Practice the following day was just as excruciating. And the day after that. No one mentioned a run-in with the Harpies and I wasn’t receiving owls from the press, so I was lucky not to be nabbed. And arrested. And thrown into prison with a group of Quidditch-haters.
I would be the one stuffed into a cell with Quidditch-hating Slytherins.
What was Clint Lawson up to?
I didn’t have much time to apologize to Avery for sneaking into her tryout, even though I didn’t regret it. She didn’t come over after that and Lily said she’d heard Avery was still waiting on a response from the Harpies. I didn’t know why Lily was hearing things. I should have been the one hearing things.
Admittedly, I was a little busy to be hearing things. The following week consisted of four practices, seven ice-baths, one team meeting (“Doing well with the Code, Potter,” said Henrik), two training sessions with Lily, and one interview with a town magazine out of Tutshill asking about my intentions to provide the community with perks now that a Potter was playing on the team.
“What kind of perks do you mean?” I asked. My tie was uncomfortable. I wished it was one of my broken-in Gryffindor ties.
“Community outreach. Volunteering. Providing complimentary seats at games for orphans.” The interviewer was a tall, balding man in his sixties.
“How about I play a game first?” I asked. “Then I’ll reach into the community. If they’ll have me.”
Dad taught me how to dodge questions. He was a professional. Albus, however, hadn’t learned that yet and got all awkward and red during family interviews at fundraising events and so on. Lily had shoved him out of the way on more than one occasion.
The problem was, all I could think about was Avery. Okay, that wasn’t exactly a problem. I tried talking to Bink about it during one of his whiny unemployed lounges on the sofa, but he told me to owl Nia and have her come over for some fun.
What would I do if Avery didn’t get reserve? Would I apologize, kiss her, and then tell Cooper Bradley to sod off? Or would that complicate things too much?
Avery fancied me. I knew that. She told me. She wanted to be with me.
I didn’t want her to be with anyone else.
But at the same time I was having practice four to five times a week and trying to avoid breaking the damn Tornados’ Code. Jack was married, but the rest of the team sort of went on their merry way. Ali told me she didn’t have enough time to string a relationship together since she’d rather sleep in her spare time.
Sleep was something I missed.
But I missed Avery more.
And if she did get reserve? If she began playing for the Harpies?
I couldn’t date her. The team would find out and I’d be benched since I obviously wouldn’t stop dating her.
Unless I played so well Ballo wouldn’t let them bench me.
What if I scored all of the goals and became a superstar so I could do whatever I want because Ballo couldn’t afford to lose me?
Right. Yeah. I could throw a Quaffle, but the league was nothing like Hogwarts. I wouldn’t be playing against Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw Keepers. These were people who had worked their way up in the ranks and practiced all year. They didn’t have to study. They just had to keep a Quaffle out of the hoops.
Bugger. Why did they have to have a Code?
“Wanna go to the shelter?” Fred walked out of the bathroom with a white towel around his head and another around his middle. “I was thinking of dog-walking today. They always need dog-walkers. We should get a dog.”
“Yeah, no.” I leaned back against the couch. “How’s Amy?”
“Fine,” Fred replied. “She’s busy today getting homework done.”
“Tough dating a Ravenclaw.” I laughed.
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“James.” Fred sat down on the chair and kicked his legs onto the coffee table, creating a puddle from his awkwardly damp leg hair. “What’s gotten into you? Do you need me to knock some sense into you? Literally? I’ll do that for you.” He raised his right hand.
“I’ll pass.” The room was quiet except for the trees outside. Creaky.
“Any reason you’re not with Avery? Or are you just stupid?”
“Why? You breaking up with Amy because you want to be with her?” I said, voice a little snippy. I was sick of people bombarding me about Avery. We weren’t together. Drop it.
“Yes,” Fred said and my head snapped up. “No, you idiot! But that look you just gave me makes it kind of obvious how you feel!”
“I feel like going to practice.” I hoisted myself off the couch and padded into my room.
“You don’t have practice today!”
“I’m a Tornado! I’ll have practice whenever I feel like it!” I slammed the door behind me.
Stupid Falcon Cat wasn’t even here.
Stupid Victoria was asleep.
Stupid broom was in Tutshill.
“What’re you doing in on a day off, Potter?” Ali was in the locker room, sprawled out on a bench staring at a play chart.
