For Rita Skeeter. For reading the last chapter on her phone in the shower. That, my friends, is impressive. Enjoy!
The locker room was silent for a long time after Meta left. I continued to stare at the chalk board—the dust left from the markings of what drills we would fly. The eraser was lopsided in the tray. Chalk pieces scattered on the floor. I had thrown three in a momentary lapse in professionalism. I also overturned the table, ripped Meta’s Gryffindor robes out of her locker and stomped on them, and screamed swear words out onto the pitch so my voice echoed. Finally, Freddie grabbed me, threw me fully-clothed into the shower, and turned it on.
I hated that it reminded me of Avery.
No, I didn’t.
He dried me with his wand and let me take my time before I strolled back into the locker room, sitting on the bench and staring. Paloma tapped her foot gingerly against the tile floor. Wesley had his head in his hands.
We were as good as destroyed.
I spent seven years disliking Meta McLaggen. She had a horrible attitude. A bad sense of propriety. And she didn’t give a shit about the Code. Nevermind that I broke that fucker too much. But she didn’t feel guilty about it. She didn’t realize why it was there. She wanted to be a star.
How she thought she would make Captain was beyond me. Stars couldn’t be captains. Stars had to be captained. And she was a star. She was the good-luck charm of the team for a while—losing was not in her vocabulary. I kept her on the team because of it. I could have had a Seeker try-out at the start of the year with the Beater one. But I didn’t. Because she was a great Seeker. The Arrows apparently knew it too.
Did anyone know I was an ace Chaser?
“James?” Bink whispered, nudging me with his elbow. “Mate, are we going to practice? It’s been like a half hour…”
I glanced over, mind fuzzy from going over where exactly I went wrong. As a captain, was I too strict? Was I not strict enough? Did I not make myself clear? Should I have reached out to her more in an attempt to be mates? Fat chance. She’d never forgiven me for being made Captain. And she never would. This was her way in finally besting me in Quidditch.
Congrats, Meta McLaggen. You finally bested James Potter.
“Practice is canceled,” I said flatly, after another minute.
“Are you sure?”
I stood up and walked over to the chalk board. I erased everything on it. I had to concentrate. What would Dara Wood have done if her Seeker randomly quit? How about Maxwell? What about the Captain of the Tornadoes?
What would my father do?
I turned, staring out at my team (I did not meet Avery’s eyes). “Seeker try-outs will be this Friday. I will be accepting a Seeker and a reserve. I want you all to run laps tomorrow instead of practice. Fly if you need to. I will be organizing a try-out. Everyone needs to make signs for the common room. You will be responsible for talking to anyone you think has an interest in playing Quidditch. Is this understood?”
“Good.” I was back in Captain mode. Where I belonged. It was a lonely place, but it was where I felt safe. If Meta was going to skip out on responsibility, then I was going to make up for it. “Dismissed.”
They filed out one by one in silence. Wesley took his broom with him.
Avery followed them without a word.
I made six signs with bright scarlet ink before the words started falling lopsided. I posted them all through the common room—two up the stairs of the boys dormitories. Bink and Freddie were treading around the dormitory like I was a ticking time bomb. I said very little. Because I was thinking too much.
When I was little, we had a Weasley family Quidditch game in the back yard of the Burrow. This happened often since Mum and Dad spent so much time there and just let us run around like banshees. I was always the team captain. I always stepped on Uncle Ron’s foot hard so I could have it. His nose wrinkles were something standard when I stole it away from him. Dad always laughed.
I was nine when we were halfway through a game—which my team was winning—and Lily started whining about being dizzy from flying. Mum had insisted she play. I thought she was far too fragile and didn’t need to be in the air in case she were to fall and break herself. But she started bloody whining and Mum said she should quit and go inside for some juice.
So I was down a player.
Same situation. Same nerves exploding in my stomach. And what did I do? Called a timeout. Caught my breath. Stormed in the house. Grabbed Aunt Angelina by the shirt and all but dragged her through the garden and into the clearing. Solved. My team won by six goals. Freddie was pissed.
So all I had to do was find my new player, which would be less easy than targeting members of a Quidditch-oriented family. In all of Gryffindor there had to be someone who could Seek. Someone that could just find the damn Snitch. If not I’d find the biggest bloke in the house and have him take out Scorpius Malfoy. But that was Lawson’s style, not mine.
Then again, my style ran off with the sodding Arrows.
My style could piss off.
I spent the evening sprawled out on the pitch grass. The stars were just starting to show against the orange sky and the breeze was getting chilly. I hadn’t spoken to Avery all day, but she did sit with Bink and Freddie and decorate signs. She put little stars all over them. I want to compliment her on the symmetry of said stars, but I figured she wouldn’t respond.
