You are viewing a story from harrypotterfanfiction.com


Off the Rails by water_lily43175

View Online

Format: Novel
Chapters: 61
Word Count: 240,714
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Sexual Nature, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Humor, Mystery, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ginny, Albus, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings: James/OC, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, Rose/Scorpius

First Published: 09/16/2011
Last Chapter: 04/05/2014
Last Updated: 04/05/2014

Summary:



Off the Rails: To start behaving strangely, in a way that is not acceptable to society; to lose track of reality.

James' life is perfect. He plays Quidditch for the Falcons, an England future seems certain, and the female attention isn't to be scoffed at.

Then he hooks up with a Muggle.

"Remember when you jumped off the Quidditch hoops without a broom? That was a better idea than this."


Chapter 1: one
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“James...”

I winced at the voice and squeezed my eyes tight shut, hoping that it would somehow block her out.

“What now?” I muttered.

I heard a rustling from behind me, and felt the covers shift slightly; a delicate hand found my hip and a few blonde tendrils of hair hung in front of my face. I sighed, and rolled over onto my back.

“James, I’ve been thinking,” Cassie said, hitching the duvet back around her bare shoulders. I fought hard to keep my eyes on her face. “And I’ve talked to Mam, and she agrees with me about it...”

“About what?” I sighed exasperatedly. “I don’t have all day, Cassie; I’ve got a wedding to be at in an hour.”

Her expression darkened slightly, either at my brisk tone or at the reference to the wedding she was most definitely not invited to.

“I think that we should make us official,” she said, biting her lip.

I raised an eyebrow and propped my head up on my arm.

Official?” I repeated. “Like, a relationship?”

She nodded, and I inwardly groaned.

“I thought I said I didn’t do relationships?”

“Well, surely this is as good as-”

“No, it’s really not.” I sat up, irritated. “This is nothing. It’s a bit of fun. An arrangement at most, if you want to be crude. I don’t do relationships! I told you that at the start.”

She sighed heavily.

“But Jamesie...”

I winced at the nickname which countless girls insisted on giving me, no matter how many times I told them I couldn’t stand it.

“It’s so bad for my image, that I’m just fooling around like this, like I’m just another notch on your bedpost-”

“And who said I thought you were anything more?” I shrugged and got out of bed. I knew it was blunt, but I also knew it was the only way of making her listen.

She sniffed, clearly offended.

“You’re lucky to have me, you know,” she said loftily. “Hundreds of men would do anything to be in your shoes-”

“Look, Cassie,” I said, turning to face her. “I’ve told you already. I don’t do relationships. I don’t give a damn who it is; you could be the Queen of Sheba for all I care. I don’t want a relationship. And I have a wedding to be at in an hour’s time, so I really can’t get involved in a full-scale row about it.”

I pulled on a pair of boxers, and yesterday’s jeans.

“You don’t have to be so-”

“James!”

I’d never been so glad to hear my sister’s voice.

Cassie’s shoulders sagged. Lily’s arrival presumably meant that the conversation was over.

“James, are you in there?”

I sighed with exasperation.  Cassie turned her back on me and began to get dressed. She looked annoyed.

“Yes, I’m here,” I replied lazily.

“Who’s the girl?”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Who says there’s a girl?”

“James, it’s a Saturday morning. Of course there’s a girl. It’s not Monday’s bird, is it? Aaliyah? Alexa? Allegra? No, she was New Years’ pull, wasn’t she? Alyssa, that’s the name. Or is she having a rest today?”

Cassie gasped furiously and turned her head to glare at me. She’d clearly assumed she had sole rights over me. Well, she was most certainly wrong on that front.

“James, for Merlin’s sake, lose the bird and get your ass out here now!”

Cassie stood up and scowled.

“I don’t like your sister,” she said in clipped tones, picking up the rest of her belongings from beside the bed.

“Most girls don’t,” I replied dryly. “See you round, Lynch.”

She sniffed, disgruntled, before Disapparating with a loud pop. I shook my head and sighed with relief.

Lily was standing in the middle of my living room, tapping her foot impatiently. She did that a lot. She’d inherited it from Mum.

“Finally!” she cried, thrusting a thermal cup and paper bag into my hands. “I got you breakfast, I figured you wouldn’t have any food in here, as usual...” She tailed off, looking round the room with a disgusted expression on her face.

I put the cup down on the coffee table, ignoring Lily’s cries about using a coaster, and pulled the croissant out of the bag. I tore it in half and stuffed one half into my mouth whole.

“You’re revolting,” she said, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

I chewed for a moment, then swallowed.

“Guy’s prerogative.”

“Who was the bird?”

“Cassie Lynch.” I pulled a face.

Lily frowned. “Thought she was November’s squeeze?”

I shrugged. “She lasted a while,” I said, finishing off the croissant. “No strings attached for quite a while. Think I’ve shelved her now though. She was beginning to get a bit clingy.”

Lily shook her head in distaste.

“Sometimes I wonder if you were adopted,” she said, wrinkling her nose. “Anyway, you need to shower and get some smart dress robes on sharpish. Mum’s sent me to chivvy you along and I’m not hovering in your pigsty any longer than necessary-”

“There’s nothing wrong with my flat!” I protested.

“James, you could grow a pet in your kitchen,” she said. “Really, is it that hard to keep things clean? Just a few flicks of a wand...”

“I never did get the hang of all those household spells.” I shrugged. “Anyway, I’ll be fine without a shower, I’m perfectly clean-”

“You went out last night and brought back a girl, you are not going anywhere without having a shower first,” she said, pointing towards the bathroom menacingly. “Go. I’ll find you some dress robes and leave them outside the door – I trust you still have some smart dress robes, and they haven’t all been ripped or damaged in the throes of passionate stranger sex?”

“I-” I blinked. “You seem to know too much about stranger sex for my liking-”

I yelped as she grabbed my arm in a vice-like grip and dragged me towards the bathroom.

“In. The. Shower.”

She slammed the door shut behind me. I winced at the loud noise, before stripping off and getting into the shower. My peace was short-lived. Before long there was a banging on the door.

“James? We’re going to be late!”

I rolled my eyes and turned off the shower. After hurriedly drying myself, I opened the door to find a set of navy dress robes sitting neatly on the floor. I pulled them on and towel-dried my hair, then threw the towels into the corner of the bathroom.

“Hang the towels up!”

I scowled and looked through the doorway into the living room. Sure enough, Lily was sitting on the settee with her back to me.

“How do you know I haven’t already hung them up?”

“Because you’re you,” she replied matter-of-factly.

I shook my head in exasperation, but hung the towels on the rack.

I couldn’t complain about Lily as a sister, really. Most of the time anyway. “Mischievous” could have been her middle name. She was worse than Uncle George and Freddie put together.

She wasn’t one to beat about the bush though. I’d lost count of the number of girls she’d upset with her outspoken ways. I guess that was one trait which we had in common. We’d both most definitely inherited it from Mum.

Of course, she’d also inherited Mum’s bossy ways.                                   

“Shoes on, cloak on, comb your hair, get a move on! We don’t have all morning!”

I sighed, shaking my head with mock exasperation, as I headed into my bedroom and shoved on my smart shoes. I ignored the third order and grabbed my cloak from the back of the door, throwing it over my shoulders. Then I snatched up my wand from the bedside table before strolling back into the living room.

Lily put down a magazine – Quidditch Weekly, the Christmas edition, which had me on the cover. I had three copies, one of which was in a frame on my wall. My magazine self winked at me.

“I don’t know which of you is more arrogant.” She sighed and flipped the magazine over, before getting to her feet. She scrutinised me, then adjusted my collar. “Well, you’ll do, I suppose. Come on, Nana will be having kittens.”

She wrapped her arms tightly around my waist.

“It’s at times like these that I wish you could Apparate,” I muttered fondly. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and Disapparated with her.

We appeared just outside the fence that ran around the garden of the Burrow. I let out a sharp cry at the blinding whiteness of the snow.

“The light wouldn’t be such a shock if your life wasn’t so orientated around your bedroom.”

She took my elbow and dragged me up the hill behind the house to the orchard where the “wedding marquee” was set up. We headed straight to my brother Al and cousins Hugo and Freddie (who doubled up as best male mate), who were all standing beside the entrance with seating plans, looking uncomfortable in their smart dress robes. I winced; I should have been helping out with that.

“Oh, look who finally decides to show up!” Freddie punched me in the arm. “Lazy sod, ditch your duties, why not? Oh no, it’s Auntie Muriel ... Come on, James, I’ll show you to your seat.”

We ducked, turning away from the entrance and the dreaded Auntie Muriel – last time I’d seen her she’d told me off for my posture when flying – and headed into the marquee, past Teddy and Louis who were returning to the entrance with seating plans of their own.

“Merlin, she’s a nightmare,” Freddie muttered, stopping a few feet in. “Anyway, what held you up this time? You didn’t forget about-”

“No, of course I didn’t,” I cut in, looking around for my parents. I spotted them sitting in the second row, with Uncle Charlie, and grinned – he was my favourite Uncle. “I got held up,” I continued, turning back to Freddie.

“Girl troubles?” He raised an eyebrow. “Trouble in paradise, eh?”

“Tell me about it,” I said, rolling my eyes and tugging at my collar. “Cassie bloody Lynch thinking that a couple of months of tapping means true love-”

“Who’s tapping who?”

My female best mate, Brigid, appeared at Freddie’s shoulder. She tutted as her eyes fell on me and stepped forwards to readjust my collar. “Really, Jimmy, why do you always look such a mess in dress robes? It’s ridiculous, you manage to pull everything else off...”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” I grinned at her.

She rolled her eyes and stepped backwards. I glanced at what she was wearing; a short pink dress which showed off far too much leg for her own good.

“You look nice,” I said. I knew I’d have to bat the guys away from her as well as Lily all day.

“Thanks!” Brigid beamed at me. “So, who was it last night then?”

“Your best friend,” I said dryly. “Cassie Lynch. Tried suggesting that a relationship was on the cards-”

“Did she know about Alyssa?” Brigid smirked.

“Well, she does now, thanks to mini Potter,” I said. “I’m amazed I escaped with my life. Anyway, I think that’s all cleared up now.”

“Good,” she said approvingly. “You can do so much better than Lynch, Jimmy.”

Freddie snorted.

“You think he wants better? Murph, he doesn’t care who he pulls so long as she’s a good-”

“You three really ought to be sitting down, you know.”

Al had appeared between me and Brigid.

I rolled my eyes and nudged him gently.

“You need to lighten up a bit,” I told him, as I followed him up the aisle to where Mum, Dad and Lily were sitting. Freddie followed us and Brigid headed for a row of seats further back. “Got your eyes on any chicks? I’m expecting a few hot Veela cousins to show up-”

“James, that’s practically incest,” he replied in disgust.

I rolled my eyes.

“Don’t be ridiculous, they’re distant relations by marriage, there’s nothing wrong with it at all.”

He rolled his eyes.

“And that sums up everything that is wrong with you, James,” he said, smirking slightly. “What about Cassie Lynch?”

I waved an airy hand, but made a mental note never to do it again; it wasn’t at all masculine. “She’s old news.”

“And by old news, you mean yesterday’s.”

“You paint me in such a bad light.” I mock-pouted. “And actually, it was this morning, but I won’t be picky.”

“If anyone’s painting you in a bad light, it’s you.”

“And once again, you’re sounding like Mum. Or worse, Lily. You really need to get laid.”

“I don’t have any issues with my love life, thank you,” he snapped, sounding testy. “Just because you need to bed three different girls a week, doesn’t mean I feel the need to.”

I shrugged as we reached our seats.

“I can’t help it if they throw themselves at me,” I said. “Morning Mum, Dad.”

“Hello, darling.” Mum stood up to greet me, standing on tiptoes and giving me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Well, you’ll do, I suppose...” She readjusted my collar. I pulled a face.

“Brie just did that, I really don’t think you need to-”

“I had to properly dress you before we left, how do you always mess your collar up?” Lily chipped in. I stuck my tongue out at her as I passed, and sat down between her and Uncle Charlie.

“Well, if it isn’t the man of the moment.” Uncle Charlie grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. “Spectacular performance last week! You’ve got the Prophet and Quidditch Weekly waxing lyrical about you.”

I grinned as I thought back to last week’s exhibition match, an annual Quidditch match held between the winners of the British and Irish League and the German League. It had been tight at the start but in the end we had run away with it.

“They’re always waxing lyrical about me, Uncle Charlie,” I replied. “In fairness I couldn’t have played so well if not for Murph and Della. They’re fantastic Chasers to play alongside.”

 “You three are the sole reason why the Falcons have won the League for the past two seasons, I’d say. It’s just a shame the other two aren’t English. You must be on the cusp of getting a call up after last season, mustn’t you?”

“We’ve got enough English talent around, we’ll let Ireland have Murph and Germany have Della.” I grinned cheekily. “And I’m not so sure about us Chasers doing all the leg work. Our Alfie was the best Keeper in the League last year. He had both the most saves and the least goals conceded. And when you can choose between Klaus Brand and Stefan Krum for your Seeker, you’re not doing too badly. As for England ... well, I’d love to play for them some day, all players strive to represent their country, but there are some big names in the set up at the moment that I’d have to shift.”

“I’d back you to be there by June,” he said.

I nodded in agreement, chewing my lip. “I hope so,” I said. “I’d do anything, anything, to get a chance to play in this World Cup. But the domestic season is my first priority; we want a third straight League win.”

“I hear you’ve managed to snag the Bagman twins from the Wasps,” he said excitedly. “That’s a huge achievement from your coach, isn’t it?”

“Actually, it’s Brigid who should get the credit for that one. How she did it I will never know, but it’s a huge double signing from us, because our Beaters were the one area where we were weak last season-”

“Says a member of the team that won the League.” He chuckled. “Well, I’m hoping to be in the country a bit more this year, so hopefully I’ll be able to watch some of your games. Ron keeps talking up the Cannons match. I’m not sure why. Didn’t you flatten them last year?”

A flash of blue in front of me caught my eye and I turned my head to see Teddy take the seat in front of me.

“I wouldn’t mention that too loudly, Charlie. It’s still a sore spot at family dinners,” he said. There was a gleeful tone in his voice – he was, naturally, a Falcons fan.

“You’re looking a little flustered.” I grinned.

Teddy sighed with exasperation.

Never have kids,” he said, shaking his head. “Nightmare, absolute nightmare ... why Dominique ever thought this was a good idea I will never know.”

“Probably because she’s not the one looking after them,” I said dryly. “Don’t worry, Teddy, I have no plans to have children for at least the next twenty years, if ever.”

“Still no plans of settling down?” Uncle Charlie asked.

I snorted.

“I’m twenty one, I’m at the top of my game, I’m having a bit of fun here and there ... I am definitely not planning on settling down with anyone any time soon. Besides,” I added, “even if I wanted to, there’s no girl I’d want to settle down with, not that I know of at any rate.”

I felt a presence by my left shoulder, between me and Uncle Charlie.

“Thought you were seeing the Lynch bird?”

I turned and saw Roxanne’s face. She was sitting behind Uncle Charlie and had leaned forwards to join in the conversation.

“I wasn’t seeing her, we just had a no strings attached arrangement, which ended this morning when she tried to make it serious,” I said.

“I don’t see why you couldn’t agree to make it serious,” Freddie chipped in from beside Roxanne. “I mean, you could still play the field behind her back. She wouldn’t have to know. Have you seen that girl’s legs?”

“That’s going too far even for James,” Teddy said, frowning slightly. “If it’s mutually no strings attached then you can screw around with other women, but the minute she thinks it’s serious then other women are off limits. Either that or you’re just gonna hurt her feelings big time, and even Jimmy here has some morals.”

“That and I wouldn’t want to upset her,” Roxanne supplied. “Imagine the next Bats match.”

I shuddered, thinking of Cassie Lynch’s brothers, the Beaters for the Ballycastle Bats, and two players who I didn’t see eye to eye with in the first place.

At that moment the groom, Ethan, and his best man stood up at the front of the marquee. Teddy swivelled around to face the front, Freddie and Roxanne sat back in their own seats, and I shifted my weight in my seat back towards the front.

A moment or so later the band struck up their music, and the guests towards the back of the marquee began cooing and awing. I rolled my eyes, knowing what – or who – the object of their attention was. Sure enough, Teddy and Victoire’s six year old daughter Dora soon came into view, clutching a simple bouquet of flowers in one hand and the hand of her three year old brother Remus in the other. She reached the end of the aisle and led Remus, who seemed completely confused by the goings-on, to Teddy, who set him on his lap, before returning to the front.

“That is so adorable,” Lily breathed from next to me.

“You’re such a typical female,” I murmured to her, receiving an elbow in the ribs in return.

A couple of Dominique’s friends  - who were very good-looking, I observed - then made their way up the aisle.

“Don’t even think about it,” Lily warned me quietly.

“Who said I was thinking of anything to do with that?” I replied indignantly.

“You’re James Potter, of course you were,” she shot back. “Besides, I could tell you were just checking them out, and you’ve got no chance, they’re both in long-term relationships, Petra’s getting married in June-”

Mum leaned around Al to shoot us a dirty glare. We both shut up and turned our eyes back to the entrance of the marquee to see Victoire making her way up the aisle. She was followed, finally, by Dominique, who was on the arm of Uncle Bill and grinning like an idiot. Lily let out a dreamy sigh. I rolled my eyes again and elbowed her back.

“You could at least be happy for her on her big day,” she scolded under her breath.

“I hate weddings, you know that,” I replied in a whisper.

She shook her head in disapproval.

Definitely adopted...”

I zoned out of the wedding service, noticing that Uncle Charlie had done much the same. I held back a snicker. In front of me, Aunt Fleur and Nana Weasley were sobbing into handkerchiefs. Women.

Suddenly, everyone started clapping and standing up. Lily grabbed my elbow and pulled me to my feet.

Really, James...” she began.

I blinked.

“Is that it?” I said blankly.

The chairs that we had been sitting on were rearranging themselves around tables that had appeared out of midair.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Thank Merlin.” I reached out for a glass of champagne from a tray that floated past me, and turned to find Freddie and Brigid.

James! You have to congratulate the bride and groom!”

“I can do that later. They’re crowded with people already. Look.” I nodded my head in the direction of Dom and Ethan, who were almost impossible to see due to the throng of well-wishers behind them. “See you later, mini Potter, and behave. No boys for you!” I ruffled her hair and ignored her protests, before turning and heading towards Brigid, who was with her mother, Sinead.

“Hello, James,” Sinead said as I joined them. “Brie and I were just saying how beautiful Dominique looks-”

Brigid let out a laugh.

“Mam, Jimmy probably barely noticed her. You’d be better off talking to him about how the bridesmaids looked,” she said, linking her arm through mine. “Hey, we’ve had a few comments from people about last week’s match. Everyone seems very impressed with your performance.”

“I hope you’ll be carrying on that form for us this season?” Sinead added.

Sinead was an ex-Ireland Chaser, and was currently the Falcons coach, so had every reason to hope I played well.

“That’s the plan,” I replied.

“Especially if we’re getting you in the England squad by spring,” Brigid chipped in.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Spring now? You said summer two weeks ago!”

She shrugged.

“Yes, well, your rep’s gone through the roof since you destroyed the Harriers last week. You would not believe how many calls and owls I’ve had since from managers and coaches asking to sign you up. I told them you were all unavailable, hope you don’t mind...”

“I am unavailable. My contract runs ‘til the end of this season,” I said stubbornly.

“About that, James, we need to discuss extensions-” Sinead began, before being called away by someone else.

“Come on, let’s find a table,” I said, steering Brigid through the crowd. We found an empty table close to the bar and sat down at it. Brigid grabbed a glass of champagne from another tray as we went.

“So, who’s shown an interest in me?” I asked, lounging back in my chair.

She raised an eyebrow.

“Because your ego really needs stoking further,” she said, with a slight smile. “Unsurprisingly, the Heidelberg Harriers, after you, Ryan and Della demolished their Chasers. They wanted all three of you – well, they never had a chance with you and Ryan. I had to ask Della about that one, given that her granddad used to play for them, but she wasn’t interested either. Um, lets’s see...” She began counting them off on her fingers. “The Cannons, Puddlemere, the Tornados, Vratsa Vultures – the fact you can’t speak a word of Portuguese ended that one pretty sharpish – the Karasjok Kites – again, you can’t speak a word of Norwegian – the Woollongong Warriors – you don’t like shrimp so Australia is a no no – the Moutohora Macaws – you don’t look good in yellow – the Gimbi Giant-Slayers – there is no way you’re going to any team with that name, that’s the last thing your ego needs – the Fitchburg Finches – well, the USA is not the place to be if you want to advance your Quidditch career, it’s not a big enough sport there – the Stonewall Stormers – they offered a ridiculously small price for you and the wages were stupidly low too, I mean, do they know who they’re dealing with here? – and those are only the ones I remember. There were a fair few. I’d like to say you weren’t the only one with offers though,” she added hurriedly. “I’ve been inundated with them all week, it’s been a nightmare.”

I grinned. Brigid was a sports agent, and making a damn good fist of it too. She’d started off with me, back when I was an eighteen year old reserve for her mum’s team, and her older brother Ryan, my fellow Chaser, but had soon picked up the rest of the Falcons squad and a few other Irish players across the sea too.

“Anyway, your present for Dom and Ethan is a photo frame which shows a different photo every day,” she continued. “I even wrapped it badly, figured I’d do the job properly. I took the money from your account so you don’t need to worry about paying me back.”

I grinned. Having Brigid as an agent had its perks. She tended to act as my PA a lot of the time, although she complained about it frequently, though only light-heartedly.

“And I got your present for Lily at the same time too. I’ll pop by tomorrow morning to give it to you. Just make sure you don’t pull anyone tonight. I don’t think your parents would be too pleased if you were a no-show. People only turn eighteen once, you know.”

I groaned.

“But it’s her eighteenth, that’s nothing special-”

“To her it is.” She flicked a piece of confetti across the table at me. “So you’re not going to be hungover, you’re going to be up bright and early, and looking at least remotely excited for her.”

I sighed exasperatedly.

“Honestly, I never get any rest! If it isn’t Lily nagging me it’s Mum, and if it’s not her it’s you...”

I was only joking. Brigid was probably the best agent I could have, and I’d be completely clueless if not for her constantly reminding me of my various duties and meetings.

“Where’s Freddie? I need a bit of testosterone to back me up...”

I scanned the marquee, and froze when I saw Freddie chatting up one of Dom’s Veela cousins. I turned back to Brigid, hoping to change conversation before she saw him, but the expression on her face told me I was too late. I shifted round the table and slipped an arm round her shoulders.

“He’s an idiot, Brie, don’t let it get to you,” I said in what was supposed to be a comforting voice.

“I know,” she said, looking down at her hands and chewing her lip, “but it’s just so hard, I mean, you tell me one thing and then he acts as though he feels the complete opposite...”

“Look, trust me, Brie, I’m a bloke,” I said. “He likes you, he’s just-”

“Flirting with other girls. In front of me. Because that’s a sure-fire way of pulling me-”

“He’s clueless, Brie! He doesn’t know how to pull you, because to him you’re worth much more than any of those girls. You actually mean something. And you’ve known him since he was eleven, you know of all his most embarrassing moments, and he knows that. Trust me, that makes things more awkward. Look, maybe you should try making a move-”

She laughed hollowly.

“Yeah, sure, excuse me while I wave goodbye to my credibility,” she said. “Besides, he’d probably just pull other girls behind my back anyway. That’s what you boys do, isn’t it?”

“Hey!” I said defensively. “I don’t do relationships in the first place, but if I did I wouldn’t cheat. Give me some credit. And Freddie’s the same, there’s no way he’d cheat on you...”

“You’ll understand if I’m not quite convinced by that,” she replied, leaning her head on my shoulder. She paused for a moment. “Think his bint would look good with green hair?”

I smirked. After all, you couldn’t be friends with me and Freddie for ten years without some kind of troublesome streak.


Chapter 2: two
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Brigid opted for the tried and tested method of pulling the covers off me to wake me up the next morning.  Unfortunately for her, it may have achieved the desired effect, but it also had a certain drawback.

“James!” she yelped, turning away and covering her eyes. “Put some clothes on when you sleep, why don’t you?”

“Because removing my duvet is clearly the only way of waking me,” I grumbled, rolling out of bed and pulling on some clean underwear. “It’s alright, you can look.”

“I’m okay, thanks,” she said, still facing the door. “In fact, I’ll wait in the living room. Hurry up.”

I did so, tugging on a pair of jeans and a shirt.

In the living room, Brigid was doing a Lily, reading the Christmas Quidditch Weekly. My own face winked at me from the cover as she shut the magazine and threw it down on the side table.

“I’ve got your present here,” she said, standing up and rummaging through her bag. “It’s a dress for clubbing. Lily said she liked it when we were shopping last week. Here.”

She pulled out a present far bigger than the bag it had been in. She’d begged Aunt Hermione to put an Undetectable Extension Charm on it, and it was now big enough for someone to fit in it. Literally. Freddie had hidden in it once, and had given Brigid the shock of her life. I think she’d tried to keep him in there to take him home, but, unfortunately for her, that hadn’t worked.

“I didn’t get a card. You never seem to see the point in them so I figured not getting one would make it seem a little bit realistic.”

I pulled a face, as I examined the wrapping job. “You could have looked at it while wrapping it...”

She shrugged. “Why? You never do.”

With that, she Disapparated with a quiet pop. I shook my head and followed suit.

I Apparated onto Mum and Dad’s doorstep just as Dad opened the front door.

“Morning, Brigid,” he smiled, seeing her first.

Opening the door wider, he did a double take and glanced at his watch.

“What the hell are you doing up before midday, James?”

“Nice to see you too,” I said, slightly affronted. “I do see the morning most days-”

“Before he goes to bed at about sunrise,” Brigid interrupted.

I followed her into the house, shaking my head slightly.

In the kitchen, Lily was sitting at the head of the large dining table, surrounded by presents and wrapping paper and with her breakfast plate in front of her. A few of her school friends were sitting with her, presumably having come round for breakfast. Mum was leaning against the kitchen counter with a mug of tea, but Al was nowhere to be seen.

A couple of Lily’s friends giggled when I entered. I suppressed the urge to roll my eyes.

 “Happy birthday, Lily!” Brigid said, handing over a present and bending down to give her a hug.

“Thanks, Brie!” she replied, beaming. Then she turned to me. “Hello, sleepy-head. I can’t say I expected to see you before Al.”

“Thanks, Lil, really appreciate it,” I replied. “Happy birthday.” I handed the present over, then turned to the blonde sitting next to her. “Morning, Madeleine,” I said, winking at her.

“Hello, gorgeous,” Maddie replied, twirling a strand of hair round her finger flirtatiously.

“Do you think you two could possibly refrain from nauseous conversation on my birthday?” Lily said, raising an eyebrow.  She tore into the present from me and pulled a blue dress out of the wrappings. “It’s the one I saw last week! Thank you, Brie!”

I cleared my throat loudly.

“I mean, thanks, James,” she said sweetly.

I beamed at her.

“No worries, Lil, it was one of those ‘I saw it and thought of you’ moments – that is far too short, you’re not wearing that out,” I added hurriedly as she stood up and held it up to herself.

“It’s alright, I’ll make sure she doesn’t get up to any mischief,” said Kit, another one of Lily’s mates.

“I knew I liked you for a reason, Christopher,” I said, pushing myself up to sit on the kitchen counter.

James! Get off the counter. If you want to sit, then you can sit at the table like civilised people do. I know it’s a long shot, but at least try for once,” Mum said sharply. “Do you want any breakfast, darling?” she added as I took a seat next to Kit. “I can do bacon, sausage, egg, toast...”

“The full house, please, Mum,” I said, grinning at her.

“Brigid?” Mum asked, turning to her.

She shook her head. “I can’t stay, I’m afraid. I have a meeting with Mum and the Bagmans at ten, but thank you for the offer.”

“I heard about that one, well done,” Mum said, as she took a glass from the cupboard. “You two left early last night, were you okay?”

Opting not to stay too long, when Freddie was clearly on a mission to pull as many girls as possible, the two of us had headed back to Brigid’s flat with her brother Ryan, after we’d congratulated Dom and Ethan.

“Not my scene,” I said, shrugging.

Brigid smiled gratefully at me.

“Yes, because Veela cousins really aren’t your thing,” Lily cut in sarcastically.

“I decided to have the night off,” I said dryly, taking the glass of orange juice Mum handed to me.

“Well, Al decided to take up your mantle. He went home with one of them last night,” Lily smirked.

“You’re joking!” came a three-way chorus of me, Brigid and Maddie.

“That dark horse,” Brigid continued, looking as stunned as I felt. “Didn’t know he had it in him. You’re a bad influence on him, Jimmy.”

“How is it my fault?”

“Well, it’s hardly mine,” said Lily darkly, “seeing as how you, Al and Kit between you make sure no other male comes within touching distance of me.”

“And rightly so,” Kit cut in before I could speak.

Lily’s indignant response was interrupted by the arrival of Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey, with Molly and Lucy in tow. She made a slight grimace; Uncle Percy could tire anyone out very quickly, and Molly was a female version of him. Mum hid a smile as she handed a plate of food to me.

“Can’t stay long, I’m afraid,” Uncle Percy said pompously. “We have a lunch date with the Minister.”

Poor Kingsley,” Brigid mouthed to me; I stuffed my mouth with bacon to hide my sniggers.

Roxanne strolled into the kitchen, followed by Uncle George and Aunt Angelina but no Freddie. Brigid’s face fell slightly; his no-show almost proved that he, too, had pulled at Dom’s wedding.

“Freddie will be along in a bit,” Roxanne said, leaning over to hug Lily. “I’ve just been round his to kick him and Blondie out of bed.”

Brigid’s face lost the minimal colour it still had. Once Uncle George and Aunt Angelina had greeted Lily, she stepped forward and placed a hand on Lily’s shoulder.

“I should be going, Lil,” she said quietly. “Hope you have a good day.” She glanced up at me. “I’ll pop round tomorrow to fill you in on your calendar, Jimmy.”

“No problem,” I replied brightly.

She smiled weakly, before leaving.

“They still not together then?”

Aunt Audrey sat down beside me and stole a slice of toast.

“Nope,” I replied and turned my attention to saving the rest of my breakfast.

“See, if you guys were still at school, you could lock them both in a broom closet and be done with it,” she said smoothly.

“We don’t do broom closets, Aunt Audrey, we’re too classy for that,” I replied, before shovelling a forkful of food into my mouth.

Aunt Audrey raised an eyebrow.

Very classy,” she said.

Being married to my least favourite uncle, naturally Aunt Audrey was my favourite aunt. I still hadn’t quite figured out why that was the case, though one had to admire her patience, living in the same house as both Uncle Percy and Molly. She was straight-talking and no nonsense, which I found quite refreshing, and she also had a very dry, sarcastic sense of humour, which complemented Uncle Percy as he had none at all. Aunt Audrey also had the distinction of being the only member of my family, and indeed only person aside from Brigid, to have been to all of my Quidditch matches. Not even Mum and Dad had managed that. And she didn’t even like Quidditch that much. I couldn’t argue that she wasn’t loyal.

“Why didn’t you stay long yesterday?” she asked me. “You didn’t even come to talk to your poor old Aunt Audrey. There were hundreds of guests wanting to talk to the famous James Potter after your match last week.”

I shrugged.

“Didn’t want to overshadow Dom’s big day,” I said breezily.

“See, I’d believe that,” Aunt Audrey continued, “given that there is a heart in there somewhere, hidden below the ego, if it weren’t for the fact that the blonde you left with was Brigid, not to mention her brother.” She lowered her voice. “You lost me ten Galleons to Lucy, I felt certain you’d be on the pull last night, and instead you left it to Albus, who may be a very good-looking, charming young man in his own right but certainly isn’t normally that type of guy. So. Why did you leave early?”

I glanced round the kitchen to make sure that Freddie’s parents and sister weren’t nearby.

“Same reason Brie left just now,” I said quietly, mopping up my plate with the last slice of toast. “She didn’t want to see Freddie.”

Aunt Audrey pulled a face.

“Where d’you go?”

“Brie’s,” I replied in the same quiet voice. “The three of us watched a replay of last week’s match. I hadn’t watched it back until last night. Did you see that Porskoff Ploy just before Adelheid scored our fifteenth? Completely bamboozled their Keeper!”

“It was one hell of a performance from the seven of you,” she agreed, nodding. “I think Roxanne was a bit put out by it.”

I winced. Roxanne was one of our reserve Chasers. She was damn good – apparently Aunt Angelina played Chaser on the same Gryffindor team as Dad and Uncle George for years, which would explain where the talent came from – but Ryan, Adelheid and I were too good for her to get a regular spot on the team.

"Hopefully she'll get a chance this year, given that the World Cup is right in the middle of our season," I said. "I don't know whether they're going to give us a break during the tournament or not - though I expect so, because there aren't enough pitches to play League games and World Cup games at the same time - but our international guys will probably miss a couple of League matches in the run-up to the Cup. Ryan will be off with Ireland, and Della with Germany, so it would be an ideal chance for Roxie to string a few games together and show the coaches what she can really do. I mean, it’s all very well seeing her in training, but we played together for Gryffindor for four years, we play so well together, and you can’t see that in training.”

“Who’s to say you won’t be playing in the World Cup too?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t like to count my ashwinders before they’ve hatched,” I said, shrugging. “I know what I’ve got to do to get in the side, I know I’m on their watch list, all I can do is play to the best of my ability for the Falcons this season and we’ll see how it pans out from there.”

“Very mature,” Aunt Audrey said, sounding impressed. “You do surprise me sometimes.”

I would have replied if Al hadn’t walked into the kitchen looking slightly worse for wear at that moment, prompting rowdy jeers from Lily, Uncle George, Lucy and Maddie.

“Morning, dear,” Mum said, as he walked round the table, ruffled up Lily’s hair and slumped into the chair opposite me, next to a friend of Lily’s, whose name I couldn't recall off the top of my head – I only properly knew Kit and Maddie, who practically lived round Mum and Dad’s during the holidays. “Breakfast?”

“Yes please, Mum,” he replied wearily, running a hand through his own hair. “Happy birthday, Lil. I forgot your present, but I have got it, it’s back at mine. I’ll bring it round tomorrow somewhen – you busy tomorrow?”

“I have this thing called school, Al,” she said loftily. “Not something you’re aware of, clearly.”

“You back at school already?” He looked bewildered. “But you’ve only just broken up for Christmas!”

“I broke up for Christmas two weeks ago, funnily enough, hence why I’m back tomorrow.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, you need to stop pulling, Al. You’re now channelling James’s stupidity.”

“Hey!” we both replied indignantly as Mum gave him a glass of orange juice. A big fan of orange juice after a night out, was Mum.

“Anyway, I hear you ousted Rosie from the flat last night,” Lily continued.

“I didn’t oust her, she chose to stay at Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione’s,” Al said gruffly.

“I wonder why,” Roxanne giggled.

Freddie chose that moment to make his grand entrance.

“Happy birthday, young Lillian,” he said loudly. “Can’t stay long, Angeline’s still in bed-”

Al choked on his juice. Uncle George choked too, though not on juice.

“You pulled a girl called Angeline?” Roxanne said incredulously. “That ... that is so distasteful.”

“How is it distasteful?” Freddie replied.

“That’s like me pulling a guy called Georges!” she said, eyes wide.

“It’s funny you should mention that, she has a brother called Georges-”

“Oh crikey.”

“She can’t help what she’s called!” he said indignantly. “Anyway, want me to hook you up with this brother?”

“I’m going,” she said flatly. “Have a good day, Lil! And you’re disowned,” she added, pointing at Freddie, before leaving the kitchen.

“You said that last week!” he yelled at her retreating back.

“Yes, well, I disowned you both years ago and you insist on coming back,” Aunt Angelina cut in. “Anyway, we should be going too, that shop won’t open itself. Hope you have a good day, Lily.”

“Thank you, and thanks for the present, too. It was nice to see you!” Lily got up to hug both Aunt Angelina and Uncle George, before they followed Roxanne out of the house.

“I think it’s time we left, too,” Uncle Percy said.

Aunt Audrey nodded and got to her feet.

“Good to see you, Jimmy,” she said, ruffling my hair. I batted her arm away. “Look after yourself. See you soon, Lily, have a lovely day.”

Once Uncle Percy and his family left, Al and Lily let out long sighs of relief.

“Phew!” Lily began to clear away the mounds of wrapping paper in front of her. “Honestly, how obnoxious can someone get? Oh, terribly sorry, we really can’t stay long, lunch with the Minister you know. Honestly-” Laughter from Freddie, Al and me drowned her out; even Dad was fighting back a smile. “I feel sorry for poor old Kingsley, that’s the last thing you want to deal with on a Sunday morning.”

“Lily,” Mum scolded.

“Sorry,” she said, not sounding it in the slightest, “but was he adopted or something? There’s no way he’s from the same family as you and Uncle George. I mean, Uncle Bill was Prefect and Head Boy and all that jazz, and he’s nowhere near as bad as Uncle Percy!”

“I think Mum sometimes wished somebody would adopt Fred and George,” Mum said wryly, handing Al a plate of food and taking the large ball of wrapping paper that Lily handed to her. “Breakfast, Freddie?”

“I can’t stay long, but thanks anyway,” he replied. “Um ... has Brigid been round yet?”

“Yeah, you missed her.” There was a slight smirk on Lily’s face as she said this. “She had to leave; meeting with the Bagmans. Speaking of meetings and Bagmans, any chance you could arrange a meeting with Cato Bagman for me, Jimmy? He’s divine.”

Maddie nodded in agreement.

“I’m not setting you up with anyone, you’re far too young,” I said flatly.

She sniffed indignantly.

“Fine, I’ll ask Brie,” she said. “Must be a perk of the job, getting to manage Cato Bagman...”

“She’s not a manager, she’s an agent, it’s completely different,” I said sharply. “Don’t go telling her she manages people. She doesn’t need any confusion over her job description. She tries to manage me enough as it is.”

“I’ll be your manager if you want,” Maddie cut in with a wink.

“What’s your hourly rate?” I replied with a smirk.

Lily let her head fall onto the table.

“On a Sunday morning, before midday, in the kitchen, in front of my parents, on my birthday?” she said to the tabletop exasperatedly. “Do you two have no shame?”

Maddie and I shared a glance.

“Nope,” she said.

“We can move it to the living room if you’d prefer?” I suggested.

“Or the spare room?”

“My flat would suit me fine-”

“No.” Lily sat up and glared at me. “Remember the deal, James? You flirt with my mates, I flirt with yours. Now scram, before I decide to give Murph a call.”

“Didn’t know women were your thing-”

Ryan, you chizpurfle.”

Mum made a slight noise in the back of her throat, and Al choked for a second time on his juice.

“I think you’re right, Lil, time for me to go,” I said loudly, getting to my feet. “Thanks for breakfast, Mum. See you round, Al. I’d better not see you round, Lily, until exams are over.”

“Oh, come on, at least give me Easter off,” Lily said, rolling her eyes. “It’s hardly as though you did any work at school-”

“Check out the exam results, young Lillian, they will tell you differently.” I smirked. “Frederick. Tuesday?”

“Tuesday,” he repeated with a nod, confirming our next night out.

I paused on my way out of the kitchen, as I came face-to-face with Dad.

“Look after yourself,” he said after a moment.

I nodded before leaving the house.

Once the front door was shut, I leaned against it and let out the deep breath I hadn’t realised I’d been holding.

That had been a close shave.


Chapter 3: three
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“-and then you have an interview with Witch Weekly next week Thursday-”

I let my head fall onto the kitchen table.

“James!” Brigid swatted me round the back of the head. “That magazine has a big readership-”

“And they’re all clearly so interested in Quidditch-”

“Of course they’re not, they’re interested in you, which is why you’re doing the interview and not Adelheid.” She paused. “Why, Jimmy, I thought you liked the female attention?”

I could tell by the tone of her voice that she was smirking. I wouldn’t have put it past her to have organised this damn interview just to annoy me.

“Look, it’s not that hard, Jim. They just want to know mundane things like what you look for in a girl and what your favourite food is. Just reel off a load of that wishy washy bollocks you know they lap up and it’ll be fine.”

I sat up and raised an eyebrow.

“Are you advising me to lie in an interview?” I said incredulously.

“With Witch Weekly, anything goes,” she said absent-mindedly, while flicking through her notes. “And that’s you done up until pre-season starts – which is two weeks today, don’t forget.” She brandished her quill at me. “You had far more requests for various engagements but there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to juggle those about, so you’re getting off practically scot-free there.” She slid a roll of parchment across the table towards me. “That’s the calendar for the next fortnight. Put it on a wall somewhere, as I’m quite sure you don’t remember a word of what I’ve just told you.”

“Nope,” I replied cheerily, taking the parchment and unravelling it. “Witch bloody Weekly...” I shook my head in disbelief. “Dad will disown me if he finds out you’ve got me doing an interview with them.”

“He’ll live,” she said brightly. “As will you.”

“I don’t know why you’re sounding so chirpy; you’re coming with me.”

“I know I am. It’s the only way I can be sure that you’ll go, and stay for the duration of the interview. I know what you’re like.”

I scowled.

“You make me sound like a slacker-”

“Fancy that.” She shoved her notes into her bag and flashed a smile at me. “Not enjoying the media side of things is perfectly fine, you know. You’re a Quidditch player; your job is to fly around with a red ball, not to spend your time doing interviews. That’s what I’m here for. Everyone else I represent is the same.” She smiled again and rested her head in her hands. “I can’t stay long. I’ve got a meeting with Aisling in about twenty minutes.”

Ah, Aisling Quigley. The Ballycastle Bats Chaser with those fantastic legs.

Brigid massaged her temples with the tips of her fingers. I dragged my thoughts away from Quiggers and her legs, and back to my kitchen.

“You look knackered.” I frowned and slouched back in my chair. “When was the last time you had a rest?”

She smiled wryly.

“Agents don’t get a rest, Jimmy. I’m fine, once pre-season’s started I’ll have a bit less on my plate.”

“You should come out tonight.” I nudged her leg under the table.

“I really shouldn’t,” she said, sitting upright. “Your mum’s doing an interview with Della tomorrow morning that I need to be there for-”

I pulled a face.

“Mum won’t mind you being slightly worse for wear,” I said. “Anyway, Della’s coming out, so you can’t use that as an excuse.”

“Who else is going?”

“Ryan, Klaus, Alfie, Roxie, Louis, Lucy, Freddie…”

She pursed her lips into a thin line.

“And is Fred taking his new girl with him?” she said, sounding disgruntled.

I shrugged.

“Should it matter?” I said. “Just wear the nicest thing you have in your wardrobe, make sure he notices you.”

“What do you think I did on Saturday?” she replied waspishly.

I bit my lip. I wasn’t really sure what to say next.

“She’s called Angeline, you know,” I said, hoping this would raise a smile.

“Oh, they’re on a first name basis already, how fantastic.” She scowled.

“Why...” I hesitated. “Why don’t you just tell him how you feel?”

She laughed hollowly.

“James, he’s pulled a part Veela, I really fail to see how I have a chance here.”

“I’ve told you, he’s interested-”

“If he was interested he wouldn’t have pulled the bint in the first place!” A solitary tear rolled down her cheek, but she wiped it away fiercely with the back of her hand.

I shifted in my seat, feeling slightly awkward. I’d never been any good at comforting Brigid when she was upset. Back at Hogwarts, it had always been Freddie who had hugged her, comforted her, returned the smile to her face. I’d been the one who ran down to the kitchens to get her favourite chocolate cake, or who hexed the person who’d upset her in the first place. I did the light relief, but it was always Freddie who had known what to say to cheer her up. But this time he was the cause of the problem, so it was down to me to comfort her, and I didn’t have a clue what to say to make things better.

I reached forwards across the table and took her hand, squeezing it lightly.

“Is there anything I can do?”

She shook her head and gave a slight smile.

“Don’t worry about me, I’m fine,” she said thickly. “I’m just being daft-”

“No, you’re not,” I cut in. “The only way you’re being daft is by thinking you’re being daft for getting upset about it.”

She frowned.

“I don’t think that makes sense...”

“Stop criticising my attempts at being sympathetic!” I complained.

Her smile widened.

“Atta girl,” I said, squeezing her hand again.

She got to her feet. “I should be going,” she said. “I’ll see you on Thursday – Which Broomstick? interview,” she added, seeing my perplexed look. “See, I just knew you’d forget. Honestly, what would you do without me?”

“Not do the damn interviews,” I grumbled. I was only partly lying. The Which Broomstick? interview wouldn’t be so bad.  The Witch Weekly one just took the piss. “Give my love to Quiggy.”

She nodded and prepared to Disapparate.

“Brie,” I called out. She stopped, and turned back to face me. “Keep your chin up, darl,” I said, smiling at her.

She returned a weaker smile, before vanishing with a loud crack.

***

“Brigid not coming?”

Roxanne reached across me to grab a Firewhisky from the table, but I smacked her hand away.

“Get your own booze,” I moaned. “No, she’s avoiding your brother, funnily enough. And what the hell has happened to your hair?”

She scowled and raised her hand to it subconsciously. It was massive and in corkscrew curls.

“It’s the fashion,” she said, sounding disgruntled. “Not that you’d know about that.”

“What era do you think this is, the seventies?”

She was prevented from replying by Lucy squealing as she joined us in the kitchen.

“Roxie, I love your hair!” she cried.

Roxanne shot me a smug smile. I scowled and left the kitchen to find more blokes. Freddie and Louis were lounging on my sofa, watching the highlights of the exhibition match.

Freddie and Louis were proof that the Weasley gene could be overridden. If it wasn’t for the incessant media coverage we received, most people would have found it hard to pinpoint them as Weasleys at all.

Louis had the incredibly pale skin of the rest of the family, but not the freckles that came with it. His colouring was down to Aunt Fleur’s genes and he, like Victoire and Dominique had the white-blond hair that was characteristic of Veela descendents. Freddie, meanwhile, had Aunt Angelina’s dark hair and skin, like Roxanne. The only other non-ginger in the family was Al, who was Dad’s double. Although I also had black hair, it had a ginger tint in it, thanks to Mum.

“Where’re we going, Jim?” Freddie asked, looking up when I joined them.

“I was thinking the Drunken Hinkypunk,” I said, referring to the nightclub in Diagon Alley, which had become our regular haunt.

Freddie smirked. “You just want to hook up with Leggy Allegra again.”

“Can you blame him?” Louis said. “She’s-”

Sadly, his thoughts on Allegra were interrupted by the arrival of the blonde bombshell that was Adelheid Brand, granddaughter of the legendary Rudolf and my fellow Chaser for the Falcons. With her was her cousin Klaus, one of our Seekers.

“I’ve brought some mead,” she said in her usual loud, brash voice, which only had a trace of a German accent, “and some brandy.”

“Nice to see you too, Della,” Freddie said, grinning at her enthusiasm for alcohol. “Merlin’s beard...” He leaned forwards and picked up one of the bottles of mead that she had placed on the coffee table. “This is that Heidelberg stuff, that’s bloody wicked!”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” she said, shrugging off her coat. “James, Alfie, Brigid and I got absolutely wasted on that stuff after we won the other week.”

His mouth gaped.

Brigid? She hardly ever gets that drunk-”

“And for good reason,” Klaus said dryly. “It was all we could do to keep her fully clothed.” He shot me a sly wink as Freddie’s cheeks coloured slightly. “No, it’s the brandy you want to try, that stuff is pure nectar. Evening, ladies,” he added smoothly as Roxanne and Lucy joined us. Lucy’s cheeks flushed red.

“Is Brigid coming out tonight?” Della asked loudly, popping the cap of a mead bottle.

“Nope,” I replied, helping myself to a bottle of mead. “She says she’s not going to your interview hungover.”

“That’s a load of rubbish. I’m out, aren’t I?” Della rolled her eyes. “Besides, it’s only your mother; Merlin knows how many times she’s interviewed you when you’ve been off your trolley.”

“Actually, Mum doesn’t interview me,” I said. “She always gets someone else to do it instead. Says she wouldn’t do a good job of it, and I wouldn’t give her the honest answers anyway.”

I felt something nudge my foot and looked down. I frowned when I saw the small purple ball of fuzz that was blinking as it looked up at me.

“Hello, Cordelia,” I said, crouching down. I held out a hand to Cordelia, who hopped into it, and then stood up again. “Where’ve you been, hmm? Under my bed eating the dust, I expect. Want some mead?” I held the bottle up to her. She sniffed it, then poked out her long tongue and licked the top. “You liked that, hmm? I’ll put some in your bowl for you.” I crossed the room to her cage and poured some of the mead into her water bowl. I set her down by it and she sat in it, drinking away contentedly.

“What is it with you and sitting in the damn bowl?” I sighed, shaking my head at my pet’s foolishness.

“Your pygmy puff is alcoholic,” Della said.

“Like owner, like pet,” Klaus added with a shrug.

“She’s not alcoholic!” I protested. “She just enjoys the finer things in life. Her favourite drink is red currant rum, but she doesn’t say no to a spot of Single Malt whisky.”

“Or mead by the looks of things,” Roxanne chipped in. “See, this is why Aunt Ginny only let you have a pygmy puff when you went to Hogwarts. Imagine you trying to look after an owl or a cat.”

“He still managed to kill two pygmy puffs while we were at Hogwarts,” Freddie said.

“Camilla’s death was a tragic accident,” I defended myself.

Freddie snorted.

“Yeah, you dropped your school bag on her.”

“It was an accident, and it was tragic,” I said. “It was by no means my carelessness-”

“Unless you consider throwing your bag on your bed without checking for Camilla first to be carelessness, which personally, I would.”

I scowled at him.

“Okay, so maybe there was a small amount of carelessness there, but Cassandra’s death was purely down to natural causes-”

“She ate your broomstick polish!”

“She died of stomach failure, Aunt Audrey examined her-”

“Yeah, stomach failure from digesting the polish!” Freddie rolled his eyes insensitively. “Besides, Aunt Audrey is a Healer, not a Vet. Face it, you murdered them both in cold blood.”

“For it to be murder it has to be premeditated,” I pointed out in my defence. “Okay. I’ll admit I can be a bit careless sometimes, but-”

Freddie snorted; Roxanne and Lucy laughed.

“Thanks for the support,” I said, rolling my eyes.

The bullying was cut short by the arrival of Ryan, with our first choice Keeper Alfred Keitch.

“Just seen the Bats in the Leaky,” Ryan said, as he shrugged off his coat. “Looks like they’re headed to the Hinky later. The Lynches didn’t look too happy to see us. I think they’re after your blood, Junior.”

Junior was my nickname amongst the team. When I’d first signed up, I’d been eighteen and the youngest player in the squad, albeit only by two years. Even though Roxanne had since joined us, the nickname had stuck.

“What’ve you done this time?” Della asked, smirking slightly at my misfortune. Sympathy from Adelheid was often hard to come by.

“Dumped their sister,” Ryan chipped in, helping himself to the killer mead.

“I didn’t dump her, we were never together-”

“You dumped Cassie Lynch?”

Klaus stared at me.

“I didn’t dump her,” I repeated. “I just ended the arrangement there was between us when she decided to take it a step further.”

Alfie rolled his eyes.

“James, she was hardly asking for marriage,” he said.

“You ought to know by now that anything more than a quick shag might as well be marriage to James,” Roxanne said dryly, nabbing one of Della’s brandy bottles.

“But...” Klaus looked incredulous. “Have you seen her legs?”

“Leggy Allegra’s got a cracking set of pins and a better view of commitment, it’s a no-brainer,” I said, and swigged the last of my mead.

“Sometimes,” Lucy said dryly, “I wonder whether one of us was adopted, because there is no way we come from the same family.”

The girl really had a way with words.

***

“I’d watch out for Eoin and Feargus if I were you. You’re not exactly their favourite person right now.”

Aisling Quigley sat down on the bar stool next to mine.

“I’ve never been their favourite person,” I replied, as my eyes swung from the lovely sight of Allegra dancing to the hugely less appealing Lynch brothers, who were on the other side of the room. I was more than happy to keep them there.

“That was before you broke their little sister’s heart,” Aisling said, spinning round to face the bar. “Firewhisky, please,” she said to the barman, before turning back to me. “If they didn’t think it would get them suspended from the Quidditch League they’d probably be pummelling you to a pulp right now.”

I snorted.

“I could hold my own.”

“Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “You, against two huge Beaters?”

I shrugged.

“Well, with a bit of help,” I said, gesturing towards Ryan and Alfie, both of whom were fairly burly.

“I’d rather not put that to the test,” Aisling said. “For a Falcon you’re not so bad, Junior; I wouldn’t want to see you take them on. Just watch out for them when we play you is all I can say. They’ll have free licence to swing as much flying iron at you as they want then.”

“I’ll have the two best Beaters in the league protecting me, Quiggs, I’ll be fine.” I gave a slight grin. “Though it’s nice of you to care about my wellbeing...”

“More like the wellbeing of all those thousands of girls who idolise you and your gorgeous face.” She raised a hand and pinched my cheek, but I slapped her hand away.

“Gerroff!” I moaned, as she let out a laugh which would rival Della’s for volume.

“So, who’s tonight’s target?” she asked, taking a large gulp of Firewhisky.

“Well after that assault, not you...”

“I plead innocence. If that was assault I dread to think what some of your pulls could be charged with. Besides, if I thought you were after me I’d be running out that door right now.”

“How rude!” I pouted.

“Not a masculine look, Potter,” she advised.

I dropped the pout.

“Who said I was even going for a girl this time?” I asked.

“You’re James Potter. It would be most uncharacteristic if you weren’t going for somebody. That redhead just there, in the green, she’s the one you had on New Years’, isn’t she? The one with legs to Antarctica?”

“Yeah, that’s her,” I said, keeping my eyes on the girl in question. “Allegra Fawcett. Al’s year at Hogwarts.”

Aisling nodded in recognition.

“I remember her now. She was a ‘Claw. Three years below me. Bloody annoying voice, if I remember rightly.”

“Yeah, but her legs!” I moaned.

“You have a fetish,” she said, sounding disgusted. “Where’s Brie, anyway? Merlin knows I need somebody who can hold a decent conversation.”

“Not here. What’s wrong with Della?”

“Foghorn Della? My ears can’t cope with the volume.”

“Roxie?”

“She’s hardly better than you; I swear she was raised as a bloke.”

“Touché. Lucy?”

“She’ll gush about bloody Klaus all night. I’m cool, thanks. That my lot?”

“’Fraid so. We tried to get Brie out, but she turned us down – and there you have her reason.”

Freddie had just made a move on one of Allegra’s mates.

Aisling tutted.

“That boy won’t know what he’s got until it’s too late if he’s not careful,” she said, before finishing her Firewhisky. “Fool thinks he’s making her jealous. He doesn’t see he’s just driving her away...” She sighed. “Men...” She paused and a sly grin appeared on her face. “Think the guy just down the bar from you is a Quidditch fan?”

Women.


Chapter 4: four
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

As was usual on Saturdays, though last week had been the exception necessary to prove the rule, Mum woke me at eight.

“How was your Which Broomstick? interview?” she asked as she bustled round the kitchen, restocking my food cupboards and cooking eggs and bacon at the same time.

I shrugged nonchalantly.

“They wanted my opinion on the Nimbus 6000,” I said.

She frowned.

“You fly a Firebolt Series Six.”

“I test-rode the Nimbus before doing the interview.”

“And?”

“You’ll have to read the interview,” I said cheekily, then had to duck the saucepan she playfully swung in my direction. “Okay, okay! It’s pretty damn good actually. Nought to two hundred in ten, same as Fiona, but it has better balance. The steering seems to come more naturally when I’m using Fiona though, but that might just be because I’ve had her a couple of years. I was only on the Nimbus for half an hour.”

“The Harpies are thinking of ordering a batch,” Mum said, flipping the bacon with her wand.

“Of Nimbuses?” She nodded. “Not a bad shout ... I’d prefer to fly the broom I know I get on with though, even if the team were willing to supply me with a free one.  I’ve flown Firebolts as long as I can remember. Whereas Roxie, she’s been on Cleansweeps all her life, and that Nineteen isn’t bad. Murph prefers the Nimbuses. Della and Klaus fly German makes, and Alfie and Julia wouldn’t dream of flying anything other than Comets, which is hardly surprising given that their families founded the company.”

“Ordering a batch of Firebolts didn’t do the Irish team much harm,” she pointed out.

“Sinead said she preferred her Nimbus. Not because it was better; the Firebolt was way ahead of its time back then, but because of the feel of her Nimbus. It felt right. I know what she means. Fiona feels right, it’s like she knows what I’m thinking. And it didn’t take long to become that comfortable flying her. It was the same with Faith, and Freya before her.”

Mum shook her head.

“I’m not sure which is more worrying, the fact that you name your broomsticks or the way you refer to them as if they were people.”

“Ryan does the same,” I pointed out. “He has Nadine, and he had Naomi before her. See, this is why you never played for England, Mum.”

I ducked to avoid the saucepan again.

“Watch the lip, Potter, or I won’t cook you Saturday breakfast again,” she said threateningly.

Like most traditions, ours had started with a spur-of-the-moment idea. It had been the day of my first ever match for the Falcons, and Mum, being Mum, had predicted accurately that I would be absolutely terrified, so she’d turned up at eight to cook me breakfast. Since then, we’d had breakfast together almost every Saturday, even if I didn’t have a match, or if we were playing on a Friday or Sunday – which, admittedly, didn’t happen often.

“How was your interview with Della?” I asked as she began to dish up breakfast.

“Nightmare,” she said. “Della was still pissed as a fart. It was an hour before we could get anything sensible out of her. Something to do with Heidelberg mead apparently. And Brigid was a moping wreck. Something to do with Freddie pulling on Tuesday night.”

I frowned.

“What idiot told her about that?”

“Della when still drunk, by the sounds of it. Honestly, you can tell that boy was raised by George and Angelina, he hasn’t a clue when it comes to women.”

I knew Mum wasn’t making a jibe at Aunt Angelina. She and Mum actually got on really well, but she’d never been one to talk about feelings and shit and it showed with both Freddie and Roxanne, who was, as Aisling had observed, very boyish in her mannerisms.

“Mind, you’re not much better...” Mum added.

“I resent that remark,” I said, glaring at her back. “If I was in Freddie’s position – you know, quite fancying a rather fine specimen of a woman who’s madly in love with me – I wouldn’t be hesitating to hook up with her. It’s not even as though Freddie’s commitment-phobic, I think he just wants to string it out a bit, wind her up.”

“He’s getting worse, though,” Mum observed, handing me a plate loaded with food. “Does he honestly expect her to wait around for him? If he’s not careful he’ll just drive her away, and then who’ll be looking stupid?”

I shrugged.

“I’d tell him this, but we don’t really chat about relationships. It’s not a manly thing to do.”

“Well then you’re a fool.” She sat opposite me with her own breakfast. “Surely Brie means more to you than sounding ‘manly’? Besides, the manliest men are the ones that can talk about their feelings.”

“Is that true, or do you just tell Albus that to make him feel better?”

She glared at me.

“Sometimes I wonder whether I did raise you, or whether you grew up with Fred or Hugo.”

“This is child abuse,” I complained.

“I’ll show you child abuse,” she muttered. “Honestly, James, would it kill you to be a little more considerate of people’s feelings?” She paused a moment and looked at me over her cup of tea. “If only you and your dad would just talk more-”

“We talk just fine, thank you,” I said flatly, turning my concentration to my eggs and bacon.

“Maybe you should come for dinner tomorrow-”

“Or maybe not. Heard from Lily yet?”

She sighed sadly. “You’re both hopeless...” she said morosely. “No, I haven’t, which can only be a good thing. She only writes when she’s upset or needs something these days. I assume you haven’t either?”

I shook my head.

“She’s back at the end of January, isn’t she? For Grandma’s birthday?”

Mum nodded.

“Who took her back to school on Sunday anyway?”

“I did,” she replied. “Took the whole lot of them, the fool I am. Lily tried to forget her school books as usual, but we got there in the end. She told me to remind you that her tournie is on the fifteenth of March, which is a Sunday so you shouldn’t have a match-”

“Mum,” I said, “I’m the wrong person to be telling this. Tell Brie. I’ll have forgotten by next week, let alone March.”

Her response was interrupted by the owl delivering the Daily Prophet.

“Della’s interview should be in this one,” she said, as I paid the owl.

I sat down and flipped over to the sports pages. Sure enough, a couple of pages in I found an article entitled “Adelheid Brand on dating, falcons and James Potter”, accompanied with a large photo of her which grinned at me.

“I’m glad you put that comma there. But really, did you need to put me in the headline?”

She shrugged.

“You’re hot news right now,” she said. “People will read anything you’re mentioned in. The bit about you is worth reading. The whole thing is, actually, but I know what you’re like; you’ll only read the bit about you.”

“You make it sound like that’s a bad thing,” I said sorrowfully.

***

Mum left shortly afterwards, and I decided to read the article. I soon got bored however, and skipped to the bit about me, slightly annoyed to be proving her right as usual.

“’Quidditch pundits all round the world have called the Falcons’ Chaser attack the best in the world. In light of these observations, can you tell us what it’s like to work with your fellow Chasers and whether you feel this is accurate?’”

I skipped through her comments on Ryan to find the bit about me.

“’James ... is an interesting one. He has talent, there’s no doubt about that. I mean, look at his pedigree; a father who rivalled Viktor Krum in terms of flying ability and a mother who played Chaser for the Harpies for years. There’s no doubting that he’s inherited both of your Quidditch talent. And at times it shows. At times, he can be the best Chaser in the world. But I don’t think he quite understands just how good he can be. I almost think he wastes his talent to some extent. I know that sounds incredible; he seems amazing to the average watcher. But when I see him in training, I see so much more than he shows in matches, hard as that is to believe. He just doesn’t see the player that he could be, if only he didn’t squander so much of his talent. But the exciting thing is that he’s young – he’s still only twenty-one – so he has a good twenty years or so of Quidditch left in him. As he matures, he’ll become a better player, and someday he’ll be up there with the best who ever played. I think he should be playing for England in the World Cup this summer. I know that as a German player, I would fear an English team with James in it much more than one without him.

“’In terms of our dynamic as a trio, I think I bring the experience and seniority – I certainly keep the other two grounded – Murph [Murphy] brings the speed and strength, and Junior [Potter] brings that youthful exuberance and unpredictability that make him so formidable. And we just work together. Being called the best attack in the world is a huge compliment, especially given other attacks like the Ballycastle Bats, the Vratsa Vultures and the Heidelberg Harriers – not to mention the international attacks. Bulgaria, Peru and Ireland, for example, are incredibly talented. But I’m not letting it go to my head. I’m just concentrating on my game; on the Falcons’ season first and foremost, but also on getting into the World Cup squad, along with keeping Murph and Junior well and truly grounded!’”

I scowled and threw the paper across the room. I wished I hadn’t read it. Another comparison to Mum and Dad was the last thing I wanted, even if Della had hinted that I was better than them both put together.

And how could she think that I didn’t give the game my all? I played my heart out for the Falcons every time I pulled the kit on. And I was hardly big-headed either, though she’d hinted at that too.

Suddenly feeling restless, I got up and fed Cordelia, who chirped at me in delight before sitting in her food bowl to eat.

“Bloody idiot,” I muttered. Even my pets were stupid.

I sighed heavily, before picking up my house phone. I dialled the second speed dial and put the phone to my ear.

It was answered on the third ring.

“Brigid Murphy, sports agent, how can I help?”

“It’s your favourite client,” I said.

“You’re not Cato Bagman,” came the reply.

“Oi, quit your googly-eyed obsession with Bagman, Mini Murph. It’s not healthy. I need a night out and so do you.”

“You’ve had two nights out this week, do you really need a third? Besides, Leggy Allie must be fed up with you by now, surely?”

“I always need a third night out, Brie,” I replied. “And Allegra could never get fed up with James  Potter. Come on, it’ll be fun! We could go to the Tavern?”

The Witch’s Tavern was a nightclub not far from the Leaky – but on the muggle side. We’d come across it a couple of years ago when on a pub crawl round muggle London, and had decided that a muggle nightclub with that name was just crying out for us to go in.

“James, remember what happened last time you went to the Tav?”

“It wasn’t that bad-”

“She nearly fell over your goddamn broomstick! What a fine way to break the Statute. Not a good idea, Jimmy.”

“Oh, come on Brie, lighten up! Look, Freddie’s less likely to pull if we go to the Tav.”

There was a pause.

“I’ll be at yours at seven. I’ll bring the Firewhisky. You can ring Freddie, Roxie and Lu. I’ll ring Ryan and Della-”

“No!” I interrupted. “I – just me, you and Freddie. Like old times.”

Given that I wanted to escape Della, a night out with her was not what I fancied.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Can Ryan come though?”

“I can’t believe you want to go on a night out with your brother,” I said. “Roxie hates doing it, and I can’t see Lil jumping at the opportunity of having a night out with me.”

“Ryan isn’t you or Freddie though, is he?” she said sweetly.

“I hate you.”

“Find another agent then. See you at seven!”

The line went dead.

I scowled again. Bloody women.

***

“James, can I ask you something?”

Ryan entered the kitchen and shut the door quietly behind him.

I frowned. Needing to talk to me about something wasn’t like Ryan.

“Sure,” I said, shrugging and pushing a bottle of Firewhisky across the kitchen table to him. He stopped it and popped the cap.

“Did you read your mum’s interview with Della?” he asked.

“The bit about me, yes. Nothing else though. Why?”

“So, you didn’t read the bit where she said she thinks blokes don’t find her attractive?”

I frowned.

What?”

“She said that she struggles to find dates, that she’s not the type of girl that guys want.”

“Well,” I said, “she’s hot, but she’s got a voice like a foghorn and muscles that would intimidate any guy-”

“Would you date her?” he interrupted.

“Of course I wouldn’t! I don’t see her in that way at all. She’s like a sister-”

“Or is it because she’s not your type of chick?”

“Look, I – why are you even bothered about this, Murph?”

“Look,” Ryan said, looking a bit flustered, “we always pull girls, right? At Quidditch parties, in the pub, at the Hinky... They’re interested in us, because we play Quidditch. But Della doesn’t get that. Neither does Roxie, to be honest. Or Aisling, or-”

“What’s your point, Murph?” I raised an eyebrow. “Why is this bothering you?”

“Just because you don’t care about other people’s emotions, Jim, doesn’t mean I don’t,” he said, but he was grinning slightly. “I just – it’s unfair, don’t you think? I mean, she’s a cracking girl, any guy would be lucky to date her-”

“What’s your plan, make a nationwide broadcast telling people about how hard it is to be a female Quidditch player and asking for sympathy from blokes? Or getting one of your mates to date her?”

“I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” he replied.

“Date her yourself if you’re that bothered about her feelings, Murph,” I rolled my eyes.

“Na, she wouldn’t be interested.”

He was trying to sound casual, but I could hear a hint of emotion in his voice. Every now and again my emotional depth surprised even me.

“Merlin’s left bollock, you like the girl!”

His cheeks tinged with pink.

“No, I just-”

“Why the hell don’t you do something then?” I asked.

He snorted.

“What, and then ruin the team when it all goes tits up? I’m fine, thanks.” He paused for a moment. “You know, I had mixed feelings when she started getting all those offers after the exhibition match. I mean, if she moved club then I’d barely see her ... but, at least then...”

“You could go for it,” I finished. “Why didn’t you move then? Not that I want you to, but...”

“I’d never leave the Falcons,” he said. “Even if Mum moved on. The Falcons gave me a chance. I wouldn’t be here if not for them. It wasn’t just cause Mum’s the manager, it was the entire coaching team, and I owe it to them. Not to mention the fans. I wouldn’t even move if the Kestrels gave me an offer.”

The Kenmare Kestrels were Ryan’s local team; he’d supported them growing up, and even now backed them after the Falcons.

“You know,” I said after a pause, “you and Brie are a right pair. Neither of you have the balls to take a chance-”

“Brie’s got good reason.” He scowled.

He wasn’t keen on Freddie. He used to like him, but since he’d started playing the field, Ryan had gone off him and thought Brigid could do better. To be fair, given Freddie’s current behaviour, she probably could.

“And so have I,” he continued. “I’ve told you, I’m not risking the dynamics of the team, not for a girl.”

“I admire your thinking, Murph.” I clapped him on the shoulder. “Now, with a bit of luck, Freddie and Brie will be lip locked on my sofa...”

It wasn’t to be. Instead when I opened the kitchen door, I saw Freddie draped across the sofa and Brigid curled in one of the chairs. They were both drinking Firewhisky and watching the television. They’d managed to find a replay of the 2002 World Cup final, between Ireland and Bulgaria, which had been a repeat of the 1994 Cup. The commentator’s voice was booming out of the speakers.

“Moran, Troy, Mullet, back to Troy, Moran – oh,Volkov’s aimed a Bludger at her face, and there’s a time out while Moran gets her nose seen to, there’s blood everywhere. That could well be broken...”

“Mum’s still got the scar from that,” Brigid said offhandedly, as the cameras panned round to show a much younger Sinead landing on the ground, blood everywhere, and the Mediwizards running onto the pitch to treat her. “She said she chose to keep it, said she was hardly a Quidditch player without any bumps or scrapes.”

I pulled a face.

“I’m fine without any, thanks.”

“No, don’t you worry, Jimmy, we couldn’t possibly have your beautiful face damaged by a nasty little scar, could we?”

Brigid winked at me and I returned it with a rude hand gesture.

“How rude,” she said delicately, before downing the last of her Firewhisky and setting the empty bottle on the coffee table. She got to her feet and smoothed down her dress. “Anyway, we’d better get going before we all get trashed here or we’ll be turned away from everywhere. And remember, James,” she added, pointing at me, “no pulling any Muggles tonight.”

“You say that as though I pick up a girl every time I’m out,” I grumbled.

She raised an eyebrow.

“That’s because you do. Man slag.” She shot me a cheeky grin.

Freddie snickered and knocked his bottle over, spilling Firewhisky over my carpet.

I really needed to trade my mates in for better versions.

***

“Brie’s not looking bad tonight, is she?”

Freddie had joined me by the bar but his eyes were on Brigid, who was chatting to a group of guys not far from us. Not far away, Ryan was talking to a couple of Kenmare Kestrel players we’d bumped into earlier, but he had half an eye on his sister.

“She always looks good,” I pointed out.

“Yeah, but tonight she’s looking extra good. Has she done something different with her hair or something?”

I rolled my eyes.

“You should tell her you think she looks good.”

He shook his head.

“Na, she’s getting enough attention, I doubt she’d be bothered with what I think.”

I resisted the urge to slap my hand to my forehead at his idiocy.

He suddenly let out a low whistle.

“Check out the hottie at two o’clock,” he said.

I turned my head in the direction he’d indicated and saw a tall blonde girl in a very short dress, chatting to another girl while shooting looks in our direction.

“She seems interested...”

“Yeah, eyes back on Mini Murph, Freddie,” I said and turned back to the bar, starting slightly as I realised someone was standing on the other side of me.

“Evening, Keily,” I said.

“Alright, Potter?”

Brianna Keily was the Kestrels’ Seeker and another Irish national player, who was also managed by Brigid.

“Want a drink?” she asked.

“I’ll buy; it’s fine,” I said. “How many of you are out tonight then?”

“Oh, the whole squad,” she replied, while trying to get the attention of one of the bar staff. “Making the most of our last week of freedom.”

I grimaced. Pre-season started in nine days for all teams.

“Not that any of us are really in a fit shape for training,” she continued. “You guys must be fighting fit after your exhibition match. The rest of us haven’t played since October.”

I snorted slightly.

“You have no idea how much alcohol has been consumed by the lot of us since that match,” I said. “We’ve got a fair few big drinkers in our squad. Trust me, it’s not looking too good right now.”

She gave a slight laugh.

“All the better for the rest of us then, we need some kind of advantage over you to get us all back on a level pegging. Any reason you picked the Tav for tonight?”

“Quieter than the Hinky, isn’t it?” I said. “Slight chance of being left to your own devices, which is nice every once in a while. Same for you?”

“That, and the exchange rate favours Muggle money at the moment,” she replied. “Where’s Weasley gone, anyway? I wanted to ask him about the Decoy Detonators.”

Just then, she got the attention of a barman, but I was busy looking for Freddie, who was no longer next to me. He wasn’t with Brigid either, which meant that he could only be chatting up some chick. I sighed with annoyance and turned back to Brianna, who thrust a drink into my chest – she was a good half a foot shorter than me.

“It’s on me,” she insisted. “Consider it a victory drink, three weeks late. Now, come and have a chat with the team. Connors wants tips on a Porskoff Ploy...”

***

Heading back to the bar, half an hour or so later, I saw the girl who’d been chatting with the blonde Freddie’d noticed earlier, sitting by herself on one of the bar stools. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed her earlier. She was very good-looking, with thick, curly black hair and quite a brown complexion. She had damn nice legs too ... clearly I was a sucker for the leggy type.

“What’s a pretty thing like you sitting by yourself for?” I asked, taking the stool next to her.

“Friend-supervising,” she said, nodding towards the dance floor. I turned to follow her gaze and saw Freddie with her blonde friend. I inwardly cursed him.

“No need to worry, that’s my cousin. He’ll more or less behave,” I said, turning back to the girl.

“And, of course, the word of a total stranger is going to reassure me about my friend’s safety,”  she said dryly, and drained her glass.

“Can I get you a drink?” I asked her.

“I’m fine, thanks,” she replied lazily.

“No, really, let me buy you a drink.”

She raised an eyebrow at me.

“I have expensive taste,” she said.

“No matter. I’ve got the money.”

“Really, I can buy my own drinks-”

“Oh, come on. One drink. It won’t harm you.”

“You’re persistent.” She looked slightly amused.

“Only with the really good-looking ones.”

She rolled her eyes.

“How corny...”

“But true. I didn’t quite catch your name...”

“That’s because I didn’t tell you it,” she drawled.

I smirked a little at her hard-to-get attitude.

“What is it then, may I ask?” I said.

She tutted and looked annoyed.

“Carlotta,” she said.

“Weird name. Is it foreign?”

She nodded. “Spanish.”

“Are you Spanish then?”

“My mother is.”

Ah. So that explained the slightly exotic looks.

“I’m James,” I supplied.

“Such a common name...”

“Yeah, named after my dead grandfather. Sorry if it offends you.”

She winced slightly. I hid another smirk, having finally got some emotion out of her.

“But it’s fine,” I continued, “I’ll let you off if you let me buy you a drink.”

She sighed.

“Fine-”

I tuned her out as Brigid appeared in front of me.

“I’m gonna go now,” she said, looking downcast.

“What?” I frowned. “But you’ve hardly been here. Don’t go yet! What about those guys you were chatting to?”

She shook her head.

“I don’t want to stay any longer, Jimmy.” She looked close to tears. I saw her glance at Freddie, and made a mental note to hex him next time I saw him.

“Oh, Brie, he’s a tosser, just ignore it-”

She shook her head again. I sighed.

“Do you want me to take you home?” I asked her gently.

“Ryan’s taking me,” she replied softly. “Thanks anyway. You stay, have fun, you wanted a night out anyway. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

“But Brie-”

Before I could say any more, she turned away and left through the crowd. I sighed in aggravation.

“Unrequited love?”

“More like he’s playing hard-to-get when he doesn’t need to,” I replied, turning back to Carlotta. “So, that drink-”

“Will she be okay?” she interrupted. “Should I take Evie home?”

I suddenly really liked this girl.

“It’ll be fine. It’s their battle to fight. He’s just being a plank. Now, this drink-”

She smiled slightly.

“You are ridiculously persistent,” she said. “It’s fine, I’ll get them. Oi, Matt!” she turned to one of the barmen. “Two double vodka and cokes, dock them off my wage.”

“Wha-”

“I work here,” she supplied. “Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.”

“You said you had expensive taste,” I said as the barman slid two drinks across the counter to us. “I don’t call this particularly expensive.”

She shrugged.

“I was testing your willingness to buy me a drink. Someone who isn’t willing to buy me something slightly more expensive isn’t worth my time, I figure.”

“You’re hard to please,” I told her.

“Yeah, but it gets rid of the lousy ones,” she pointed out.

“Does that mean I’m not lousy?” I smirked slightly.

“Don’t get too excited just yet.”

Her mate interrupted before I could reply.

“You alright, Evie?” Carlotta asked.

“I’m going back to Freddie’s,” she giggled drunkenly, pointing at him. He was a few feet behind waiting for her. I groaned inwardly and raised an eyebrow at him. He winked back at me.

“You sure you’re going to be okay?” Carlotta asked.

“I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. I’ll ring you tomorrow morning. You stay here and have fun...” She tailed off, casting her eyes over me, and giggled again.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Carlotta replied. “Look after yourself, Evie. I don’t fancy having to chase around the whole of London for you tomorrow morning.”

“I’ll be fine.” She smiled and headed back to Freddie, gave me another wink before taking her hand and leading her out.

“Right then.”

Carlotta’s voice drew my attention back to her.

“As I’m no longer on babysitting duty, we can stop all this pussyfooting it around,” she said. “Where do you live?”

I stared at her incredulously.

“Just round the corner, literally about two minutes...”

“Closer than me then. Drink up, we’re going.”

She got to her feet.

What?”

She shrugged.

“Unless you want to stay here, but I don’t see much point in that when your eventual aim is to get me back to your place. I’m hardly going to sit here for the next hour, pissing around and playing hard to get, when we both know that however it plays out, we’re going to end up at yours.”