“Sulking.” I pulled off my shirt and felt a little weird since the room was empty except her. Not that I was worried about her looking at me without a shirt. But it was weird. Since I was the only one without a shirt.
Not that I didn’t look good.
I was a Quidditch player. I looked muscular and manly.
I could hold my own.
Unless the bloke was really big or I didn’t have a wand.
I should get a sword.
I shrugged and tugged on my practice shorts and a plain blue tee. “Everything.”
“You’re sounding a little angsty,” Ali said, glancing over with a smirk. “Is spoiled Potter upset he has to take ice baths?”
“Shut it.” I realized I shouldn’t tell a teammate to shut up. I wasn’t the captain. But seriously, I wasn’t spoiled. So shut it, AliCat.
She laughed. “I’m teasing you. What’s wrong, babycakes?”
I’d never understand her strange accent and lingo. “Just having some social problems is all.”
“The place isn’t bugged. I’m listening.” Ali rolled onto her side and propped her head up. She seemed nice enough. Nicer than Artemis, that was for sure. That woman’s mystery terrified me. And her slaps to the back of the head.
“Teenage angst.” I tried for a sarcastic smile as I pulled on a soft white shirt. I changed my pants too, though my face got a little red since Ali never so much as glanced away.
“Are you going to bitch about it or spit it out?” Ali said impatiently. “Or do I have to start guessing? I’m very good at guessing games. Just ask Monroe. Found out how he lost his virginity during a guessing game.”
“Why don’t you wait until you’re on the team for a couple weeks before I start rumors, Potter.” She winked at me. Ali was pretty, I’d have to confess. She had that fresh face that always made me look twice at girls. Her smile was infectious.
“I’m having girl issues.”
“Girls!” Ali sat straight up and crossed her legs on the bench. “Tell! Tell!”
“You make it sound exciting. I’m miserable here.” I pointed to my shirt, which I had just noticed was on backwards.
“What’s her name?”
“Avery.” I groaned.
“Is she pretty?”
“The prettiest,” I said without thinking.
“Does she know you exist?” Ali asked, leaning toward me.
“Yes. She’s my best mate.” I paused. I thought she was my best mate anyway. We hadn’t really been doing many best mate things recently.
“Oh, it’s one of those friends-turned-lovers things. I love this plot.” Ali clasped her hands together. “Okay, so what’s the problem? Does she not have feelings for you? Did you get friend-zoned? Should I tart around to make her jealous? I’m really good at that. Did it for Smoke last year.”
“She has feelings for me,” I said, shaking my head. Avery would kill me if she saw me with Ali like that. Or kill Ali. I couldn’t decide which was worse, but I’d definitely get a drink to the face and then she’d start dating Cooper Bradley or Emerson Edwards again. Assistant to the assistant to the Minister.
I was a Quidditch star!
Okay, not a star. I was a Quidditch player. Who hadn’t played yet. Who was only getting attention because of the name stitched on the back of my robes.
“So what’s the problem?” Ali’s head tilted to the side, her hair spilling onto her forehead.
“There are a lot of problems,” I said, thinking back on the entire spring term at Hogwarts. Everything that had gone wrong with the dishonesty and blowing up village blocks and losing blood and kissing her in broom cupboards. “Currently, the main problem is that she had a tryout two days ago for a reserve on the Harpies.”
“The Code!” Ali’s hands moved over her mouth.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“So if she gets it… you can’t be with her.” She looked deep in thought, rising and pacing the length of the row of lockers. Ali’s fingers brushed her chin. “There has to be a way around this. It’s such a great love story. I love happy endings. But neither of you can quit Quidditch. That’s absurd. Unless she wants to go play Quadpot, which I would not suggest as it bores the piss out of me.”
“I think that option is out.” I grimaced. I’d seen a game of Quadpot once. For ten minutes before drifting off to sleep.
“But there has to be a loophole.”
“Any Tornado ever found a loophole?” I asked, hopeful.
“Not one.” Ali’s back hit Henrik’s locker hard. “Artemis tried. She started hooking up with a Falcons player, which isn’t against the rules. But she fell for him hard and they started dating in secret. Well, the tabloids got a hold of it, Henrik got hold of it, and Artemis got to watch the reserve lose the game for us.”