Or slap me. Stars might have been a touchy subject.
“Paloma told me.” Albus kicked at the bottom of my shoe. “You okay?”
“Do you think I’m okay?”
“James, it’s going to be fine. You’re a brilliant captain.” He sat beside me and folded his legs. It annoyed me that his trousers were perfectly ironed.
“Have you ever worked so hard for something for six years and had it taken away from you so suddenly?” I kept looking at the sky.
“That is what I want to do with my life,” I continued. “I want to play. Until my team thinks I’m too old to score ten goals a game and then I’ll either coach, scout, or become the most legendary General Manager in the game.”
“You’re still going to do that.”
“My chance was catching the scout’s attention by winning the Final.” I frowned. “I have no Seeker. We are going to get stepped on.”
“Are you crazy?” Albus probably rolled his eyes. I didn’t exactly blame him with my lack of openness on the subject. “James, not to boost your ego, which you know I’m against, but there have been plenty of scouts over the last few games. If you don’t get signed the Quidditch industry has gone to shit.”
“Or they’ve been fed information to lead them not to want me.” I wondered what Mr. Flynn would say. I wasn’t a team player? I talked back? My talent was a fluke? I relied on my last name?
“No one would do that.” Albus paused for a moment. “Right, James?”
I didn’t reply for a long time. I tried to count the stars. And failed once they started looking like they were moving. “It’s going to be fine. I’ll find a new Seeker that can do the job. And I’ll just score a lot if they can’t do the job.” The pitch fairy lights kicked on and my body was bathed in sharp light. “And as for post-Hogwarts, Dad told me last summer his department has an opening for an intern next fall. Time to carry on the family business.”
Albus sighed again. “Stop being so damn dramatic! You’re the best player this school has seen in years! Probably in years to come. You’re going to get signed, Seeker or no Seeker.”
I glanced over, vaguely aware of the fire in my eyes. “Stick to what you know, Al.” I sat up, ruffling my (soft) hair. “By the way, that’s not Quidditch.”
“You think you’re the only one—”
“TALK TO ME WHEN PALOMA DOVE’S FATHER THREATENS TO RUIN EVERYTHING YOU HAVE EVER WANTED.” Then I stood up, thankful for the dumbstruck look on my brother’s face, and walked off the pitch.
Breakfast the following morning was filled with chatter about classes and Wesley moving around the table discussing the proper build for a Seeker. He was really coming through for me. Lily was making rounds with him and answering questions about the sport. A third year girl, Lily’s roommate, asked if she would break a nail.
The scathing look my sister shot back made me proud. I pretended to concentrate on my eggs.
“She told me all about your drills, Potter.”
If it wasn’t Falcon Cat’s rejected step-father Clint Lawson. Looking guilty as ever. Figures there would be some talking Slytherin between him and Meta McJerkface.
“If you were a decent captain you’d already know,” I said, slicing open the yolk of my egg on accident. Fuck. All over my damn toast. Morning ruined. “I know all yours.”
“Bad bluff,” Lawson said with a snort. “I know you don’t.”
“How do you explain beating Gryffindor once in six years?”
“And she kept her thoughts to herself? Sod off.”
Lawson kicked the bench. “You’re done for, Potter. Your star Seeker is gone, your Keeper hates you—”
“How do you know about that?” My head flew around. Yolk went everywhere. Sorry, Freddie. Yellow was your color anyway. “Meta told you.”
“The Arrows are lucky to get such an observant player.” He chuckled darkly. “I can’t wait to wipe the pitch with your smug grin.”
I hated the part of me that wondered if he was right. “Keep dreaming. Or snuggling with Malfoy.”
His fists tightened. “Scouts talk, Potter. About more than just Quidditch talent.” He tossed a piece of toast he’d been munching on into my yolk. Fred got splashed again. Then his gittiness swaggered back to the Slytherin table. Not even the good kind of swag with two g’s. No, this was just one g. Or a half of a g. Quarter. Pea-size.
What did he mean?
There was no way he knew about Mr. Flynn. Was there? Did Meta know from her conversations with scouts? Was I already the bad smell in the broom closet to the scouts?
Hello, internship. I loved filing papers and making tea.
And Avery? Was Mr. Flynn going to keep his word? I didn’t tell her, but I figured that mattered very little to him. Other things that mattered little: his daughter, abandoning people, his daughter’s devilishly handsome boyfriend, and honesty. Git.
“Do you have the Charms notes from the other day?” Freddie asked, interrupting my hating thoughts.