I blinked.

Damn, this girl was good.

“Sounds good to me,” I said, downing my drink, as she’d already done and setting the glass on the bar. I got up from the stool as she turned to leave, reaching forwards to take her hand so as not to lose her in the crowd.

Outside she started to shiver. It was only January and she’d clearly not brought a coat.

“I normally bring a jacket out,” she said, as though reading my mind, “but Evie rushed me tonight and I forgot.”

“You can have my shirt if you want,” I offered.

She raised an eyebrow.

“And to think they say chivalry is dead,” she said. “You surprise me. You were the last person I’d have expected chivalry from. I’m fine, really, you’ll freeze without it.”

I cursed us both that she was a Muggle. If she were a witch one of us could have cast a Heating spell to keep her warm. I let go of her hand and wrapped my arm round her shoulders in an attempt to warm her up.

“You’d better not have been lying when you said your place was close,” she said, as we rounded the corner.

I laughed.

“I was telling the honest truth. Look, it’s just here.” I steered her towards the block of flats where I lived, then through the front doors and up the stairs. We came to a halt outside my front door and I dropped my arm from round her shoulders.

“Give me two seconds,” I said, digging in my pocket for the key.

She laughed.

“I’m used to messy places, it’s fine-”

“No, really. Two seconds.” I opened the door just enough for me to slip through, then turned back to her. She was grinning slightly and leaning against the wall.

“I’m not going to run off, you know,” she said, sounding amused.

I winked at her and shut the door.

I drew my wand and waved it in a sweeping motion that wasn’t at all feminine. In an instant, my photos froze, my broomstick and other Quidditch gear flew into the airing cupboard, my Quidditch Weeklys and Prophets dropped into the drawer under the coffee table, and the television clicked to tell me that the wizarding channels had hidden themselves. A cloth appeared out of nowhere to rest over Cordelia’s cage.

“Nicely done, James,” I muttered to myself. I hadn’t done that spell in a while. I slid my wand into the table drawer, giving the house one last check to ensure it was fully Muggle friendly, before opening the front door again.

Carlotta raised an eyebrow as she stepped across the threshold and looked round the living room.

“If this is it after you’ve had time to tidy, then you must be one hell of a slob.”

I grinned slightly and locked the door behind her.

“Nice place, though,” she continued, slipping off her shoes and dropping her bag into the chair in front of her.

I nodded.

She turned to face me, leaning against the back of the chair; her dress rose a few inches and my eyes fell to her thighs.

“Are you normally this inarticulate with women or is it just my sheer charm and good looks that are putting you off?”

I opened my mouth to give her a witty reply, but before I could say anything she had pushed herself up off the back of the chair and her lips were against mine.

Damn, I liked this girl.


Chapter 5: five
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was refreshing to wake up to a girl who wasn’t trying to propose marriage.

Carlotta was curled up on her left side, facing me, with one hand resting on my stomach. I smiled slightly, lifted her hand up and placed it down beside her head. She stirred but didn’t wake.

I rolled out of bed and pulled on a pair of boxers and jeans, then made sure to shut the bedroom door quietly behind me, as I headed out to the kitchen. Luckily, I’d beaten the Sunday Prophet owl. I doubted that it would have gone down well if it had come when I was still asleep.

The owl came as I was pouring some orange juice. It flew through the open window and nearly took out my glass.

“Bloody owls,” I muttered, digging five Knuts out of my pocket and stuffing them into the pouch on the owl’s leg, before taking the paper. The owl flew off with a loud hoot. I winced and stuffed the paper into the drawer in front of me.

Carlotta then appeared in the doorway, looking mighty fine in the shirt I’d been wearing the previous night.

“Morning,” I said. “Want breakfast?”

She looked slightly taken aback.

“You know, you’re the first guy who’s offered to cook me breakfast in the morning.”

“You’re clearly not pulling the right guys, then,” I said with a wink. “Is that a yes? I can only do eggs and bacon. I can’t cook anything else-”

She widened her eyes.

“You can’t cook a full English?” She sighed. “What do you have?” She opened the fridge.

“I think I have the full works in there, my mum was round yesterday and she generally restocks for me-”

“Sensible woman.” She pulled some sausages, mushrooms and tomatoes out of the fridge and closed it with her elbow. “I’ll teach you how to cook a full English.”

I stared at her in surprise.

“You know, you’re the first girl who’s offered to help me cook breakfast.”

She smirked.

“You’re clearly not pulling the right girls.”

***

“I’ll go to my sister’s; it’s fine.”

Carlotta was pulling her shoe on, gripping the back of the chair for balance.

“You sure?” I frowned. “I can walk you there if you want-”

“She only lives up the road,” she said, standing up straight and smoothing her dress down. “I’ll be fine, trust me.”

“Well ... you’ll freeze in that, it’s bloody January. Hold on a moment.”

I darted into my room and pulled open the drawer that held all of my Weasley jumpers. I rummaged through to find a plain one, figuring a jumper with a dragon on the front wouldn’t go down too well, and came up trumps with the scarlet one that Nana Weasley had knitted for my nineteenth birthday.

She looked surprised when I handed it to her.

“Oh,” she said, looking down at it.

“What?” I frowned. “Is there something wrong?”

“No, nothing’s wrong at all, I just...” She tailed off.

“Then...”

“I – I just...” She stopped again. “Thanks.” She looked up at me and with a slight smile, pulled the jumper on. “I’m just not used to guys actually being polite the morning after, I guess. You’re quite a breath of fresh air. Thank you, really, I appreciate it.” She stepped forwards and kissed me softly, before picking up her bag and turning to the door. With her hand on the door handle, she stopped and turned to face me. “I guess I’ll see you round some time.”

“Yeah ... see you.”

She smiled again and left.

Moments later, Brigid Apparated exactly where she’d been standing.

“Brie!” I exclaimed. “You complete fool, if you’d been two seconds earlier you’d have Apparated on top of a Muggle. Nice way to break the Statute-”

“Oh, well I do apologise, it’s clearly my fault that you decided to bring a Muggle home last night!” She sounded flustered. Her cheeks were pink and her hair was falling out of a messy bun. “Honestly, James, you as well? After I told you not to?”

“Hey!” I cried, raising my hands in defiance. “She initiated it! And, she taught me how to cook breakfast this morning-”

“Oh, how wonderful!” Brigid flung her arms in the air in exasperation. “I try for years and years to teach you to cook, without success, and some leggy bitch strolls along and teaches you after a one night stand! Well, if I wasn’t already feeling inadequate-”

“Don’t call her a bitch, she’s decent,” I said, frowning slightly, as I steered her into the chair. “I really don’t want to be plying you with alcohol on a Sunday morning but unless you calm down that’s going to be my only option. What the hell is wrong?”

She laughed bitterly.

“You actually have to ask?” she said. “Fred bloody Weasley, that’s what’s wrong. And that Muggle he pulled last night. And then I come here for sympathy, only to find you’ve pulled the girl’s mate! Oh, Merlin, you boys are both hopeless...” She buried her head in her hands.

“I resent being called a ‘boy’. I am twenty-one and most definitely all man.”

Cordelia let out a loud hum, so I pulled the cloth off her cage and filled her food bowl. She took up her normal position inside it to eat. “Bloody pygmy puff...”

“Freddie’s twenty-one and most definitely all boy still.” Brigid scowled. “Got today’s Prophet? I need to take my mind off things.”

“It’s in the kitchen-”

She pulled her wand out of her pocket.

Accio Prophet!”

I heard a kitchen drawer open. Moments later the paper flew into the living room, and into Brigid’s outstretched hand.

“Lazy much?”

I fell back into the sofa.

“I’m lovesick, I’m allowed.” She shook the paper open. “So.” She looked over the top of the paper at me. “Decent, eh? That’s high praise, coming from you. What makes her so special? Three tits? Two mouths?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but she raised a hand to silence me.

“Actually, scratch that, I don’t want to know.”

“She’s got a very dry sense of humour, you know,” I said. “A lot like you.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Don’t go getting any ideas. That would be like incest.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t plan on making a move any time soon.”

It was clearly the wrong thing to say when she was in such a fragile state. Her face crumpled.

“Yeah, I mean, who’d want me anyway?” She shut the paper and threw it onto the table.

I groaned, and lowered my head into my hands.

“Brie, I didn’t mean it like that and you know it. It’s like you said, you’re like a sister to me.” I paused. “And that’s nonsense, you’d be one hell of a catch, if only you’d actually make an effort-”

“I’m trying,” she snapped.

“No, you’re moping over Freddie! If he were to see you with other guys, it’d spur him on to actually do something.”

“If I have to resort to getting with other guys so as to get with him ... well, it seems a bit daft, if I’m honest. I’m beginning to wonder if he’s really that worth it.”

I stared at her, dumbstruck.

“Brie...”

She looked down at her hands, which were in her lap.

“Brie, you’ve liked him for ... well...”

“Since Fifth Year,” she told her legs.

This had me speechless.

“Anyway, I’m going to stop pining and moaning because it’s probably driving you round the bend. So.” She clapped her hands together, sitting up. “Let’s do something, Jimmy. Me and you. Like old times.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Let’s go mad,” I said dryly. “Doing ... what, exactly?”

She shrugged.

“Robbing a bank?”

“Sounds like a fabulous idea, just give me a moment while I fetch my dragon.”

She laughed, and got to her feet.

“Seriously. Let’s go for a walk. Somewhere. Anywhere. I don’t know.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“There’s nothing I like more than a decisive woman,” I said flatly. I glanced at what she was wearing. “Brie, it’s January. Which means it’s cold. Which means that one layer isn’t enough.”

“Who’s a clever boy?” She rolled her eyes. “I’m sure you have more than enough Weasley jumpers to spare in your room.”

“Wear one of your own next time!” I called after her as she headed to my room.

She returned moments later with two jumpers, throwing last Christmas’ grey one to me and pulling the deep blue one I got for my fifteenth birthday over her head. By now it was far too small for me, but I still had it, along with every other jumper Nana Weasley had knitted me.  I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out. I’d offered them to Lily, Brigid and Maddie among others, but they all had several of their own and didn’t need any more.

Having put on the jumper, Brigid threw a coat at my head.

“Brie, I said one layer wasn’t enough. I didn’t say we needed three.”

She scoffed and tugged on another one of my coats.

“Just put the bloody coat on, James, before I smother you with it.”

“Touching.” I pulled it on and got to my feet. “Where are we going then, o bossy one?”

“Diagon Alley,” she said decisively. “And we’ll Floo. I’m not walking down all those stairs.”

“I’ve got the bloody fire locked too. You would make it hard work for me, wouldn’t you?”

I retrieved my wand from the coffee table.

“Locked? Why?”

“Now, let’s think about this, shall we?” I said patronisingly, waving my wand twice at the fire; firstly to unlock it, enabling Floo travel, and then to create flames in the hearth. “What did we establish not ten minutes ago about the girl who was here last night?”

“Ah, yes, the Muggle.” She stepped forwards and took a handful of Floo powder from the pot on the mantelpiece, throwing it into the flames, which turned green. She stepped into the fire.

“Diagon Alley!”

With a spin, she was gone.

I waited for a moment, before following suit.

At the other end, I fell out of the fireplace onto the stone floor, as usual.

“You really need to learn how to exit gracefully,” Brigid giggled as I got to my feet.

“Oh, shut up,” I scowled.

Being a Sunday in mid-January, the Leaky Cauldron was thankfully close to empty, apart from the Sunday regulars.

“Morning, James, Brigid,” said the landlady, Hannah Longbottom, from behind the bar.

“Morning, Mrs L.,” we both chorused back.

“We’ll be back for lunch,” Brigid said with a smile.

I followed her out of the pub, and tapped the brick that revealed the entrance to the Alley.

“I need to pop to Quality Quidditch Supplies,” she said as the wall rearranged itself into the arch leading into the Alley. “Roxie needs some new gloves.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“How lazy does she want to be?” I said. “Tell her to get them herself. You’re her agent, not her PA!”

It was her turn to look at me incredulously.

“James, you’re talking to the person who bought you a wedding present for your cousin and a birthday present for your sister two weeks ago. Do you really think you’re in a position to talk?”

We reached Quality Quidditch Supplies and entered.

“Yeah, but you did that as a friend, not as an agent,” I attempted to reason with her as I followed her into the shop.

“In that case, next time I need tampons you can buy them,” she said, while perusing the numerous pairs of Quidditch gloves that hung down the right hand wall.

I spluttered.

“Well ... you’re less busy than I am-”

“You test rode a broomstick, answered five questions in an interview and brought home two girls last week. I met up with Mum and the Bagmans three times, attended every interview for every person I manage and made several visits to the Quidditch League to sort out paper registration and other admin. That’s a load of rubbish and you know it. Does Roxie have full-fingered or half-fingered gloves?”

“Half,” I said, turning my attention to the display of vintage brooms at the back of the store. Amongst them was Sinead’s Firebolt from one of the World Cups she’d played in. In fact, all of the brooms mounted on the wall belonged to legendary ex-Quidditch players. It was a museum of sorts. Numerous other relatives of current Falcons players had a broom on the wall, including Alfie’s several-greats-grandfather, and Cato and Cleo Bagman’s great-uncle Ludo. Cassie Lynch’s dad Aidan’s Firebolt was next to Sinead’s, along with Aisling Quigley’s father Finbar’s.

I sensed Brigid appearing at my side.

“One of these days, I’m gonna have a broom up on that wall...”

“Damn right you are.” She took my hand and squeezed it.

I waited outside the stationery shop and the owl emporium while Brigid bought some quills and owl nuts. People walking past the shops pointed and waved as they walked past. I nodded back at them awkwardly.

“All done,” she said brightly as she exited the emporium. “Anywhere you want to go?”

“Can we pop to Wheezes?” I asked.

She scrunched her nose up.

“He doesn’t work weekends,” I reminded her. “Come on, let me visit my long-suffering Aunt.”

Aunt Angelina was alone in the shop, restocking Headless Hats, when we entered. Most of their business came from Hogwarts students, who only visited the Diagon Alley branch in the summer and Christmas holidays. During the school year, it was the Hogsmeade branch they frequented. The occasional Ministry troublemaker or professional Quidditch player (not guilty) provided the Diagon Alley shop with year-round business, however.

“We’ve got some stuff that needs testing,” she said as she finished stacking the shelves. “Come through to the back, I’ll show you.”

“What is it?” I asked curiously, as we followed her through to the storeroom at the back of the shop.

“We’ve not named it yet.” She opened one of the cardboard boxes. “Quite simple, fairly harmless, just sweets that make your skin, hair, eyes, take your pick, change colour. All sorts of variations; some are block colour, others patterns. George and I have both tested them but they didn’t work as well on me as they did him, so we need to edit them so they have the same effect on all skin tones and hair colours. It would be helpful if you tried them too, see how they work on you.”

I reached out to take one of the bags she was holding, but Brigid interrupted before I could do so.

“How long does this take to wear off?”

Aunt Angelina shrugged.

“They’re designed to last about the same length of time as the Canary Creams. They lasted a bit longer than that on George, though.”

“Is there any chance of them going wrong with James?”

She shrugged again.

“That’s what we’re hoping to find out.”

“What’s the issue, Brie?” I frowned. “I’ve tested stuff before...”

“Yes, but you have a photoshoot with Witch Weekly in four days’ time-”

My eyes lit up.

“I’ll do it,” I said, reaching out and taking the bag from Aunt Angelina. “Just imagine, my face on the cover, with orange skin and polka-dot hair...”

Aunt Angelina laughed.

“If all else fails, kiddo, do a couple of colour-changing charms on yourself. We want to add scents and textures to these,” she added, “but we can’t do that until we know the colour-changing element works properly, or it’ll become too complicated. Think you could try some out, Brie? We don’t have any blondes in the family to try them, apart from Fleur and their kids, and I’m not sure how Veela genes will affect these things.”

Brigid hesitated for a moment.

“Oh, why not?” she said finally, holding out a hand. “You will be able to fix it if they go wrong, though?”

“Course I will.” Aunt Angelina grinned and handed her a bag. “You know the routine, say how long it all lasts, any problems you observe, what you ate or drank last, when you last slept, all of that. Think you can get some to Lily to test, James?”

I’ll do it,” Brigid said, interrupting me just as I opened my mouth to speak. “James only replies to Lily when she writes to him. She wouldn’t get them for weeks.”

“If you ever decide to drop the sports agent job and just become a PA, then I’m interested,” Aunt Angelina said, handing her another bag.

Brigid laughed.

“I’m afraid you’re behind Ginny, Hermione and Audrey already,” she said, with a grin. “But at least I know I have other options when James finally drives me to retirement.”

“Hey!”

***

On Tuesday morning, I had an unexpected visitor.

“Hi,” I said in surprise, as I opened the door to Carlotta.

“Hi,” she replied, smiling awkwardly. “I just wanted to return this.”

She held out my jumper.

“Oh!” I took it from her. “Thanks. I didn’t expect it back, so thank you.”

She frowned.

“What, you thought I was just gonna keep it?”

“No!” I said hurriedly. “Well ... yes, I guess ... but it was just that ... well, I wasn’t sitting by the door waiting for you to bring it back, let’s just say that. I mean, I didn’t tell you I wanted it back, so...” I tailed off.

“Well, I could hardly keep it,” she said. “It’s lovely. You can tell a lot of hard work went into knitting it.”

“Yeah, my Nana knitted it,” I said with a grin. “This one was for my nineteenth birthday. I get one every birthday and every Christmas. So does the rest of the family, and she’s started knitting them for friends now, too. I don’t think she does anything else all year.”

“That’s really sweet,” Carlotta said. “And you remember when you got this one?”

“I remember them all,” I said with a shrug. “If she’s going to knit me two a year, the least I can do is remember which is which.”

She smiled.

“Well, I should be going now,” she said. “Unless ... are you going out on Thursday?”

“I wasn’t planning on it,” I said.

Just then, I remembered that the blasted Witch Weekly interview was on Thursday. Going out afterwards seemed an incredibly attractive proposal.

“Oh. Well, you should. You should come to the Tav. I’m working, but you should come anyway. It’s cheese night.”

She spoke quite hurriedly.

“But if you don’t want to it’s fine,” she added before I could speak.

“I’ll ask around,” I said in amusement. I was wondering what she’d meant by ‘cheese night’ – it wasn’t a phrase I’d come across in my five years of Muggle Studies– but I didn’t want to ask her for fear of looking stupid.

“Cool!” she said. “Well, I’ll hopefully see you Thursday then.”

“Yeah, hopefully.” I smiled. “Thanks again for the jumper.”

“No worries!” She smiled widely. “See you!”

And with that, she was gone.

I closed the door behind her, staring incredulously at the jumper in my hand. Perhaps Leggy Allegra could wait a few weeks...


Chapter 6: six
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: For those of you who wanted more Carlotta ... this is for you. :) Also, I would like to state to anyone named Albert that no offence is meant by this chapter. :)



 “I still think this is a really bad idea-”

“Oh, shut up, Rosemary,” I scowled. “Aren’t we supposed to be encouraged to mingle with Muggles?”

“For a start,” Rose said. “Don’t call me Rosemary. Secondly, there’s a difference between mingling with Muggles and picking a Muggle girl up in a club, especially when you tend to stick with a girl only until it gets too serious for you. You know we’re only supposed to break the Statute in exceptional circumstances!”

“I’m not going to break the bloody Statute, Rosie,” I grumbled, falling back into the sofa.

“Don’t flop into the sofa like that, you’ll break the springs!” she scolded. “And you will break the Statute, because there’s no way that you can keep magic a secret with a girl round your flat all the time. The broomstick, the Floo network, the television programmes, people Apparating in-”

“She’s got a point with the last one,” Al added, sticking his head round the doorway from his bedroom. “You can block or hide the rest, you can’t stop people Apparating in.”

“I could,” I reasoned. “Hogwarts is anti-Apparition-”

“Yes, but there’s a reason that only Hogwarts has that security, James,” Rose said patronisingly, as Al retreated back into his room, “and that’s because it’s difficult magic.”

“We’re the kids of three of the most powerful people in wizarding Britain, I don’t see why that should be a problem.”

“Because that’s abusing their abilities, James. You can’t just cast anti-Apparition spells willy-nilly!”

“Well, in that case, people should start respecting my privacy and stop Apparating straight into my house.”

Rose snorted in an unladylike fashion. Well, she was her father’s daughter.

“When you start respecting other peoples’ privacy, they’ll respect yours,” she said.

“I do respect-”

“Let’s recap. How did you arrive here not ten minutes ago?”

I closed my mouth.

She smirked.

“So,” she continued, “how was the Witch Weekly interview?”

I groaned and threw my head back.

“It went well then?”

“I can’t believe Brigid arranged for me to do it! What in the name of Merlin was she thinking? After all the rubbish they spouted out about Dad, and your mum...”

“That’s the media for you.” She shrugged. “It’s all about raising your profile, James. It’s fickle, is fame. People love you when you’re on top, and hate you when you’re not. You’d better get used to it, cause you’re gonna get one hell of a lot of attention in the coming years.”

“I wouldn’t mind that,” I grumbled, “if I wasn’t forced to answer stupid questions. They don’t want to know a thing about Quidditch!”

“Of course they don’t. The average Witch Weekly reader can’t even spell Quidditch.”

“Nana reads it,” Al reminded her, joining us in their lounge.

“Well, that depends who you believe,” she said. “She’ll have us believe she uses it as compost. Now then, Albie.” She turned to him. “I’ll be having no rumpus from you tonight, please. I’d like to sleep in my own bed, if that’s at all possible.”

His cheeks tinged red.

“This is why you should have your own flat rather than sharing,” I said, leaning back with my hands behind my head.

“James, I’m only a minor employee in the Department of Magical games and Sports and Albus is still only a trainee Auror. Our wages don’t exactly compare with those of a top-notch Quidditch player. Anyway, I should be fine. Unlike you, Al doesn’t seem to feel the need to bed a different girl every night.”

“For a start, it’s not every night, and secondly, it’s not a different girl every time-”

“Oh, stop trying to defend yourself. The point is, Al has more self-restraint than you-”

“Is that what you call it?” I asked, turning and raising an eyebrow at Al.

His response, which I expected would have included a few choice swear words, a vulgar hand gesture and numerous insults, was interrupted by the fireplace, whose flames turned green long enough for Lucy to stumble out onto the rug.

“Evening, Luce,” said Rose as Lucy brushed the ash off her shoulders. “Make sure you clean that up.”

Lucy grimaced.

“You sound like Molly,” she said, disgruntled. “I’ve only just escaped her, please don’t start channelling her.”

“What was she doing this time?” Al asked, amused.

“She’s seeing some fellow from work. He’s boring as hell. Suits her down to the ground. Scourgify.” Lucy tucked her wand back into her pocket. “Dad simply loves him, of course. They could talk for hours about cauldron thickness. She invited him round for dinner. It was the most horrific two hours of my life.”

I pulled a sympathetic face. I had little time for Molly – mostly because she disapproved of near enough everything I did. This was why I liked Lucy so much; she might think I was a complete idiot at times, but most of the time she let me get on with it without complaint.

“So, why are we off out tonight?” Lucy asked, taking a seat and a bottle of Firewhisky. “And where are your normal drinking buddies?”

“I’m drowning my sorrows after the Witch Weekly interview, and the others can’t cope with more than two nights out a week.”

“A little bird told me that Adelheid wasn’t out on Saturday when you went to the Tavern,” Rose said, looking intrigued. “I thought she was your first port of call for a night out? And she never turns down a night on the town.”

I shrugged. “She can get a bit overbearing.”

“That certainly goes some way to describing her,” Lucy agreed. “She’s a lovely girl, but she’s very brash. It’s no wonder you two get on,” she added cheekily, before ducking to avoid the cushion I threw at her.

“Watch the vase!” Rose yelped, but it was too late. The cushion flew right into it, sending it crashing to the floor.

“Oops.”

***

“I’d rather be at the Hinky,” Lucy grumbled as we reached the Tavern.

“Yeah, we all know how you feel about the barman there, Lu,” I retorted.

“Oh, shut up.” She elbowed me lightly. “What’s with your fixation with this place then?”

“One of the barmaids,” I replied, following Rose to a table. Al had headed to the bar.

“Does that mean you admire her from afar or that you’re hoping to get her back to yours?”

“He’s already gotten her back to his,” Rose interjected.

Lucy raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I can’t say that’s one of your best ideas,” she said.

“You’ve taken it better than Rosie did.”

“Put it this way, James. Do you remember, in Fifth Year, when you decided to jump off one of the Quidditch hoops without a broom?”

I grinned at the memory.

That was a better idea than this.”

My face fell.

“Not you as well! What’s wrong with getting with a Muggle?”

“Both of you would do well to remember we’re in a ...” Rose glanced round, then mouthed the word ‘Muggle’ “establishment right now and you’d do well to keep your voices down if you must yack about such things.”

Lucy waved a hand airily.

“Point is,” she said, “that little stunt only risked your life. Now, I’m sure your death would cause your parents and Al and Lily a lot of grief, and I’d be disappointed too, but it wouldn’t threaten the existence of our entire community.”

I stared at her incredulously.

“What is it with you guys thinking I’m going to single-handedly bring about the downfall of the wizarding world? Brigid’s just the same. Honestly, I’m seeing a girl. We’re not even dating. I’ve only chatted to her twice. You’re acting as though this is the end of everything!”

“Well, it could be,” Rose pointed out. “One wrong move, and you know what could happen. Remember the last Muggle? She-”

“Nearly fell over my broom, I know. It won’t happen this time!”

“You don’t know that. Better safe than sorry. What’s wrong with going for a witch? I thought you had something going on with Allegra Fawcett?”

I shrugged.

“Haven’t really seen her since. Came here instead the other day.”

“Well, I wish you’d just go back to the Hinky in that case,” Rose muttered. “Have you ever considered celibacy?”

Her suggestion was met by laughter from Lucy. Nice.

***

I soon learned that “cheese night” basically meant a club night with rubbish music that sounded far better when drunk. During my lifetime, the wizarding world had adopted a few things from the Muggle world, such as television and telephones. Those I had embraced wholeheartedly, but one thing I was content not to even sample was Muggle music. The tripe being played in the Tav confirmed to me that I had made the right decision.

“I was wondering if I’d see your gorgeous face tonight.”

Carlotta leaned against the bar counter opposite me.

“You thought I wasn’t going to come?”

She shrugged.

“I thought I might have seemed desperate and scared you off. Drink?”

“Yes, please. And for the record, you didn’t seem desperate at all.”

“Good,” she said, grabbing a plastic cup, “because I wasn’t. I expect I’d have just about got over it if you hadn’t showed.”

I smirked.

“Thousands of girls don’t, you know,” I told her, as she measured out some Muggle alcohol into the cup.

“I’m not thousands of girls,” she retorted. She turned back to face me, grabbed a hose from behind the counter and squirted some form of fizzy Muggle drink into the cup. “Here, have it on the house. Don’t get used to it though; you’re paying for the rest.”

“Well, aren’t you a charmer?” I took the cup from her.

“I’m not trying to charm anyone, sunshine. Bring Blondie tonight?”

“Na, she’s all partied out for the week.”

“Shame; I could have offered her a night of frivolity with a dashing young fellow.”

“She wouldn’t go for it.”

Carlotta raised an eyebrow.

“Too in love with matey boy?”

“Partly, but it’s just not her thing anyway. She likes to think of herself as a self-respecting young woman.”

“And you don’t agree with her?”

“Who said I didn’t?”

She shrugged.

“Just the way you said it, that’s all. Who have you come with, then?”

“My brother and a couple more cousins,” I replied.

“Check out the street cred there. Do you have any friends that aren’t cousins or in love with them? Come to think of it, how many cousins do you have?”

“A lot,” I replied, with a slight grin. “It doesn’t leave me with many non-relations to be mates with, unfortunately.”

She let out a laugh.

“Brother, you say? He the hunk with gorgeous green eyes?”

My jaw dropped.

“You are joking. Hunk? My brother? What-”

She was laughing.

“He’s good looking, I won’t deny him that. Obviously not as good as you, darling, don’t get your knickers in a twist. What’s his name?”

“Al.”

“Short for?”

I paused.

“Albert.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“Albert,” she repeated.

I nodded.

“You’re telling me that they named you James, and him Albert?”

“Named after an ancestor,” I said smoothly, glad that I was the one with a Muggle friendly name. “He goes by Al, though.”

“I can see why. Poor boy...” She shook her head. “I think he deserves to get his whole bar bill on the house.”

“Don’t go feeling too sorry for him,” I said quickly. “He’s survived this long with his name. He doesn’t need sympathy dished out to him now.”

“I think you’re jealous that I think he’s good looking.” She smirked. “Oh, by the way, I need to just make something clear-”

“Carla! Less yacking, more serving!”

One of the other bar workers smacked her gently on the back of her head as he passed her.

“Alright, alright.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t move a jot,” she ordered me.

“It’s okay, it’s not like I have anything better to do than to just stand here...”

She laughed and moved away to serve someone else.

Albus appeared at my side.

“How long does it take to get a drink?” He grinned.

I gestured towards Carlotta.

“Just chatting.”

He cast a look over her.

“So that’s her?”

“Yeah. And she thinks you’re called Albert, by the way.”

He looked at me incredulously.

“What did you tell her that for?”

“Well, I could hardly tell her you’re called Albus, could I? It’s, like, the least common Muggle name there is.”

“But Albert? Could you not have thought of a better name than that?”

“You try coming up with a false name under pressure!” I downed the rest of my drink. “Where are the girls?”

“Chatting to some guys. Well, Lucy’s chatting, Rosie’s supervising. Lu told me I was cramping their style.”

“So you’ve come to cramp mine instead?”

He shrugged.

“Pretty much. What do you have to do to get served in this place then?”

I gestured towards Carlotta, who was still serving.

“Chat up the hot barmaids,” I said. “And if she offers you it on the house, she’s joking.” I wasn’t having Al get all the perks from her.

“She worth the risk then?”

I groaned.

“Not you as well! Honestly, is everyone just going to lecture me about this?”

He shrugged.

“I think I’d be wasting my time if I did,” he said. “You’d listen to me as much as you do to everyone else, which is basically not at all-”

“I listen to people,” I said gruffly, “I just choose not to take their advice on board.”

“Just ... be careful, that’s all.”

I nodded.

“I know,” I said.

“But that’s the thing, James. Sometimes, I don’t think you do.”

***

I left the bar soon afterwards, as the demand for service grew and it became clear that Carlotta wouldn’t have any time to chat.

 I returned later in the night, slightly worse for wear.

“Here.” Carlotta handed me a cup of water. “Drink it, you’ll feel better in the morning for it.”

I pulled a face, but drank the water anyway.

“What time do you finish?” I asked her.

“Well, in theory, I’m here ‘til we close at two, but I could get off earlier. Why, wanting to leave already?” She grinned cheekily, and flicked my nose.

“I just want to put you out of your misery, darl-”

“Oh, whatever.” She rolled her eyes, her smile still in place, and refilled my cup, with something stronger this time. “That reminds me. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I find it’s better to be honest now than to sugarcoat it and end up married a year down the line. You seem a nice guy, but if you’re looking for a relationship or something from this, then I’d look elsewhere if I were you, because right now I’m just looking to have a bit of fun.”

“You,” I said, pointing at her, “are my kind of girl. Can we go yet?”

She laughed.

“You’re so drunk,” she teased. “I’ll see if I can leave now, stay here and drink up.”

She turned and headed towards the other end of the bar. Moments later, Rose appeared next to me.

“Can we go home yet?” she asked.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Giving up already?”

“We’ve been here for two hours,” she pointed out. “And you seem well in there with your bird. Albus and I both have work tomorrow, and Lucy’s drank too much as usual. Behave yourself, I’ll see you soon.” She ruffled my hair and disappeared back in the direction from which she’d come.

I downed my drink in one and set the cup back on the bar counter. A pair of arms snaked round my neck and I turned to see Carlotta standing behind me.

“Let’s go, before they change their minds,” she said with a grin.

I vacated the bar stool I’d taken up residence on and followed her out of the club.

“Would they change their minds?” I asked, as she pulled a jacket on.

“One of the girls got a bit stroppy when I asked to leave. She’s got uni lectures tomorrow morning and wanted to leave early. But I’ve covered that many shifts for her recently that she’s got a cheek kicking up a stink now.”

“Are you at university too?” I asked, trying to remember what I’d learned about further education in Muggle Studies.

“No, I’m not interested in uni. I...” She paused, looking a little embarrassed. “You’ll think it’s stupid...”

“Try me,” I said, slipping an arm round her waist as we walked.

“Don’t laugh,” she warned. “I ... I want to own a restaurant one day. Or a pub. Or a cafe. I’m not sure. But something like that. I like cooking and I want to do something in that line. I know, it’s stupidly overambitious, but if you never try, you’ll never get anywhere, right? And I know it’s going to need a lot of money, but that’s why I’m working here, so I can start saving and hopefully begin to get somewhere.”

I stared at her for a moment, impressed.

“I don’t think that sounds stupid at all,” I said. “I think that’s really good, that you know what you want to do, and that you’re actually doing something about it. I mean, better to do that than to waste time and money on something you don’t want to do, right?”

She smiled, presumably reassured.

“Exactly what I say,” she said. “Mamá totally backs me with it. I inherited my love of cooking from her, you see. Dad ... well, he wants me to be happy, but he also wants me to be successful, and that’s not really guaranteed with this. He’s going to help me out as much as he can though. He says he won’t leave me to struggle.”

“For what it’s worth, I think you’ll succeed,” I said. “I mean, you managed to teach me to cook, and my family and friends have been trying and failing for years.”

She laughed.

“I showed you how to cook sausages and mushrooms, James, I hardly think that demonstrates an ability to run a restaurant,” she said. “But thank you anyway, it means a lot. Anyway, what are you doing at the moment? Job? Studying?”

We had reached my flat. I paused and rummaged in my pockets for my key while I tried to come up with a plausible story.

“I play football,” I said, remembering the sports section of the Muggle Studies course. “It’s a small team,” I added hurriedly, in case she was a fan of the sport. “Nothing too special.”

“You any good?” she asked cheekily. I elbowed her playfully as I opened my door, causing her to squeal.

“I don’t think I’m too bad,” I said, nudging her through the doorway. “Better than you are at cooking, I reckon.”

“Blasphemy.” She kicked her shoes off. “Don’t suppose you’ve got anything of the alcoholic variety in your kitchen, have you?”

“Mead?” I suggested.

A bewildered look crossed her face.

“It’s good stuff!” I protested. “From Germany. I have a couple of German friends who bring it over. Trust me, you’ll like it.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I’ll take your word for it,” she said dubiously. “Lead the way.”

“Can you not drink on the job?” I asked, as we headed for the kitchen.

She laughed.

“Can you imagine me trying to serve people when I’m just as pissed as they are? No, that definitely wouldn’t work. How old are you, by the way?”

“That was random,” I said, as she sat down at the kitchen table. “Twenty-one. You?”

“A woman never discloses her age.” She smirked. “Twenty.”

“Same age as my cousin Lucy,” I observed, grabbing two bottles of mead from the side. “Want a glass?”

She shook her head.

“I’ll drink out of the bottle; I’m not at all classy. How many cousins do you have, then?”

“Nine.” I sat down opposite her. “And a brother and a sister. You?”

“A few cousins back in Spain who I rarely see, and a brother and a sister, same as you. Do you see your cousins often?”

“All the time,” I said. “We’re a close family, I guess. Couple of them annoy me at times, but in general they’re alright. Freddie and Lucy were the same school year as me, so I saw a lot of them in particular.”

“When’s your birthday?” she asked.

“What’s this, twenty-one questions?” I grinned. “September, why?”

“Working out how many school years ahead of me you are,” she said. “My birthday’s November, so I would have been the year behind you. Which school did you go to?”

“Boarding school in Scotland,” I said quickly. “You won’t have heard of it.”

“I wouldn’t have put you down as a boarder. Why Scotland?”

“Dad’s old school. Done interrogating me yet?” I grinned; she remained unabashed. “How’s the mead?”

“Surprisingly nice,” she replied. “I feel like I should be apologising to it for my preconception.”

“Just finish it, that’s an apology enough. Do it naked and it’ll forget you ever doubted it.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“And you’ve absolutely no ulterior motive for wanting me to undress?”

“Would I really advance my own interests in the name of my beloved German mead?”

“You’re a bloke; you’d do anything necessary to get a girl in bed.”

“Don’t sugarcoat it, love; say what you mean.”

She smirked, and drained the bottle.

“Drink up, gorgeous,” she said, getting to her feet and leaving the kitchen.

I glanced at my bottle of mead, which was still full, then got to my feet and poured the liquid down the sink.

After all, I could hardly leave her waiting, could I?


Chapter 7: seven
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Next morning, I was woken abruptly by the sound of the phone ringing. Carlotta let out a groan and buried her head under the pillow. I rolled over and grabbed the phone from the bedside table.

“Lo?”

It was Brigid.

“Team meeting in ten minutes at base,” she said, without bothering with a greeting.

“I – wha?”

“Last night the League called a snap meeting; something to do with a last-minute decision about the season schedule. All the managers and coaches are there now.  Mum wants to meet with the squad when it’s over to explain. Just be at the training ground in ten minutes. I’ve got to go; I’ve got about twenty other people to ring. See you later!”

With that she hung up.

I groaned, put the phone back in its holder, and hauled myself up out of bed.

Carlotta emerged from under the pillow, looking confused. I held back a laugh, seeing her bed hair.

“Gotta go,” I said. “Work stuff. Stay there as long as you like, I shouldn’t be too long. Help yourself to food if you get hungry.”

She nodded, her head dropping back onto the pillow with a soft thump.

I arrived at the training ground in Falmouth quarter of an hour later to be greeted by a sleepy Della, and a sleeping Klaus.

“Mo-morning,” Della said, a yawn catching her mid-word.

“What’s going on?” I asked, falling into the sofa next to her.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” she said. Her head was falling onto my shoulder. “But if it’s not important, then Sinead’s getting it.”

The huge frame of recently signed Cato Bagman appeared in the doorway leading from the meeting room where we were into the kitchen. He had a steaming mug in one hand and a pasty in the other.

I frowned.

“Who’s feeding you, Bagman? And more to the point, where’s mine?”

He grinned.

“Jules took pity on me. And you don’t get any. You have to starve.” He settled himself down in a chair opposite me and put his mug down on the table between us. “Good to see you, Potter.”

He held out a hand, which I shook.

“Good to have you on board, mate,” I said. “Even if you are worming your way into our Julia’s affections. Oi, Horton!” I raised my voice and turned my head towards the kitchen. “Where’s my grub?”

“Hold your horses, boy, you’ve only just gotten here!” Julia replied. “One minute and I’ll be out with something.”

Julia had played Chaser for the Falcons and for England for years and was still a fine player. She was now a reserve as well as being our Chaser coach and the mother hen of the team.

“What you got, then?” I asked Cato.

“Sausage,” he said, his words muffled by the pastry.

“Ah, the Horton speciality,” I said, propping my legs up on the table.

“And don’t you forget it!”

She emerged from the kitchen, carrying a tray with two mugs and two plates balanced on it. She set it down on the table, pushing my feet off it.

“Feet belong on the floor,” she scolded. “You’re as bad as my five year old.”

“How are the kids?” I asked, taking the plate and mug she handed to me. “Cheers, Jules, you’re a star.”

“I know.” She grinned and took a seat at the table. “They’re good, thanks. Jennifer keeps blowing the place up, and Patrick can be a little tyke at times, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. We bought Patrick a new toy broom the other day, which has proved a near disaster. We’ve had to box away anything fragile we still have. Putting them out of his reach isn’t enough anymore.”

I laughed and tore my pasty in half.

“He the next big thing for the Falcons then?” I asked.

“Well, I think he needs to grow a bit first,” she replied, “but you never know.”

Cato’s sister Cleo joined us from the kitchen. She had the Bagman good looks – as had her brother, I grudgingly admitted. Both also had the Bagman frame, which came with being a Beater, however, which in Cleo’s case detracted slightly from the looks.

“Hi, James,” she said with a smile, as she joined us. “Good to see you again.”

“Good to see you in Falcon colours, darl.” I gave her a cheeky wink.

“Don’t go turning the charm on with my sister, Potter, or you’ll find yourself more acquainted with my fist than you want to be.” Cato sounded threatening, though he added a grin to dampen the threat slightly. I wasn’t too reassured; he was a big man.

“Threat well and truly taken on board,” I said, finishing my pasty. “So,” I continued, turning back to Julia, “any idea what this League meeting is about?”

“I know as much as you do,” she replied. “Brigid says it’s about the season schedule, though, so I expect it’s something to do with how to fit it round the World Cup.”

Our season lasted from early March to mid-November. The games were played on Saturdays and we played the other twelve teams in the league both home and away, with three games in a row, followed by two weekends off. This year’s World Cup, however, was scheduled to run from mid-July to the end of August, game-length permitting so we’d been expecting the League schedule to be rearranged. Continuing during the World Cup would be unpopular and near unfeasible. We expected to lose our weekends off, which in fairness, we didn’t really need unless a game lasted more than a few days. I couldn’t say that I wouldn’t miss them, though – I’d spent many a weekend off frequenting the Hinky or the Leaky.

“Mind you,” Julia continued, glancing at her watch, “at this rate most of the squad won’t be here to hear what the League’s decision is.

“This everyone so far?” I was surprised. I was normally the last to show for team meetings.

“No, everyone else is hiding in the lockers,” she replied sarcastically. Cato choked on his coffee and Della giggled sleepily from my shoulder. “Laura should be here soon; I spoke to her earlier. Brigid says to expect everyone, but I won’t expect Ryan to turn up within the next twenty minutes. She’s fully expecting to have to drag him out of bed.”

I grinned. If I was last to arrive at team meetings, Ryan was the second to last.

Right on cue, our sixth Chaser, Laura – another ex-England legend – joined us in the meeting room.

“I’ve heard a rumour from an insider, and you won’t like it,” she said, shrugging her coat off.

“This insider wouldn’t be your dearly beloved, would he?” Della asked, raising an eyebrow.

Laura’s husband worked in the Department of Magical Games and Sports, so he had a lot of involvement with the League.

“I always said he was useful for something,” she said, with a slight grin.

“Yes, yes, enough chat about the hubby, what’s the rumour?” I said impatiently.

“Shortened season,” she said gloomily.

The others looked as dismayed as I felt about the possibility.

“If that’s true, it’s a disaster,” Julia said. “How can you chop part of the season out? Completely ridiculous.” She shook her head, as if to emphasise how ludicrous she thought it.

“I get that we can’t play the League during the Cup,” Della said. “I mean, we’d be desperately short...”

“Down to two Beaters and three Chasers tops, and we’d have no Seeker in our squad,” Laura chipped in.

“Exactly,” she continued. “And the Irish, Scottish and Welsh clubs would be left with ... ooh, maybe one team combined? Not to mention that they’re using most of our pitches for World Cup matches. But there’s no reason why we can’t play the whole thing and leave a gap for the Cup.”

One by one the rest of the squad arrived. Roxanne was still in her clothes from the night before. She’d been to the Hinky and hadn’t gotten to bed before Brigid had called her, apparently. Having had at least six hours’ sleep, her all-nighter made me feel old. Ryan arrived half an hour after I’d rocked up, and was even more surprised than the rest of us to discover to have beaten his mother.

“She said she’d be here by half past nine, and she sounded fairly confident about it,” said Brigid, who had arrived with her brother – the lure of Julia’s cooking was clearly too strong. “If the meeting’s already overran by half an hour...”

“They clearly can’t come to a concensus,” said Keira – a Beater, and another member of our ex-England club – with a shrug. “I expect the teams with few internationals are begging for the League to happen as scheduled, the slimy buggers-”

“-and the bigger clubs like us will want the full season but with the break,” finished Alfie, who was playing catch with our other Keeper Sophie, our fifth and last ex-England player. He deftly caught the Quaffle that she lobbed at him, passing it back to her with barely a pause.

Sinead arrived ten minutes later, looking frazzled.

“Absolute nightmare,” she said, shaking her head. “Thanks, Jules,” she added, as Julia handed her a mug of tea. She sat down in the circle that we’d created. “Half the season chopped.”

The reaction was one of dismay and outrage.

“What?” cried Sophie.

“That’s ridiculous!” Klaus chipped in, now fully awake.

“How are they doing it?” Roxanne asked.

“Twelve matches, six home, six away, from mid-March as normal, but ending in early July, with the two-week breaks intact.” Sinead pulled a pile of parchment out of her bag. “I’ve got fixture lists here for you all. The last match is on a Friday because the World Cup draw is the Saturday. I can’t say I’m not disappointed, kids. I was fully behind having a split for the Cup, and chopping the breaks out. Unfortunately, some of the other clubs disagreed.”

“Bet it was the Cannons,” Ryan grumbled.

The Falcons had always had a not-so-friendly rivalry with the Cannons, possibly due to the proximity of the two clubs. This rivalry only made my ‘betrayal’ worse for poor old Uncle Ron.

“I hate to add fuel to the fire,” Sinead said, “but I’m afraid they were. Along with the Arrows and the Warriors. The Bats, Kestrels and Harpies agreed with us, but unfortunately it wasn’t a club vote, it was a board vote, and they felt that a shortened season was best for the smaller clubs. Completely unfair, if you ask me, but there’s not much I can do about it that won’t lead to us getting kicked out of the League, so I guess we’ll just have to grin and bear it and make the most of having September, October and November off.”

“I’ll hate that,” said Della, who was one of those people who needed to be doing something.

“Long holiday in Germany?” Sinead suggested. “Might be worth looking into a short-term contract with the Harriers. Actually, on that note, if any of you want to use that spare time to get some games in elsewhere, let me know and we’ll work something out.”

My mind filled with visions of playing in Australia, or the USA, or southern France. While I wouldn’t leave the Falcons, I couldn’t deny that the idea of a stint playing in another country was incredibly enticing.

Ryan caught my eye across the room.

“I hear Amsterdam’s side are improving,” he said with a smirk.

Brigid dropped her head into her hands.

“No chance,” Sinead said flatly. She handed out the fixtures lists. “Don’t you dare lose these, guys. First training on Monday at nine sharp. Be here, be on time, be sober.”

Be sober? Had she met her squad?

***

A bewildering sight, accompanied by a nice smell, greeted me when I returned to the flat, leaving me wondering if I’d opened the right door.

“Okay, don’t get annoyed,” Carlotta said quickly, brandishing a wooden spoon and a pair of tongs. “But I thought it was such a waste, your mum buying all this nice food for you every week, when you barely eat any of it, and so I thought maybe I could do something with it that you could heat it up and eat-”

“Have you cooked it all?” I asked, staring at the dishes of food cooling down on the table.

“Not all of it...”

I looked back at her. She looked nervous; the emotion seemed out of place as she usually seemed so confident.

“I’m not mad, you know,” I said. My eyes fell on the tongs. “Er, any chance you could put the utensils down?”

“Sorry.” She set the tongs and spoon down. “Anyway, you had lots of mince. That was sensible of your mum. Once you know what you can do with it, it’s easy to whip anything up. I’ve done you some bolognese, some stew and some chilli. You just need to heat it up and cook something to go with it – spaghetti, naturally, for the bolognese – and you’re away. I’ve written the recipes down, so you can manage them yourself in future. Is ... is that okay?” She shifted slightly, looking awkward.

My eyes darted to the table, and the steaming food, then back to her.

“I...”

The truth was, I was speechless. It was one thing having Mum, Lily and Brigid ply me with food and try to teach me to cook it, but from Carlotta, a girl I’d known for less than a week...

“Yeah,” was all I could say. “Yeah, it’s okay.”

***

“It’s a load of bollocks,” Mum proclaimed the next morning, having heard about the season schedule. “I wrote an article on it yesterday. It’s in today’s paper, not that you’d read it. Farcical decision. You don’t need those long breaks! It’s going to kill all the interest in the League. The World Cup will entirely overshadow it. Not to mention, you don’t need any more opportunities to go out getting drunk. I was hoping they’d cancel your fortnights off, not give you three extra months.” She shook her head. “You’ll be living in the Hinky by October and broke by December.”

“You exaggerate my love affair with the Hinky,” I said. “Besides, it’s all about the Tav now. The exchange rate benefits us-”

“-and some Muggle girl you’re interested in works there. Al told me yesterday.” She raised an eyebrow at me. “I won’t say what I think about that. Al said Rose has already said it all and you pay about as much attention to me as you do to her. Where have all those meals in your freezer come from, by the way? They certainly weren’t there last week and there’s no chance you cooked them.”

“Carlotta cooked them,” I said, around a mouthful of egg. “The Muggle,” I clarified, seeing her blank expression. “She likes cooking.”

She stared at me for a moment, looking shocked.

“I don’t know how you do it, James,” she said, shaking her head. “You manage to get them all wrapped round your little finger, even the ones who haven’t a clue about Quidditch...” She tailed off, and sat down opposite me with a mug of tea. “Have you talked to Lily since she went back to school?”

I shook my head.

“She’s got a job interview on Monday at the Ministry.”

My eyes widened.

“Really? What for?”

“Liaison to the Muggle Prime Minister,” she replied. “That’s the one she was going for. So hopefully it’ll go well, although apparently she’ll still need to get the required grades even if it does, so she won’t find out if she’s got the job until August.”

“She’ll get the grades, no worries. She’s cleverer than me and Al put together. Is she applying for anything else?”

“A few things, but I’m not entirely sure what. She’s quite vague about everything other than this job. She’s been after it for years now. I think she’s got her heart set on it. If she doesn’t get the grades, or her interview goes badly, I dread to think how upset she’ll be...” She let out a loud sigh. “Never mind. Positive thinking, right? And she’s certainly got the charisma to pull the interview off. She’ll be fine.” She paused again. “Just think, the three Potter kids, all either playing professional Quidditch or working for the Ministry. Who would have dared to predict that, eh?”

I laughed.

“I can be more original if you want, Mum,” I said. “I could own an apothecary?”

She was mid-gulp at the time, and nearly spat out her mouthful of tea.

“Don’t make me laugh when I’m drinking,” she scolded once she’d finally swallowed.

“I don’t think it’s that ridiculous an idea,” I said defensively.

“You and Potions didn’t exactly go together when you were at school.”

“If an E in the N.E.W.T.S counts as ‘not going together’, I dread to think what a fail is. Besides, what did you get for N.E.W.T Potions? Look at your own shortcomings before trying to find them in your vastly more successful son-”

“You are insufferable,” she complained. “Honestly, who raised you?”

“Do you want me to answer that?”

She hesitated for a moment.

“You are simply perfect, darling, the woman who raised you clearly knew exactly what she was doing. Now, run along and feed your pygmy puff.”



A/N: These last two have been a smidgen fillery, for which I apologise; though this one does contain some important Quidditch stuff, and of course we've had a bit more of Carlotta, which can only be a good thing, right? :P In the next chapter ... Carlotta meets Lily. :)


Chapter 8: eight
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I didn’t notice the paper lying by my phone until Sunday evening.

“You can’t say you’re not desperate and then leave your phone number by my phone,” I said, when I rang Carlotta.

“And yet, you’re the one who chose to ring me,” she pointed out. “I was just giving you the option. Putting the ball in your court, shall we say?”

“Well, what if I don’t want it in my court?”

“That’s not a problem. Out tomorrow night?”

I suppressed a groan.

“Do you live at the Tavern?”

“I’ve got Tuesday night off this week. I’m having a night out to celebrate.”

“At the same place?”

“Perk of the job. Free entry, free drinks, it’s a no-brainer. Anyway, I’ll definitely be there Monday, so if you’re there I’ll see you, if not I won’t. Have a nice day!”

She hung up.

What a girl.

***

The Quidditch season lasted so long that we had little time off each year. Training ended the moment the season did, in late November, only to start up again in late January. In our case, we’d had even less time off last year, due to our extra training for our exhibition game three weeks ago, just before new year.

However, despite having had less than eight weeks without practice, Monday’s training session still turned out to be terrible.

It started with Ryan and Alfie breaking two of Sinead’s golden rules, turning up both late and hungover.

From there, it just got worse. Though Ryan, Della, Julia, Laura and I had played together for years, it was as if we, and Roxanne, had forgotten how to work as a team.  Usually gifted at dummy passes, Della hardly made any at all and those she did make, we missed. On our day, Ryan and I could get a sequence of rapid passes together, so fast that nobody else could get to the Quaffle. Today, however, something just wasn’t clicking. Klaus and Stefan were both failing to find the Snitches that Sinead had released – all ten of them – and if us Chasers managed to get a shot on target, the odds were that the Quaffle would go sailing past Alfie and Sophie and through the hoops. As for the Beaters, Keira, Jacob, Cato and Cleo may as well have been competing to see which of them was worst and the rest of us had to execute some pretty sharp dives and swerves to avoid being injured by the Bludgers.

“This is good,” Della reminded me and Ryan as we stood on the ground, watching Roxanne, Julia and Laura attempt a Porskoff Ploy. I wasn’t sure which was worse, the girls’ efforts or Alfie’s performance at the hoops. “We’re getting all the bad stuff out of the way now, so that when the season starts, we’ll be damn invincible. It happens every year, remember?”

“Not really,” I said with a wry grin. This time last year, I’d been knocked out by a Bludger. Since then, I’d become an expert iron dodger.

“Back in the air, guys!” Sinead yelled at us. “You’re not going home until you’ve done a perfect Woollongong Shimmy, and given your performance so far, you could be here all week without sleep if you don’t start pulling your finger out.”

I glanced at the other two once Sinead turned her attention back to the others.

“Tav tonight?”

“I’m in.”

“It’s a date.”

After all, rules were made to be broken.

***

The three of us and Alfie made it to the Tav late that night. Training hadn’t finished until a good few hours after dark and then we’d sunk a few quick meads at Ryan’s before leaving, so we were feeling slightly the worse for wear, apart from Della, who could handle ridiculously large quantities of alcohol. Within moments, Alfie had caught sight of a girl and disappeared, leaving Ryan and me to stop Della starting a fight with a girl who’d fallen into her.

“If you get in a scrap, I’m not helping you out,” I said, steering her to the bar. “If you get kicked out, I’m not leaving.”

“Your loyalty astounds me,” she said dryly, before putting in an order for six pints of lager.

“There is no way I’m gonna be able to keep up with her,” Ryan murmured. “I’ll be comatose in the morning if I drink as much as she will.”

“What kind of a man are you?”

“Let’s see how much you can drink before having to bow down to her superior drinking skills.”

A pair of arms snaked round my neck, and Carlotta planted a kiss on my cheek.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” she said.

“Got out of work late,” I said, turning to face her. “This is Ryan, and Della. Kids, this is Carlotta.”

“You can call me Carla,” she said, flashing a grin at Ryan.

“You didn’t tell me that,” I protested.

“You can call me anything you like, gorgeous.”

“Bloody hell, you’re either too drunk or not drunk enough,” Della said, sliding two of the pints up the counter towards her. “Here, have a drink or two. Murph, Junior, you can pay me back for yours.”

“Get out of it, Brand,” Ryan retorted, reaching across Carlotta and me to grab his drinks. “You absolutely wiped me out of mead earlier, you owe me.”

“You guys don’t drink mead too, do you?” Carlotta said. “And there was me thinking you were decent.”

“If you don’t like mead then you’re a fool,” said Della flatly. She ordered another two pints of lager from the barman.

“She does like it, she’s just pretending she doesn’t.” I ruffled Carlotta’s hair. “You will soon learn, my dear, that mead is to be worshipped, not scoffed at. Especially the Heidelberg stuff you had the other night; it’s like golddust.”

Because it was a wizarding mead. But she didn’t need to know that.

“We really ought to find Alfie,” Della said, glancing round the club. “He’s not safe when left to his own devices.”

“Keitchy will be fine, Della, stop worrying and drink your booze,” Ryan said, taking his own advice.

“It’s not him I’m worried about, it’s the poor girl he’s with.”

“It could be worse. He could be like Junior.”

“Don’t say that. One James is bad enough.” Della pulled a face.

I elbowed her in the side and she laughed loudly enough to attract the attention of half the club.

“Pipe down, girl.”

“Why is your nickname Junior?” Carlotta asked curiously.

“Cause he’s small in the trouser department,” Ryan said quickly before I could say anything.

Della snorted into her lager.

“I beg to differ,” Carlotta replied smoothly.

I smirked and he responded with a rude hand gesture.

“Wash your hand out with soap, Murphy.”

In an absurdly surreal moment, my little sister appeared next to Ryan, and reached up to ruffle his hair. He nudged her arm away, and wrapped his own round her shoulders, pulling her towards him and planting a kiss on her head.

“What you doing here, Mini Potter? Shouldn’t you be at school like a good girl?”

“Shouldn’t you be tucked up in bed ready for tomorrow’s training like a good boy?” Lily retorted. “I had a job interview today. I may or may not have told them that it was a two day interview, so that I could have a night out here with Maddie’s sister and her mates.”

“What kind of Head Girl are you?” I asked incredulously.

“I know how to gain respect from my teachers and use it to my advantage. I’d say that’s a skill that deserves to be rewarded with a Head Girl badge.” She turned to Carlotta, and I drew in a sharp breath, well aware of what Lily usually thought of the girls I got with, and equally well aware of how freely she expressed those thoughts.

“You this week’s trashy pull then?” she asked.

Carlotta smiled serenely.

“No, I’m last week’s. This week’s trash had a previous engagement.”

For a moment, there was no response. I glanced at Ryan, fearing an all-out bitch fight. It wouldn’t be the first time Lily had caused one.

But to my surprise and relief, she reached out a hand to Carlotta.

“I’m Lily, James’s sister,” she said with a smile.

“Carlotta. It’s nice to meet you.” She took Lily’s hand and shook it.

“Ah, my brother told me about you!” Lily’s eyes widened slightly.

“Did I?” I frowned.

“Al, you idiot.” She rolled her eyes.

“When were you talking to him lately?”

“When he took me out for lunch earlier today, like the kind, caring, generous brother he is-”

“I was working!” I protested.

“Very true. And I’m sure you would have offered if you didn’t have training. I can just tell you’re just about to invite me to breakfast tomorrow, so I’ll save you the breath and gratefully accept the offer.” She smirked at me, then turned to Ryan. “You going to buy me a drink, then, Ry?”

“I don’t think so-”

“Or should I tell your mum that you, James, Della and Alfie are here?”

“What do you want?” he asked, reaching into his pocket for his money.

“Have you seen Alfie, then?” Della asked her.

“Oh, yeah, he was only sitting a few tables away from me, eating a girl’s face off, in a very distasteful manner, might I add. I figured that if he was here, then at least one of you three would be. And lo and behold, all three of you are. Where are Roxie and Klaus?”

“Opted out,” Ryan said, handing her a drink. “Scared of Mum’s wrath.”

She raised an eyebrow at the drink.

“How come I don’t get a pint?”

“Cause that’s the last thing you need. Now run along, and don’t get into any trouble.”

She grinned cheekily.

“Trouble is my middle name.”

And, as if to prove it, she planted a smacker on his mouth, before dancing off.

Glancing at me, he raised his arms in defence, looking scared.

“I didn’t do anything!”

“I know. I’ll be having a chat with her later about how to behave, mark my words.” I frowned slightly. “My little sister, in a nightclub ... she’s only been eighteen for two weeks!” I shook my head in disbelief. “She’s right. She’s trouble personified.”

I would have preferred to get through the night without any further proof of that though.

To be fair to her, it wasn’t until closing time that she ended up in her scrap.

Carlotta tugged at my arm as we were leaving the Tav, and pointed at a small group of girls just up the road. One of them had very distinctive red hair.

“Bloody hell,” I muttered, heading towards them. One of the girls was embroiled in an argument with Lily and the other girls standing behind were backing her up.

“I’ve told you, I didn’t do anything with your bloody boyfriend, it’s not my fault you can’t keep him under control!” Lily was saying when I reached them.

“I don’t need to keep him under control-”

“You obviously do­-”

If slappers like you didn’t try it on-”

“How dare you call me a slapper! Have you seen the mess you look like?”

The girl, who did look somewhat slutty, I thought, stepped forwards, her arm raised as if to slap Lily round the face. I stepped in front of her, my blood boiling.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I said angrily.

“What the hell has this got to do with you?”

I glared at her.

“You can’t raise a hand to my sister and get away with it.”

“James, don’t get involved,” Lily said from behind me.

“Maybe you need to learn to keep her on a leash then,” the girl spat.

Lily flipped. She tried to step round me, but I reached back and held her behind me.

“If I could I’d curse your face off-” she started.

“What’s going on?”

One of the bouncers arrived on the scene, with Carlotta behind him.

“These girls are trying to cause trouble,” I said quickly before the aggressive girl could jump in.

“There wouldn’t be any trouble if your slag sister-”

“These two with you, Carlotta?” the bouncer asked, gesturing to me and Lily.

Carlotta nodded.

“Right. Off you go, both of you.”

Lily didn’t seem too impressed with the idea. I took one of her elbows, Carlotta stepped forwards and took the other, and we forcefully led her away from the group of girls that the bouncer was now dealing with.

“You know you were asking me why I go to the Tav on nights off, and I said free entry and free drinks?” Carlotta said. “Well, knowing the bouncers helps too.”

I laughed.

“Thanks for that, I think I was about to snap. You okay, Lils?” I removed my arm from her elbow and slung it round her shoulders. “How’d you get caught up in that scrap?”

“That slag’s slag boyfriend decided I was more interesting than her, and because he can clearly do no wrong in her eyes, she decided to start on me.”

“Any idea who she is?”

“Maddie’s sister knows her and doesn’t like her. I’ve never seen either of them in my life before though.”

“She’s caused trouble there before,” Carlotta spoke up, her arm still linked through Lily’s. “She’s probably well on her way to being banned.”

“Come to think of it, I reckon she was the one who Della nearly kicked off at earlier,” I said.

“Wish she had,” Lily muttered.

“Why weren’t you with Maddie’s sister, anyway?”

“They all went off in the opposite direction. I was about to call Al to see if he could pick me up.”

“Where are you staying tonight?”

“No idea. I was meant to be going home, but that was before I decided to come out tonight, and I think Mum and Dad might be annoyed if I wake them up at this hour.”

“So will Al,” I pointed out. “Stay round mine. Then at least I know you’re not getting into any more mischief.”

“I’m not kipping round yours if you two are going at it in the other room,” she said, pulling a face.

“We’ll behave.” Carlotta grinned. “I’ll cook us a little treat when we get back. I’m sure your mum’s stocked James’s cupboards with food that’s too good to waste.”

“I really do like you,” Lily replied, grinning back at her.

“It’s catching,” she said with a straight face.

“If you two start getting on, I’m either ditching one or both of you,” I said flatly.

“I might get in there first, and ditch you for Lily,” Carlotta replied smoothly.

“I wouldn’t blame you if you did,” Lily said.

Now who’s bigheaded?” I let us into my flat.

“You’ll live. You got anything I can change into?”

“Some of your clothes are still in the bloody spare room.” I glared at her.

She grinned cheekily.

“Why do you think I leave them here? I can find some clothes for you to change into if you want, Carlotta?”

“That’d be nice,” she said, following Lily to the spare room. “And call me Carla, Carlotta is such a mouthful...”

I shook my head and fell into my favourite armchair.

About a minute later, Lily joined me, sitting down on the sofa.

“I like her,” she said quietly. “Still think it’s a bad idea, but I see why she’s worth the effort.”

“Effort?”

She gestured towards Cordelia’s concealed cage.

“The whole having to hide everything business,” she said. “I know how hard it is.”

“You were doing a pretty shit job earlier,” I sat up slightly in the chair. “Telling that girl you’d curse her face off? Not clever, Lils.”

She had the decency to look sheepish.

“I was mad,” she said.

“Clearly.” I grinned. I glanced at what she was wearing. It was one of my Falcons jumpers. “I’d change that jumper before Carla sees it if I were you...”

She looked down at it.

“It’ll be fine.” She shrugged.

Carlotta joined us, in a hoody and pair of jeans belonging to Lily.

“Who are the Falmouth Falcons?” she asked, sitting down on the other end of the sofa and tucking her knees up below her chin.

I shot Lily a smug look.

“School hockey team,” Lily said smoothly, giving me the same look.

“Oh, do you play?”

She nodded.

“So, James went to a school in Scotland, and you’re at one in Falmouth. Don’t you like London?”

The first thing that came to mind was that Mum and Dad didn’t actually live in London, but near Ottery St. Catchpole, which was where we’d grown up. I glanced warningly at Lily, hoping she wouldn’t bring it up and raise suspicion.

“I like to be near the sea,” Lily replied, with a shrug. “And if you’re going to a boarding school, you may as well do it properly and go somewhere far away.”

“Did your brother go to a boarding school too?”

Lily nodded again.

“Same one as James,” she said.

“Are you doing your A Levels?”

A third nod. I could tell Lily was getting worried about letting something slip that she shouldn’t.

“What subjects?”

Lily shot me a look that made it clear she was revoking all previous comments about Carlotta being a Muggle.

“Maths,” she said slowly. “History. Chemistry. Biology.”

“I did maths,” Carlotta said. “If you get stuck with anything, give me a shout and I’ll see if I can help you. Anyway.” She turned to me. “Am I okay to raid your kitchen cupboards?”

“Go for it, if you’re feeding me you don’t need to ask.”

She got up and headed to the kitchen, swatting at my head as she passed.

“Get us some mead, will you?” I called after her retreating back.

“Find yourself another kitchen slave!” was her response.

“I’m on it,” Lily said, standing up. “Merlin knows I need a drink after that.”

“If you hadn’t worn that jumper, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”

“If you hadn’t pulled the Muggle in the first place I wouldn’t have been in that situation!” she hissed at me. “How the hell can you keep this up, James? If I’m nearly slipping up, surely that says something about how hard this is? And all for just a bit of fun and games? It’s madness. She’s a lovely girl, she really is, but it’s unfair on both of you.”

With that she went to help Carlotta in the kitchen, leaving me with my confused thoughts.

***

The following morning, after Carlotta left, Lily leapt into action.

“Where the hell does that spell hide your Floo powder?” she asked, peering into all the various ornaments and other junk on my mantelpiece.

“No idea.” I pulled my wand out of the coffee table drawer. “Why do you need Floo powder?”

“I need to get my stuff from Mum and Dad’s,” she replied. “And let them know I’m still alive.”

“Don’t, it’ll only disappoint them.”

Her response to that was to push me into the table.

We found the Floo powder in the airing cupboard, and she darted off to Mum and Dad’s. I decided to stay behind and wait for her, rather than facing an inquisition about Carlotta  from Dad. I spent the time reading the Daily Prophet, which only served to remind me why I didn’t do so often. Sometimes I really wondered how Mum could allow herself to be associated with such a crass newspaper.

Lily returned after ten minutes with her bag.

“Mum was disappointed you didn’t come too,” she said, brushing herself off.

I shrugged. “Didn’t fancy the third degree from Dad.”

“He wouldn’t have done anything, James.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, he’s seen you twice this year so far. Would it hurt to pay him a visit every now and again?”

“If he wants to see me, he can visit me,” I said in a sharp voice to indicate the discussion was over. “You coming to training, then?”

“Can I?”

“If you’re ready to go now, then sure.”

“I’m ready,” she said quickly. “Are we Apparating?”

I nodded. She crossed the room and took a hold of my arm. I wrapped my loose arm round her and Apparated us to the training ground.

Ugh.”

She bent over, her hands on her knees, and took several deep breaths. After a moment or two she stood upright.

“Hate Apparition?” I asked before she could say anything.

“How did you guess?” she asked dryly. “Can I dump my bag in your locker?”

“Go for it.”

I followed her into the changing rooms and was greeted by most of the squad, apart from Ryan, as I might have expected.

“Lily!” Della cried, feigning surprise. “I didn’t know you were around!”

I winked at her.

“I had a job interview yesterday!” Lily replied enthusiastically.

“How was it?” Roxanne asked.

“I don’t like tempting fate, but I think it went pretty well.” She grinned.

Just as we thought we’d covered for our previous night’s escapades, Ryan blundered in.

“Did you get home alright last night, Lil?”

Della’s head fell into her hands.

***

Tuesday’s training couldn’t have gone any better. Ryan, Della and I remembered how to play Quidditch, and the others had all dusted off the cobwebs too. A few hours in, something clicked with Cato and Cleo, and by the end of the day, our confidence was through the roof. Even Sinead had a large smile on her face.

“That’s more like it!” she said as we all landed. “Off you go, kids, see you bright and early tomorrow.”

Lily crossed the pitch to meet me as we headed to the changing rooms.

“James, do you think I could have a little fly?” she asked.

“Sure you can,” I said. I handed Fiona over to her. “Just don’t crash or fall off, or Mum will murder me.”

She grinned, threw a leg over Fiona and kicked off the ground with a confidence that surprised me.

“She’s really not that bad,” Ryan said.

“Don’t say that in her earshot. She’ll get some crackpot idea that she can replace me.”

“Might not be so crackpot, after a bit more practice-”

I shoulder-barged him, which knocked him off balance.

“Behave, boys,” Della said lazily. “Merlin’s beard, who let her loose?”

“She’s pretty good, actually,” Ryan defended Lily.

“I’ll give you that,” Della said after a pause. “Then again, it should really be a surprise, should it? Look at her brother. Look at her parents.”

Off she went again with the comparisons. I grimaced and looked down at the ground.

A few minutes later, Lily landed.

“I really should be going or Maddie will be wondering what’s happened to me.” She hugged Ryan and Della quickly, before turning to me. “See you for Grandma’s birthday, Jim.”

“Give my love to Maddie,” I said cheekily.

“No chance. Reckon Cato’s gone yet? I need a goodbye kiss...”

“Oh, no you don’t,” I said, trying to grab her as she gave me a fleeting hug and kiss on the cheek, before darting off. “Lily!”

But she was gone.

“Bloody hell,” I said, shaking my head. “What’s the big deal with Bagman, anyway?”

“Aside from the fact he’s damn gorgeous?” Della suggested.

I stared at her, distraught.

“Not you as well!” I said. “He’s not as good looking as me, though, is he?”

She hesitated.

Thanks, Adelheid. Love you too.”


Chapter 9: nine
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

Not much changed over the next week or so. Our performance in training improved, but we continued to defy Sinead’s no drinking rule, as we always had during pre-season. We visited the Hinky a couple of times to appease both Della, who would live there if it were possible, and Roxanne, who never had any Muggle money to hand and had to visit Gringotts to exchange her Galleons before going to the Tav every time.

I felt bad saying no when Carlotta rang to ask if I could meet her at the Tav on Thursday night. It wouldn’t have bothered me normally, but turning her down again when I hadn’t been there in over a week felt awkward.

“But surely your mates owe you, given that you’ve been going where they wanted to go for the past week?”

“It’s not that this time,” I told her down the phone, trying to feed Cordelia one-handed. “It’s my Grandma’s birthday on Friday, I can’t go out on Thursday night.”

“But you go to work the day after a night out, surely you’d be perfectly fine-”

“I’m not going out the night before her birthday. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is, and the way it always has been. I promise you, I’ll come to the Tavern next week, but I can’t do Thursday night.”

“Okay.” She sighed. “I’m beginning to forget what you look like, you know.”

“Impossible,” I declared. “I bet you’ve already got a photo of me under your pillow.”

She laughed.

“Don’t flatter yourself. Ring me when you’re next free and I’ll see if I am.”

“Surely you’ll be at the Tav either way?”

“Don’t shatter the illusion. Have a nice day on Friday!”

I smiled weakly.

“I’ll try,” I said.

The truth was, Grandma’s birthday could never be described as a ‘nice’ day.

***

I bought her a present on Thursday afternoon. Brigid bought most people’s presents for me, but I always bought Grandma’s myself. I felt it would be insincere and dishonest if her present was thought over by somebody else, rather than choosing it myself. I bought the autobiography of a magical researcher, which had been published only the week before, a brooch in the shape of a phoenix, and some white lilies, which were standard for Grandma’s birthday.

When I got to Mum and Dad’s on Friday, Al was already sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a mug of coffee with Dad.

“Morning,” I said, falling into the chair that had been mine before I’d moved out.

“Coffee?”

“Please.”

Dad got up to grab a mug from the cupboard.

“How’s training going?” he asked, pouring out some coffee from the pot that sat in the middle of the table.

“Really good.”

“Better than last year?”

I shrugged.

“I guess.”

“Reckon you’ll win the League this year then?”

“Difficult to say before we’ve seen the other teams play.”

We fell silent. I looked down at the mug that Dad had placed in front of me and wrapped my hands around it.

It was down to Al to break the silence.

“How’s Carlotta?”

“Is she the Muggle girl you’ve gotten involved with?” Dad asked before I could reply.

“Yes, she is, and don’t start lecturing me because I’ve heard it all from everyone else.”

“I’m not going to lecture you, because you won’t listen anyway. Just remember that as a senior member of the Ministry, it would look bad if my son were to breach the Statute-”

“I know,” I said with a scowl. I should have known that Dad would make it about him.

The tension eased slightly as Lily entered the room.

“Your teachers are going to forget you exist if you keep skipping school,” I said, before taking a large gulp of coffee.

“I’ve taken three days off this school year, thank you! I doubt you went to lessons for many more than three days of your Seventh Year!”

“The exam results will tell you differently,” I pointed out as she sat down next to me.

“How’s school going?” Dad asked.

She shrugged.

“History’s a nightmare.”

“Told you not to take it,” I interjected.

“It was fine until the teacher decided we needed to learn about witch hunting again,” she said, grimacing. “And Arithmancy is terrible, I don’t understand a word of it.”

“I’ll help you out with it later,” volunteered Al, who’d been fool enough to choose Arithmancy as a subject himself. “You staying for the weekend?”

“Not decided yet. I might go to Diagon Alley tomorrow, and Mum thinks I need to show my face in a few houses while I’m home. I don’t think I’d be Maddie’s favourite person if I left her to deal with Rosalind by herself all weekend, though.”

“She can look after herself.” I shrugged.

“That’s half the problem,” Lily pointed out.

Mum entered the room, her coat and gloves already on.

“Lily, darling!” she said. “I didn’t hear you arrive!”

“Got in a few minutes ago. Someone really needs to clean the grate, I was covered in soot and ash when I got in.”

“Blame your father! I asked him to do it three weeks ago.” She frowned and looked more closely at Lily. “Are you okay, darling? You look shattered.”

“I’m fine,” she replied with a nonchalant shrug.

Glancing at her myself, I realised she really didn’t look fine. There were bags under her eyes and she looked generally worn out. I wondered if she’d been so tired when I’d seen her last week.

“I don’t believe you,” Mum said flatly. “You’re overworking yourself. I told you when you picked your subjects that you would, you’re working your nose to the ground. You’ll burn yourself out if you carry on like this. I really think you should just drop a subject or two-”

“You’ve been telling me for the past four years that I’m doing too much, and I’ve been telling you for just as long that I’m not. Besides, I can’t drop anything. I need all my subjects if I want to get into Muggle Liason.”

“Well...” Mum hesitated. “In that case, maybe you should consider handing back your badge-”

“No,” she said flatly. “It sets me apart from most of those I’m up against, and besides, it’s not that much extra work. Giving it up would hardly give me any more time.”

But Mum wasn’t about to give up.

“Then maybe you should quit the team-”

Lily’s glare was enough to silence her, which was no mean feat.

“No chance. Aside from anything else, Maddie would murder me. Besides, if I really am working too hard, surely giving up my hobbies and leisure time to concentrate even more on my schoolwork kind of defeats the object of reducing my work load.”

“She’s got a point,” Al chipped in.

“Honestly, Mum, I’m fine,” Lily repeated. “Maddie likes to make sure I have some time off from work, anyway. We popped into the village the other night when Muggle Studies was beginning to go wrong-”

“How can Muggle Studies go wrong? That should be a walk in the park for you!” I said incredulously.

“You’d be surprised,” she said darkly.

“What were you doing visiting the village during the week?” Mum frowned. “Surely that’s not allowed?”

Lily shrugged.

“Never mind,” she said. “I’m sure we’ll live.”

“You’re Head Girl-”

“Given the number of rules you broke at school, the fact that you never even made Head Girl and the little issue of breaking into the Ministry, I really fail to see how you have so much as a little toe to stand on, let alone a leg.”

Mum’s mouth snapped shut.

“You’ve got me,” she conceded after a moment. “Come on, we need to go.”

There was a loud scraping of chair legs as we got to our feet and grabbed our presents. Dad was first to Disapparate. I followed, Apparating next to him at the safe point just outside the village. Al arrived next, with Mum and Lily bringing up the rear.

Dad was silent as he led us along the lane. He was always quiet at times like this. Mum slipped her hand into his and reached back to take Al’s hand with the other. Lily grabbed Dad’s free hand and reached her other hand out to take mine.

We turned with the lane, reaching the square, with its war memorial in the centre. Dad walked past it with barely a glance, but as I passed it, I paused to look at the statue of my grandparents, with Dad in my grandmother’s arms. Lily’s hand slipped out of mine.

After a moment I moved on and caught up with the others as they reached the graveyard.

The remnants of the flowers we’d laid on Christmas day still lay at the foot of the gravestone. Dad was the first to set down his presents, which he’d tucked into his cloak pocket. Lily followed, then Albus, and finally I laid the book and brooch down beside the other items. We all stepped back, Mum glancing furtively around the graveyard, and Dad pulled his wand out of his cloak pocket, and aimed it at the presents.