I hadn’t met the reserves yet, but they couldn’t be that bad. They were reserves! Avery might be a reserve. She was fantastic.
“I couldn’t just hook up with Avery,” I said, frowning. I remembered hiding it before. I knew better than anyone I wouldn’t be able to just let it stay that way. Bink was a man who could do that. I wasn’t.
“Have you told her about the Code?”
“Isn’t it confidential?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Good, Potter.” Ali crossed the room and ruffled my hair. “I don’t think there are any more loopholes, but if I find one, I’ll let you know.” She frowned. “Now let’s go toss around the Quaffle so you don’t suck come August.”
Lily blew off practice a few days later, which meant she was still peeved at me for sneaking into Avery’s tryout and probably because I wasn’t opening up about my feelings. Girls always thought things were so straightforward. You could either be with someone or you couldn’t. Well, it wasn’t like that.
But the more I was told I couldn’t be with Avery, the more I thought about kissing her. Touching her hair. Pressing her up against a wall hard. Falling asleep next to her. Kissing her. Kissing her. Kissing her.
I took the gap in my schedule and used it to my advantage, visiting Freddie at the animal shelter. When I arrived, he was in the cat room, which was a large square space with climbing toys, balls with bells, and a few cages for the cats who bit more than they purred. The rest of them were allowed out and about in the room, which struck me as odd since the dogs in the other room each had their own cages. I guessed cats could be trusted. I trusted Falcon Cat. It was Victoria who I didn’t trust.
Oh. Case and point.
Fred was on his back on the floor, the cats climbing all over him and nuzzling. “James!” he said, leaning up. A cat climbed onto his chest and forced him back to the floor. “You decided to visit. Who canceled on you?”
“I’m that busy, huh?” I leaned against one of the climbing toys and immediately regretted it as a cat dug its nails into my cargo shorts to climb me instead. “Argh – It was Lily, actually. She doesn’t seem keen with me lately.”
“Maybe because she’s turned into Avery’s spy for information.” He shrugged and scooped up some kitties.
“Spy? She’s telling Avery things about me?”
“I’m sorry, was it not obvious?”
I knew they’d been spending some time together when Avery regularly visited the house, but I hadn’t known Lily was spilling things on my life. At least I hadn’t told her anything of substance. Mostly Quidditch things.
Godric. Maybe that was why she was so irritated. Because I never mentioned Avery to her. She shouldn’t have been mad. I had only mentioned it to Ali, who had kept my secret around the locker room. She also promised to tell me about Monroe in a couple weeks.
“Lily thinks you’re getting a little far ahead of yourself.”
“Ahead of myself? What’s that even mean?”
“Fame, James.” Freddie scrunched up his face. “You’re always busy. Too busy to have dinner with your family once a week.”
“What?” None of them had ever complained.
“Interviews. Practice. Going out with the team. Press signings.”
“That’s required,” I said. “That’s part of the life. I’ll get the hang of juggling it eventually. I’m new to it. Are they all peeved at me?”
“Not really,” Freddie said. “Just a little annoyed is all. I’m sure they thought with you moving in over the garage they’d actually see you sometimes. Don’t worry. I eat your helping at supper.”
“You have dinner with my family?”
“They’re my family too, sod.” He got to his feet, taking several cats with him, and moved to the window. He lined the cats up and they curled up in the warm sun. “Just think about it, okay?”
“I need to tell you something,” I blurted.
Fred made a face. “Shit,” he said. “Can you smell that? When was the last time they cleaned the litter boxes? Disgusting. You want to help?” He pointed at the boxes of litter and other unmentionable substances.
“I’ll pass.” I left him in the cat room. I did volunteer to walk some of the well-mannered dogs, which gave me too much time to think. By the time I arrived back I had myself convinced no one could know about the Code and Avery would have to move on.
And so would I.
What better way to get over someone than get away from them?
“Ready, Potter?” Henrik clapped me on the back.
Each year, the Tornados starting roster did a small tour of their farm teams across the country. We had three and an indoor Quidditch league team (hadn’t heard of that until just now) somewhere in Wales so I packed a bag and met the team in the conference room for a couple of days away.
“I put on my charming smile.” I flashed him a grin.
He laughed and went over to Smoke and Monroe, who were exchanging what looked like cigarettes in the corner. Quidditch players did not smoke. It stunted growth and left your lungs wanting. But Quidditch players also did not question Monroe and Smoke without leaving with bruises.