Bink handed over a stack of parchment. “One of us needs to be responsible.”
“And that’s you?” I arched a brow.
“It’s clearly not you.” He laughed and elbowed me. Bink shot me a grin and put his bag back on the floor. “Smile, Captain. Shit’s going to be fine. I have plans for my plant to shoot pus all over Lawson today in Herbology lab.”
“Are we even working with plants that have pus?” I thought back to the lecture. So unsure. I was stressing that day.
“If we’re not then I’ll be working with my wand bloody shooting pus at that guy.”
I was about to comment on how loyalty was a very Puffer-esque thing to have, but got distracted by Abigail squeezing in next to Freddie across from me. She was wearing a very low-cut top. There was glitter involved.
“Tell Potter to stop being a perv,” she snapped at Fred before looking at his shirt. “Ew—what is that?”
“Yolk.” He poured syrup on his waffles.
“And why do you have yolk on you? I am not snogging you with yolk on you.”
This was becoming one of those moments when you said a word enough times it started to lose its meaning. Yolk. Yolky. Yolkified. Freddie was yolkified. And Abigail was not yolking happy about it. I tried not to giggle while they were bickering. It was a difficult thing to do.
“So don’t snog me.”
She snorted. “Why aren’t you eating at the Ravenclaw table?”
“Because I’m eating with my mates. Why? You want to go over there?” He raised a brow.
“Wanna show your friends my yolk?”
Abigail huffed loudly. “Come on. I don’t want you influenced even more negatively than you usually are.”
“Because that won’t happen around you,” Bink mumbled and I tried desperately to change my laugh into a hacking cough. No go. I snorted halfway through the cough. How unattractive.
Her head flew over. Scary thing. “Excuse me?”
“You’re excused.” Bink was on a roll. Power of the blond hair.
“Come on, Frederick. Your friends are assholes.” Abigail tugged on his shirt.
The weird part was, Fred’s name wasn’t Frederick. It was just Fred. Even on his birth certificate. Just. Fred. What a twat.
Fred ignored this and shot us an apologetic look.
Abigail kissed his cheek, pleased. “You’re eating with me from now on.”
I dropped my fork. “Overruled!” I cried.
“Shut up, Potter.”
“Don’t tell Potter to shut up,” Bink snapped. “He owns this bloody school. And your Quidditch team.”
“Because of his broomstick and his daddy.”
Oh, hell no. Bitch did not.
“That’s my cousin and my uncle you’re talking about,” Fred said loudly. His lips tightened, knuckles turning white around his butter knife.
I hadn’t seen Freddie that made in a long time. “You need to learn some bloody fucking respect for other people—these are my friends!”
“Not very good ones!” People were staring.
I was gawking. Mouth lopsided and everything.
“Look, I’ve been good and patient with you, Abigail—”
“Patient? That’s a fucking lie!”
“Quit treating me like shit!”
Fred slammed his fist down on the table. Plates rattled. More yolk made an appearance on his shirt. “Abigail!” he cried. “I am not eating with you. I am not skipping Herbology to shag you. I am NOT going to listen to you talk about James that way. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?” His hand was shaking.
Abigail was shaking too. But not with fear. Her nostrils flared. Then she slapped Fred Weasley right across the cheek. Hard.
“You are a horrible boyfriend,” she said, standing up. “Reevaluate yourself and we’ll discuss this later.” She flipped me off. Then Bink. Then went over and sat with Kay Davies.
That would have been an ace time to look over.
“Did it hurt this bad when you got hit?” Fred whined, rubbing his cheek. It was scarlet.
“I think she got a better wind-up,” I said thoughtfully. I took out my wand and froze his water and broke it into pieces. Then I took the ice and wrapped it in a napkin. “Here. It’ll stop the swelling. Less bad-ass, but less painful too.”
He put it over the mark and flinched. “I’m sorry she said that about Uncle Harry.”
“Don’t be,” I mumbled, pushing around the yolk. My whole plate was soaked in it by now. “I’m sure she’s not the only one who thinks it around here.”
Fred sighed. “Anyone who knows you knows that isn’t true.” He tried to wipe the yolk off his shirt, but it was already staining. “I’m pretty sure it’s the furthest thing from true.”
Bink ruffled my hair. “Fred, she’s a bitch. Take care of it. Next time she’s going to make Jamesie cry.”
I shoved my hand away. “Men don’t cry.”
Bink got yolkified.
I was happy to see how many people seemed to be interested in the Seeker position. Whispers flew around the common room. I kept to myself though, listening to people asking if their friends would try out. What they would wear. What would happen if they were chosen. Eternal glory and all that. A fourth year girl was gabbering about how she could get a date with me. There was a Code, tosser.
