For Kira. For the John Green comparison.
The light streaming in through the gap in Avery’s curtains broke the spell of the previous night. I stirred, groggy and tired. Avery was beside me, her eyes focused on a book. I didn’t know how long she’d been awake.
The night was like the kind of dream you can barely remember at first but then slowly comes back to you the longer you think on it. Before falling asleep Avery told me her captain, Crystal Little, wasn’t quite the captain I was. She was more keen on becoming mates with the team than demanding their focus. The Harpies’ reserve team, the Sparrows, didn’t respect Crystal all that much which is why their practices hadn’t gone so well thus far.
She also told me Lily knew something was up and she was trying to figure out what it was. That baby sister of mine had snuck into my flat on a couple of occasions to find evidence of why I was being so weird.
In retrospect, I didn’t realize I was being so weird. I was caught up in everything. Hell, I was still caught up in all of it.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Avery said with a smirk, glancing over from her book. It was in a plastic cover from the library. “How did you sleep?”
“You have no idea,” I mumbled and yawned. Her bed was like sleeping on a cloud. Seven clouds. Plus a litter of kittens. “I feel normal again.”
She dog-eared the page and tossed the book to the floor. Then she kissed my cheek. I was glad she didn’t kiss my lips because I could feel the wonky morning-breath thing happening and the last thing I wanted was for Avery to be aware of that. “What’s today then?” she asked.
I considered. I didn’t have Quidditch practice or any scheduled interviews. For the first time in a while, I had the entire day open for whatever I wanted.
“I have to check on something.” I rolled over and grabbed my phone from my jeans pocket. I hit speed dial number four.
“This is Cynthia,” said my agent. She yawned. “What’re you doing ringing today? You have the day off. Enjoy it.”
I raked my fingers through my hair. “I need you to start getting things sorted for that fund I told you about. Find a process to queue the kids. Run it by me before you do anything. I want to have a fundraiser in the next few weeks.”
“Are you sure you need me?” Cynthia teased.
“I appreciate this,” I said. “I just want to make sure it’s on the right track. Start putting a form together to reserve boxes. It just depends on the kids’ favorite teams, but we’ll have to have some fast-track ordering for boxes. The kids and their families.”
“That’s going to cost a fortune, James.” She sounded concerned.
“I don’t care what it costs,” I replied. My eyes were fixed on the blank door. “That’s why we’re having a fundraiser. Get the details. The venue. The invitation list. Run them all by me before any decisions are made.”
“You’ve got it,” Cynthia said.
“Thanks, love. You’re the best.” I hit end on the phone and tossed it onto my jeans.
“I don’t suppose I’m going to be let in on this important endeavor?” Avery asked. She was leaning against the pillows, hair spread over the fabric.
“I wanted to tell you when I got back from the tour,” I explained. I didn’t look at her. Couldn’t. “I started a fund for cancer patients. So they can watch Quidditch matches.”
“That’s specific,” she said.
I told her about Nathan. About the Quaffle I signed. About how transfixed I was with that man and his story and how close it brought everything to me. Before I had distanced myself so easily from the other side. Even at Hogwarts I dealt with fans at the after-parties and before games wishing me luck, but that was all it was. Now it was closer and more personal. These people genuinely cared. They held onto hopes that to some may just rest on some athletes flying around on brooms, but to them it was a symbol of hope. What they had. What they wanted.
She was quiet for a moment. “Do you need help?” Avery asked eventually. Her fingers traced up my bare back and made me shiver.
“I always need help.” I laughed a little. “But yeah, that would be brilliant. I think Cynthia is taking care of most of the details, but every little bit counts.”
“Did you tear up?” Avery asked.
“What? No. Of course not. I’m masculine.”
“All the more reason to find those emotions deep in your black heart.” Avery snickered and scooted up to where I was on the bed. She leaned her head against my shoulder. “I think what you’re doing is a really good thing, James. And you’re doing it for the right reasons.”
“Maybe that cancels out the other things I’m doing selfishly,” I mused.
She smiled and kissed my shoulder. Her lips were warm. “This isn’t going to work, is it?” she asked.
“I can’t see how it’s possible,” I said. “Not unless I get traded from the Tornados or we never actually get together. Which seems like torture to me. I couldn’t be like this and not be with you. And let’s face it, even if we told people we weren’t together and then showed up at events and went out to dinner … pretty sure that by definition that counts unless we start going out with other people too.” I paused. “Nope. That sounds terrible.”
“We could try it though,” Avery said, shrugging. The strap of her tank top was falling onto her arm. I resisted the urge to set it right. “Go out with each other. Go out with other people. Keep things casual.”