Ali appeared at my shoulder and nudged me. “Hear the news?”
“Jack finally fit into that turtleneck sweater Ballo gave him?” I guessed.
She handed me a flimsy copy of Quidditch Weekly, released this morning. It was open to page twenty-seven.
A small article at the bottom was titled: FLYNN JOINS HARPIES AS KEEPER RESERVE.
“That your girl?” Ali pointed to Avery’s first name in the article.
I couldn’t hide the rough feeling in the pit of my stomach. It made me want to throw up. The mixture of complete happiness and devastation was not familiar to me. It was either all or nothing. Not both. Today it was both. Today I was so happy for Avery and so devastated for my own selfish needs of wanting to kiss her every day.
Even though I’d been the one to say no.
Of course I did. I wanted to be friends with her.
But Cooper’s smirky smarmy smirk made me want to hide her away in my closet.
Okay, that didn’t sound right. Something less creepy.
“That’s my girl,” I confirmed, watching the tiny black and white photo of her fly around in the frame. She was smiling.
“The prettiest,” Ali agreed, chuckling. “You could always just marry her, Potter. You know. Without dating her.” She snorted.
“Right. That would work out.” I rolled my eyes. I’d have to come up with something. Anything. There had to be a loophole somewhere.
No. I was moving on.
She was moving on.
And we had a tour to go on.
We were working our way to relevance (as Henrik tactfully put it), so we began with the indoor Quidditch league in Wales. It was a shoddy place with a leaking ceiling and hoops way too low, but they were an exciting bunch. The captain, Miles Fletcher, shook Henrik’s hand for a full minute.
I almost laughed before realizing I had a poster of Henrik Lindt in my bedroom.
There we were presented with the key to the building (Was that like the city? No idea) and we met the government authority figures in the town. There was a small crowd and we did a Q&A afterward. I expected most of the questions to go to the players who had been on the team the longest, but a few came my way.
“How does it feel to be on a professional team just out of Hogwarts?” a girl with bouncing locks of blond curls asked. Reminded me of Bink’s wig.
“Overwhelming,” I admitted, smiling a little. “I was convinced it was a dream until I hauled myself out of the first practice. It isn’t a dream, I’ll tell you that. The ice bath told me that.”
A big group stayed after for autographs. I signed mostly pictures (they had copies of the team photo we had done last week), but a few people brought in Tornados garb and Quaffles. One looked like it had seen better days and belonged to an older man with grey eyes.
“Looks like it’s been well utilized,” I told him with a laugh, scribbling my name on one of the smooth surfaces.
“I used it when I played at Hogwarts,” the man told me. “I’ve been saving it. Was going to pass it down to my grandson.”
“Are you keeping it now then?” I smiled, pointing at the signature before I passed it to Jack to sign.
“He passed away a few weeks ago from cancer,” the old man said. “But he would have just told me to keep it anyway. Get it signed. Save it for a rainy day.”
I sat, stunned. Any flash of a charming smile was gone.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered.
“You’re a good kid,” the old man said, patting my hand. “The Tornados are his favorite team. He was so upset when he found out you were a seventh year – talked about you all the time. He was ten, you see. Wanted to go to Hogwarts with you. Be in Gryffindor. Get to see you captain the Gryffindors.”
My lungs felt thick with water. My eyes stung.
“But he bought that first Quidditch Weekly. With you on the cover.” The man chuckled. The Quaffle was moving further down the line, but no one dared ask him to continue on. “Bought a frame from the dollar store down the street. Put it right above his bed. He started saving his allowance to see a game this summer before he went to Hogwarts.”
I heard Ali sniffle from beside Jack.
I heard myself sniffle. My eyes burned as he swam in and out of focus.
I had no idea. How could I? This was a ten-year-old kid from Wales I’d never met. I’d never heard of.
The old man smiled at me and patted my hand again. “I just thought I’d let you know you already have some fans, Mr. Potter. It’s hard to be famous and be genuine. Just keep your head on your shoulders.” He nodded and continued down toward Smoke, who was now signing the Quaffle at the end.
Everyone was silent. The girl behind him didn’t want to put her picture on the table. Her fingers were trembling.
I realized mine were too.