Incendio.”

Flames shot out of his wand and licked at the presents and flower residue on the ground, eventually turning them to ashes. Then Dad laid a fresh wreath of lilies on top of the small mound of ash, and Lily, Al and I added our bouquets on either side of it.

“Happy birthday, Mum.” Dad’s voice was almost a whisper.

Mum grasped his hand tightly, while his other hand fastened around my shoulder. Lily slipped her arm through mine and Al slung an arm over Mum’s shoulder and we stood, all five of us, staring at the gravestone, which marked deaths so brave and tragic that I could barely begin to comprehend just how incredible my grandparents had been.

This was one of the few occasions a year when we ever presented a united front.



Chapter 10: ten
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Promise me you’ll be nice.”

“I’m always nice-”

“You’re never nice.”

“Keep saying that and I won’t be nice to you again,” Brigid said loftily. She was standing in front of the mirror, pinning her fringe back, but turned to look at me. “Why don’t you think I’ll be nice, anyway?”

“Because you’re usually about as friendly to girls I’m seeing as Lily is.”

“You said Lily liked Carlotta,” Brigid pointed out.

“Yes, but she still got a snarky comment in first. So, no snarky comments, Murph, or you’ll upset me-”

“And Merlin knows my life wouldn’t be worth living if I were to do that.”

“Precisely,” I said with a satisfied nod.

A week had passed since Grandma Lily’s birthday; another week of hard training and nights out on the town. I’d appeased Carlotta by dropping in at the Tav earlier in the week, then had a couple of nights at the Hinky with some of the squad. Of course, despite our efforts to keep them secret from her, Sinead knew all too well about all our nights out and rewarded us for one of them with a punishing weights routine. Tonight, I’d finally managed to persuade Freddie and Brigid to come to the Tav. They both complained about being short of funds so often that I’d stopped believing them and assumed it was just a poorly disguised rejection. Several members of my family, a couple of members of the squad and a few Bats and Kestrels players were also joining us.

“Bet she’s excited to be seeing you.” Brigid sat down opposite me and propped her feet up on her coffee table.

“You’d tell me off for doing that,” I pointed out.

“My table, my rules. Stop changing the subject. Were things beginning to get a bit too serious for you? Did you decide it was time to back off?”

“No, I’ve just been at the Hinky more, and I can hardly take her there, can I?”

“The results would be interesting,” she conceded. “Where the bloody hell is that boy?” She sighed and glanced at her watch. “He’s at least ten minutes late...”

“You ought to know his timekeeping is terrible,” I said.

Just then Freddie arrived, armed with several bottles of Firewhisky. He threw one to me and I caught it deftly and twisted the cap off. He set the others down on the coffee table, and fell back into the sofa next to Brigid.

“Watch my springs,” she grumbled as he draped his arm over her shoulders. “Do I not get a bottle?”

He tutted, but reached forward to grab two bottles and hand one to her.

“What did your last slave die of? And I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he added with a wince, as she pulled the cap off with her teeth. “You’ll break your teeth one day and you won’t be getting any sympathy from me, that’s for sure.”

“Yes, dad,” she grumbled, throwing the cap in his face. He caught it and stuffed it down the front of her dress. She squealed, trying to fish the cap out.

“Need help getting that out?” he asked, grinning cheekily.

“Don’t worry yourself. You’ve probably never touched a woman’s boobs before, I wouldn’t want you to get overexcited.”

I turned my attention to my bottle of Firewhisky, studying the label intently, but I couldn’t stop a smile spreading across my face at their flirting. It reminded me of how they used to be, before Freddie had seemed to lose interest – or rather, other girls had also gained it.

“Oi, Potter!” Freddie called, dragging me out of my musings. “Brie says you’re seeing this Muggle bird again.”

I frowned.

“Yeah, I am. Why?”

He shifted slightly in his seat, his arm still draped round Brigid’s shoulders.

“It’s just ... I didn’t think it would last this long,” he said. “I thought, the first time you hooked up with her, that it was just a one-off thing, you getting shot of Lynch and just having a bit of fun. I mean, you were with Leggy Allegra a couple of nights before, weren’t you? But you’ve met up with the Muggle a fair few times-”

“She has a name,” I said sharply. “And so what if I have? She’s a laugh, she doesn’t take herself too seriously, she’s not looking for any commitment, she’s a damn good cook-”

“But she’s a Muggle!” he said. “And I don’t mean that to be a slight on her character at all. I’m sure she’s a lovely person; Lily’s said as much, and we all know she doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, but the fact remains, she’s a Muggle, you’re a wizard, and the Ministry are taking the Statute of Secrecy as serious as ever! All it takes is one small slip for her to find out about us, and Merlin knows what that would bring about.”

Brigid stared at Freddie in amazement.

“You know, that was actually a sensible, well-made point,” she said. “You do surprise me sometimes, Weasley.”

“Got to keep you on your toes.” He ruffled her hair. “Seriously though, mate.” He turned back to face me. “Is this realistically going to work out?”

I sighed heavily.

“It just seems like everyone is preaching at me about the whole thing,” I said.

“Look, you know me, I’m the last person to lecture you – or anyone for that matter – about what you choose to do with your life. Normally, I’d be saying to go for it, and to do what you want without listening to the crap Murphy and everyone else spurts out. But in this instance,” he continued, ignoring Brigid’s indignant cry, “there’s a lot hanging on it if it goes wrong. Just my two Knuts’ worth.”

“Nothing is going to go wrong,” I said firmly. “Trust me, I know what I’m doing. It won’t go wrong.”

***

In hindsight, a night out in a Muggle nightclub with several members of my family, my agent, all the unmarried members of the Falcons squad and numerous other Quidditch League players wasn’t the ideal plan. Then again, I wasn’t exactly renowned for my good planning.

“If we all get out of here with the Statute of Secrecy intact, it’ll be a bloody miracle,” Rose muttered to me and Ryan as we sat at the bar. Carlotta was yet to arrive.

“You need to lighten up, Weasley,” replied Ryan, who was never fazed by anything. To him, the presence of more than twenty drunken witches and wizards in a Muggle establishment wasn’t a problem.

I wouldn’t have been bothered if Eoin and Feargus Lynch hadn’t turned up along with Aisling, a teammate from the Bats. I wasn’t too impressed with her for bringing them; not I was scared of them, but I did quite like my nose the shape it was.

“She can’t, it’s in her nature to worry about anything and everything. Haven’t you met her mother?” I chipped in.

“Oh, Rosie,” Ryan sighed and slung an arm round her shoulders. “It’s alright, we can still cure this. A wild ride on the Murphy joystick would lighten you up no end.”

“Never let me hear you say that again.”

Brigid had just joined us, though the look on her face suggested that she wished she hadn’t.

“Well, don’t interrupt when I’m making my move!” he protested.

Brigid turned to Rose.

“I profusely apologise,” she said. “He’s normally not allowed out after six.”

“Oh, go snog Freddie,” Ryan scowled.

Brigid replied with a rude gesture.

“What time’s your bird getting here, Jimmy?” she asked me. “I’m quite keen to meet her properly.”

“Have you not already?” Rose chipped in.

Brigid shook her head.

“Seen her once, didn’t say a word to each other. You?”

“James dragged me along once when she was working here and he’d ran out of drinking partners. I didn’t talk to her though.”

I’ve properly met her,” Ryan said.

“What’s she like?” Brigid asked.

He shrugged.

“Fit. Nice legs.”

“Funnily enough, those weren’t the attributes I was interested in.”

“They’re the only ones James is interested in, why should anything else be relevant?”

“Because, rather surprisingly, I have differing tastes to James,” Brigid said dryly.

“She held her own with mini Potter, if that helps at all.”

“I heard about that,” she said with a grin. “She sounds thoroughly likeable on that basis alone.”

“Why did you ask me if you’ve already heard all about her?” Ryan asked.

“I wanted your opinion!”

“I gave you my bloody opinion, and you weren’t interested!” He rolled his eyes. “Bloody women. Anyway, Quiggers looks like she needs rescuing, and I wouldn’t want to deprive her of her knight in shining armour.”

“Careful, Murph, you don’t want to get on the wrong side of a Lynch,” I warned, glancing across to where Aisling was sitting with Eoin Lynch.

“It’s alright, Junior, I’m big enough and strong enough to look after myself. Don’t bother waiting around for me.”

And with that, he headed towards Aisling like a man possessed.

“You can’t take some people anywhere,” Brigid sighed. “I really hope he doesn’t get with Aisling. It would make things so awkward...”

“Now you’re the one who’s worrying.” I nudged her shoulder. “Get some drink down you, Murph. Be frivolous, for once in your long-suffering life.”

“It’s only long-suffering because you make it so,” she said dolefully. “It’d be so much easier if I didn’t have to worry about what bint you’ve got in your bed on any given week.”

“I sincerely apologise for being the source of such trouble,” Carlotta cut in dryly, having appeared out of nowhere.

“Oh no, it’s fine, it’s just most people book their appointments with James through me,” Brigid replied breezily.

I winced.

“You’ll be Bridget, right?” Carlotta continued with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s Brigid actually, but I’ll forgive you the slip; most of James’s women tend to be lacking in brain cell count.”

“I must say, I definitely think my brain cell count has shrunk since I’ve started spending time with James and his motley crew. It must be adapting to its surroundings.”

“A snappy comeback with a jibe at Jimmy included? I don’t know how he keeps up with you, you’re far too sharp for him,” Brigid said with a smirk.

“We don’t spend all that much time talking, so it’s not too much of a blow to his ego. Anyway, can I get you a drink?”

“Ooh, I do like you.” Brigid set her empty glass down on the bar counter. “I suppose I can force myself.”

“Don’t feel too special, Brie, she gets them for free,” I said.

“I don’t have to though,” Carlotta pointed out. “And on that note, I won’t be getting you a freebie. You can bloody well buy your own.” She turned to Rose. “And you’ll be a cousin, right?”

“I am, much as I try to deny it. And yes, a drink would be lovely, thank you.”

“Well, nobody can accuse you lot of beating round the bush,” Carlotta said with a slight shake of the head. “You want a drink then, James?”

“If you’re offering, then I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.” I grinned and she rolled her eyes, but she was smiling as she turned to the bar.

I glanced around the bar to see what everybody else was doing and groaned. Freddie seemed to be getting friendly with a girl in the opposite corner.

I turned back to the girls and opened my mouth to speak, but Carlotta caught my eye and gave me a warning glare and a slight shake of her head, as she handed me a drink. When she turned to give Brigid her drink, I shot another glance at Freddie. His hand was now dangerously far up the girl’s leg.

“Don’t keep looking over there, idiot. You’ll draw her attention to them,” Carlotta hissed in my ear, as she slipped her free arm round my waist.

“When did you notice he was there?” I asked, half-burying my head in her hair to stop Brigid from overhearing.

“Walked past him when I came in. It’s fine though; we just need to keep her attention away from him all night.”

“Yeah, cause that’ll be easy,” I said sarcastically.

She smiled slightly.

“I’ve got it covered. Go do some boy stuff with some of your entourage, just make sure you behave and come back for me at the end of the night. I fully intend to crash at yours regardless of your intentions.”

“I always leave a spare key under the doormat, so if you get desperate it’s not a problem.”

A smirk played at the corner of her mouth. “My word, things are stepping up. I’m not sure if I like feeling so trusted all of a sudden. Now off you go, I don’t want to see you for at least two hours.”

I obeyed her. I was too scared of her wrath not to.

Not that I’d tell her that.

***

The next weekend Gryffindor were playing Hufflepuff at Hogwarts. Hugo had been Gryffindor’s Keeper since my Fifth Year, his Second, and was now also Captain. Five of us had made the house team. I’d been the first, as Victoire, Dominique and Molly had all preferred spectating to playing, and ever since my first game, the entire family had made an effort to attend all of our matches.

Mum turned up at mine in the morning, as usual and restocked my kitchen cupboards. Then we Flooed to the Three Broomsticks to meet up with Dad, Al, Uncle George, Aunt Angelina, Freddie and Roxanne. I immediately made a beeline for Freddie to prevent an awkward conversation with Dad, whom I hadn’t seen since Grandma Lily’s birthday two weeks before.

“How long till your first match?” Freddie asked, as we made our way out of the pub.

“Three weeks, mate.”

“Bloody hell, that’s still ages away!”

“You wouldn’t think that if you heard Sinead at training. It may as well be three days away, the fuss she’s making. She has no faith in us at all sometimes, which is quite worrying given that she’s the one who signed us all. I’m getting slightly nervous about your sister though, she’s far too good. I’m gonna be looking over my shoulder all season if I’m not careful.”

He wrinkled his nose.

“Don’t let her hear you say that, or she’ll get as big-headed as you,” he advised.

“I’m not at all big-headed, I’m just confident in my ability,” I defended myself.

He snorted with laughter.

As soon as we reached the castle, I decided to visit the kitchens.

“You’ve just had breakfast!” Albus said.

“Was there something wrong with it?” Mum raised an eyebrow.

“Not at all,” I said hurriedly. “I just want to visit Kreacher. I’ve not seen him in a while.”

Mum’s brow was still raised.

“If you say so.” She didn’t sound convinced. “See you in the stands then. And try not to cause too much trouble.”

“Me, cause trouble? What would give you such an idea?”

“You’re my son, James,” she said simply.

Nobody else was up for a trip to the kitchens, so I made my way there by myself. Several of the students pointed and stared as I passed them, but that was something I was used to. It had been happening since I was at school and had only increased since I’d made the Falcons first team.

Lily was in the kitchen when I entered, tucking into a plate of bacon and eggs.

“Morning, greedy.” I sat opposite her.

“Didn’t get to eat breakfast this morning,” she explained. “Maddie overturned the porridge bowl.”

I frowned.

“Why did that stop you eating breakfast?”

“She was holding it over Rosalind’s head at the time.”

I laughed loudly.

“Needless to say,” she continued, “she got into trouble for it. She’s in our room at the moment, been ordered to spend all day there, bless her. Which reminds me. Kreacher!”

He appeared beside us.

“Yes, Miss Lily?”

“Can you take some food to Maddie, please? She’s in our room. Take whatever’s easiest; she’s not fussy.”

“Yes, Miss Lily,” he replied. He turned to me. “Can Kreacher get Master James anything?”

“Toast, please,” I said with a grin.

Within moments, Kreacher had vanished and another house elf materialised next to me, with a plate of toast above its head.

“Thanks,” I took the place. “Um, any chance of a goblet?”

A third house elf promptly handed me one.

“Cheers!”

I poured myself a glass of pumpkin juice from the jug in front of Lily.

“So, Maddie’s in a bit of trouble, then?”

She rolled her eyes.

“Of course she is. You know what Rosalind’s like; has to make a massive deal out of everything. Bloody bint.” She scowled. “You should’ve heard the godawful squeal she let out when the porridge landed on her.”

“But Maddie did it deliberately?”

“Of course she did, she’s Maddie. Rosalind was making jibes about her dad again.”

I scowled. Maddie’s dad was a sore conversation topic with her.

“They not punishing Rosalind?”

“Probably not. Her dad funds too much of the school.”

“So does Dad-”

“I’m not using Dad’s generosity to have my own way all the time,” she said flatly.

“But you’re Head Girl, surely you have sway over the teachers?”

She let out a laugh.

“When it comes to Maddie, I’m the last person they listen to, James.”

Kreacher reappeared next to Lily.

“Kreacher has taken some food to Miss Madeleine, who sends her gratitude,” he said with a bow.

“Thank you, Kreacher!” Lily said, beaming. “Was anyone else there?”

“Yes, Master Christopher was there.”

“I knew he’d have snuck in.” She smirked. “Thanks, Kreacher.”

He sunk into another bow, before vanishing back into the hub of the kitchen.

“How are Maddie and Kit?” I asked.

“Fine, porridge incidents aside. Maddie sends her love-”

“And I return it whole-heartedly.”

She grimaced.

“I really wish you two didn’t get on, it would make my life so much more bearable.”

“Really?”

“Well, no, but at least I wouldn’t have to put up with you two flirting every time you see each other.”

“As I’ve said countless times before, you flirt with Murph all the time! Pot, kettle, much?”

“He initiates it,” she sniffed. “He’s an animal, that boy.”

“And yet, I seem to remember that it was you who planted a smacker on him the other week...”

“I was drunk,” she defended herself.

“Rubbish excuse. Point being, you behave round him and I’ll behave round Bennett.”

“James,” she said loftily, getting to her feet, “you never behave.”

***

The match was over within ten minutes. It was a bit of a shame, as it meant we didn’t get to see Hugo’s team properly in action, though he did make a spectacular save the one time that Hufflepuff actually had an opportunity to score.

As the match had been so short, we all headed back to the Three Broomsticks afterwards for a few celebratory drinks. I didn’t stay for too long. Having Dad, Uncle Percy and Molly all in the same room as me was off-putting and a situation I tended to avoid whenever possible, so after brief chats with Al, Aunt Audrey, Uncle George, Nana Weasley and Hugo, I said my goodbyes and Apparated back to the flat.

The first sign that something was wrong was Cordelia’s loud, startled squealing. A millisecond later, the squealing was drowned out by an ear-splitting scream from behind me. I span round sharply, drawing my wand, to see the third sign – the moving photo of Lily and Brigid that belonged on my coffee table, was lying on the floor, its frame smashed, at the feet of Carlotta. Her hands were clasped to her mouth, as she stared at me and the wand I had trained on her, wide-eyed and pale-faced.

“Shit.”


Chapter 11: eleven
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I didn’t know what to do. In my seven years at Hogwarts, I’d learned a lot (well, perhaps not that much) but never had I been told how to deal with a Muggle finding out about magic. Did I bluff my way out of it? Explain the situation? Obliviate her? None of those options were particularly appealing. I ruled out the third almost straight away; I wouldn’t trust myself to perform a memory charm at the best of times.

“Carla...”

She squealed and took a step backwards, glancing behind her, as though checking her route to the door was clear.

“Don’t hurt me...” she said in what was barely a whisper, taking a second step back.

“I’m not going to hurt you, I promise.” I tried to sound soothing, though it wasn’t particularly my forte, and put my wand back in my pocket. Her eyes followed it, then snapped back up to my face once the wand had vanished from her sight.

“Let me go,” she said quietly, “let me leave...”

“No, Carla, wait-”

I made as if to approach her, raising my arm. She screamed again and backtracked hurriedly until she hit the wall behind her. She glanced to her side, towards the door.

“Carla, please, don’t leave, not yet, let me explain-”

She dashed to the door, yanked it open and ran out, slamming it shut behind her.

“Shit!” I said again, kicking the leg of the coffee table in frustration. There was a slight chink of broken glass as the table bashed against the broken picture frame, which was lying on the floor where Carlotta had dropped it. I drew my wand, pointed it at the photograph with a shaking hand, and said “Reparo!” The shards of glass flew towards each other, reassembling themselves on top of the photograph. I knelt down and picked it up, watching Lily and Brigid twirl round in the snow.

It was only then that I noticed the heavy pounding of my heart. I took a few deep breaths, trying to calm myself, and stood up.

It was Lily I needed right now. She’d know what to do. But she was currently at the Three Broomsticks, with the rest of my family, and if I was aiming for damage limitation – which, of course, I was – then alerting my entire family to the fact that I’d broken the Statute of Secrecy wasn’t a good idea.

I’d broken the Statute of Secrecy.

Shit.

My gaze moved to Brigid. She was my second option, and currently my only one, as everybody else who might help, like Aunt Audrey, Dominique, Rose or Teddy, was also at the Three Broomsticks.

Brigid was going to go nuts.

I took another couple of breaths to calm myself. It didn’t help; if anything, the more I thought about telling her what I’d done, the more terrifying it became. After all, that was the Ministry’s prime reason for existence, the Golden Rule that was drilled into all wizarding children, the underlying message in every lesson at Hogwarts. And in one stupid moment, with the help of one stupid little piece of metal that I intended to help uphold the Statute, I’d gone and broken it.

The irony wasn’t lost on me.

I set the photograph back down on the table, closed my eyes for a moment in one last-ditch attempt to prepare myself for what was to come, then Disapparated.

Brigid’s living room materialised around me. She was curled up in her favourite chair, reading a book. She looked up as she heard me Apparate.

“James!” she said with a smile – unlike Rose, she didn’t mind me literally dropping in on her. “I didn’t expect to see you today! Has the game finished already?”

I decided not to beat about the bush.

“Carlotta’s found out about magic.”

Although perhaps a more gentle approach would have been more effective.

Brigid’s jaw nearly hit the floor.

“James, tell me you’re joking.”

“Of course I’m not joking, why would I joke about something like this? Carlotta turned up at my house and saw my photos, Cordelia, everything! And then I bloody Apparated in at the same time, and drew my wand on her!”

“Shit.” Her hand flew to her mouth, just as Carlotta’s had a few moments before. She stared at me for a moment, before lowering it. “Why did you draw your wand on her?”

“I didn’t know it was her! I heard a scream, and Cordelia squealing! She was behind me at the time!”

“Well, what the hell was she doing in your flat when you weren’t expecting her?” She rose to her feet, looking as flustered as I felt.

“I don’t know! We hadn’t quite gotten that far, funnily enough, exchanging pleasantries wasn’t too high up on the agenda given that she’d just seen me materialise out of nowhere! She used my spare key, the one I keep under the doormat! Either that or she’s an expert at breaking and entering, and I highly doubt that.”

“Why do you keep a key under your doormat? You don’t need a key, you’re a wizard!”

“I can hardly use my wand to unlock it if there’s a Muggle there, can I? And you know me; I hardly ever remember to take a key with me if I don’t leave the flat by the door.”

She sank back into her chair and opened and shut her mouth a few times, before finally finding words.

“I – James – I’m beyond speechless.” She groaned and leaned back in the chair, her hands over her face. “The one time you’re proactive on upholding the Statute...”

“I’ve worked that out, funnily enough. Any ideas on what we do?” I was beginning to get antsy.

“Well, get in touch with the Obliviators, of course. Once they’ve done their job it’ll all be fine, although you’ll have a mark against your name of course, breaking the Statute is a serious issue, and you’ll have to be doubly careful in future, I don’t think I’ll be letting you anywhere near Muggles for a long while-”

“Brigid,” I interrupted her, “we can’t go to the Ministry. I don’t even know where she lives!”

She frowned. “Have you never walked her home?” She didn’t give me a chance to answer. “Oh, who am I kidding? This is you we’re on about. Know her surname?”

“Not a clue.”

“Well, that’ll make things slightly more difficult, but the Ministry will manage; they have their ways. And Al has met her, right?”

“They’ve been introduced-”

“Well then, that’s fine, he can help them out-”

“I don’t want her to be Obliviated, Brie,” I cut in.

She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, what’s your suggestion then? She knows about magic, James! You’ve broken the Statute! She has to be Obliviated, we can’t just leave her knowing about it-”

“She doesn’t know what she knows, all she saw was-”

“A moving picture, a squealing ball of purple fur, probably a broomstick too, knowing your inability to put things away, and you pointing a bloody wand at her! She may not have twigged the whole thing, but she fact remains, she saw it and that constitutes a Statute break. Besides, I think a moving photo is enough to freak out anyone.” She paused. “What exactly was her reaction to all this, anyway?”

I shrugged. “She’d already dropped the photo, probably just before I Apparated in. And then she screamed a couple of times. She didn’t say much, she just looked scared. I told her I wasn’t going to hurt her, and asked her to stay, just so I could try to smooth things over I guess, but she left pretty sharpish...”

I felt a dull pang in my stomach as I remembered the expression on Carlotta’s face, the look of sheer terror as I tried to approach her...

“Merlin, we’ve gotta do something, Brie,” I continued, falling back into the settee behind me. It was a mark of the seriousness of the conversation that she didn’t scold me for breaking the springs.

“You think?” she said sarcastically. “I’ve told you, Obliviate her.”

I shook my head.

“I can’t,” I said. “I just can’t. Wipe a month from her memory? It’s beyond cruel...”

“It wouldn’t be totally wiped, just the bits with you. The Obliviators are clever like that.”

“That’s still a fair chunk of memory to lose!” I ran my hands through my hair in frustration. “Lily said she’d never do it again. She said it was horrible, that she wished she’d never done it. You saw the affect it had on her-”

“Hers was a different case,” Brigid said sharply. “Carlotta is some bird you’ve been shagging for a few weeks, you can’t try to claim it would have an adverse affect on you if she were Obliviated. There’s nothing else to do, James! You can’t just leave her knowing about it! Aside from anything else, it’s cruel on her...”

Carlotta’s terrified face sprung back into my head again. I groaned and rested my head in my hands, but I could still see her face, as though it were burned into the insides of my eyelids.

“Surely there’s another option...”

“Well, yeah, you could try hunting her down and explaining it, but I can’t see that going well, she’s probably petrified of you now, and given that you don’t know where she lives-”

“She works at the Tav most nights,” I supplied.

“No. You are banned from the Tav, James Potter. I told you this would happen! I told you countless times! But did you listen? No, you just carried on without a care in the world. And now you come running to me to fix it when it all goes wrong!” She drew a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

“I’m sorry,” I said in a small voice, my head still in my hands.

“It’s okay, Jim. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s about learning from them, that’s all.”

“It’s not okay if I’ve broken the Statute...”

There was a pause.

“Don’t tell Mum and Dad.” I raised my head to look at her. “Please. They don’t need to know. They’ll be so angry if they find out...”

She shuddered, presumably at the thought of Mum angry.

“There’s a high chance they will, given how high up your Dad is in the Ministry, the Obliviators would be bound to let it slip-”

“There won’t be any Obliviators,” I glared at her.

She sighed.

“Let’s sleep on it, and talk about it tomorrow. But I really don’t see any other option.”

***

The next morning, I visited Rose. I walked round the corner to hers, as I knew that she wouldn’t appreciate me Apparating into the flat she and Albus shared.

She was in her dressing gown and slippers as she answered the door to me, and her hair was a mess; she’d clearly just gotten out of bed.

“This early? Really?” she groaned. She wasn’t known for being an early riser.

“Is Al in?” I asked.

She frowned.

“No, he’s at work. Why, have you come to see him?”

“No, I’ve come to chat to you and I didn’t want him here.” I shifted my weight from one foot to the other nervously. “Can I come in?”

She glanced behind her for a moment.

“I – yeah, I guess.”

She stepped backwards and opened the door wider for me to enter.

“You’d better have eaten, cause I’m sure as hell not feeding you,” she said as she shut the door behind me.

“Yeah, I’ve eaten.”

I sat down gingerly on one of the seats in the lounge. She took a seat opposite me, looking slightly puzzled.

“You don’t seem yourself this morning. You okay?”

I bit my lip.

“Something bad’s happened.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Carlotta’s found out about magic.”

Rose suddenly looked wide awake.

“She’s found out about magic,” she repeated slowly.

I nodded in trepidation.

“Bloody hell, James.” She clasped her hands together on top of her head, and stared across the room, seeming deep in thought. “You’re an idiot sometimes,” she said after a pause.

“I know.”

I must have looked as downtrodden as I felt, because she sighed heavily and lowered her hands.

“Oh, Jimmy. You don’t half know how to get into trouble.” She paused again. “Bloody hell...” She shook her head, her unruly mane of hair quivering violently with the movement. “Have you reported it to the Ministry yet?”

“No. And I don’t want to tell them, I don’t want her memory tampered with...”

“Well what the hell else do you suggest?”

Rose was incredibly similar to Brigid in some ways and her reaction to my news was proving to be much the same. Now the news had sunk in, she was getting angry with me, and I knew that once that was out, the pity would come. To be quite honest, I didn’t want either.

“How did she find out, anyway? I suppose you did something idiotic-”

“She let herself into my house yesterday when we were at the game,” I said shortly. “She saw the photo of Lily and Brie that’s on my coffee table, she saw Cordelia, she possibly saw Fiona too. Then I Apparated in right in front of her...”

Rose’s head fell into her hands.

“James,” she groaned into them. “You’re a fool, a bloody fool! And you think you can just get away with not telling the Ministry?” She raised her head, flinging hair everywhere. “You’ve broken the Statute! The Statute of Secrecy, James! There’s a Muggle out there who knows about our world when she’s not meant to! Imagine what could happen! She could tell someone. She could think that she’s going mad! The poor girl must be terrified! You can’t not tell the Ministry!”

“I know! But I don’t want her Obliviated, Rose!” I said firmly. “She’ll lose parts of a month of her memory! That would be enough to make her think she’s gone mad!”

“Better that than her remembering this,” she said solemnly.

“But...” It was my turn to, once again, bury my head in my hands. “Rose, she’s cracked so many new recipes at mine, cooking’s a huge thing for her, she wants to own a restaurant one day, and if she can’t remember how to cook things...”

Rose was silent. I raised my head to see her looking wretched.

“I know, James. I know. It’s a hard thing to do. But you have to remove all personal feelings in this situation, and just think about things practically. She can’t be left knowing about this. It’s cruel on her, and it’s a security risk.”

I chewed my lip.

“Would she tell anyone?” I said quietly. “I mean, who would believe her? They’d just think she’d gone a bit nuts-”

She probably already thinks she’s going nuts,” Rose said gently. “Please, James, you have to...”

I shook my head stubbornly. She sighed with aggravation.

“Well, I don’t know what you expect to be able to do then...”

“I could find her, try to explain-”

“Won’t work,” she said flatly. “This situation’s bad enough, without you making things worse.”

“You sound like Brie,” I scowled.

“Have you told her?”

I nodded.

“Yesterday, straight after it happened. Don’t tell Al,” I begged. “Please, whatever you do, don’t tell him, or anyone else. I can’t have Mum or Dad finding out...”

She looked reluctant.

“James, I don’t know if I can keep something this serious a secret-”

She was interrupted by the presence of somebody else at the doorway.

“Malfoy?”

Rose let out a squeal. She jumped up and ushered a boxers and t-shirt clad Scorpius Malfoy out of the lounge and down the hall.

“Bloody hell,” I breathed, staring at the space where he had stood for a moment.

Half a minute later, Rose returned, her face as red as her hair.

“Rose Weasley, you do surprise me.” A smirk played at the corners of my mouth.

She stood opposite me, looking sheepish.

“Don’t be mad-”

I frowned.

“Why the hell would I be mad?”

“Because he’s a Malfoy! The enemy! A Slytherin, the son of our dads’ nemesis, you know the drill-”

“Rose, he’s not his dad,” I said quietly. “Nobody should judge him on that. I certainly don’t. I don’t really know him, but if he makes you happy then I’m not exactly going to kick up a stink about it. How long have you been with him, anyway?”

“We’re not really together,” she said, still looking awkward. “We’re just ... seeing each other occasionally. I bumped into him a few months back at work, and it’s been developing since then. I’m kind of trying to keep it quiet though, at least for the moment, just to see what comes of it. I don’t want to ruin anything, you see. We have quite a judgemental family sometimes...”

She tailed off, looking nervous.

“You do what you want to do, Rosie,” I said firmly. “It’s your life, not your dad’s, or your brother’s, or Grandpa’s...”

She nodded and smiled slightly.

“Thanks, Jim,” she said quietly. “Promise me something?”

“Sure.”

“Don’t tell Al?”

I grinned.

“Your secret’s safe with me,” I reassured her. “It’ll all work out in the end, don’t worry.”

I only wished I could believe my own advice.


Chapter 12: twelve
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“You’ve really gotten yourself into a pickle, Jimmy.” Lily sighed, stirring her tea lazily.

“I’m aware of that, Lil.” I stared into my own tea cup, wondering whether it could have given me some advice on what to do, had I studied Divination. “So, what can I do?”

“There’s only one thing to do,” she said quietly. “You know that. Deep down, I think you know that all you can do is have her Obliviated.”

This was one of the reasons why I’d wanted to go to Lily in the first place. Unlike Brigid and Rose, she didn’t get angry often. She was more likely to respond with disappointment and while that made me feel incredibly awkward, I tended to respond to anger by getting angry myself, which never helped.

The other reason I’d needed to talk to Lily was that she was the only person who truly knew what I was going through.

“What’s it like?” I asked gently. “Having someone Obliviated?”

Her face fell. It wasn’t something she liked talking about. In fact, she’d barely talked to anyone about it; the only family members she’d confided in were Mum, Hugo and Teddy.

“Horrible,” she said dully. “I mean, it’s not as though removing someone’s memories is an easy thing to do at the best of times. I couldn’t be there when they did it. I didn’t want to watch it.” She paused, but I remained silent, not wanting to interrupt her. “I still see him around sometimes. He smiles, and waves, sometimes he says hello. But I can’t bring myself to respond. Why should I? For those few hours when he knew the truth about who I was, he loathed me. I can still remember that look he gave me as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. Like I was the scum on the bottom of his shoe. But, of course, he doesn’t remember a thing. That’s the hardest bit. Not the actual act of taking away his memories, but knowing what he would really think of me, if he still knew. Knowing that I probably look like the bad person, by not wanting to have anything to do with him, when the reality is so different. Knowing that he has no idea what he did...” She paused a second time. “It’s not so bad now. It’s been three years, it gets easier to deal with. Those first few months afterwards were awful though.”

For a moment, I didn’t know what to say.

“I never realised it was that bad for you...”

“I didn’t want to burden you. You, or anyone else. I mean, you had your own worries. You were doing your N.E.W.Ts at the time and looking into Quidditch teams to join. I had Maddie and Kit to help me through in the end.”

“But then, if it’s that bad, should I-”

“You don’t have a choice,” she said firmly.

I frowned, and swigged my lukewarm tea.

“Maybe it would just be easier if the Statute didn’t exist?”

“That would never work,” she said flatly. “For every Muggle who can just accept the wizarding world, there are a hundred who need a month or so to adjust to it, and a thousand who just can’t accept it. That’s why the Statute exists in the first place and why we have the Obliviators and the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee. The very idea of magic is so impossible to them that it scares them, and that fear leads to loathing, and that’s when our existence is threatened. The Statute is for our self-preservation; it has to exist, or we won’t survive.”

I knew all this already, of course; I had studied Muggle Studies up to N.E.W.T level, and Muggle attitudes to the wizarding world were on the curriculum. But Lily was far more of an expert on wizarding/Muggle relations than anybody else I knew, and so I let her talk.

“And yet, there are more wizard/Muggle relationships now than ever before...” I mused.

“Well, yes, but the general rule with that kind of thing is to not let the Muggle know until it’s really serious; that way there’s more chance of them accepting it, and less chance that they’ll just leave without a trace. There are still countless instances when the Muggle isn’t accepting, unfortunately. But yes, there are more Muggles who know about us than there have ever been before. But then, that’s the way it has to be if we’re to stop ourselves dying out.”

“But you think Carlotta needs to be Obliviated?”

“Well, for a start, it was hardly serious between you two, was it?”

I shook my head.

“She was a nice girl, much better than the last few, and I reckon I could have stuck with her for a while ... but you know me, I’m not looking for commitment right now.”

“Still saving yourself for me?”

Maddie and Kit joined us at the table we were sitting at, in the corner of the quiet tea shop which they and Lily often frequented at the weekends.

“Of course, Mads,” I said fondly and ruffled her hair. “You alright?”

“Marvellous. How’re you holding up now your Spanish lover has left you?”

“You know me, I’ll soldier on.”

“You having her memory wiped?”

“We were just discussing that before you ever so rudely interrupted,” Lily said delicately. “In my opinion, if her initial reaction was one of fear, then there’s little hope of her adjusting to it. Like I said earlier, if she did then she’d be in the minority.” She glanced slightly at Kit as she spoke. “And besides, even if she did come round to it, then what would you do? It’s not as though you and her were going to last. You’ll probably never see her again now, and so it’s dangerous to leave her knowing about us.”

“Although very few Muggles would run off and tell their friends about the wizarding world, in fairness, for fear of looking like a complete nutter,” Maddie chipped in.

“But some might,” Kit said quietly. “It’s not worth the risk.”

Lily nodded, and I knew she was thinking of the Muggle she’d had Obliviated.

“Obliviation it is, then,” Maddie said softly.

I sighed heavily.

“I don’t want to do it.”

“Neither did I. I didn’t have a choice, and neither do you. If you don’t have her Obliviated, and it gets out that she knows, then the consequences could be catastrophic. She found out three days ago, she could already have told people. She might yet do so. Yes, she’s a nice girl, and yes, it’s a horrible thing having to wipe someone’s memory, but you have no choice. And I know you’ve heard this from Brie, and I know you don’t want to hear it, but you have to. I’m sorry, Jim, but you have to.”

I didn’t respond.

“I need a cuppa. You having one, Kit?” Maddie got to her feet, giving him a questioning look.

“Coffee, please. God knows I need one after traipsing round the shops with you all morning.”

“I was going to buy you a drink, Christopher, but after that you can cough up for mine. Come on, hand it over.” She held a hand out, across the table. Kit pulled a face, but dug into his pocket for some change.

“You two want anything?” Maddie asked Lily and me.

“What, I’m buying the whole bloody round now, am I?” Kit rolled his eyes and dropped a fistful of coins into Maddie’s hand. “Go on then, drinks on me, if I must.”

Lily and I both opted for a refill, and Maddie headed to the counter.

“How’s training going?” Kit asked me.

I shrugged.

“Okay. Same old, I guess. We just want to get out there and play now, you know? I mean, we’ve been in pre-season for nearly five weeks now, and there’s only so much you can do without feedback from the games.”

“No worries of a hangover from last season?”

“No, I don’t think so. We won the season before last, and that didn’t affect us last season.”

“You guys have to make sure you don’t get too confident though. You’re only as good as your last game, remember,” Lily chipped in.

“You had a change of career path? Going for sports psychology now?” I jeered light-heartedly.

“Whatever you do,” Kit said warningly, “don’t utter those words in the earshot of Madeleine.”

Lily shuddered.

“She’s been reading all these books,” she said darkly. “She’s like a woman possessed! I swear, we get a different mantra every day! Not even Kit escapes from it. If she ever asks to come to an open practice, for God’s sake don’t let her.”

“Sounds like she’d get on well with Sinead,” I said. The prospect of two of them wasn’t an appealing one.

“When does the season restart, then?” Kit asked hurriedly, as Maddie reappeared with a tray of steaming drinks.

“Two and a half weeks,” I said promptly, taking my tea.

“How the hell do you know that? You barely remember when family birthdays are, let alone your fixtures!” Lily said incredulously.

“Brie told me yesterday. And the day before. And the day before. And ... well, you get the point. You tend to remember something when it’s drummed into you that rigorously.”

“Okay, then, here’s a test for you. Who are you playing?”

“Tornados.”

Lily winced.

“Tough fixture first up.”

“Yeah, but it’s at home. Means we avoid playing at their place this year, with how the season’s been chopped. We have to go to Portree and Kenmare later in the season though, they’ll be difficult; the Pride and the Kestrels were both shit hot last year.”

“Nasty,” Lily agreed. “What about the Bats?”

“Home. Last game of the season.”

Her eyes lit up.

“Potential title decider, that one. What a game to draw at home! You have to get us tickets, Jimmy, that’ll be a cracker.”

“So long as it’s not in the literal sense.” I really did not like the Lynch brothers’ bats.

“Get the Bagmans to take them out in the first minute and the game’s yours. Where’s the Cannons match?”

“Chudley. So that’s as good as another home game, they’re terrible.”

“You shouldn’t be too cocky about it, or you’ll trip up,” Maddie said warningly. “A team is only as good as its last game, you know.”

Lily and Kit both suppressed groans.

“Nice bit of sports psychology there, Mads,” I said innocently. “You been reading up?”

Lily kicked me in the shin.

“Just been doing a bit of extra studying on it all,” Maddie was oblivious to Lily and Kit’s anguish. “I figured you can never be too clued up on how the mind works, you know? Thought it might help us a bit. And I think it’s working, right, Lil?”

Lily nodded slightly over-enthusiastically.

“The biggest thing that they emphasise is that one of the keys to being successful as a team is to be exactly that – a team. I know it’s fairly self-explanatory, and you hear it all the time, but it’s so true. You can’t have a player thinking they’re bigger than the team-”

“In that case, why is Rosalind still on the team?” Lily grumbled. “If ever there was a person who had an inflated opinion of her self-worth, it would be her.”

“I know, but the only reason she’s not our highest scorer this season is because she’s been out with injury. She is good, you know,” Maddie said begrudgingly.

“Only cause she hogs the ball,” Lily moaned. “Okay, she’s good, but she bloody knows it.”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to quash.”

“And were the porridge oats meant to help that?” Kit asked with a grin.

“No, she was just doing my bloody head in,” Maddie scowled.

“I tried telling her that porridge was good for your hair. You know, diffusing the situation and all that, like I do. I’m not sure she believed it.” Lily shrugged. “What more can you do, eh?”

“So who is your highest scorer this season?” I chipped in.

“Lil, of course, by a country mile.” Maddie swirled her tea with her finger.

“Not by that many,” Lily rolled her eyes. “You’re exaggerating again-”

“She’s scored eight more than Gracie and twelve more than Rosalind. Don’t listen to her false modesty, Jimmy.” Maddie shook her head in fake disapproval.

“That’s what I like to hear. Tearing up the league, following in your big brother’s footsteps,” I grinned.

Now who’s bigheaded?” Lily said dryly to Maddie. “Honestly, James, sometimes I wonder how you all fit in your changing rooms, what with all the egos.”

“We all bounce off each other, it’s fine,” I smirked. “Feed off each other’s confidence and all that.”

“I wouldn’t let yourselves get too confident if I were you,” Maddie said warningly. “Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link-”

She was cut off as Kit stood up, reached over the table and stuffed a napkin into her mouth, despite her squealing protestations.

Lily looked at Kit, crestfallen.

“I wanted to do that.”



Chapter 13: thirteen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was back to the Hinky for Freddie, Brigid and me at the end of the week. Brigid was determined that it would be our last time and was making no effort to hide her glee about this.

“I never liked those daft Muggle drinks,” she said while getting ready in front of the mirror in my room. “Give me a Firewhisky any day.”

“Or Heidelberg mead,” I added slyly.

I saw her glare at me through the mirror and Freddie turned a laugh into a hacking cough.

“That was one time,” she said haughtily. “Besides, you get completely trashed at least once a month; you can hardly rib me for it.”

“Oh, but I can,” I said, shifting slightly to make myself comfier on my bed, “because it’s a regular occurrence from me, and it’s not from mature, respectable, ladylike Brigid Murphy-”

This time Freddie couldn’t disguise his laughter.

“Oh, stuff it.” Brigid sounded disgruntled. “It’s only ever you two who make a big deal out of me drinking, you know. Nobody else bats an eyelid. I like going out, just in case you hadn’t twigged. Especially if it’s at the Hinky, because it’s a cheap night. In fact, that’s another reason I prefer the Hinky; all the free drinks and perks we get.”

Freddie voiced his agreement and I tried to hide my displeasure. People always tried to convince me that those perks were due to my fame as a Quidditch player, but I knew they weren’t. None of the other Quidditch players received as many benefits as I, and by extension Freddie and Brigid, did, and more to the point, Al and Lily were treated in much the same manner as I was. It wasn’t hard to work out why this was the case.

“You going for Leggy Allegra later?” Brigid continued, pulling her hair back into a bun.

I shrugged.

“Dunno if she’s out tonight.”

“Oh, she is. She was in the Leaky earlier with some of her mates; they all looked dressed to impress. You’ve got with her before, haven’t you?”

“Couple of times, here and there. I don’t keep track of these things.”

“She’s a nice girl,” Her tone was casual but she glanced meaningfully at me.

“Mmm,” I agreed.

“Just remember you’ve got guests over tonight.” She brandished her hairbrush at me. “No sexy times tonight for you.”

“That’s what Silencing Charms are for, Murph,” Freddie butted in cheekily.

“Don’t you go encouraging him, Weasley,” she added sternly, turning the hairbrush on him, but her smile softened the effect. He grinned roguishly, and her cheeks tinged pink as she turned back to the mirror. I rolled my eyes and made a mental note to talk to Freddie later about the situation.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go to plan.

The spanner in the works came as we were on our way home. It was just the three of us – Allegra had been at the Hinky but, much to my disappointment, she had had to leave early to see to one of her friends, who was rather the worse for wear.

The walk home involved passing the Tav. Brigid kept glancing nervously at me as we approached, as though she was scared I was going to try to go inside. I could sense her sigh with relief as we safely passed the door.

I almost missed her, tucked away in an alcove just past the doors, out of sight of the bouncers. Then a slight movement caught my eye.

She was in a huddle on the floor, and appeared to be trembling. I couldn’t quite see her face; it was hidden by mounds of thick, curly, jet black hair. But I recognised the spicy scent that I’d come to associate with her, and the slightly dark skin tone that came from having a Spanish mother.

“Carlotta?”

I knelt down and brushed the hair away from her face, then tilted her head up. Her eyes were glazed over, as though she’d drank far too much.

I heard Brigid groan behind me.

“James, we’re not getting even more tangled up in this mess,” she said shortly.

“You suggest we leave her here?” I said incredulously, turning my head to look up at her.

“No, but we can tell one of the bouncers, and they’ll find someone inside who can look after her. James, for Merlin’s sake-”

Ignoring her protests, I stood up, and lifted Carlotta with ease, one arm under her shoulders, the other under her knees.

“James, put her down!” Brigid hissed, her eyes flashing. “You’ve already done enough damage, without risking the Statute even more!”

“I’m not leaving her until I know she’s okay, Brigid,” I said firmly, and walked off up the road, towards the block of flats where I lived. Carlotta was still trembling, and seemed unaware of where she was.

“James!” Brigid ran to catch me up. “She will be okay, if we just let the bouncers find someone to look after her – Fred, help me out here!”

“It’s no good trying to persuade him,” he said, strolling along behind us. “You know what James is like, he’s as stubborn as a hippogriff.”

Brigid groaned with aggravation.

“I wish you’d grow some bloody balls, Weasley,” she snapped. “James, think about her, how scared do you think she’ll be when she wakes up in the morning and realises she’s back at yours? See, this is why you should have just had her Obliviated in the first place!”

I didn’t answer.

“Oh, Merlin, you’re not going to try to explain it all to her, are you? Because that would go down fantastically well...”

The idea had crossed my mind only moments earlier. Despite what Brigid, Freddie, Rose and Lily had all said, I still felt strongly that I didn’t want her memory wiped if there were any other options available to me. This seemed like the ideal opportunity to try to rectify my mistake.

“Well, on your head so be it,” Brigid said, “but don’t go getting me involved. I want it to be known that I was fully against this from the start-”

“Shut up, Brigid,” Freddie said quietly.

“Oh, so you’re on his side now-”

“I’m not on anyone’s side, but you’re not going to change his mind, and besides, you really shouldn’t be yelling all this here, or you’ll be the one breaching the Statute. Besides, nobody’s making you come back anyway.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she said loftily, “someone has to keep an eye on you both.”

I remained silent as I reached the front door to the flats, and waited for Freddie to open it for me. He rolled his eyes discretely as he held the door open.

Brigid was still muttering under her breath as she followed us up the stairs. At my door, she shot a surreptitious look up and down the corridor, before quickly unlocking it with her wand. She ushered us in, and shut the door behind her.

I headed to my room, but Brigid reached the door first and blocked it.

“I don’t think so,” she said, drawing her wand. “I’ve got this covered.”

She levitated Carlotta out of my arms, and steered her into the spare bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind them both.

I sighed with frustration and turned back to Freddie.

“What’s got her wand in a knot?” I said, irritably.

“She’s just worried about the Statute, and the trouble we could get into. And she’s got a point, not that you need me to remind you of that. She just doesn’t let things go though; that’s her problem.”

“But you agree with her?” I sat down opposite him and propped my legs up on the coffee table.

“Course I do. Carlotta’s a Muggle, she’s found out about magic, and more to the point she’s freaked out about it. Doesn’t bode well. If I were you I’d have gotten the Obliviators in straight away-”

“Would you, though?” I interrupted. “I mean, it’s easy enough to say that it’s the right thing to do, but it’s not quite so easy to actually do it.”

“It won’t hurt her, you know,” he said quietly. “And they’ll only take the bare minimum. They don’t even need to take away all the memories with you, just the one where she saw the picture and stuff. They can even implant a false memory to solve the issue of having to see her again. It’s the best option there is. It’s the only option, to tell the truth.”

I frowned.

“You know, sometimes you almost sound clever, Freddie,” I said.

“Just trying to keep you on your toes.” He grinned. “Don’t let Brie nag at you, though.”

We fell silent as the door to the spare room opened and Brigid slipped out of the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.

“I’ve put her in a pair of Lily’s pyjamas. She doesn’t seem to have a clue where she is still, and she’s shaking weirdly, but hopefully she’ll go to sleep soon. I conjured a glass of water and left it on the bedside table, so if she wakes up in the night and needs a drink she’s got one. I don’t think there’s anything else we can do. You still adamant you’re not getting the Obliviators in? Now would be the ideal time to do it...”

I glared at her.

“Okay, point taken.” She sighed. “Anyway, I’m going to bed. Try to keep the noise down, so you don’t disturb her. And don’t try going in there, just leave her be. Okay?”

We both nodded. Satisfied, she headed into my room and shut the door.

“I love how she always assumes she can have my room,” I sighed and conjured up blankets for me and Freddie.

“Least your sofas are comfy,” he replied, helping himself to a couple of blankets and lying back on one of them, adjusting a cushion behind his head. He paused. “You gonna try talking to her tomorrow morning?”

I didn’t need to ask who he meant.

“It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?” I said.

“You’re lucky,” he said slowly. “If it works ... if she comes round to it ... that’ll be the biggest cop-out of all time from you.”

“I know.” I stared up at the ceiling.

“What will you do after, though?” he continued.

I shrugged.

“I have no idea.”

***

I was woken the next morning by the smell of food coming from the kitchen. Freddie was already awake, and in the process of finding the Quidditch channel on the television.

“Brie’s cooking breakfast,” he explained unnecessarily. “Your Spanish princess hasn’t surfaced yet.”

I nodded and turned my attention to the live Quidditch game. The match was an Australian league fixture, between the Thundelarra Thunderers and the Woollongong Warriors. The two teams were fierce rivals and their games always involved numerous fouls and vicious injuries. Currently, the Thunderers were eighty points ahead, but this was to be expected. I knew that their Chasers were the three current Australian national Chasers – but, perhaps more importantly, the Warriors were fielding the national Seeker.

Brigid appeared with two steaming plates of food and handed them to Freddie and me. She wrapped her arms round my neck and planted a kiss on my cheek.

“I’m sorry I was an ass last night, Jim,” she said.

“It’s okay,” I said, examining my breakfast. “You were just trying to do what you thought was the right thing.”

“Yes, well, I still think I’m right,” she said sternly.

She headed back to the kitchen and returned moments later with her own plate of breakfast.

“Thunderers have got this in the bag,” she said, as they scored another goal.

“Nonsense,” I said. “If the Warriors catch the Snitch now, they’ve won. The Thunderers need to be about two hundred ahead before they can begin to breathe a bit easier.”

Another Thunderers goal.

“As I was saying,” she continued, “the Thunderers have got this.”

“Bet you ten Galleons they haven’t,” I said with a smirk. “Go on, put your money where your mouth is.”

“Deal,” she said flatly. “You in, Freddie? You can have the draw.” She grinned.

“Screw me over, why don’t you?” He scowled.

The Thunderers scored another three goals in quick succession, but the Warriors pulled one back, leaving them a hundred and twenty points behind. I was beginning to get twitchy, and Brigid’s cocky smile was growing wider.

“Still confident the Warriors are going to win?” She got to her feet. “Here, I’ll take your plates out.”

“Thanks for the grub,” I said, handing my empty plate to her. “And yes, I’m still confident. Any second now, and their Seeker will find the Snitch, just you wait.”

“We’ll see about that,” She grinned.

The door of the spare room opened, distracting her.

Carlotta peeped out of the small gap between the door and the frame, looking unsure.

“Morning,” Brigid said gently before I could say anything. “Do you want me to cook you some breakfast? You must be starving.”

Carlotta hesitated.

“I won’t bite, you know.” Brigid smiled. “Pass us your plate, Fred, I’m not bending down for it. And why can you never eat your bacon rind?”

He grinned cheekily, but picked his plate up off the floor and handed it to her.

The Thunderers scored again.

“I can feel that twenty Galleons in my pocket,” Brigid said smugly, heading to the kitchen. “You coming?” she added to Carlotta, who was still hovering in the doorway.

Carlotta hurried across the living room, shooting a furtive look at me as she did so, and followed Brigid into the kitchen.

“Least she’s awake,” Freddie said quietly.

“She’s still trembling, did you notice?” I frowned. “Her right arm was going like the clappers – oh, bugger.”

The Thunderers scored once again.

“It’s not looking good for you,” Freddie said gleefully.

“Whose side are you on?” I said indignantly. “Oh, bloody hell!”

The Warriors’ Keeper had just been taken out by a Bludger that had been superbly aimed by one of the Thunderers’ Beaters.

“Won’t make much difference, they may as well have not had a Keeper – ooh, now this is getting interesting!”

An full-on brawl had broken out between both teams’ Beaters, which resulted in all four of them being ordered off the pitch.

“The ref would do that after the Keeper’s been taken out,” I groaned.

“You don’t need the money anyway,” said Freddie, but he sounded sympathetic. “Bloody hell, that was against the run of play!”

For the Warriors had seized the Quaffle at the restart, made their way up the pitch and scored.

“Come on, Wilson, find the bloody Snitch!” I groaned.

“What’s happening?” Brigid called from the kitchen.

“Put the bloody wireless on!” Freddie retorted.

“Just tell me!”

“Shit,” I moaned, my head falling into my hands, as the Thunderers scored again.

“Your guys are one-forty up,” he updated her.

“Still think the Warriors will win, Potter?” she said gleefully.

“There’s still time,” I called back, before swearing loudly as a Thunderers Chaser scored a stunning goal from near the half-way line – as one could when the opposition had no Keeper and no Beaters.

“It’s game on now!” Freddie laughed. “Oh, bloody hell-”

I sat bolt upright.

“What’s happened?” Brigid called again.

“They’ve seen the Snitch!” Freddie and I called back at the same time, eyes glued to the television.

“Come on, guys, just one more goal, one more goal and it’s in the bag!” I said desperately, willing the Chasers on.

“They’re not gonna do it!” he said, a smirk on his face. “Their Chasers are hapless. Wilson will get the Snitch alright, it’s just a case of whether the Thunderers manage to score again first-”

“Who’s got the Quaffle?” I cried. Now the Seekers were in hot pursuit of the Snitch, it was as though everyone had forgotten that the rest of the game was still going on. “No, Wilson, wait, don’t catch it now-”

Wilson pulled out of his dive, raising his clenched right fist, which held the struggling Snitch. At the same time, Freddie rose to his feet, arms aloft in the same manner.

“Hand us your Galleons, Potter!” he said happily.

“Don’t say they drew!”

Brigid appeared in the doorway, looking crestfallen.

“Yup,” I said, downcast, as I handed Freddie a fistful of gold.

She groaned.

“That sounded exciting as well, they couldn’t wait thirty seconds for me to finish cooking, could they?” She sighed, shaking her head.

“Cough up, Murph,” Freddie said, still beaming widely.

“Are you joking? You didn’t even want to bet-”

“If you won and I tried to use that excuse you wouldn’t be having any of it, so that won’t work. You decided I was having the draw, you can bloody well pay up!”

She groaned, but picked up her bag from where she’d left it the night before.

“I hate you,” she scowled and rummaged through her purse. “You’ll have it in Knuts, right?”

“No, I bloody well will not,” he replied firmly. “For a start, if you’ve got enough Knuts for that then you’re nuts...”

“Hold your hands out,” she instructed.

He moaned as she dropped piles of silver and bronze coins into his hands. Some of them spilled onto the floor.

“Could you be any more difficult?” he grumbled, as he poured them into his pocket and collected up what had been dropped. “I bet that’s not ten Galleons, either-”

“Well here then, have a couple of Galleons to ease your mind.” She handed him two of the gold coins.

“Thanks.” He scowled.

“You’re welcome!” she beamed. “Anyway,” she continued, lowering her voice, “we should go. She’s eating at the moment. She seems okay, just very scared. Whatever you do, Jim, don’t scare her any more. I won’t tell you to get the Obliviators in, because I know you won’t.”

And with that, she Disapparated with a quiet pop.

“Good luck, mate,” Freddie grinned, before disappearing himself, with a slightly louder crack.

I got to my feet, and paused for a moment to gather my thoughts, before heading into the kitchen.

Carlotta was sitting at the table, picking at the plate of food in front of her. She looked up, a slightly alarmed expression on her face.

“There’s no need to be scared,” I said quietly, sitting down at the other end of the table to her. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

She didn’t look reassured.

“I’m sorry,” I continued. “You weren’t supposed to find out that way.”

The words hung unsaid between us. You weren’t supposed to find out at all.

She took a small bite of toast, chewed and swallowed, before asking her question, so quietly I could barely hear her.

“What are you?”

“I’m a wizard,” I said, in the same quiet tone. “I can do magic.”

Her eyes widened.

“But ... that’s impossible, magic doesn’t exist-”

“Of course it does. You saw it with your own eyes, last weekend. That photograph.”

She shuddered, as if the memory was a scary one – which, admittedly, it probably was.

“And, you all can? Fred, and Brigid, and-”

“Yeah,” I said.

She licked her lips slowly, processing the information.

“What ... what can you do?”

“Anything. Well,” I amended, “nearly anything. I could levitate you, turn your hair blue, turn you into a cat...”

She was beginning to look alarmed.

“Not that I would!” I added hastily. “In reality I doubt I could, I was never that hot at human Transfiguration. I know the theory, though. Let’s think ... I could unlock a door, conjure up water – or anything, really, so long as it’s not food – make something vanish, light or put out a fire, make something bigger or smaller, repair an object, fix a broken nose...” I was trying to think of things that wouldn’t freak her out, and it was proving to be surprisingly hard. “I can show you something, if you like?”

She nodded.

Her eyes widened as I drew my wand and aimed it at her plate and she pushed her chair back slightly, away from the table.

Wingardium Leviosa!”

She let out a small noise as the plate rose from the table, hovered about ten inches above it, before coming to rest back on the table again.

“That was weird...” she murmured.

Accio glass!” I said, aiming my wand at a glass on the side. It flew towards me and I caught it deftly with my left hand, setting it down on the table in front of me. “Aguamenti!” Water flowed out of the end of my wand, into the glass. “Locomotor glass.” I steered it across the table, until it sat in front of her. Her facial expression was unreadable.

“Try it,” I said with a grin. “Go on, I’ve not poisoned it.”

She smiled faintly, and picked up the glass. She took a sip of the water.

“That ... that’s really cool,” she said, putting the glass back down in front of her. “But ... why doesn’t everyone know about you, about magic?”

“They used to.” I put my wand down on the table. “But back in the fourteenth century, Muggles – that’s what we call non-magical people – began to grow scared of magic and started persecuting magical people. There were loads of witch burnings. Course, no real witches or wizards died; they just cast Flame-Freezing charms which cooled the fires. One witch, Wendelin the Weird, loved the tickling sensation so much that she let herself be captured forty-seven times ... but that’s not relevant. Anyway, it got so bad that in 1692 the International Confederation of Wizards decided to create the International Statute of Secrecy, which meant that the entire wizarding world went into hiding, and that’s how it’s been ever since.” The only reason I knew all the specifics was that Lily was studying History of Magic and ramming the facts down my throat at every opportunity apparently helped her revise. “And you and I together managed to break that Statute last weekend,” I added with a wry grin.

“Is ... is that serious, then?”

“Of course it’s serious, you could threaten everything we’ve spent over three hundred years trying to protect! You pose a huge security risk to the wizarding world.”

“I’ve not told anyone, though,” she said hurriedly. “I mean, what would I tell people? They’d think I’d gone mad! I thought I’d gone mad. Besides, I didn’t even know what it was that I’d seen, I just knew that it freaked me out...”

“But now you know,” I leaned forwards on my elbows, trying to hold back the smile that was playing at the corners of my mouth.

She frowned.

“So why tell me, if I’m not supposed to know?”

“Because ... I didn’t exactly want you to think you were mad, did I? I’ve been worrying all week about what you’d be thinking. You seemed petrified when I just appeared out of mid-air last weekend-”

“Can everyone do that?” she cut in. “You know, materialise at will?”

“You have to learn, and have a license,” I said, “but yes, most witches and wizards that are of age can Apparate – that’s what it’s called.”

“That is cool...” she said. “So, what are you supposed to do if a non-magical person finds out about magic?”

“Have your memory of it wiped.”

She winced.

“You can do that?”

“Like I said, you can do almost anything with magic.” I shrugged. “The only exceptions are that you can’t bring someone back from the dead, you can’t make people genuinely fall in love, and there are restrictions on what you can conjure. You can’t conjure up food from nothing, for example. Aside from that, almost anything is possible, including some very gruesome stuff which I wouldn’t dream of doing. And memories can be manipulated. If I’d done things properly, I’d have called in the Obliviators – that’s what they’re called, the people who wipe memories – and you wouldn’t have remembered a thing. But I didn’t like that thought. I still don’t. That’s why you still have those memories.”

She frowned again.

“So ... you were just going to leave me knowing...”

“I didn’t have a clue what to do,” I confessed. “Then, when I saw you last night, I figured, it was worth trying to explain it, to avoid having your memories wiped. On that note, what was wrong with you last night? You seemed really ill...”

She waved an hand airily – her left one. I noticed that her right arm, the one that had had the tremor, was resting on her lap, out of sight.

“Just drank too much. Nothing to be too concerned about. Thank you, by the way, for looking after me. Anyway, back to this magic business.”

I had to hide a grin. It was amusing how interesting she now seemed to find magic.

“What happens now then? I mean, I know about magic and I’m not meant to. So...”

“Muggles are allowed to know about magic, in exceptional circumstances,” I said with a shrug. “Witches and wizards marry Muggles all over the place, for example. I know this isn’t exactly exceptional circumstances, but the point is, you knowing about us isn’t the problem, it’s the security risk that your knowledge poses. So, this is where you now promise not to tell a soul.”

“Yeah, because people would really believe me.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course I won’t tell anyone.” She paused. “Doesn’t that mean you’re gonna have to keep an eye on me, to make sure I won’t tell anyone.”

“Well, I can’t say Brigid would be too happy if I just let you wander off into London and never saw you again.” I leaned back in my chair. “You don’t have to carry on knowing. We can still have your memory wiped-”

“NO!” she said loudly. “I ... I mean ... I find it interesting! I want to know ... if, if I can, that is...”

“Sure you can,” I said, shrugging. “You’re lucky I think you’re alright, if you annoyed me then you’d have had your memories wiped as quickly as possible.”

She pulled a face.

“Thanks for that,” she said. She looked down at her plate, which she had abandoned a long time ago. “I don’t know though ... I mean, won’t I find it weird, being surrounded by loads of people who can disappear and reappear anywhere, and unlock doors with a wand, and fly – I saw that sport on the television, they were flying on broomsticks – when I can’t do a thing magical?”

I shrugged again.

“Maybe. But then, Lily, my sister, manages, doesn’t she? So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.”

She cocked her head to one side.

“What do you mean, Lily manages?”

“Well, she’s a Squib, isn’t she? Not an ounce of magic in her.”

Carlotta’s eyes widened.

“Really? Is that common?”

“Not at all. In fact, it’s really rare; there aren’t many at all. Children of witches and wizards are nearly always magical and one parent being magical is enough. Witches and wizards can be born into non-magical families too. My Aunt Hermione’s parents are both Muggles, and my Dad’s mum’s parents were both Muggles too. But Mum’s family is magical as far back as time, near enough, and so was Dad’s dad’s family, so people found it really odd when it turned out that Lily was a Squib. They have no idea how it happens at all, it just does occasionally.”

Squib. That’s a horrible name. Poor Lily...” Carlotta fell silent for a moment. “That must be horrible for her, not being able to do magic when everyone else can...”

“I think she was pretty gutted at first – I mean, I can’t even imagine what it must be like being the only non-magical person in a magical family – and there’s a lot of us, Mum was one of seven and there’s twelve of my generation – but she’s really made the best of it. She goes to this boarding school near Falmouth, and she loves it. She’s Head Girl this year, and she’s in the school hockey team, and she plays a couple of other sports too. She wants to be the Muggle Liaison for the Ministry of Magic when she leaves school, so she has to do wizarding subjects as well, to get the relevant grades to do the job. If she gets the top grades, though – and I think she will – she’ll probably be the most appropriate person for the job. I mean, she’s lived in the Muggle world for years now.”

“What subjects does she do, then?”

“She does four Muggle subjects ... sometimes I forget what they are, obviously I never did them ... maths is one, history another ... chemistry, is it? The one where you blow things up?”

Carlotta giggled and nodded.

“And the planty one.”

“Biology, you mean?” she supplied.

“That’s the one,” I said. “She picked wizarding and Muggle subjects that went together, to make it easier for her, cause it’s one hell of a workload. She only does the theory side of the magical subjects, obviously; you need magic to do the practicals but anyone can learn the theory. So she does Arithmancy, which is to do with magical properties of numbers, History of Magic – that’s self-explanatory – Potions, which basically involves blowing things up, and Herbology, which is all about magical plants. Oh, and Muggle Studies, which is as it sounds, the study of non-magical people and how you lot live. I did that as a N.E.W.T subject – they’re the exams we do in our Seventh Year. She has to do it, it’s the one subject the Ministry of Magic require for the position of Muggle Liaison. On the whole she finds it a doddle, but some of the questions are daft, even Lily’s mate Maddie can’t answer them and she’s a Muggle.”

Carlotta’s eyes were wide as saucers once again.

“That’s a lot of work...”

“Mum thinks it’s too much. But Lily has to do at least three subjects at school, and the Ministry generally like five N.E.W.Ts so she says she can’t drop anything. And she won’t quit the sports teams because that’s where she gets her free time, and she won’t quit as Head Girl because it looks good and she says there aren’t all that many responsibilities on her shoulders anyway, so it’s not too bad. But yeah, sometimes I wonder how she manages it all. It’s incredible, how she’s turned being a Squib into a positive.”

Carlotta nodded, seemingly lost for words.

“So,” she said after a moment, “do any of her school mates know?”

“Two of them do,” I said. “Maddie, she’s been Lily’s best mate from the start, she was in the next bed in her dorm in their First Year. Maddie’s Head of Games and captain of the hockey team. And then there’s Kit, he doesn’t go to the same school, because it’s an all-girls’ school, he goes to the boarding school at the other end of town. But his parents work at Lily’s school, so he met them both in their First Year. They both found out about magic about four years ago. Maddie didn’t take too much persuading, Kit found it harder to adjust to, but now they’re fine with it.”

“But nobody else knows?”

“A few of the teachers at the school know, obviously – including Kit’s parents – but aside from that, nobody knows. She told one of Kit’s mates a couple of years back – she was dating him for a while and decided she wanted to tell him, but that backfired big time, and they had to have him Obliviated. She doesn’t like to talk about it, but it upset her a lot at the time.”

“Poor thing...” Carlotta murmured. “She must wish she didn’t have to keep it secret-”

“You’d be surprised. She’s in the best position to judge on it, and she says we have to stay hidden. The reaction of this guy she was with says it all. She thought he cared about her enough that it wouldn’t faze him, but it did. So she just has to get on with it. We all do. It’s not easy, but it’s that or be persecuted.”

She winced.

“So, what do you do for a living then?” she asked. “I really doubt you told me the truth last time. It doesn’t seem like you told me the truth about anything, to be honest...”

“I only lied where necessary, and most of the time I didn’t even do that, just twisted the truth. And I play Quidditch. That’s the sport we were watching earlier. Played on broomsticks. Our season starts in a couple of weeks, actually.”

“How do you play it?”She sounded interested. “And what team do you play for?”

“My team is called the Falmouth Falcons. Pure fluke that it’s near Lily’s school. It’s the team that Brigid’s mum coaches, which is why I play for them. Brie’s my agent actually; she represents a lot of players. Anyway, you have seven players on a team...”



A/N: First off, spare a thought for poor old Freddie. Ten Galleons is 170 Sickles, or 4930 Knuts. That's a lot of coins weighing his pocket down.

There you go! The big reveal :) Obviously, I've known from the start that Lily is a Squib, but I wanted to hold it back until Carlotta found out. You'd be surprised at how difficult it's been not letting something slip! Especially last chapter, I almost made a few references to pounds and pence and had to rewrite it to be more ambiguous :)

This may be the last update for a while, as I have uni exams coming up which I need to prepare for, but I've left you guys with a nice big fat juicy one with lots of goings-on so it's not too bad! And my exams are over by the end of May, so I'll be back in business in June :) Hope you enjoyed, please review and let me know what you think!


Chapter 14: fourteen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: Revision is clearly going well.



The next day, I decided to visit Lily. Apart from our chat over tea in the village near her school, which, conveniently, wasn’t far from the Falcons’ training ground, I hadn’t been to see her once this year. This was a far cry from last year, when I had seen her at least once a fortnight.

As usual, I Apparated into a face full of clothes. I often wondered whether Maddie was just taking the piss at the beginning of their sixth year, when she’d suggested modifying Lily’s wardrobe to make it big enough for us to Apparate into. She’d claimed she’d gotten the idea from a Muggle novel, but that didn’t stop me feeling ridiculous every time I stepped out of the damned thing.

I pushed the clothes aside to reach the doors, and looked through the peephole that Dad had added, wondering, as always, why nobody had inquired as to why a wardrobe needed a peephole. Mum had always said that Muggles weren’t always particularly observant, though, so perhaps this was the reason.

The fact that I could see through the peephole was in itself a good start. Lily covered it up when she didn’t want visitors, a foolproof ploy, as both Dad and Aunt Hermione had drummed it into us to only open the wardrobe door if we knew for a fact that the coast was clear. That, and I was fearful about what I’d find.

Lily’s room was empty, but the deliberate positioning of the wardrobe allowed me to see straight through the doorway opposite into Maddie’s adjoining room, where Maddie was sitting at her desk, and Lily was perched at the end of the bed. A statuesque blonde was standing at the threshold of the main doorway to the corridor. I winced; run-ins with Rosalind Wentworth-Farlington never ceased to put both girls in bad moods.

“I’m not playing you, and that’s the end of it,” Maddie was saying firmly to Rosalind.

“But I’m the best right inner-”

“When you’re fit. You’re not fully fit, and I’m not playing you until your ankle’s better. For a start, you’ll jeopardise the rest of the team. And besides, I want you fit for the sevens in three weeks. You’ve already missed more training than I’d like, but you’re one of the fastest players we’ve got and so I need you in the team. Give it another week, like the doctor said, and you can start training again. I’m not putting you in the team for Saturday though.”

“You’re just leaving me out because you don’t like me-”

“Do you honestly think I’d leave my best right inner out deliberately? Tallulah’s good, she really is, but she doesn’t quite link up with Lily and Gracie like you do. So, trust me, I’d be playing you if I thought I could risk it. But I can’t.”

Rosalind looked irritated.

“At least let me train-”

Give it another week. Next Sunday we’ve got sevens training. Come along to that. You are keeping up with your running, aren’t you? I can’t have you flaking out after five minutes-”

“Of course I’m running,” she snapped. “And I’m fine, my ankle’s fine, just let me play-”

“Maddie’s already said no in almost every way possible; how long will it take for you to get the message?” Lily interrupted lazily. “Now, if you’ve got nothing more to add to the conversation, would you please leave? I’ve got mountains of work to do and we want to watch the boys’ rugby game later.”

Rosalind glared at her, before storming out of the room and slamming the door firmly behind her.

“Bloody hell, she’s a nightmare,” Maddie groaned.

“I wouldn’t play her even when she’s fit, if I were you-”

“And this, my dear, is why I’m captain and not you. She’s too good to not play her.”

Satisfied that the coast was clear, I knocked loudly on the wardrobe door.

“Come out!” Maddie giggled.

I rolled my eyes at the years-old joke and pushed the door open.

“And he emerges from the closet again.” She grinned. “I thought you’d forgotten about poor little us; you haven’t visited in ages!”

“Decided on a change of scenery.” I shrugged and joined Lily on Maddie’s bed. She had settled back against the headboard and was throwing a Quaffle up in the air and catching it. “That sounded like a lovely conversation...”

Maddie groaned.

“No matter how many times I tell her, she never listens.” She deftly caught the Quaffle that Lily passed to her, then quickly passed it on to me. “She thinks it’s favouritism, that I choose not to pick her. It’s a nightmare, because she’s good, but she knows she’s good, and she thinks she has a God-given right to start every game, even when it’s not fair on everyone else. Yes, she could possibly play on Saturday, but I refuse to risk it.”

“What’s this sevens thing you were on about?”

Maddie’s eyes lit up, as she sat up in her chair. Lily groaned.

“Seven-a-side hockey!” Maddie said excitedly. “Lottie, Robbie and I play it when we’re home; there’s a mixed tournament over Christmas that our local team enters. And one of the schools nearby has decided to set up a sevens tournament! All-girls, luckily, or we’d be stuck. It’s the same as normal hockey, just less players. You get mini-hockey which is played on a half-size pitch, but this form is on a full-size pitch. It’s gonna be knackering! But good.”

I turned to look at Lily, who was grimacing slightly.

“You playing in it?” I asked.

“Course she is,” Maddie jumped in, “she’s one of our fastest and fittest players. That’s what you need for sevens, speed and endurance. That’s why I need Rosalind fit for it. We’ve been planning this for a few months now, and Lottie and Robbie have been coming to our training sessions to help out. It took a while to convince people that it was a good idea, but I think they’re coming round to it now.”

Lottie and Robbie were Maddie’s older siblings. Lottie had been to the same school as Maddie and Lily, while Robbie had attended the boys’ school that Kit went to. I’d met them both a few times when visiting Lily. Like Maddie, they were both sport-mad – it seemed that it ran in the Bennett family.

“So you need to make sure you’re free for that, James,” Maddie continued, “at least just for the Sunday, because that’s finals day.”

“I think Brigid’s told me about this already.” I frowned slightly as I tried to recall the conversation in question. “Is it in March somewhen?”

“March the fifteenth,” Lily said promptly. Her arm was currently between Maddie’s bed and bedside cabinet.

“What on earth are you doing?” Maddie sounded baffled.

“Knocked something off your cabinet,” she grunted. She pulled a small paper bag out of the gap.

“Oh, those are your aunt’s sweets, Lil,” Maddie said. “I keep meaning to put them away somewhere, before some poor sod thinks they’re normal sweets and has one.”

Lily winced at the thought, as she examined the contents.

“There aren’t many left...”

“They taste nice!”

Lily looked up at her, raising an eyebrow.

“They give your hair polka-dots.”

“It’s a good look!” Maddie shrugged.

“If you get caught with mauve skin...” Lily said warningly.

“I don’t eat them just before classes, Lil!”

“How do they work on you two?” I asked.

“They work better on Mad’s hair than mine, because it’s lighter, but they’re better on my skin tone than hers.”

“They work okay, though?”

“Well, if by ‘okay’ you mean they last about an hour...”

“On Benny, they do,” Lily added. “On me, they’re fine, only five minutes or so at most. I guess it’s because Mads doesn’t have any magical genes, whereas I’ve at least got some traces of magic. Maddie’s not even supposed to be having them...” she added in a stern tone to her Muggle friend.

Maddie rolled her eyes.

“What could go wrong?”

“Rule number one: never say that about anything magical. Do you really want to be stuck being multicoloured forever?”

“Hair can be near enough any colour these days and still look normal, it’s fine-”

“Skin can’t,” Lily pointed out.

“I could start a new trend.” Maddie shrugged. “Body paint fetish?”

Lily shook her head in exasperation.

“I should get Carlotta to try one, see how that works with her Spanish blood,” I mused.

Fantastic idea, except for the minor issue of her being petrified of you right now,” she said dryly.

“Not any more, she’s not,” I said, trying – and failing – to hide my smug grin.

“What have you done to her?” Lily said darkly.

“I haven’t done anything!” I cried, holding my hands up in protest. “We picked her up on the way home the other night – she was really drunk or ill or something – and yesterday morning I explained it all to her. She’s fine with it all, actually she seems really interested. I told her about you, Lil-”

“Oh, thanks,” Lily muttered, with an eye roll of her own.

“She was worried about not fitting in! So I said, you don’t have to have magic to know about the wizarding world, and that you manage fine. And she seemed really impressed actually, I think she’s quite interested in the fact that you do both Muggle and magical studies-”

“Why do I feel like a zoo exhibit once again?” She frowned at the Quaffle which was now sitting in her lap. “So what’s the situation with you two now then?”she continued before I could comment.

I hesitated.

“I have no idea.”

“Friends? Dating?”

“Fuck buddies?” Maddie supplied.

“I’d prefer to phrase it as ‘friends with benefits’; it’s much more appropriate in a social setting,” Lily corrected her.

Why you’re looking for ‘appropriate’ with James as company, I do not know-”

The door flew open. Lily swore under her breath and stuffed the Quaffle under Maddie’s duvet.

Maddie groaned as she saw who the visitor was.

Seriously? I must have done something bad in a previous life to deserve this,” she lamented. “What do you want, Abigail?”

“Have you got that article from sports science?” the girl – whom I vaguely recognised as one of Rosalind’s lackeys – asked, ignoring the slight.

“No, I gave it to Rania the other day,” Maddie retorted shortly.