“That sounds like a terrible idea,” I said. “I don’t want to go out with other people.”
“What about Shelby?”
I grimaced. “She’s a nice girl, but she isn’t for me. Reminded me a little of Nia but with a better head on her shoulders. And Quidditch-playing abilities.” I wrapped an arm around her, resting my hand on her hip. “Besides, how long could we go on like that?”
“Until you propose,” she teased.
“I’m kidding, idiot.” She nudged me in the ribs. “Don’t even think about that. My mum would kill you with a baked good should you so much as consider it.”
“Pretty sure my parents would have killed me long before,” I said, though I wasn’t so sure. Dad might even throw us a party. He seemed fond of the idea of Avery and me, but we were still too young to go thinking about things like that. I hadn’t even turned eighteen yet.
We weren’t even actually together.
“Keep thinking on it,” Avery said with a smile. “We’ll figure it out.”
“And until then?” My eyes were on hers.
“Until then we hide.” She didn’t appear to care, not so much as blinking. Avery twisted her fingers in with mine and kissed me again. “We hide and we run and we make up for all the time we’ve had fighting.”
“The fighting wasn’t so bad.” I thought back to when she kissed me in my flat. Or the way she looked when she was angry. Nothing short of sexy.
“I slapped you.”
“Okay I was not fond of that part.” I rubbed my cheek at the memory. “We should go away for a weekend or something. When we don’t have practice or interviews or dates with other people.” I laughed, hoping she knew I wasn’t serious about that last part.
“We should,” Avery agreed. She kissed me again. I loved when she kissed me and I loved not reacting like I had in Italy. Running. I didn’t want to run anymore. “Somewhere exotic. Somewhere no one will see us.”
“Anywhere you want,” I said, which was something I rarely said. I felt different today. Something had changed. I felt like myself again. James Potter, Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch Team (Of Awesome).
“Let’s go back to your flat first.” Avery forced me onto my back and crawled over me in a way I can safely say made me never want to so much as consider glancing away.
“Not exactly exotic, but okay.”
Then she pulled on a lace shirt and jean shorts. “C’mon then. I haven’t properly seen Bink and Freddie in too long. And I should tell your sister we’re not sore with you anymore.”
“My sister is always sore with me.” I grabbed at her wrist and pulled her back on top of me. “Do we have to go?”
“Should we just wait for my mum to come home from work and off you?” she asked, kissing the tip of my nose.
“Point taken.” I hopped off the bed after her and tugged on my clothes from last night. Odd walk of shame outfit given the lack of shame that happened. Then I blushed because I considered it a walk of shame outfit. Godric.
“I’m still mad at you, you know,” Avery said. She peeled back the curtains and let in more light.
“As you should be,” I replied. “Though I’m still mad at you.”
“What? For what?”
“You haven’t been the greatest best friend,” I said with a smile creeping onto my lips. “I’m certain you should have guessed there was another Code and I couldn’t see you and that I’m always thinking about you. It’s rude of you not to have guessed, actually.”
Avery rolled her eyes. “One of these days, Potter.” She took my arm and we left together. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Freddie and Bink were couch-ridden when we arrived and both looked equally as stunned that we arrived together.
“Am I drunk?” asked Freddie.
Bink sniffed Fred’s drink and shook his head. “Are you two drunk?”
I considered this but then shook my head when Avery narrowed her eyes.
“You should probably tell them, James,” she said and helped herself to a soda in the fridge.
“About last night?”
“Did you two shag?” Bink asked. It was absurd how excited he got.
“No.” I looked at Avery.
“About why,” she said softly and settled in between my roommates. “About the Tornados.”
I groaned. “This doesn’t need to be discussed right now. How are you two? How’s Amy? How’s Rose?”
“Amy’s in trouble with her parents for spending the night here.” Freddie’s face moved into a cheeky grin. Yes, his entire face. “So she’s grounded. She said she wasn’t feeling well anyway so it’s no big deal. That way I don’t catch her bug.”
“Spending the night or spending the night?” I asked.
Fred shook his head.
“Rose is Rose.” Bink shrugged indifferently.
I hated him sometimes.
“Seen her lately?” I prompted. Bink nodded. “Kissed her lately?” Bink nodded again.
Avery sighed. “The Tornados have a Code and James is not allowed to date a member of another team, reserve or not. Boom.” She made a swoopy hand gesture too.
The boys were silent. They exchanged looks.
“I’d like to say this is karma,” Bink muttered after a while.
