking up her broom. “I’ve gotta practice. My arm has been aching and I think it’s because Wesley is hitting it low to me.” She made for the door, pushing it open.
Wesley gaped at her. “I bleeding am not!” he called, following her out. “You’re the one hitting it too high! You aim for my head!”
“Maybe if you weren’t such a git I wouldn’t!”
The door closed behind them.
“McLaggen, are you going to get dressed?” I asked quietly.
“Don’t even look at me, Potter.”
My hands balled into fists. “If you’re going to be on this team you have to do what’s best for the team. And practicing is it. I have nothing to do with Quidditch practice.”
“You’re going to get what’s coming to you, asshole,” she snapped.
“Laps,” I said loudly. “Twenty laps before you even start. Don’t speak to me like that. When we’re in here I am your captain.”
Meta flipped me off, grabbed her robes, and stomped out of the room, slamming the door hard behind her. Then she opened it and slammed it a second time just to make me jump. Which I did.
I turned to Avery, my heart hammering. “I don’t think I can do this,” I whispered, brows knit tightly together.
“You’re doing fine.” She was standing a few feet away from me. It was weird with her. Here. By me. At Quidditch practice.
I fumbled with the strings on my shirt. I glanced over and Bink and Freddie were eyeing me darkly. “See you on the pitch,” I mumbled to them and left quickly, grabbing my clipboard on the way out. I couldn’t boss them around. Not then. Not when they loathed me just for having a girlfriend. Who was on the team. And who I was breaking the Code with. Secretly, behind their backs.
I was a horrible person.
Meta was jogging around the pitch as Paloma and Wesley hit one Bludger back and forth between them. I walked over to the bench and sat down. My left side felt like someone was sticking needles into it. Avery kicked off and soared into the air. I watched her dark hair fly behind her, parts of it stuck in her robes. She went to the hoops and flew around them in expert fashion.
It was fifteen minutes before Fred and Bink came out of the locker rooms. Like they were in there chatting about the pros and cons of actually going to practice. Meta had already finished her laps and I had doodled several plays on my parchment. None of which we would implement today. Because they hated me.
“Okay, team!” I said loudly and cheerfully, trying to mask my utter panic. “Let’s run a few passing drills, shall we?”
“Sod off!” Meta cried, kicking off on her broom and releasing the Snitch. She went to go search for it.
“Yeah, you do that,” I muttered. “Okay, form a circle and I’ll get the Quaffle.” I reached into the trunk and grabbed it out. No one had moved. “That’s less like a circle than I thought it would be.”
Bink leaned forward on his broom, resting his head against the handle. “Practice over yet?”
“It would be over sooner if you guys would just do what I say.”
He chuckled darkly. “Maybe you shouldn’t have lost our respect, asshole.”
“Laps!” I cried, losing my temper and throwing my clipboard at the bench. Meta’s eyes snapped over. “All of you! Now! If you’re not going to practice then you’re going to do something!”
When Bink was on the ground he threw his broom, narrowly missing me. He and Freddie ran together, probably whispering rubbish about me. Wesley and Paloma stared threateningly, Paloma running faster than Wes because her legs were longer. Meta hated me. That was nothing new so she could run it off. Running it off would probably take close to five years.
Had to start somewhere.
Avery landed next to me. “James,” she said slowly. She didn’t touch me. I felt like she was as awkward as I was at that moment. “Are you okay?”
“Does it even remotely look like I’m okay?” I grumbled. “I have an entire team that won’t listen to a damn word I say.”
“They listened to you that time,” she noted.
“Oh yeah!” Bink cried bitterly from the other side of the pitch. “You’re not giving her laps!”
“Don’t you start on her!” I cried, kicking his broom hard.
“I’ll start on whoever I please!” he retorted.
“No you bloody will not!” I shouted, kicking it again. “I’ll have you running until your legs fall off!”
“James,” Avery warned.
I grabbed my clipboard and marched back into the locker rooms, slamming the door behind me. I locked my locker, took my stuff into the showers, and got inside one of the stalls, turning the water on high after stripping. It was hot and burned my skin, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t handle it anymore. It had only been a day a half and I was already striking out. I let the steam float into my nostrils.
It wasn’t someone else doing it. It was me ruining my team. Ruining the relationship with my mates. Ruining whatever I currently had with Avery.
I pressed my head against the cold wall. This was me doing all of this. Water soared over my back. The bandages were soaked. I didn’t care.
“James.” Avery’s voice came from the door.
“Go away,” I mumbled, grabbing for a bottle of shampoo that wasn’t there.
“You can’t stay in there forever.”
“James, come on.” Her voice was pleading. “They’re still running. You did something right.”
“Yeah,” I said, shutting the water off and reaching out the curtain for a towel. I pulled it into the stall. “I got them to hate me so much they won’t come in here after me to see if I’ve drowned myself.”
She ripped back the curtain and I threw the towel around my body so fast the cold air gave me goosebumps. “James Sirius Potter,” Avery snapped. “Stop being dramatic. This is going to blow over. You picked what you wanted. You can’t take it back now. You can’t go back on it. On me.”
I stared at her, her eyes filled with fire and heat. “I don’t want to go back on you,” I said quietly, holding up the towel. I tied it tightly around my waist. “It’s just…hard. One day I’m one thing. The next day I’m locking my trunk and kicking Bink’s broom.”
She threw her arms around me, the bandages soaking her Quidditch robes. “No matter what,” she whispered into my ear, her lips touching me, “You’re not alone. I’m here with you.”
A/N: I want to say first THANK YOU for your reviews on the previous chapter. They actually gave me quite a bit of ideas so that was fabbb.
Things have gotten a little interesting for dear James now that he is the reject of the Gryffindor community. I hope you all enjoyed this chapter. Favorite quotes?
I'm working hard on the next one right now! Do you think Bink & Freddie will ever forgive him? And do you think Meta will stop trying to kill him?
UP NEXT: Confrontation. A letter James never thought he would be writing.
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