Abigail’s eyes fell on a booklet on Maddie’s desk. She frowned and stepped forward to pick it up.

“Why do you have an instruction manual for a washing machine?” she asked curiously.

“Do you fancy doing your clothes washing by hand?” Maddie replied shortly.

“It’s called ‘shopping around’, Abbie. Forward thinking. Wanting to have our flat fully applianced by the time we move into it,” Lily said in a patronising voice.

“Applianced isn’t a word,” Abigail said irritatingly, turning to face Lily. Her eyes fell on me. “Oh! I didn’t know you were here, James-”

“Yes, he’s here, come to visit his much loved younger sister, not to hear you rabbit on, now shoo. I’ve told you, Rania’s got the article, go bug her,” the ever sharp-tongued Maddie said.

Abigail looked as though she’d been slapped in the face. She narrowed her eyes at Maddie, before leaving, slamming the door behind her.

“You’re horrible to her,” I observed.

“I’m just giving her the stick she deserves for being a thick shit and giving Lily hell when we were ickle Firsties. She’s a bitch, all of Rosalind’s clique are. They still give Effie a hard time even now. Mind, I’ve told Eff on countless occasions that she needs to grow a pair-”

“In a very comforting manner, I’m sure,” I cut in.

“Maddie never sat the lesson on subtlety,” Lily said smoothly. “Pass that booklet over, will you, Benny?”

Maddie lobbed the instruction booklet across the room to her.

“Why do you have a washing machine instruction booklet?” I asked.

“Muggle Studies, of course,” Lily said gloomily. “Because one clearly has to know the inner workings of a washing machine in order to fully integrate oneself into a Muggle society. Heck, Maddie only just finds the ‘on’ button.”

“Yes, well, we’ve already established that I’m a failed human being.” Maddie got to her feet and stretched. “Coming to Kit’s rugby game then, Jimmy?”

“When is it?”

“In-” Maddie looked at her watch – “forty minutes. Which means that we need to be leaving soon, if we want to make it for kick off...”

“What?” Lily looked up from the booklet. “I thought you were driving?”

“And be roped into chauffeuring Kit to get food afterwards with his smelly kit in the boot? I don’t think so. Nope, we can walk. You could do with the exercise, Lil-” She yelped and ducked to avoid the booklet Lily threw at her.

***

“So, they can’t pass forwards?”

“No, James.”

“Only backwards?”

Yes, James?”

“And they score goals behind that line-”

“Tries, James, they’re called tries. And yes, they have to ground the ball behind that line.”

“This is a stupid sport.”

“So’s Quidditch!”

This was a regular occurrence when I watched a rugby game. The sports that Lily played, mainly hockey and tennis, I understood – partly because I’d watched that many games and heard her talking about them so often that the rules had been drilled into me, and partly because it was reasonably easy to grasp the basics of them – but rugby always confused me. As a result, I was standing pitchside with Maddie, with my hands thrust deep into the pockets of my coat, and her arm tucked into the crook of my elbow, firing questions at her as usual and receiving exasperated answers in return.

Lily, being less sharp-tongued and much more diplomatic than Maddie, got on with people better and was talking to a group of girls from the year below them, who Maddie had referred to, distastefully, as “shrieking airheads”.

“Oh, by the way, you do realise you’re my date to our prom in July, don’t you?” Maddie said suddenly.

“I – what? What the hell’s a ‘prom’?”

“It’s a fancy dance with a dinner; most schools have one at the end of secondary school. It’s an American influence. You’d just need a fancy dinner suit and you’d be good to go. I’m sure you’ve been to all loads of similar dos now you’re a famous Quidditch player. We agreed in First Year, that you’d be my date.”

We?”

“Me and Lily. Made a pact that I’d go with you and she’d go with Robbie. I don’t know if she’ll go with him, but I don’t see any guy round here who I’d want to take me, and you’re half decent, so I’m booking you up.”

“Do I have a say in this?” I asked, grinning cheekily.

“Nope.” She popped the ‘p’. “Even apart from the fact that I can’t see why you’d dream of turning down the chance to be my date for an evening, would you really be willing to tell Lily you’d rejected her mate?”

“I’ll do it,” I said hurriedly. The thought of Lily’s wrath scared me. “So long as it doesn’t clash with a match or anything. The season ends at the beginning of July, but the World Cup starts a couple of weeks after that-”

“It’s the beginning, no worries. The third or the fourth or something like that. Lils will know, I’ll get her to write to you and let you know. Seeing as how you magical people can’t seem to use any technology more modern than the Middle Ages.” She smirked.

“There’s nothing wrong with owl post,” I defended. “It’s simple and reliable. Anyway, why don’t you go with Kit to this prom thing?”

“Aside from the fact that neither of us would subject ourselves to that?” She shook her head. “Honestly, James. Anyway, he’s taking Imogen, it would seem, the jammy bastard.”

“Really?” Of all the girls in Lily and Maddie’s year, Imogen and Grace were the two they got on best with. I didn’t mind them, when they weren’t looking at me as though I were a piece of meat.

“Uh huh. He asked her the other week. Lil and I had no idea he was planning to do it. Since then they’ve been so bashful around each other, it’s painful. And if they’re not being all coy, they’re flirting horrendously. I wish he’d just get on with it and bang the girl already.”

“Who’s banging who?” Lily chipped in, having appeared from nowhere.

“Oh, you’ve decided to ditch your Head Girl mingling and rejoin us now, have you? What’s wrong, the gigglers exhausted their brain cell?”

“Something like that. You going to answer the question?”

“Just filling Jimmy in on the Kit and Immy developments.”

“What, and how he’s not filling her in?”

“You two are horrendously vulgar,” I said conversationally.

“Like you can talk,” Lily said. “I just can’t believe that of the three of us, Kit was the first to bag a date...”

“I’ve got one now!” Maddie said gleefully.

Lily frowned and leaned around me to look at her.

“Who?”

“Jimmy, of course. Actually, Kit’s technically the last of us to get a date. We’ve had ours sorted for six years now.”

“I don’t think it counts if they don’t know about it,” Lily said.

“So hurry up and ask Robbie then! Unless you’ve got your eye on someone, but I really can’t imagine you have, given the choice available-”

The sound of cheering around us cut her off. Kit had just scored an attempt, right at the end of the game. She groaned.

“Great, now he won’t stop gloating all evening...”

She was, however, grinning widely, and headed off with the other spectators to congratulate him and the rest of the team. Lily held back, grabbing my arm.

“James,” she murmured, “you know you said you’d told Carlotta everything about magic?”

“Yes...” I wondered what she was getting at.

“Did you actually tell her everything?”

“I’ve not filled her in on the entire history of the wizarding world, if that’s what you’re getting at-”

“No, I don’t mean that, you idiot.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean the whole Muggle persecution thing, and about Voldemort, and Dad-”

“Of course not!” I frowned. “Why on earth would I do that?”

“Well, given that our entire family was involved in the last war, do you not think it would be an idea?”

I shrugged.

“I don’t see why,” I said. “Not right now, anyway. I don’t exactly want to scare her off again, do I?”

Lily looked at me, the expression on her face unreadable.

“Just ... don’t keep it quiet. Because if she finds out some other way, and you haven’t told her, it mightn’t go down too well.”

I just laughed and threw an arm round her shoulders.

“You worry too much, Lil,” I said fondly. “Come on, let’s go and see Kit, before he gets upset that we’re not paying him any attention...”



A/N: The Muggle novel in question, which inspires Maddie as to the wardrobe idea, is of course The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


Chapter 15: fifteen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A frantic call from Brigid woke me early on Monday morning.

“England want you!” she said excitedly.

I frowned, still half-asleep.

“What?”

“They’ve named a twenty-one person squad for training this week. They want to get a good look at all the World Cup possibilities. You’re in it. So’s Roxanne, actually, but I think she’s more of a future prospect than a current one. Meet at the England base in an hour.”

Excitement began to build up inside me.

“Where’s that?” I tried to sound casual.

“They’re using the World Cup stadium. You know, the one they built near us?”

By ‘us’ Brigid meant the Falcons’ training ground. Though agents were meant to be unbiased, she was of course a die-hard Falcons fan.

“Cato and Cleo have been called up too, naturally. Meet them at our ground in about half an hour – they’re picking up some stuff from their lockers – then you can Apparate to the stadium with them.”

“Cool!” I said, mentally berating myself for using such a word even as I said it. “Have ... have you rung Roxie yet?”

“No, I’m doing that next. James, just remember-”

“Yeah?”

“Look, this is huge for you, and I don’t want to burst your bubble-” She sounded hesitant. “And you do have a massive opportunity here to show what you can do ... but, this is a twenty-one person squad. That’s three times as many people as are needed for a team. They’ve called up nine Chasers; they only need four for the World Cup. This is great, and I’m really chuffed for you ... but I don’t want you getting your hopes up too early just to be disappointed.”

I grinned.

“Don’t worry, Brie,” I said. “I know that.”

I also knew – though I didn’t tell her – that now I was in the England fold, even if it was just a training squad, I wasn’t going to let anyone drop me from it. I was going to make that World Cup squad if it killed me.

Though not quite literally, of course.

***

I knew most of the twenty-one person squad already, as I’d played against them in the League. Some of them had been at Hogwarts when I’d been there, so I’d also played with or against several of them in the Quidditch Cup too. Cato and Cleo had been a couple of years above me and had played against me for Slytherin.

I was very familiar with a few members of the squad. Michael Wood had been Gryffindor’s Keeper and Captain during my first three years at Hogwarts and he now filled the same positions on the English team. His twin sister Emily had been a Chaser on the team and for my first two years, she Ryan and I had made for a formidable trio. I’d learnt a lot from her. While they now both played for Puddlemere United – one of the Falcons’ biggest rivals – the Gryffindor spirit outdid the League rivalry, and even now, they always had a friendly smile or a word of advice for me whenever we played each other.

Unfortunately, Gryffindor spirit didn’t always linger. Jeremiah McLaggen was, admittedly, an incredibly talented and versatile player. He’d been Gryffindor’s Seeker for four years and had then switched to Keeper for his last year, as none of the people trying out had been good enough to join the team. Michael’s shoes had been rather large ones to fill. It had been Ryan’s first season as captain and he’d been preparing himself to plead with Professor McGonagall to bend the rule against First Years playing, so that Hugo could get on the team. McLaggen, however, had been frustrated by the lack of competency and ordered the rejected Keepers to go and sit in the stands, then demanded that Roxanne, who’d replaced Emily as Chaser, and I try to score as many goals as possible against him. He had performed so remarkably that Ryan promptly switched him to Keeper.

Of course, Ryan had then had to call Seeker tryouts. Luckily, these created less of a problem as Albus had easily outflown all competition, and had even taken McLaggen by surprise with his talent.

But McLaggen wasn’t in the England squad as a Seeker, or even as a Keeper. He had been signed by the Tornados straight out of school as a Seeker, but had been forced to fill in as a Chaser a couple of seasons ago when injuries had struck and left them short. He had done such a sickeningly good job that he made the England squad a season later, in that position. This ability to position-switch made him unpopular amongst most Chasers, Seekers and Keepers – nobody should be able to slot into so many positions so easily at House level, let alone League level. Beaters alone had little problem with him and proclaimed, as they were wont to do, that their role was so specialist that no ‘bit-part’ player could possibly dream of performing it to such a high standard.

Secretly, several of us within the League were running a sweepstake on when McLaggen would attempt to play Beater. I was still in the running, though I only had a few months left. Emily’s guess had been and gone a good two seasons previously.

Naturally, with such talent in spades, McLaggen had the ego to go with it. Dad had once compared him to his father, who had played on the same team as him and Mum at Hogwarts, commenting that Jeremiah was “cut from the same cloth”. He hadn’t explained why he’d said this, however, claiming that he hadn’t wanted to cloud my judgement of him.

Luckily for me, Uncle Ron had delighted in telling me the entire story of Cormac McLaggen’s Quidditch woes, and I had delighted in listening.

McLaggen had never liked me. This wasn’t a surprise. He’d commented when I’d first made the Gryffindor team that I had only done so based on who my parents were. I’d thoroughly silenced him when retorting that he clearly hadn’t made the team based on his father’s prowess, and a beautiful rivalry blossomed. Even though we were now both in our twenties, our mutual animosity hadn’t waned, especially as he played for the Tornados, who resented all Falcons players for taking their mantle as the best domestic side in recent years.

This team rivalry meant that there was currently a fair bit of tension amongst the squad. Seven of the thirteen teams in the League were English. The Welsh, Irish and Scottish teams all refused to field English players, as they preferred to nurture home-grown talent. As each nation only boasted two League teams, this was fair enough, but it meant that there were only seven teams for the England management to pick their players from. As the three most successful teams in the League, the Falcons, the Tornados and Puddlemere provided most players, which meant there was a nasty atmosphere in the air. The coach, Demelza Robins, tried to remedy this from the start by splitting us up by position and sending us all off to “bond with each other”.

“Does she really think that a few minutes of talking will make us best friends with McLaggen?” Roxanne hissed to me, very quietly, as Demelza’s younger sister, Tamsin had also been one of the Chasers chosen for the twenty-one player squad. With twenty years of professional Quidditch experience behind her, she was the oldest member of the squad and usually played for the Tornados.

 Roxanne was already fuming, as McLaggen took the first opportunity to make a snarky comment about her lack of first team game time with the Falcons. This was already a sore topic for her, and I knew Brigid was beginning to worry that she would opt to leave the team to gain more game time elsewhere.

“It might have a better chance of working if we weren’t all heading back to our clubs at the end of the week to prepare for our first match of the season,” I said. “And we’re playing the Tornados. That’s the last thing we need.”

“Don’t let anybody see just how good you are,” Sinead had warned the four of us before we’d left the Falcon’s training ground that morning. “Especially the Tornados or Puddlemere; we’re playing them both within the next few weeks and we don’t need them picking up on our tactics, or more importantly our weaknesses. Do enough, but don’t do too much. Remember, the selectors will be watching our matches all season; you’ll have ample time to impress. And Keira’s the England Beater coach now; she’ll put in a good word for you all.”

But even Keira was getting frustatrated.

“None of my Beaters will talk to each other,” she moaned quietly to me after the ‘bonding session’ was over. “I’ve got two Falcons, two Tornados, a Wasp and a United, and you couldn’t create more tension unless you locked them in a room with the Lynch brothers. And apart from Cato and Cleo, none of them really like the idea of being coached by a Falcon, partly because of the rivalry and partly because they they don’t want me to learn all their tricks. I swear it was never this bad when I played for England!”

Emily Wood didn’t like the idea of Keira coaching the Beaters either, though for different reasons.

“Who on earth decided it was a good idea to couple the Bagman twins with a Broadmoor?” She shuddered. “I hope I’m not picked for Puddlemere when we play you guys; the thought of facing the Bagmans after Broadmoor’s showed them all she knows is a terrifying one. All I can say is I’m glad they’re all English. If I knew I had to face them in the World Cup, I wouldn’t get any sleep at night.”

“Don’t worry, there’s still the Lynch brothers to worry about,” I pointed out.

She grinned wryly.

“Yes, well, I think you need to fear them more than most, eh, Potter?” She ruffled my hair in the way she used to do when we played together for Gryffindor – except I had been shorter than her back then, and now I towered over her. “I’ve got to say, I’m pleased to see you in the fold. I knew it was only a matter of time before England came calling for you. It’s good to see Roxie’s on their minds too, though she’s another couple of seasons away, I think. But you ... you’ve got a good chance of making the summer team.”

“I’ve got some good people to out-do though,” I reminded her. “And besides, once people have gotten into the team, it’s hard to dislodge them. People will only get dropped if they make mistakes, you know that.”

“Very true, but look at it from this point of view. Tamsin is a fantastic Chaser. What she’s achieved is incredible, and the fact that she’s still playing for England at her age, especially when most of her contemporaries – you’ve got a few of them at the Falcons: Broadmoor; Horton; Cobb; Keitch – have been out of the international scene for a few years, says a lot about what she can offer. But she’s not going to be around for much longer. If she plays in this World Cup, then it will probably be her last involvement with England. So does Demelza roll with that, let Tamsin have her swan song, given that she’s still so good ... or does she say, ‘let’s promote youth over experience in this tournament’ and pick someone like, say, you?”

“I’m not going to get in instead of Tamsin,” I snorted. “She’s the coach’s sister-”

“Demelza doesn’t do favouritism,” Emily pointed out. “She knows when it is and when it isn’t right to pick her-”

“Yes, but I still think she’s more likely to pick her for her last World Cup than a non-related coach would be.”

Emily shrugged.

“If she’s picked, then I won’t be too unhappy,” she said. “She’s a talent and I enjoy playing alongside her. All I’m saying is that you have a chance. I mean, you could dislodge McLaggen; you’re a better Chaser than him and Merlin knows I can’t stand the bloke.”

I grinned, remembering some of the run-ins she’d had with him on the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch.

“And I think Demelza thinks his ego could do with a dressing down. You could easily replace him.”

“But he’s versatile,” I reasoned. “And it’s not just that he can play Seeker and Keeper; he’s more than capable at both. Heck, Seeker’s his position of choice. There’s no way that Robins won’t want him in the squad.”

“The squad, yes, but she’ll pick four Chasers. That still leaves two spots-”

“Oh, you’ll get in no problem, don’t be daft,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Things can change very quickly in sport. And you’re damn good. The most exciting thing to see is how far you’ve come since we were at Hogwarts, and how much potential you still have. You’re by no means the finished article, and as a United player that scares me, frankly. You’ve clearly learned a lot from Moran, Horton and Cobb at Falmouth.” She paused. “Mike and I told Dad he should be looking at you, when you were in your last year at school. Dad liked what he saw, from what I gathered. Unfortunately, your pal Murphy jumped in there first.”

“Brie said her mum was interested in signing me up, and Ryan was already there. It was a no-brainer.” I shrugged. “Was your dad really interested, though? I had no idea...”

Emily’s father Oliver was the Puddlemere coach. He’d played at Hogwarts with Dad, apparently, before going on to be Puddlemere’s Keeper for years. His son had definitely followed in his footsteps.

“Oh, yeah. He sent a scout to all your matches in your last year. He didn’t want to approach you too soon though. And then the Falcons snapped you up first. It was definitely the right move for you, though. I think you’ve done better there than you would have at Puddlemere, given the mentors you’ve had.”

I nodded in agreement. I’d had fine teachers in Sinead, Julia and Laura, and to some extent, Della.

“So, you see? You’ve got more than enough chance of getting into the World Cup squad.”

I nodded again, watching as Demelza released twenty Snitches into the stadium and ordered her three Seekers to catch as many as possible.

What a stadium it was, too. Mum, Dad and my uncles all told stories about the last time the World Cup had been held in Britain, and they’d all described the stadium. This was built to the same design, but nothing they’d said had quite prepared me for the moment when I had actually entered it.

Due to the Statute of Secrecy, the teams in the League couldn’t each have a huge stadium to play at. The logistics were near impossible. Instead, we all played at various deserted moors, with temporary stands erected for every match. At the Falcons we had a small building at Bodmin Moor, where we played our home games, which housed our changing rooms and other facilities, and of course we had a pitch marked out and both sets of hoops erected, but everything was very basic. The World Cup stadium, however, was anything but basic. It was by far and away the biggest magical structure I’d ever seen – aside from Hogwarts, of course.

When I finally threw my leg over my broom and kicked off from the ground, later that day, the rush of excitement I felt was even greater than I usually got when I felt the wind hit my face and ruffle my hair. There was something about this stadium, something incredible, and it was only now, now I was flying inside it, that the reality of being in the extended England World Cup squad hit. Despite Brigid’s warning earlier that day, as I flew laps round the stadium to warm up, I envisaged it full of spectators, all here to watch the final, all adorned in the England colours, chanting my name...

I grinned to myself as the vision played out.

Not that I would ever  tell a soul what I’d just imagined.

***

I did, however, tell Aunt Audrey everything else about the training squad on Friday afternoon when I paid her a long-overdue visit.

“I’m proud of you, Jimmy,” she said, squeezing my hand excitedly. “I told you that you were in the running, didn’t I? I told you right from the start too; if you worked hard enough, you’d reap the rewards. And you’ve certainly worked hard for this. Just don’t forget your poor Aunt Audrey when you’re travelling the world playing the beautiful game.”

I laughed.

“Don’t worry, I won’t forget my first fan.” I grinned. “Besides, your shortbread is far too nice.”

“Have another piece.” She gestured towards the shortbread, which was no longer stacked as high as it had been when I’d turned up. “Unless they’ve gotten you on some crackpot diet in preparation for the World Cup.”

 “I’m not that special yet.” I took the largest piece. “Don’t go telling everyone your nephew’s playing in the World Cup. I’ve still got to survive the chop, remember. I wouldn’t want you to get your hopes up.”

She returned the smile.

“Don’t worry, I’m the champion of realism.” She paused. “You won’t get your hopes up too much, will you? You need to be prepared for all eventualities. And while you need to tell yourself you can play for England at the Cup, that you are good enough, you shouldn’t tell yourself that you should and will be playing there. Not just yet. There’s still a lot of hard work to do before you can let yourself relax.”

“I know. Trust me, I won’t let myself get carried away. I’ve seen the talent I need to overtake, I’m not about to take this all for granted.”

“You’ve got a sensible head on your shoulders, boy. Your parents have raised you well.”

“That, or I have an agent who likes to bring me back down to earth with a bump at every opportunity,” I said with a grin. Brigid had indeed been telling me exactly the same as Aunt Audrey all week.

“She knows the game better than most,” Aunt Audrey agreed. “Anyway, enough of the Quidditch talk. What’s happening with this Muggle girl you were seeing?”

I frowned.

“How did you know about that?”

“Lucy, of course. She said a few weeks back that you’d gotten quite friendly with some Muggle. She’s not had so much to say on the matter recently, though. Have you moved on again?”

“No ... it’s difficult.” I shifted uneasily in my seat. “She, um ... she knows. About us. About magic.”

Aunt Audrey’s eyes widened.

“You told her?”

“She found out,” I said uneasily. “It’s okay, she’s cool with it.” She is now, at any rate. “It’s just ... made things awkward in a way. I mean, she doesn’t want some serious relationship, she’s looking for fun like I am, but ... well, I’ve kind of got to stay acquaintances with her now, haven’t I? And things haven’t always ended rosy with me and girls...”

“Cassie Lynch comes to mind,” she mused. “Have you seen her much lately, then? Your Muggle, that is, not Lynch. I don’t even know this girl’s name...”

“Carlotta,” I supplied. “Her mum’s Spanish. I don’t actually know her surname; it’s not the kind of thing you ask about, is it? But no, I’ve not seen her since last weekend, when I explained the whole magic thing to her. I’ve talked to her; she rang and asked if I wanted a night out, but I said I couldn’t, cause I’ve been doing this training. I might see her tomorrow though. I think she still has loads of questions to ask about magic. I was wondering, actually...” I leaned forwards, propping my elbows on the kitchen table. “How do all these Muggle repelling wards work?”

“Which ones? There are a few that work differently.”

“The ones round our Quidditch pitch.”

“The Falcons?” I nodded. “Well, that makes Muggles approaching it suddenly remember an appointment they’re late for and dash off for it. There are others, of course; the one at Hogwarts causes Muggles to see a ruin, not the castle, and they can’t see the Leaky Cauldron at all.”

“But Muggles can overcome them?” I asked. I knew this was true, as Maddie and Kit had been to several Falcons matches. I was interested in the theory behind it, however.

“Well, yes ... Hermione would be a better person to ask this than me, you know.”

“Yeah, but that would mean telling her that Carlotta’s found out about magic, and I didn’t fancy that. Not without you and Aunt Angelina on side first.”

Aunt Audrey raised an eyebrow.

“Now I see what you’re playing at,” she said. “So, you want to take Carlotta to a game, do you?”

“Maybe.” I shrugged my shoulders. “She seemed interested...”

“Well, the important thing to remember is that most Muggles don’t know that these wards even exist. As a result, they don’t know they can fight them. That’s why they work; if a Muggle suddenly remembers a dentist’s appointment while in the middle of a moor, they’re not going to question why they remember it because they have no reason to. But if a Muggle knows there’s something to fight, then they can overwhelm it. It’s by no means easy, though. Just knowing about the wards isn’t enough; a Muggle has to really understand magic, to believe that it’s genuine and always has been. That’s why the wards don’t work on Squibs like Lily; she doesn’t have magic but she sure as hell knows it exists. By all accounts she had some serious trouble when she first took Maddie and Kit to a match; she says she’s never known anyone so keen to visit the dentist as Kit was, and Maddie nearly punched her lights out, she was so anxious to get to a hockey match that didn’t exist. But they managed in the end.” She paused. “Does that help?”

I nodded gratefully.

“Thanks.”

“Now, the next question is, how the hell are you going to explain to your parents that you let a Muggle find out about magic?” Aunt Audrey’s tone of voice was now very stern.

I licked my lips hesitantly, finding some sugar and shortbread crumbs as I did so.

“I haven’t quite worked that one out yet,” I said. “But I’m thinking of turning up at my match with Carlotta, letting Brie look after her and then bolting to the changing rooms and letting them just ... find out.”

She raised an eyebrow, looking sceptical.

“If you do it that way,” she said, “and you harbour any ambitions of playing for England someday, then I would definitely advise you to include running in the game plan.”


Chapter 16: sixteen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I planned on spending the weekend – my last before the season started – relaxing by myself in my flat. While I loved talking all things Quidditch, the added excitement of the England training week had meant that almost all of my friends and family had wanted to talk to me about it, and I was now sick of the topic. Especially after Mum spent an hour lecturing me about the right way to behave now that I was in the England squad, while she cooked breakfast.

Unfortunately, Lily had other ideas for my weekend.

She stepped out of my fireplace mid-morning, followed by Maddie, whose exit was much less coordinated.

“I’ll never get used to that,” she coughed, as she brushed soot off her. I cleaned the floor with a quick Scourgify.

“Least you got the right grate,” Lily pointed out.

“Don’t.” Maddie shuddered at the thought of getting lost in the melee that was the Floo network, something that she and Kit had been lucky enough to avoid so far.

“I swear Kit’s parents were only connected to the Floo for emergencies,” I grumbled, as I followed them into the kitchen. They made themselves comfy at the large table, spreading out numerous textbooks, exercise books  and – in Lily’s case – rolls of parchment.

“This is an emergency,” she replied darkly.

“We’re escaping Rosalind,” Maddie elaborated.

“What did you do this time?” I sighed.

We didn’t do anything!” Maddie protested. “If she wasn’t such a nosy, greedy bitch-”

“She now has green hair,” Lily explained. “She ate one of those damn sweets of Aunt Angelina’s, didn’t she? Well, she hasn’t got a clue how it happened, of course, but she’s blaming it on me, thinks I mixed up some concoction in Chemistry which has dyed her hair. At first I flatly denied it, but then Mrs A reckoned that it was best that we just went along with it. Damage limitation and all that. She’s got Rosalind in her living room, trying to calm the situation and stop everyone from finding out it happened-”

“And meanwhile, we escaped through her kitchen grate,” Maddie finished.

Kit’s parents lived in a house in the grounds of Lily and Maddie’s school. Mr Atkinson taught maths, while Mrs Atkinson was in charge of the First and Second Years at the school. They had been told that Lily was a Squib before she’d started at the school, and were the only teachers apart from the Headmistress who knew. Their knowledge of the magical world had come in handy when Maddie and Kit had first found out about magic, as Kit hadn’t taken the news too well at first.

“Don’t people get suspicious that you visit them so much?” I asked now, as I sat down opposite Lily.

“Mrs A makes splendid tea,” she said.

“And besides, they have a back door for a reason,” Maddie added. “Anyway, what’s got your wand in a knot? I thought you liked seeing us?”

She always got great amusement from using wizarding phrases.

“Of course I do,” I said dryly, “but had it not crossed your mind that I might have plans today?”

Do you?” she asked.

“Well, no, not particularly-”

“There we go then.”

“-but Carlotta was possibly going to pop round later.”

Maddie’s eyes lit up.

“I can meet her!” she said excitedly.

“That’s exactly what I don’t want,” I said darkly. “You’ll put her off. And you’re the bloody Muggle.”

“I’m not that bad,” she reasoned. “Besides, I’m one of the only normal people in this motley crew. You really think that she’ll prefer Al and Rosie?”

“I’m not sure which is worse, to be quite frank.”

“In that case, stop fretting over it and help me with my Muggle Studies,” Lily cut in.

“You don’t need help from me-”

“Hello, you got an O in it-”

“It’s easy, Lil! Common sense!”

“How is knowing the precise mechanics of a television common sense?” she said irritably. “Even worse, they want me to explain how the wizarding channels on it work! How is that Muggle Studies? Most Muggles don’t even know those channels exist!”

“I wish I could access those channels,” Maddie said dolefully.

“You’ll be able to when we move into the flat,” Lily reminded her. “There’s no way I’m going without the Quidditch channels.”

“How’s Kit going to cope, living with two girls?” I asked curiously.

Maddie stared at me.

“How’s he going to cope? How are we going to cope living with him, more like!”

The doorbell rang, interrupting the conversation.

“Is that her?” Maddie said excitedly, sitting upright.

“I bloody well hope not,” I muttered, as I got to my feet.

But Maddie was right.

“Can I just apologise in advance for anything my sister and her friend say?” I said as she crossed the threshold.

“Oh, are they here?”

“Fell out of my fireplace a few minutes ago. Literally, in Maddie’s case. And she has no concept of how to behave herself.”

I led Carlotta into the kitchen where Maddie was still sitting in the bolt upright position I’d left her in, her work already neglected.

“So this is Carlotta, is it?” She grinned cheekily. “I’m Maddie, nice to meet you.”

“And you.” Carlotta smiled slightly, and took a seat at the table.

Just then, Lily groaned in aggravation, her hands gripping at her hair.

“Lil, just don’t learn it!” I said. “It’s not important, I never learned it-”

“But if I only bother with the basics then I can only get an A!” Her tone was frustrated as she raised her head and glared at me. “And I need an E at least!”

“But surely if you get the A, then that’s higher than the E?” Carlotta frowned, looking confused.

“Wizarding grades,” Maddie explained. “They’re all weird. Your highest grade is an O, which is Outstanding. Then you have an E, which is Exceeds Expectations, then A for Acceptable which is the last pass grade. Then you have the fail grades, which are P for Poor, D for Dreadful and T for Troll.”

Troll?”

“Dad got a T in his O.W.Ls,” Lily said. Thinking of Dad’s failings seemed to cheer her up.

“Really?” Maddie said curiously. “What in?”

“Divination.”

“Oh, that’s not even a real subject,” she snorted, waving an airy hand. “Remember when you read my tea leaves and told me I’d have ten children by the age of twenty-five? Or when you read my palm and told me I should have died nineteen years before? We were fifteen at the time!”

“Our family doesn’t have a history of being gifted at Divination,” Lily admitted. “But I still got an A in my O.W.L. And besides, it doesn’t mean it’s not a real subject. There are real seers around, you know. In fact, you do know, I’ve told you all about prophecies.”

“What work have you got then, Mads?” I interrupted, not wanting to become involved in a conversation about prophecies – I knew where it would lead and I didn’t fancy going down that route right now.

“Sports Science,” she sighed, turning back to her work.

“Oh, I give up on this shit,” Lily scowled, rolling her parchment back up. She pushed her Muggle Studies work to one side, and pulled another textbook towards her.

“What are you doing now?” I asked.

“You’re full of questions this morning,” Maddie chipped in.

“You’ve just rolled up at mine, uninvited, with shitloads of work; I’m allowed to be nosy.”

She poked her tongue out at me, before lowering her head back to her work.

“History, to answer your question,” Lily said.

“Which one?”

“Can’t decide.” She shrugged. “What do you think is better, nineteenth century Muggle Russia or the second rise of Voldemort?”

“Neither,” I supplied.

“Voldemort, you know that like the back of your hand,” Maddie chipped in.

Once again, we were heading for a topic I didn’t want to discuss. This time, Carlotta came to my rescue.

“Do you ever get confused?” she asked Lily. “James said you do magical and normal subjects...”

“Are you trying to say that the magical world isn’t normal?” Lily said, amused. “I picked subjects that kind of link with each other, to make it easier, but they don’t tend to overlap. Chemistry and Potions, for example; Chemistry only involves Muggle elements, and Potions only involves magical ones, so it’s pretty hard to get them intertwined, though I have been known to write an essay about antidotes which involves adding magnesium. I was very tired at the time. It’s the same with Biology and Herbology; the overlap only goes so far, it’s quite hard to get them mixed up.

“Maths and Arithmancy is where it gets slightly more confusing because sometimes you can solve a mathematical problem using the magical properties of a number – but because I’ve had the Muggle methods drummed into me, I generally avoid that pothole. History is the bad one, though. Muggle and wizarding history is so tightly intertwined all the way back regardless of how much the wizarding world tries to hide. It’s linked so much more than you could possibly imagine. Because at the end of the day we’re all living in the same space, we’re going to run into each other no matter how hard we try to stay separate. So yeah, it does get very hard there. I have to get Maddie to proof read all my Muggle History essays before I hand them in, in case I’ve slipped in something about goblins or giants-”

“And I thoroughly enjoy it,” Maddie said glumly.

Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of someone falling on the living room floor, followed by a torrent of swear words intermingled with coughs.

“Kit,” Lily and Maddie both said at the same time.

Sure enough, he strolled into the kitchen moments later, with what would have been a nonchalant air were he not covered in soot.

Scourgify,” I said lazily, pointing my wand at him.

“Cheers.” A now sootless Kit took a seat at the table. “Your floor might be a bit mucky in there, by the way. You really need to clean your grate, you know.”

“You sound like my mother,” I said, pulling a face.

“And she’ll be here soon if you’re not lucky. Well, if Lily’s not lucky, anyway.” He turned to look at her, smirking. “I’ve just heard about your little ... incident. Nicely done, except my mum’s just told yours about it.”

Lily groaned, her head falling onto the table.

“But we didn’t even do anything!” came her muffled voice.

“Mum has to tell your mum every time there’s a breach, you know that,” he reminded her.

“But I didn’t breach anything!”

She breached our privacy!” Maddie chipped in. “Did you see her? Was she still green?”

“Green, was it? Nice. She was back to blonde when I saw her, she was in your boarding house when I dropped Imogen off, telling everyone how you’d done something freakish. Grace was defending you to the hilt, saying that you can’t possibly have done anything because how could you have changed her hair colour? Course, she then said to me and Immy that whatever you did was bloody genius.”

“Why does everyone assume it was us?” Maddie moaned, but she was grinning. “Good old Gracie. Sometimes I wonder whether we should tell her and Immy, Lils...”

“I wonder that sometimes too, but it’s too much stress. It was bad enough telling you two...”

“Plus they’re doing a good enough job at backing you two up without knowing about magic,” Kit pointed out. He turned to Carlotta. “I’m sorry, I haven’t introduced myself yet, that was very rude of me. You must be Carlotta? I’m Kit, Lily’s friend, it’s nice to meet you.”

“Hi,” she replied, smiling slightly. I wondered if she was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed.

“Did Immy enjoy her breakfast date, then?” Maddie butted in, mockingly.

“She bloody loved it, I’ll have you know, Benny. Chicks dig a breakfast date.”

“I don’t.”

“Yes, well, I’d hardly refer to you as a chick – hey!”

He ducked, as she threw her pen across the table at him, but she was laughing.

“Oi! No missiles in my kitchen, Bennett!”

“You two are such children,” Lily sighed.

A loud pop indicated that somebody had Apparated into the other room.

“Oh, shit,” she muttered. Her face lost its colour.

“Lily Luna Potter, what have you-”

Mum came to a halt in the doorway, as her eyes fell on Carlotta.

“Morning, Mrs P!” Maddie chipped in, clearly trying to divert the tension. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

“Hi again, Mum!” I said brightly. “Back so soon? This is Carlotta. Carla, this is my mum, Ginny.”

“Lovely to meet you, Carlotta,” Mum said in a pleasant tone. She then turned to face me. “James, living room, now. And you, Lily.”

Lily grimaced, getting to her feet.

“I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?” Maddie said in a lighthearted tone, as Mum chivvied us into my living room. She shut the kitchen door firmly behind her, crossing her arms and looking at us with a severe expression on her face.

“I don’t know which of you to start with,” she said. “Does the Statute mean nothing to either of you any more?” She fixed her glare on me. “You’ve told her about us?”

“Who says she knows?”

“Cordelia’s chirping away and Lily’s got stacks of parchment and quills on the kitchen table. If you’ve not told her, then I want to know why she’s so content in that kitchen and not running a mile.”

I decided defiance was the best option.

“Yeah, she knows. And if she’s sitting in the kitchen contently, as you observed, then surely there’s no problem? She’s fine with it-”

“James, that’s not the issue! You think this is going to work out when you stop seeing her?”

“But it’s not like I meant to tell her! She found out, and I made the best of the situation-”

“And that’s meant to make things better?”

“Don’t be harsh on him, Mum; he’s already beaten himself up about it. Not to mention the lectures he’s gotten from Brigid and Rosie-”

“And as for you, young lady!” Mum turned on Lily. “You should know better! In fact, I thought you did. And now I find out you’re turning people’s hair green?”

“In fairness,” I interjected, feeling a need to stick up for Lily as she’d done for me, “it’s really not Lily’s fault. If Rosalind wasn’t such a nosy bitch, she wouldn’t have found the sweets and had one for herself-”

Mum blinked.

“It was Rosalind?”

Lily nodded.

“Well, why didn’t you say?”

Mum’s expression immediately morphed from angry to approving. It was at times like this that I was reminded she was Uncle George’s sister.

“What colour was it?”

“Bright green. We caught a glimpse of it as we made a mad dash to Mrs A’s kitchen to escape to here.”

Lily still looked slightly uneasy. The thing with Mum was, you never knew when she might snap. Luckily, we seemed safe for the moment.

“Well, she got what was coming to her. I will be having words with Angelina though. If she must have Squib testers, then she can supervise you when you’re testing them in future. I trust Maddie and Kit haven’t had any?” She raised an eyebrow.

“None at all,” Lily said smoothly. “Honestly, Mum, what do you take me for?”

“I won’t answer that.” Mum cast her eyes around the room. “Really, James, I only tidied up this morning and already it’s a mess! Look at your fireplace!”

“That was Kit,” I said, as she cleaned it up with a wave of her wand.

“And the rest of it?” she asked, pushing open the kitchen door.

“Cordelia and I were playing catch,” I admitted, following her back into the kitchen.

“I won’t ask what with.”

“That’s probably for the best,” I agreed.

“You’ll kill that poor pygmy puff before long,” Lily said, sitting back down next to Maddie, who had my teapot and six mugs in front of her.

“She’ll be fine. She’s a resilient little thing. She loves being thrown around, anyway.”

I fell back into the chair beside Carlotta’s. She was looking at the teapot with a fascinated expression on her face.

“What are you looking at?” I asked.

“It’s ... singing...”

“Not very well, mind.” I frowned at its pitchy rendition of A Teapot Full of Hot, Strong Tea. “It used to be better, but it’s losing its touch. It’s forgotten a few numbers somewhere along the way, too. It needs a good refurbishment when Aunt Hermione or Uncle George have the time.”

“I asked it to sing American Pie for me, but it won’t,” Maddie said dolefully. “In fact, it hasn’t stopped singing Celestina since I took it out of the cupboard. It can’t quite-” We all winced at a particularly out-of-tune note – “reach the high notes any more.”

“I think it’s forgotten American Pie.”

“What?”

Maddie looked devastated. She had spent days teaching my teapot that number – and had successfully managed to bore the entire Weasley clan of a song that most of us hadn’t even heard of beforehand. The teapot had then gone on to sing it constantly for weeks, until even Maddie grew tired of it – and took it upon herself to teach it a different song. In fact, she had taught it most of its eventual repertoire. Unfortunately, it had since forgotten most of it.

“But it’s a classic! How can it forget it?”

“There are a lot of lyrics for that poor piece of china to remember,” Lily pointed out.

“I think it only remembers Celestina now,” I added.

“It clearly can’t remember the notes though.” Maddie winced again as it hit another flat note. “Can we pour the tea out and shut it up?”

“I’ve got it.” Mum drew her wand and waved it at the teapot, which started to pour out its contents - it changed its tune to You Poured the Tea Right Out of Me.

“Aunt Hermione would tell you off, you know,” I said. “She’s always telling Rosie not to use magic unless she really has to.”

“Yes, but that’s because she doesn’t want her to become too content with the fact that she can use magic, and rely on it too much. I highly doubt that pouring out tea by magic will affect my ability to do so manually. Does everyone want?”

A chorus of yeses echoed round the table.

“Lily, get the milk,” Mum instructed.

Lily leaned back onto the back two legs of her chair – “don’t go moaning to me when you fall backwards and smack your head,” Mum said warningly  - to open the fridge door and grab the milk jug out of it.

“This one doesn’t sing as well, does it?” Carlotta said warily.

“No, it does a dance accompaniment. It’s not very good at keeping its contents in if it’s dancing to a particularly upbeat number though.”

“It gets a bit over-exuberant with the dance moves for Y.M.C.A.,” Maddie added, watching it cautiously as it waltzed around the table.

The dance education of the milk jug had been Kit’s doing.

Mum set the teapot back down on the table, where it struck up a jazzy rendition of You Stole My Tea But You Can’t Have My Spout. The milk jug’s dancing became much more enthusiastic.

“For Merlin’s sake, Lily, pick it up before it throws the milk everywhere,” Mum said.

Lily reached out and snatched it up, then poured the milk into the mugs.

“Do you have sugar, Carlotta?” Mum asked her.

“Er ... what does the sugar pot do?” she asked tentatively.

We all laughed.

“Nothing, luckily.” I waved my wand and silenced the teapot, whose warbling was getting worse. “Do you want any?”

“No, I’m fine, thanks.” She smiled faintly.

Maddie distributed the mugs to us.

“So, Mrs P, you must be very proud of your Jamesie here, getting picked for England!” she said.

I hid a grimace.

England?” Carlotta turned to look at me, an expression of incredulity and awe on her face. “You didn’t tell me that!”

“That’s because it was just a training camp, nothing big-”

“I’d say it’s pretty big,” Lily interrupted. “Means they like the look of you.”

“And by all accounts, they were pleased with what they saw,” Mum added.

“Is that why you were busy this week?” Carlotta said curiously.

I nodded.

“We were all under a strict curfew. Bit boring, but-”

“It stops you from going out every other night like you have been for the past few weeks,” Mum cut in sternly.

“It was preseason! We could get away with it! First match is in a week, we’ll start knuckling down now.”

“I should think so too! Tornados first up isn’t exactly a gentle start to ease you in, is it? You’re just lucky it’s a home fixture.”

I nodded.

“That reminds me.” I Summoned some of the tickets that were sitting on the worktop. “There you go, kids.” I slid three of them across the table to Lily.

“Ooh, thanks! And I’ve got some for you too, hang on...”

She rooted around in her bag.

“Are you coming to the match?” Maddie asked Carlotta.

“Um...”

“You can if you want,” I offered. “Only trouble is, the pitch has anti-Muggle wards up, so you’d need to be able to overcome those to see it. We can have a go at that somewhen this week if you want?”

“It can be quite hard,” Maddie said. “You have to force your brain to believe that there is something there, and that you don’t have an important meeting at the bank or whatever it decides to come up with for you. But then, given that you’ve just been treated to a concert by James’ crockery, you shouldn’t find it too hard to convince your brain it’s all real.”

“It’s worth it, as well,” Kit added. “Quidditch is amazing once you get your head around it. And James’ team are seriously good. They’ve won the league three seasons on the trot!”

And now you’ve got Cato Bagman...” Maddie sighed dreamily.

“What is it with you women and Bagman?” I said, aggravated.

“Oh, James, of course you wouldn’t understand, you’re a man,” Mum said.

“Not you as well,” I said, disgusted. “You’re old enough to be his mother! Really. And I have to see him in training on Monday!”

“I’ll go in your place?” Maddie volunteered.

No.”

“Who’s this guy?” Carlotta asked curiously.

“Oh, you haven’t seen him yet? You have not lived! He’s a Quidditch player; a Beater, so he’s very muscled-”

“So am I!” I moaned.

Maddie gave me a pitying look, before turning back to Carlotta.

“-and he is simply divine. There might be a picture of him floating around somewhere, actually ... yeah, he was on the cover of a January Quidditch Weekly, wasn’t he? Where will that be?” She got up and headed to the living room.

I was on the Christmas edition,” I pointed out sulkily.

“Of course you were, darling,” Mum said in a soothing tone.

“A-ha!” Lily produced something from her bag and slid it across the table towards me. “Tickets for our seven-a-side. It’s a two day event but you’re playing the Arrows on the Saturday. If the game finishes in time though, make sure you come on the Sunday.”

“Two weeks time,” I observed, looking at the date.

“Bring Freddie and Brie if you want. And if they want, obviously. I don’t think Freddie quite gets hockey yet.”

“Oh, he’ll come. Loads of girls in short skirts? He wouldn’t pass up that opportunity. Don’t you worry, he’ll be there.”

Lily grimaced.

“In that case, don’t bring him.”

“No, bring him,” Kit said. “I need all the male company I can get.”

Lily bristled.

“You don’t have to come, Christopher-”

“Found it!” Maddie pranced back into the kitchen, waving a tattered magazine round triumphantly. “It was in Cordelia’s cage. Either she too has very good taste in men, or you were hoping she’d eat it, James.”

“He is very tasty,” Lily pointed out.

 Maddie slapped the magazine down in front of Carlotta, and Cato Bagman winked up at her. I scowled.

“Ooh, he is a bit of a dish, isn’t he?”

“I’ve changed my mind. You’re not coming to any of my matches,” I said flatly.

“It’s alright, Carla. We’ll smuggle you in.” Lily smirked at her. “Although there’ll be a lot of our clan there, everyone tries to make the first match of the season...”

“You’ll be fine,” I reassured her as she blanched. “None of us are that scary, really. Uncle Percy and cousin Molly can be a bit peculiar but on the whole, everyone’s fine. Besides, you’ve met a lot of the cousins already, in the Tav, remember?”

“I’d say Freddie’s the weirdest of the lot,” Maddie added, “and if you can cope with him, then you’ll be fine with everyone else.”

“He can be an acquired taste,” Kit agreed.

“I’m sure he thinks the same about you,” Lily said dryly, before swigging the rest of her tea. “Mum, write my History of Magic essay, will you?”

“What’s the question?”

“‘How was Voldemort able to regain power and followers so quickly in the year after his resurrection?’”

“Cornelius Fudge was an utter knob,” Mum said flatly, as she collected up the empty mugs.

“I told her to put that,” Maddie said, turning back to her own work.

“That may be right, but I doubt it will prove a thorough understanding of the course topic.”

Kit snorted.

“Just write in big letters at the top of the exam paper ‘My dad’s Harry Potter’, that will demonstrate a thorough understanding alright.”

“See if he’ll write it,” Maddie suggested.

“Are you kidding? It would just turn into an utter tirade about politicians.”

“If in doubt, blame a politician.”

“You have listened to Dad’s stories too much.” Lily pulled a face.

“They’re fascinating! And there are a lot of lessons to be learned from them. Like don’t trust politicians. Heaven only knows why you want to work with them...”

“Surely the best thing to do when you lack faith in an institution, is to join them and try to make a difference?”

Maddie stared at her for a moment.

“If the Wizarding world is relying on you to tidy up their political system,” she said, “then you’re all in trouble."



A/N: Quick disclaimer: I don't own any of the songs which the teapot sings; they're all variations of Celestina Warbeck songs which JK owns, naturally. Y.M.C.A is by The Village People and American Pie is, of course, by Don McLean.


Chapter 17: seventeen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“James ... there’s nothing here.”

“That’s what you think. That’s what your eyes are telling you. But there is, actually, a Quidditch pitch here.”

“James, we’re in the middle of a moor. There is nothing here. And besides, I should really be at work-”

I grabbed Carlotta’s hand as she tried to move away.

“Oh no you don’t,” I said. “For a start, your shift doesn’t start for five hours. Secondly, we’re about two hundred miles from London, and in the middle of nowhere. How exactly do you expect to get back without me?”

She sighed with aggravation.

“James, this is daft-”

“It’s not! Look, don’t you want to come to the match? It’s right there, in front of us! See, the changing rooms are to the right, and they’ve put a stand up for next Saturday-”

“James, this is ridiculous. We’ve been here for half an hour, and I can’t see the damn thing. Because I’m not meant to, am I? I’m a Muggle, I’m not allowed to see your precious wizarding places. It’s not going to happen.”

“It will, Maddie and Kit can-”

“James, just take me home.”

She looked close to tears. Awkwardly, I reached forwards and wrapped my arms around her waist, Apparating us back to mine.

Once back in my living room, she turned her back to me. I suspected she was wiping away tears. I shifted from one foot to the other.

“Look, Carla ... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you. it’s just ... I do want you to be able to watch the match, you know?”

“It’s fine,” she said thickly, her back still to me. “I didn’t mean to disappoint you. I mean, I really did want to see it...”

“You haven’t disappointed me, don’t be daft!” I stepped forwards, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “These wards are meant to be hard to break. I’d be pretty damn impressed if you’d managed to see it that quickly. It did take Maddie and Kit a long time. We ... we can try again some other time if you want?”

She turned to face me, smiling weakly.

“Maybe.”

But she looked so downtrodden that I just had to say something.

“You can come to Lily’s hockey thing with me if you want?” I suggested. “You won’t need to break any wards for that. Heck, you’d know far more about all of that than any of us would.”

She smiled slightly.

“I never played sevens at school. But that sounds good ... won’t Lily mind?”

“Mind? She’ll love it if you come! The more people there to watch her shine, the better. Plus, I think she quite likes you. Just, so long as Maddie and Kit don’t scare you off...”

“Maddie is quite...”

“Unique is pretty apt,” I supplied. “But yeah, she can be pretty forward. Kit has a bit more tact. They’re both great, though. It was a while before Lily told them about magic, and sometimes I wonder if she should have done it sooner. She needs people who can understand what she’s going through, you see. I think she’d go nuts if they didn’t know. For a start, her workload is ridiculous, she needs them around to manage it for her and to stop her from overworking herself. That, and she was struggling to hide the fact that she was writing to us by owl post – because that was the only way to keep in touch with us when we were at school.”

“It ... must be hard for her.”

“Sometimes I wonder how she does it. But she manages really well. That’s just the way she is though, she always tries to make the best of a situation. I think she gets that from Mum, because positive thinking isn’t one of Dad’s strong points.”

“What’s your dad like?” she asked curiously. “You seem to talk more about your mum than you do him.”

I hesitated.

“Do you not get on?” she asked.

“It’s ... difficult. I don’t think he totally approves of me playing Quidditch. I think he thinks I could be doing something more worthwhile. Which is unfair, because Mum played professional Quidditch, and they were already together at that point...”

“That does seem unfair.” Carlotta wrinkled her nose. “I know the feeling though. My parents think I could be doing more with my life than working as a barmaid at the Tav. I’m not just a barmaid though; it’s a restaurant during the day and I help out in the kitchen. Dad thinks I’m just wasting my time, that even if I do get my own restaurant it won’t be a sure-fire job. Mamá is a bit more understanding – she’s the reason I love cooking – but she’s still a bit wary. They just want to know I’m going to be okay though; it’s only natural for parents to want what’s best for their kids. I guess it’s the same thing with your dad. And sometimes, what we want to do isn’t what’s best for us.”

I nodded in agreement.

“Maybe,” I mused.

“Anyway, I should really be going.” She paused. “I am sorry, really, about earlier-”

“Don’t blame yourself! It’s not your fault, seriously-”

“I still feel like it is though. Anyway, standing here moping about it won’t get the roast dinner cooked, will it? I’ll see you round, I guess.”

“Yeah, see you...”

Once she’d left, I span round and threw an angry punch at the wall. And then regretted it.

***

Training became a lot more Tornados-specific in the run up to the match. Their main threat was their Chasers, one of whom was Jeremiah McLaggen, which meant a tough challenge for our Chasers and Keeper.

I was by no means assuming I’d be one of the Chasers. Naturally I hoped to be, but all six of us had been performing very well in training, so there was a possibility that I might not be picked.

Suspense built steadily throughout the week, until Sinead took pity on us on Wednesday afternoon and announced the team.

“Keeper and Captain; Alfred.”

Well, that was no surprise. Alfie Keitch had been club captain for years and therefore played most games. Luckily his rival for the spot, Sophie, was never too bothered about this. She was coming to the end of her career, and now had a young family, so she was simply glad to still be playing for a professional club. She did get games, of course – Alfie couldn’t play them all – but she watched most games from the sidelines with her children.

“Chasers; Adelheid, Ryan and James. Della, you’re vice-captain.”

Della patted my shoulder in congratulations and I punched her arm lightly in return.

“Beaters; Cato and Cleo.”

No surprise there.

And now we were down to the Seeker. This was where we really had no idea who would be chosen. Stefan Krum and Klaus Brand were both international quality players, for Bulgaria and Germany respectively, and Sinead had been known to toss a coin to decide who would play. Other selection methods she’d used were the drawing of straws and, perhaps most fairly, a simple half-and-half split. I wondered whether she would do that this season, it being a World Cup year.

“Seeker; Klaus.”

Della hissed triumphantly under her breath, so quietly that only I could hear her. I hid a grin. Della had nothing against Stefan and, like the rest of us, had every confidence we would catch the Snitch regardless of which Seeker we played. She was just happy for her little cousin.

“That’s all for today, chaps! Report back nice and early tomorrow; we’ll try to get some more match-specific moves in place.”

“Well done, Del,” I said, as our squad began to disperse. “Vice-captain. Nice one.”

“Thanks!” Her grin was unmissable. “Good you’re starting, eh, Junior?  And you, Murph,” she added as Ryan joined us.

“I hope your new position doesn’t mean you’re going to preach at us for the next age,” he said, pulling a face.

She laughed, and punched his arm. He winced. From most girls that wouldn’t have felt like anything more than a tap to him, but Della wasn’t most girls.

“Watch it, Murph, or I will pull rank on you. Anyway, we’ve gotta be on our top game on Saturday, boys! Big game first up. Eyes on the prize, we need to win this one and win big.”

Ryan’s gaze was most definitely focused on her, but I didn’t quite think that was what she’d meant.

Roxanne then approached us.

“Well done, guys,” she said, her tone cheerful, but I could tell she was disappointed, and felt guilty. We Weasleys always looked out for each other, and so naturally Roxanne and I both wanted each other to succeed. Unfortunately for her, I was the Chaser whose position on the team she was most likely to dislodge. As a result, I always felt bad for her when I was chosen.

“Your mum should pick Roxie for the Arrows game,” I murmured to Ryan once she and Della had started talking to Cleo. “They’re a weaker team than the Tornados, and she needs a run out.”

He nodded in agreement.

“I was going to mention that to her. Actually, I was going to offer to give up my slot. Trouble is, you know mum, she doesn’t take any teams lightly. She likes to pick the three best Chasers, and perhaps more relevantly, she likes having Chasers who work well together. And you, me and Della know each other’s games inside out by now. Out of us six, the players who Roxanne would play best with are me and you, seeing as we played together at Hogwarts for two seasons. But Mum’s not going to drop Della now she’s given her the vice-captaincy, is she? Not for the second game of the season, at any rate. Roxie’s going to have to have some games, though, or she’ll leave, and we can’t lose a talent like her.”

“But then ... maybe your mum thinks that she doesn’t need Roxie, if she has us three? I mean, we’re all young for Quidditch players, we’ve got a lot of years left in us...”

“Injuries permitting,” he pointed out. “That, and Della is always a definite for Germany, and I have a chance of being picked for Ireland-”

“I’d say you’re a definite too, Murph,” I interjected.

“Yeah, well, not wanting to blow my own trumpet. And then we’ll be losing you to England sure as eggs is eggs-”

That’s not a guarantee at all-”

“Stop being so modest, Junior, it doesn’t suit you. Point is, Mum would be a fool to think she didn’t need to keep Roxie. She could go to a team like the Arrows and be picked immediately and at this point, she might think that better than just training with us. So she’s going to have to start playing her more regularly, but it means splitting us up...”

“I really don’t envy your mother.”

“No,” he said, “neither do I.” He paused. “How are things in paradise?”

“I’d hardly say it’s paradise, mate.” I rolled my eyes.

He shrugged.

“She’s not asking for marriage yet, that’s close enough to paradise for you. She coming on Saturday?”

I pulled a face.

“Not at this rate, she still can’t see the damn pitch.”

“Really? But Lily’s mates can-”

“Yeah, after a lot of hard work. We tried on Sunday but she just got upset, and I don’t want to push her any more, you know? But it would be nice if she could come...”

“Shame the Quidditch Network aren’t broadcasting it, then she could watch it at yours. Wouldn’t be the same, but it’d be something...”

He tailed off, gazing unmistakably at Della.

“Done anything yet?” I murmured.

He shook his head, and turned away from her.

“Can’t, can I?”

“Of course you can-”

He shook his head.

“Team comes first, James. You know that.”

And with that he trudged off, looking thoroughly downtrodden.

***

I headed to the Tav when I got home, knowing that Carlotta was working there all day.

Not that I’d already learned her working schedule.

It was reasonably quiet when I got there; as it was late afternoon, the lunch crowd had all gone, and the night crowd hadn’t arrived yet. I headed to the bar, where a tall girl who I vaguely recognised from previous visits was rearranging some of the bottles of alcohol they had at the back of the counter.

“Hey, do you know where Carlotta is?” I asked her.

She seemed to recognise me, too.

“Yeah, she’s out back.” She turned her head to the door at the back of the bar. “Hey, Fortescue! Your fellow’s here for you!”

It was odd that we’d known each other nearly two months and yet, that was the first time I had heard her surname. Of course, I usually didn’t need to ask; the wizarding community was such a small one that I already knew who near enough everyone was. That, and knowing a girl’s surname was hardly the most pressing issue on my mind.

Carlotta emerged from the doorway, looking puzzled. The other girl moved away.

“James!” she said. “What on earth are you doing here? You don’t normally come here to look for me unless you’re drunk.”

“Are you trying to say I only want to see you when I’m drunk?” I raised an eyebrow. “Because that’s not true and you know it.”

“No, but you’ve not hunted me down at work while sober before. What is it?”

I shrugged.

“Just figured I’d come and tell you I’ve made the team for Saturday.”

She frowned.

“I thought that you were always playing, though? Wasn’t that a definite?”

“It was a probability, but nothing is definite in the world of Quidditch, you know.” I grinned.

“Well, that’s pretty cool.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.

“What’s up?”

“What? Nothing’s up, don’t be daft-”

“Yes it is. I can tell.”

“It’s just...” She chewed on her lip. “You really want me to go, and I really do want to go, but I can’t see it, and I just feel like I’m letting you down...”

“You’re not letting me down,” I insisted again. “Look, we can have another go if you want, but I don’t want to force you into anything...”

She glanced at her watch.

“I’m due a half hour break, we could go now if you want...”

I blinked in surprised by how eager she was.

“Yeah, sure.”

“Cool, let’s go.” She lifted up the bar hatch and slipped out.

“Fortescue, where are you going?” a sharp voice called from the other end of the bar.

“I’m having my break, I’ll be back in half an hour,” she called over her shoulder to the woman, not bothering to look back.

“A minute over and I’ll dock you,” the woman warned her.

“Yeah, whatever,” she muttered under her breath. “Bloody slave driver.” Once we were outside, she turned to face me. “Are we gonna have to go back to yours?”

“Na, we’ll risk it from here.” I pulled her into the alcove where I’d found her a few weeks ago. “I doubt anyone will see us, and even if they do, they’ll think it was a trick of the light or something.” I paused to Apparate us both to the training ground.

“That’s the thing with you Muggles,” I finished as she regained her balance. On the whole she seemed to be coping with Apparition very well; better than Lily at any rate. “You don’t see anything unless it’s right under your noses, and even when you do see, you generally assume it to be something else. Makes it slightly easier for us to get by.”

She scowled slightly.

“We’re not all like that, you know.”

“Course you’re not.” I ruffled her hair. “You know, I didn’t know what your surname was until just now.”

“Didn’t you?” She looked surprised. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t have. Although technically it’s Fortescue Martínez.”

“Double-barrelled?”

“No, two surnames. Spanish naming traditions; you get a surname from each parent. Mamá was adamant that we were doing it that way. Most people lop the Martínez off the end though, but then that’s generally what happens with Spanish names anyway. Sometimes I call people up on it when they do it, to be a nuisance, but my supervisor’s in a pissy mood today so I daren’t. She means it when she says she’ll dock me for being a minute late. You nervous about Saturday then?”

“Not really. I’ve got a fair few games under my belt now. It’ll be tough, but I’m confident we’ll beat them. If anything, I’m excited. We haven’t played a proper match in months. You do realise that it could go on for hours, if not days? You might have to skip work on Sunday,” I joked.

“Only if I can actually see the damn match to watch it,” she grimaced. “Seriously, there is no way that there’s anything there...”

“Of course there is. Come on, let’s get a little closer, you might be able to see then...”

But that only caused trouble.

“James, I need to go, I have work-”

“You have a break,” I reminded her, maintaining a vice-tight grip on her wrist. “And you can’t go anywhere without me anyway, remember?”

“James, let me go-”

“Why? We’re in the middle of nowhere, Carla, stop trying to dash off, because you can’t-”

“But I need to go! I’m meant to be working-”

“You’re meant to be trying to see the pitch-”

“I can’t see it, James! I’m a bloody Muggle, I’m not meant to see the pitch-”

“If you keep telling yourself you won’t be able to see it, then you’ve got no chance!” I was beginning to lose my temper with her. I tried to calm down, knowing I wasn’t being fair; it wasn’t her fault she couldn’t see the pitch.

“Look, come here.” I tugged her round to stand in front of me, facing the pitch, and snaked my arms round her waist. Not that that was necessary, but I wasn’t going to waste an opportunity to get my hands on her. “It’s there, I promise you. Do you want to know what it looks like? There’s a set of three poles with hoops on them about thirty feet away from us, and they’re about fifty feet high. There’s another set five hundred feet away from them, at the other end of the pitch. There’s a temporary stand to the left hand side of the pitch, level with the centre. The stand is on stilts so the seats are about the same height as the hoops.  And then on the right of the pitch, opposite the stand, is our training hut. It has our changing rooms in it, and a broom shed in case we want to leave our brooms here. I keep my Fiona at home though. And there’s a little kitchen in there too, so we can cook if we want to – or at least, the girls can cook for us – and there’s also a meeting room, where we discuss things like tactics, and who’s playing in the team. It’s a lot comfier than sitting in the changing rooms all the time. Next to that is the score board. That’s about fifty feet up as well, and there’s a seat next to it for the person keeping score. We tried Charming it to see if it could keep score magically, but it doesn’t really work. When we took the charms off, it had somehow turned blue, and we can’t change it back-”

“James, that’s purple,” she interrupted.

I stared at the top of her head, while I processed what she’d said.

What?”

“You’re not going to start arguing with me, are you? I’m telling you, it’s purple; you men are all totally colourblind-”

“You can see it?”

Carlotta froze for a moment, then clapped her hands to her mouth, as she spun round to face me. Her eyes were as wide as saucers.

“I can see it,” she said through her hands. “I can see it!” She threw her arms round my neck, and squealed happily.

 I laughed, lifted her up and spun her round in circles.

“You’re making me dizzy!”

I grinned, setting her back down on the ground and pulling her close.

“I have that affect on girls,” I said cheekily.

“Oh, shut up, you big-headed pillock-”

I kissed her to shut her up. She giggled against my lips and responded in kind, threading her fingers through my hair.

After a moment, she pulled away reluctantly.

“James,” she breathed, resting her forehead against mine, “I really do need to go back to work now.”


Chapter 18: eighteen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“We’re really high up.”

“This is the best vantage point.” I paused. “You’re not scared of heights, are you?”

Now you ask?” Carlotta said dryly. “No, I’m not ... are you sure this stand is safe?”

Mum laughed.

“It’s being held up by magic more than it is by the structure itself. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”

“And ... is everyone going to be here?” Carlotta then asked.

“You mean the whole family? Yes, they will be. Everyone comes to see the first game of the season,” Mum said.

I was beginning to feel nervous again. I’d felt sick with nerves when I’d woken up this morning, but as usual Mum had managed to calm me down with words and food.

After breakfast, we’d waited for Carlotta to turn up, so that the three of us could Apparate to the pitch together. We were now sitting in the top row of the stands waiting for the match to begin. It wouldn’t start for another hour, but the teams were required to be there half an hour in advance and the rest of the family usually tried to get to the pitch early enough to see me and wish me luck before the match.

“Do you reckon Dad will make it?” I asked Mum now. He’d apparently been called into work, and wasn’t sure how long he’d be.

“I don’t know, darling. I know he’ll try his hardest to get here on time, but if Kingsley needs him for something then he might not be able to leave early.”

I pulled a face. Carlotta squeezed my hand slightly.

“Look, there’s Al and Rose.”

Mum pointed down to where two figures had Apparated just outside the pitch. Unsurprisingly, there were anti-Apparition wards on the pitch itself, for safety reasons, though privately I thought that anyone who was stupid enough to try to Apparate straight onto the pitch deserved to be hit by a Bludger or a player.

“See, that’s an easy start, you know them,” I said, bumping Carlotta’s shoulder lightly. She didn’t look too appeased. “Don’t worry, Mum will look after you. And nobody will bite you. Well, except Uncle Bill or Teddy, maybe,” I added cheekily, more for Mum’s benefit than Carlotta’s.

“Behave, James,” Mum murmured.

“But really, Uncle Percy and Molly may bore you to death, Louis and Hugo might try teasing you rotten, Grandpa Weasley may ask you about rubber ducks, and Dora and Remus may try crawling all over you, but generally we’re harmless.”

“I think I need a family tree,” Carlotta said.

“Well, we’ll try telling you who’s who when they turn up,” I said. “This is the problem with Nana and Grandpa Weasley being baby machines. They had seven kids, and five of them have had kids. Albus is my brother, sadly, and-”

Albus? I swear that’s not what you said before...”

“No, I said Albert before.”

Albert?” Mum butted in.

“Well, I could hardly say he was called Albus, could I?” I pointed out.

“What was wrong with something like Alex?” she said.

I blinked.

“I didn’t think of that – I was thinking under pressure!”

Albert. The poor, poor boy...”

“Says the woman who christened him Albus Severus,” I said flatly, before turning back to Carlotta. “Anyway, so you know Al, and Rosie is my Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione’s eldest daughter. Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were Dad’s best mates at school. And here they are ... could you guys have trudged up those steps any slower?” I said loudly, as they reached the top of the steps.

“They’re bloody steep!” Rose moaned. “Hi, Carlotta. Alright, Aunt Ginny?”

“Morning, Rose,” Mum replied. “Albus, did you even try to comb your hair this morning?”

Albus grimaced, running a hand through his messy hair, which only made it worse.

“Let him be, Mum,” I said, grinning. “It’s not his fault the gene pool let him down.”

“Oh, sod off,” he scowled.

It was true that Al was the spitting image of Dad, while Lily was a miniature Mum. I was the hybrid in the family, as people often pointed out; tall, like Dad, with Mum’s bright brown eyes – and, luckily, her vision too – Dad’s black hair, though it wasn’t as messy and had a reddish reddish tint from Mum, and Mum’s nose and Dad’s mouth thrown in for good measure. Along with the red hair, I’d also avoided the Weasley freckles.

Most people said that I was the best-looking of the Potter children. I disagreed with that on two counts. For one thing, only Al had Grandma Lily’s green eyes, which girls went gaga over. I would freely admit that if I could change one thing about my appearance, it would be my eyes. I didn’t mind mine, but Dad and Al’s eyes just stood out in a way that Mum’s brown ones failed to.

The other reason was that, to me at least, Lily was already one of the most beautiful young women I knew. I imagined Mum must have looked the same way at that age – not that she’d lost her looks, but having three children had left her slightly plump and she also showed the stress of raising us. Lily, on the other hand, was short but incredibly athletic and wiry, and pulled off the Weasley hair better than any of the rest of our clan.

“Here’s Roxie and Lu, look,” Rose said now, sitting down on Carlotta’s other side.

Sure enough, two more figures had just Apparated in. Roxanne was unmistakeable, with her dark skin, and the kit bag slung over her shoulder and broomstick in her hand; she was the reserve Chaser. Even if I hadn’t been able to tell that the redhead with her was Lucy, it would be a safe assumption to make, as the two of them lived together. As it was, I could tell it was her by the way she was walking. Aunt Audrey had a very springy walk, which she had passed down to her second daughter.

The two split off as they reached the pitch, Roxanne heading to the changing rooms to dump her kit, and Lucy heading towards us.

“Roxie is Uncle George and Aunt Angelina’s daughter, and Freddie’s sister, obviously,” I told Carlotta. “And Lucy is Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey’s daughter.”

“You should draw her a family tree, James,” Rose joked.

“Off you go, then,” I retorted.

“Okay.” Rose dug around in her bag, which like Brigid’s had an Undetectable Extension Charm on it, and pulled out a roll of parchment and a Self-Inking quill.

“You can tell you’re Aunt Hermione’s daughter,” I said, as she unrolled the parchment on her lap.

“You never know when you might need to write something down,” she said, beginning to draw out our family tree for Carlotta. “Okay, so we have the matriarch and patriarch at the top, Nana Molly and Grandpa Arthur. Nana Molly will mother you all she can, so just let her, it’ll keep her happy. Grandpa Arthur may ask you lots of questions; Muggles fascinate him, you see, always have. Then there are six kids; the oldest is Uncle Bill, he married Aunt Fleur and they have three kids...”

I looked away from the parchment, to see that Roxanne had emerged from the hut with her broom. She threw her leg over it and kicked off. Lucy, half way up the steps, looked back, and began running the rest of the way up, clearly trying to race Roxanne.

“You lazy little thing,” I grinned as Roxanne reached us, hovering in the air.

“Why take the steps?” she shrugged, turning to Lucy, who had just reached the top of the steps and was panting slightly. “Beat you,” she grinned. “Hey, what you doing, Rosie?”

“Family tree for Carlotta,” she replied, now drawing Uncle George’s line. “This is where fatty Roxie comes in...”

“Watch it, ginge,” Roxanne said with a grin. “Anyway, nice to properly meet you, Carlotta. I think we’ve only met once before and we were both quite intoxicated. Not that it was a work night,” she added hastily, glancing at Mum.

“Of course not,” I added smoothly. “Weekend, wasn’t it, Roxie?”

“Naturally. Good conditions, eh? Not much wind, good cloud cover, fairly mild. Makes a change from most years; it’s usually rain and a howling gale.”

“Don’t you go tempting fate,” I warned. “But yeah, it should be a good game.”

Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were the next to arrive, along with Hugo, who had gotten permission from Professor Longbottom to leave school for the day.

“Alright, Rosie?” Uncle Ron said, ruffling her hair as he filed into the row in front. “Ready for the game, James?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I said. My right leg was beginning to twitch. Carlotta put her hand on my thigh to stop it.

“You’ll be fine,” Uncle Ron said. “You guys are way better than that McLaggen bast-”

“Ronald,” Aunt Hermione scolded sharply.

Uncle Ron shot me a wink.

“I saw that,” she said dryly.

“Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione, this is Carlotta,” I said hastily before they began rowing, which was a regular occupation of theirs.

“Ah, are you the Muggle girl Gin told us about?” Uncle Ron said curiously.

“That’ll be me,” she said, smiling slightly. “Unless James has got another Muggle bird on the go.”

“Three more,” I deadpanned.

“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Carlotta,” Aunt Hermione said with a smile. “Don’t worry about meeting the rabble; we’re all harmless.”

“Move along the bus, Mum.” Hugo edged along the row in front to reach us. “Hey, I’m Hugo.” He held out a hand to Carlotta, which she shook.

“Carlotta.” She smiled again, seeming unfazed.

I noticed that she now had Rose’s family tree sitting on her lap.

“Here’s Lily,” Rose said suddenly.

We all looked round to see Lily, Maddie and Kit emerge from the training hut, having Flooed in from Kit’s parents’ kitchen.

“Lil!” Hugo cried, heading back for the stairs.

“Careful, Hugo!” Aunt Hermione called after him as he took the stairs three at a time to get to Lily, who had spotted him in turn and was running towards him.

They met at the bottom of the stairs, where he picked her up and span her round. Being the same age, they had grown up together, and had been inseparable for years. They’d always assumed that they would be together at Hogwarts, and had been gutted to learn that that wouldn’t be the case. They’d stayed close, however, and missed each other when they were at school. Normally they would have visited each other more during the school term, but this year they were both busy with exams.

Once he’d let go of Lily, Hugo shook Kit’s hand in greeting, and then turned to Maddie. She evidently said something cheeky, as he bent down and lifted her up, throwing her over his shoulder.

“HUGO!” we heard her scream, as he turned and ran back up the stairs.

Honestly,” Aunt Hermione tutted.

“Here’s clan Murphy,” Mum pointed out.

I glanced down at the four new figures, two of whom were heading towards the training hut, the other two heading towards the stand.

“That’ll be my cue to leave soon,” I said, as Hugo and Maddie reached us. Hugo set Maddie down; she pushed her hair out of her face, looking disgruntled.

“Thanks, Hugo,” she said. “I do like to ascend steps in a ladylike manner, how kind of you for assisting-”

He snorted.

She stuck her tongue out at him, then turned to us.

“Alright, Mrs P? You gonna move any time soon, Jim? I’ll have your seat.”

“Thanks, Mads, nice to see you too,” I said, grinning as I got to my feet. I climbed over the seat in front, and Maddie clambered up to take my seat.

“Alright, Carla?” she said. “Oh, you’ve gotten a family tree? That’s not fair, we never had one. We just had to keep track of everyone mentally.”

“You didn’t meet everyone all at once,” I pointed out, as Lily and Kit reached us, and filed past Carlotta, Maddie and Mum to sit the other side of Albus.

“Would still have been helpful,” she said, glancing at it over Carlotta’s shoulder. “Cato Bagman here yet?”

No. Hugh, don’t let her anywhere near Bagman.”

Hugo wrinkled his nose in distaste.

“Not you as well? Alice won’t shut up about him.”

“Pulled her yet?” Maddie chipped in.

Hugo flushed red.

“No...”

“You Weasleys are all the same; none of you ever make a move,” she lamented.

“Hey! I’ll have you know that I was the one who made the first move when Harry and I got together, thank you very much!” Mum interjected.

“I don’t need to know,” Albus said loudly, as Lily clapped her hands over her ears.

I grinned, but turned to greet Brendan Murphy, Brigid and Ryan’s dad.

“Hey, Mr Murph,” I said, shaking his hand. “Good to see you again.”

Mr Murphy’s work often took him abroad, and so he wasn’t around often. When he was in the country, he tried to get to as many Falcons games as possible, to support both Sinead and Ryan.

“Good to see you too, James,” he replied. “Well done on England.”

“Thanks,” I grinned.

“Hi James, good luck James, scat James,” was Brigid’s greeting, as Brendan turned to greet Mum.

“I can take a hint.”

“Come on, I’ll give you a lift,” Roxanne said, swinging round from where she’d been chatting to Rose and Lucy.

I put a hand on Hugo’s shoulder and stood up on the back of the chair in front of me.

“James!” Mum, Aunt Hermione and Brigid all cried.

Roxanne swung round to face the hut and flew backwards slightly. I jumped from the chair onto the broom, grabbing her waist. The broomstick sank a few inches before adjusting to the extra weight.

“Nothing to worry about!” she said cheerily.

A chorus of good lucks followed us as we flew to the hut and landed by the door to the changing rooms.

“James!”

I turned at the sound of the voice, and grinned, kneeling down as little Dora Lupin ran towards me. She flung her arms round my neck, nearly taking my eye out with her Falcons flag.

“Alright, Dora?” I said, standing up. “You’re getting a bit big for me to be picking you up, you know.”

As usual, she was adorned in as much Falcons merchandise as possible; she wore the jumper, the scarf and the gloves, had a miniature figure of me in the hand that wasn’t holding the flag and had falcons painted on both cheeks.

“Will you win today?” she said.

“Of course we will,” I said, tapping her nose lightly.

“Come on Dora, James needs to get ready for his game.”

Teddy approached us, his hair currently in the team colours of grey and white. Dora pouted as he took her from me.

“Alright, James?” he said. “Feeling confident?”

“Bit nervous.”

“That’s part and parcel of playing Quidditch,” he grinned. He’d played Quidditch for Gryffindor too. Unfortunately, he’d been in his Seventh Year when I’d been in First Year, so we’d never played together. In fact, it was his spot which I’d filled on the team. “Reckon you’ll win, though.”

“We should do. We’ve been shit hot in training. But McLaggen’s damn good, and Robins has still got it. Klaus could have trouble getting the Snitch first too; Birch is the current England Seeker.”

“But you’ve got better Beaters.”

“You have no idea how nice it is to finally hear that,” I grinned. Our Beaters had been our weakness for some time, and so it was nice to finally not have to worry about who was in charge of the Bludgers.

“Although Victoire won’t stop harping on about bloody Cato,” Teddy said with a scowl.

“Her as well?”

“It’s his animal magnetism. Come on, Jimmy, we’ve got a match to prepare for. See you later, Teddy!”

Della and Klaus had arrived, and Della was currently tugging on my sleeve.