“Sir?” I blurted and the old man turned around. “Could you tell me your grandson’s name?”
Later in the hotel I found myself pacing. The man’s story weighed heavy on my mind. I had been so smug, worrying about Quidditch dives and how I felt about Avery, and this poor man was dealing with the death of his grandson. Yet he still came. He still got the Quaffle signed. He still smiled.
Suddenly things did not seem as glossy as they had before.
Nathan had framed my magazine cover before I so much as played a game. I wondered how many Nathans were out there. How many young people wanted me to succeed. How many wanted me to fail.
I grabbed the phone and rang my agent, Cynthia. It was a recent position, since the Tornados insisted I needed someone to figure out all of my finances and public relations. They didn’t trust me to cover my own tracks and I didn’t trust me either.
“James? Is everything okay?” Cynthia was a Londoner with a swanky sky-high office and a high-backed leather chair. She always wore skirt suits and smoked lots of cigarettes. Her voice made that obvious, even over the phone.
“Sure, sure.” Even though it wasn’t. I couldn’t stop my mind from swimming. I suddenly hated myself for being so selfishly arrogant.
“What can I help you with?” Cynthia asked. She was always like that. Wanted to help.
“I know I’m not exactly raking in a lot of Quidditch dough,” I said, still pacing. The blinds were open before me, illuminating the gas station across the street and the ethnic restaurant with the pulsing light beside it. “But I need to do something. I need you to set up a cancer fund.”
“What?” Cynthia asked. “Like a cancer research fund or something else?”
I paused. I hadn’t thought it through, but I thought of Nathan tossing money into a ceramic pig-shaped bank. “A fund for Quidditch fans with cancer to see some games. Sit in a top box. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Tornados. Just set it up, okay? Transfer a thousand galleons in there for starters. We’ll have some fundraisers.”
She was quiet on the line. “Are you sure, James? You’re doing fine in the public eye right now.”
“Do it,” I said and hung up. I fell onto the bed just as someone knocked. “If you aren’t laden down with chocolate I’d rather not see anyone right now.”
“How about cheap wine?” Ali called. She then keyed into my room. “Sweet-talked the front desk clerk. Sorry.” She bolted the door and flopped down onto the bed beside me. “You look down.”
“Can’t stop thinking about it.”
I nodded. I didn’t tell her about the fund. “Is it always this hard?”
Ali let out a sigh. She uncapped the bottle (no cork) and took a long swig. “Yes,” she said eventually. “When you’re in the public eye everything is always hard. Some things are worth it, though. I promise.”
“Do you ever want to do more?”
“Always,” she said, taking a second drink before passing the bottle to me. “But I’m one person. You have to remember, you can’t save the world.”
That reminded me of my father. He always told me, help would come to those who asked for it.
Maybe help was what I needed.
So I took the wine, tipped the watery liquid into my mouth, and told Ali everything that had happened the previous year from the auction to the kiss on an Italian balcony to David Flynn and my own tryout for the Tornados. She listened intently (she was a really good listener), cut in with some colorful comments about Mr. Flynn, and let out quite a few sighs when I admitted things about Avery.
Eventually, drunk on wine and conversation, we fell asleep on the hotel bed, only to be woken a few hours later by Smoke and Monroe letting off firecrackers in the hall. Then again an hour later when we had to be off to Scotland for the next round of public appearances.
It felt better, somehow, talking to Ali about everything. She didn’t hit me with a pillow, tell me I was a sod, or encourage me to owl Nia to have some fun. She listened. She sympathized. She held my hand.
I had found a new friend, as incredibly unmanly as it sounded.
She also promised not to leak to a tabloid I’d teared up when hearing about Nathan. I thanked her for that.
The following day we visited two farm teams. The first was in southern Scotland and had a bit of a following in the surrounding area. Mostly people who fancied the Tornados rather than fans of the team. We got some funny questions (“Who uses the most hair product?”) and serious ones (“What made you want to pursue Quidditch?”) and thankfully, no one told me about their grandson who had recently passed from cancer.
It didn’t need to be said. I kept thinking about it.
In the evening we went to the coast and visited another team with our logo on the shoulder of their robes. They looked more professional than the last, each lining up to shake our hands.
They also looked like a boring lot.