“Want to go back to shagging McLaggen?” I shot back.
“I’d rather not,” he said halfheartedly. “Though I’m sure the feeling isn’t mutual. I’m good.”
“Arrogant sod,” Freddie said. “So what’re you going to do then? Just not date? Snog buddies again?” He snorted. “Come on, James. You can’t go on like this. What’s the punishment then?”
“Not like forever though, right?”
“Each time the rule is broken,” I explained. “So basically if we keep at it, I keep getting benched. Permanently.”
“But you’re too good to be benched!” Bink said. “You’re seventeen on the bloody Tornados – they can’t bench you. Talk to your coach. I’ll talk to your coach.”
It was strangely nice having Bink stand up for me like that knowing he didn’t have a Quidditch team to complain about. I felt for him, but it was nice all the same. He was happy for me and though he didn’t show it very often, it was there.
“It’s the rule,” I said. “Happened to Artemis before. The reserve lost the game. What if we’re close to playoffs and I get benched? Doesn’t that sound terrible?”
“But it’s Avery,” Freddie said, frowning. She kissed him on the cheek. “Aren’t there exceptions for Averys or something?”
“None,” I replied. I moved to the fridge and grabbed the first unhealthy thing I could find. Leftover pizza. “Unless she wasn’t a Harpy or I wasn’t on this team. Who knows what rules other teams have.”
“I’ll date Avery if you’d like,” Bink said with a sideways grin.
“You already tried at Hogwarts,” I shot back.
“Oh come on. You know I wasn’t actually going to date her, right?” He leaned up, elbows on his knees. “I love Avery, I do. But she’s not exactly my kind of girl.”
“Easy?” Avery prompted.
“Quit talking about my cousin!” I whined. Bink should have just gone for some other unsuspecting girl. Like Nia. Match made in bloody heaven. “And I don’t know. What makes you think you wouldn’t have?”
“She’s always been off limits, mate,” Bink said, shrugging. “Always. Since first year she’s been off limits and all of us know that. I was trying to get a rise out of you at the party. And from the swelling in my jaw, it worked.”
That was the night Clint Lawson went off his rocker and attacked me. And Avery. I didn’t remember much of it – just that Avery came to my rescue and walked me back to the hospital wing while I muttered incomprehensible things. I’d like to take a lot of that back. But not the night we spent in the hospital bed. I never wanted to take that back.
I caught her eye and she smiled.
“Right well, could you just either be with Rose or not be with her?” I said. “This is getting ridiculous.”
“I keep trying to end it!” Bink said and Freddie rolled his eyes. “She’s the one who keeps coming back and then pushing away and she’s confusing me but I can’t help it. I can’t help any of it.”
“Addiction?” I asked dryly.
“Something like that.” He shrugged. “She did encourage me to go on that tryout with the Falcons though.”
Falcon Cat would totally play for the Falcons. She had the sass.
“Tryout?” Avery said.
“Had it yesterday up at the Falcons’ place. Pretty sure it was a pity tryout.” Bink leaned back into the cushions and moved his gaze to the ceiling. “I did all right. Not well enough to get signed, but I’ll wait for my letter before I pout too much.”
“You’ll get it,” Avery said, squeezing his thigh.
Ah, Falcon Cat. “Hey, Avery,” I said.
“She was at the vet,” Avery replied, somehow knowing exactly what I was going to say. “Mum dropped her off that morning to get her shots.”
“And now?” I looked over at Falcon Cat’s little food dish in the corner and her cat-scratching post she never used. Instead she used the side of Bink’s bed.
“Yes, she can come stay again.” Avery rolled her eyes like she hadn’t already made up her mind. She was smirking. I loved her smirk.
“Even with the attack cat from the tree?” Freddie asked. He got up and pulled back the living room curtains. “James, do you see it? I can’t see it, but I couldn’t before so you should let me know if we’re in real danger being here.”
“Sod off.” I hopped onto the island counter and shook my head. “It was there.” I told Bink and Avery the story of TomCat and how he was real and I needed to keep a very careful eye on Falcon Cat while she was here. He was a wild predator. Like that Disney movie. Couldn’t be trusted.
Both of them did not react in the way that they should have. They laughed.
The fam welcomed Avery back with open arms. Not that she’d left. According to Lily, she was around the house more than I was. All the same, they set her a place at the table beside mine and Albus fumbled with her cutlery. His brow was sweaty.
I realized why when Paloma Dove walked swiftly around the corner looking radiant. She didn’t look nervous or shaky. She said hi to Avery and gave me a hug (awkward) and then took her seat. Mum asked her something about her hair and how the shine remind her of Freddie’s a bit and I disagreed because it wasn’t even that shiny.