“We’ll chat later, James,” Teddy said quickly, before heading off to the stands.

“You managed to get your Chiquita in then?” Della said, as we followed Klaus into the meeting room.

“Yeah ... how can you tell she’s here?”

“Nobody else has that colouring,” she pointed out. “Dropping her in at the deep end, aren’t you? Throwing all the family at her at once.”

“She wanted to come,” I said, shrugging. “Besides, she’s already met a lot of people, and I’ve left her under Mum’s wing, she’ll be fine.”

“Except you’ve left her between Lily’s nutter mate and Rose,” she said dryly.

“She’ll be fine,” I repeated.

The worst bit about a match day was the waiting. Once we were all changed into our Quidditch robes, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

With twenty minutes to go, Sinead stood up and clapped her hands loudly.

“Go and warm up,” she said.

We stood up and grabbed our brooms, filing out of the hut. The stand had filled up considerably in the time that we’d been inside. As I mounted Fiona and kicked off, I glanced at the people in the stand, my eyes finding the mass of redheads, intermingled with a couple of blondes and dark heads. I could only see one mess of black hair. I turned back to Ryan and Della, trying to ignore the feeling of disappointment in the pit of my stomach.

“Race you round the pitch!” Della said with a grin.

After three laps, Ryan, who was the fastest flier, had pulled out a good half a lap on Della and me, and pulled to a halt by our hoops, waiting for us to catch up with him.

“Do you want us to practice any drills?” he asked Della; as the most experienced Chaser, she tended to lead our warm ups.

“Do you think we need to?”

“Not really,” he said, shrugging. “Best to save it all for the match.”

The Tornados had followed our cue, and were also out on the pitch warming up.

“Good idea,” I said, glaring at Jeremiah McLaggen, who was showing off by the stands.

“Prick,” Ryan said calmly.

“He’s a bit of a berk, isn’t he?” Cato observed, joining us. He was swinging his arms round in circles, a frightening sight given that his bat was in his right hand.

“He always was one,” Ryan replied, eying the bat warily. “You should think yourself lucky on three counts; you didn’t have to share a common room with him, you didn’t have to be his team mate –captaining him was a nightmare – and you get to hit balls of iron at him.”

Cato grinned.

“There are perks to the job,” he said.

After a quick warm up, we headed back to the hut for a few last minute preparations.

“Don’t gamble with catching the Snitch, Klaus,” Sinead said. “A big points difference would be good, but we can’t risk Birch catching the Snitch first.”

He nodded. Sinead then turned to Ryan, Della and me.

“As many goals as possible, guys. Don’t let them get possession if possible. Remember, they don’t defend well against speed.”

Ryan and I glanced at each other. We both had a quicker pass than Della, and so we were going to have to take the fore in this match. We knew that already, of course; it had been part of our plans all week. Sinead was just jogging our memories.

“And Plumpton is weak on his right, so aim for his left hoop.”

There was a knock on the door. The referee was summoning us onto the pitch.

“Off you go then, boys and girls. Good luck, do your best, get the win,” Sinead finished.

We all nodded, and Alfie led us out onto the pitch, where the Tornados were already waiting for us. We gathered into a huddle.

Alfie didn’t say anything for a moment, and when he did, it wasn’t much.

“Let’s beat their sorry little asses.”

He wasn’t one for words.

We broke away from the huddle, and crossed to shake hands with the Tornados, as was customary. Following the English code of cordiality, Tamsin Robins and the Seeker, Jessica Birch gave me friendly smiles. McLaggen, however, squeezed my hand so tightly I thought he was trying to break it, and glared harshly at me, as was his wont.

“Up in the air!” The referee called once we’d all shaken hands.

We mounted our brooms and kicked off. Alfie and their Keeper, Plumpton, headed to their respective goalposts. Klaus and Jessica both shot up above the rest of us, to keep out of the way of the fight for the Quaffle. The Bagmans and the Tornados’ Beaters were on guard with their bats, ready to steer the Bludgers away from their players.

I took the chance to glance once more at the stand, and my heart sank. Still no Dad.

I turned my attention back to the pitch, trying to push aside the feelings of disappointment, as the referee kicked the chest of balls open. I had a game to concentrate on.

The Snitch flew straight up into the air; Klaus and Jessica both tried to follow it with their eyes but it soon vanished out of sight. They were unable to pursue it until the Quaffle was released.

Then the Bludgers were released. They shot straight up into the air, and the four Beaters all dashed in to control them.

But our eyes were on the Quaffle, which the referee was about to throw into the air. I tightened my hands round my broom handle in anticipation, waiting...

And then it was released.

Ryan darted in, as did McLaggen – but Ryan wasn’t going for the Quaffle. He successfully blocked McLaggen, as Della dived in and scooped up the Quaffle and then evaded Tamsin and their third Chaser to get the Quaffle away to me. I shot up the left hand side of the pitch, ducking the Bludger that their Beater had hit my way. McLaggen crossed to intercept me, and I threw the Quaffle up-

Where Ryan caught it, six feet above me, and shot off towards the posts, Della on his shoulder. He passed to her as Tamsin approached, and then dropped away as Della reached the posts. Plumpton was there, hovering in front of the middle hoop but ready to dart either way, as she pulled her arm back, aimed-

And dropped it.

Right into the hands of Ryan, who threw it up and through the left hoop. Plumpton, six feet too high, had no chance of getting to it.

I vaguely heard the cheers from the stand as the Quaffle sailed through the hoop, and I held out a hand to high-five Della as she headed back towards the centre of the pitch.

“That was a gift,” she said as I tailed her back. “They won’t give us an easy one like that again.”

And she was right. After they’d conceded the early goal, they raised their game. Their third Chaser, Ruby Ellerby, was a plucky young thing whom I remembered vaguely from Hogwarts; she had played for Hufflepuff, and been a stand out in their team. She’d clearly been given the job of marking me and, to my annoyance, she was occasionally managing to snatch the Quaffle from me.

“What the hell are you playing at?” Della hissed at me after Ellerby had managed to intercept the Quaffle and score.

“She came out of nowhere-”

“Then don’t let her! Remember what Sinead said, what we’ve been practicing. Fast passes. You take the middle, I’ll take the left.”

I glanced over at the scoreboard. We were sixty points up. A reasonable cushion, but nowhere near enough. If Jessica caught the Snitch now, we were dead and buried.

I snatched the Quaffle up on the restart and threw it straight out to Ryan, who shot off up the pitch. Following Della’s orders, I switched with her, and headed after him. He passed to me, just as McLaggen was reaching him. The Quaffle barely touched my hand before I passed it back. Within moments, it returned to me.

Sure enough, the fast passing was too much for the inexperienced Ellerby to snatch it up, and McLaggen was too slow to intercept. Tamsin, who might have been able to get a fingertip to it, was too busy marking Della.

As we reached the hoops, with Plumpton waiting, Ryan aimed. Plumpton drifted ever so slightly towards him, and Ryan instead passed to me, where I was greeted with an unmarked left hoop. The rest was easy.

“Nice!” Della said as we headed back for the restart. “We’re making them switch it up, Robins and McLaggen are having to swap...”

It clearly hadn’t been part of the Tornados’ initial plan, to have their two female Chasers marking me and Ryan. They’d evidently decided to match their biggest Chaser up against ours. Unfortunately for them, while McLaggen’s bulk slowed him down, Ryan was deceptively fast.

“Just be careful not to try that again too soon,” Della added, “or their Beaters may get wise to it.”

And they did. Four plays later, Ryan and I attempted another sequence of fast passes, but one of their Beaters sent a Bludger between us, forcing us to scatter, and Ellerby scooped up the Quaffle. Luckily, Cleo was on the scene, and smacked the Bludger towards Ellerby, who promptly dropped the Quaffle. Della recovered it, and we resumed our usual formation.

We hadn’t been affected by the Bludgers that much so far, I suddenly realised. Clearly, the Bagmans were doing their job extremely well.

And sure enough, moments later, a scoring move of the Tornados’ was quashed by a duel effort by Cato and Cleo, the double attack forcing them to abort. Alfie recovered the Quaffle, and lobbed it back to Della.

Unfortunately, not all the Tornados’ Bludger attacks were stopped by the twins. A few moves later, as I was in the process of scoring, one of their Beaters aimed the Bludger at my arm. I pulled my hand back once I’d sent the Quaffle sailing through the hoop, but I wasn’t fast enough, and the  Bludger caught my fingers.

“Shit!” I cried, pulling my hand into my chest.

“Time out!” Della shrieked from behind me.

The referee’s whistle blew, and I wheeled round to face Della, who was flying towards me, looking concerned.

“Let’s have a shifty,” she said, holding her hand out. I placed my hand in hers; my fingers were out of place and were already swelling up. “Broken bones there, Jim. You gonna be alright to carry on?”

“I’ll be fine,” I said, trying to ignore the throbbing pain.

Cleo joined us, looking horrified.

“James, I’m so sorry, I tried to get to it but I couldn’t-”

“It’s fine; it doesn’t hurt much,” I lied; admitting to pain wasn’t very masculine at all. “You could kiss them better if you want?” I offered my hand out to her.

“Watch it, Potter.”

I grinned cheekily as Cato appeared at Cleo’s shoulder.

“Worth a try.”

“Alright, Junior?” Ryan asked as he joined the huddle.

“Just a couple of fingers, nothing serious.”

“In that case, man up and stop moaning,” he said with a grin.

“Cleo, do you mind if I borrow your bat for a moment?” I asked sweetly.

“What’s happened?” Alfie had finally reached us from the opposite end of the pitch.

“Bludger caught Jimmy’s fingers,” Della said. “Sorry I called the time out, Alf...”

“It’s fine; I couldn’t see a thing from back there anyway,” he said. “You gonna be alright, Jim?”

The pain was getting worse, but I nodded, gritting my teeth. We were still only ninety points ahead; the game was far from won.

“Right, we’ll get back on with things then, shall we?” He turned, signalling to the referee that we were ready to restart.

We all resumed our positions. Klaus had continued his circling of the pitch during the time out; generally Seekers only abandoned their search for the Snitch if the Captain ordered them to. A movement in the stands caught my eye, and I turned to see what it was. My heart leapt as I saw not one messy haircut, but two. I grinned.

I was sure as hell going to remind Dad that this was the right career choice.

It was a good thing that Sinead had us practice catching and passing with both hands. At first, I tried to play on with my right, but the Quaffle kept catching my fingers, causing more sharp pain. In the end, I was forced to resort to using my left hand, a risky move as it made me more susceptible to being caught out. Luckily though, the change seemed to confuse the Tornados Chasers, and by the time they’d adjusted, we’d managed to pull ahead by another thirty points.

But soon, even that became difficult. I could normally fly without holding the broom handle, but occasionally I needed a hand on the handle for balance, and I couldn’t grip at all with my right.

“Del, we need to do more dummies and decoys,” I said after they’d taken advantage of a mistake of mine and scored.

She glanced at my bloody and swollen hand, but didn’t say anything, instead nodding and signalling across to Ryan the new plan.

This gameplan played into Della’s hands perfectly, as this was where she excelled. She then took utter control of the game, completely bamboozling their Chasers, who had absolutely no idea when she was and wasn’t going to pass the Quaffle. Her best trick was when she’d looked right, towards Ryan, and aimed as if to pass to him, pulling her right arm back – only to fling the Quaffle backwards, into my awaiting arms. Moments later, Ryan had the Quaffle and was scoring once more.

“One-twenty up,” she panted. “Hurry the hell up, Klaus!” she moaned.

The Tornados pulled back two quick goals. My hand was feeling so heavy that I thought it might drop off any moment.

And then Klaus dived.

Jessica followed him. She was lighter, and so was beginning to catch him, but wasn’t quite fast enough, and he rose upwards, clutching the Snitch in his right hand.

The rest of the team headed towards him, whooping and hollering, but I didn’t  follow them. Instead I headed straight to the stands. I stopped in front of Mum, and held my now swollen and bloody hand out.

“Mummy, fix my fingers,” I said.

“James!” she cried. “Look at them! You should have gotten them mended in the time out!”

“Dad carried on playing with a broken arm; I figured what were a couple of broken fingers?” I pointed out as she drew her wand.

“You’re both as idiotic as each other,” she sighed. “Episkey.” My fingers straightened, and the pain all but vanished. “Besides, at least he ended the game moments later; you had to play through! Tergeo.”

“Yes, well, I was hoping Brand would take pity on me, but he decided that we could score some more goals first.” I turned to Carlotta. “Enjoy that?”

“It was amazing!” she said, looking utterly exhilarated. “You were really good...”

I pulled a face.

“I was okay,” I said. “Could’ve been better, especially after my fingers broke-”

“Your fault,” Mum reminded me. “Now, go and have a shower, you stink.”

“Love you too, Mum.” I reached over and gave her a hug, ignoring her protests, then headed to join the rest of the team, whose huddle had reached the ground.

“All fixed?” Della said brightly, a huge grin on her face.

“Good as new,” I grinned, waggling my fingers.

Cleo looked relieved.

“Don’t worry about it!” I said, throwing an arm round her shoulders. “Happens all the time. Murph had his elbow bent backwards by a Bludger last season. You two were incredible; half the time I forgot the Bludgers were on the pitch!”

She smiled, looking a bit happier.

Sinead then joined us.

“Not bad, guys,” she said. We all knew what she meant, though. In Sinead language that was a firm ‘Could do better’, and I knew that we all agreed with her. “Now, bugger off and shower, all of you.”

We didn’t need telling twice.

I showered quickly, and headed back out to the pitch, where some of the spectators were mingling with the players. Sinead had procured some Butterbeer, and handed me a bottle as I passed her.

I joined Carlotta, who was standing with Dominique and Lucy.

“Well played, Jim,” Dominique said cheerily.

“Cheers, Dom. Good honeymoon?”

“Really good, thanks. How did the England training go?”

“Alright, so long as I steered clear of McLaggen.”

She pulled a face.

“He’s an utter plank,” she declared.

“Ladies! Have a mead on me,” Della said loudly, clutching a crate of what looked suspiciously like-

“Heidelberg mead? Again? Really, Della?” Lucy looked at the crate with trepidation.

“The more you drink, the more you’ll get used to it!” she said, handing Lucy a bottle. “Dom? One for the wedding, eh?”

“Why not,” Dominique said in an amused voice, taking the bottle Della handed to her.

“Carlotta?”

“Huh?”

She had been staring aimlessly around the pitch, looking at nothing in particular. She turned her head at the sound of her name.

“Mead?” Della proffered a third bottle to her.

“That’s the stuff you tried at mine,” I prompted.

“It’s wizarding stuff?” she said. “I should have guessed. Thanks.” She took the bottle.

Della then turned to me.

“I don’t think you need mead at this time of day, Junior-”

“Hand it over, Brand,” I said sternly.

“But you’ve already got a Butterbeer-”

“Adelheid...”

She laughed loudly.

“Go on, then. Celebrate your goals, Jim.”

I took the bottle, and took a large swig.

“Cheers, Del.”

“No worries.” She turned to Dominique. “So, how was the honeymoon? Where did you go?”

Carlotta pulled me off to one side as Dominique began to gush about her holiday.

“James,” she murmured to me, “you said your mum was one of seven.”

“Yeah, she was. Why?”

“Well, Rose only put six names on the tree...”

I winced slightly.

“Uncle George had a twin,” I said quietly. “Fred. That’s who Freddie is named for. But ... he died, when he was twenty.”

“How?”

“Caught up in an explosion,” I said, not wanting to elaborate; now wasn’t the time to give her the whole story.

“James, we’re going to have to make a move now, Remus is playing up,” Teddy said apologetically, joining us. “Are you free at all this week? We could go out for a quiet drink one evening.”

Teddy and I used to talk a lot. Unfortunately, now he had a family of his own and I was a professional Quidditch player, we saw each other a lot less. We hadn’t had a proper catch up in months.

“Monday at the Leaky?”

“Sounds good,” he grinned. “Well done on the win. Nice to meet you, Carlotta. See you Monday, James!”

And then he left, with Victoire and the kids.

“You would go for one of my free nights,” Carlotta lamented.

“You were going to ask to do something?” I said, grinning.

“Well, if I’m not at work, then getting drunk with you always seems like a good plan.” She began massaging her neck with her free hand, wincing.

“You alright?”

“Yeah, fine, just a bit stiff.”

“I’ll give you a massage if you want?” I volunteered.

She laughed.

“You’ve just played a game of Quidditch, shouldn’t you be the one needing the massage?”

“You can pay me back later,” I winked, setting my bottles of Butterbeer and mead down on the grass and turning her round.

“I look forward to it,” she said dryly, as I began massaging her shoulders. “Ooh, yeah, that’s the spot...”

“Kinky,” Freddie said, grinning, as he strolled over to join us. “Whose is the mead?”

“Mine-”

Freddie picked it up and took a large swig from it.

“-but you can have it if you want,” I finished dully.

“Cheers,” he said. “Hey, who’s the Tornados’ new Chaser? She looks familiar...”

“Ruby Ellerby, Hufflepuff, couple of years below us at school.”

“She’s hot...”

“If you value all your body parts, I really wouldn’t talk to her...”

But he was gone. With my mead.

“Bloody bastard.”

“Huh? What did he say? I drifted off...” Carlotta turned her head slightly.

“Short attention span?” I joked.

Her shoulders tensed up again beneath my fingers.

“I should be going,” she mused.

“You alright?” I said, confused.

“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine. I just ... I need to be going. Is there any other way I can get home, or-”

“I’ll Apparate you back to mine, it’s not a problem. Do you want to say goodbye to anyone first?”

“No, I need to go.” She turned back to face me, but didn’t make eye contact.

“Okay, I’ll take you back,” I said soothingly. “Come on.”

Once we were back at mine, she headed straight for the door.

“Do I get my massage later then?” I said with a smirk.

She turned back to face me, her hand on the door handle, and smiled weakly.

“Maybe somewhen in the week. I’ll call you. Unless you call me first, I guess. See you.”

And then she was gone, leaving me standing in the living room, thoroughly confused.


Chapter 19: nineteen
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“...and then she left.”

Teddy blinked at me.

“She left?”

“Yup. Go figure.” I took a slurp of butterbeer, and set the tankard back down on the pub table in front of me.

We were sitting in the Three Broomsticks, as we’d arranged, and we’d barely been there five minutes before I’d blurted out what had happened two days previously with Carlotta.

Teddy had been like an older brother when I’d been growing up. Until he’d gone to Hogwarts when I was five, I’d seen him at least three times a week and even after that, we’d seen a lot of him during the holidays. I used to talk to him much more –I felt less sure about dumping my problems on him now that he had a wife and kids – but now that we finally had a chance to talk properly, for the first time since Dominique’s wedding over two months previously, it was all coming out.

Teddy frowned.

“Well ... has she talked to you since?”

“Not a word. She said she might ring. I figured my best bet is to wait for her to ring me, rather than try to chase her ... I mean, I don’t do chasing girls anyway, and besides, I wouldn’t want to push her if she’s not happy with me...”

“Why wouldn’t she be happy with you? You haven’t done anything wrong ... unless you’ve kept something back?” he added, looking at me warily.

“I’ve told you everything, exactly how it happened.”

“In that case, as far as I can see, you’ve done nothing wrong.” He shifted in his seat slightly. “Maybe she was just nervous? I mean, you did throw her in at the deep end, she met a lot of people all at once.”

“Yeah, I guess ... but then, she wanted to come. It’s not like I forced her...”

“That doesn’t make coming face to face with half the wizarding population in one day any easier,” he pointed out.

I wrinkled my nose.

“True...”

“It’ll be fine. She’ll ring you in a couple of days, I expect. Or you could always ring her first?”

I said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow.

“Eh ... scratch that thought.” He drained his tankard. “Just ... be careful, Jim. Remember, she is a Muggle.”

I stared at him for a moment.

“Ted ... she already knows about us, there’s nothing to worry about...”

“I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about her. Don’t forget, she has a family, she has friends, and none of them can know about us. And ... well, things seem to be getting a bit serious between you...”

I snorted.

“Serious? We see each other every now and again, that’s no more serious than anything I’ve had with any other bird...”

“She went to the game,” he pointed out.

“Cassie went to my games. So did Vivienne before her, and Astrid before Viv. It’s hardly a big thing.”

“It is when you had to break countless Muggle Repelling charms and wards just to get her there. I mean, taking a witch along is one thing, but going to all these lengths? Seems a bit-”

“Look, I like her, Teddy,” I interrupted. “She’s a good laugh. She’s uncomplicated. She’s not looking for any sort of commitment. All she asks is that I go to her nightclub instead of the Hinky. It’s a no-brainer!”

“But her friends can’t find out about you,” Teddy repeated.

“I know. And they won’t-”

“And what’s going to happen afterwards? When it all ends, like it always does? When you get bored, or she decides she does want to make it official? Are you just going to walk off and ditch her, like you have with the others before her? Walk off and leave her knowing about the existence of a universe she’ll never live in, a universe she should never have found out about? This ... this isn’t good, James. And I’m sorry, because you’ve probably heard all this from your parents, and from Brigid, and from Lily, and I know I’m the last person you’d want lecturing you, but ... this is a big thing, you know. It’s not all fun and games; at the end of the day, this is a young woman’s life we’re talking about here.”

I groaned, and rested my head in my hands.

“I know, Teddy, I really do...”

“Then, what are you going to do?”

I raised my head.

“Well, I can hardly just walk away from it all now, can I?” I chewed my lip. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, you know...”

It wasn’t a lie. Those thoughts had plagued me on and off since I’d told Carlotta about the magical world, and the more she found out, the more involved in our world she became, the more I found myself lying awake at night wondering what to do. Was it really fair for her to spend her life knowing of our existence? The knowledge wouldn’t necessarily affect her ... but after all she’d already seen, after all I’d told her, would she really want to let it all go?

But I didn’t see what other options I had. Despite the cons of the other options, there was no way I’d opt to have her memory wiped. It was cruel. Hell, it was beyond cruel. I’d seen the affects of Memory Charms before, and hadn’t liked what I’d seen. And it would be a lot to make her forget, especially as every day this went on, she learned more and more.

The only other option was-

“Stick with her,” Teddy shrugged, his thoughts catching up with mine. “I guess that’s your only option, for now. You like her, it wouldn’t be so bad. I don’t get what this whole thing with you and commitment is anyway; maybe it’s about time you actually got together with someone?”

“I’m only twenty-one, Teddy,” I reasoned.

“I was married with a child on the way by the time I was your age.”

“But that’s different. You grew up knowing Vic, you knew practically as soon as you started dating her that you wanted to marry her-”

“We were reckless, you mean,” he said humourously.

“Reckless is a strong word ... the point is, you knew she was the person you wanted to settle down with, and more to the point, you wanted to settle down in the first place. I don’t know that I do. Heck, can you even imagine me married to someone?”

“Not with your flat in the state it is, no.” He grinned. “Besides, you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself here, Jimmy. I didn’t say anything about marriage. I just suggested ... working at ... It. This ... thing you’ve got with Carlotta. Whatever it is. Because you don’t have to drop her, like you have everyone else...”

“There’s still no guarantee that it won’t end though,” I pointed out. “I mean, she’s not looking for anything serious either; that’s the point. And even if she was, it could still end! And then, the longer I spend with her, in whatever capacity, the more she finds out, and...” I sighed heavily. “Merlin, Teddy, I’ve screwed things up big time, haven’t I?”

“Don’t be daft, you haven’t screwed things up,” he said gently. “Not yet, anyway-”

“You think I will?”

“No ... that was the wrong thing to say, wasn’t it?” He smiled again, wryly this time. “My point is, nothing’s gone wrong. Aside from her finding out about magic, but that ended fine. Okay, it could have gone wrong, but I’m not the type of person to worry about what ifs, and neither are you. And this doesn’t need to go wrong. I mean, even if things don’t work out between you, in whichever guise suits you best, you don’t have to distance yourself from her. You can still stay friendly with her. I mean, things can’t have ended badly with all your previous...” He tailed off, seeing the expression on my face.

“Trust me,” I said, “things have ended badly a lot of times.”

He frowned for a moment.

“Well,” he said eventually, “if she’s definitely not looking for commitment, and isn’t going to start, then what could go wrong?”

***

The team for the next match was announced on Wednesday. There were only two changes from last week’s team; Stefan replaced Klaus as Seeker – and Roxanne was to play instead of me.

“Team rotation, guys, nothing more than that,” Sinead said reassuringly.

Nevertheless, she pulled me off to one side after she’d broken up the meeting.

“I don’t want you to think you’re being dropped,” she said quietly. “Because you’re not. I know you played every game last season, and you were probably hoping to do the same this season, especially as there are fewer matches and with England watching you. I spoke to Tamsin Robins after the Tornados game, and she said she was very impressed with you. But Roxanne needs a game too. And the only reason why it’s you she’s replacing is that the Arrows read you well last time, but they struggled to deal with Ryan’s speed. That’s all it is. In an ideal world, I’d play all four of you, but that’s not possible. Picking who to leave out is incredibly hard, because you’re all very talented. But someone has to miss out, and this time it just happens to be you. You’ll play next weekend against the Magpies though, I promise you that.”

I smiled – a genuine smile, not at all forced.

“It’s fine,” I said. “You’re right, Roxie does need a game. And besides, Appleby is a horrible place to play anyway. I don’t mind missing out.”

She returned the smile, before giving me a stern look.

“No going wild on Friday night, though. You’re Chaser reserve. You need to be at the ground fit and ready to go on Saturday morning.”

I pulled a face. I didn’t mind not playing, and I enjoyed watching the matches I wasn’t playing in, but being a reserve was awkward. I wouldn’t take part in the main practices before the game, but I’d still need to know the tactics we were adopting, in case I was drafted in at the last moment. I’d also have to be at the ground just as early as if I were playing. In contrast the other Chasers, Julia and Laura, wouldn’t even have to turn up, though I knew they would. We were a tight-knit squad with a lot of team spirit, and it was unheard of for anybody to miss a game without good reason. But they could have a lie-in, which was much more than I’d be able to do.

Watching Roxanne training with Della and Ryan felt peculiar. It had been a long time since I’d missed a game, and even longer since I’d been deliberately omitted. I knew and agreed with the reasoning, but it didn’t make things any easier.

Mere moments after I’d arrived home from Thursday’s training, I was surprised by a visit from Carlotta.

“I can’t stay long, I’m on my work break,” she said quickly as I let her in. “I just wanted to apologise for dashing off on Saturday.”

“It’s fine.” I shrugged. “I’m sure my family are quite daunting-”

“Oh, no, I was fine with them. They were lovely. It’s just ... well, it’s my flatmate, Flick. She’s having ... she’s having difficulties right now, and I wanted to get back to see if she was okay. I’m sorry, it probably seemed quite rude-”

“Not at all,” I said. My main feeling was relief that my family hadn’t scared her off – and more to the point, that I hadn’t done anything. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” I smiled, and she returned it more weakly.

“Do you have a game at the weekend?” she asked curiously.

We do, but I’m not playing in it.”

She looked slightly bemused.

“Why not? I thought you played well last weekend. Is it because of your fingers?”

I grinned.

“Broken fingers are easy to fix in the world of magic. They’re not an issue at all. Sinead, our manager, just wants to give Roxanne a match, and she’s totally right to do so. I’ll have to go anyway; I’ll be Chaser reserve, but I doubt I’ll play. I’m hoping I won’t, anyway. Are you going to come with us on Sunday, then? Lily’s hockey thing?”

“If you want me to,” she said with a nonchalant shrug. “I’ll have to try to get the day off work though, which might be hard, although I can possibly switch with Saturday – unless you want me to go to the Quidditch match anyway, that is? I don’t mind if you do...”

“Trust me,” I said, grinning, “you don’t want to come. If things go to plan, we’ll be there for hours.”

***

At first glance, Quidditch wasn’t a massively tactical game. The Chasers just scored goals until the Seeker caught the Snitch and ended the game. Simple ... right?

In reality, there was much more to it than that. In our game against the Tornados, a strong team with a Seeker who was too good to allow us to risk anything, our game-plan had been simple; us Chasers had to try to score as many goals as possible, as fast as possible. Ideally, one-hundred-and-fifty was the magic number, the cushion of points which would guarantee us a win even if Klaus hadn’t caught the Snitch. But Klaus had had the biggest role; he’d had to catch the Snitch before their Seeker Jessica, and so long as Alfie stopped the Tornados from scoring fifteen goals, that would guarantee a win for us. That was all that mattered; we weren’t prepared to risk losing the match just to try to get a bigger points difference.

The Arrows match was a totally different story. They were one of the weaker teams, and so we could aim for a riskier strategy. The League table was based on points difference. This meant that we were roughly mid-table despite our win against the Tornados, as other teams like Puddlemere and the Kestrels had played weaker teams and so had won their matches by larger points margins. This weekend was our chance to extend our own points difference.

The game plan here was to keep the match going for as long as possible. Their Seeker was one of the weaker ones in the League, so Stefan’s job was not to catch the Snitch himself, but to keep their Seeker away from it for as long as possible. Meanwhile, Della, Ryan and Roxanne were expected to score as many goals as possible, to try to give us a big points difference.

Last weekend it had been about keeping possession of the Quaffle. This weekend, it was about endurance. There was a reason why I wasn’t too bothered about missing this match of all matches.

And while this seemed like an easy baptism for Roxanne, in reality it was anything but.

The Weasley contingent was slightly smaller than it had been at the Tornados match. Lily, of course, was busy with her hockey tournament, so she, Maddie and Kit, were absent from the stand. Dad, Al and Rose were supporting her. Having seen plenty of my matches, Rose had always planned to spend the weekend cheering on Lily, but had hesitated when Roxanne was included in the team, unsure which cousin to support. Roxanne had solved the issue by insisting she watch Lily. “It’s not as though I won’t have enough support,” she said in the changing rooms , grinning wryly.

Percy and Molly were both supposedly ‘busy’ with work. They both hated Quidditch and I had actually been surprised to see them at the Tornados match, so none of us batted an eyelid at this. Hugo was also missing as Hogwarts were hesitant to let their students leave at weekends.

Everyone else, however, was there, including Mum, who’d clearly done a fair amount of grovelling at the Prophet’s sport offices to bag our first two games. As the Senior Quidditch Reporter, the bigwigs at the paper tended to send her to the bigger matches. Our game against the Tornados had certainly been the biggest fixture of the previous weekend, but with the Kestrels playing the Harpies, and Puddlemere playing the Tornados – along with the England subtext in the latter fixture – it was surprising that she was covering our match this weekend.

In the stands, I bagged a seat next to Aunt Hermione. She wasn’t always the best person to sit with at a match, but I was no mug. This match had the potential to go on for a while, and Aunt Hermione tended to come to these matches prepared with food, drinks and Heating Charms.

Not that I’d experienced this before. But Freddie, who was sitting the other side of her, was a veteran at Quidditch spectating by now, and he’d learned her tricks fairly quickly.

Uncle Ron grumbled as he came to sit down.

“Can’t I sit next to my own wife?” he said, as he took the seat in front of her, next to Mum.

“You’d only argue with each other if you did,” Freddie chipped in cheekily, and then dodged to avoid the inevitable clip to the ear from Aunt Hermione.

“Roxanne doesn’t look too nervous,” she then observed, as the team flew out onto the pitch.

“She’s totally laid back,” I said, having been in the changing rooms with them earlier. “Nerves of steel, that girl.”

“Yeah, she’ll be fine,” Brigid added, joining us. “The only worry is whether she lasts the full match. We could be in for a long haul here.”

And indeed we were. Two hours in, Aunt Hermione brought out the pumpkin juice and sandwiches. After another two hours, out came the Chocolate Frogs. A few of the faster ones slipped out of our fingers and hopped off towards the pitch.

“Oops,” Brigid giggled.

Five hours into the match, Aunt Hermione pulled some bottles of Butterbeer out of her bag.

“You haven’t got any Firewhisky in there, have you?” Uncle Ron asked hopefully, receiving a smack round the head from her bag for his troubles.

After six hours, Albus and Rose joined us, their arms full of hot burgers.

“You are amazing,” I said, taking one from Al.

Uncle Ron, who was less sure of Muggle food, looked wary.

“It’s alright, Dad, they won’t harm you,” Rose said, sounding amused.

“How did the girls get on?” Mum asked eagerly.

“Topped their group. The knock-out stages are tomorrow. I felt exhausted just watching them play!” Al said, as he sat down next to Mum.

“So you’ve come to watch the tail-end of a marathon Quidditch match to liven you up a bit,” I grinned.

“How’s Roxie been doing?” Rose asked.

“When I’ve been watching, she’s been playing well.” As much as I loved Quidditch, there was only so much of it I could watch in one go before my concentration began to wane. “She’s tiring, though. They all are. Stefan will have to catch the Snitch soon; we’ve got a huge points buffer. There’s no point in making them play on any longer, not when we’ve got a game next weekend.”

It was as though Stefan had heard me. Twenty minutes later, he caught the Snitch, and the relieved expressions on the faces of the Chasers were unmistakeable.

Needless to say, none of us loitered for very long after the match, the team all wanting to get home as soon as possible. Mum caught me just before I left, having congratulated the players.

“Are you coming tomorrow?”

“Of course I am!” I said indignantly. “Carlotta is too.”

Mum raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll cook breakfast for you both tomorrow morning; make sure you’re round nice and early. Your Dad will drive us all there. And don’t be late!” she added as a parting shot, just before I Disapparated.

My mother had such a lack of faith in me.

***

Carlotta and I turned up at Mum and Dad’s just as Mum was dishing up eight plates of breakfast. Carlotta seemed relaxed again, which puzzled me slightly; I felt certain that I’d be feeling nervous if I’d been in her shoes. But then, she’d already met everyone so perhaps that why she was feeling relaxed.

Freddie, Brigid, Al and Rose had beaten us there, and were already sitting around the kitchen table tucking into their breakfasts. We joined them, and for a few minutes nobody spoke, as we all wolfed down our food. In fact, Carlotta said nothing until we left the house to get into the car.

“Where’s the other car?” she said with a frown, glancing around.

Freddie looked at her oddly.

“What do you mean, ‘the other car’? How many do we need?”

“We can’t fit eight of us in one-”

“Magic, dear. It’s larger on the inside,” Mum said gently, as she got into the front of the car after Rose. The rest of us scrambled into the back, which was very roomy. I didn’t often think about the size of the interior, but now that I did, I supposed that the charms on it did a huge job – after all, whenever I was in Maddie’s car it felt far smaller than Dad’s.

“This is mad...” Carlotta breathed.

Dad chuckled as he reversed the car off the drive.

The school holding the tournament wasn’t far from where Mum and Dad lived, so it didn’t take us long to get there. Al and Rose, who knew where they were going, led us round to the pitches, where some teams were practicing on the pitches and others were in discussions, presumably about tactics.

“There they are.” Al pointed to a small group of people standing in a huddle not far from us. Most of them were wearing the navy blue kit of Lily and Maddie’s school, but I noticed Maddie’s brother and sister were also there.

They were first up, so we all took our seats in the temporary stand to watch them. Kit and his parents joined us.

“How good were they yesterday?” Brigid asked him.

“Very good. Impressive, since they’ve only been playing this form of the game a few months. Maddie ran the show for them. You could tell she’s played before.”

“How different is it with only seven players?” I asked curiously.

“Oh, it’s totally different. They normally have eleven players, and they’d play with a lot more shape to their game. They play this on the same size pitch, with only seven players. It’s all about attacking in this format. And there’s a lot of running about too.”

But it was Maddie who explained it best, after they’d played – and won – their first match.

“Imagine playing Quidditch with only four people,” she said, panting heavily. “Imagine the extra ground you’d have to cover – although ground is the wrong word to use here, given that you guys fly. And in fact, even that’s not a perfect comparison, because Quidditch has so many different components to it. But if you think about it, we’re used to having ten team mates. Here, we only have six. And there’s less time in a match too – which is a small mercy because I definitely wouldn’t survive a full match with only six other players! But you just have to go for it. That’s why Lily’s in, because she’s absolutely rapid. And, as much as I hate to say it, that’s why Rosalind’s in the team as well. Even if she has been batting her eyelashes at Robbie all weekend. You’ll have to divert her attention, James, I don’t trust him to have a good judge of character.”

I grinned.

“No chance,” I said.

She pulled a face, and took a large gulp of water.

“I hear you guys had a marathon match yesterday?” she said.

“A deliberate marathon. Wanted to rack up the points. I’m glad I didn’t play, it was over six hours long.”

“This is why Quidditch is a daft sport,” she said, but she was smiling. “Good to know you guys got the win, though. Hopefully it’ll rub off on us...”

Just then, she was called away by her coach.

Maddie’s mother, brother Robbie and sister Lottie joined us in the stands for the girls’ second match.

“How well do you reckon they’re doing, Robbo?” Kit asked.

“Not bad,” Robbie replied. “They just need to stop losing concentration, they’re conceding a couple of daft goals. Overall I’m impressed, though. And jealous, too. I wish one of the local boys’ schools had done something like this!”

“Rather you than me.” Kit pulled a face.

“Maddie is really good,” Carlotta said in awe as the girl in question scored. “She must put so much time into it...”

“Oh, hockey’s just a bit of fun for Maddie,” said Mrs Bennett, overhearing our conversation. “Tennis is the big one for her. She could have left school last summer and gone professional, but she wanted to finish her studies first. She’s got her head screwed on right.”

After Mrs Bennett had turned away to talk to Mum, Carlotta turned to face me with an incredulous expression on her face.

“This is for fun? She could play professional tennis?”

“Yeah, and your point is? Professional athlete here, baby.” I smirked at her.

“Yes, but that’s different...”

“Are you trying to downplay my achievements?” I cried, but with a smirk nevertheless.

“No, but ... well, that’s different-”

“How is it different?”

“Well ... look, professional in our sports actually means something to me! And ... well, that’s impressive...”

“Their school is pretty big on sport,” I supplied. “And she’s from a talented sporting family. You saw Lottie and Robbie in their team huddle. They both played lots of sports at school too.”

“But why put it off for a year? Surely if she had the chance, she should have taken it at the first opportunity?”

“She didn’t want to leave Lily,” I said simply. Carlotta looked bemused. “Look, Maddie ... she’s not had an easy time of it.” I lowered my voice slightly. “Her dad ... well, he’s dodgy. I’m not entirely sure what he’s done, but he’s a bad egg. That’s why she’s not the best in social situations; she lacks a bit of tact at times, and she’s very outspoken. She didn’t exactly have the most settled of childhoods, you see.  And she used to get bullied at her first school because of him. Her mum left him in the end but once people in their neighbourhood knew about him, she couldn’t escape it.

“Boarding school was a fresh start for her, a chance to make friends with people who didn’t know about her dad. And then a few months later, one of the girls in her year, Rosalind, found out about him and spread it about. Maddie was ostracised by most of the year, but Lily stuck by her. So when she had the option of leaving school and going into the professional tennis circles, or staying at school for one more year, she decided to stay so that Lily wouldn’t be left by herself. Maddie’s her only schoolmate who knows about magic, you see, and Mads didn’t want to leave her.”

Carlotta said nothing for a moment.

“That ... that’s a pretty big sacrifice...”

“If you want loyalty, you don’t need to look much further than Maddie,” I agreed.

The girls won their match – and went on to win their semi-final and the final to boot. Maddie’s family, who supported her as much as my family did me, got to them first and all gave Maddie massive hugs – and Lily to boot.

“Thanks, Mama Benny,” Lily said with an exhausted grin as Mrs Bennett greeted her with a hug, a kiss and a bottle of water. “Got a fresh pair of legs as well?”

She turned to us as Mrs Bennett moved back to Maddie.

“How was that?” she said, still beaming widely.

“Fantastic! Well done, darling.” Dad pulled her into a huge hug.

I caught sight of the expression on Dad’s face – one of pride and admiration – and couldn’t fight back the feeling of resentment that her achievements seemed to make him happier than mine ever had.

***

“That was really fun!” Carlotta said, when we got back to my flat.

“It was okay.” I shrugged my shoulders indifferently.

“Didn’t you enjoy it?” she said with a frown.

“I’ve watched her doing a lot of sporty stuff, it’s all the same in the end.”

“But she won! They won! Aren’t you happy for her?”

“It’s nothing new; they nearly always win,” I said in the same flat tone. “You seemed to get on well with Dad,” I added. She’d sat next to him for much of the day, and at times, they’d seemed deep in conversation.

It was her turn to shrug.

“He’s lovely,” she said. “Really friendly. I don’t get why it surprises you...” She paused. “You really don’t get on with him, do you?”

“We just don’t see eye to eye,” I said tensely.

I didn’t elaborate. I didn’t want to talk about it.


Chapter 20: twenty
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The next fortnight was ridiculously Quidditch-orientated, even for me. I’d planned to have a week off after our third match of the season against the Magpies, but at the beginning of the week’s training for it, Brigid told me otherwise.

“England want you in training next week for their qualifier against Transylvania.”

I groaned loudly.

“You’re joking,” I moaned. “They won’t play me, not against Transylvania. If we lose, we might not make the World Cup proper – and that Friday is my Granddad’s birthday! I can’t miss that; I haven’t not missed it once-”

“I’ve already mentioned that to management,” she interrupted me smoothly. “It’s fine, they’ll let you have an extra hour in the morning for it. I don’t think you will be played, but they want another look at you. I think you have a good chance of making the main squad for the Cup; otherwise they wouldn’t have called you up again. They haven’t called up the full twenty-one person training squad, you know. This is directed solely towards beating Transylvania, so the fact that they still want you ... it’s big. It’s good.”

“But I’ll only get a week off,” I complained.

“You’ve only played one match so far! Stop moaning, Potter. This is England! You don’t know when you’ve got it good, do you?” She shook her head, looking amused. “You’ll enjoy it, you know you will. And besides, another week’s training will only do you good. It’ll keep you out of the Hinky, for one thing. Although you seem to have a new favourite hangout, don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow.

“I’ve not been to the Tav in weeks either, you know that-”

“But you were going there more frequently than the Hinky even in pre-season. Let me guess, it’s clearly that favourable currency exchange rate that keeps you going there, right?”

“I generally get my drinks there on the house; exchange rates don’t come into it,” I grinned.

She shook her head incredulously.

“You wrap everyone around your little finger, don’t you? You jammy little bastard, you...”

The news that I was losing one of my weeks off was softened slightly when I realised that Ryan would be training with Ireland that week, and Della and Klaus were heading back to Germany for their own training camp. With two of my protagonists also out of action, the blow wasn’t so harsh.

I was back in the team for our home match against the Magpies. They were one of two Scottish teams in the League, and while they were weaker than their Pride of Portree compatriots, they were still a fairly strong team, and we knew that we couldn’t let our guard down. Klaus was also back in the team, partly to give Stefan a break after his marathon effort against the Arrows. Alfie, however, was sitting this match out, which meant that Sophie would get a rare outing in front of the hoops, and that Della was captain, which she was very excited about. She, Ryan, Cato and Cleo were all denied a break, as Germany, Ireland and England respectively wanted them to have as much match practice as possible before the important qualification matches.

Carlotta seemed disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t have one of my anticipated weeks off, and doubly so when she learned that I was unlikely to play for England anyway. Her work hours, coupled with my strict training regime, meant that we hadn’t actually seen each other much since the season had started. I was more used to this than she was, and admittedly she didn’t seem too cut up about the situation, but I could tell that she had been working on the basis that I’d have much more freedom once this third game was out of the way, and now that wasn’t going to be the case.

“You can still watch the England match,” I pointed out to her when she once again visited me during her work break, mid-week.

“I know, but it won’t be as interesting if you’re not in it,” she said. “Besides, it’s against – who was it you said? Transylvania? That’s not even a country...”

“Of course it is,” I said, giving her a bewildered look. “Why would you think it’s not?”

“It’s not a country in our world. It’s a part of Romania...”

I shook my head.

“You guys have odd country boundaries. Apparently Assyria’s not a Muggle country either...”

It was her turn to look bewildered.

Assyria? Of course it’s not, it was a kingdom that existed thousands of years ago...” She let out a heavy sigh. “I give up. Anyway, back to the Quidditch, surely you’ll beat ‘Transylvania’ easily?” She formed quote marks in the air with her fingers as she referred to the disputed country.

“They’re ranked ninth in the world at the moment, and we’re fifth, but-”

Ninth?” She looked confused once more. “Really?”

“Yeah, why shouldn’t they be? They’re good. We were awful for years, and they’ve knocked us out of a fair few World Cups before. We need to win this, because if we don’t make our home World Cup, it’ll be humiliating. So we’ll be putting out our strongest team, and I’m certainly not part of that. I’ve never even played a game for England before; it’s big enough that I’m in the squad.”

“They might play you,” she reasoned.

“They won’t, unless there’s an injury. It’ll be a bit frustrating, but if it gives me a chance of getting into the World Cup squad, it’ll be worth it.”

I reminded myself of that fact throughout the next two weeks, every time I got grouchy when thinking about my lost week. When it came down to it, Brigid was right; this was good, given thatnd that I wanted to achieve that goal of making the World Cup squad. Before the start of the season, it had been little more than a fleeting dream; now, with a week of training with England under my belt and another to come, it seemed attainable, but I knew that it would take a lot of hard work.

Hard work which started with the match against the Magpies. Their biggest threats were Chasers Cameron Maddock and Isla Watkins, both Scotland players who gelled incredibly well with each other. At times, it almost seemed as though they could read each other’s minds – though this might have been down to the fact that they’d been dating for years.

“See?” I muttered to Ryan on the morning of the match. “It is possible to play for the same team...”

But the look on his face soon shut me up.

We won the match, although it was a tough challenge for us Chasers. But we came through it, and Sinead’s relief was clear to see. Her method was to approach the season one block of matches at a time, the blocks of course being split by our weeks off. Normally the season consisted of eight blocks, so three matches barely made a dent into the season, but with the fixtures chopped we were already a quarter of the way into the season, and so there was no room for error if we wanted to win the League this season. We still weren’t top of the standings – Puddlemere and the Kestrels were still ahead of us, having played weaker teams such as the Cannons, who we wouldn’t play until later in the season. Nevertheless, we were certainly still in touch, which was a good situation for us to be in with the Tornados already beaten.

Our next match was against Puddlemere themselves. But that was three weeks away, and wasn’t at the forefront of any of our minds. Several of us had international training camps before that, and Ryan’s attention – and indeed mine too – was also redirected by Cato’s plan to take Brigid out to dinner the week after the Transylvania game.

We had slightly differing reactions. My concern was how Freddie would react if he found out, which he undoubtedly would sooner or later. Ryan wasn’t at all fussed about this; while I cared for them both equally, he was only concerned for his sister’s happiness. Despite this difference of opinion, we still took it upon ourselves to make it very clear to Cato what the consequences would be if he were to upset her in any way.

Not that I would have done this by myself. I cared for Brigid, but I also cared about keeping my nose intact, and Cato was much bigger than me. Ryan, however, would be less easy for him to flatten if he got angry.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Jimmy; he’s as laid back as anything!” Della laughed when I hinted this to her.

“Not when I’m talking to Cleo, he’s not.”

“That’s because you don’t just talk to her, you flirt with her. And do I need to remind you that you’re just as bad where Lily’s concerned? And Brigid, come to that, as you’ve just proved. She’ll be fine, she can look after herself. And he’s a decent guy, he’ll treat her right. I would, if I were him and I had Ryan’s wrath to worry about.”

I frowned.

“Are you trying to say he’s more threatening than I am?”

“Darling, if you went up against Cato, he’d flatten you,” she said sympathetically.

***

My week’s training with England passed much as expected. Demelza involved me in drills with the three incumbent English Chasers, which I hadn’t had a chance to do in the larger training camp. I was happy with my performances, and felt that I wasn’t that far behind them.

Nevertheless, I still wasn’t included when the team to play Transylvania was announced midweek, not even as reserve. I wasn’t surprised, but it was a disappointment regardless, as I would have loved to play.

It did, however, give me more time on Thursday afternoon to buy birthday presents, as the players who hadn’t been picked were allowed to leave an hour earlier than the matchday squad. It also made missing the beginning of Friday’s training less of an issue.

Granddad was always easy to buy for. The latest Wheezes products tended to suffice, and so Uncle George’s shop was my first port of call. That was followed by a visit to the florist to buy some white lilies, which were standard by now.

This time round, I got to Mum and Dad’s before Al or Lily, and Mum’s shock at this was unmistakeable. We had a little chat about the training camp, which Lily joined in with when she arrived and which Al’s arrival ended.

The birthday visit to Granddad Potter’s grave was just as short and sombre as the visit for Grandma Potter’s. These visits always were.

Mum and Dad had never tried to hide their past from us. In fact, before I went to Hogwarts they made a conscious effort to make sure we all knew and understood their roles in recent wizarding history – Dad’s in particular. They’d wanted to make sure that we weren’t caught out by people trying to befriend us for our surname. Therefore I knew all about my grandparents’ sacrifices. It was a sobering, heartbreaking thought, that by the time they were my age they had married, had a child – and died.

I couldn’t say that I missed them. How could you miss someone you’d never met? But every time that any of my cousins spent time with their other grandparents, it hit me that I didn’t have that option, save sitting in front of a patch of ground with a tombstone sticking out of it.

I often wondered what they’d been like. And I frequently wondered if they would be proud of me.

***

That England won the qualifying match against Transylvania wasn’t a shock. What was surprising was the nature – and the margin – of the win. Mum summed it up best in her article in the Prophet the next day:

This result won’t send shockwaves through the Quidditch world. But it will send a warning to the likes of Bulgaria, Uruguay, Peru and Ireland: England have finally arrived on the international scene. And they mean business.


Chapter 21: twenty-one
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

A/N: I reached 100 reviews the other day! I was very excited, because I've never reached that milestone before. I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who's reviewed so far, I really appreciate them all. :)



“My parents want to meet you, you know.”

I stared at Carlotta horrifically.

What?”

She shrugged.

“They take a passing interest in my life from time to time, you know. And Flick – my housemate – has mentioned you to them.”

“But-”

“Oh, don’t worry, they know it’s nothing serious,” she added. “But they’re nosy. Really nosy.”

We were playing wizard’s chess. Wizard’s chess. Of all the things we could be doing on a Monday evening, playing bloody chess certainly wouldn’t be in my top ten. But Carlotta had some ridiculous fascination with the pieces, so I had no choice. Most irritatingly, they seemed to like her more than they did me.

“I’ve met your entire family,” she pointed out. “Turnabout is fair play, I’d say. And besides, you’re getting off scot-free here; most of my extended family live in Spain. You’ve only got my parents to worry about. Oh, and my brother and sister, of course, but they’re harmless.”

I was still gazing at her in shock, only half-aware that the black rook was getting irritated with its position on the board and loudly conveying its eagerness to move.

“Your family...”

“My family,” she confirmed. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll survive the ordeal. You’re free on Saturday, right? They’re coming for lunch, you can join us.”

“I-”

“Marvellous,” she beamed. “Oh, and by the way, I’ve told them you play football, so you might want to brush up on your sporting knowledge there. They’re not massive fans but they might notice if you know absolutely nothing about the sport you play.” She shot me a cheeky wink. “Your rook looks like it’s about to spontaneously combust, by the way.”

My retort – and indeed my next chess move – was interrupted by Albus falling out of the hearth onto my rug. He brushed the ashes off himself and looked around the room, an intriguing combination of shock and anger on his face. Then his eyes fell on me and a look of mild surprise crossed his face.

“What on earth’s up with you?” I asked, confused.

“Scorpius Malfoy, that’s what’s up!” he exploded.

Ah.

“She’s been seeing him! Rose has been seeing Scorpius Malfoy! Behind our backs! Scorpius Malfoy!”

I suppressed a groan.

“I can’t believe this.” He began pacing up and down the room. “Malfoy! I thought better of her than this! And she wasn’t even ashamed when I caught them!”

“Whoa – you didn’t walk in on them-”

“No, they weren’t doing anything. They were watching television, would you believe? Scorpius Malfoy, watching television!” He let out a short, slightly hysterical laugh. “I can’t believe this!”

I had to hide a smirk. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I couldn’t help finding it amusing – Rose’s worry about his reaction had been entirely well-founded.

“I’m missing the issue here,” I said. “So she’s seeing him. What’s so wrong with that?”

He stared at me as though I’d just told him that I was retiring from Quidditch.

“What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong – he’s a Malfoy, James! Look at where he comes from! Who his parents are! His dad hates ours, and Rose’s – he was a Death Eater! I – his granddad! His granddad did horrendous things! He killed Muggles! He was-”

“His grandmother saved Dad’s life,” I reminded him quietly.

“I – only to save her own stinking skin! That doesn’t redeem what they’ve done-”

“Al, do you think you’re like Dad?”

“I – what?”

“Do you think you’re like Dad?”

If he’d been calmer, he’d have noticed the trap. As it was, he was too worked up, and he walked right into it.

“Well, in some ways, I guess, but I’m not completely like him-”

“Do you like it when people compare you to him?”

“Of course not! I’m my own person, I’m not him-”

“Don’t you think Scorpius would say the same thing about his dad?”

He said nothing, but just stared at me, stunned.

“Of course you’re not Dad. Neither am I. And of course you don’t like being compared to him and what he’s done. Who would? Don’t you think it’s the same for Malfoy? In fact, he has it far worse than we do. At least our name isn’t tainted, at least there’s a good association with the name Potter. He – and the whole family – have to live with a bad reputation. His dad and granddad have shown they’ve changed their ways; they’re not like that any longer. I know it doesn’t change what they’ve done, but they can’t take it back. All they can do is try to change people’s minds, and hope they’ll be recognised for something other than their sins. If we continue to judge them for the mistakes they’ve made, how can we move on from what’s happened? And to judge Scorpius, who hasn’t done anything, for what his dad and grandparents did before he was born ... look, that’s harsh, Al. I don’t mean to lecture you, because I’m really not that type of person – and I really don’t like how preachy this is getting – but so long as Rosie’s happy, surely that’s all that matters?”

It took him a while to find words.

“But ... he teased me, James! He teased me at school about my name-”

“Someone with the name Scorpius Hyperion really can’t take the piss out of someone else’s name, ridiculous as yours is. We said this at the time. And he soon stopped, didn’t he? You were both eleven, and we’re all idiots at eleven.”

He was clinging at straws, I could tell. And I wasn’t going to let him.

“Tell me you didn’t yell at her, Al...”

He looked sheepish.

“Well ... I was angry! I got back to find her cosying up to a Mal – a complete jackass! What do you expect?” He scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “Do you, er ... do you think I should maybe apologise to her?”

“It might be an idea,” I suggested. “What did you say to him?”

“I didn’t have the chance to get much out before he left,” Al confessed. “I, er ... I think he got the gist, though.” He shifted on his feet slightly. “Do you reckon she’ll have calmed down yet?”

I snorted.

“This is Rose we’re talking about. She’ll be mad for days. The longer you leave it, the more imaginative her spells will be when you try to approach her. You’re best catching her now, when Langlock is her best weapon.”

He winced at the thought.

“Good luck,” I added with a cheeky grin, just before he Disapparated, looking anxious.

I turned back to Carlotta and our neglected chess game. My grin faltered as I saw the look on her face.

“What did he mean about killing Muggles?”

I frowned, and the smile slid from my face.

“What?”

“Al was talking about someone, he said he killed Muggles. What did he mean?”

I felt my stomach contract as I recalled his comment.

“I – it’s nothing, really-”

“Al didn’t seem to think it was nothing,” she said coolly. “James, if you’ve been keeping something from me-”

“I’ve not been keeping anything from you!” I cried.

“Well then, you can tell me what Albus was talking about,” she said firmly, folding her arms.

I sighed heavily, and ran my hands through my hair.

“Look, this was nearly thirty years ago, it’s not relevant-”

“In which case there’s no point in hiding it from me.”

I took a deep breath, and silently cursed Al for the trouble he’d gotten me into.

“Okay. So there was this wizard...” I paused, realising that I’d have to start further back than that. “There ... there used to be this prejudice. In recent years it’s diminished; it’s really frowned upon to make these thoughts public now. But it used to be more of an issue. There were some people who thought that having magic made them better than people who didn’t. They were generally purebloods – that’s what we call people whose families are completely magical. Mum’s family is a pureblood family, though they’ve never shared that opinion. You get different types of witch and wizard, you see. Some magical people come from two Muggle parents. Nobody knows how it happens; it’s as mystifying as Squibs like Lily existing. My Aunt Hermione is a Muggleborn. People who are a mixture are half-bloods. Dad’s a half-blood; his dad’s family was a pureblood family but his mum was a Muggleborn, so Dad’s a half-blood, and so am I.

“People don’t tend to give a damn about this any more, because most people don’t care what blood you have. But it used to be an issue, because some people used to discriminate against Muggles, and wizarding people who had Muggle blood or associated with them like Mum’s family. There was one wizard who ... well, he went bad. He started gaining power – this was about seventy years ago now. He gathered followers, and when he was strong enough, he stepped his campaign up. At first, it was just Muggles, and then it was Muggle-borns too, and then anyone who had Muggle sympathies. He was sort of defeated, when Dad was one, but then he came back, when Dad was fifteen. He was defeated for good a few years later, and his followers were all dealt with too. So ... it’s all okay now. It’s not an issue any more.”

She didn’t look impressed.

“And this guy ... your cousin’s fellow...”

“His Dad and grandparents used to have those views too. They were quite ... involved. But they redeemed themselves, that’s the point. They’re not like that any more. And to judge Scorpius for it is unfair.”

She didn’t seem appeased.

“So, your kind used to kill my kind.”

I winced.

“Well, when you put it like that...”

“It’s the truth, though, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not! Because not all witches and wizards thought that! My family fought against him, they risked their lives doing it! It’s a ridiculous notion, that having magic makes you superior-”

Fought? What, was this a war or something?”

“Yeah – didn’t I say that? People didn’t just let this guy get away with killing Muggles. They tried to stop him and his followers. And he wasn’t going to take that lying down, so he waged war against anyone who got in his way. And so ... and so they fought. And ... and people died. So ... that’s what Al’s problem is. He can’t see past what Malfoy’s family have done.”

It looked as though she was struggling to comprehend what I’d told her.

“What I don’t get,” she said slowly, “is why you didn’t tell me this in the first place. This ... this is relevant, James! I’m one of these Muggles, and if I’m going to mingle with magical people, then I need to know these things, don’t you think?”

“No, because it’s not relevant any more! These prejudices don’t exist any more, people don’t discriminate against Muggles, they don’t bat an eyelid at non-magical people, because it doesn’t matter!”

“It does, though! It still happened! Did you think you could just get away with not telling me?”

“Well ... there was never an appropriate moment! Was I supposed to bring it up when I was first explaining magic to you? Levitating a glass of water scared you! It was hardly the right moment to explain how some elitist idiots used to persecute Muggles. And then ... it’s not exactly the kind of conversation you have over a drink, is it?”

“I just...” She chewed her lip. “I don’t like that you’ve kept something from me, that’s all.”

“I know, and I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, it’s just ... I guess I don’t want you to feel as though you can’t be around us, that’s all...”

Her expression softened, but she still didn’t look totally appeased.

“Your mum’s brother ... the one who you said died in an explosion ... it wasn’t an explosion, was it?”

“It was,” I said tentatively. “Part of a building exploded...”

“But it was a magical explosion?”

“It was in the last battle. This dark wizard died a few hours later...”

She closed her eyes, and buried her head in slightly trembling hands. She remained in that position for a few minutes, and I didn’t dare say anything else.

Finally, she raised her head.

“Is there anything else you haven’t told me?”

I thought about my grandparents, dead at twenty-one. I thought of my other namesake, Dad’s godfather, who was wrongly imprisoned for twelve years and then killed in action. I thought of Teddy, whose parents had been killed when he was only months old. I thought of Mum, possessed by Voldemort at the age of twelve; of Uncle Bill, scarred by a werewolf; of Grandpa Weasley, attacked by a venomous snake; of Albus, and the men he was named after; of Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, who spent nearly a year on the run. I thought of Dad, and the prophecy, and the Horcruxes-

“No,” I said firmly. “There’s nothing else.”

***

Later that week, I found myself back inside Lily’s wardrobe.

I peered through the keyhole and saw she wasn’t in her room, but Maddie was sitting at her desk. I rapped sharply on the inside of the wardrobe door and waited for her trademark response.

“Come out!” she said with a grin. She sat up and spun round to face the wardrobe as I pushed the door open.

 “You’re far too easily amused,” I said dryly.

She shrugged.

“Got to get my kicks from somewhere. You here for Lily?”

“No, I was hoping to chat to Kit, actually.”

“Kit?” She looked at me, bewildered. “What on earth do you need Kit for?”

“Just need to ask him a question.”

“And I won’t do?”

She sounded hurt but her sustained grin said otherwise. Maddie had a thick skin; she didn’t get upset easily.

“You’re lucky; he’s here at the moment.”

“Whereabouts? With Lily, I’m guessing?”

“Look out the window.” She nodded towards it, then turned back to her desk.

I crossed to the window and, looking out of it, saw four figures on one of the nearby tennis courts.

“Why aren’t you out there with them?”

“I thought you knew about tennis, James? You can’t play with uneven numbers.”

“You know what I mean!”

“Work.” She gestured towards the books in front of her. “I’ve fallen behind in the past few weeks, what with all the hockey going on. Lily needed a break from her work though, she’s barely had any leisure time recently. She works herself to the bone, you know. It’s admirable but she needs some down time every now and again. So I told Kit to get his ass here, and I kicked her out to have a knock up with him.”

“But Lottie and Robbie are here too...”

“Yeah, that wasn’t in the script. They just rocked up. They’re never ones to turn down a game of tennis, so they joined in.”

“Has Lily gotten better?” I asked as I watched her. I wasn’t massively clued up about tennis, and quite frankly the scoring baffled me, but I did know that Lottie and Robbie were really good. The whole family seemed to be sickeningly good at all sports. If Maddie could fly then I wouldn’t bet against her being stupidly good at Quidditch too. But Lily seemed to be holding her own – in fact, she seemed to be bettering them.

“She’s been practicing a lot. Looking good, isn’t she? She wants to make the team this summer, and there are some good players coming up. And of course, she wants to be better than Rosalind.” She slammed her textbook shut. “Right, that’s me done. Bugger off outside for a minute. I need to change into my tennis gear.”

I stared at her in horror.

“Are you kidding? Rosalind’s out there! You’re throwing me to the dogs!”

“Well, you’ll just have to cross your fingers that she doesn’t leave her room then, won’t you?” She grinned evilly, and shoved me out into the corridor.

It was a nervy couple of minutes’ wait. Last time I’d come across Rosalind, she’d practically proposed marriage. It hadn’t been an enjoyable moment and I really didn’t fancy reliving it. Luckily Maddie didn’t take long to change, and thankfully nobody passed as I was waiting for her. She emerged from her room in her tennis dress, and one of my old Weasley jumpers over the top, and led me down the stairs to the court where the others were playing.

Kit looked relieved when we approached them.

“Thank god, now I can sit out,” he said, leaving the court.

“I’m not contagious, you know!” Lily told him, as she approached me to give me a hug. “What are you doing here? I wasn’t expecting a visit.”

“Do I need an excuse to see my favourite sister?” I raised an eyebrow, and hugged her back.

“You only visit if you want something these days, it seems.” She sounded affronted and made as if to hit me round the head with her tennis racket.

“Do you want to join in, James?” Lottie called from the other side of the net. “Kit can carry on; we could play three against three?”

“Na, I’m fine watching. I don’t play tennis,” I replied.

I headed back to where Kit had settled himself down at the side of the court.

“Are we carrying on, or starting from scratch?” Maddie asked from her stance on the same side of the net as Lily.

“Hang on, this isn’t fair! You two are better than we are!” Lottie cried indignantly.

“Fine. Robbie, swap.” Maddie walked round the net to the other side, and Robbie followed the orders and joined Lily. “There, does that even things up a bit for you? Except you really didn’t think this through, because now, instead of being against two girls, you have to face Robbie, and you know what his serve is like. Actually, this probably hasn’t evened things out for you at all-”

“Do I have to draw straws?” Kit called across to them in amusement.

“Oh, shush, Atkinson.” Maddie scowled, and hit a ball in our direction. He yelped, and dodged it. “You can keep score.”

Kit turned to me as Maddie served to begin the match.

“Is this just a fleeting visit, then?”

“I was hoping to chat to you, actually,” I replied.

He looked slightly confused. We’d always been friendly towards each other – aside from the period when he’d been hesitant to accept that Lily was from a magical family – but I’d never sought him out to speak to him before. For that matter, I’d never really needed to talk to Maddie either.

“About Lily?”

“No, it’s not about her.”

He looked bemused.

“Well ... is it guy stuff, then? I thought you went to Freddie with all of that...”

“Well, normally I do, but he doesn’t have the expertise that you do.”

The bemused expression deepened.

“I need you to teach me about football.”

A look of comprehension replaced the confusion.

“Ah. Something to do with Carlotta?”

“She’s having me meet her parents,” I said darkly.

The bemusement reappeared.

Meet her parents? That sounds ... serious...”

“It’s not. She wants to get her own back for me throwing her at my entire family. Even though she was the one who wanted to see the Quidditch...”

He let out a laugh.

“She has got a point there. But why do you need to know about football?”

“She’s told her parents that I play football for a living. That’s what I told her when we first met. But I haven’t the slightest clue about it, aside from the fact that you kick a ball into a net, and I don’t know if that will hold up. I’m not sure how knowledgeable her family are.”

He pulled a face.

“I don’t know if I’m the ideal person to help you here. Football’s not really my thing; I’m more of a rugby person. Robbie might be able to help you more...”

“I can hardly ask him to teach me about football, can I? What would that seem like to him? From what I’ve gathered, nearly every Muggle bloke knows something about football.”

“Well, yes, that might seem a bit odd,” he conceded. “Okay, I’ll see what I can do. I’d say that you really need to know about the offside rule, that’s always a talking point...”

We were chatting for about twenty minutes before the others realised that Kit wasn’t paying the slightest bit of attention to scoring their game.

“Christopher!” Maddie said indignantly.

“Madeleine!”

“You’re meant to be scoring!”

“I’m entertaining our guest,” he retorted, gesturing towards me.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation.

“It’s a good thing I’ve been keeping score, then; Lottie and I are two breaks up-”

“I don’t think so!” Robbie butted in. “I’ve been keeping score, and we’ve broken you!”

“No-” Lottie began.

“Alright, kids, break it up!” Kit called over to them. “I’ll start keeping score, you guys just play. Bloody siblings,” he muttered under his breath as they got back to playing. “They’re ridiculously competitive, those three. They’re a bad influence on Lily-”

I snorted.

“Are you kidding me? You didn’t grow up with her. Trust me, she’s already far too competitive for her own good, without needing their input. They probably all encourage each other.”

“Think yourself lucky you don’t have to spend all day, every day with them.”

“No, I’m sure a squad of professional Quidditch players can’t possibly be as overbearingly competitive as those two.”

He grinned.

“Touché.”

We fell silent, and watched them play.

I mainly watched Lily, simply revelling in the fact she was enjoying herself so much. I did worry about her sometimes, though less now than I had back when we’d first found out that she was a Squib. She’d adapted ridiculously well right from the start, and truthfully all I worried about now was that she was doing too much. We all seemed to worry about that, but she wasn’t going to lighten her workload, especially not now she was so close to completing her studies, both Muggle and wizarding. It was definitely a relief to see her happily occupied away from her desk. Maddie was right; she did need breaks from her swotting.

During my school years, I’d spent a lot of time with Lily in the summers. It was a near guarantee that I’d bump into all of my cousins practically every day at Hogwarts. It was odd if I didn’t see them, as we all shared the same common room. But my only opportunities to see Lily were during the holidays, so Albus and I spent most of our time with her when we could, and by now I was ridiculously well-versed in interpreting her body language. It was mostly her sad moods I picked up on, because I’d always been on the lookout for those, worried at first that she wouldn’t enjoy life at a Muggle school. Of course, I’d soon realised that this worry was ill-founded; it hadn’t taken her long to become completely happy in the Muggle world.

But my experience meant I noticed her smile seemed that little bit wider now, her laugh that little bit louder, when she was talking to her tennis partner.

 “Hey, Kit,” I murmured, “am I over-thinking things here, or does Lily have a thing for Robbie?”

He glanced at me, still trying to keep half an eye on their game.

“You’ve finally caught on, have you?”

Finally?”

“Yeah, I first noticed it a year or so ago. She’s not obvious with it, but when you’re around her that much, you pick it up.”

I nodded in agreement.

“But – a year? Well – have you talked to her about it?”

“Nope. I figured if she wants to talk, she’ll come to me about it. I’m not going to push her to say anything.”

Maddie was the ideal friend for Lily in many ways. But one thing she wasn’t was an emotional soundboard, someone for Lily to talk to about things. That was where Kit came in. From what I’d gathered, she went to him about nearly everything, so it surprised me that she hadn’t talked to him about this. It wasn’t so surprising he hadn’t raised the point; he wasn’t the type to intervene unless he thought he had to.. Clearly, here he didn’t deem it necessary. But-

“A year, and she’s not done anything about it?”

He shrugged.

“I wonder if it’s because he’s Maddie’s brother, and she’s worried about what Mads will think.”

“Does Maddie not know?”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Of course not, she’s utterly obtuse when it comes to this kind of thing,” he said. “She keeps nagging Lily to ask him to be her prom date, too, which can’t help things-”

“She’s not asked him yet? But they were talking about this two months ago-”

He shrugged again.

“Beats me. I think she’s too scared to, personally. Scared of rejection. I don’t see why he’d say no, though; I mean, he clearly likes her well enough as a mate. Or maybe she doesn’t want him to take her if it’s only going to be as friends? I don’t know, I don’t like to dwell too hard on how girls’ minds work. I just watch from afar, keep an eye on her, make sure she’s okay. And at the moment, she seems fine. She’s a strong girl.”

I nodded in agreement. My eyes were still on her.

“She’s lucky to have you as a friend, you know,” I said.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught him pulling a face. I knew that he hadn’t forgiven himself for how he’d reacted when she’d told him about magic. She’d forgiven him entirely, and had put the matter out of her mind, but I could tell he felt he’d let her down, especially when Maddie had accepted it so easily and his own parents had known for years. It was part of the reason he tried so hard now to be there for her; he felt as though he owed it to her, to make up for letting her down.

We fell silent again, watching the game, but it didn’t last for much longer.

“Do you guys mind if I sit out?” Lottie said, at a convenient break. “I’m getting a bit knackered.”

“Oh, same,” Lily said. She looked slightly relieved, as though she’d been waiting for someone else to agree with her.

Maddie looked across the net at Robbie.

“Singles?” she suggested.

He nodded in agreement.

Lily and Lottie joined us at the side of the court, Lily throwing herself onto the ground in exhaustion.

“I am shattered,” she groaned.

“You’re unfit,” Kit teased.

“Sod off,” she growled.

Kit and Lottie headed off to beg food from his mother, allowing me and Lily to chat more openly, which I appreciated – for about five seconds.

“How are things going with Carlotta, then?” she asked.

I pulled a face and wished Kit and Lottie hadn’t left.

“Not so rosy.”

She frowned.

“What have you done?”

“Albus ... I don’t know if I should be telling you this, because Rose swore me to secrecy-”

“Have you found out about her and Scorpius?”

I blinked at her in surprise.

“You knew?”

“Course I did. She told me when she first started seeing him.”

“And when was that?”

“Not long before Christmas. She told me not to tell you or Al. When did you find out?”

“I visited her a couple of months ago – it was just after Carlotta found out about magic, actually; I was hoping she’d help me – and he was round. She told me not to tell Albus, said he might take it badly. Well, he found out the other day. Turned up in a stonking rage, moaning because Scorpius’ granddad used to kill Muggles-”

“Oh, what an idiot,” she groaned, rolling her eyes. “I knew he’d be like this. He shouldn’t judge Scorpius for what his family did-”

“Yeah, I know that, and I told him as much. Unfortunately, he picked a time Carlotta was around for his routine ‘The Malfoy family persecuted Muggles’ rant.”

She groaned again.

“I told you that you should have told her earlier! It’s not as though you could avoid the subject topic forever-”

“I know, and I wasn’t trying to avoid it! It’s just ... there was never a convenient moment to tell her that some of our kind used to persecute hers, you know? And then Albus decided to go off on one again...”

“Enough about Al. What did she say?”

“Well ... she wasn’t best pleased. But I think I managed the situation well...”

“I’m not sure I trust your judgement on that,” she said dryly.

“Well, I told her that our family fought against Voldemort, and that this all happened before we were born and that people didn’t persecute Muggles these days, and she seemed pacified...”

“You told her everything she needs to know?”

“Yeah. I told her everything she needs to know.”

She looked satisfied. I wondered whether to bring up the situation with her and Robbie, but then Maddie threw herself down onto the ground next to us, looking as though she’d barely broken into a sweat, and effectively decided the issue for me.

“Where are the others?” Robbie asked, standing over us.

“Gone to beg Mrs A for some food,” Lily said lazily.

“That sounds like a good idea.” He grinned, and headed off to find them.

“Bring us something back, Robbo!” Maddie called after him.

“Oh!” I said, suddenly remembering. “You’ll never believe this. Cato’s taking Brie out on a date on Saturday.”

“Really? How does Freddie feel about that?” Lily asked.

“I don’t think he knows yet. And I’m not going to be the person to tell him.”

“I wouldn’t think that Brigid was his type,” Maddie said, an unreadable expression on her face.

“Why not?” I frowned.

“Well, she seems a bit ... uptight...”

“Only because Freddie’s been an idiot,” Lily chipped in. “I think it’s a good thing! She’s finally moving on from Freddie, and she deserves to have a bit of fun. She probably won’t end up with Cato forever, but there’s no reason why she can’t go on one date with him.”

“So long as he doesn’t mess her about,” I said in my most threatening voice.

Lily laughed.

“What are you going to do, throw your pygmy puff at him?”

I elbowed her, and she squirmed, squealing.

“It sounds like someone’s dying back here!”

Kit was heading towards us, with some bags of crisps.

“Come to save me, have you?” She grinned, and sat up.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” he replied, and threw one of the packets at her. She tutted as she caught it, and shook her head.

Honestly, what kind of a friend are you?”

I found myself smiling, as I watched her interacting with Kit and Maddie.

She’d be fine. I knew she would be.

She always was.


Chapter 22: twenty-two
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Why am I doing this?” I muttered, adjusting my collar in the mirror.

“Because you’re whipped,” Freddie mumbled through a mouthful of eggs and bacon; he’d somehow managed to get Mum to cook him breakfast.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she scolded, and smacked him round the head with a tea towel.

“I’m not whipped,” I said indignantly.

“In that case the sex must be good.”

“You have no idea.”

Mum tutted.

“And there was me thinking you’d learned not to objectify women...”

“I’m not objectifying her! It’s not as though she’s under any illusions that this is going to turn into marriage, you know.”

“You’re meeting her parents. To you that may as well be marriage,” Freddie said.

“Hey, this isn’t anything serious. This is her getting her own back.”

“I like her more and more every day.” Mum smirked. “Just remember to be careful; we don’t need another Statute breach. Rose told me what happened with Carlotta. You were very lucky, you know.”

“I – she told you?” I stared at her incredulously. “The cheeky little – I told her not to tell anyone!”

“You told her not to tell Albus,” Mum corrected. “She only told me the other week, dear, it’s fine.”

“It is not fine,” I muttered, making a mental note to give Rose hell next time I saw her.

“Anyway, what’s this I hear about Brigid having a date with Cato Bagman today?” Mum continued.

“The slimeball,” muttered Freddie, who’d finally heard about the developments from Roxanne.

“Don’t you like him?”

“All girls do is gush about him.”

“Well, he is very good-looking. And he doesn’t ask for it, you know. In fact, I think he finds it a bit daunting at times.”

He didn’t look convinced.

“He’d better not mess her around, or he’ll be answering to me,” he said in a menacing tone that really didn’t suit him.

“It’s alright, Freddo; me and Ryan have already laid the law down on that front,” I reassured him. I was still trying to readjust my collar, which just wouldn’t sit right.

“Shouldn’t you be aiming for unity in the changing room?” Mum suggested.

I stared at her.

“We are! We’re hardly going to achieve unity if Cato’s messing about with Brie’s heart, are we? This way, we’re all on the same page. We’re fine, Mum, really.”

And we were. Truthfully, I didn’t think Cato would do a thing to hurt Brigid; I’d just wanted to make doubly sure of that fact. Despite all I said about him and my moans when women gushed about him, I actually thought him a genuinely nice guy. Mum was right; he was a gentle giant – when he wasn’t trying to keep me away from his sister at any rate.

But I still didn’t like the attention he got from girls.

“What time are you leaving?” Mum asked.

I glanced at my watch.

“About ten minutes,” I said.

“Bit early for lunch, isn’t it?” Freddie frowned.

“Just because you’re only eating breakfast at midday doesn’t mean everybody else wastes away half the day.” Mum smacked him again with the tea towel. It didn’t hurt him, though. Mum wasn’t one to cause her nieces and nephews pain, no matter how old they were. Besides, she had a soft spot for Freddie.

“I was out last night,” he moaned, rubbing the back of his head even though it didn’t hurt.

She rolled her eyes.

“Who with this time?”

“Some Ravenclaw bird, year below us. Mandy or something-”

“Mindy,” I said dully. “One of Allegra Fawcett’s friends.”