Nevermind I had a girlfriend currently ignoring my existence.
Bink and Freddie were writing their Transfig essays by the window. More like Bink was whining and Fred was telling him dates he had memorized. My concern, however, was Avery Flynn.
She was sitting with Al and Paloma watching their game of wizard chess. She was even laughing as Paloma massively wiped the floor with my brother. Al’s face was pouty and unattractive. I would have to remind him that Potter men did not pout. Lily, however, was an expert at it and had Dad wrapped around her finger for years when she got the big brown eyes look.
I made a mental note to practice the big brown eyes look. Perhaps Lily would give me lessons.
Avery tucked a piece of her hair behind her ear. Had she confronted her father via owl yet? There was no way.
Talk to me. Talk to me. Talk to me.
Her signs were the prettiest ones even though she didn’t use glitter like Paloma.
I hated this. The whole thing. Fuck this Seeker bullshit, I wanted Avery back. I wanted her to talk to me. We could go up to my dormitory, cuddle up under the blankets, and make a plan about Meta’s disappearance. Avery always knew how to calm me down. Godric love Bink and Freddie, but they didn’t know how to calm down a sloth.
Avery would run her fingers through my hair, tell me it would be fine, and instruct me to use my resources. Okay, I could do that. I had people I could rely on. Besides her.
I wanted to kiss her. Kiss that frown right off her lips. I wouldn’t mind getting rid of that sweater too. For her own good. Just to make sure her body was in Quidditch-ready condition.
McLaggen quit on me.
And by quit, I mean was signed by the Arrows and left.
Avery is not speaking to me.
Al is a git (that isn’t new).
I miss you. Send me feel-better cookies?
I started down at my last piece of parchment and titled it “Seeker Try-Outs.” It was blank for a while. What would Avery tell me to do? I shook my head. That would not do. As a Captain, I needed to make a plan. I needed to solve the problem that was placed in front of me. I could do that.
1. Two laps. Cut those who can’t sodding fly.
2. Groups of five or six.
3. Take Snitch-catcher from each group and put them together.
4. Three rounds with the original catchers.
5. Last three go for one last round. Two rounds if need be.
6. Select Seeker and Reserve.
7. Explain Code in sanctuary of locker room.
8. Make them sign a paper stating they understand the Code.
9. Threaten their life if they break the Code.
10. Threaten lives of their pets if they break the Code.
11. Give them pop quiz on the Code.
12. Grade quiz.
13. Scold appropriately.
Good. That looked good.
I could do this. Right? I was confident. I ran an amazing team. A team that was going to win the Quidditch Final. A team that would make sure Avery Flynn got signed professionally. Even if I had to set up meetings with scouts myself and draw pie charts on her amazingness. I would do that. Even if I had to owl my parents to pull strings.
Which was my absolute last resort.
I could do this myself. I had gotten myself this far in life with little help from them.
Okay, I had a bit of help financially in the awesome-broom department.
Blimey, Avery looked pretty. I could even see that glittery eye stuff she put on. It was goldish. Brought out her eyes. And her smile. I wanted to kiss her so bad. So bad I literally had to stop myself half-way out of my seat.
Felt like weeks. Months. Years.
My cheek still stung a little when I thought about it. I deserved it. I deserved her not speaking with me. Deserved my Seeker leaving.
“I just want her to be happy,” I whispered.
Lily ruffled my hair and plopped down beside me. “People will think you’ve gone mad if you keep talking to yourself.”
“I said one thing.”
“That’s how it starts.” She shot me a cheeky grin. “Oh, come on, James, it’s not the end of the world.”
I tried for a smile, but didn’t quite get there. “I’ll be happy when tomorrow is over.”
“Avery still not talking to you?” Lily asked. “I take it that you told her then.”
“She slapped me too.” I shrugged a little. “I think she hates me.”
“She break up with you?”
“No.” I sighed. “She just won’t talk to me. Or look at me. Or snuggle with me.”
“Did you just say snuggle?”
Lily smirked and leaned her head against my shoulder. “Of course not.” She propped her legs up on my lap. “I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but everything is going to be fine. With you. With your team. With Avery.”
I wasn’t much in the mood for someone else to tell me about how fine it was going to be. In the future. Right now it was anything but.
“I miss her,” I said quietly, careful not to let too many emotions show. They were pesky things and escaped at the damnest of times.
Lily patted my shoulder. “I know you do,” she said. “This is the first time you’ve really fallen for a girl.”