When the captain was giving a speech about the quality of people in the city, I found myself staring off into the crowd. There were a few cute girls. Burly blokes. That’s when I noticed Clara Robinson was in the front row, scribbling notes.
Sure enough, when the Q&A session started, Clara got to her feet. The uneasiness around me let me know everyone else had noticed her too. I wasn’t the only one having interviews about my emotions with Witch Weekly.
“James,” she began and I internally groaned. Maybe it was external because Ali elbowed me. “How is it giving up the reins of a seemingly unbeatable Gryffindor Quidditch squad to your younger sister, who will only be a fourth year. I’ve heard around you skipped over two very capable seventh years.”
Good. Hogwarts questions. I could do this.
“I trust my sister fully,” I replied with a smile. “She has what it takes to be a captain of a team. Age is irrelevant. It’s talent and leadership abilities.”
“And you’re saying these other two candidates – Dove and Jordan – didn’t have those qualities?” Clara said. I wanted to tell her the audience was only allowed one question each.
“Both have exceptional talents,” I said, careful to keep the bite from my voice. “But it was my opinion that Lily was the best equipped to lead the team to victory next season.”
“You’re training her then?” she prompted.
“I’m advising her this summer.”
“Some say that shows favoritism,” Clara said.
“Others say I have the team’s best interest at heart,” I said, finally letting some of my irritation seep through. I was sick of this conversation. Paloma and Wesley both told me they didn’t mind and agreed Lily was the better decision, especially since she was able to grow a team from the ground up.
“Next question!” Ballo said into the mic.
I was thankful for the third day. It was the day I would finally meet the Tornados reserves, who would be joining us in a couple weeks for full-time practices when the exhibition games were drawing closer. Since Avery was a reserve, I was excited to see what kind of talent we had one step below the starters. Had to be crazy good.
The stadium was large and we were welcomed into its large ballroom where a crowd waited. Everyone was clapping and cheering. Clearly this team had a good following in the region.
We approached the table in front and the farm team entered – the Hurricanes – to even more cheers. They took to the table on the other side of the podium. Both captains spoke. Ballo talked about our intentions for the season and the hope that no one would be unhealthy enough not to play, but noting that if they were the Tornados would be in good hands.
Artemis cleared her throat.
That was when things started to get weird.
The captain of the Hurricanes, a stocky fellow called Mason Labsic, took the podium again to amp up the crowd. But instead of talking about the Hurricanes, he discussed his time called up to the Tornados last season. How he had assisted in providing them with several wins and how his dives were some of the best in the league.
Hmm. I thought I had confidence.
This went on for several minutes until Mason opened the floor for questions. A guy with very spiky hair stood.
“Potter,” he said roughly. “What makes you so good you got the starting Chaser position over Labsic, who has been a reserve for ten years and was almost signed in?”
“Forgot to mention that,” Ali whispered from beside me. “Mason isn’t exactly your biggest fan.”
I tried to remember what my father had taught me about interviews like this. When you were made out to be the bad guy before your mouth opened. I couldn’t read the crowd. Couldn’t tell if they agreed or not. Mason was the captain, after all. Surely they wouldn’t want him to leave?
I adjusted my tie. “I went to open tryouts and tried out,” I said, keeping my voice structured. I didn’t smile that time. “I was unaware of any complications or if I was stepping on toes. I tried out. I was signed. That was how it happened.”
“Well you screwed him over!” the guy shouted.
Ballo slammed his fist on the table and the murmurs fell silent. “I believe that question is better suited for me, sir,” he deadpanned. “Potter was signed because Potter is a better overall player that fit in with the team. He has the attitude. He has the talent. And he does not tell his buddies to stand up in the middle of a forum and take his frustrations out.” He looked down the table at Mason, who was flushed scarlet. “Potter is thankful for what he has. Maybe others could learn a thing or two from that, hmm?” He stopped. “Yes?”
“Yes,” Mason mumbled.
Great. I had made a friend one day, and an enemy the next.
No other questions were directed at me, so once the crowd got their autographs we were escorted on a private tour of the facility, which was in good condition. The reserves walked with us most of the way, mostly chatting since they knew the starters so well. I kept to myself since Ali was talking to one of the Beaters.
One of the other Chasers hung back as we crossed the pitch. She was tall and leggy with shoulder-length hair and a bright, white smile. “Hi,” she said cheerfully.