“Leggy Allegra was there too. Seen her round lately?”

“I’ve not really been out lately, have I?” I pointed out.

“Oh, yeah. Quidditch.” He rolled his eyes. He didn’t have a problem with me playing Quidditch – he liked the perks it gave him – but he missed me when I was training. He wouldn’t freely admit it, but I could tell. He’d been one of the few people happy that the season had been chopped, because it meant I’d keep my breaks.

Although it had dampened his mood when Brigid pointed out that England used those breaks for their training and I’d probably be included in those.

To be perfectly honest, I felt his pain.

“Just be careful today,” Mum reminded me again.

“I know!” I said indignantly. “I’ll be fine. I’ve got this.”

“You said that when you first starting shagging Carlotta,” Freddie pointed out. I shot a glare at him, and he shied in his seat. “I’m just saying!”

“What kind of a mate are you?” I muttered.

“Hey! I helped you out that time we found her in the street!”

He had a point.

Mum looked at me oddly, as though concerned that Carlotta was more of a drunken mess than I was. To be fair, she had good reason to worry, as I didn’t really have a good track record on that front. Astrid had been a raging alcoholic, and that hadn’t been a good period in my life. It was okay when I was drunk too, but she was always a bit of a problem at Quidditch matches. I’d finally dropped her when she’d started throwing the canapés around at a fancy function.

It had been half six.

And she’d caught the head of the Quidditch League in the face.

It had been a good shot, to be fair, and the coach of the Kestrels, who’d been standing next to him at the time, had been impressed. He hadn’t been quite so impressed himself, although I figured that I’d probably have been just as irritated if I’d had caviar smeared all over my face.

I’d decided that I valued my Quidditch licence much more than Astrid, and shelved her. She hadn’t been too happy at first, but from what I’d heard she’d hooked up with some Brazilian Quidditch player and moved to Rio with him, so evidently things hadn’t ended that badly for her. In fact, given that she was living in a far more exotic place than I was, she seemed to have done better for herself than I had.

Not that I’d ever dream of leaving the Falcons, especially not for a club that meant leaving England, but Rio still sounded appealing. I made a mental note to suggest it to Ryan as a short-term option for us at the end of the World Cup, but thinking again, scratched that idea. Proximity to Astrid really wouldn’t end well.

“Oh, just stop faffing and go, James,” Mum sighed, as I readjusted my collar again. “I’ll clean up for you.” Not that she didn’t always do this. “Just remember to be polite and behave yourself.”

“Yes, Mum.” I pulled a face, and headed for the kitchen door. Halfway there, I halted. “Wait – should I take a present? Flowers or something?”

“Is her mother allergic to flowers?”

“I have no idea.”

“Best not to risk it, dear. Just be polite and offer to pay the bill; that always goes down well.”

It sounded like a good option, especially as I knew Carlotta wouldn’t let me foot the bill, not all of it anyway. Though I wondered if I should, given that she knew I wasn’t short of cash, she wasn’t the wealthiest of people. I had no idea how well off her parents were.

I headed out of my flat and round the corner to the Tav. I was quite relieved that we were eating there, as opposed to some fancy restaurant in the posh part of London, as hopefully it meant a more relaxed atmosphere. I really didn’t like meeting parents. I remembered the time Cassie Lynch forced me to go to dinner with her parents, and then hastily forced the memory from my mind. It wasn’t a pleasant one.

The Tav was laid out as it had been the last time I’d been in during the day; all dining tables and chairs. It was a totally different atmosphere to how it was at night time, and I could see why Carlotta enjoyed working here; it was clear that she did a lot in the kitchens during the day.

I looked around for her, then noticed her getting up from a table near the back. I headed towards her, and we met half-way. She looked very pretty in a simple black dress.

“Thank god you’re here,” she breathed, greeting me with a kiss.

I grinned. “Trouble with the family?”

“As always.” She rolled her eyes and looked me up and down. “Oh, my parents will love you.”

“You seriously owe me for this one,” I said in a low voice as she led me back to their table.

“Oh, don’t you worry, I’ll pay you back in full later,” she said, squeezing my hand quickly. I had a sudden urge to grab it and just lead her out of the Tav and back to mine. Although Mum and Freddie were still there. Maybe I could endure this for a little while.

“Mamá, Dad, this is James,” she said as we got to the table.

Her dad got up from the table and held out a hand to shake mine. He was tall, taller than I was, which was quite daunting. At least Aidan Lynch had been shorter than me.

“Nice to meet you, Mr Fortescue,” I said politely, remembering Carlotta’s instructions on how to address her parents. Damn Spanish names. Mr Fortescue’s handshake was firm, and he looked slightly suspicious as he eyed me.

“Call me Oliver,” he instructed me.

First name terms. Phew. That made things slightly easier.

“This is my wife, Evangelina,” he added, gesturing towards the woman to his left.

I’d never thought it especially easy to identify Spanish people, but somehow Carlotta’s mother was as obviously Spanish as it was possible to be. Of course, that may have been because I knew she was from Spain. Her skin was olive coloured and her eyes and hair were dark; Carlotta had clearly inherited her looks.

“Ms Martínez,” I murmured, taking the hand that she extended and kissing it lightly. She didn’t stand for me, or instruct me to call her something else. Behind her, I noticed Carlotta discreetly roll her eyes.

“This is my sister, Juanita,” she added once her irritation with her mother faded, indicating the woman sitting next to her mother. She looked a few years older than Carlotta, but they were unmistakeably related.

Juanita laughed at the look on my face when Carlotta pronounced her name – there was no chance I was going to be able to say that without making a fool out of myself or causing injury.

“Call me Nita,” she volunteered. “Everyone else does. Nice to finally meet you.” She looked me up and down and grinned slightly. “Carla was right, you are a looker.”

“Eyes off,” Carlotta said sharply, though she was smiling too. “And this is my brother Antonio. We call him Toni for short.”

Antonio seemed to have inherited a mixture of his parents’ looks, although he was just as good-looking as his sisters. He seemed as enthusiastic as his mother about meeting me, giving me a curt nod.

“Take a seat, son.” Mr Fortescue pulled out the chair next to him. “I’ve gotten you a pint in already. You’re not driving, are you?”

I liked him already.

“Thanks.” I sat down and took the pint of lager he slid towards me. I didn’t drink it much but as it was a standard Muggle drink for men, I’d come across it a few times, and it was nice enough. “I’m not driving, no. I live just round the corner, so I walked.”

“I’ve told you this already, Daddy,” Carlotta spoke up, sitting down the other side of me. “Here, James, have a menu. The fish is nice, but I’d avoid the sausages if I were you. Bonnie’s in charge of those dishes today, and she just doesn’t cook them right-”

“You only think that because you cook those dishes when you work,” Antonio cut in, grinning slightly.

“Yes, and? I cook them better, I know that for a fact. She doesn’t let the skins get crispy enough and really, who wants soggy, chewy sausage skins?”

“Carla, you let them go black. You burn them-”

“It’s not burnt, it’s well done,” she retorted. “There’s a difference.”

Given that my mother rarely served up sausages that were any lighter than jet black, I had to agree with Carlotta. I didn’t voice this opinion, though, deciding to stay quiet at least for the moment.

“What about the steak and kidney pie?” Juanita chipped in. “Will that be good today?”

“Yeah, you’ll be pretty safe with that.”

“Make that two,” Mr Fortescue said, throwing his own menu down onto the middle of the table. “I expect it won’t be as nice as yours, Carly, but we’ll give it a go.”

“Fish and chips,” Antonio grunted, following suit.

“Mamá?”

Ms Martínez was still perusing her own menu. She didn’t look particularly appeased by any of the options. I wondered if she liked eating here at all.

“They have taken the paella off the menu,” she sighed. She had a strong Spanish accent, though her pronunciation was good; clearly, like my Aunt Fleur, she had spent enough time in Britain for her accent to soften.

“I told you, Mamá, there wasn’t enough demand for it,” Carlotta replied apologetically. “They do noodles, though, you like those. Or you could have a curry?”

“I will have a toasted sandwich,” she announced, not sounding very enthusiastic about the idea.

“Cheese and ham?”

“Yes, yes, that is fine.” She glanced at her wine glass. “And another glass of wine.”

“Get a bottle, petal,” Mr Fortescue added as Carlotta stood up. “You and Nita can have a glass.”

I winced, really hoping they weren’t expecting me to pay.

Carlotta trailed a hand across my shoulder as she headed off to order food at the bar. I felt a shiver down my spine at her touch. I took a large swig of lager, as though the more I drank, the faster the afternoon would go.

To be fair, it would probably make it more bearable, although I doubted Carlotta’s mother would approve.

Then again, I wasn’t sure that she would approve of anything this afternoon.

“So, James, Carlotta says you play football,” Mr Fortescue said, turning to face me.

Bugger. I’d been hoping that this topic of conversation wouldn’t come up too early, and especially not while Carlotta wasn’t around.

“Er, yeah, just lower leagues though, nothing big.”

“Ah, right.” He didn’t sound convinced. “So, is this a secure thing? Or is it just something to pass the time?”

I was having second thoughts about him.

“Well, I guess it’s secure enough,” I shrugged.

“Aren’t the lower leagues only semi-professional, though?”

I hesitated. Kit hadn’t covered this bit.

“I could get picked up by a pro team...” I said.

“It’s a competitive business, son, don’t get your hopes up too much. Best to have other options, if you know what I mean.”

I fought back the urge to tell him that I was one of the best-paid players in my league and that I was being courted by England. I didn’t think they’d believe me, and telling them about Quidditch certainly wasn’t a good idea.

Ms Martínez tutted.

“Really, Oliver, surely it is good to have ambitions? Surely that is better than settling for less?”

This surprised me, but then I remembered Carlotta saying that her mother supported her own ambitions more than her father did.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having ambitions. I just think it’s always good to have a backup plan,” he said gruffly. “Especially with such a lofty goal.”

Luckily, Carlotta came back at that point and saved me from a continuation of the conversation.

“Drink up, Mamá,” she said, handing her mother a bottle of wine. She handed a wine glass to Juanita, and set the other one down at her own place.

“It is a screw cap,” Ms Martínez bemoaned as she undid the lid. “Why do wine bottles not have corks these days?”

“It’s easier,” Carlotta supplied. “Can you imagine if we had to uncork every bottle we sold? Plus it’s too easy for the cork to disintegrate, or for the wine to cork...”

“It is not the same though,” her mother sighed, pouring herself a generous glass. “Here you are, dear.” She handed the bottle to Juanita.

Things got better after that point. Apart from disapproving of my supposed career, her father seemed friendly enough and Juanita also seemed fairly easy-going. Their mother’s mood seemed to brighten slightly, though she still didn’t seem massively impressed with anything, including her toasted sandwich. I got the funny feeling Antonio didn’t like me, but I was used to that. The Lynch brothers were about as hostile as it was possible to be. In comparison, Antonio was nothing. It was hard to be more threatening than a pair of twins who were generally armed with clubs for hitting flying iron balls.

Once we’d all finished eating, Mr Fortescue went back to the topic of careers. This time it was Carlotta in the firing line.

“Have they given you a raise yet?”

She sighed with irritation.

“No, they haven’t.”

“Don’t you think they should? After all, you work all day, four days a week, and you’re one of their best chefs-”

“They won’t give me a raise, Dad. They don’t need to. If I walk, they’ll just find someone else. I’m not that special that they’ll pay me more to keep me on.”

I could tell it was a common subject topic. I caught Carlotta’s mum’s eye across the table, and she shot me an exasperated look that confirmed my suspicions. She drained her glass and reached for the bottle to refill it.

I hid a grin, beginning to warm towards Ms Martínez. Maybe the wine had loosened her up a bit.

Or maybe this was just something else that displeased her.

“Oliver, now is not the time for this discussion,” she said in clipped tones, interrupting him mid-flow.

He fell silent, and I presumed she wore the trousers in their relationship. Not that I could imagine her ever wearing trousers.

He then got up to take care of the bill.

“Oh, I can pay-” I began, my hand going to my pocket.

He smiled at me. I wasn’t sure if he meant to be patronising, but it felt like it, given the remark that followed.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it. I can’t imagine you earn too much, so you keep your money. My treat.”

Damn.

“Can your ego not take this?” Carlotta giggled into my ear.

“Shut up,” I muttered back.

My hand found her leg under the table and squeezed hard. She cleared her throat and sat upright, grabbed her wine glass and downed the dregs.

I smirked.

Mr Fortescue shook my hand again as we left.

“It was nice to meet you, James,” he said. “Make sure you treat my girl well, she’s precious.”

“Dad,” Carlotta moaned, rolling her eyes. “I don’t need you to threaten guys for me. Especially not James.”

He grinned, and ruffled her hair.

“You coming back with us?” he asked her.

“Na, I’ll pop back to James’ for a bit. It was good to see you again, Daddy.”

After she’d said her goodbyes, we headed off round the corner to my flat.

“See, that wasn’t so bad,” she said teasingly.

“No, I only had to deal with your dad disapproving of my lowly-paid job; there wasn’t a problem at all,” I retorted.

“He wasn’t that bad and you know it!”

“I don’t think your mum liked me, though,” I added.

“Oh, that’s just Mamá for you. She didn’t have an issue with you at all, she’s just ... not the most upbeat of characters.”

So my assumptions hadn’t been wrong. However, I was still slightly dubious as to her opinion of me.

“Your brother definitely didn’t like me,” I continued.

“Toni takes after Mamá,” she conceded. “Nita ... she’s much more like Dad. Much more of a people person. See, they were fine with you.”

“Until it came to my profession.”

She giggled.

“Yes, well, that was funny.”

“I’m glad you found it funny! I was too busy trying to keep the Statute intact.”

She had the decency to look slightly sheepish, as I let us into my flat, which was luckily devoid of family members.

“Well, you managed admirably-” she began, before squealing as I threw her over my shoulder.

“And now you’re about to find out what happens to people who encourage me to break the Statute...”


Chapter 23: twenty-three
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The Puddlemere match was our toughest yet. Their team included the Wood twins, Joshua Wadcock, England’s reserve Chaser against Transylvania, and Gregory Ellis, the reserve Beater behind Cato and Cleo.

Not only would it be a tough team battle, it would also be an individual challenge for me. I’d played well enough against Tamsin Robins and Jeremiah McLaggen when we’d played the Tornados. Now was my chance to face the other two England incumbents. There was more pressure on me to shine, given that Wadcock was only the reserve – and that Demelza Robins was present at this match.

She’d turned up at the ground fairly early – luckily for us this was a home game, so at least we’d a small advantage there – and took a seat next to Mum. I took the hint and left, not wanting to make conversation awkward. They got on fairly well, having played together at Hogwarts, not to mention all the times they’d come across each other in their respective professions – Mum was usually the reporter sent to cover England business. I knew my presence would change the dynamic of their conversation from a chat between old friends, to a discussion with a Quidditch player’s mother, which was unlikely to help my cause.

For the first time in a long time, I was nervous. I hadn’t even been nervous before the Tornados game in which the stakes had been high. Demelza’s presence made it all seem real. The squad would be announced at the end of the month, after the second block of games, and twelve weeks after that the World Cup began.

Although twelve weeks didn’t seem very long, and the three weeks until the squad announcement seemed more like three days. I only had three matches in which to press my case for inclusion, and only four Chasers would make it. Basically, I had to usurp Wadcock, so today’s match was huge. If I played well here, and against the Harpies and the Pride, then I would have a chance.

It was a tough three games in which to showcase myself. The Harpies fielded numerous Welsh players, and the Pride’s first team included four of Scotland’s first team players, proving a tougher task than the Magpies. I preferred it this way; a trio of games against the Arrows, the Cannons and the Wasps really wouldn’t test me the way I felt I needed to be, and would certainly be less impressive to the England management. But today had to go well, or I could say goodbye to my dreams of making this World Cup.

We were a squad member down in the changing room. Keira was sitting in the stands with Demelza, fulfilling her role as England’s Beater coach. It seemed near enough pointless; Cato and Cleo were shoo-ins for the England team, and Puddlemere’s Ellis was the next best Beater in the country. It was all but guaranteed that they would fill the three Beater slots, but Keira still had to sit with the rest of the coaching squad.

Julia noticed my nerves, and sat down beside me on the bench.

“Just relax,” she said quietly. “Go out there and play your natural game. You’ve been on fire for ages now, you won’t have a problem at all. Pretend the coaches aren’t there.”

I nodded.

“Remember, we’re all behind you. You’ll be great; I know you will. You always are.”

Her words helped, a little.

Just before we walked out onto the pitch to start the game, Della pulled me and Ryan off to one side.

“Keep calm, and don’t let the bastards get the Quaffle,” she said.

“Nice motivational talk,” he said dryly.

“I like it. Short and sweet,” I chipped in.

“They’re good. We know that. But we also know that we can beat them. Wood’s too good to try any fancy tricks against. Let’s just go out there, and play our game. We can’t let them dictate how we play. We put them on the back foot. Alright?”

I clearly still looked nervous, as she reached out and took my hand.

“Remember, Jim, you’re not alone on that pitch. And I promise you, we will do all we can to make sure that you make that damn squad.”

I grinned, feeling a bit more confident.

After all, if I couldn’t rely on my teammates, who could I rely on?

***

“I don’t think I’ve ever known you to be that worried about a match,” Brigid said. She lounged across my sofa,  throwing Cordelia up in the air, and catching her as she came back down, squeaking merrily.

“I guess it just hit me that there was a lot riding on it,” I shrugged.

“Well, you should worry more often, because that’s the best I’ve ever seen you play.”

We won by two hundred and thirty points. Stefan caught the Snitch, which obviously increased our points difference, but we also outscored them by eight goals, which was a lot given that we’d expected a close game.

“I was lucky, Wadcock had an off day-”

“He crumbled under the pressure. You didn’t. Don’t discredit yourself. It sounds wrong coming from you, and anyway you’re doing yourself a disservice here. Playing for England is about your mental strength as well as your talent, you know.”

“The coach seemed impressed,” Carlotta added absent-mindedly, as she flicked through my photo album from school.

Brigid and I both turned to look at her.

“How do you know that?”

“I was sitting near her and your mother,” she shrugged. “I wasn’t listening in, per se, she just wasn’t doing a very good job of keeping her voice down. Is this where you went to school?”

She held up the photo album, showing me a shot of me and Freddie fooling around in the grounds, with the castle in the background.

“Yeah, why?”

“Wow,” she breathed, looking back at the photo. “That must have been amazing...”

I shrugged.

“It was alright,” I said vaguely.

“It looks incredible...” she mused, flicking through the photos.

I smiled fondly at her for a moment, then turned back to Brigid.

“So, how was the date with the Bagman?”

“You mean you haven’t asked him?” she said, eyebrows raised.

“I could have,” I reasoned, “but I had other things to worry about yesterday – like the game, and making sure he didn’t punch me in the face. But given the distinct lack of tears from you and cussing from him and considering there were no arguments between the two of you yesterday, I assumed it went reasonably well. Or, at least, that it wasn’t a trainwreck.”

She smiled slightly.

“No, it wasn’t a trainwreck. It was ... well, it was okay.”

“Only okay?”

“He’s lovely, he really is, and I did have a good time. But ... he’s my client. That makes things a bit dodgy.”

I frowned.

I’m your client, and you’re round my house the day after a game, playing keepie-uppie with my pygmy puff. Heck, Ryan’s your brother. Why should it make a difference here?”

“Because Ryan’s always been my brother, and you’ve been my best friend for ten years. That’s different. With Cato, it could make things awkward. If I’d thought the sparks flew, then maybe I could try to make it work, but there’s no point in forcing something.”

I cocked my head, intrigued.

“Surely if it’s something that could make you happy-”

“I doubt it would be a groundbreaking relationship,” she said dryly, setting Cordelia down on her stomach. “Anyway, we need to talk contract extensions. Mam wanted you signed up earlier, but she had other things on her plate, and I had other clients to deal with. Basically, she wants to stick another year on it, possibly two. She wanted you signed up as quickly as possible, because she’s worried about other teams trying to sign you up once you’ve played in the World Cup, but-”

“It’s not a cert yet,” I reminded her.

“Oh, come on, after yesterday it is.” She rolled her eyes.

“And besides, I’m not interested in going anywhere else. I don’t care how much people offer to pay me. I’m not in it for the money, I just want to play Quidditch, and I’m not leaving the Falcons.”

“What if Ryan went to the Kestrels?”

I hesitated. A big part of the reason I wanted to stay at the Falcons was that Ryan – and to a lesser extent Della – played there. Away from Brigid and my family, he was my closest friend, and I’d played Quidditch with him for years.

But there were other people there too. Roxanne, Della, Klaus, Alfie, Julia, Keira...

“I’d still stay,” I said firmly. “We’re not just a team. We’re a family. And I wouldn’t leave for anything.”

***

I seemed to have a knack of breaking my Quidditch gloves. It was frustrating, but it was something that I’d had to come to terms with. After all, I was into my third full season. That was a lot of pairs of gloves.

I’d managed to break my eighth pair during the Puddlemere match. It had actually surprised me how long they’d lasted. I’d hoped to bribe Brigid into picking me up a pair from Quality Quidditch Supplies, but given how busy she seemed, I’d decided against it. When she was busy, she tended to get quite stressed out, and it was wise to not aggravate the issue. As such, I found myself doing my own shopping. It wasn’t so bad; it gave me another chance to look at the collection of brooms at the back of the shop.

Once I’d bought my gloves, I headed up to Uncle George’s shop, which I always visited when I was in the vicinity. This time I was halted by somebody coming in the opposite direction.

“Potter!”

My eyes followed the sound of the voice and fell on my old Headmistress, Professor McGonagall.

 “Professor,” I greeted, wondering why on earth she was in Diagon Alley. I was so used to seeing her at school, that it was odd to see her in a different environment during the school term, especially when Hogsmeade was so convenient for the teachers. Not that I expected teachers to spend all their time in the castle, but I was still curious as to what brought her here.

“I hear that the Quidditch is going well?” she said.

“Yeah, it’s pretty good.”

“And your sister, is she well?”

Despite that Lily wasn’t one of her pupils, McGonagall often asked after her when she saw me. Or perhaps it was because Lily wasn’t at Hogwarts that she asked.

“Yeah, she’s fine. Lots of sport, as usual.”

I wondered why she’d stopped me for a simple chat. I’d only generally ran into her at Hogwarts when I’d broken the rules, although admittedly that had been a rather frequent pastime of mine.

 “I’ve been meaning to get in touch with you; in fact I’ve just asked your uncle if he could relay a message to you. Never mind, I’ll ask you now. I don’t suppose you know of any players who are thinking of retiring soon, do you?” she asked.

I frowned, now totally unsure what we were talking about. She surely wasn’t contemplating a change of career?

“I’m not sure. Why?”

“Madam Hooch plans on retiring at the end of the school year, and I’m struggling to find a replacement. She tells me she’ll do an extra year if necessary, but after that she definitely won’t be coming back.”

Retiring?” I said in surprise. “But ... surely she’s not that old...”

“Potter, she taught your father how to fly,” she said wryly. “I think she’s due a quiet retirement.”

“With all due respect, Professor, you taught my grandparents...”

Luckily, she didn’t take offence at the remark.

“I’m still quite content at the school, Potter. Don’t worry yourself about my retirement plans.” She smiled. “But if you know of anyone suitably qualified who might be interested in the job, will you tell them to get in touch with me?”

“Of course I will,” I said. “There’s nothing more important than teaching the youth about our beautiful game, is there?”

“I’m glad you agree with me on such an important issue.” She sounded slightly amused. “Anyway, I wouldn’t want to keep you-”

“Professor, did you just say you were visiting my Uncle George?” I asked, curiosity getting the better of me.

McGonagall looked as though she was trying not to smile.

“Your cousin pulled off a rather impressive prank yesterday morning. Regrettably for him, it broke twenty-four school rules and I handed him a month’s worth of detentions, but it served as a remarkably effective advert for your uncle’s shop and his methods of delivering banned products into the school. I expect I’m fighting a losing battle, but I thought that I may as well try to stop him sending his products to my students.”

I grinned.

“And did he cooperate?”

“Do you need to ask?” She sighed. “I suppose I shall just have to grin and bear it, and hope your cousin’s next target is Sybill; that way at least I’ll get some entertainment out of it. Well, it was good to see you, Potter. Thank you for the help.”

And she was off, leaving me standing in the middle of Diagon Alley, open-mouthed with shock.

***

Carlotta had come to three of our four Quidditch games, only missing the one I hadn’t played in. Each Saturday, she’d turned up at my flat in plenty of time to accompany me and Mum. She’d already become wise to Mum’s timings, and had turned up early enough to have breakfast before the Puddlemere match.

I’d reminded her during the week about the Harpies match. The thought of an all-female team seemed to interest her and made her even more eager to watch this game, so I was more than a little confused when Saturday morning arrived – and she didn’t.

“Just ring her, James,” Mum sighed, having cleared up the kitchen, and the rest of my flat to boot. “We need to be going in ten minutes, we can’t just sit around waiting for her.”

“I can’t ring her, that just looks desperate-”

“No, it looks as though she said she was going to come and you’re just checking you’re not making yourself late for no reason. Come on, James, we don’t have time to debate the ins and outs of a phone call!”

I pulled a face, but picked up the handset and dialled her number.

She answered after four rings.

“Hello?”

“Hey, are you coming today?” I asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

“Coming to what?”

“My Quidditch game! It’s against the Harpies, remember? The all-woman team? You seemed really interested in this one...”

“That’s today?”

“Well, yes; it is a Saturday...”

“Shit, James, I totally forgot! I – I can’t, I’ve made plans with Flick for today.”

“Oh,” was all I said.

“I’m so sorry, I really am.” She sounded apologetic. “I promise I won’t forget the next one, though. Is it next Saturday?”

“It is, yeah,” I said, my voice sounding horribly flat.

“Well, I’m definitely free then, so I’ll come to that one, I promise. It’s just, this one totally slipped my mind...”

“It’s fine.” I tried not to sound too bothered. “I just thought I’d check, that’s all. Have – have fun today, with whatever you’re doing.”

“I’ll try, although I’ll just be feeling guilty now! Good luck for today, by the way. I’ll see if I can pop round somewhen tomorrow when I’m on my break, does that sound okay?”

“Yeah, that’s fine. See you then.”

“See you!”

Mum raised an eyebrow as I put the phone down.

“She’s not coming?”

“She forgot,” I relayed, grabbing my kit. “You’re right, we need to go, or we’ll be late...”

I wasn’t myself that game. I didn’t play badly, but it was my worst game of the season so far. Luckily we won, and none of the England set-up were there to see my poor performance, but I was still angry with myself. I was angry with Carlotta, too.

I wasn’t upset that she’d forgotten my match. That in itself didn’t bother me. It wasn’t as though I needed her at my games in order to play well. What bothered me was that eight weeks ago, she’d seemed utterly riveted by the mere idea of Quidditch. She’d been so eager to see me play, and even after my first match, she’d wanted to know when the next one was, and the next, and the next...

So it seemed odd, after such excitement, that she could suddenly forget about one of them. It suggested she wasn’t as enthusiastic as she’d been before, that the excitement was totally wearing off.

It suggested that she was getting bored of it all.

I couldn’t blame her; she’d stumbled into this expecting a short fling with a guy who frequented her nightclub, and she’d found herself learning about a totally new world. And while that must have been exciting at first, it seemed as though the challenge of keeping this – keeping us – a secret from her friends and family was getting too much for her.

I didn’t want to have her memories wiped. Right from the start, I’d been against it. But if this continued ... I couldn’t think of any other solution.


Chapter 24: twenty-four
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

As promised, Carlotta visited me the day after the Harpies game.

“I am so sorry,” she said again, the moment I’d shut the door. “I really am. I didn’t mean to forget; it’s just that I have such a bad memory at times. I arranged something with Flick and completely forgot about your match until you rang me! I was gutted; I really wanted to watch it...”

“It’s okay.” I forced a smile. “You didn’t miss much anyway; I had a bit of an off day.”

“Oh.” She looked even more guilty. “Oh, I’m really sorry-”

“You don’t need to apologise, it wasn’t your fault,” I lied. “It happens sometimes. Just ... can I ask you something?”

“Sure you can.”

“You’re not ... getting bored of all this magic stuff, are you? I mean, it’s okay if you are, it’s just...”

I tailed off. I really didn’t fancy telling her I was concerned about having to modify her memory. If I so much as hinted at memory modification, she’d probably immediately deny losing interest anyway. After all, who would freely consent to having memories removed?

“Of course I’m not!” she protested, her eyes wide. “I love Quidditch. I think it’s great. I genuinely just forgot about this match, that’s all. But I’ll come along next weekend, I promise. I’ve written it down this time, so that I can’t forget, and I’ve told Flick I’m spending the day with you, so even if I do forget, she can remind me. Who are you playing next?”

“Pride of Portree,” I said, feeling more relaxed. “They’re the second Scottish team. They’re a bit better than the Magpies, and they were good last season, so that will be more of a challenge.”

“But you’ve won all of your games so far?”

“We have, yeah. If we win this one, we’ll be doing well because our next group of games will be relatively easy ones, and then the game after that is a guaranteed win. The last two matches will be tough, but we can make things easier for ourselves by winning as many of these as possible, because then the pressure is off slightly. The Pride will be tough, though. Portree is a bitch of a place to play at.”

She pulled a face.

“Well, I hope you win,” she said.

“So do I.” I grinned.

***

I was hoping for a quiet week, in preparation for the game. I should have known it wouldn’t actually happen; my plans rarely came to fruition. The week got off to a bad start, with a phone call on Monday night.

I picked it up on the third ring.

“’Lo?”

It was Kit.

“James, are you busy?”

“No, why?” I was curious; Kit rarely rang my phone. In fact, I couldn’t think of an instance when he had done before.

“It’s Lily-”

I sat upright in my chair.

“Is she okay?” I asked sharply.

“She’s just found out that Robbie is going with Rosalind to their prom.”

“You’re joking!” I exclaimed. “The fucking bastard – what’s he going with her for?”

“I don’t know, but Lily’s locked herself in their room, and she won’t let me in, and Maddie’s at tennis training. I need you to get in through the wardrobe and check she’s okay, because I really don’t think that she is-”

“Sure I will.” I got to my feet. “Where are you now?”

“I’m at Mum and Dad’s; I didn’t want to ring you from the middle of the corridor. I’ll head back there in a moment; will you unlock the door for me?”

“Yeah, not a problem. See you in a moment.”

I hung up, then practically threw the phone down and Disapparated.

The peephole was unblocked. I couldn’t imagine it had been one of Lily’s priorities when she’d retreated to the safe haven of her room. I could see her, lying face down on her bed, her body shaking with the tears I could hear through the door. I didn’t even bother to knock on the inside of the door; I pushed it open and sat down next to her on the bed. She raised her head as the mattress sank with my weight. When she saw that it was me she sat up and flung her arms round my neck, sobbing into my shoulder.

I said nothing, just held her tightly as she cried, and tried to convince myself that cursing Robbie Bennett really wasn’t a good idea.

Then she said six words which just about broke my heart.

“I wish I wasn’t a Squib...”

She hadn’t said that in years. Not even when Kit took the news about magic badly, not even when she’d had to have a boy Obliviated. The last time she’d said it had been nearly seven years ago, at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters, when she’d had to watch the rest of her family boarding the Hogwarts Express, knowing that if things had been different, she’d have been boarding it with us.

I had no idea what to say to this. No idea how I could possibly make the situation better, how I could possibly make up for the fact that my little sister had just had her heart broken.

“How can you wish that?” I said eventually.

“Because if I wasn’t a Squib then I wouldn’t even know him!” She pulled away and wiped her face with her sleeve. “If I wasn’t a Squib then I wouldn’t have to worry about telling Muggles who I really am...”

And then it all fell into place.

“There’s no guarantee it would happen again, Lil,” I said soothingly, gently wiping at a few stray tears. “Besides, he’s sensible enough, isn’t he? He’s Maddie’s brother; there’s no reason to suggest he’d take it badly...”

“There was no reason to suggest that it would go badly last time, and it did.” Her eyes filled with tears again. “I don’t have a choice, James. I can’t tell him about magic. I don’t think I could cope with the rejection...”

Her voice cracked.

“Want me to hex him for you?” I suggested.

She smiled faintly.

“I don’t know if that would help,” she said. “How do you know about this, anyway?”

“I was chatting to Kit the other week...”

She closed her eyes in resignation.

“Kit. Of course. He’s far too perceptive...”

“He cares about you,” I put in.

There was a soft knock on the door.

“That’ll be him.” I got to my feet.

“How do you know that?”

“Why do you think I’m here?” I said, making my way through Maddie’s room to the door. “He was worried about you, and rang me.”

When I opened the door, Kit was holding a mug of tea in one hand and a bar of chocolate in the other.

“You’ve done this before,” I said quietly, shutting the door behind him.

“I’m well versed in the art of comforting females,” was his reply.

Lily barely gave him enough time to put the tea and chocolate down before she flung herself at him, hugging him tightly and bursting into tears once more.

“Oh, Lil, he’s not worth the tears,” Kit replied. He sat down on the spot on the bed which I’d just vacated, and put his arms round her. “He’s a complete and utter idiot. I mean, Rosalind? She’s made Maddie’s life hell for years. Of all the people for him to say yes to...” He shook his head exasperatedly.

“Did she ask him then?” I asked him quietly.

“Yeah. I guess we should at least give him credit for not asking her...”

I wondered how Rosalind had asked Robbie. If she’d cornered him – which wouldn’t surprise me, having been the victim of her leech-like tendencies before – then he might have been hard-pressed to say no. Even so, as Kit had said himself, Rosalind had bullied Maddie when they’d first started boarding school. There was a reason that I didn’t like her; she’d given Lily just as hard a time, right from the off. I wouldn’t even consider taking her to the girls’ end of school dance, so the fact that Robbie had agreed to was bewildering.

“Don’t worry, Lil; Maddie will give him what for when she finds out,” Kit reassured her, as her tears subsided. He handed her the mug of tea as she sat up, wiping her face again. “She’ll be absolutely seething. In fact, I don’t know that I want to be the person to break the news to her...”

“She’ll be more mad at me,” Lily said glumly.

I frowned, as I sat down on the other side of her.

“Why should she be mad at you?”

“Because if I’d just asked him in the first place, when she asked you, then this wouldn’t have happened! But I just couldn’t do it! It would have been horrible if he’d said no, and even if he had said yes, it would have just made things worse, because he’d think it was just as friends...”

Kit and I glanced at each other over her head. So he’d been right in his assumptions.

“Why don’t you just tell him how you feel?” he suggested, breaking up the chocolate bar.

She looked at him scornfully, though her bloodshot eyes softened the look slightly.

Really, Christopher?”

Luckily for him, he only needed that one remark before comprehension dawned on him.

“Lils, you can’t let one bad experience dictate your life-”

“‘Bad experience’ is certainly one way of referring to someone having their memories removed,” she said irritably, taking the chocolate he handed to her nevertheless. “I’m not going there again, especially not with Maddie’s brother. I wouldn’t want that to happen to any of the Bennetts, let alone him.”

“What if you have his memory of agreeing to take Rosalind to the prom removed?” I suggested.

She laughed, and bit off a chunk of the chocolate.

“Or maybe have her memory of asking him removed?” she added.

“Turn her hair green again; that worked out well last time,” Kit chipped in.

Her eyes lit up.

“I could make that happen just before the prom-”

No, Lily,” I reasoned. “Breaking the Statute, remember?”

She pouted.

“Since when have you been the rational one?” She sighed, and popped the rest of the chocolate into her mouth. “My trouble is,” she said around the square of chocolate, “I now need someone to go to the prom with.”

“I could ask one of the guys-” Kit began, but she shook her head, cutting him off.

“That would be too awkward.”

“I’m sure I could find a willing suitor,” I put in. “Hey, I could ask Murph if you want? You’d enjoy that; you’d have a right laugh.”

“You mean, you’d have a far better time with Ryan there,” she smiled.

“So, is that a yes, or-”

“That’s a yes,” she said. “If you think he’d go-”

“Of course he would, he adores you,” I said with a grin of my own. “Just so long as he’s free, of course. When is it?”

“Fourth of July. It’s a Saturday,” she added.

“Whoa, we’ll have our last game that day-”

“No, you don’t,” she said. “The game’s on the Friday, because the draw for the World Cup groups is on the Saturday. So you just need to make sure that you guys don’t take a whole day or more to beat the Bats – and make sure the Lynch brothers don’t try to mash your face in, either. Maddie won’t be too impressed if you turn up with your facial features rearranged.”

“Hey, she asked me to go with her; she didn’t specify I had to be injury-free.”

Then we heard the door to Maddie’s room open; milliseconds later there was a loud bang as it hit the wall.

“Uh oh,” Lily muttered.

“Lil! Have you heard-”

Maddie headed through the doorway into Lily’s room, and stopped, spotting me and Kit. I heard the door shut, and wondered who else was here.

“Robbie’s taking Rosabint to the prom?” Lily’s light-hearted tone astonished me.

“So it’s true, then?” Maddie looked furious. Behind her, their other friends Imogen and Grace turned up in the doorway. Grace’s eyes fell on me and her cheeks went red; Imogen looked mildly surprised to see Kit here. “I don’t believe him! What does he think he’s doing, asking her?!”

She asked him,” Imogen supplied, perching on the bed in front of Kit. “It was a bit of a public display...”

“I’m not sure why he was here; I guess it was to see you, Mads,” Grace continued, sitting down on Lily’s desk chair. “We were heading back from dinner, and he was waiting outside the building. Well, she marched right up to him – no, marched is the wrong word. She strutted up to him, fluttered her eyelashes like only she can, and asked if he’d take her to the prom. Well, I guess he thought he couldn’t say no...”

“Bollocks; he can always say no to her!” Maddie growled. “I told you to get a move on and ask him, Lils! We could have all had a right laugh together, and now he’s going with the Queen Bitch! Kit, you’ll have to get one of your lot to go with her now-”

“James is going to ask Ryan,” Lily cut in smoothly.

“Ooh, good shout, Jim!” She nodded approvingly. “Ooh, I can’t believe that boy! I’m going to give him a piece of my mind...” She headed back into her room.

“He’s going to regret the day he was born,” Grace giggled.

“Well, it’s his own fault for agreeing to go with her.” Imogen wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Honestly, can he not remember all the aggravation she’s caused-”

Maddie’s angry voice cut her off.

“Robert Bennett, what the hell possessed you to say yes to a prom date with Rosalind Wentworth-Farlington? Are you a complete bone-headed moron?”

Grace and Imogen clapped their hands over their mouths over their mouths to stifle their laughter, and even Lily smiled.

“Chocolate, anyone?” Kit said.


Chapter 25: twenty-five
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The week’s run up to the Pride match was the worst I’d ever experienced.

The England World Cup squad was to be announced two days after the match – assuming, of course, that it finished the same day that it started. If the match was a long one, it was possible we could still be playing when the squads were announced.

It was all that the journalists could talk about. They’d all written articles, listing the players they would choose if they were picking the England squad.

They all picked me.

The Prophet, the Quibbler, Quidditch Weekly, Which Broomstick? – even Witch Weekly. The Prophet had an eight-page pull out dedicated to the upcoming squad announcements, and its journalists’ picks.

I didn’t read Mum’s.

The squad was the only thing people wanted to talk about. I was used to people stopping me in Diagon Alley, congratulating me on my latest game, asking me how my family were – even people I didn’t know. That was the nature of being part of the Weasley family; everybody knew your face, and felt as though they knew the entire family personally. Sometimes, it was nice. Other times – such as now – it wasn’t so nice. More people than ever before wanted to talk to me, just when I didn’t want human interaction.

The only reason I could bear training was that nobody talked to me about it. Nobody needed to. Most of the squad had been through the same, torturous wait to see if they’d achieved their first international call-up; all but four of the squad had international caps. Even the other three who hadn’t been through this seemed to know I didn’t want to talk about it – although Roxanne probably knew to avoid the topic from having grown up with me.

Klaus and Stefan were both feeling as pressured as I was. They, too, remained tight-lipped on the subject, but it was clear to see they both feared they might not make the German and Bulgarian squads respectively. Klaus, however, had done all he could to press his case; he’d played a game more than Stefan, so wouldn’t be playing against the Pride. Sinead was sticking to her promise of giving everyone as much exposure as possible.

Della was certain that Klaus would make the squad, proclaiming that her cousin was clearly the best Seeker their country could field. Klaus broke his silence on the topic to point out to me that it was much easier for her to be confident that he’d make it, given that her own inclusion was assured. She’d been one of the German first-choice Chasers since the last World Cup, and there was no question that she would make their squad. Cato and Cleo were also World Cup definites, and Ryan had already been told he’d made the Irish squad. As a result, the four of them were much more relaxed in training, and tried their best all week to keep me, Klaus and Stefan thinking positively.

There was an awkward atmosphere around training – or at least, an awkward atmosphere between me and Keira. I was just glad that she was a Beater and not a Chaser, so proximity between us could be avoided. Even so, her involvement with England loomed over both of us.

I wasn’t sure if she knew whether I was close to making the squad. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know. As it stood, I knew that so long as I played well against the Pride, I could be satisfied I’d done all that I could to stake my claim for a spot in the squad.

Unless the squad had already been decided, and the Harpies match had quashed my chances.

I was trying not to think about that. I was just trying to remind myself that I’d played well against the Magpies and Puddlemere, and that I could easily do so again. The trouble was, I’d not felt pressured to play well against the Magpies. I didn’t get nervous for League matches these days; I’d performed well in that many games that I was confident of my ability. Even the pressure of the Puddlemere match, with Demelza present, was nothing compared to this one.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to know if Keira knew anything about my chances. Part of me wondered if knowing where I stood would make things easier. If the squad had already been decided, and I hadn’t made it, then there would be no point in me playing; at least then Roxanne could have another game. Conversely, if I did have a chance, at least I’d know what I had to do.

I hadn’t considered that Keira was going through the same torment; wondering whether she should tell me what she knew. I noticed her talking to Sinead, Cato and Della a lot, but I didn’t twig that they were debating whether I needed to know what she did. Then, on Wednesday, after Sinead announced the team – me, Della, Ryan, Cato, Cleo, Stefan and Alfie –she and Keira pulled me to one side.

“How’re you feeling?” Keira asked me.

“Alright,” I lied. My intestines felt as though they were tying themselves in knots.

“I thought you might like to know the situation in terms of your England chances.” She cut straight to the point. “They’re good. Demelza’s picked three of the Chasers, but she’s stuck on the fourth. Emily, Tamsin and Jeremiah are in-”

“And it’s a straight shoot-out between me and Wadcock for the fourth spot,” I finished, not sure whether to be happy at this news.

“She’s leaning towards you, I think. Wadcock’s not been playing well recently; whether it’s the pressure getting to him or just a loss of form, I’m not sure, but it’s gotten her concerned. You, on the other hand, have been playing well. Very well. She was impressed with your performance against him, that will have helped your cause massively.”

“I’m guessing there’s a ‘but’ here,” I said gingerly.

“She is concerned about taking a punt on you. She’s not the type of person to gamble unless she’s certain it’s the right thing to do. You’ve played well in a strong Falcons squad, and she’s not sure whether that’s a good enough test of your mental character. I think she wants to pick you, but she’s not totally convinced.”

I chewed my lip nervously.

“So it all comes down to this weekend’s performance.”

“It does. Puddlemere are playing the Bats, so Wadcock will have a hard time of it up against O’Sullivan and Quigley.”

My mouth twitched slightly. Fiona O’Sullivan and Aisling were Ryan’s fellow Chasers in the Ireland squad. Their places were also guaranteed, so they, like Ryan, would have the pressure off, meaning they would both probably have blinders. Wadcock certainly didn’t have an easy fixture in which to press his case.

“If he doesn’t play fantastically, and you do ... well, you’ll have done all you can. I’m not committing to anything, because it’s Demelza’s choice, but you’d be looking good for a spot.”

“But I’ve got a tough match too.”

Tough, but not as tough as Wadcock’s. McCormack’s a good Chaser, but it’s a slightly easier prospect then playing the Bats, though still tough enough to provide a good comparison with Wadcock’s performance. And even if he does play well on Saturday, you’ve been better than him all season so far.”

“Will anyone be at our game?” I asked. I felt certain someone would be, but if they wanted to watch Wadcock as well as me...

“Tamsin’s not playing for the Tornados on Saturday. They’re playing the Warriors, so they can afford to leave her out. She’ll be at Portree, and Demelza will be at Ballycastle.”

So Wadcock was playing away as well. This was some relief; Portree was possibly the worst place in the League to play at, but Ballycastle wasn’t far behind.

“It basically comes down to who can hold their nerve,” Sinead summed up. “Just go out there, play your own game and don’t let the occasion get to you. If you do that, then you’ll prove to Demelza that you’ve got the mental strength she’s looking for. She can’t possibly overlook you-”

“Unless Wadcock plays well,” I put in.

“You can’t affect his game,” she reminded me. “Just go out there and play the way you always play. Regardless of what happens on Monday, I know you’ll do us all proud on Saturday.”

I smiled slightly, and for the first time ever found myself hoping the Lynch brothers had a good game for the Bats.

“Don’t worry,” Ryan reassured me later, “Aisling and Fiona won’t let you down.”

I nodded, but didn’t say anything. I was slightly concerned I’d be sick if I opened my mouth.

“Just play like you normally do, and you’ll be fine,” he continued.

I opted to change the subject.

“Lily’s got some school dance coming up, and she needs a date for it. I’m going; Maddie wants me to take her. It’s the same day as the World Cup draw, would you be able-”

I tailed off, seeing the look on his face.

“Desmond says he wants the squad to watch the draw together,” he said awkwardly. Desmond Ryan was the Irish team’s head coach. “I really would love to go with her, but I won’t be able to.”

He looked sheepish, as though he felt guilty for mentioning he was already in his country’s squad. This barely bothered me, though; I was more concerned about finding Lily a date. Ryan had been my first – and only - option.

“You, er...” He scratched his stubbly cheek, looking awkward. “You could ask Cato?”

I raised an eyebrow.

“He’s seeing your sister.”

He shrugged.

“We both know it’s noncommittal. As is this dance. Ask him, I’m sure he’d take her.”

I wasn’t sure I liked the idea, but I’d promised Lily I’d find her a date, and she would probably be quite pleased if I produced Cato for her.

So I asked him, and tried to quash the slight twinge of annoyance I felt when he said yes.

***

I didn’t tell my family what Keira had told me about my chances of making the squad. I didn’t want them knowing I needed to play well in this match. They all knew that I had to play well to maximise my chances though, so all turned out for it – even Uncle Percy and Molly.

Even Dad.

Carlotta was true to her word, and turned up at mine early on Saturday morning. I said little to her, and luckily she seemed to sense my nerves, and instead engaged in light-hearted conversation with Mum as I tried to force some food down my throat. Eventually, Mum took pity on me and cleared my plate away.

“Come on, darling; there’s no point in sitting here all morning.”

Portree was generally quite overcast. Luckily, today the visibility was pretty good, although there was still a fairly strong breeze. We were the first people there, but Sinead and Brigid turned up soon afterwards. Brigid came and sat down next to me, took my hand and squeezed it tightly. She didn’t say anything, for which I was grateful.

People arrived in dribs and drabs as normal, my family scattered amongst those Apparating into the ground. Some people tried to talk to me, but I ignored them, not wanting to hear what they had to say.

Eventually, the rest of the squad arrived, and Sinead summoned us into the changing rooms. I got to my feet, my insides churning. There was a chorus of ‘good luck’ from my family. Carlotta kissed my cheek, Freddie clapped my shoulder – “Go get ‘em, Jim” – Rose and Lily both hugged me tightly, Albus punched my arm lightly, and Mum brushed the hair out of my face and planted a kiss on my forehead.

“You’ll be fine,” she murmured.

As I passed Dad, he reached out and took my arm.

“James, wait-”

“Jim, come on!” Della called from the pitch.

I glanced at her, then turned back to Dad.

“I’ve got to go,” I said. “See you after the game.”

He released my arm and I turned and dashed down the steps of the stand. As I did, I could have sworn I heard him wish me good luck.

After we’d changed, we headed out for a warm-up. I tried to calm myself down, reasoning that if I was nervous, I wouldn’t play as well. It was difficult though, especially when I caught a glimpse of Tamsin Robins in the stand.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” I muttered to Della.

“Well, make sure you get it down the toilet,” she replied matter-of-factly.

I smiled slightly, despite myself. That was Della’s typical way of dealing with things. Her chirpy mood was infectious, and made me feel slightly better; she seemed confident enough that I would play well. I just hoped that it wasn’t ill-placed.

After our warm up, we returned to the changing room. Sinead looked tense. She’d not given us defined match tactics all week, and now, we needed them.

“This is difficult,” she said slowly. “Normally, I’d say that we want this game to be over as soon as possible, but...”

I caught her glancing at me, then Stefan, and twigged.

I wasn’t the only one who needed to play well in this match. Stefan was concerned about his position in the Bulgarian squad, and this was his last chance to impress his selectors.

The trouble was, the job of a Chaser and the job of a Seeker conflicted. For me to impress, I needed as long a match as possible. For Stefan to impress, he needed to catch the Snitch as soon as possible.

Whichever tactics Sinead laid down, they would only benefit one of us. And she couldn’t choose between us.

“Just ... just play,” she finished. “Just play, and win.”

***

Sinead’s advice was much easier to give than it was to heed. Facing four of Scotland’s team made it an even tougher task. The silver lining for me was that only one of their Chasers was of international class – Elspeth McCormack, the granddaughter of Scotland’s best ever Chaser, Catriona McCormack. The Pride team was somewhat of a family affair; her brother Angus was one of the Beaters, and their cousin Finlay McGregor was the Keeper, following in his mother Meghan’s footsteps. The Pride’s fourth international player was their Seeker, Donald McBride, and so Stefan would have a tough task.

They weren’t going to give us an easy time of it, that was for sure. They were out for a win, and a large one at that; they were in the hunt for the League title, and were only just below us in the table. On top of that, their Scottish players were naturally looking to impress as much as possible before their own squad announcement – they knew they’d would be picked, or possibly already had been, but in their case it was more about proving they deserved to represent their country on the biggest stage.

They got off to a good start. Or at least, I got off to a bad one. Ryan caught the Quaffle at the start, as planned, but I failed to take the catch, and Elspeth snatched it up and scored. They’d managed to score three more goals before we got ourselves on the board.

“Jim, you’re trying too hard,” Della hissed to me after she’d converted her chance. “Just relax!”

But I couldn’t. Every time I tried, I caught a glimpse of Tamsin, scrutinising my every move; of Mum, looking nervous; of Freddie, waiting for me to start playing like he knew I could. I wasn’t sure what was worse; the hope or the expectation.

Another fumble, another drop, another Pride goal. Another glance at the stand. A disappointed shake of the head from Dad.

Disappointment. Again. I supposed I ought to have been used to it by now.

And suddenly, Stefan went into a dive, McBride hot in pursuit. My stomach contracted. We’d not been playing for that long, and I’d messed up too many times already; if Stefan ended the game now then I was done for. I hadn’t done nearly enough to impress Tamsin. Heck, I hadn’t done anything that would have impressed her.

My heart sank as he rose out of the dive – and then I realised that his hand was empty. My first instinct was to look at McBride, in case he had the Snitch, but he too was empty-handed, and was wearing the expression of a man who’d just fallen for a ruse.

Then Stefan glanced at me, and I twigged.

Stefan had seen the Snitch – and had flown in the opposite direction, his only choice being to lure McBride away from it. He could have caught it, won the game for us, and guaranteed his call-up. Instead, he’d just thrown caution to the wind, and risked his own World Cup chances in order to give me a chance to shine.

I had to make the damn squad now. If I didn’t, I’d be letting Stefan down.

I realised Sinead was right. I had to play this game as though it was like any other. I had to stop thinking about the squad, about Tamsin, about my family. I had to shut it all out of my mind, pretend that nobody else existed. For now, the only people who were relevant were Ryan, Della and McGregor. Nobody else. Not even Elspeth McCormack.

Because I sure as hell wasn’t going to let her get a fingertip on that Quaffle.

I caught the Quaffle. This time, I kept hold of it. I kept hold of it all the way up the pitch, weaving past Elspeth, ducking past her fellow Chaser Catriona Campbell, swerving round a Bludger. As I headed towards the posts I pulled my arm back, and threw the Quaffle with so much force that it soared through the middle hoop, with too much force for McGregor to stop it, and travelled for a good twenty feet before beginning to drop.

Della clapped me on the back triumphantly as McGregor flew off to retrieve the Quaffle.

Played, James!” she said. “Just believe in yourself, and you can do this. Just don’t do that again!”

I smiled ever so slightly, but said nothing. After all, it was actions, not words, that were relevant right now.

From that point onwards, things began to click. My moment of madness, albeit risky, had blown away the nerves and the cobwebs. I was reading Ryan and Della’s moves, as I should have been from the start; and the Quaffle was now sticking. Slowly but surely, we began to ramp things up, and we overturned the deficit, turning it into a solid lead.

Slowly, but surely, I began to have faith in myself.

Yes, Elspeth McCormack was good. Yes, McGregor was good. And yes, Wadcock was good, and was possibly having his best game of the season against the Bats.

But I knew that I was good too. I knew that I wanted this, a spot in the England squad, more than anything else. And I knew that I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

***

After the match, Sinead told me I’d played some of the best Quidditch she’d ever seen, not just from me but in her entire career. It was high praise indeed, from a member of one of the best Chaser trios in history. I couldn’t tell her where I’d pulled it from. I had no idea myself I could play so well, let alone where I’d managed to dig it up from after my appalling start.

“Don’t worry about the start,” she said, beaming widely. “If anything, this gives you more credibility. Remember what Keira was saying; that Demelza wasn’t sure that your mental strength had been tested? Well, if ever she wanted proof you could deal with the pressure, here it is. The fact you can turn a start like that into a performance like that ... well, if you’re not in the squad after that, I’ll eat my foot.”

“What happened in the Puddlemere game?” I asked tentatively.

“Bats beat them by three-fifty. Wadcock had a terrible game.”

“Really?” My grin was beginning to mirror hers.

“Yeah. Bit of a shame, really, because that result’s denied us top spot, but even so, we’re second in the table. And with four relatively easy games on the bounce to come...”

We were definitely all feeling pretty giddy that evening. On top of my performance and our overall league position, Stefan had also had a good game. The best Seekers were able to judge the right moment to catch the Snitch; his dummy early on in the match had demonstrated this perfectly, and he was now beginning to believe that he’d make the Bulgarian squad, which we’d all been trying to reassure him about for weeks. The happiness wasn’t just confined to us Quidditch players; Cato had approached Lily at the end of the match and asked her himself if he could take her to her dance. She’d looked at me slightly puzzled, clearly still expecting Ryan to be her date, but said yes nevertheless, looking thoroughly delighted with her new date. I grinned, relieved to see her so happy. At that moment, everything seemed to be going right.

The feeling of euphoria had well and truly worn off by Sunday morning, though. In the cold light of day, the situation was crystal clear; I’d done all that I could. All I could do now was sit, and wait, for twenty-four agonising hours, to see if I’d achieved one of my lifetime aims, in winning a call-up to the England squad.


Chapter 26: twenty-six
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I awoke ridiculously early Monday, the morning of the squad announcements. I didn’t even try to get back to sleep; I knew it would be fruitless. Instead, I got out of bed, and tuned into the Quidditch News channel on the television, waiting for news of the squads to filter through.

Because of the time difference, the Australia and New Zealand squads had been announced overnight, as had Samoa’s. The Samoans were ranked outside the top thirty-two teams in the world but had made it into the main draw along with four other such teams, as some big names including Transylvania and Belgium had missed out on qualification. They weren’t expected to shock anyone, but it would certainly be a big experience for them, as they’d never gotten this far before.

The African squads were the next to trickle through; Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda, Morocco, Tanzania, South Africa and Nigeria. Then the Russians, the Georgians and the Turks. The first point of real interest was the Bulgarian squad. I grinned as the name ‘Krum’ appeared. We’d all been right; Stefan hadn’t needed to worry about a thing. It looked a strong squad; it was clear to see why they were ranked top in the world.

The nerves began to build as more European squads were announced. Norway, then Poland. Italy. Luxembourg. Finally Germany’s squad. Two Brands, one of whom had the letters ‘VC’ next to her name.

“Nice one, Della,” I said quietly.

And still, my phone didn’t ring.

Ireland’s squad was next. It was released before France’s, Scotland’s and Wales’ as well as England’s, as it had been decided nearly a week ago. The names were truly terrifying. Connolly, Kiely, both Lynches, Murphy, O’Hare, O’Sullivan, Quigley ... the list went on and on. Regardless of whether or not I made England’s squad, I hoped against hope we wouldn’t come up against Ireland at any stage in the tournament. Their squad was probably the second strongest of those named so far – but then, they were ranked fourth in the world, one spot above England, and the second and third best, Uruguay and Peru, hadn’t been named yet.

The thought filled me with dread; there was surely no chance of avoiding all four teams above us in the world rankings at some stage in the tournament? We’d have to avoid them in the quarter-finals and hope that results there went our way so as to avoid them if we made the semi-finals. That didn’t seem like a likely outcome. Of course, it was always possible that we could lose our quarter-final – or not even make it out of our group. That would ensure that we didn’t face any of those four teams...

But I didn’t like thinking about that. I knew England’s smallest hopes were of making the quarter-finals. Demelza would be disappointed not to make the semis. Making the final would be incredible – and winning the Cup was just unthinkable. Four years ago I’d watched from the sidelines as England crashed out at the group stages. It had happened once too often and the Department of Magical Games and Sports had called for a complete overhaul; out went the previous coaching team, and in came Demelza. Many of the players were also dropped; only the Woods and Tamsin survived.

It had been then, at seventeen and about to start my Seventh Year at Hogwarts, that I truly realised what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to make that squad. I knew that I could play better than most of those who let us down in that World Cup. I set myself a lofty aim; to play for England at the next World Cup. I would play with far more pride and honour than those who’d worn the robes before me and I’d be able to look in the mirror and be proud of the person looking back at me.

That was my aim, and I hadn’t stopped striving for it. But it was possible that it had already passed me by.

Next up was an announcement from Wales – they were delaying their squad announcement by six hours. Clearly they hadn’t made their decision yet. Was this why I’d heard nothing, too? Were England also deliberating still?

And then, my phone rang. I jumped a mile as it pealed, and dived across the sofa to pick it up, freezing at the last moment.

Did this mean that I was in? Or did Demelza ring those who hadn’t made it, to let them down gently? After all, she surely should have announced the squad to the public by now; surely she’d have let the full eleven know by now?

Of course, it was possible that it wasn’t even Demelza ringing me. If it wasn’t, then whoever it was was going to get it in the neck for getting me so worked up.

But sure enough, it was Demelza Robins’ smooth voice which greeted me as I answered the phone.

“Morning, James, it’s Demelza. I hope I haven’t woken you up?”

“No, I was already awake,” I replied, beginning to feel nauseous.

“Nervous?” She sounded amused.

“A little.”

“Well, you don’t need to be. You’ve made the squad.”

It took a moment for the words to sink in.

“I – you’re joking.”

“Do you want me to be joking?”

“No!” I said quickly. “I just ... I’m in? I’m really in?”

She laughed.

“Yes, James, you’re in. So long as you want to be, of course-”

“Of course I do!” I said hurriedly. “It’s just ... it’s a bit of ... well, not a shock exactly, but...”

“It’s what you were hoping for, but never dared to dream about?” she suggested. “I know the feeling. But you should have had more faith in yourself! You’ve been playing fantastically all season for the Falcons, and you especially impressed Tamsin against the Pride. Of course, we’ll need to work on your nerves, see if we can harness them a bit because on the international stage you’ll be punished badly for even the slightest slip...”

I tuned out of what she was saying and stared across the room, as the news finally sank in.

I was in the England squad.

My nerves were dissipating, to be replaced by complete and utter ecstasy. I could almost envisage my name in black on the news channel, after McLaggen’s and before Tamsin’s ... ‘James Potter, Falmouth Falcons’...

“...so you’ll need to come to the Ministry to do all the formal bits,” Demelza was saying. “Level Seven, of course. Come as soon as you can, so we can get it all sorted and out of the way. I need to go; I need to announce you all to the press. I’m running a bit late, as you might have gathered! Sorry to have kept you hanging, but hopefully it was all worth it in the end. So I’ll see you at the Ministry in a few minutes?”

“I’ll be there straight away!” I said eagerly.

“I look forward to seeing you.”

I put the phone down, and jumped to my feet, ready to Disapparate. Then I looked down, and halted.

Maybe not straight away. Getting dressed first might be a good idea.

***

Ten minutes later, I was at the Ministry, making my way to Level Seven, where the Department of Magical Games and Sports was located. I bumped into Mum in the Atrium. For a moment, she seemed surprised to see me, but her shock turned to joy as she twigged why I was there. I assumed Demelza hadn’t yet announced the squad, and Mum was hovering around waiting for the moment she did.

“Are you in?” she whispered, evidently wanting to make sure.

I didn’t need to answer her; my grin said it all. She let out a quiet squeal, and pulled me into a tight hug.

“Oh, well done baby! I told you that you’d make it! Oh, I’m so proud of you...” She pulled away, and planted a quick kiss on my forehead. “You should go, you need to get all your paperwork sorted, you’ll need to register with the Ministry as an England player. Oh, just think, my little boy, playing for England!” She beamed, and her eyes welled with tears. “Make sure you pop up to see your father once you’ve done all the formalities; he’ll want to know the good news.”

“I doubt that,” I said dully.

A stern look replaced the happy one.

“James, humour me, just for today, and talk to your father...”

“Okay, okay, I’ll go,” I said, feeling irritated that she’d brought him up, that the mention of him had killed my happiness. “See you later, Mum. Don’t gush about me too much in your report.”

My mood brightened again once I reached Level Seven, and Rose, who worked here and had clearly been lying in wait for me, dashed out of an office on the left and flung her arms around my neck.

“Well done, James!” she said. “You can get me free tickets now...”

“Dream on,” I grinned, ruffling her hair. “Cheers, Rosie.”

She directed me to the office I needed, the administration office for the England Quidditch squad. On the way I passed Ireland’s office – they too were administrated by the British Ministry. The door was ajar, and I could hear Ryan’s voice floating through the doorway. I resisted the temptation to stop here to tell him my news. I didn’t want to disturb their team chat, no matter how informal it was. I’d have time later to talk to him.

Cleo was the first person to spot me when I reached the England office and hovered in the doorway. She looked happy to see me, but not surprised, which suggested she’d already been told I’d made the squad.

“James!” She got to her feet and approached me. “Well done, I knew you’d make it!”

The others looked round on hearing her greeting. They were all there already: Cato, Emily and Michael Wood, Tamsin, McLaggen, Gregory Ellis, Jessica Birch, and Gemma Deans and the fantastically-named Archibald Tromburg, Keeper and Seeker respectively, who played for the Wimbourne Wasps. All of them approached to congratulate me on my inclusion, even McLaggen – though I assumed that was because he felt it would be too obvious if he didn’t; certainly his wasn’t the most convincing of greetings.

“Nice one, mate,” Cato grinned, and slapped my back; I hid a wince. “Good to have some fellow Falcon blood in the camp.”

There was something oddly pleasing about his comment. Players had once had strong loyalties to one club, but this had diminished over the years, with players moving for various reasons, often financial or purely to get games. It was only my third season with the Falcons, but already I felt certain I’d never want to leave. Anyone who wore the team colours and didn’t put in their all for the club, didn’t deserve to wear them in my eyes. Our previous Beaters had been guilty of this very crime, so hearing Cato refer to himself as a Falcon so proudly was a good sign.

The greeting from Tamsin was especially nice.

“Thank you so much,” I said as she approached me last. I was referring to her presence at the Pride match, and the feedback – presumably good –that she had given Demelza.

“Thank you.” She beamed at me. “I was so worried for the first ten minutes or so that I wouldn’t get away with telling Demelza to pick you ... where you pulled that performance from, I have no idea, but I was so happy when you did!”

Coming from one of the best Chasers England had ever seen, this was huge praise, and I could barely hide my smile.

And the moment was topped off when Ryan snuck in to congratulate me.

“Junior!” he cried, practically jumping onto my shoulders in jubilation. “I told you you’d get the call!”

“Get out of our office, Murphy!” Emily said, but she was grinning.

“Ah, lighten up, Wood.” He ruffled her hair. “I hope you’re prepared; Jimmy’s come on leaps and bounds since we all played together for Gryffindor all those years ago.”

“Yeah; he’s your team’s best Chaser now, isn’t he?” She grinned cheekily at him.

“I expect he’ll take your spot for England?” he quipped in return.

“We’ll beat you regardless of who we field. Don’t you go worrying about our selection issues, worry about your own performance, Murph,” she bounced back.

The door opened again, and Demelza finally appeared.

“Morning, guys!” she said, looking round the room at her assembled players. “Congratulations on making the squad – Murphy, what on earth are you doing in here?” she added, doing a double-take as she spotted him.

“Espionage work,” he grinned. “Sorry, I just nipped in to chat to James. I’ll leave you to have your top-secret tactic discussion. This is a good squad you’ve got; we’re all quaking in our boots next door!”

“Is that a genuine comment or are the tactics coming out already?” Demelza said dubiously.

“I’ll let you figure that out,” he said, heading for the door.

“In that case, your squad is looking pretty mediocre,” she retorted, poker-faced.

He grinned, and left the office, shutting the door behind him.

“Bloody menace,” she muttered, shaking her head.  “They’re all the same, those Irish players. Anyway!” She clapped her hands, and looked around at us. “As I was saying, well done on making the squad, all of you, and welcome to James, our newest squad member. You’re all here because you’ve worked hard over the past few years, you’ve played well, and you’ve done yourselves proud. You’re the best that England has, and I’m sure you won’t let the country down.

“But the hard work is by no means over; in fact, it’s barely begun. We won’t be training straight away; I’ll let you have these two weeks off, because I think that’s more valuable right now than putting you in training. I will be calling you in for training during the next break, though, which will be the beginning of June. The Cup starts mid-July so that time will be crucial. And then, as soon as the League ends, it’ll be straight into national training again. I might pull you all out of domestic team training and matches during June, but only if I think we need it. I’m well aware that would deplete four proud English teams of their best players, and I really don’t want to do that.”

This was one of the reasons why Sinead and the other Quidditch coaches liked Demelza so much. Of course, they realised England had to come first, but they tried their hardest to claw back as many club rights as possible. Having someone who saw the importance of the League in charge of international Quidditch certainly helped their case .

“Most of you have played for England before, but few of you have played on a stage as big as the World Cup before. It’s good to have that experience here, obviously, but I don’t pick people purely based on tournament experience. A lot of the time I don’t actually think it’s needed; you’re all good enough to cope with playing at such a high level, or you wouldn’t be here. But the thing you won’t be used to is the media exposure. You may  be household names in Britain by now, but by the end of this tournament, you may well be household names worldwide. People from all over the world will be tuning in; all eyes will be on you. And with that, comes a lot of media attention. A few of you may already be accustomed to this-” Her eyes flickered towards me, and I hid a grimace – “but most of you won’t be. I urge you all to act with responsibility at all times. You are England players, and I will not have you bringing the game into disrepute in any way while representing the country. I don’t want to have to release any of you from the squad, but I will if necessary.”

The mood, which moments before had been jovial, was now very downbeat. Demelza’s warning had unnerved us all – except for Tamsin and the Woods, who were old hands at this now.

“Anyway, enough of all of this doom and gloom!” Demelza clapped her hands together loudly. “That’s me done; all that’s left to do is sort out your immediate media responsibilities. I think your agents will be turning up in a few moments to sort out interviews, otherwise the moment you reach the Atrium you’ll all be accosted by the press. James, if you could just come over here for a moment, we need to register you officially...”

Player registration wasn’t as complicated as it seemed. Perhaps ironically, it was simpler at international level than at domestic level. The reason for this was simple. I was already registered by the Falcons, so all that was required was for this registration to be upped to international level, and it wasn’t actually that important. At domestic level, registration was required so as to prevent teams from playing people they weren’t supposed to. Squads were made up of fourteen players, and teams were only allowed to exceed that if injury concerns or international call-ups prevented a full team from being fielded. This registration included all of my personal details, and generally enabled the Department for Magical Games and Sports to administrate the game with more ease. Because this personal information was already logged, my registration at this level merely meant signing an extra document, extending my eligibility to international level. Normally, Brigid dealt with such documents, but this one was so simplistic I was able to flick through it myself, before adding my signature to the bottom of the parchment.

And then I was an England player.

Of course, I hadn’t played a game for them yet, and I wasn’t sure if I would. But seeing my name on that official document, the ink of my signature still glistening in the light, made it feel so real, for the first time since I’d gotten that call from Demelza.

I nearly jumped a mile when someone snaked their arms round my middle, and I felt their light breath on my cheek.

“Well done, Jim!” Brigid whispered. She planted a quick kiss on my cheek before pulling away. Agents weren’t necessarily expected to be completely removed from their clients – or she wouldn’t have gone on the date with Cato in the first place – but they were expected to be independent from the Quidditch teams. Brigid’s professional relationship with her mother had already irked enough agents; it was better if she didn’t flaunt our friendship in front of them.

Especially given that Cato and Cleo had left one of the agents who managed most of the English squad at the same time they’d left the Wasps and he was there, shooting resentful looks across the room at us, despite being surrounded by his charges. He’d tried to nab me after my first full season, but I’d rejected the offer in a trice.

“Well done, guys.” Brigid smiled at the twins as they joined us. Her smile lingered on Cato for a split second, and I wondered if she really did like him and was just fearful of risking their professional relationship.

“As you’d expect, everyone downstairs wants a piece of you – especially you, James,” she added, slightly awkwardly, as though she felt as awkward as I did about the fact I was undoubtedly top billing with the press, regardless of the others’ Quidditch achievements. “So, we need to share you around. The Prophet get you all first, of course. James, the editor wanted your mum to interview you, but I quashed that one straight off.  So you’re with their Deputy Quidditch Correspondent, Deirdre...”

I winced. Deirdre was a very good journalist – because she knew what questions to ask. Sometimes this was good; she was very knowledgeable about the game. But sometimes these questions were more personal. I’d been interviewed by her once before, and some of her questions had had me squirming in my seat.

“...then Quidditch Weekly want a chat, and Which Broomstick? want to know all about how your Firebolt has helped you get to where you are. Then Witch Weekly want a chat – humour me, James, just this once, and don’t try to argue with me on this one,” she added as I made to object. “I think the Quibbler wouldn’t mind an interview from you too; that would be nice for them, don’t you think? I can’t stick around with you for them, I’m afraid – after you guys I need to see my Scottish players – but I’m sure you’ll get on just fine by yourself, you should be an expert at them by now! You can nip down now, no need to wait up here any longer...”

I left, but reluctantly. Just because I’d done a lot of interviews, didn’t mean I liked them. I’d always relied on Brigid being there with me, to help me out if I wasn’t sure how best to answer a question. Without her, I was concerned I might slip up, especially with the Prophet interview first up.

The Department of Magical Games and Sports was a hive of activity. When arriving, Rose had marshalled me though the corridors, so I’d managed to avoid everybody, but it was impossible to do the same on my way out. I kept my head down as I made my way towards the clunky lifts, not wanting anyone to talk to me. Nevertheless, people still approached me, all congratulating me on my inclusion, which had apparently been a ‘sure thing’. It seemed as though I’d been the least confident about my chances of actually making the squad.

The lift was even worse. I’d managed to find one with a couple of Aurors in it, and they crowded me the moment the doors opened, congratulating me heartily, and talking about the time we’d first met, at some fancy function Mum and Dad had taken me, Al and Lily to, years ago.

I didn’t remember them.

They weren’t the only ones there; four or five other witches and wizards were also using the lift and wanted to shake my hand, to individually congratulate me and assure me their money was on England to win the World Cup, now that I’d made the squad. I didn’t often feel claustrophobic, but there was nothing I wanted more than to get out of the lift. Luckily, the Department for Magical Games and Sports was only one floor above the Atrium, so the journey wasn’t a long one.

And then the lift reached the Atrium and the grille slid open, and all I wanted to do was to retreat back to the administration office.

There were people, and cameras, and flashbulbs, totally filling the Atrium, all pointed at me. The excited murmur of voices I’d been greeted with accelerated into an animated fever when the journalists and cameramen saw me. One of the other people in the lift nudged me forwards slightly; I numbly stepped forwards out of it, frozen for a moment by the sheer number of people.

I glanced round nervously and saw Deirdre, the Prophet correspondent who was to interview me. She, of course, had picked me in her ‘squad’. The rest of the Prophet’s reporters were there too, along with the Which Broomstick? reporter who’d interviewed me about the new Nimbus, and the journalist who’d interviewed me for the Christmas special of Quidditch Weekly that I’d been on the cover of. The cameraman who’d taken the photos was there as well.

And then I saw Mum. She shot me a wink and a reassuring smile.

I could do this. Couldn’t I?

I stood up straight, and with an air of confidence that belied the nerves within, I strode across the Atrium to where Deirdre was waiting for me.

Yes, I could do this.

She greeted me warmly as I reached her, as though we were more than mere acquaintances. I wasn’t sure if this was how she treated everyone she interviewed, or just because she worked with my mother. Most people – like the Aurors in the lift – seemed to think that knowing my parents meant that they knew me. It irked me.

“Well done, James,” she said. “There was no doubt you’d make the squad. I’d have picked you, as I’m sure you’re aware-”

I nodded slightly.

The interview started off well enough. She asked me how I felt about having made the squad, and also how my season with the Falcons was going. Then she began treading on thin ice.

“Your family and friends must be delighted with the news?”

“I’ve not really talked to any of them yet,” I said uneasily, “but yeah, I suppose they are.”

“You must have seen your mother, though? She’s also here, of course, interviewing for the Prophet – have you spoken to her yet?”

“Yeah, I’ve chatted to her.”

“And what did she say?” she pressed.

“That’s between me and my mother,” I said in clipped tones.

“Of course it is.” She didn’t sound at all abashed. “I spoke to her myself earlier, she seems absolutely delighted. She picked you in her squad, of course, but you’ll already know that-”

“I didn’t, actually,” I said without thinking. I tried – and failed – to stop a smile from spreading across my face. Mum would have picked me. The thought filled me with happiness.

Of course, Deirdre’s next question brought me back down to earth with a thump.

“You must be glad, that you’ve eclipsed her achievements?”

I frowned.

“What do you mean?” I asked sharply.

“Well, your mother never played for England, did she? I’d imagine it must be hard, following in her footsteps, so it must please you to have gotten further than her...”

The comment irked me.

“My mother chose not to play for England,” I snapped. “She didn’t want to travel all over the world; she wanted to settle down with my father instead. And there are countless women across the country who were inspired to play Quidditch because of her. I don’t think my selection has eclipsed her career at all.”

Deirdre didn’t so much as bat an eyelid at this comment. Instead, she carried on in full flow.

“How about your girlfriend? I expect she’s pleased about your selection-”

“What girlfriend? I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Our showbiz reporters have seen you with a pretty Muggle girl countless times. You can’t possibly have missed their speculation as to who she is? Perhaps you’d like to enlighten us?”

I could quite possibly have missed the speculation, given that I always avoided the gossip sections of the Prophet; I only ever read the back pages.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” I said firmly. “She’s just a friend-”

“She must be a very good friend if she knows about magic,” Deirdre pressed. “She’s been seen at several Quidditch matches, you know-”

I snapped. Fed up with the incessant questioning – I could deal with questions about Quidditch perfectly fine, but these people had no right to ask about my personal life – I stormed off, not bothering to answer the question. Out of the corner of my eye I caught Mum breaking off her own interview with Michael Wood, making as if to approach me, but I strode towards the fireplaces, seething with anger.

I didn’t care what Brigid said; I wasn’t going to do any of my other stupid interviews.

And I didn’t care about what Mum said either. I wasn’t going to visit Dad upstairs.

He probably wouldn’t care anyway.

I Apparated into my living room, relieved to have escaped the melee.

Then, with some surprise, I noticed that Carlotta was standing in the middle of the room. I couldn’t stop the smile from spreading across my face; if there was anyone I wanted to see right now, it was her.

“Guess who got called into the England squad?” I said, the euphoria of being chosen for the squad bubbling up again now that the resentment of the media was dying away.

But my grin faltered as I looked at her properly. She had an angry look on her face and an Daily Prophet in her hand.

“I know,” she said shortly. “I read it in the paper.” She paused, unfolding it. “Tell me, James; what do they mean by the ‘boy who lived’?”
 


Chapter 27: twenty-seven
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I felt the colour draining from my face.

“I – what do you mean?”

Carlotta cleared her throat, and turned to the paper.

“‘England Head Coach Demelza Robins has included Chaser James Potter in her squad for the Quidditch World Cup, which was announced this morning. Potter has been in spectacular form for the Falmouth Falcons this season, leading to calls from several ex-Quidditch players for him to be elevated into the national squad.’ It goes on,” she said, raising her eyes back to me, “to mention everyone else who’s made the squad. But that’s not what caught my eye. You see, there’s a player profile on you. It’s bigger than the main article. Want to hear it?”

I didn’t answer, knowing that she was going to read it aloud anyway; knowing that she had already read it, and was just stringing out the confrontation. My intestines felt like they were tying themselves into knots as she turned back to the paper.