“What happened?” Lily whispered.
“Oh, you’re speaking to me now?”
“It appears we don’t hate you anymore.”
“I’ll explain later,” Avery said softly, placing the green napkin in her lap. Lily nodded.
“You will not. This is our business.” I flicked her leg. She flicked mine back harder.
“Are you two together again?” Lily asked. “Because if you are Albus owes me money.”
My eyes snapped to my little brother, who was smiling sideways at Paloma. She was twirling her fingers around strands of hair. Stop with the sexual tension it was inappropriate.
My parents were none the wiser, as they were making eyes by the stove.
Great. All I needed was Wesley to wander in and start trying to get fresh with my sister.
“No,” Avery answered. “But there’s a reason.”
“James is a twat?”
“Other than that,” she said.
“I’m right here!”
Lily and Avery shot me very similar grins. I didn’t like either.
“You were off all day?” Dad asked, sliding the butter dish onto the table in front of me. “No interviews or anything?”
“Nothing. All day. Recuperating from the tournament.”
“How did that go, anyway? Did you make any friends?”
I thought about Maxwell. And Jack. And Artemis. Bugger.
“We lost and then we won,” I told them and then explained a little more about the tournament. I left out all the raging party details and me having one (or ten) too many. And the kissing Artemis part. That was still weird. And casual. Which made it even more weird. Dad clapped me on the back. “And I didn’t fall to my death,” I added and he gave me a look.
“I’m glad you have a day off,” he said. “They work you too hard.” Before I could say anything, he added, “I know. It’s professional Quidditch. I know, I know. Your mum’s been there. Which is why I can hate it just as much.”
“Anyone want to knock me up so I can come home?” I offered.
Mum threw a chicken wing at me. I had barbeque sauce all down my cheek. Well-deserved. Top aim, Mum.
“I’m glad you can finally have dinner with us,” she said, taking her seat on the other side of the table. “I think I’ve seen you more in magazines than in person lately.”
“They’re really good pictures though.” I helped myself to some food, hoping the attention would be diverted soon. I had enough of talking about me when I was in interviews and on the pitch. I was sick of it.
I paused, fingers just barely touching the butter knife.
I was sick of talking about myself.
Well, that was a change.
Avery nudged me.
“What?” I said.
Mum laughed. “I asked how Bink and Freddie are,” she said. “I haven’t seen much of them either.”
“Fred has taken to napping at the shelter and Bink is breathing, which is better than last week when we weren’t altogether sure whether or not he was alive.” I shrugged. Still needed to figure out what to do about that. Bink was delicate. Had to be handled with care.
That was not something I should say to Rose.
Though I should mention something to her. I was mostly sick of hearing about their romps together all over the flat. Not that it was made clear, but it was a visual in my head and I didn’t appreciate it. Gross. Cousins.
And brothers. Albus. Ugh.
And he bet on Avery and I.
“What was your bet?” I whispered to Lily, very aware everyone at the table could hear.
Her face went red. “No idea what you’re talking about.”
“Me and Avery. What was it? I want to know? How much money?”
She ran her fingers through her ginger hair. Mum did the same thing from the other side of the table. I stared.
“THERE ARE MORE PEOPLE IN ON THIS?”
Avery was scarlet. I was getting there.
“It may have been a family thing,” Dad said slowly.
“And Paloma,” Albus said.
“I was just a witness!” she piped up.
I exchanged looks with Avery. “You approve of this?” I asked because she was giggling.
“Come on, James. It’s not that bad, is it? They saw an outside perspective.” She bit the corner of her lip and I had the sudden urge to kiss her but stopped because … table full of gambling family.
“Okay so who bet for us and who bet against us?” I said impatiently.
“Everyone bet for you,” Lily clarified. “It was just how long. If you two are together now, I’d get a good chunk of money, mostly from Albus but I’m blackmailing him for something else.” There was that sassy grin. Captain material right there.
Albus looked very uncomfortable. This time, Paloma joined him.
“We’re not,” I said to Lily. “But thank you for turning my lack of relationship into a humiliating way to make a few coins.”
Avery nudged me. She didn’t press me to tell them why, and I was glad. I didn’t want to have to explain something like that. Especially not to my parents.
“Wait another week,” Dad whispered. “I’ll give you half the money.”
Dad makes a joke. Well done, Dad.