“Fallen? I haven’t fallen anywhere. We just like to snog.”
“You’re a git.”
“She’s a good snogger. Whatever.”
“May I suggest,” Lily said in a whisper, “When you talk to her, please don’t lead with that?”
“Fine. I’ll lead with how fond I am of her ass.”
She rolled her eyes. “How about you don’t lead with anything?”
I chuckled. “I’ll lead with how you told me to tell her how I want to shag.”
She smacked the back of my head. Deserved. I rubbed my knuckles against her hairline. Biatch. But I was laughing. And so was she. Avery glanced over and for a moment her green eyes found my brown ones.
The locker room was cleaned before Seeker try-outs. The house elves even spot cleaned the championship banner hanging over the fireplace. Which, by the way, had more than any other house. Rejoice, Gryffindors!
I made sure two lockers were unlocked and well-stocked with everything a new player would need. Practice robes. Playbook. Elbow pads. Bruise-shrinking potion. The chalkboard was blank. Floors were swept. It looked like it had at the start of the year.
“Permission to enter?” Freddie poked his head in the door. “Or is this private captain time?”
“Permission granted,” I mumbled, sinking down onto the bench in front of my locker. “Making sure everything is in order. Trunk out there?”
“Right next to your clipboard,” he replied, pushing open the door. Bink filed in behind him. “There are already thirty bloody people out there.”
“Anyone with promise?”
“Some of them,” Fred replied. I noticed his cheek was healing nicely. “Some of them look like it’s just something fun to do after class on Friday.” He narrowed his eyes. “I have the spare Beater’s bat, though, so I’ll take care of them.”
Bink slapped me on the back. “This is going to be brilliant, James.” He smiled. “And if it’s not I’ll just play Chaser and Seeker to throw Lawson off with my good looks.”
“Albino looks,” I corrected. “Don’t forget your sunscreen. I don’t want you to burn.”
“Potter the jokester.” He rolled his eyes. “Anything else you need us to take care of? Rest of the team’s already on the bench in their practice getups.”
“Can’t think of anything,” I replied slowly. “Just keep an eye on them when they’re up there. I don’t want any accidents and I don’t want any flukes. Quidditch teams cannot be run on flukes.”
Bink saluted. “Sounds fine. We’ll meet you out there.” He threw a fake punch at Freddie. “I’m looking forward to testing Avery when she’s emotionally unstable.”
“You let her alone.”
“I’ll be you money she’s better,” Fred said, throwing a real punch back. “Girls are wonky like that.”
“You mean like makeup sex with Abigail?” Bink said, pushing the door back open. I could hear everyone out on the pitch. Exciting tones.
I kicked Fred hard. “You didn’t,” I said. He looked guilty. “Laps.”
Both of them left laughing and I was alone again with my thoughts. It was a dangerous place to be. I put on my practice robes, latching them in the mirror, and pinned on my captain’s badge. I grabbed a cloth and shined it. Perfection.
I wondered if this was what Dara Wood expected when she handed me this badge.
Code-breaking, team-fighting, a near-loss to Ravenclaw, and Seeker trials in April.
The door opened again and Avery walked in. Her hair was tied back in a sexy, mess way. She had in silver earrings and her green eyes were looking anywhere but at me. “Strong showing,” she said.
“S’what Fred said.” I kept facing the mirror, wanting to scream at her how much I missed her. How empty I felt. How much I wanted to kiss her.
“There’s got to be a decent Seeker out there.”
“I hope so.”
She twisted her fingers in front of her. “You okay?”
“I’m not okay, Avery. I’m not okay at all.” My heart was racing painfully. “This whole thing—”
“We have to talk, James.” Avery’s voice was loud, but not angry. She probably wanted to make sure I heard her.
Oh, I heard her.
“What? Of course we do—you need to listen.”
“No,” she said softly. “We need to talk. Soon.”
What did that even MEAN?!
“Fine,” I said. “We’ll talk. When?”
“When I figure this out.” Avery twirled a finger through her ponytail.
“What? The Seeker position?”
“No, James.” Avery finally met my eyes and it made my stomach squirm. “When I figure us out.”
A/N: I have a food thing lately. All my chapters have had some seriously good food in it. Maybe that's me telling myself I'm hungry...who knows? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter even though it was a bit of a downer. Poor James working through problems by his lonesome.
But HEY! The Dobby's are back! Who's excited?! I know I am :)
I'm already working on the next chapter, so hopefully that will be up as soon as possible as well. Anyone else think Abigail needs to fall off something tall? What a meanie.
Up Next: Seeker try-outs and a celebration
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