“Is that tone to lull me into a false sense of security?” I asked. “I’m not biting.”
“Not everyone shares Mason’s opinion, you know,” she said. “I’m Shelby.”
I filed away her name, hoping I’d remember it after all the new people I’d met these last few days. Shelby. Pretty Chaser.
“James,” I said stupidly, though she obviously knew that. She shook my hand regardless.
“I watched your tryout,” Shelby said with a smile. “You were great. Scoring on Lindt like that. It’s a thing of beauty.”
“I’m sure you’ve done it.” I shrugged, feeling strange. At Hogwarts I loved people talking about how good I was. Here it felt like I was naked. Everyone had seen the tryout by now. Everyone had read the interviews and had heard what Mason and Clara and probably Cooper Bradley had said. I was out in the world and there was no going back.
“Never.” She made a face. “Probably why Mason is always the one to get called up. I can’t score on Henrik.”
“Is it because he’s such a pretty man?” I asked before I could stop myself. It was true. Avery always used to talk about how he could be a male model.
“It’s because he’s good,” Shelby said, laughing. “But he’s not bad looking either. But the rugged type isn’t exactly my type.”
“No? I thought all girls liked the bad boys and unshaven so-and-sos.” Or so I’d heard. From everyone.
“I like boys with freckles and dark, unruly hair.”
My eyes found hers immediately. They were soft and hazel. “You just described me,” I said.
“I also like boys who take a moment to realize I’m talking about them.” Shelby snickered as we headed back into the stadium through one of the locker room tunnels. “Think about it, okay?”
It wouldn’t break the Code, but that wasn’t the point.
I hadn’t even met this girl before today.
But I was supposed to be moving on.
“I’ll keep you posted,” I said before catching up with the rest of the group.
Lucky me (not so lucky me), just as the others were filing into the locker rooms, Mason caught me by the elbow and steered me back into the hall.
“They’ll be back out in a minute,” he said, waiting for the door to close.
I could have been killed right then and there. Empty tunnel. Bloody madman attached to my arm. His eyes even looked crazy. Cheeks flushed with frustration.
“I don’t know who you think you are,” Mason began angrily.
I was angry too. Irritated he’d attempted to make a fool of me in public. I could do that well enough on my own. “I think I’m James Potter.” I wrenched my arm from his grip. “What are you trying to do? Intimidate your way onto the Tornados?”
“You watch your tone,” he snapped. “I’ve been working my ass off to get on that team for ten years. Five years before that I was playing in sketchy rec leagues in Ireland. Have you ever been that close to a goal only to have it ripped away?”
I thought about the end of last season. Just before the open tryouts.
“It’s not a pleasant feeling, Potter,” he continued. “And here you come just wandering into an open tryout and taking all of that away from me. I need you to know I’m not going to stop. I’m going to be on the Tornados by the end of this season.”
“Are you threatening me?” I asked.
“I’m promising you.” Then that son of a bitch slammed me into the wall so hard I was seeing stars. By the time my vision returned he was already in the locker room.
Over the course of three days I had almost cried, started a cancer fund, made a good friend, was half-seduced by a reserve, and was promised I’d be off my team by the end of the season by another reserve.
All in all, fairly eventful.
There was someone, though, I needed to tell. She was conveniently eating dinner with my family when I burst in the back door.
“I’ve been threatened!” I said dramatically, catching my breath.
Albus rolled his eyes. “Story of your life. Eat some dinner. And don’t just pretend to put the green beans on your plate. I always have to eat your share.”
Avery looked up, bored expression on her face. “I got reserve.”
“I was shown a copy of Quidditch Weekly three days ago,” I replied shortly.
“Amazing you look at copies where you aren’t strutting on the cover.” She shrugged and dabbed her lips with the napkin. Then she apologized to both of my parents and excused herself out the back door.
“You do have a way with women,” Lily muttered.
I ignored her and followed Avery out, slamming the door behind me. It was dark. “Aves?” I called.
Then I felt a hard slap across the face.
Beefy chapter! A lot happened and I hope you enjoyed it. I'm changing around a lot in this story from what I had originally planned, so stay tuned for some crazy fun. And plenty more Javery. And cats. And complications. And snogging.
UP NEXT: Tension. Prepping for the tournament. Figuring out just what a real Hufflepuff is anyway.
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