I busied myself with dinner. I couldn’t stop thinking about last night. About what we’d said and how I may or may not have lunged across the room when I noticed it was Mason. Nothing was safe now. We may not have been together and he may have no concrete proof, but he was a manipulator. I wouldn’t put it past him to use every bit of our friendship against us.
I’d just have to be smarter than him.
It wasn’t going to be easy. He knew now that Avery was my soft spot – my weakness. And I obviously did not have many of those.
But how? How could I go back to normal with Avery and still play for the Tornados and keep Mason the hell off my pitch? That sounded like a tall order.
I’d think of something. I had to. I didn’t have a choice. It was either dream or dream girl and I wasn’t willing to give up either. There had to be a loophole. Maybe Ali had thought of something by that time. Maybe Artemis found a way around it.
Maybe Jack had some stable advice that didn’t suck. Probably not.
Avery reached over and held my hand under the table.
That night we snuck into a movie without paying (I left a bunch of Muggle money under the seat. Guilt.) and walked home in the darkness. Avery kicked at the gravel as we talked about everything we’d missed. Her practices since she was picked up as a reserve. Cooper Bradley’s fondness of her (ugh). My own practices. Henrik being a Hufflepuff (weird). Seeing Maxwell. What exactly Mason had done and said. What Clara was like.
We held hands. No cars went by. No photographers screaming to take my picture. Just two people walking on the side of a gravel road in the summer heat.
Bink wasn’t on the sofa when we returned. The porch light was on. His bedroom window was dark. I knocked a couple times, since his usual perch was the couch watching re-runs of bad reality television at that hour. Unless he was in there hooking up with Rose, but he draped a Quidditch towel over the handle when he was in there with her.
“Not home?” Avery asked, arching her brow. “That’s not like him. Maybe he made friends.”
“Impossible. Bink’s too rough around the edges.” I sighed and pushed open Fred’s door. “Oy – where’s albino?”
I stopped dead.
Avery appeared at my side and gasped. Then she quickly moved into the hall.
I was momentarily stunned. Fred and Amy were in his bed, both half clothed, snogging. Limbs were tangled and blankets were on the floor, among other undergarments.
“James – out!” Fred choked, grabbing the blanket and throwing it over Amy.
“Good to see you,” I stammered and ran into the hallway. Then into the kitchen. Then I sat on the floor behind the counter because damn it I would not be able to see anything. Avery peeked over the side. “I’m fine.”
She smiled. “Thinking about trying for Amy now? She’s pretty.”
“I hate you.” My ears were red. My cheeks were red.
And yet somehow, the only thought I had was – why is everyone hooking up but me?
Suddenly Emerson’s taunting V-Card insults were in my head.
Shut it, Twitwards. What was wrong with a V-Card? Nothing. That’s right. Absolutely nothing. Because even if I would have wanted to shag someone like Nia I’d be sitting on this floor right now regretting that choice. In Bink’s eyes I knew he regretted things with Meta, even though they ended up sort of fancying each other.
That was weird.
Nothing was wrong with me not hooking up. Nothing. When it happened, it happened. I wasn’t any less of a teenage boy because of it.
Fuck. This was ridiculous.
Avery was still looking at me with a smirky smile. How could she be so calm about this?
She moved around the counter and slid beside me, hand coming to rest on my knee. Her thumb moved against the fabric. “You should probably learn to knock.”
I elbowed her. “I don’t remember you ever knocking coming into my room in the Tower.”
“Why would I? You fancied me and just didn’t know it yet.” There’s that arrogant, smirky smile again. What a confident woman.
She wasn’t wrong.
“James!” Fred’s footfalls thudded in the hall. “What in the bloody—?”
“Bink puts something on the door!” I shouted, trying to forget about Avery’s hand on my knee. It was making me think. A lot. I couldn’t help it. I was also trying to get the image of half-naked Fred out of my head.
“I didn’t think—” Fred paused and slapped his hands against the counter above me. I jumped. “Just in the future. Knock. Always knock.” He groaned.
“So how’s it going in there?” I asked.
“I’m in the hallway,” said Amy. I reddened again. “And it was going fine, thank you.”
Fred laughed and I heard him walk over to where Amy’s voice was. “Now where were we?” he asked.
“Get over yourself. Avery’s here.” Amy moved around the side of the kitchen counter. She was sloppily put together with wrinkled clothes, but always looked pretty all the same. “So. What’s this about the pair of you not fighting anymore? Are you back together? Can I be your wedding planner?”
A/N: Ah, that's refreshing. A little banter. A little tension.
Thank you all for the kind words and support. I appreciate it.
Next Time: Where the heck did Bink go?
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