“‘James Potter is no stranger to our households, and as such will need no introduction. His mother is written into Quidditch legend as one of the best Chasers the game has seen, her lack of England caps only down to personal choice. But it is of course his father whose name is known worldwide. If Ginevra Potter is part of Quidditch legend, then Harry has pretty much single-handedly written wizarding legend thanks to his noble defeat of the Dark Lord Voldemort. Parents the world over are indebted to him for providing enough bedtime stories for their children to ensure that none has to be repeated – although this writer’s childrens’ favourite recital, that of his dramatic break into and escape from the wizarding bank Gringotts with a dragon, is requested at least three times a month.

“‘With that pedigree, it was almost a certainty that eldest son James would make it to the top, and this call-up cements his place in the upper echelons of wizarding society. A good-looking, charismatic young man, Potter has been at the forefront of domestic Quidditch almost since his breakthrough season, two years ago. Even in his first match, alongside names such as Adelheid Brand and against the likes of Tamsin Robins, James shone, giving us a tantalising glimpse of what was to come from him. Since then, his star has been on the rise, and a stunning League victory with the Falcons last year capped off a marvellous start to a career predicted for him by some, including this writer, from the very day he was born.

“‘It should of course come as no surprise to any of us that Potter is soon to don England colours. His days at Hogwarts were well documented, in particular his remarkable prowess on a broomstick, which saw him make his house team not quite as one of the youngest players ever – that record is partly held by his father, who made the Gryffindor team at just eleven years old – but nevertheless at his first try-out, as a Second Year up against students much older. From there on young James shone, contributing towards a remarkable six consecutive Quidditch Cup victories for Gryffindor, the last two as captain (the house has continued this streak since his departure, with cousin Hugo Weasley currently captaining the team towards a near-certain ninth straight Cup win). Not just content with being a success on the pitch, James also produced excellent results off it, with top grades in his O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts, as might be expected given his parents’ academic abilities.

“‘Of course, James was not a completely rule-abiding student – again, following in the footsteps of his parents before him, who were often in detentions for rule-breaking such as loitering in the corridors after curfew. While James’ own rule-breaking never amounted to running an illegal study group or flying an illegally bewitched car into a Whomping Willow, he still provoked the frustration of his teachers – and admiration of his schoolmates – through numerous pranks and hijinks, along with several night-time trips to the nearby village of Hogsmeade.

“‘Ambitious from the start, James was signed straight out of school by Falmouth Falcons coach and former Ireland Chaser Sinead Moran, who is well known for her willingness to gamble on raw talent. But this signing was far from a gamble, as James’ success at this level was a near guarantee. After all, who could expect any less from the eldest son of the well-known Dark Lord slayer, the Boy Who Lived?’”

My stomach had been twisting and convulsing right through the article. With its conclusion, I let out a small sigh of relief.

Carlotta folded the paper up and threw it onto the sofa, then crossed her arms. I licked my lips nervously. My stomach was still unsettled.

“So, let’s get this straight,” she said. “The Prophet seems to think that your dad killed this Voldemort guy. Now, either they’ve got it very wrong, or you lied to me when you said there was nothing more I needed to know about Muggle persecution. I appreciate we may have differing opinions on what I do and don’t need to know, but I’d say that your dad effectively saving the wizarding world is pretty damn big.”

“I-” I hesitated. “Look, I know you’re annoyed I didn’t tell you, and maybe I should have, but I really don’t see how it’s that big an issue. Does it change anything? Does it change who he is, or who I am, to you?”

“How can you say that?” she cried. “Just reading that article suggests that your dad has done incredible things in his lifetime, and you didn’t even consider telling me about them! That doesn’t just disrespect me, that disrespects him-”

“No, it doesn’t!” I pleaded, desperate for her to see my point of view. “You didn’t need to know! It’s not relevant to ... to this! To us!” I gestured at the space in between us.  “Look, I knew this would freak you out, that’s why I didn’t tell you. I knew you’d think it to be bigger than it is-”

“Bigger than it is,” she repeated dully. “Yes, clearly I’m overexaggerating. Clearly, the fact that your father is this aforementioned Dark Lord slayer, who – what was it?” She grabbed the paper from the chair, and rifled through it to find the article – “Broke into a bank, commandeered a dragon, ran an illegal study group, flew a car and pretty much single-handedly wrote modern wizarding history, isn’t a big thing. In fact, it’s clearly not an achievement at all!”

“Carlotta, I-”

“MY PICTURE IS IN YOUR PAPER!” she exploded, holding it out at me.

With a particularly strong twinge in my gut, I saw that the Prophet had dedicated half a page to a picture of the two of us leaving the Tav, above an article entitled ‘James Potter’s Muggle flame: The secret behind his Quidditch success?’ The sight of this latest media speculation, coupled with Deirdre’s questions from earlier, fuelled me with an anger I’d never felt before.

“I’m in a national fucking newspaper, James!” Her chest heaved as she spoke and she threw the paper away contemptuously. “They know my name, they know where I work ... and you thought you could keep all this quiet from me?”

“I wasn’t trying to keep it quiet from you!” I snapped. “There was never the right moment-”

“Oh, really? How about that time your dear brother let it slip that a bloke killed Muggles, and I asked you if there was anything else you had to tell me? You’re telling me that wasn’t the ‘right moment’?”

And then I lost what little composure I’d had left.

“What, so I was meant to tell you that actually, my father is a really famous man, and that most people only ever give me the time of day because of what he did? That time I met you in the Tav, I was trying to get away from it all! Because I’m sick of it, completely sick and tired of it! All my life, I’ve been judged by who he is. People expect me to achieve everything he has; if I fail to do so, I’m not good enough to be his son, and if I do manage, it’s still nothing special, because he’s done it before. Even now, when I’ve been called into the England squad, it’s not about me, it’s about him, and how playing for England is really nothing compared with killing a few Dark Lords here and there. You read the article! My player profile ... it refers to him, all the time! It’s all just one big fat comparison between us; how he played for Gryffindor at a younger age than I did; how he managed to break the rules more impressively than I did. His academic abilities? He never even took his N.E.W.Ts! I beat him on that one, but they don’t mention that!

“It’s always been like this; I’ve lived my whole life in his shadow, with all this pressure on my shoulders. Al’s suffered the same. Everyone expected so much of me, just because of what Dad’s done. And Mum having played profession Quidditch doesn’t help either. That’s just more pressure. I’m expected to achieve everything, and what I don’t achieve, Al’s expected to. I don’t know which one of us is worse off. And then there’s Lily...” I laughed bitterly.

“She got off scot-free. She was set to have twice the expectations on her that we had, purely because she’s a girl – and then she turned out to be a Squib. She’s already achieved more than any of the rest of us, purely by not having magic. She’s more or less completely escaped it all; everyone loves her because she’s a Squib. And she gets completely left alone; she’s not hounded at all. Heck, the Prophet didn’t even realise her A grades were good until they consulted the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts. The fact she’s just gotten on with it, and turned what people thought was a bad thing into a good thing ... they love her. She can’t do wrong. She’s left alone to do her own thing – because how can she possibly become an Auror like Dad, or do what he did? It’s logistically impossible for her, and people recognise that and leave her alone. But Al and me? Well, we’ve got magic, right? Which means we can do everything Dad did, and we should be able to do it easily. And when we can’t, it’s not because we’re different to him, it’s because we’re failures in their eyes. It doesn’t matter that there is no Dark Lord to defeat; we should be able to overcome that, right?

“You know, when I first went to Hogwarts, I was so excited. And when everyone seemed to want to be my friend, I thought it was great. I’d be the most popular person at school! But they didn’t give a damn about me. All they cared was that I was Harry Potter’s son. So I learned the hard way how fickle people can be. I became so cynical, assuming anyone who wanted anything to do with me was just interested in the name.

“The only people I could rely on those first few weeks at school were my cousins. Brigid was one of the few people who didn’t care about my fame. She’s been through the same as me; she’s one of the only people who can truly understand what it’s like. Her mum is a Quidditch legend; she’s won countless World Cups for Ireland. And Brie’s grown up with that pressure on her shoulders, just as I have. Aside from my family, she and her brother were two of a handful of people who didn’t want to know me for my fame, who didn’t judge me for my father, who sympathised with me. That’s why she’s one of my best friends now. Because she cares about me for who I am, not who Dad is. When I’m with her, or with Freddie, or with Al, or you, that’s the only time I can escape from it all. Everyone else expects me to be like Dad, when I’m not.

“Do you know the worst bit about it? I tried flunking my N.E.W.Ts. I thought, if I fail them all, get Ts in them all, maybe people will finally realise that I’m not him. And I couldn’t even do that properly! I got all Os and Es. I should have failed them. I know I failed them. I barely revised, my written papers were awful. But the examiners handed me good grades anyway! And I can’t even do anything about that, because what would it suggest about Al’s results? He deserves the grades he’s got. He should have all Os, because he’s worked his ass off for them. But if I tell people I was given those grades unfairly, they’ll assume he was too, and that’s not fair on him. He doesn’t deserve to suffer even more.

“And then there’s all the attention from the girls. Great, except none of them give a damn about me for who I am either. They don’t even care that I’m a famous Quidditch player most of the time, and that’s even worse; I’m not even being used for fame I’ve earned! Surely I deserve to be known for being a Quidditch player, for something I’ve achieved by myself? But no. I’m Harry Potter’s son, and that’s all that matters to anyone. The only girl who did care about more than just the name got chased away by the media and my best friend. That’s why I don’t do relationships, and why I don’t want to settle down with anyone, because I can’t. That’s ... that’s what makes you so different to everyone else! You didn’t have a clue about anything Dad’s done, or even anything I’ve done, and for the first time in ages it felt like someone cared about me for who I am, not for who Dad is, or for my Quidditch fame, and I just wanted it to stay that way.”

I finally finished, and took a deep breath, already wishing I hadn’t spouted out all I had. I knew I’d said far too much.

There was a pregnant pause, before she spoke.

“Did you honestly think I’d judge you any differently if you told me about your dad? Did you really think that little of me, that I’d change my opinion of you, try to leech off his fame, or try to mould you into him-”

“It’s not like that!” I pleaded. “I knew – I know – that to you it doesn’t matter as much. But ... look, the only other people I’ve met who’ve been able to get to know me purely for who I am, without the faintest inkling of Dad’s fame, are Kit and Maddie. And I liked that, I...”

“So, you hooked up with me because I didn’t know about him. You used me-”

“No!” I cried. “I went to the Tav because nobody there knew about him! Della had just done this interview, and she was talking about me, comparing me to my parents, and I was annoyed, and wanted to get away from it! I hooked up with you because you caught my eye, and I kept going back because I liked you! Then you found out about magic, and you freaked out, and then you came back, but all the time I liked you! I like just spending time with you! Yeah, I liked that you didn’t know about any of this, but that doesn’t mean I used you! If I was using you, would I have tried so hard to help you accept magic? Would I have worked so hard to help you to see the Quidditch pitch? No! I did it all because I like you for who you are inside. At first, it was because you treated me like a normal person, but it’s more than just that now-”

“If you really liked me so much, you’d have told me!” she persevered.

“I didn’t want to tell you!” I said loudly. “Okay? I didn’t want you knowing my dad is this all-powerful hero of the wizarding world and that I’m his biggest let-down! You wanted to know why I don’t talk to him? Because I’ve disappointed him. Because he didn’t want me to do the whole Quidditch thing, because he thought it was the easy way out, that it was my way of avoiding hard work. And I hate him for it! It’s his fault, it’s all his fucking fault that I have to put up with all of this every day, and he doesn’t even care about it! All he gives a fig about is Lily, and making sure that she’s happy and successful, and making sure that Al’s Auror training is going well. Me? I’m his disappointment. It’s all I’ve ever been, and it’s all I’ll ever be.”

She was shaking her head dumbly. “I-”

“You still think I should have told you all this before?” I said venomously. “Are you happy, now that you know?”

“I can’t believe you kept it from me...” she began quietly.

“Why? Because it makes things different? If I’d have told you this at first, would it have changed the way you saw me?” I snapped.

“If you’d have told me this at first, then I never would have gotten involved in this stupid fling!” she retorted.

A ringing silence fell upon the flat. For a moment, I had no words; I just stared at her, dumbstruck.

“Well,” I said finally, seething with anger – at her, at Dad, at Lily and her special treatment, at Deirdre from the Prophet, at my school examiners, at Brigid – “if that’s how it is, then I wouldn’t want to keep you involved in this stupid fling for any longer than necessary.”

She snatched up her bag, looking just as furious.

“I’d like to see you try to keep me anywhere,” she replied angrily, heading past me towards the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll show myself out.”

She slammed the door loudly as she left.

“Don’t worry, it’s not as though I want my door left on the fucking hinges!” I yelled after her, breathing heavily.

I kicked the leg of the coffee table angrily, and the photo of Lily and Brigid caught my eye. I picked it up, my lip curling, and threw it across the room with all my might. The glass frame smashed into hundreds of pieces.

And then my phone rang.

I glared at it, resisting the urge to set it on fire, but eventually picked it up.

“Hey, buddy, well done!” It was Freddie. My anger subsided slightly. “Let’s have a drink later to celebrate, eh? If you can drink now you’re important. Boys’ night out! I’ll let you buy; you’ll be rolling in dough after this!”

I smiled ever so slightly.

“Yeah,” I said, “that sounds good.”

“Cracking! I’ll pop round yours in a bit then, shall I? Where are we going? I suppose you’ll want to go to the Tav-”

“No,” I said firmly. “We’ll go to the Hinky tonight.”

I’d had enough of the Witch’s Tavern to last a lifetime.

***

“Hey, James.”

I turned and saw Allegra Fawcett sliding onto the bar stool next to mine.

“Hi.” I swung round to face her. “You look...” She crossed her legs and my eyes were drawn to them. “You look nice.”

She let out a slight giggle.

“Thanks,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Congratulations on your call up, you really deserve it.”

“Cheers.” I paused. “Can I buy you a drink?”

She eyed me suspiciously.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

I resisted the urge to scowl.

“No,” I said firmly. “No, I don’t. So, want that drink?”

She smiled; I had a sudden urge to kiss the dimple that appeared.

“Alright,” she said. The strand of hair fell back in front of her face. I reached forwards to tuck it back behind her ear, and felt her light breath on my cheek.

“On second thoughts,” I murmured, “do you want to skip the drink and go back to mine?”


Chapter 28: twenty-eight
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I remembered what had happened in dribs and drabs when I woke up.

The first thing I remembered was that I’d made the England squad.

I was in the England squad. I savoured the memory for a moment or so, letting a smile spread across my face.

And then I remembered Deirdre the bitch journalist, and the smile fell from my face. I stared up at the ceiling, the fury beginning to bubble away in the pit of my stomach as I thought of her incessant questioning.

And then the body next to me stirred, and only then did I even register that there was somebody in bed next to me – and then came the uncomfortable jolt as the face that turned to look at me, framed by flaming red curls, wasn’t Carlotta’s, and then I remembered the argument, and everything, and the anger I felt towards Carlotta nearly tipped me over the edge.

“Morning,” Allegra said with a smile, one that used to give me butterflies but now just left me feeling stone cold. “How does it feel to wake up as an England player?”

That tipped me over the edge.

“Get out,” I snapped, sitting up abruptly, seeing red as I realised that I’d been duped, that clearly all Allegra had wanted was a chance to say she’d slept with an England player, that once more I’d been well and truly used for the fame.

“What?” She sat up too, staring at me with a stunned expression on her face.

“You heard me,” I said shortly. “I said get out. That can’t be hard to understand, even for someone like you.”

“Someone like me? You’ve clearly spent too much time with Cassie Lynch, if you’re confusing me with the likes of her,” she said bitterly, getting to her feet. “And if that’s the kind of opinion that you have of me, then I’ll gladly leave.”

I said nothing, just glared at her as she got dressed.

“I suppose I’m showing myself out, given that you’re showing no signs of moving,” she continued, wrapping her jacket round her shoulders. She made as if to leave, but paused, her hand on the handle of the bedroom door, and turned to look back at me.

“You know, I used to think you were decent, a genuinely nice guy. A gentleman. Now I see you’re just like everyone else. Do you suddenly think you’re a big thing now that you’re an England player or something? I think you need a fucking reality check, Potter. Maybe take some lessons from your brother on how to actually treat a lady.”

And then she left, slamming the door behind her. Moments later, I heard the flat door slam shut in a similar fashion. I fell back onto my pillows and lay there for a moment, stunned at the outburst that had come from the quiet, easy-going, ex-Ravenclaw, whom I’d never heard so much as raise her voice to anyone before. If it had been anyone else, I might have had a retort to hand, but to Allegra I had had no reply.

After a few moments, the sound of the owl trying to deliver the Prophet roused me from bed. I hauled myself out of bed and into the kitchen to let it in and pay it. The moment I dropped the Knuts into the pouch on its leg, it hooted loudly and flew off. I scowled at the noise, shutting the window and then turning to the paper.

And then I wished that I hadn’t.

My face was emblazoned across the front of the paper, along with the headline ‘James Potter storms out of Ministry’.

I scanned through the article, and several phrases jumped out at me; ‘shirked media responsibilities’ ... ‘bigheaded’ ... ‘out of touch’ ... ‘ungrateful’ ... ‘possible relationship troubles with his Muggle girlfriend’...

I let out a loud roar of frustration, screwing the paper up into a ball and throwing it angrily across the room. I took a few deep breaths to try to calm myself down.

This day was not proving to be one of my best.

I’d barely had time to get dressed before my next predicament arrived, in the shape of an irate Brigid.

“What do you think you were playing at?” she demanded without so much as a greeting, brandishing a second copy of the blasted Prophet in my face. “Did you think you could just throw a hissy fit and walk out the moment things stopped going the way you wanted? You’re in the public eye, James, you have to behave! You can’t just go pulling stupid stunts like this-”

I never liked it when Brigid had a go at me. But this day, of all days, I sure as hell wasn’t going to lie down and let her shout at me.

“Did you not think to tell me about this?” I snatched up yesterday’s edition of the paper, still open at the story about Carlotta, and held it up in turn.

She looked slightly taken aback.

“I-”

“Maybe, before you start giving out about me not doing my media responsibility bullshit properly, you should start advising me about it properly! That’s what you’re meant to do, isn’t it?” I raged. I didn’t care if I was being harsh, that I was unleashing all of my anger from the past two days on her.

“I didn’t realise...”

“You didn’t realise,” I mocked her. “Isn’t that your job? Shouldn’t you be telling me all of this? Shouldn’t you be monitoring the press stories about me, telling me about them, making sure you limit the damage caused by them? Maybe you should be thinking more about doing your job, rather than spending all your time moaning and griping at me and shagging half your clients!”

She looked like I’d just slapped her round the face.

“How dare you,” she said coldly, her voice trembling ever so slightly. “How dare you suggest I don’t know how to do my job! Do you have any idea how much I work compared to you? I sort out all of your media commitments and your public appearances and your charity endorsements, not to mention the other fifty people I work for, and meanwhile you get to sit on your ass all day doing fuck all! Where the hell do you think you have the right to tell me off for not noticing one little story?”

“Little story? Carlotta’s picture is in our paper! And you didn’t know! You didn’t bother to check what the media was saying about me; what the hell was I supposed to do when that Deirdre idiot asked me about her yesterday? If you’d done your job properly you’d have known that they’d cottoned onto her and I could have had some warning about it!”

She just stared at me for a moment, seemingly lost for words. Unfortunately, that didn’t last long.

“Let me get this straight,” she said slowly, venomously. “You got with a Muggle. You let said Muggle find out about our world. You broke the Statute of Secrecy and you have the audacity to blame me when the Prophet finds out about it?” She let out a hollow laugh. “Oh, that really is rich, James. What the hell kind of planet are you on right now? You’re not fucking invincible, you know! I told you that this would be a bad idea from the start, and now you’ll have to deal with the consequences. And don’t go thinking I’m going to just get you out of this mess with a little press release. Because I can’t do my job properly, remember? You’re on your own on this one, Potter. And let me get this straight, too. You dare to walk out on another media commitment, and I’m through with you. I’m sick and tired of you thinking you can manipulate me like this because we’re friends. Well, newsflash, you can’t. You will do the interviews that I promise journalists they can have, and if you don’t like it then you can bloody well find someone else, because I’ve just about had it with you right now.”

And, for the third time in less than twenty-four hours, an angry female stormed out of my flat with an almighty slam of the door. Cordelia let out a loud chirp from her cage, and I glared at her.

“What?” I snapped. “Have you got a problem with me as well? Do you want to let it out on my front door like everyone else seems to be doing?”

I scowled and stormed back into my kitchen, checking all my cupboards for food. I found a bottle of Butterbeer in one, and took it off the shelf – and paused.

There was a bottle of Heidelberg mead behind it.

It was still only mid-morning, but I didn’t give a damn. It wasn’t as though I was meant to be doing anything today, anyway.

I replaced the Butterbeer, and took out the bottle of mead instead. I uncapped it and headed back into the living room to drink it. I contemplated putting the Quidditch network on, but quickly changed my mind; if their news was anything like the Prophet’s this morning, I didn’t want to hear it.

So instead, I watched a Muggle film.

And then another.

And then I rang Freddie and told him we were going back to the Hinky.

***

“You shouldn’t let her get to you, mate,” he reasoned that night. “You know what she’s like; you know how angry she gets if she thinks you’re not pulling your weight-”

“What, so you think I’m not putting the work in as well, do you?” I cut in angrily.

He raised his hands, pleading innocence.

“I didn’t say that at all. I’m just saying, that’s her view on things. If I were you, I’d have done the same thing with the interview.” He paused. “I hear you hooked up with Fawcett last night.”

I scowled at the thought of Allegra.

“What happened with the Muggle?”

“She has a name,” I said firmly, menacingly. “And she took offence at being talked about in the bloody paper.”

“Really?” Freddie looked bemused. “Surely she should have expected that?”

It was by no means the full story. But I didn’t want to relive it; I’d done that enough in my head all day.

“So, is Fawcett the new flavour of the month, then?” he continued.

“Probably not, given the way she spoke to me this morning.”

“Why, didn’t she like the way you cooked her eggs for her?” he joked.

But that just made me think of Carlotta, teaching me how to cook breakfast.

“Want another drink?” I asked Freddie, digging some Galleons out of my pocket.

“You know me; never one to say no to a beverage bought by someone else.”

“Wine or rum?” I asked, glancing at the wall at the back of the bar.

He looked dubious.

“Neither of those sounds like a massively good idea...”

“Oh, don’t be a wuss,” I said with a roll of my eyes.

“I’d rather just have another Firewhisky if it’s all the same to you-”

“I’m not buying you Firewhisky,” I said flatly. “Come on; you’re beginning to sound like Molly.”

That was enough to snap him out of it.

“Alright, wine,” he said begrudgingly. “But when I feel like hell tomorrow, it’s your damn fault.”

“Man up,” I said lightly.

“Just promise me one thing, James,” he said, as a bar tender made his way to us. “Don’t get with Cassie Lynch tonight. I saw her earlier, and she looked like she was interested.”

I snorted.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about, Freddie,” I reassured him. “I don’t plan on going anywhere near her tonight.”

***

In fairness, it wasn’t all that often that I listened to Freddie’s advice. Most of the time one was better off steering clear of it.

But I had to admit to myself, as I woke up in the morning to find myself next to a familiar blonde head of hair, that every now and again he did talk sense.

And currently, common sense was remarkably absent from my life.


Chapter 29: twenty-nine
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I didn’t hear from Brigid the next day. Or the day after that. When I hadn’t heard from her by the end of the week, I knew that this time she was really pissed off.

I heard from family members, who rang me at varying times during the week to congratulate me. Aunt Audrey was the first, on Wednesday night – “I’d have rung you earlier, but I thought you might be busy with your media commitments and wouldn’t want your old aunt getting in the way”.

She didn’t mention the Prophet article.

Victoire, unfortunately, did.

“What on earth happened on Monday?” was the first thing she said when I answered the phone. “I’ve had my colleagues asking me if you’ve got anger issues! James, that really doesn’t look good, you know.”

“Have you just rung me to moan at me?” I grumbled.

“Of course not! Congratulations, Teddy and I are so proud of you. But you really need to make sure that you don’t do things like this, because you know the papers will pick up on them and they make you look bad!”

Her talk went on for a good five minutes; I didn’t listen to most of it, and was relieved when she had to stop mid-rant and end the call because Dora had just been sick.

Rose was just as disapproving.

“You’re lucky that I’ve told Mum not to get on your case,” she said to me. She had her righteous voice on, a tone that I was used to as she often used it when talking to me. “That was stupid, James. Couldn’t you have just stuck it out? Just told her you didn’t want to answer the question? You’ve made yourself look like an-”

I hadn’t hung up on Victoire, because I had a lot of respect for her. That, and she was married to Teddy, who aside from anything else would probably be after my blood if I dared put the phone down on his wife.

With Rose, I wasn’t so fussed, and I ended her rant before she’d gotten into full steam.

Uncle George and Aunt Angelina didn’t bother to ring me, but instead sent me a huge hamper of Wheezes merchandise – an infinitely better show of their approval. Likewise, I received a congratulations card from Lily, Maddie and Kit, which included a note from Lily apologising for the fact that they couldn’t see me in person, as they were all busy with schoolwork. I didn’t mind; I knew that she too would have found a way of steering conversation round to my hot-headed moment at the Ministry.

I didn’t hear from Dad at all. I wasn’t really all that surprised, though I was disappointed all the same. I’d hoped that this would be a big enough achievement for him, that he would find himself unable to ignore something as impressive as making the England squad. Unfortunately, I was proved wrong. The most I got was a hastily-scribbled note from Mum, scolding me for my behaviour but reiterating that she and Dad were hugely proud of me. It wasn’t enough to convince me.

The only other person aside from Brigid who I didn’t hear from one way or another, was the only person who I truly wanted to hear from.

I’d felt certain that Carlotta would see sense once she’d had a chance to calm down, that she would come to see me, to tell me that she hadn’t meant what she’d said. But as the week passed, it became more and more clear that she had no intention of getting in touch.

I knew that I shouldn’t let it bother me. But I couldn’t help but let it, and that in itself got me riled. Did she honestly not give a damn at all? In fact, the more I mulled it over, the angrier I got. And I couldn’t help but think about it every time I was left alone to my thoughts and my stash of Firewhisky.

And so, by the end of the week, I was once more on the phone to Freddie, trying to get him to go to the Hinky with me again. I figured that I needed a distraction, and this was the best thing I could think of.

“Just promise me that you won’t pull Lynch again,” he said wryly. “I tried to stop you the other day-”

I frowned slightly as I recalled the morning after that night, when I’d unceremoniously booted Cassie out of my bed for a second time. It was clearly becoming a habit with us.

“I could tell,” I responded dryly to Freddie now, distinctly recalling his attention being diverted by Allegra’s friend Mindy not long after he’d dished out his ‘advice’.

It was his fault I’d ended up with Cassie again, I thought slightly resentfully. He’d known full well that I’d been in a fragile state of mind, and instead of stopping me from making a mistake, he’d decided to advance his own interests.

I didn’t voice this opinion, not wanting to alienate my only current candidate for a night out – Al and Rose were a big no-no, Brigid didn’t want to talk to me, I didn’t fancy seeing any of my team and I didn’t like the way that no girls gave me a second glance any time I went out with Louis.

I’d decided that I wasn’t going to let myself hook up with any girls this time. For some reason, I didn’t like the thought of Carlotta finding out about Allegra and Cassie, and so I really didn’t want to add any more names to that list. Freddie seemed slightly scornful at the reasoning, but nevertheless avoided the girls himself while we were out.

It was all fine, until we were on our way back to my flat in the early hours of the morning. We headed out of Diagon Alley through the Leaky Cauldron, onto Charing Cross Road. A group of girls were heading the other way along the road, towards us. I didn’t recognise them at first, but as they came closer, and were lit up by the street light, my eyes fell on one of them and my stomach made an uncomfortable lurch as I realised it was Carlotta.

Her eyes fell on me – and then she looked away, completely ignoring me, and as they passed it was as though she had no idea who I was. I made as if to turn round and call after her, but Freddie took my arm and forcefully pulled me along, all the way back to my flat.

“She ignored me!” I burst out as soon as we were through the door. “Can you believe it-”

“Maybe she’s annoyed with you?” he suggested with a shrug. “You can’t just go chasing after her down the street though, mate. If she doesn’t want to talk to you, then you can’t force her to.” He looked a bit bemused, admittedly. After all, he didn’t know the full story, the proper reason why I’d managed to piss her off so much.

“But-” I had no idea what to say. I was annoyed, with both of them. I knew what I wanted to say to him – that I couldn’t just let her walk away like that, that I needed to talk to her, to try to make her see reason, that I needed to just see her – but I didn’t know how to say it. He didn’t understand, and I didn’t know how I could make him.

So instead, I said nothing.

“Look, we always said that this wasn’t really going to work out,” he continued gently, clearly not wanting to anger me. “Maybe ... maybe you should just leave it, now. You weren’t looking for a long-term thing anyway. This is just because you feel like you need to prove to the family that you weren’t making a mistake by hooking up with a Muggle, but you don’t need to do this. Just ... just leave it be. It’s the best thing, for both of you.”

I believed him. I really did.

But it still didn’t stop her face from haunting my thoughts all night, once he’d left and I went to bed.

***

I woke up the next morning with an odd sense of optimism. I wasn’t sure where it had come from; perhaps my mind had processed Freddie’s words while I’d been sleeping? But for whatever reason, the situation with Carlotta didn’t seem so bad. In fact, I wondered how I’d managed to get myself into such a funk over the whole thing. After all, I was in the England squad, wasn’t I? I’d achieved my ambition, the lofty goal that I’d set myself all those years ago, that I’d been striving to reach ever since. Was I really going to let some Muggle girl ruin my moment?

It was a Saturday. The day I had breakfast with Mum. I decided to do something productive while waiting for her to arrive, so I tidied my flat. That would please her to no end, and hopefully she would avoid the topic of Dad as a reward.

And then after breakfast, I would go to Brigid’s and try to reason with her. She would surely see that she’d been harsh on me, that this wasn’t my fault? After all, she knew that I hated the media responsibilities; she ought to have known that shoving so many interviews down my throat straight away would only be a bad thing. She’d had time to calm down; she would be able to see that she’d been at fault. I’d have to appease her, of course, by doing those interviews that I’d neglected on Monday – but that would be okay. I didn’t mind talking to Quidditch Weekly, Which Broomstick? or even the Quibbler. The Witch Weekly one wouldn’t be so enjoyable, but I was sure that I could manage even that one.

I was feeling positive. Today was going to be a productive day.

And then the owl came.

James,

I can’t come for breakfast this morning. The editor wants me to do some World Cup media work. I’m sure that you’ll be able to manage without me for one morning though!

Love, Mum

P.S. If you still want company for breakfast, I’m sure your father wouldn’t say no to having a morning visitor.

By the end of the letter, I was struggling to read Mum’s writing. It took a few moments for me to realise that this was because I couldn’t focus on it; that I was shaking with rage, and the parchment in my hand was quivering like a leaf.

Mum had never missed Saturday breakfast with me, not in three years. It was an unwritten rule between her and her boss that she never worked Saturday mornings. It was our time. She was that busy during the rest of the week; it surely wasn’t too much to ask?

Not to mention the fact that Mum always did my food shopping for me. What on earth did she think I was going to do without any food in my cupboards?

I screwed the parchment up into a ball and stuffed it into an objecting Cordelia’s cage.

But it was the last line that had pissed me off the most, that remained etched into my brain. I’m sure your father wouldn’t say no to having a morning visitor.

Right now, I hated my mother.

I couldn’t call Freddie, because he was working in the shop. He didn’t normally work on weekends. But now it was May, which meant that exams were imminent. This always coincided with a spike in Wheezes sales as students sought to find any light relief they could from the trials of studying. So Freddie would be hard at work today, and therefore unreachable.

So I did the thing that I’d been trying to avoid all week, and I rang Louis.

And the two of us spent all day and all night frequenting the numerous pubs and clubs in Diagon Alley.

I regretted it the next day, when the Sunday Prophet was dedicated to a series of articles, with numerous photos, documenting the entire sorry affair.


Chapter 30: thirty
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It turned out that the way to get Brigid’s attention when she was pissed off was to piss her off even more.

I’d never seen her so angry. In fact, she was practically shaking with rage. But despite that, she wasn’t yelling. Not that she wouldn’t at some stage.

“What were you thinking?” she said in a venomous hiss, brandishing the paper at me. I looked away from the photos, those awful, embarrassing photos...

“This is why I don’t like you going out with Louis!” she continued. “This is exactly what happens! You might get blind drunk with Freddie, but at least you don’t go to the seediest joints in wizarding Britain! How am I meant to explain this, James?”

I had no words for her. She was right; no self-respecting person ever went to the Basilisk’s Lair – or at least, nobody who did go came out of it looking good. Except for perhaps Louis himself; he seemed to have this infuriating way of managing to look good in the public’s eyes regardless of where he went. And he was two years younger than me – not that I was under any false illusions; I was well aware that he’d been frequenting the Lair long before he’d come of age. Clearly there was something in his Veela blood that allowed him to get away with these things.

Not that he’d escaped this time. The story was almost as much about him as it was me – not quite an even split, as my status in the Quidditch world entitled me to more column inches – but certainly he had garnered more attention than Freddie would have done if it were him in the same situation. Because Louis was the good-looking golden boy of our family, and the press loved him. Or they had done. This story was almost as much of a fall from grace for him as it was for me.

But he wouldn’t have to face Brigid’s wrath, and that was possibly worse than even the angriest quarter-Veela, or a wizard who had developed several of the worst werewolf traits including the fiery temper.

And he wouldn’t have to face Ginny Potter, either.

“And that’s not even the worst bit!” Brigid went on, now in full flow. “It’s bad enough that you’ve allowed yourself to be photographed with ... with these women, and none of these photos show you in a remotely decent light – but how the hell do you go about explaining this?”

The headline that she was holding up was the worst of the lot. “James Potter: our darling or our liability? Quidditch star breaches the Statute of Secrecy, and ditches his Muggle girlfriend mere weeks later.”

“You’ve ditched her?” Brigid said incredulously. “Do you have any concept of personal responsibility? Do you really think that you can just let her go like you have with all the other girls before her? We’re meant to be a secret, James, the clue’s in the title! You can’t just go round telling everyone about us and then throwing them away once you’ve gotten bored of them; do you have any idea of the repercussions? Do you know how this makes you look? Your dad is the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and here you are breaching the most fundamental law of them all!”

I wasn’t sure what it was that made me snap. It might have been the insinuation that I’d just gotten bored of Carlotta and thrown her away, or perhaps it was Brigid’s general suggestion that I didn’t give a damn about our rules.

Most probably, it was the reference to Dad. Because it was always about him in the end.

“Yeah, that’s right, assume that it’s all my fault that Carlotta’s not around any more, because clearly I must have screwed it up, like I do everything else, right?”

“It’s not a case of who did what, it’s the fact that you let it happen-”

“Do you think I wanted this to happen?” I cried. “Do you think I wanted things to go tits up with the only girl in years who’s been interested in more than just the name? Do you think I like the fact that those girls in the Lair were all over me just because I’m a Potter, that that’s the only reason that anyone ever tries to talk to me?”

“Don’t go trying to make me feel guilty-”

“Oh, don’t worry, I know you won’t feel guilty, because you don’t give a damn, do you? You never do! All you care about is bossing my life about, telling me what to do all the time, not giving a damn about what I actually want to do! Congratulations, Brigid, you were instrumental in me making the biggest mistake of my life, and I still let you treat me like your fucking puppet. Well here’s an idea for you: I’ve had enough of it-”

You’ve had enough?” She laughed hollowly. “James, when will you ever take responsibility for things? You’re honestly still going on about that Feversham issue? Still blaming me, as though I made you end it-”

“You hated her from the start! You never gave her a chance! You were always in my ear, telling me she was a fame-seeker, that I could do better ... you’re meant to be my best friend, you’re meant to be looking out for my best interests! What the hell else was I going to do with you feeding me all that bullshit for years? I cracked, okay? I fucking cracked, and I let her go, and it’s all your fault!” I was letting it all pour out; all of the anger and resentment that I felt towards her, that I’d forced myself to bury and move on from, but had lingered there the whole time, just waiting for something to dig it up again. “It’s always been the same with you; you’ve always told me what to do, and you’ve never thought about what I want! It’s all about you; you always have to be in control, don’t you? ‘James, do this interview, do that photoshoot, don’t go out drinking with your cousin because I don’t like him, don’t date that girl because I don’t like her’, no thought whatsoever about what I want to do! You always know best though, don’t you? And you wonder why Freddie won’t date you? Why the fuck would he want to? You think he wants a girl who bosses him about all the time, who condemns everything he does, who always has to kill the mood and spoil the fun-”

I felt oddly detached from the situation; I knew what I was saying, but I couldn’t control it, couldn’t stop myself, didn’t give a damn that Brigid’s face was utterly crumpling as I ranted on and on.

“Do you think I like this, that my entire life is documented in the tabloids? I know I make mistakes sometimes, I get that, but I don’t need you and everyone else preaching at me every time I slip up! You’re always on my back about stuff, you pounce every time I do something you don’t approve of! Do you think I like that? Do you think I need it? But wait, we’ve already established that you don’t give a damn about what I actually think in all of this, haven’t we? Because it’s all about you, power-hungry Brigid Murphy, the woman behind James Potter, getting some sick, perverse pleasure out of bossing me around ... I bet that was your agenda all the time, wasn’t it? Befriend the vulnerable famous boy and take advantage of it-”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she exploded. “I-” But as quickly as she’d gotten riled up, she deflated; her shoulders sagged and her head dropped slightly. “You know, I can’t even be bothered to argue my case. James ... you’re messed up. I don’t even know where this has come from ... I’m through with you. I’m done with all of this shit, I’ve had enough of you thinking you can treat me like your personal slave. You...”

She looked on the verge of tears. She looked as though she had something more to say, but whatever it was, she didn’t say it.

And then she Disapparated.

***

Mum still didn’t visit. She sent another note instead, as though a slip of parchment with three lines of her writing on it was as good as her actual presence.

James,

Are you a complete idiot? You should know better than to go to the Basilisk’s Lair! Fleur’s utterly fuming, and I can’t say I blame her.

Domestic Quidditch is one thing, but the international game is completely different. If you want to be successful at this level, you can’t afford to go out drinking with the frequency that you’re used to.

I suggest you stop attracting the media’s attention like this if you wish to remain an England player. Demelza Robins doesn’t take fondly to this sort of behaviour.

Mum

***

They turned up outside my flat on Monday morning. I only noticed when I glanced out of the kitchen window and saw them all congregated outside on the pavement, armed with notebooks and cameras, attracting bemused glances from the Muggles who lived in the same block of flats. I stepped back from the window in alarm before they saw me.

I’d been hounded by the media before. It was something I’d had to get used to, even when I was at Hogwarts.

But they’d never stalked me where I lived before.

They didn’t stay for long. Ministry workers arrived to move them on; ironically, in accordance with the exact same law which I’d broken, the exact same law which had caused all this furore in the first place. But I knew that they’d be lying in wait elsewhere, that no matter where I tried to go, they’d be able to find me.

I couldn’t leave my flat.

I needed some food, badly. I was nearly out, and what little I had left I had no idea what to do with. If Carlotta hadn’t blown up and left this time last week, she’d have done something with it for me. But she’d gotten mad, and hadn’t cooked anything, and I was still completely clueless. All I had was a bit of bread, some Chocolate Frogs, some Butterbeer and some Firewhisky, and I was running out of those too. What I’d give for a Hogwarts breakfast right now...

And then the idea came to me.

“Kreacher!” I called.

Kreacher worked at Hogwarts during term-time. It had been the arrangement between him and Dad since before I was born. He and Mum had never seen the need for a house-elf. But he’d remained Kreacher’s master, and so when Mum was pregnant with me, and Dad had had to go to work but hadn’t wanted to leave Mum by herself, he’d called Kreacher back from Hogwarts to help out around the house. And it had been that way ever since; if he wasn’t needed at home, he worked at Hogwarts. Once Lily had gone to school at eleven, this arrangement had settled itself down into a far more regular one; Kreacher worked at Hogwarts during term-time, and at Mum and Dad’s during the holidays, when there were more mouths to feed. Whether it would remain the same this summer, once Lily had left home, I wasn’t sure.

But it meant that Kreacher answered to all five of us. It had come in handy at Hogwarts, where I had taken full advantage of this ability to summon food from the kitchens when I fancied it – Brigid had always been disapproving of this, but that didn’t tend to bother me.

We weren’t meant to call him away from Hogwarts. Dad had drummed it into us that we weren’t to summon him away from school unless it was an emergency. But I knew that Lily abused this occasionally, and always had done – in her first year, when she’d been scared and homesick, he had been her most direct link to me and Al, and the wizarding world in general. He had always adored his little mistress, and had delighted in delivering her sweets and other food from Hogwarts, along with letters from me and Al.

So I really didn’t feel that guilty about summoning him

He arrived straight away, with a faint pop and a low bow.

“Master James wanted to see Kreacher?”

“Yeah, I did. Would you be able to bring me some food?”

“Of course Kreacher can. What food would Master James like?”

One of the reasons that I was so fond of Kreacher was that he didn’t care if I made mistakes or said something wrong; he adored me anyway. I knew that this was partly because it was ingrained in him to be loyal to his masters, but at a time when I was trying to avoid judgemental people, I appreciated it nevertheless.

“Um ... maybe just some toast and eggs, nothing too much...” And then I thought of something else. “Ooh, and some treacle tart, maybe?”

“Master James likes his treacle tart like his father,” Kreacher observed, to my slight distaste.

“Yeah, I know he likes it too,” I said, waving the remark away. “And maybe something for dinner tonight? I don’t have anything and I can’t leave the house-”

“Kreacher will bring Master James some food!” he proclaimed with another bow, before disappearing with another pop.

He was back within moments, but he wasn’t alone. No less than six other elves accompanied him; they were all almost impossible to see under the weight of the dishes they held.

“Um, I didn’t quite mean that much...” I tailed off as Kreacher led the other elves into the kitchen, where he began to put the food away, ordering the other elves as to what went where.

“Kreacher has some breakfast for Master James,” he said, setting a plate of cooked food down on the table, bacon, sausages, eggs and all, “and Kreacher has also brought some more food for Master James so that he does not need to leave the house!”

I glanced at it all as the elves put it in the fridge or the cupboards; there was a huge pie, a joint of meat, the treacle tart that I had so craved, a chocolate cake, even some Butterbeer...

“Wow, Kreacher!” I said in awe. “This is quite something!”

“Kreacher is bound to serve, Master James,” he said, sinking into another bow.

And then I felt guilty.

“Yeah, that’s great,” I said with a slight smile.

“Can Kreacher do anything else for Master James?”

“No, that’s it...” I tailed off.

“Master James will call Kreacher if he needs anything else?”

“No. I mean, yeah, I will, but I don’t think I’ll need anything else...”

The other elves then bowed, which made me feel really uneasy – it was one thing having Kreacher doing my bidding, but I didn’t like that I had half a dozen Hogwarts house elves carrying out my order.

And then they left with a synchronised pop, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I didn’t quite feel as guilty once I dug into my breakfast, though; it was damn good.

***

Later that day, Albus visited me. I should have been prepared for it; after all, he’d have known about the Ministry operation to shift the press from the pavement outside. I was surprised that I’d not heard from him before – not that I was complaining. I hadn’t missed the preaching from my righteous brother. Now, my heart sank.

“What do you want?” I said gruffly.

He frowned at the bottle in my hand.

“You’re drinking Firewhisky?”

“Yeah, and?”

“It’s half one.”

“’M celebrating, aren’t I?”

He raised a brow.

“Haven’t you done enough of that in the last week?”

I scowled.

“Make your point, and make it quick.”

“You do realise you’ve acted like an idiot this past week?”

“I’ve been told,” I replied curtly.

“Yes, and you’re clearly doing something about it!” he said, gesturing towards the bottle again. “You have to take responsibility for yourself, James, you can’t just act like a layabout-”

His words would have pissed me off either way. But coming so soon after Brigid had said nearly the exact same thing, they really pissed me off.

“Oh, shut up,” I snapped at him. “It’s alright for you, isn’t it? The good son, the favourite, top marks at school, now following in his daddy’s footsteps and becoming an Auror, can’t do anything wrong ... you’re a fucking suck-up, you know that? You’re only here now because it’ll make you look good-”

“That’s bollocks, and you know it. I’m here because I care about you, James, and I don’t want to see you making a mistake-”

“You’re as bad as Brigid!” I ranted. “You claim that you care about my well-being but you couldn’t give a damn! You just don’t want me to make you look bad! That’s why you never liked me dating the Slytherin at school, isn’t it? And you can’t deny it; you’re just the same with Rose and Malfoy now! You couldn’t give a flying fuck, Albus, don’t you go pretending otherwise. I’m not an idiot, you know-”

“Could have fooled me,” he snorted. “You’re the one sitting here getting drunk for no reason. What’s gotten your wand in a knot all of a sudden, that you’ve decided that everyone’s against you? If this is what being an England player does to you, then it’s a bad move-”

“Oh, so that’s what it’s all about, is it?” I sat upright. “You think I’m going to steal your thunder! You don’t want me to be a success, because you’re scared I’ll overshadow you!”

He stared at me, dumbstruck.

“What is in that Firewhisky?” he said, sounding bewildered. Then he saw the plate on the coffee table. “Where’s that treacle tart come from?”

“What’s it to you?”

“That’s from Hogwarts. Have you been making Kreacher bring food to you? You know you’re not supposed to use him like that, James-”

“Here we go again, with the self-righteous bollocks! Merlin, lighten up a bit, Al. Why the fuck do you think you never pull women?”

He looked at me distastefully.

“You are repugnant,” he declared, and Disapparated.

I was used to Al looking down at me. He’d always been far more law-abiding than me, and had made no attempt to hide that he thought I lacked morals.

But there was something quite jarring about him finding me repulsive.

I tried to shake off the unease, but couldn’t let it go. So instead, I decided to drown it, and opened a new bottle of Firewhisky.


Chapter 31: thirty-one
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

My family seemed to think May was the month to take chunks out of me. Following Brigid and Albus’ lectures, the next person who decided to berate me was Rose.

I groaned audibly when she emerged from my fireplace the morning after my confrontation with Albus, looking in the mood for one herself.

“And what do you want?” I grumbled.

“Al told me what you said to him yesterday.” As usual, she looked unimpressed. “You were horrible, James! He’s only looking out for your best interests-”

“Yeah? Well he’s got a funny way of doing it.”

“Why, because he actually knows what rules and morals are? He’s a wonderful person, James, and you’d do well to take a few lessons from him-”

“Yes, he’s such a wonderful person that you confided in him straight away about seeing Scorpius Malfoy,” I snarled.

Her eyes flashed.

“That’s a low blow and you know it. They’ve had a bad history; I’ll be the first to admit Scorpius wasn’t the nicest person when he was younger. But Al’s perfectly fine with it now-”

“And by ‘perfectly fine’ you mean he’s at least stopped putting Bulbadox Powder in Scorpius’ shoes when he’s around.”

“That was once, and it was an accident, and how do you even know that?” She looked bemused for a moment, before shaking her head slightly. “Anyway, that’s beside the point! Stop trying to change the subject. You were utterly vile to Albus yesterday. Your treatment of him always has left a lot to be desired, but you’ve gone too far this time. He’s concerned about you, and for good reason! You should be grateful to have siblings who care for your wellbeing, who want to see you do well. So what if he’s bright? So what if he wants to be an Auror? You know what, James? I think you and Uncle Harry have problems. You may try to hide it, but it’s obvious; you’ve never been close to him! But that’s not Albus’ fault, and you need to stop taking it out on him-”

“Have you told your parents that you’re seeing the son of their school nemesis yet?” I cut in.

Her lip curled.

“No, I – what’s that got to do with anything?”

“Next time you want to lecture me on my relationship with my parents, maybe you want to make sure you’re not being a complete hypocrite first,” I snarled. “And if you don’t fuck off and leave me alone, I’ll tell them for you.”

She looked as though I’d just slapped her round the face.

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Oh, I would. It would be payback for you telling Mum how Carlotta found out about magic, don’t you think?”

Her jaw dropped.

“You .... you are so underhand!” she said furiously. “I told her because she needed to know! You broke the Statute, James, she had every right to know how you did it! You may not be aware of this, you may prefer to just brush it all under the carpet and pretend it’s not an issue, but it’s a serious thing! Especially if you’ve just cast her out into the wilderness like the Prophet seems to think-”

I picked up the closest thing to me – a paperweight – and threw it at her with all my might. Her wandwork had always been rapid; she had her wand out in a trice and deflected it across the room, where it hit the wall and disintegrated into thousands of shards of glass. She stared at me for a moment, her chest heaving, and her wand aimed straight at my heart. I was unarmed, so I just stood there and stared at her challengingly, almost daring her to fire at me.

But after a moment, she pocketed her wand, her eyes still trained on me. The expression on her face was unreadable but really didn’t look right – fear? Was she scared of me? – but it was soon replaced with a look of resignation, as she turned to my fireplace and allowed it to take her home.

***

By the end of the week, I’d run out of the food that Kreacher and his minions had brought me. There may have been seven of them, but they were still small, and unable to carry around that much food at once.

So I summoned him back again.

Or at least, I tried to.

I didn’t think much of it when he didn’t turn up the moment I said his name. Although I knew that house elves tried to be as quick as possible, and viewed keeping a master waiting as a serious professional failure, I also knew that he had other work to do at Hogwarts, so when he didn’t appear straight away, I wasn’t too concerned.

But I’d been waiting for about five minutes, and there was no sign of him. I frowned, bemused.

“Kreacher!” I called again.

But still nothing.

I swore loudly, kicking the wall. Why the hell wasn’t he coming? I needed him. I could hardly leave to go to the shops myself; the papers were still full of stories about me, and Brigid was clearly remaining true to her word and doing nothing to deflect the attention.

In the end, I called Freddie. I knew he was at the shop, but I couldn’t think of any other option.

“Have you just been hiding in your flat all week?” he said quietly; he’d managed to leave the shop counter but couldn’t escape to anywhere further away than the store cupboard at the back, and was sensible enough to realise he should keep the conversation hidden from his colleagues and parents.

“I could hardly leave it, could I?” I reasoned. “You must have seen the Prophet these past few days.”

“It’s been brought to my attention,” he said dryly. “The Lair? You went to the Lair and didn’t invite me?”

I grinned. I could always count on Freddie to take my side.

“You were working, mate!”

“Not in the evening I wasn’t!”

“Well, Louis and I were already well gone by then, it slipped our minds,” I said apologetically. “Besides, you should be thanking me; imagine the lectures you’d have got from Brigid and your mum if you’d come.”

“Mum wouldn’t have batted an eyelid,” he pointed out. There were times I envied Freddie, and the way Uncle George and Aunt Angelina just let him get on with things. “But I’ll take your point about Brie. Was she not too happy with you?”

I hesitated, then decided not to answer the question.

“Listen, is there any chance you can bring me some food?” I asked. “I can hardly go strolling down Diagon Alley...”

“Do you not still have your Dad’s old cloak?”

“Na, I gave it to Lily when we left school, didn’t I?” I reminded him. I wished I hadn’t now; I’d do anything to be able to make myself invisible.

“Bad move, mate! Yeah, I can get some stuff for you, but I don’t finish until five so it’ll have to be after then. That okay?”

“That’s great,” I said, relieved. “Cheers, Freddo.”

“No problem,” he said brightly. “I’ve gotta go, Mum’s about to have a fit. See you later!”

I hung up, feeling slightly better. At least someone in my family wasn’t pissed off with me right now.

***

I was even more grateful when he turned up later, and I saw what he’d bought. There may not have been anything to rival Kreacher’s treacle tart, but one thing that the house elf hadn’t been able to bring me was Firewhisky.

Freddie had brought me a whole crate.

“I figured if you can’t go to the alcohol, then the alcohol can come to you!” he said brightly, falling back into my sofa with a bottle of his own.

His presence was like a breath of fresh air. I’d spent most of the week alone, with nothing but my ugly thoughts to keep me company. Any visitors had been hell-bent on criticising my every move. It was nice to spend some time with somebody who wasn’t taking the moral high ground.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.

“I heard you argued with Brie,” he said tentatively.

I scowled, as the memory of that argument forced itself to the forefront of my mind, determined not to remain in the dark corner I’d tried to push it back to.

 “She was being overly-interfering.”

“She’s just trying to help you, mate. She just wants what’s best for you-”

“Where the fuck do you think you get off lecturing me about how to deal with Brigid?” I snapped at him.

He had the decency to look abashed.

And Rose says you tried attacking her,” he continued, clearly trying to deflect attention from his treatment of Brigid.

“I tried – she drew her wand on me!” I cried. It wasn’t the complete truth, admittedly, but I wasn’t about to tell him what had happened.

But he already knew.

“Apparently you threw a paperweight at her,” he continued, looking unusually solemn. “I know she can get annoying, but ... do you think that’s wise?”

“Oh, so I’m going to get a lecture from you as well, now, am I?” I said sulkily. “Really, Fred? Really?”

He frowned.

“James, is everything alright?” he asked tentatively.

“Why the hell wouldn’t it be?” I snapped.

“You seem really bitter. You’ve just made the England squad! You should be happy, not locked away in your flat!”

“Yeah, well, blame the fucking Prophet for that,” I muttered.

Except, it wasn’t all the Prophet’s doing. They might have started it, but it had been Carlotta, and her stupid principles, that’d made it worse. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have hooked up with Allegra that night, and if she hadn’t gotten angry with me, then I wouldn’t have ended up in the damn Lair.

And thinking of Carlotta just got me riled up again.

“Okay,” Freddie ploughed on, “here’s a thought. Why don’t you just apologise to Brie – I’m not saying it was your fault, but you know what women are like, they never admit they’re wrong. Especially Brie. So why don’t you suck up to her, get back in her good books, and then ask her to smooth things over with the Prophet for you? Then we can have a good night out in the Hinky to properly celebrate, without having to worry about the press hounding you.”

I glared at him.

“I am not sucking up to Brigid,” I said flatly.

“But-”

“I’m not giving her the satisfaction of thinking she’s right,” I said, in such a firm voice that he didn’t dare argue.

“Can’t we have a night out anyway, though?” he pleaded. “Come on, we can evade the journalists! We can get into the Hinky through the back way, and they don’t let photographers inside, you know that. The bouncers will help us out. It’s not fair that you should have to sit in your flat all day every day, just because your agent’s being petty and won’t help you out. Come on. It’ll be fun. You need it.”

I considered his words carefully. He was right; I did need to get out. But I was scared of the prospect of the Prophet catching up with us, even if the Hinky did let us sneak in.

“I can ring them?” he continued. “We can sort it all out right now. It’ll be fine; they love us, you know they’ll be delighted to have us there. The only reason they’ll be bothered that you went to the Lair is that you weren’t there instead!”

“We visited the Hinky before the Lair,” I pointed out.

“Well, in that case they’re not going to have a problem at all! Come on, you deserve a bit of fun.”

I was beginning to come round to the idea.

“We’ll get the bouncers to keep people away from us,” he continued, “that way you won’t be disturbed by anyone you don’t want to see. It’ll be fine. We can get Louis out as well, if you want; send him in as bait so he deflects the attention. You up for that?”

I’d been confined to this flat for five days. The thought of being able to get away from it for a few hours finally won me over.

“I’m in,” I said with a slight grin.

“Great!” Freddie said, getting to his feet. “And you never know, once Brigid sees you can handle the media yourself, maybe she’ll come round?”

It was a fantastic idea in theory.

***

To be fair, his whole plan was fantastic in theory. We’d used the back entrance of the Hinky before, and it was far easier to remain unseen that way. Inviting Louis along was a bonus; once he was through the front doors, everyone’s attention would be on him, and we’d be forgotten.

In theory.

But the theory didn’t take into account that Louis had been caught up in my media scandal just days before. It didn’t take into account the immediate assumption of the media’s that if Louis was visiting the Hinky, then I’d be with him.

It didn’t take into account the ability of a rogue Prophet photographer to sneak through the security at the doors in search of a scoop.

He found me easily. And I recognised him immediately. He’d been with Deirdre, the interviewer who’d pissed me off in the Atrium. He’d also been a part of the crowd that had assembled outside my flat after that story about me and Louis broke.

Freddie’s biggest failure was that his plan didn’t take into proper consideration my current resentment of the media.

The moment I saw the photographer, I snapped. I lunged for him, seized his camera and threw it across the room furiously. And then I pulled back my arm and punched him square in the jaw.

He staggered backwards, losing his balance slightly. A second blow saw him fall to the floor. I fell to my knees next to him, throwing punch after punch, oblivious to my surroundings; I couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything, other than the bastard Prophet journalist in front of me...

Until multiple hands seized my arms and pulled me away from him, forcing me upright, steering me away.

“Let me go, let me go-” I said, struggling to pull away from the firm grip of my captors.

“James, stop it,” came Louis’ sharp voice.

It was as though his words cleared the air, lifted the red mist which had descended so quickly. I stared in horror at the aftermath of what I had done, and allowed Louis and Freddie to lead me through to the back of the Hinky, to Apparate me home.

Where they both just stared at me, lost for words, not knowing how to react to what had just happened. Louis looked disgusted. Freddie just looked disappointed.

And I stared back at them, just as shocked, with no idea of what to say or do.

What had I just done?


Chapter 32: thirty-two
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

When I was a kid, I used to be scared of the monsters under my bed. I’d be okay, so long as I was completely hidden by my duvet. Then, the monsters wouldn’t be able to get to me. When I was under my covers, I was invincible.

I’d eventually overcome this fear, with Dad’s help. That was back before anything had ever come between us, before I’d gone to Hogwarts and learned just how famous he was, before that fame had soured our relationship. And before I’d had a chance to disappoint him. Back then, he was just my dad. The guy who taught me how to fly, played Gobstones with me, and bought me my first Pygmy Puff.

Now that everything in my life had gone wrong, I was again trying to hide under my covers, as I’d done when I was eight. But the trouble was, my monsters weren’t under the bed any more. They were in my head. And no matter how deeply I buried myself under my duvet, I couldn’t hold those demons off.

And I didn’t have Dad to help me anymore.

My entire life seemed to have turned upside-down. I had no idea how or when it had happened; all I knew was that right now, I had completely no control over my life. And it scared me.

How had it all come to this?

The worst part was, I knew this wasn’t as bad it could possibly get. I’d not seen the Prophet yet. I’d heard the owl arrive, but I hadn’t answered its knock on the window, and so eventually it had flown away. But I didn’t need to see it to know what the headline would be. I would undoubtedly be front page news. My trip to the Lair had made the front page, but that had been the Sunday paper, which was always light on hard-hitting news.

But a Quidditch star assaulting a photographer? That would easily make Friday’s front page. And it wouldn’t end there. I doubted I’d avoid some sort of retribution for this. I’d thought I was confined to my flat before last night; now I truly was.

And as much as I hoped it might, my duvet wasn’t going to deflect the backlash.

A quiet pop signalled that somebody had just Apparated into my living room. I froze under my duvet, not wanting to see anyone, not daring to emerge from my safe place.

I heard the bedroom door open.

“James?”

It was Brigid. I squeezed my eyes tight shut, not wanting to see her. Not because I feared her anger.

Because I feared her disappointment in me.

“James, are you awake?”

I lay deathly quiet, hoping she would leave.

After a moment, I heard the door close. I still didn’t move, just in case she was still in my room.

But the movement I heard sounded as if it came from the other side of the door. A minute or so later, there was another pop, and after that there was silence.

I waited a few minutes more, before slowly peeling the comfort shield that was my duvet back. My curtains were shut, and so my room was still dark despite it being mid-morning.

I stumbled across the room and pulled the door open. The light shining in through the windows nearly blinded me; I squinted in an attempt to alleviate the issue.

It only took a moment to find the note Brigid had left me. It was short, written in shaky writing, and stained by a couple of tear marks.

James,

The Falcons management have asked me to inform you that, in the light of recent events, they have had no choice but to suspend you from the squad until further notice. Your presence at training is no longer required.

Brigid

With every word I read, I felt what little resolve I had left crumble to pieces around me.

***

I was cocooned in the protection of my bedding once more when Aunt Audrey visited me. Unlike Brigid, she didn’t leave a note, but gently pulled my duvet back.

“Oh, James,” she sighed, stroking my forehead.

I didn’t move. I kept my eyes tightly shut. But there was no chance of me tricking a Senior Healer into believing that I was asleep.

“Darling, you need to stop running,” she said quietly.

But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to. Running was all I’d ever done, all I’d ever known. I didn’t know how else to fix anything. And I’d pushed away the only person who could help me make it better.

And then the second owl came.

“Do you want me to get that?” Aunt Audrey said gently.

I nodded, my eyes still squeezed shut.

She left, and returned moments later with a slip of parchment.

“I think you need to read this,” she said gently, sitting down on the bed next to me.

I opened my eyes, and took the letter from her.

James,

It is with great regret that I must inform you that I have had to remove you from the World Cup squad.

As you know, I set high standards for my players to follow. The England team represents the nation, and they deserve to be represented by those who will do them proud. Your recent actions have brought the game into disrepute, and to retain you within the squad would contradict the standards your fellow players work so hard to reach.

I remain an admirer of your talent on the Quidditch pitch, and hope and expect you to seek the help that you clearly need in order to get your career back on track.

Yours,

Demelza Robins

“James...” Aunt Audrey began tentatively.

I said nothing, but merely rolled over and stared at the wall.

“James, please, talk to me...” she pleaded. “Darling, you need help; let me try to help you. You can’t just push people away...”

I screwed my eyes shut again, wishing that she would just leave. Eventually, she took the hint.

And then I did two things I hadn’t done in years, and it truly was as though I was still that eight year old boy who hid from monsters.

I cried.

And I gave up.

***

The absolute final straw came the next morning. There had still been a small lifeline, the most minute of possibilities that things weren’t all that bad. Because so long as someone still believed in me, I hadn’t completely screwed up ... surely?

I’d always had three constants in my life. Three people who had never once stopped believing in me, who had always stood by me and supported me.

But Freddie wasn’t by my side right now. I’d disappointed him, just as I had done everyone else. That he was ashamed by my actions really went to show how bad they were. He’d never looked at me like that before. But even without him, it was still okay, because I still had Mum and Lily.

Until Saturday morning.

I got a letter from Lily. She didn’t receive the Prophet every day, because receiving owl post was too risky. That was the only reason I’d escaped her judgement after my visit to the Lair had been publicised.

But there was no way that this would escape her notice.

James,

You really are a fool. What are you playing at, pulling a stunt like that? I’m sorry about the England thing, I really am, but you’ve brought it on yourself. This was your dream, why are you throwing it away like this? I thought you had more sense than this. You’re lucky that I’ve got exams on, or I’d be round there hitting you round the head!

Go to Sinead and apologise for what you’ve done, and make a public apology as well. That way, you’ll be reinstated into the Falcons squad in no time. I think you might have lost your chance in this World Cup though.

Please, don’t disappoint me.

Lily

But I’d already disappointed her. She didn’t need to say it; I could feel the disdain oozing out of every word she’d written.

I didn’t even get a note from Mum this time. I guessed she felt she’d said everything she needed to say; that her absence for the second Saturday in a row said more than a million words on parchment possibly could.

By Saturday, I truly was alone in the world.


Chapter 33: thirty-three
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I could count on one hand the number of times that Dad had been to my flat. In fact, I probably only needed a single digit – the day I’d moved in. Despite that, I still wasn’t all that surprised when he finally showed up on Monday morning. After all, he’d probably decided that he couldn’t ignore his failure of a son any longer.

He came via the front door. It was more respect than the rest of my family credited me with; they preferred to just Apparate or Floo in without invitation. Or perhaps – more likely – it was down to mere unfamiliarity. Because these days, it didn’t seem like we were father and son.

He wasn’t alone; Mum was with him. My first thought was that she had cajoled him into seeing me, but it soon became clear that this was a visit under his own steam. He looked tired and worn out; in fact they both did. But where he looked angry, she just looked ... resigned. It was a far worse thing for me to realise. Dad always seemed angry with me these days, and I didn’t generally care these days about what he thought of me. I’d learned that lesson years ago.

Mum just giving up on me was infinitely worse.

“Have you completely lost your mind?” Dad exploded the moment I shut the door.

“Harry-” began Mum, but he raised a hand to silence her.

“James, you are an adult!” he said. “It’s about time you started behaving like one! I cannot believe your behaviour of late. What on earth possessed you to assault a member of the public?”

I didn’t respond. I didn’t have a response. How could I possibly justify my actions? I squirmed under his angry glare, feeling about six years old.

“Do you have any concept of personal responsibility? This isn’t just a game, you know! You can’t go fooling around like this and not expect the ramifications! Do you realise how this looks?”

I cracked.

“How this makes you look, you mean?” I said venomously. “That’s the only reason why you’re here, isn’t it? Because I’m a slight on your character! Because you’re meant to be the important, respected Head of the MLE, and you can’t bear to have your reputation damaged by your son-”

“Don’t be so immature,” he snapped. “This is about you, and-”

“Oh, it is about me now, is it?” I laughed hollowly. “So you care now that I’m fucking up, is that it?”

“Whoever said I didn’t-”

“Don’t go pretending otherwise!” I interrupted him, getting angrier still at his own denial. “You don’t care unless it affects you; you never have cared, not in years! You never show any interest in my life, you only turn up at my Quidditch matches when Mum makes you! You didn’t even congratulate me on making the England squad!”

He was shaking his head, looking dumbstruck.

“You’re blaming me for all of this?” he said incredulously. “You-”

“And now you’re trying to deny it!” I interrupted him, my blood boiling. “Admit it; you don’t care at all-”

“James, why do you think you’ve not had the Law Enforcement officers banging your door down yet?” he exploded. “You’ve assaulted someone, that’s a criminal offence; the photographer had every right to press charges! I’ve had to pay him off to keep him quiet! Not to mention the Statute breach. You know how it works these days; you’re meant to apply to the MLE and the MAC for permission before telling a Muggle about us! The MAC wanted to get their hands all over this one, I’ve had to persuade them that there are far more pressing matters at hand than a simple slip of the tongue but that’s hardly going to take the heat off! And you think I don’t care about you?”

I felt the colour drain from my face. The Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes wanted to get involved ... that meant Obliviators. And Dad had put them off the scent.

But I couldn’t even feel the slightest amount of gratitude at that fact, because there was one thought at the forefront of my mind.

“You didn’t do this for me,” I said quietly, shaking my head slightly. “You did this for you. This is all about damage limitation, about you not looking good-”

“James, if I was worried about my own image then I would hardly be bypassing the legal system, would I?” he said, looking exasperated. “You know how I feel about corruption in the Ministry; I’ve just completely gone against the principles which I try to uphold, do you really think that’s going to make me look good? Or would you rather I put myself first and act properly, and hang two lawsuits over your head? And that’s not even the most important issue here; how about you stop challenging me about how I do my job, and ask your mother how hers is right now?”

“Harry – no, don’t-” Mum began, looking as though this conversation was the last one she wanted to have.

“What?” I frowned, confused. I turned to look at her. “What does he mean? What’s happened?”

“Your mother has been working non-stop for days trying to put a stranglehold on the media’s coverage of your antics. She didn’t leave the office all weekend!”

My stomach tied itself in knots as I remembered her no-show on Saturday. The lack of explanation. Because of this?

“Unfortunately, she’s not had as much success,” Dad added in clipped tones.

I was unsure as to where this was going. The Prophet had already been all over my misdemeanours, surely the damage had already been done?

“They want to run an article on you,” Mum said quietly. I turned my attention to her. I’d noted when she’d arrived that she looked tired, but upon a second look it seemed as though she’d barely slept in the past few days. Understandable, if she’d been working all weekend. The knot tightened. “Not like what they’ve done before. A full analysis into your life; your time at school, your time with the Falcons, everything. They want to interview friends, family, schoolmates ... as many people as possible.”

It sounded bad. But I didn’t see how it was that much of an issue. After all, there was no chance that my family and close friends would talk, not for this kind of an article. And as for people I’d been at school with ... well, that didn’t bother me. What could they expose? There was nothing to expose.

And then Mum dropped the bombshell.

“And my editor told me to write it.”

My jaw dropped.

“I refused,” she said, her eyes beginning to well with tears. “I said I thought it was morally wrong to probe into someone’s life like that, to try to pull apart someone who clearly needs help. And I said that I’d say the same thing even if it wasn’t you, and that I thought it was despicable to ask me to write it given that it is you. How can they ask a mother to drag her son’s name through the mud?” Her voice broke. “And then the editor decided, on the basis that I’d disobeyed a direct order and given that there was certain to be a breakdown in staff relations because my son assaulted my colleague, that he had no other choice but to dismiss me.”

It was like a blow to the stomach. I stared at her in horror, lost for words. My mother had lost her job because of me?

“You see, James?” Dad said, wrapping a comforting arm around Mum’s shoulders. “Your actions have had serious consequences! The press have been bombarding Lily for the past week trying to get a statement from her! She’s trying to sit exams, not to mention she’s at risk of breaking the Statute and being exposed to her schoolmates!”

The guilt over that would have felt like a lofty blow, if not for the fact that the sledgehammer which had hit me with the news of Mum’s dismissal had left me feeling numb. So numb that I couldn’t even summon enough feeling to get angry that Dad was once more bringing Lily, precious, fragile Lily, into the conversation.

“And as for abusing your privileges with Kreacher-”

For some reason, Dad’s knowledge of this rankled enough to prompt a response.

“How do you know about that?” I said angrily. “Albus told you, didn’t he? The stinking tattletale-” Then I remembered Kreacher’s absence when I’d tried to summon him a second time. “You forbade Kreacher from following my orders!”

“House elves are not at your beck and call to do your bidding,” Dad said thunderously. “It makes me sick to the stomach to think that you consider it okay to laze around and let him bring you food! After all I’ve taught you about the poor treatment of magical creatures-”

“And yet, you keep him on as your elf!” I interrupted.

“Because he knows nothing else! He’s not mine out of choice, he’s mine through law! If I had a choice, then I would have him leave my service, but to do so would break his heart. He lives to serve and through me he has a tie to his old family; I can’t take that away from him! I don’t want a house elf at all; why do you think I have him working at Hogwarts during the school term? But there’s a difference in letting him do what he enjoys doing, and abusing that power-”

“I didn’t hear you telling Lily this when she used him to deliver letters to me and Albus and to deliver her Chocolate Frogs,” I said coldly.

“She was in a delicate situation at the time, and I drew the line as soon as I felt she’d come to terms with her situation-”

There was an odd maniacal laugh; it took me a moment to realise that it was coming from my mouth.

“Here we go again, let’s treat Lily extra specially because she’s a Squib, and we’ll treat Albus specially too because he’s unsure about himself, but we won’t give a damn about James because he can handle himself and doesn’t deserve our attention-”

“How can you say we don’t think you deserve our attention-”

“YOU’RE ONLY HERE BECAUSE I’VE DONE SOMETHING WRONG!” I bellowed at him.

Dad’s eyes flashed; it was as though something inside him had snapped.

“Is that what you think? Because if that’s the case then I wonder why I wasn’t here sooner-”

It all happened so quickly; it was as though my actions were uncontrollable, as though my limbs were moving without my brain’s say-so, and the next thing I knew I had my wand aimed at my own father’s heart.

“James, no!” Mum cried, stepping forwards; Dad, a rapid draw, was quicker than her, and I found myself staring at the end of his wand.

“Go on then,” he said, panting slightly, “curse me.”

Harry-”

I flipped.

Sectum-”

NO!”

Mum whipped her own wand up and conjured a shield so strong that I was forced to take a few steps backwards. It knocked Dad slightly off-kilter too, and that seemed to jolt his senses; he pocketed his wand, stared at me in disgust for a moment, then left.

“James,” Mum whispered, “darling...”

She lowered her arm, and the shield dropped. For a split second I wanted nothing more than to go to her, to be held by her as I had done when I was younger, but then I realised.

She’d been on Dad’s side of the shield. She’d conjured it between me and her.

I shook my head slowly.

“I can’t believe you,” I hissed, and then I turned tail and headed into my bedroom.

“No – James, please, wait, let me talk to you-”

“You let him come here!” I bellowed at her, turning to face her as I reached the doorway to my room.

“I tried to stop him, I really did, but he was so angry, but he doesn’t mean to be, darling, he just wants to help you, we both do-”

“I don’t need your help,” I snarled, and with a sinking heart I shut the door in her face.

“No, James, please, don’t shut me out! You need to stop shutting everyone out, we care about you and we want to help you, we hate seeing you like this!” She started to cry, and I closed my eyes, resting my head against the doorframe. “Baby, we can fix this, but only if you talk to us and tell us what’s wrong, please...”

I sank to the floor, eyes screwed shut in agony, silently pleading with her to leave.

“James, I love you, you know that I do! We all love you, poppet, how could we not? Just let me in, Jimmy-”

She tried to turn the handle, but with a shaking hand I magically locked the door. Her sobs grew more intense.

“No, no, Jimmy, you can’t do this, please, I’m your mother...”

And at that point, I nearly gave in, nearly opened the door to let her in. Right now, all I wanted was to be enveloped in her arms.

But then I remembered that look on Dad’s face, and I knew what I had to do.

I raised my palm to the door, and pressed it against the wood, imagining that on the other side, she was doing the same. And then I raised my wand again, and pointed it at the door.

Silencio.”

With that one word, I felt my heart splinter into a million pieces.





A/N: This is the confrontation which I think many of you were looking forward to. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s panned out the way you hoped! Rest assured, James isn’t doomed to live a life of loneliness and misery; there is light at the end of the tunnel, and things do begin to pick up for him soon. He still has some learning to do before things can be fixed, though. As for when that learning happens ... well, you’ll have to wait for the next chapter. It’s already written, and it’s my favourite of them all so far. A new character appears, who I’ve been waiting for a long time to introduce. It’s quite exciting, finally being so close to reaching that point. :) Thanks for all the support and reviews, I really appreciate it!


Chapter 34: thirty-four
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

This time last week, I’d thought that my flat was the safest place to be. The most comforting place to be. As long as I stayed here, I couldn’t be disturbed by people I didn’t want to talk to.

But right now, those people were my family, who didn’t seem to realise when I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say, didn’t want them to tell me what I already knew – that I was a failure, that I’d gone badly wrong and that I’d disappointed them.

I was a failed human being. And right now, I just wanted to escape.

Escaping was hard. I could lock my door and put Silencing Charms on my room, but that didn’t stop the most determined people, and I didn’t know any spells or wards that would keep them away. After Ryan, Della, Teddy and Roxanne had all tried their hardest to get to me, I finally gave in and left my flat during the daylight hours for the first time in two weeks.

The first time I Apparated there, I wasn’t sure where I was going. I just let my subconscious guide me. Once I was there, I realised it was the perfect place for me to hide.

It was the perfect place for a failed human being.

I needed somewhere nobody would judge me, somewhere nobody would give a damn that I was even a Potter in the first place, let alone that I’d punched a journalist and been kicked off my Quidditch team. And that place was the pub where all failed human beings went, in search of an atmosphere where nobody would criticise them.

The Hog’s Head had, for a short time in its life, served a more upmarket clientele. It had always lagged far behind the Three Broomsticks in terms of class, but after the second war against Voldemort it had experienced an upsurge in visitor numbers and had spruced itself up to match. People had wanted to visit a place that had played such an important role in Voldemort’s eventual defeat; that the landlord Aberforth had also taken part in this almighty battle lent it even more credibility. The Ministry had also cracked down on crime and corruption in those years, weeding out many of its less desirable customers, and so all round, it had become a more acceptable place to be seen.

But this hadn’t lasted long. Aberforth’s death had coincided with the Ministry’s relaxation of their law enforcement, and so the pub had fallen back into its old ways.

Which was why I went there.

It was nice, not to have anybody asking about my career or my parents, or giving a double-take on seeing me. The bartender didn’t give a damn that it was James Potter he was serving and the patrons didn’t seem to care who they were drinking alongside either.

For the next three weeks, I followed the same pattern. I headed to the pub the moment someone tried to catch me in my flat, and stayed there for the rest of the day, often not leaving until it closed in the early hours of the morning. Then, I’d head home to sleep for a few hours, only to be woken by the next visitor in the queue.

Only the Falcons’ matches allowed me to keep track of the time. Aside from that, the days all rolled into one. But the Falcons matches were consistent, the one constant in my life. Three weeks on, two weeks off. The two weeks off had passed, so now we’d reached the next block of matches.

It was odd, not playing a part in them. I’d not missed a match for two seasons; even if I hadn’t played, I’d still been an avid spectator. I almost couldn’t bring myself to watch the first one, against the Caerphilly Catapults. But the Hog’s Head put it on – it seemed even failed human beings still enjoyed watching Quidditch, although I wasn’t sure how much of this interest was down to their gambling habits.

Roxanne was playing alongside Ryan and Della. That, above all else, was what caught my attention, and I shifted closer to the television to get a better view.

The broadcast of this game was the first time any of the customers fully acknowledged who I was.

“I got a solid bet on your lot to win this, boy,” one of them said gruffly. “If they lose cause your cousin’s playin’ instead o’ you...”

“You don’t need to worry,” I interrupted hurriedly, slightly concerned as to what he’d do to me if the Falcons did lose. “Roxie’s better than I am.”

He grunted, looking me up and down.

“Well, tha’s no’ a massive reassurance,” he muttered.

I winced at the slight, but didn’t say anything. After all, he was much bigger than me.

I’d been right to place my confidence in her. We won the match convincingly, and Roxie, Della and Ryan all put on a fantastic show. Two of their opposite number were in the Welsh World Cup squad, but they had a terrible game. I felt a small pang of sympathy for them. In fact, the Catapults’ single shining light was one of their Beaters, a lug of a bloke whose talent – and size and looks to boot – rivalled Cato’s. He nearly unseated Ryan a couple of times, which was an impressive feat.

After the game, my new friend bought a round of drinks in celebration of his winnings, and set a tankard down in front of me.

“’ere you go, chap,” he said. “For what it’s worth, I’d ‘ave liked to ‘ave watched you in that match. Big fan o’ yours, when your head’s screwed on right.”

I smiled slightly.

“I don’t think it ever was screwed on right,” I said slowly. “But thanks anyway.”

He shrugged. “You didn’t seem too ‘ard done by a few weeks ago, pal.” But he left it at that, clearly not wanting to get involved in some kind of deep and meaningful conversation.

And that was the crux of it all. He was right; I wasn’t hard done by at all. In fact, I’d had everything I’d dreamed of. So why had I let it slip away?

The answer came in a single word. A name.

Carlotta.

I’d let myself get far too attached; I realised that now. But she hadn’t wanted anything serious from the start, and she was less likely to want anything to do with me now. I’d betrayed her trust and, even worse, I’d offended her. How could I have even suggested she might think differently of me if she’d known about Dad’s fame?

But I’d blown my chance. She was the first girl since Hogwarts who I’d ever truly felt something for, and I’d let her go. And along with her had gone my chance of playing for England. It had been mere inches away from me ... and now it was gone.

I shook my head, and drank my mead. I didn’t want to think about it any longer.

The customers left me alone, until the following Saturday. They didn’t even talk to me about the Prophet’s expose, which had been published that week. I only knew of its existence because I’d found a copy of the paper on the bar one day and had flicked through it. I’d read the offending article – which Deirdre had written – to find it packed with ‘scandals’ from my Hogwarts days, all revealed by ‘close school friends’. Oddly, it didn’t seem to bother me. I’d become so detached from the real world that nothing more could possibly hurt me. I simply shrugged, and threw the paper onto the fire.

The Falcons’ next game was against Wigtown Warriors. But it wasn’t the only match people were talking about; far from it.

It took me a while to twig. I’d noticed the large numbers of people walking up the cobbled street towards the castle, but it wasn’t until the Quidditch channel made reference to Ryan and Roxanne’s two seasons playing together for Gryffindor that I put two and two together.

Today was the last day of the Hogwarts Quidditch season. Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw, in a winner-takes-all. Hugo’s last chance to win the Quidditch Cup.

My stomach contracted, and I subconsciously retreated into the dark shadows at the back of the Hog’s Head, as I realised my family would be here, in the village.

My gambling friend glanced at me, and seemed to realise what was up.

“S’alright, lad,” he grunted. “They won’t come in ‘ere. An’ if they do, we’ll make sure they don’t find you.”

I smiled in gratitude, appreciating the rare show of support.

I watched the Falcons match, but my mind was only half on it. I could hear the cheers and boos from the school, and I was desperate to know what was happening. Were Gryffindor winning? Out on the pitch at Wigtown, Roxanne seemed far more focused on the match than I was. I wondered who was there to watch her. Uncle George and Aunt Angelina surely, so long as they’d found someone else to run the shops. Would Freddie be there too? Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione and Rose would of course be just up the road, and I suspected I’d find Al there too, maybe even Lily.

I faintly wondered where my parents and siblings would have opted to go had I been playing instead of Roxanne.

The Falcons won their game reasonably quickly, much to the pleasure of my new friend, who bought me another tankard of mead for my troubles. The Hogwarts match went on for longer. I knew when it had finished, because the village began to fill back up again. I slunk back to my safe spot in the dark corner at the back of the pub, but part of me longed to step out onto the street and ask someone the result. Had my cousin won his trophy?

Eventually my friend took pity on me, and headed out himself to get the result from someone.

“Your boy won,” he said to me upon his return. “Woss’ that, ten in a row now?”

I nodded, beaming with pride at my old house.

“We’ll ‘ave another one on that, eh? Here, drink up.”

And I received another tankard for my troubles.

That week, he talked to me a bit more.

“Woss’ eatin’ you then, kid?” he asked one evening midweek over another tankard of mead, this time my round.

I shrugged.

“Fucked it up, haven’t I?” I said morosely.

“Don’t get why,” he said. “I get tha’ you might get pissed off with all the cameras an’ all, bu’ throwin’ punches? You could be on the biggest stage of ‘em all, boy! Money, fame an’ women tha’ us mere mortals could only dream of! An’ you go an’ let your anger get in the way of it.” He shook his head, bemused.

“I don’t need the money,” I said dully. “And I’ve already got fame enough, why do I need more?”

He shrugged. “Why become a Quidditch pro in the firs’ place, then?”

“I didn’t do it for the money or the fame,” I said, looking up at him. “I did it because I love Quidditch. I love flying, I love the rush it gives me, I love how free it makes me feel. Quidditch is my life, it’s all I know, it’s all I’m good at-” I fell silent, thinking that I’d said too much.

He shook his head, looking bemused.

“But still, you ‘ad it all, kid. You ‘ad the world in the palm of your ‘and!”

“But what if I didn’t have it all?” I said glumly.

He didn’t understand. How could he? He’d never had a taste of the money or the fame, he had no idea how empty it could make you feel. How worthless. How used. The Quidditch was me being me, doing things on my own terms. That was all that I wanted; freedom. And happiness.

But I‘d lost my chance now.

By the next Falcons match, against Wimbourne, my mead-loving friend had all but given up on me as a Quidditch player. I was old news; Roxanne was his new favourite, his new best player, the one he’d back regardless. In fact, he’d placed even more money on a Falcons win than he had done for the two previous matches, along with a second bet on her personal score tally. He lost his second bet – she outscored his guess. If anything, that heightened his spirits even more, and he handed me my weekly tankard with near-infectious glee.

“Do you support the Falcons, then?” I asked him.

“I suppor’ good teams, kid. Good Quidditch. I used to play in my day, you know. Beater, I was. Played for Hufflepuff though; we didn’ ‘ave a chance against the big boys. Good fun though. You know, I’d like to see you an’ ‘er play together one day.” He gestured towards the television, and I knew he meant Roxanne.

“We used to,” I said. “Four years on the Gryffindor team.”

“Reckon it’ll ‘appen again?”

I shrugged sadly.

“I don’t know.”

He ended the conversation there, and left me to sink back into my dark thoughts.

***

The next week started much the same as the previous three. Not many people frequented the Hog’s Head on a Monday; they were generally sleeping off the weekend’s festivities. Nevertheless, I turned up mid-morning. Nobody had come to bother me at my flat – the number of attempted visits had tailed off during the past few weeks, but people still tried, and so I figured the easiest thing to do was to just pre-empt them.

The day passed in much the same way as those before. I sat at the bar and flicked through the Prophet, along with Quidditch Weekly and even Witch Weekly (why the Hog’s Head even had a copy of the latest Witch Weekly, I wasn’t sure). My name didn’t crop up as frequently as it had in the weeks gone by; in fact, I was barely mentioned at all. It seemed as though the world was beginning to forget about me. It was the effect of the Hog’s Head, I considered wryly.

As I folded up the Prophet and cast it to one side, a shadow fell over me, and I heard a voice that I’d not heard in years.

“James Potter?”

My jaw dropped as I turned to face the person standing over me.

Ingrid Feversham had always been beautiful, infinitely more so than any other girl or woman I knew. In my mind, she even overshadowed my Veela relatives, probably because their looks almost seemed artificial. But Ingrid was perpetually, naturally, wholly beautiful, and had been so right from the moment I’d first met her. She’d avoided the adolescent awkwardness which most other girls had gone through, and there had always been that special something about her, which never failed to draw people’s attention.

I’d last seen her three years ago, when we’d said our awkward farewells, and I didn’t think it was possible for her to have become more good-looking. Yet, here she was, standing beside me, with white-blonde hair, and those crystal blue eyes, those high cheekbones and full red lips, and that slightly haughty air about her.

“Ingrid?”

It was odd, to think we’d not seen each other since we’d left Hogwarts. I’d bumped into nearly everyone else from my year since we’d left, whether it was in Diagon Alley, at the Hinky, at a Quidditch match or even walking through Muggle London. But my path hadn’t crossed Ingrid’s in those years.

Her mouth formed a slight smile when I spoke, as though she’d been worried that I wouldn’t recognise her. The thought was laughable; how could I not?

“May I join you?” she asked, in that soft voice of hers.

“Feel free.” I shrugged and turned back to face the counter.

She slipped onto the stool next to mine.

“I didn’t think I’d ever see you in a place like this,” she said, a slight tone of intrigue to her voice.

“I could say the same,” I pointed out, then paused, collecting my thoughts. “Right now, it feels as though this is the only place that I belong in. Are you really that surprised? You must have read the papers along with the rest of the country, seen what I’ve done.”

“I don’t believe everything I read in the tabloids,” she said smoothly. “I know better than that.”

Of course she did. Ingrid had been plagued by the tabloids ever since they’d cottoned onto her, when she’d started at Hogwarts. She’d had it far worse than I ever had, even now. Her mother was renowned for being a ‘serial wife’. She had been wed several times, all to wealthy men, who’d died mysterious deaths not long into their marriages. Ingrid had never gotten on with her mother or approved of her marriages, but this was irrelevant to the media, who would rather the facts didn’t get in the way of a good story.

“You wouldn’t go far wrong in believing them this time,” I said glumly, staring into the bottom of my empty glass.

It was her turn to pause.

“I didn’t believe them,” she said slowly, “because the James Potter they portrayed didn’t seem to be anything like the James Potter I knew so well.”

“People change,” I said with a shrug.

“Perhaps.” A third pause. “You always wanted to play Quidditch, though. Right from the start, when I first met you, that was what you said you wanted to do. You were determined to make it. That was one of the things I liked about you, that you knew what you wanted to achieve and would go to nearly any lengths to achieve it. I admired that drive. And yet, here you sit, with the potential to be playing in a World Cup, but instead drinking foul alcohol in a foul pub. And I refuse to believe that you just changed your mind on your career choice.”

“But what if I did?” I turned to face her. “What if I decided, enough was enough, that I was fed up of all the attention and the praise and the criticism and just ... decided to pack it in?”

Her eyes flickered, and a tiny smile pulled at the corner of her mouth.

“James Potter doesn’t just ‘pack things in’. He doesn’t give up. But James Potter does get frustrated at receiving attention for the wrong reasons...”

She’d always been far too perceptive. Or perhaps she recognised in others the frustration she felt herself at being unable to escape the shadow of a parent.

Or perhaps she just remembered how I’d confided in her about this frustration, that it was one of the things that had drawn us together.

“I...” I hesitated. “There’s a girl...”

Ingrid frowned, seeming puzzled as to where the conversation was going.

“She’s a Muggle, and-”

“Oh, can I believe the papers on this one, too? Continue.”

“She ... she found out about Dad. About Voldemort. I’d kept it all from her, because ... I don’t know why. I guess I liked that she didn’t know about all he’d done, that the reason people know my name is because of him, not my achievements. That she liked me for who I was. And she found out, from reading the bloody Prophet. And ... she didn’t like that I’d kept it from her. Said I’d disrespected him...”

I turned away from Ingrid, back to the bar again.

“It’s just ... it’s Dad again, isn’t it? I can’t bloody escape him. Everything people say about me, it can’t be said on merit, people can’t appreciate that I’ve done this by myself, that I’ve not had Dad’s support and backing in this at all. They have to mention him, and his achievements, and how I was bound to get where I am now with someone like him as a dad, and it’s like I’m being discredited, like I always am-”

She reached out and placed her hands on mine, which were firmly gripped around my glass.

“You don’t want to do that, or the consequences will be very painful,” she said gently.

I let go of the glass, and she removed it from my reach. I stared numbly at my hands for a moment, not sure what to say.

“Whose opinions in this world truly matter to you?”

I blinked, taken aback by the unusual question.

“I – what?”

“Answer it. Whose opinions do you really value?”

“My ... my friends and family, of course-”

“And do you think they think you got there on merit?”

I thought of Freddie’s beaming smile every time we won a game, of Brigid’s proud smile, thought of Al, and Lily, and Rose, and Lucy, and Aunt Audrey, and Mum...

“But what does that matter?”

“One thing I’ve learned is that you just have to ignore what the tabloids say. They’re not important. If people want to think your parentage got you where you are, then let them. They clearly don’t know you at all. But I know you, or at least I know the man you were growing up to become, and I know that you’re not just your father’s son. You’re an incredible person in your own right, and all your achievements are down to your hard work. Good genes help, admittedly, but just having parents who’ve done it all doesn’t mean you can automatically do it yourself. And you haven’t, you’ve done it because you’ve worked for it.” She paused. “This girl ... she must mean a lot to you, to get you so worked up?”

I shifted slightly on my stool.

“Yeah ... yeah, I guess she does.  She’s different from most others, you know? And I don’t just mean because she doesn’t hero-worship my family, I mean she has this drive, and she’s confident, and funny, and so relaxing to be with, and...”

“She sounds like she’s quite something,” Ingrid said quietly.

“Yeah. She is. You’d like her.”

“If she’s got you this hung up, I’m sure I would.” She smiled slightly. “So why are you here, then? Why aren’t you with her?”

I laughed bitterly.

“She doesn’t want a thing to do with me. She thinks I’m disrespectful, that I don’t trust her, that I don’t think anything of her ... and she’s right! I should have told her from the start about Dad, and now it just looks like I think as little of her as I do of all the other girls, the fame-hungry ones, it looks as though I thought she’d just become like them-”

“And did you think that?”

“Of course not!” I burst out. “I ... I just wanted to keep it like it was, you know? Without Dad’s fame getting in the way.”

“You can’t run from it, you know,” she said quietly. “It will always be there, your father’s past. He’s a living legend. Of course people will think of him when they see you, or hear of you. But that brings me back to my point; you’re still letting those people bother you, the unimportant people, who have no right to say what they say or to dictate what you do.”

Her voice was becoming stronger, more passionate, and I knew exactly why.

“You think I let them dictate my life too much?”

“I understand the difficulties of being thrust into the public eye so thoroughly.” Her voice fell quieter again.

“But I gave in. I let them put pressure on me, like I did before-”

“We both did then. Besides, we were eighteen, we didn’t deserve the pressure, we didn’t know how to deal with it.” She shrugged. “Everything was conspiring against us, anyway; we were bound to hit at least one wall.”

“They’re idiots, you know. All those people who didn’t like you. They never got to properly know you like I did-”

“You do realise you’re calling your brother and your best friend idiots-”

“I know. And they were. I told you not to take what they thought to heart...”

“It’s different when they’re people you care about though, isn’t it?” She bit her lip. “It’s all in the past though, isn’t it? We’ve both moved on ... I’d say we’re both happy, but given our environment...”

It was only now that I properly looked at Ingrid. In some ways, she looked exactly the same as I remembered her, but in other ways, she was so different from the girl I’d dated for four years. Her eyes lacked that sparkle they used to have; her skin seemed duller than before; the corners of her mouth turned down more than they used to; and she had heavy  bags under her eyes.

And the Hog’s Head certainly wasn’t the type of place she’d normally frequent.

“Life not treating you so well?” I asked gently.

She smiled sadly.

“I’ve met a guy.”

“Oh?”

“I met him not long after we left school. I was upset that we’d broken up, and that Mother was so angry about it, because she’d always dreamed of being a part of the Potter family, and I was frustrated with her, and how she’d messed my life up just by being my mother, and giving me such a reputation ... and then Mark came along. And he didn’t give a damn who my mother was, or that I’d been with you, or about anything that any of the tabloids had said, and he taught me not to care. I guess it’s kind of the same as with your girl, except that he knew it all from the start and still didn’t care. And ... that meant a lot. I guess it all stemmed from there, really...”

“Well, that sounds good...”

She scoffed.

“Yeah, it is, until you factor in the fact that Mother disowned me for falling in love with a muggleborn with no prospects. Which wouldn’t bother me if it hadn’t left me near enough broke. I’ve had to juggle two jobs to help pay the rent.”

I felt a surge of anger towards Ingrid’s mother, whom I’d never been fond of in the first place. It was the likes of her that still gave Slytherin House its bad name.

“But you’re happy with him?”

“Well, yes. But I won’t be ‘with him’ for much longer. He’s dying, James.”

I was taken aback.

“I – what?”

“Ever heard of cancer?” she said bitterly.

Cancer wasn’t as widespread an illness within the wizarding world as it was in the Muggle world. It seemed there was something in a wizard’s genes which made most magical people near enough immune to it.

But not completely immune. And it seemed as if Ingrid’s fellow was one of those who wasn’t quite so immune as the rest of us.

And although it was unlikely somebody close to me would develop it, I still knew that ‘cancer’ meant ‘bad’.

“Is ... is it serious, then?” I mentally kicked myself for asking such a stupid question, even as I said it.

“They thought he was cured when he met me. He told me so himself. And then, about a year ago ... it came back. Or maybe it never went. I don’t know. Either way, he went downhill fast, and now there’s nothing anyone can do. He ... he’s got months left, at best, they say.” She fiercely wiped a tear from her cheek. “So ... yeah. Life’s not treating me so well.”

I was speechless for a moment.

“And here I am moping about how my dad’s more famous than me-”

“No! Don’t, James ... I’m sorry, I don’t want you to feel like ... like your problem is less important than mine-”

“But it is, isn’t it?”

She shrugged.

“I love him more than anything else in the world. And I know he feels the same. But we both know that, and that makes it slightly more bearable. Yours is an entirely different problem, they’re not at all comparable.”

But I wasn’t so sure I believed that. A few moments ago, I was feeling better about things. But now ... well, who was I to sit and mope about the cards I’d been dealt, when my problems were a whole load of nothing? The worst bit was, the only thing this realisation made me want to do was mope some more.

Ingrid sighed.

“We’re a right pair, aren’t we?” She placed her hand on the back of my neck for a moment, leaning over and kissing my cheek. “We’ll be alright, Jimmy. You’ll be alright.”

She turned to get the attention of the barman.

I smiled slightly at her use of the nickname which she’d coined all those years ago. Despite the fact that nearly everyone I knew now called me that, it still sounded different from her. It felt special.

I wished I could do something to help her. But then, if I couldn’t even help myself, how could I possibly help somebody else?

She slid a drink in front of me.

“You want my advice?” she said. “It sounds to me like you miss this girl.”

I smiled slightly, looking down at the glass.

“You have no idea.”

“Then do what you do best. Fight for what you want. Go after this girl, tell her how much she means to you, tell her that you want to be with her. You need to know what you want out of your life before you can start living it. You have a big heart, and all you want to do is love people. So let yourself do that, and then you can start living properly. Don’t run away from who you are, Jimmy. Embrace it. Be the best you that you can be. And then, everything will fall into place for you.”

I wanted to believe her. But right now, I didn’t know if I could.


Chapter 35: thirty-five
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

She visited earlier than people generally did. Perhaps that was how she outsmarted me.

Or it might have been because I’d become attuned to hearing even the faintest pop of Apparition or roar of my fireplace, but the simple turn of a key in a lock was a far quieter and less obtrusive form of entry.

As such, she’d managed to open my bedroom door and turn the light on before I realised I had company. The only reason I didn’t Disapparate away the moment I realised that someone had intruded my privacy was that I was paralysed by shock at who it was.

Well, partly that, and partly the fact that I wasn’t wearing anything. I knew that the Hog’s Head had lower standards than other places but I thought it highly likely that even they’d throw me out in a trice if I turned up in my birthday suit.

But that was a secondary concern to me right now; my only thought was about the woman standing in front of me.

Carlotta.

It had been five weeks since I’d last seen her, and it was as though I’d forgotten how stunning she really was.

“Carla...” I croaked.

Her arm was shaking slightly, I suddenly realised. It reminded me of the day that I’d told her all about magic; it had done the same then, too. I reached out towards it, but she took a step backwards, out of my reach.

“Get up, and have a shower,” she said slowly and quietly, as though she was making sure I heard her right. “Now.”

I blindly obeyed her, rolling out of bed and stumbling into the bathroom. It wasn’t until I’d gotten under the shower and turned the water on that I could begin to think clearly. It was as if the scalding water was washing away the shock of her appearance, along with five weeks’ worth of alcohol and sour thoughts.

I had no idea why she was here. I’d thought she’d wanted nothing more to do with me, and yet here she was in my flat.

It struck me that this was my chance to talk to her, to tell her how I felt – but how did I feel? Did I really want to be with her, properly?

Yes. That was a ridiculously easy question to answer. I hadn’t felt like this about anyone since I’d broken things off with Ingrid. It was partly because I hadn’t let myself; I’d been too scared of being used, of girls wanting the fame and the money. With Ingrid, I’d never needed to worry about that; she would never have even considered dating someone for their name or wealth. But all the girls since – Cassie, Vivienne, Astrid, the list went on – had only ever been interested for one reason. It hadn’t taken me long to learn that it was safer to just not get attached. And it hadn’t been all that hard to stop myself; the constant fawning was utterly nauseating.

But Carlotta had never fawned. Perhaps that was why I’d let myself get so attached.

I turned the shower off, and made my mind up about what I was going to do. I was going to tell her. Just what I was going to tell her, I wasn’t sure, but I couldn’t let her slip away, not again. And then it crossed my mind that she might have left while I’d been showering.

I opened the door, not even bothering to dry myself – and came to a halt in the doorway as a wonderful smell hit me. She was cooking me breakfast. I smiled to myself, pushing the door shut again and grabbing my towel.

She cared. On some level, she cared. That had to say something.

Once I was dry I headed back to my room to get dressed, and then followed the smell of food to the kitchen. Carlotta was placing a plate piled with food onto the table, and she looked up at me as I reached the doorway.

“Eat,” she said in the same quiet voice, pointing to the plate.

“Carla, I-”

“Eat first. Talk later.”

I was tempted to disagree, but my stomach begged for me to tuck in. I’d been living on Hog’s Head food for three weeks, which was edible at best, and didn’t hold a candle to Carlotta’s fry-ups.

I sat down and tucked in, as she busied herself tidying up the kitchen. I thought she might leave once she’d finished, but she leant against the counter opposite me, arms folded, and watched me eat. Her arm was still twitching. Once I’d finished, she silently took the plate from me and washed it up.

“Go and see your parents,” she then said to me. She was still talking slowly; it felt as though she was talking to an invalid. “They love you. They just want what’s best for you. Sort things out with them, first, and then things won’t seem so bad.”

“How do you know I need to sort things out with them?”

The side of her mouth twitched, as though she’d been about to smile slightly.

“I knew from the start there was ill-feeling between you and your father. It doesn’t take a genius to know there’s something you need to fix. Both of you. You think the world is against you; it’s not. It really isn’t. Just make things better with him, and they can help you fix everything else.”

I frowned.

“Everything else? What do you know about everything else? I – why are you even here all of a sudden?”

She shook her head.

“I can’t answer that.”

“What do you mean, you can’t answer-”

“Why I’m here isn’t important. Smarten yourself up, and then go to see your dad.”

She made as if to leave. My eyes widened as I got to my feet, desperate to say my piece.

“No, wait! You can’t go-”

“I have work,” she said in that same slow, quiet voice, not stopping as she spoke.

Of course she did. It was Tuesday. She worked on Tuesdays. And Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. I didn’t know how I’d remembered that, but I remembered all the same.

“Please, don’t leave!” I pleaded. “I don’t want you to leave, I ... I need you, please...”

She stopped in the doorway, her hand on the frame.

“No, you don’t,” she said, not turning to face me. “You just think you do. You just ... you just cling to people too much. That’s all it is. I need to go to work-”

“No, it’s not like that! It’s more than that, let me explain-”

I stumbled across the kitchen, reached out and grabbed her wrist, but she pulled away, retreating into the living room.

“No, it’s not!” she said. “It’s not James, it’s really not! You don’t need me at all, just go to see your parents and leave me alone!”

That came out much faster; so fast the words were slurred and it was almost impossible to decipher them. I frowned, the fear of her leaving becoming a secondary worry.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

She laughed slightly, still backtracking to the door.

You’re worried that I’m not okay?” Her speech was slow again, more controlled. “I’m fine. You’re not. Visit your dad. Sort it out. And please, just ... leave me.”

“I’m sorry,” I blurted out, desperate to get my point across. “I should have told you, I was wrong to keep it from you, I was wrong to say what I said...”

Now she allowed a sad smile to spread across her face.

“I know.” Her voice was almost a whisper. “It’s okay. I understand. You don’t need to apologise. But I...” She stood there a moment, looking as though she was deliberating with herself about something, but she said no more.

And then she left.

And I let her.

I shook my head, exasperated with myself. I trudged back into the kitchen, where I noticed my spare key sitting on the worktop. I smiled slightly, picking it up and turning it over and over between my fingers.

I didn’t understand her. At all. She wasn’t mad at me for not telling her about Dad; that was a good thing. But she wanted me to leave her alone ... that was less easy to work out.

And why had she come here in the first place?

I sat back in the chair I’d sat in while eating. Her presence, along with the shower and good food, had cleared my head slightly, and allowed me to think properly for the first time in weeks.

I wanted to sort things out with Mum, that was a given. But my relationship with Dad had been on a downhill spiral for nearly ten years. While I at least thought we’d hit rock bottom and couldn’t make things worse, I also failed to see how they could get better. I’d drawn my wand on him! He was my father, my flesh and blood, and all I’d wanted to do was hurt him. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go to see him, not now. What would I say?

And once more I remembered being a scared little boy, soothed only by being in Dad’s comforting, loving embrace...

I buried my head in my arms, and screwed my eyes tight shut.

I’d been an idiot. A blind, foolish idiot. And I had no idea what to do now, to fix what I’d done wrong. But parents always knew best, especially mine.

I was going to have to swallow my pride and bite the bullet a lot if I wanted to resolve things with my family and get myself reinstated onto the Quidditch team. And putting it off wasn’t going to help my cause.

So I got to my feet, grabbed my wand, some money and an appeasement tactic, and left my flat.

***

The minute the door opened, I stuck my foot in the gap. I knew Dad could easily remove it, but it was at least a signal of intent.

He raised an eyebrow when he saw me, but otherwise his facial expression remained unreadable.

“James,” he said.

“Can I come in?” I said quickly. My heart was thudding so quickly and loudly that I felt certain he would be able to hear it.

His eyes fell to my hands, and the bottle of mead I was carrying.

“You can’t just turn up with a bottle of mead and hope that makes everything better,” he said calmly.

“I know, but I figured it was worth a try. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it home and drink it myself.”

“I hardly think you need any more alcohol in your system.”

“Looks like you’ll have to take it off my hands then.” I smiled feebly.

He sighed, and opened the door wider, standing back to let me in.

“Your mother’s out,” he said as I stepped over the threshold.

My heart sank slightly. I knew Mum would be easier to apologise to than Dad, and so I’d hoped that facing them together would make my task with Dad a little easier.

He led me into the kitchen and sat down at the head of the table, the seat he had always taken when I lived in the house. I sat opposite him.

“I’m sorry,” I blurted out after a moment’s silence. “I shouldn’t have drawn my wand on you.”

His mouth twitched slightly.

“No, it wasn’t a very wise move,” he said.

“I don’t know why I did it,” I admitted. “It was hardly as though I could overpower you.”

“You’ve got an Outstanding in your Defence Against the Dark Arts N.E.W.T.; that’s more than I do.”

“Yes, but you’ve got ‘Defeated Voldemort’ on your C.V. And besides...” I shifted awkwardly in my seat. “I didn’t deserve that O.”

“Interesting time to show some modesty,” he said coolly.

I looked down at my fingers, which were intertwined, resting on the table.

“I mean it,” I said. I swallowed the lump that had appeared in my throat. “I shouldn’t have got that O. Or any of the results I got. I didn’t work hard enough, I shouldn’t have got those results.”

“James...”

“I’m serious!” I looked up at him, desperate for him to understand. “Ask Brie, she’ll tell you the same. I barely revised! I didn’t want good results; I wanted to fail!”

I held his gaze for a moment, before looking back down at my hands.

“James...” he said again. “Why did you want to fail?”

I closed my eyes.

“Because ... because ... I wanted everyone to know I’m not you,” I said, my voice little more than a whisper.

There was another awkward pause, and then he let out a sigh. I looked up to see his forehead resting in his hands.

“When we found out Lily was a Squib, I felt so sorry for her. I wondered how she’d fit in, I wondered if she’d cope in the Muggle world. But ... all this time, it wasn’t her I should have been worrying about. It was you and Albus.” He looked up at me. “I’m sorry-”

“It’s not your fault some Seer made a prophecy about you,” I said, shrugging.

“Not about that. I should have known you’d have pressure on you. I should have recognised that you couldn’t cope with the attention and the pressure. I’m your father, for Merlin’s sake, that’s supposed to be my job. And instead I focused on Lily, and just stood by as you messed your life up, convincing myself you could manage yourself, that you didn’t need me, that if you did then you’d come to me, when it was plainly obvious that of the three of you, you needed me the most.” He paused. “I’m the one who should be apologising here, not you. You’ve done nothing wrong-”

“I let myself go off the rails!” I said, my eyes wide. “I lost Mum her job! I-”

“You didn’t lose Mum her job,” he interrupted. “Many other young men and women would have caved under the pressure you’ve been under years ago. I should have realised this, and I didn’t. Please, James, forgive me.”

“Only if you forgive me for being an idiot,” I replied.

He smiled slightly.

“James, you weren’t an idiot. Trust me, there’s nothing for you to apologise for.” He paused. “You’re not the only one who ever felt alone in this world, you know.”

I looked at him, bemused.

“In my Fifth Year, when people refused to believe that Voldemort was back, I felt completely alienated. But I wasn’t. I had Ron and Hermione, and your mother, and your whole family. And you have us too. Not to mention Brigid and Ryan and the rest of your team. You don’t have to do this alone.”

I closed my eyes.

“My problems sound pathetic next to yours,” I muttered. “I mean, a Dark Lord! What’s a girl and a bit of media pressure compared to the worst Dark Lord who ever lived?”

“No, they’re not comparable. But that doesn’t trivialise your problems at all, Jimmy.”

It was the first time he'd ever called me that.

“I’m one of a kind, remember? My whole life is incomparable with anyone else’s.” He grinned cheekily for a moment, before his face resumed its previous expression. “Everyone loses sight of who they are occasionally. You don’t have to be ashamed of that. You just have to stay on track, to try to discover who you really are.”

“It’s just ... hard. You know? I mean, everyone expects me to do what you’ve done. And if I fail, then I’m a failure, and if I succeed, then it’s no big deal anyway because you’ve already done it...”

“We don't expect that of you," he said quietly. “Anyone who does clearly doesn’t care about you. I'd never wish what I’ve been through on anyone. You’re not me, James. You’re you. And I’m proud of you.”

I looked up at him, a smile spreading across my face.

“You... you are? You really are?”

He smiled sadly.

“Of course I am. How could I not be? Look at what you’ve achieved. An England call up!”

“Yeah, and look what I did with that chance,” I muttered.

“Everyone makes mistakes. It’s just about how you rectify them. Just remember, you’re not alone.”

He was interrupted by the sound of the front door opening.

“That’ll be your mother,” he said. “I don’t think she needs to know about the N.E.W.T. situation, does she?” he added quietly.

I grinned.

“Thanks, Dad,” I said.

“Diagon Alley was manic!” Mum said, entering the kitchen, laden with bags. “I can’t think why-”

She paused as her eyes fell on me.

“Hi, Mum,” I said, smiling nervously.

Her hand found her mouth and she stared at me for a moment, as though she was unsure as to whether she was really seeing me.

“James,” she whispered after a moment. “Oh, James...”

She let the bags drop to the floor and swiftly crossed the kitchen to me, pulling me into a tight hug. I wrapped my arms round her and buried my head in her shoulder, inhaling the flowery scent that was so comforting.

“I’m sorry I shut the door on you,” I whispered, closing my eyes tight shut. “It was horrible of me, I shouldn’t have done it...”

“It’s okay, sweetie, it’s okay,” she reassured me, planting a soft kiss on my head. “You’re here now, and that’s all that matters.”

At that moment, I felt so much love and gratitude towards my parents that I thought my chest might burst.

She pulled away and held me out at arm’s length. “Oh, baby, you look so thin, you must have barely been eating! You’ll stay here for dinner, won’t you? I’ll cook you something nourishing-”

“I’ve booked you a table in that posh Muggle restaurant by the Leaky,” I interrupted. “You and Dad. For tonight. At seven. I know you like it there...”

Tears welled in her eyes.

“Come with us,” she said.

“No, I don’t want to intrude-”

“James,” she said firmly, “your father and I eat together almost every night. I’ve not seen you properly for five weeks. Come on, come with us. Please?”

I glanced at Dad, who’d gotten up from the table to pick up the bags she’d dropped and was now leaning against the kitchen counter. He nodded in agreement.

“Okay.” I turned back to her. “I’ll come.”

She beamed.

“I’ll ring Al and Lily!” she said. “We’ll make it a family outing. I’m sure they’d love to come...” She turned to consult the notice board on the wall next to her. “Lily’s next exam is next week, she can have a night off. Oh, they’ll be so happy to know you’re alright!”

She dashed off to the living room, presumably to call them both.

“You know, your mother never used to be so emotional,” Dad said conversationally. “I blame it on you kids. It’s clearly motherhood that’s done it.”

“Yeah, blame us, sounds about right.” I rolled my eyes.

He laughed and threw me a pumpkin pasty, which I caught deftly. He sat back at the table, next to me instead of opposite me,  with a pasty of his own.

“What exactly happened?” he asked softly.

I didn’t need to ask what he was referring to.

“She found out,” I said, frowning at my pasty, which I had placed on the table in front of me.

“Carlotta?”

I nodded.

“What did she find out?”

I bit my lip.

“I ... I hadn’t told her about you,” I said. “About how you defeated Voldemort and ... and stuff. She knew about him, that there’d been Muggle persecution, but I hadn’t told her the whole thing. And then, the day I got called into the England squad, she read the Prophet, and…and she yelled at me, then left.”

There was a pregnant pause, as I stared fiercely at my pasty, refusing to look up and meet his eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell her before?” he asked finally.

I shrugged.

“I guess ... I guess I liked the fact that she didn’t have any preconceptions of me, or any ambitions to suck up because of my surname. And ... telling her about you would mean admitting that ... that I could do better, that maybe what I’ve done isn’t really all that special. I guess it was partly a case of letting my ego get in the way. And ... well, I just wanted to avoid it all, really...” I tailed off.

“And she got angry about it?”

His tone was one of puzzlement. I looked up at him, to find him looking at me concernedly.

“I think it was partly because I’d already held something back from her,” I said. “I mean, when I first explained magic to her, I didn’t tell her about the Muggle persecution. She understood why, when I did tell her, but she asked if there was anything else I thought she needed to know. And I thought about telling her about you, and Uncle Ron, and Aunt Hermione ... but I chickened out. And so when she found out ... well, to her it was just something else I hadn’t told her. And she said I’d disrespected you too...”

“No you didn’t, don’t be daft,” he said reassuringly. “So ... that was why you started drinking? Because Carlotta left?”

I sighed heavily, and looked back down at the table, which was much easier to talk to than Dad’s face.

 “I guess ... I guess her words kind of hit home. Made me think about things too much...”

I broke off part of the pasty crust and stuffed it in my mouth.

“I’ve been so worried,” Dad said quietly, his tone so dark it took me by surprise. “I’ve been calling at your flat every day, and you weren’t there. I was far too hard on you; I thought anger would work, but it just made things worse. What you really needed was a comforting arm round the shoulders. And the next time I arrived, you weren’t there, and nobody had any idea where you’d gone or what had happened to you ... everyone was so worried about you, and it was my fault...”

I looked up to see he had his head in his hands again, and was gripping his hair tightly.

“No, it wasn’t,” I said, reaching out and touching his arm lightly. “I just didn’t want to see anyone. I wanted to be alone...”

He looked up at me.

“Where did you go?”

“The Hog’s Head.”

“The whole time?”

I nodded; he shook his head incredulously.

“And to think, your brother and sister were so close only a week ago...”

I smiled wryly, thinking about the Hogwarts Quidditch match. And then I frowned.

“You didn’t go?”

He shook his head.

“I was at the Falcons match. Been to the last three. I guess I was hoping you might show up to watch one, and that I’d see you there...”

I couldn’t stop the tears from welling in my eyes. And then he reached over and hugged me, for the first time in years. I buried my head in his shoulder and inhaled his familiar smell, which triggered all sorts of childhood memories.

“I’m so proud of you,” he said quietly. “For everything. And the fact that you’re here now, that you’ve gotten yourself out of your funk...”

“But I didn’t,” I said, frowning and pulling away. “Carla did. She visited, made me have a shower, restocked my kitchen, cooked me breakfast and then left. I tried talking to her, tried to sort things out, but she wouldn’t listen.”

Dad looked puzzled.

“How did Carlotta know something was up?”

I shrugged.

“Beats me,” I said. “She wouldn’t say. Barely said a thing. But I think that whatever it was we had between us, it’s gone now.”

“I don’t think you should give up quite so easily,” he said quietly. “You seemed happy with her, happier than we’ve seen you for a while. She’s worth the leg work, don’t you think?”

My mouth twitched as my thoughts switched to Carlotta’s legs.

“They’re both coming!” Mum joined us in the kitchen. “We’re meeting them at ten to seven outside the restaurant.”

I groaned, my head dropping into my hands. I was worried about what they’d say, whether they’d accept my apologies.

“It’ll all be fine,” she said soothingly. “Don’t worry.”

I hoped she was right.

***

“Stop fidgeting!” Mum hissed, slapping my hand down from my hair. “Honestly, you’re worse than your father.”

“She’s going to tear me to shreds!” I moaned.

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” she said, rolling her eyes. “She’s not that scary-”

“You would say that, it’s your temper she’s inherited!”

“He’s got a point,” Dad added, prompting a glare from Mum.

“There they are!” she said suddenly, pointing up the road towards the Leaky Cauldron.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

“James!”

Lily ran up to me and threw her arms round my neck, knocking me several steps backward.

“I knew it would work!” she exclaimed.

“Knew what would work?” I asked, hugging her back.

She pulled away, looking slightly sheepish.

“Wait a minute...” My brain was clicking into gear. “Did you visit Carlotta?”

“Don’t be mad...” She twirled a strand of hair round her finger, a sign that she was nervous. “I mean, it got you up, didn’t it?”

I grinned at her.

“Thanks, Lil,” I said, ruffling up her hair; she squealed and slapped my hand away.

I then turned to Al. I’d been horrible to him, he had every right to refuse to have anything to do with me...

“It’s good to have you back,” he said, clapping a hand on my shoulder.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so much love for my family.

***

Mum and Dad refused to let me pay for dinner. I’d tried to argue my case, but Mum had put her foot down, and in the end I had to concede defeat; winning an argument with Mum was a near impossibility.

“You going to visit Brie?” Lily asked as we sat at a table at the Leaky, waiting for Maddie to let Lily know when Mrs Atkinson’s house was free for her to Floo back to.

“That’s tomorrow’s job.” I grimaced at the thought. “Can’t say I’m looking forward to that one.”

“You’ll be fine.” Lily took a slurp from her Butterbeer tankard.

“I said some really horrible things to her...”

“She’ll be fine. She’s been worried sick about you, as well. Just say your piece; she’ll understand. How did things go with Carla, anyway?”

“Not amazingly,” I said gloomily, staring into my own tankard. “She didn’t seem interested in sorting things out.”

“But you want to?”

I shrugged.

“I guess,” I said. “I mean, she’s more than any of the other girls were, she’s a friend as well ... well, she was...”

She giggled.

“I think you’ve met your match, James Potter,” she said gleefully. “Go see her in a few weeks. I think she’s worth the trouble, whatever arrangement comes of it. She can actually handle you, which is something I thought only Brie could do – well, and me, of course.” She grinned cheekily. “What about Freddie?”

“Brie first,” I said. “Freddie will be ... not more understanding, necessarily, but ... well, I hurt Brie more.”

Lily nodded in agreement.

“Also, the sooner you make things up with Brie, the sooner you can get back to playing Quidditch.” She paused. “Dad told me what you said, about him mollycoddling me.”

I winced. “I didn’t mean that, I-”

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. My jaw dropped. “He needed to hear it from someone. I’m happy, James, I’m perfectly happy. I’m proud of who I am. You see that, but I don’t think he did before. But he knows now. I know that he was looking out for my best interests, and maybe I needed that at first, but I can stand on my own two feet now. You’ve helped him to realise that. So ... thank you.”

A bleep from her phone interrupted us before I could respond.

“Maddie says the coast is clear.” She drained her tankard and got to her feet. “It’s really nice to see you better, Jim.”

“Yeah.” I finished my own Butterbeer, got up and pulled her into a one-armed hug. “Thanks, Lil.”

“Anything for my favourite eldest brother.”

I was suddenly reminded of something.

“How are the exams coming along?”

“Pretty good.” She nodded. “Two left, next week, so fingers crossed.”

“Good luck with them.”

“Good luck to you too.” She shot me one last smile, before vanishing in the vivid green flames.


Chapter 36: thirty-six
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I changed my mind in the end, and decided to visit Freddie first, then Brigid. I was trying to convince myself there was a reason for this, that having Freddie on side first would help my case with Brigid.

In reality, I was absolutely petrified of seeing her and was just trying to put it off for as long as possible.

So I headed to Freddie’s place early in the morning, before he left for work. His face was a picture when he opened the door and saw me standing there.

“Bloody...” he gaped. And then he pulled me into a hug.

“I didn’t think we were the man hug type,” I joked, reciprocating all the same.

“I’ve been so worried about you, mate!” he said. “I mean, you lamped that bloke, and then you just vanished! None of us had any idea what had happened to you...”

“I just needed to get away,” I said simply.

And I think he understood.

He ushered me inside, and shut the front door behind me.

“I’m sorry,” he blurted out the moment we’d sat down. “Going out was a bad idea. Brigid told me off the moment she found out; she said it was really irresponsible...”

“No, it wasn’t,” I interrupted him. “You were the only person who knew I didn’t want to be shouted at. We were just unlucky, that was all. Don’t blame yourself for it.” I paused. “You’ve, er ... have you talked to Brigid much lately?”

“Course I have! We’ve both been worried sick about where you went! She feels really guilty, she’s blaming herself for what happened...”

“Bet she’s still angry with me, though,” I said gloomily.

He winced. “Little bit.”

“I need to see her next. Get things sorted out with her, and then get myself back on the team...”

“Just be honest with her.” He shrugged. “Apologise to her, but make sure she knows if you’re still upset with her about something.”

I frowned.

“You don’t need to beat about the bush, mate. Spit it out.”

He shifted uneasily in his seat.

“She told me what you’d yelled at her about. I ... I don’t think she realised that you were still upset about the whole Ingrid thing. And to be honest, neither did I.”

I’d known that was going to come up eventually. How could it not?

“Can you blame me, though?” I said quietly. “What she did was wrong. You know it was.”

He had a pained expression on his face. I knew the reason for it all too well.

“It’s not as though I’m the only one who still resents her for it,” I added.

“Yes, but I’ve moved on from it all-”

“But have you?” I prompted.

We’d never talked about it before, not properly. Freddie hadn’t wanted to, so I hadn’t wanted to push him. In fact, we’d never really talked about anything with each other before. It just wasn’t how our friendship worked. I tended to go to Teddy, and Freddie ... well, he’d always gone to Brigid, when we’d been back at school. Their friendship had always been different from the one I shared with either of them. They’d seemed to understand each other on another level. That was why it had become so clear, by our Sixth Year, that they’d get together one day. It was inevitable ... surely?

Ingrid had thrown a spanner into the works though. I’d started seeing her in Fourth Year, and Brigid had hated the idea from the start. At first she’d thought I was just pitying the Slytherin loner, cast aside because of her mother’s infamy. But then she realised it wasn’t just pity, and that was when she’d decided that it was all a ploy of Ingrid’s, to snag the eldest Potter boy.

Her dislike hadn’t been that strong at first. She’d made it clear to me she didn’t like the situation, but she’d tried her hardest to be cordial towards Ingrid; I guessed I should at least be grateful to her for that.

But then, in the spring of our Seventh Year, it all went wrong. She’d clearly been hoping it was just a teenage romance, and I’d eventually end it. But instead, Ingrid and I started talking about moving in together, and even looking at places.

To give Brigid a bit of credit, it wasn’t all her doing. Far from it. The media had played their part marvellously from the start, and Albus in particular had been just as disapproving. In fact, Ingrid’s biggest fan had possibly been Lily, who, frustratingly, had been hundreds of miles away from us throughout the whole sorry affair.

Brigid had snapped. Utterly paranoid about Ingrid’s motives, she’d taken me to task over the entire relationship.

And I’d crumbled. In this instance, my backbone abandoned me. And I ended it.

Unfortunately for all three of us though, Freddie’s backbone hadn’t abandoned him. He’d never had a problem with Ingrid, and Brigid’s disapproval had only endeared her to him more. He’d always felt anything that made me happy was a good thing for me.

Perhaps Brigid just tried looking out for me too much, perhaps she became too determined that she knew better than me, that I’d lost my way and she was my only voice of reason. Freddie, on the other hand, always chose to step back, to let me be happy or to make my own mistakes.

And when it all came to a head, he stepped forwards.

I remembered being thankful Ingrid wasn’t a Gryffindor, that she hadn’t had to sit in the common room and endure what was said. It had been a horrific argument, played out in front of the entire house. And I’d been a coward, unable to say anything, knowing what was going to happen but completely unable to put a stop to it.

They’d both said some awful things. Freddie had accused Brigid of being jealous of Ingrid’s looks. Unsurprisingly, she hadn’t taken too well to that. She’d accused him of wanting Ingrid for himself, which had gone down just as well.

And their imminent romance had been pulled to shreds before it had gotten off the ground.

The battle lines had been drawn that night. Albus and Rose sided with Brigid, Roxanne and Louis with Freddie. Lucy and Hugo had refused to get involved.

And so had I.

I still remembered Freddie’s look of betrayal when I’d refused to back him up. He’d just stood up for me, fought my corner, and yet I wasn’t standing in it with him. And Brigid had been furious with me too; she’d done this for my good, and I still couldn’t see that.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to pick a side. Freddie and Brigid had been all I’d ever known during my time at Hogwarts. We were being pulled to pieces, and I couldn’t bring myself to face it. It was as though I thought that if I pretended nothing had happened, it would all be okay in the end.

We’d never made up properly. Maybe that was the problem: why things had come to the surface again; why Brigid and Freddie still had their troubles.

Ironically, it was thanks to a Slytherin – Eoin Lynch, of all people – that we’d patched things up at all. He’d tried to make a move on Brigid after the last Quidditch match of the season. She’d refused – so he’d tried harder.

I’d been closer to them, but Freddie had run faster. As it was, we’d gotten there at the same time, and he pinned Lynch’s arms back while I punched him.

And it was as though nothing had happened between us. Nothing was said to anyone; we just went back to the way we used to be.

Except, we didn’t. Not really. We’d all been in the wrong; I could see that now. But none of us had admitted this. We all seemed to think we didn’t need to talk about what had happened, what had – and hadn’t – been said.

And because of that, I hadn’t realised how much I still resented Brigid for convincing me to let Ingrid go. It had been buried, only to come to the surface when things had gone wrong with Carlotta, the only girl since who’d rivalled Ingrid – who was better than Ingrid.

And I hadn’t realised how much that argument between Freddie and Brigid still lingered. Was that why he’d been holding back all this time?

Freddie was still looking agonised.

“I said some awful stuff to her, Jim.” His voice was almost a whisper.

“So did she,” I pointed out.

“But I started it. I got myself involved ... I just flipped, you know? She’s great, until she starts thinking she knows best, and then she becomes totally blind to anything else! And I was fed up, that she couldn’t see you were happy with Ingrid, that she seemed to think it was her business ... and she’s not learned! She’s still doing it, even now! And then when I’m not telling you I think something’s a bad idea, it’s not because I’ve decided to leave it up to you, it’s because I’m clearly irresponsible!” He waved his hands in the air in frustration. “Merlin, I ... I don’t know, Jim. But then, I love that about her at the same time; she cares so much about everyone else, and she really does want to help ... she just takes it too far! That’s why I always thought her being your agent was a bad idea.”

“You never said that before,” I frowned.

“It would hardly have gone down well with either of you, would it?” he pointed out. “Not right after we’d all started talking again. But...” He shook his head. “I dunno, man. I mean, her ugly side really came out that night. I know I can’t talk, because I was just as bad, but ... at the time, it really put me off.”

“At the time?”

“Well, you can’t completely quash it, can you? At the end of the day, no matter how hard you try-”

“So you do want to be with her still?” I said, ignoring the second part of what he said.

He shifted awkwardly in his seat.

“Well, that’s a tricky one...”

Then I processed his whole comment. No matter how hard you try...

“You – you don’t want to be with her?” I frowned.

He shrugged his shoulders in a would-be nonchalant manner.

“She’s not interested any more, so it doesn’t matter-”

“What do you mean, she’s not interested? Of course she is-”

“She’s off with Bagman now, isn’t she?”

“That was only one date,” I pointed out. “They’ve not really seen each other since.”

“But it was another guy. She’s obviously moved on-”

“No, she really hasn’t,” I said firmly.

I expected that to cheer him up, but if anything, he looked even more tortured.

“Look, I ... I just can’t,” he said finally.

I frowned.

“What do you mean, you can’t? She’s still our Brie, the same girl she always was, what’s changed?”

“Who says anything’s changed?” he said dully. “Look, it’s just ... I can’t, James. I just can’t.”

***

Mum sidetracked my visit to Brigid by showing up just as I was about to leave my flat.

“I wanted to talk to you without your father around,” she said, taking a seat at my kitchen table.

“Okay...” I was slightly confused.

“Listen, he won’t tell you this. Not properly, anyway. He might hint at it, but he won’t explain himself fully. And ... I think somebody needs to, just to make sure you understand.”

“Understand what?”

“Why he was so aloof all the time.” She smiled sadly. “I told you, didn’t I? I always said, you two needed to just talk to one another, then you could iron out this misunderstanding before it got too big...”

What misunderstanding?”

She reached out and took my hand in hers.

“You two were so close, once.”

I nodded, thinking once more about those days before I’d gone to Hogwarts.

“And then you sort of ... withdrew. Became more distant. I see why, now. You resented his fame. But at the time, he thought you hated him. He thought you didn’t want anything to do with him any more. And ... well, you know what your dad’s like; he’s not the best at that kind of thing. He thought he’d just leave you to it, that you wouldn’t want him bothering you. And I guess that’s where you got the idea that he didn’t approve of you from. He did, he does, he always has done, he just thought you didn’t want him.”

I stared at her, taken-aback.

“But ... it’s not ... it was never...” I shook my head slowly. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because I didn’t know! I was in the same position as him, I just thought you were going through a phase where you thought it was uncool to like your parents or something! When he’d say he thought you didn’t like him, I’d tell him he was being silly. But then you started to think that he didn’t like you, which you had good reason to think because he’d withdrawn from you, but you’d gotten the wrong end of the stick about that! I didn’t know whether he’d been right all along, or whether it was his withdrawal that caused you to feel like you did. That was why I kept saying you needed to talk, to work it out for yourselves.” She sighed. “I should have tried harder. You’re men, you’re never going to actually talk about feelings. But I didn’t want to interfere...”

I squeezed her hands tightly.

“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s not your fault. You’re right; we needed to sort it out ourselves. And ... maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe I needed this kick up the backside...”

“I think we all did.” She smiled wryly.

I nodded in agreement.

“How ... how are things, anyway?” I asked her awkwardly. “With work, and...”

“I’ve gone freelance,” she said. “Probably the best thing for me. It’s going to work out fairly well, I think. Quidditch Weekly will take a lot of my stuff, and it will be nice to have the chance to raise the standard of stuff in The Quibbler; I’m going to write a weekly column for them about Quidditch. I think Which Broomstick? are even interested in getting me to write stuff for them, but I’d have to rub up on my broomstick knowledge first, obviously. It’ll be nice to be able to write what I want, when I want, though.”

“So ... so you’re not mad at me?”

“Mad?” She laughed slightly. “Oh, James, how could I be? The Prophet is still a poisonous place to be at. Losing my job was probably the best thing that could happen to me. I didn’t need them, at the end of the day. People didn’t talk to me because I was a Prophet reporter, they talked to me because they respected me. I’ve not lost anything from not being affiliated with them any more. It’s given your aunt a new mission, though.”

“Which one?” I asked, though I had a funny feeling I knew already.

“Hermione, of course. She’s working with your dad on a new bill about press regulation. It’s about time if you ask me; the Prophet was strangled somewhat after the war but lately it’s been allowed to get too big for its boots, and it needs taking down a peg or two. See why I’m glad to have gotten away scot-free?”

“So ... this is good, then?”

She beamed.

“It’s very good, darling. Besides, I kind of always wanted to go freelance. I don’t even have to write about Quidditch any more! I could write about anything I wanted...”

“What, like cauldron thickness?” I snorted.

“I said I could, not that I wanted to,” she pointed out.

I grinned; her enthusiasm was infectious. I was relieved that my idiotic actions hadn’t caused her any harm in the end.

“And Dad? He’s jumped a few hoops for me...”

“Nobody seems too angry, dear. After all, most people in the Ministry have used their position to their advantage one time or another. It’s only natural. And people understand it wasn’t for his own means, that he was doing it as a father. He gets a bit of respect on that front; whether he should or not is another matter.”

“What, so people don’t mind that I beat someone up and got away with it?” I scoffed.

She hesitated.

“Well, some people were annoyed, but what do they matter? I bet they’ve all sinned before,” she added darkly.

Her comment reminded me of what Ingrid had said to me in the pub. Whose opinions in this world truly matter to you?

Maybe she was right after all.

“And Lily?” I turned my attention to my overworked sister. “How have her exams been? I can’t have helped that...”

She winced slightly.

“Possibly not,” she conceded. “But you know Lily; she has the most remarkable ability to shut everything out if she needs to. I think she’ll have done just fine. I can’t wait for them to be over, though. The girl’s worked herself to the bone for years now.”

I nodded in agreement.

“It’ll be worth it though, if she gets the job,” I said. “The Muggle Liaison one. She really wants it.”

“And she’d be superb at it,” Mum added. “Fingers crossed.”

“Fingers crossed,” I agreed.

***

Right now, I had my fingers crossed for me. Hoping I’d actually survive this encounter.

Not that I thought there was much chance of that. I’d learned very early on in my life never to anger an Irish woman. There was a reason for that.

I took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” a voice called.

My heart sank. I wasn’t even going to get through the bloody door.

“James,” I said nervously.

There was a pregnant pause.

“What,” she said slowly, “are you doing here?”

“I’ve come to apologise. Will you let me in?”

Silence.

I sighed and rested my head against the door.

“Look Brie, I was an idiot. I was horrible. I said some terrible things, which you didn’t deserve to hear. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry...”

I paused.

“I hated what you said about me and Ingrid, you know. I said it was okay in the end, but ... it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.”

I hadn’t planned on saying this at all; I’d just planned on saying sorry, and getting back into her good books. But it just came out. Perhaps it was for the best though; perhaps I needed to make it clear how I felt, if I wanted to save our friendship.

“You didn’t understand her. You didn’t try to. You were just determined you were right, and that I was an idiot for not listening to you. But you were wrong, Brie, you were wrong on this one. And ... I hated what you did. I still do. I never forgot it, I was never okay with it. I ...” I closed my eyes, swallowing. “I guess I never stopped being mad at you for it.”

I didn’t know whether she’d even heard what I’d said, whether I’d been talking to her or thin air. But then I heard the lock turn, and I stood upright just as she pulled the door open.

She stared at me for a moment, her expression a mixture of bemusement and remorse. It was a while before she spoke.

“I just wanted what was best for you...”

And that was the hardest bit of it all.

“I know.” I rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly. “But ... you didn’t know what was best for me, not properly. You thought you knew, and you wouldn’t listen to anyone who told you differently. You wouldn’t even listen to Freddie-”

She scoffed.

“He just couldn’t be bothered getting involved, as usual-”

“No,” I said firmly. “He gets involved in his own way. He lets me do what I think is right, because he knows that I have to make my own mistakes. You try to stop me making them in the first place. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?”

She closed her eyes, looking tortured. I stepped over the threshold, shut the door behind me and pulled her into my arms, holding her tightly.

“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I said some horrible, horrible things and you didn’t deserve any of them. I was just angry about the media, and then Carlotta got angry with me, and I started thinking about Ingrid again and I got angry with you as well, and you know how I get when I’m angry...”

She let out a small, muffled laugh, and hugged me back.

“I let you down...” she whispered.

My heart sank.

“No, you didn’t!” I protested. “You really didn’t! If anything, you were trying to look after me too much, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that.”

“You should have said...”

And that was the crux of the matter. Because we hadn’t; none of us had said a thing. We’d all just assumed, and that was what had gotten us into this situation.

“Promise me,” she said now, tilting her head to look up at me, “that if you ever have an issue with anything, you’ll let me know?”

“I promise.”

She beamed, standing on tiptoes and planting a kiss on my forehead.

“Love you, Jimmy,” she said fondly, ruffling my hair.

“Love you too, Brie.” I hugged her tightly again, feeling a surge of gratitude towards the girl who’d looked after me for pretty much ten years without so much as a word of complaint.

“I didn’t mean it when I said you were a bad agent,” I mumbled into her hair.

“I know. And I didn’t mean to get angry with you, either.”

“I’ve fucked it all up.”

“No, you haven’t. It’s all still fixable, don’t worry.”

“I don’t see how,” I said morosely.

She pulled away, and took my hand in hers to lead me into the living room, where we sat down in front of her coffee table. She grabbed a quill and some parchment, and began writing as she spoke.

“Okay, first of all, you need to put out a public apology for your actions, particularly stressing your extreme remorse for how you treated the photographer.”

“But he’s a dick,” I protested.

She stopped writing and looked up at me, raising an eyebrow.

“James,” she said flatly, “you punched him. He may be a dick, and there may be a lot of people privately congratulating you for it, but you still need to apologise for it. It’s a criminal offence, remember, and you’re damn lucky you got off scot-free. So, you’re sorry for that...” She continued writing, “and also for any other harm your actions may have caused. You also apologise to your Falcons teammates and promise to do everything you can to rectify things. You’re extremely regretful that you’ve lost your place in the England squad but fully agree with the actions Demelza was forced to take, and will seek help accordingly-”

Help? I don’t need help-”

She looked at me again, a sad expression on her face.

“James, this happened for a reason. You clearly have issues with alcohol that you need to sort out-”

Alcohol? This has nothing to do with alcohol at all; I was sober for half of it! I was just angry-”

 “Well then, you have anger issues which need sorting out,” she said.

“Well no, I don’t, because I don’t get angry at everything, do I? You know me, I’m a laidback kind of guy! It was just this one thing, that’s all; just the media messing things up for me. I hate all that attention...”

She gave me a peculiar look, before turning back to what she’d written.

“Either way, we still need to say that you’re making amends,” she said. She read through it quickly, before handing it to me. “This okay?”

I skimmed through what she’d written, immensely impressed that she’d managed to come up with it on the spot. I couldn’t believe that I could ever have suggested she wasn’t good at her job – even if I was angry at the time.

“That’s perfect,” I said, handing it back to her.

“I’ll release that once we’re done, then,” she said. “Next, you need to get yourself back in the Falcons squad. You were only suspended until further notice, so you’ll just need to meet with management and get them to reinstate you. It shouldn’t be too hard; Mum likes you and really didn’t want to have to suspend you in the first place. It’s obvious you’re better than you were, so it shouldn’t be much of a task.”

“You say that as though she won’t be angry with me,” I said tentatively.

“I don’t know how she’ll react,” Brigid said frankly. “You might have to grovel a bit. But she’ll put you back in the squad. Whether you play for the rest of the season is a different matter. The World Cup might play into your favour here, because she’ll have to rest all the internationals for at least one of the last three matches. Obviously they won’t all have to be rested in the same match, and Stefan and Klaus alternate anyway which solves that problem. But she’s going to want to play her strongest Chasers, especially against the Bats. I know for a fact she’d rather play you than Laura or Julia. Whether you’d oust Roxanne if Ryan and Della both play is another story, though. She’s been fantastic, these past few matches.”

I nodded in agreement, feeling a slight twinge in my stomach. Of course I was pleased my cousin was doing well, but it was a bit of a kick in the teeth that it was at my expense. I reminded myself that this was all self-inflicted; that I deserved what I was getting.

“And ... what about England?” I asked tentatively. I knew my ship had probably sailed, but there was still a small part of me that hoped, prayed, there was a chance getting back into the squad...

Brigid looked wretched.

“Oh, James...” she said. “I think you should just concentrate on getting yourself reintegrated with the Falcons, for now.”

I understood what she meant. I didn’t have a chance of getting back into the England squad. My heart sank.

“Demelza’s hands are tied,” she continued. “She had no choice but to drop you once Mum had suspended you. Her squad is full; she can’t just put you back in because you’ve screwed your head back on. She can only replace someone in the event of injury or ... well, a case like yours.”

“So, she’s replaced me? Who with?” I asked, though I had a horrible suspicion I already knew.

“Josh Wadcock.”

The bastard.

“Mum will be in training now, but I can catch her as soon as they’ve finished if you want-”

“In training now? But isn’t this one of the weeks off?” I frowned.

“It is, but she’s called them in anyway. She wants them to keep their eye on the ball, seeing as we’re – they’re – top of the table, and they’ll have to adapt to missing players in the last few matches of the season.”

I smiled slightly, at her futile attempts to remain impartial. No matter how hard she tried, she never succeeded in hiding the fact she was an avid Falcons supporter.

“I’ll arrange for you to see her tomorrow afternoon, does that sound good?”

My facial expression must have betrayed my feelings on meeting up with Sinead, because she let out a laugh.

“Don’t worry, James, it’ll be fine! She’ll be more than happy to put you back in the squad! Look, I’ll go with you if you want, for moral support. But you really have nothing to worry about.”

I wasn’t overly reassured. It was wonderful to think I might be able to mend my Quidditch career, that I might not have completely thrown it away. But the fact that my one hurdle was the fair but strict Sinead Murphy had me a bit concerned.

“Tomorrow sounds fine.” I nodded in agreement.

After all, I had no other choice. 


Chapter 37: thirty-seven
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

I’d known Sinead Moran for a long time. The first time I’d properly met her had been when Brigid had excitedly introduced me and Freddie to her at the platform at King’s Cross at the beginning of our Christmas holidays in First Year.

But I’d known of her for a long time before that. How could I not have? Her Quidditch playing career had crossed with Mum’s; she was in fact only six years older than Mum, having made her World Cup debut at twenty. I only had vague memories of Mum’s playing career; she’d retired when I was three. Sinead, on the other hand, had retired five years later, and I had much more vivid memories of watching her playing.

She’d been incredible. One of the finest Chasers I’d seen; one of the finest the game had seen. The trio of Troy, Mullet, Moran had at the time been the most sublime, most innovative Chaser trio ever; they’d attempted – and pulled off – things that Chasers before could only have dreamed of. Ireland won an unprecedented three consecutive World Cups when they’d played in the Emerald Green. Indeed, few Chaser units since had rivalled the skill they’d demonstrated across that eight year period.

I’d always known I’d wanted to play Quidditch. I learnt to fly almost before I mastered walking; growing up I’d been surrounded by the sport, as part of a family who positively adored it (Nana Molly, Uncle Percy and Aunt Hermione aside). The only debate had been over which position I’d play. I’d been just as adept at Seeker as I had Chaser, seemingly influenced equally by both Mum and Dad.

It had been Sinead who’d decided it for me. I’d watched the 2002 World Cup final so many times that I knew it by heart. I’d been completely in awe of her talent, and that of her teammates. There had been something truly magical about the three of them; they seemed to know each others’ moves in advance, and those of their opposition to boot. It was like poetry in motion.

I loved being part of a team. Some of the best moments of my playing career were in the changing rooms, or in a post-match huddle on the pitch with my teammates, or planning tactics with Ryan and Della. For me, it wasn’t about the personal glory; it was about working with other people, for other people. Seeker was a lonely position to play. During a match you were out there on your own. You were basically playing your own game, pitched against the opposition’s Seeker in a battle of wits and eyesight.

But as a Chaser, you were a member of a team within a team. A third of a scoring attack; reliant upon your teammates, but able to create incredible moves if you were all on the same page. That was what had always captivated me, and the Irish Chasers had done it the most magnificently.

Sinead had only been coaching the Falcons for a year or so when I joined them. Before then, she’d been a Chaser coach for the Kenmare Kestrels, the team she’d represented her entire playing career. At the time, it had seemed odd that she’d move from the team she’d spent her entire post-Hogwarts life with, but she’d wanted a challenge. The Falcons had been languishing in the bottom half of the League for the previous few seasons, and she’d delighted in the chance to take the reins, especially as the same opportunity with her beloved Kestrels seemed a long way off.

She’d always wanted to win. It was the sure sign of a fine sports player; after all, what use was a player without that drive? As such, she only wanted the best players.

Some teams believed the mantra that teamwork was the most important thing; that a group of good, but not amazing players who worked well as a team was better than a group of superstars who refused to gel. Sinead partly believed that. She certainly knew the value of teamwork, of a group of players who’d fly into brick walls for each other. But she preferred a third option – a group of superstars who worked well together.

She didn’t look for superstars. She looked for people who had the potential to be superstars. More importantly, she looked for passion. She looked for desire. For drive. For enthusiasm. If her players developed into superstars, she wanted them to be well-grounded ones. She wanted people who would buy into her image, who’d never waver from that primary aim of playing for the team.

I’d known all of this when she’d signed me three years ago. It had been a huge honour, that she’d thought me worthy of her great squad, of her high ideals.

But I’d lost my footing. I hadn’t just tripped up; I’d plunged off a cliff. I’d hardly been a fine example of a well-grounded player. I was going to have to grovel more to Sinead than I’d done to anyone else so far.

It all hung on this. My entire career was hanging on this one moment. Because if my team wouldn’t take me back, what other team would sign me? I’d be labelled a liability, and no team wanted a liability.

Quidditch was my life. It was so much more than just a job, just a game. It was an institution, a religion. It was all I knew; it was my everything. Without it, I was just a kid with little magical skill to back up my inflated N.E.W.T results, and a lack of knowledge of real life. All I had was a nice smile and a small amount of charisma, which seemed to have abandoned me recently.

So I was going to fight for this. I wasn’t going to let it slip from my grasp.

The players were all in training when I arrived. It looked a small group; with six internationals and a player-coach elsewhere, and me suspended, their numbers were more than halved. It was lucky that the position left bereft by call-ups was Seeker, the one least dependant on team interaction; though they also had to operate with only one Beater, given that Cato, Cleo and Keira were all with England.

I snuck into the hut the back way, wanting to avoid any kind of confrontation with the teammates I’d let down so badly. Luckily, Sinead’s office was a corridor away from the changing rooms, so nobody would be likely to see me while I waited for her to finish in training.

Standing nervously outside the office door, I could hear the team  outside. The training calls, the friendly insults. The laughter. That was what I missed the most. A part of me craved to join them, as though nothing had changed.

But I waited.

I had no idea how this conversation was going to go. I’d been surprised – pleasantly so – at the relative ease with which I’d patched things up with my family so far. Admittedly I’d found visiting Dad rather daunting, and I’d had to explain a lot to him so he could understand my point of view. But Brigid had forgiven me quicker than I’d thought, while Mum, Al, Lily and Freddie had barely been a problem at all.

I guessed that was because they were family – and Brigid was as good as by now. We were a family who stuck by each other through thick and thin; it was one reason why I’d always loved being a part of such a large family, even if it did increase the odds of having irritating relatives. They loved and cared for me, so they were just relieved that I was okay. I wondered whether there was a chance I’d face repercussions at a later date; it seemed almost unfair that I should get away with being such an idiot. But I could cope with any repercussions; I knew that now. Just so long as I was forgiven.

Sinead was a different issue, because she wasn’t family. And she wouldn’t let the fact she was a family friend, or that I was best friends with her daughter, get in the way of things. I was her employee, and she had her team to think of. I’d have to do a lot more grovelling, I knew that much.

It would be worth every minute I spent in her office, though, if I were to be reinstated.

The voices began to grow closer, as the team made their way into the hut. Training had finished for the day. My stomach clenched with nerves.

And then Sinead rounded the corner.

She was in her training gear and clutching her broomstick; she was clearly taking a much more hands-on approach in training than she normally did. Generally she was content with barking out orders from the ground. I wondered if the limited numbers had anything to do with her change in approach.

“James,” she greeted me with a sincere smile as she reached the office. “It’s good to see you.”

She opened the door and gestured for me to lead the way in; I did so, and sat down gingerly in the chair opposite her desk. She leant her broomstick up against the wall, and sat down in her chair. She leaned forwards, her arms crossed on the desk, and looked at me thoughtfully. The smile was now gone.

“Why are you here?” she said.

I frowned, slightly bemused at the question. “I – I want to get my spot back in the squad...” I said.

“Why?”

I was once more taken aback by the question she put to me. “Well, because it’s my job, and I enjoy it, and-”

“Why should I take you back?”

My hands began to shake ever so slightly, and my mouth felt dry. I’d known this wouldn’t be easy, but the questioning was making me uneasy. From what Brigid had said to me, I’d felt certain that my suspension would be lifted even if the process was a hard one. But the approach Sinead was taking had me totally on the back foot, and now I wasn’t even sure if she would take me back.

“You know what I expect from my players, James,” she continued when I said nothing. “Why should I take you back now?”

I didn’t have a response. I didn’t know why she should take me back. I’d screwed up; why did I deserve another chance?

And then I heard muffled laughter, coming from the changing rooms, and a voice. Julia Horton’s voice. Julia. The woman who’d been my mentor when I’d first arrived at the Falcons. The woman whose starting spot I’d taken and hadn’t relinquished. And ... she’d known, all along, that she was helping me at her own expense. But she’d done it anyway. She’d put the team first, just as she’d always done and always would do – just like everyone in that training room did. And I loved them for it, every one of them. Alfie, our captain, who always had an encouraging word and a smile for anyone and everyone who wore the Falcons colours; Laura, who only two seasons ago had turned down a chance to play in a friendly game for England because it clashed with our exhibition match against the Stuttgart Snidgets, which she wasn’t even playing in; Sophie, who had left the Falcons a couple of years ago for the Arrows but had returned after only one season, despite having started all of their games, because she missed us.

And then there was Della, and Klaus, who’d chosen the Falcons over their home team the Harriers numerous times over; Stefan, who’d come to England on a family holiday with his father Viktor, come with us to watch the Falcons play the Cannons, and had never left Falmouth since; Cato and Cleo, who already referred to themselves as Falcons with immense pride...

And Ryan and Roxanne. My Gryffindor teammates for years; I’d played every single game in my six years on the team with at least one of them, and two years with both. Ryan had been my captain for two years, and then I’d been Roxanne’s for two. And then I’d followed Ryan here to play for the Falcons. I’d played alongside him more than I had anyone else. We knew each other’s game inside out; we could pull off almost every manoeuvre in the book, and adapt to any style of play by now. Half the reason I looked so good in my matches was because he made me look good. I’d do absolutely anything for him, both on and off the pitch, and I knew I’d always have his support in return. And as for Roxie ... well, she was my little cousin, and I loved her to bits. And while she might have taken my starting spot for the time being, I didn’t really mind that; after all, at least it meant she was more likely to stay with us.

Because I knew that I’d never leave, not for as long as I was welcome within the changing room. Even if I couldn’t regain my place, even if another club offered me all the money in the world. I didn’t want the money. Just being in the Falcons squad and contributing all I could to the team’s success was more important to me than advancing my own personal interests. I’d wanted to get into that England squad more than anything, but I’d thrown that chance away, at least for the time being.

I wasn’t going to do the same with my Falcons spot.

“I love this club,” I said, sitting upright. “I love the people, the atmosphere, the supporters. I came here because I wanted to play Quidditch, and you offered me that chance. I came because of you; you’re my absolute idol on the pitch, and my best friend’s mum to boot. And I came here because of Ryan too. I always loved playing with him at school, and I wanted the chance to do so again. But now, it’s about so much more than just that. I couldn’t even begin to imagine playing for anyone else; it wouldn’t be the same at all. I love Quidditch; it’s my absolute everything, and I don’t know what I’d do without it. I know I’ve messed up, but I won’t do it again, I promise you that. This means too much to me for me to throw it away again. I know I’ve screwed up my England chance but I don’t care about that any more; I just want to play for you, for the Falcons, for the other guys. I want us to win the League again, and I’ll do everything I possibly can to help us do that. I know you’ll probably pick Roxie over me now, because she’s doing really well, but I’m fine with that, and I’ll help her out as much as I can – I can show her how to tell when Della’s going to do one of her reverse passes, because I noticed she missed a couple against the Catapults, and she can’t quite pull off a Porskoff Ploy with Dell yet-”

Sinead raised a hand and I fell silent.

“When I suspended you,” she said, “it was because I had no other choice. I didn’t want to at all; in fact, it was the last thing I wanted to do. But I have to follow the League rules, and they firmly state that actions like that can’t be condoned. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you in person. I think you were at least owed that courtesy, and I didn’t give it to you. I tried to get in touch with you for a couple of weeks afterwards, but I couldn’t get through; Brigid says you were hiding from everyone. I wanted to help you out, because you’re one of my players; you’re my responsibility. And as a coach, a mother and a fellow human being I wanted to do all I could to help you. I still do.”

I had a horrible feeling that there was a ‘but’ coming.

“I need to know that this won’t happen again,” she continued. “I can’t afford to have my players acting like this.”

“It won’t,” I said hurriedly. “I know what I did wrong, and I know what I lost because of it. I won’t let that happen again, I promise.”

She still didn’t look entirely convinced.

“Demelza Robins wants you to get some kind of help-”

“But I don’t need help!” I protested. “I just let things get the better of me, that’s all, and it won’t happen again.”

“But how did it happen?”

I frowned.

“I – what?”

“How did it happen? If you don’t know how it happened, then you can’t prevent it from happening again, can you?”

It was a valid point.

“I don’t like the attention,” I admitted. “The attention I get because of being Dad’s son. And then everything just went wrong at the same time. But it’s fine now, it’s all fine.”

Sinead had a peculiar expression on her face. It was, I realised, the same one her daughter had worn only the previous day.

“Are you sure?” she said.

Well. I’d sorted out things with Dad. I’d patched things up with Brigid and Freddie. But I had no idea where I stood with Carlotta.

“I’m sure,” I said firmly.

She smiled, ever so slightly.

“You’re a good player, James. A damn good player. One of the best I’ve ever had. One of the best I’ve ever seen. That kind of talent should be nurtured, not wasted.” She took a deep breath. “I’ll take you back-”

“You will?” I said excitedly, half-rising out of my chair. “Thank you-”

She again raised a hand to silence me.

“I have some provisos,” she said. “Firstly, you undergo some proper media training. That way, you’ll know how to handle questions you don’t want to answer even when Brigid isn’t there to do it for you. Secondly, no more drinking.”

What? But that had nothing to do-”

“I don’t care,” she said flatly. “You lot constantly undermine me on that rule. If I can enforce it in any way, I’m bloody well going to.”

“But that’s not fair; nobody else will obey-”

“This is for you, not for them,” she pointed out. “Besides, the international players will be under strict instructions not to drink, so you won’t be the only one. And I’ll be strongly advising Roxanne to follow that lead as well; she’s pretty much first team now, and we’re coming to the business end of the season. I need you all firing on all cylinders if we’re going to win this title again, and I’m not having anybody pissing about and risking our chances.”

She surveyed me for a moment, and her expression softened. In a trice, she went from Sinead the manager to Sinead the friend’s mother.

“It’s good to see you’re okay, really it is,” she said with a smile. “We were all so worried about you. I tried so hard to get through to you; in fact, the whole squad did. We’ve missed you, we really have. You’re a huge part of what makes this team the happy place you speak of, and I think it’s important you understand your worth in this team –not because I’m a Quidditch manager who doesn’t want to lose a player, but because I think part of your problem is that you don’t see your own worth. You’re a wonderful player, and a wonderful person, and I want you to realise that.”

I smiled slightly, touched by the words.

“Thanks,” I said awkwardly.

“Now, you say your England chance is gone-”

“Well, it is, isn’t it?” I said glumly. “At least for this World Cup, anyway. None of the others are going to go off their heads, and it’d take a fall from about a hundred feet to injure one of them badly enough to make them pull out. And professional players don’t fall off their brooms often.”

She smiled sympathetically.

“Perhaps it is,” she said. “But you’re certainly still on their radar, so you have every chance of becoming an international player once this World Cup is over.”

“Maybe,” I shrugged; any chance I now had seemed a long way off, and so it was hard to keep it at the forefront of my mind. “But there’s a League Cup to play for first. And I have to play well for Ryan, and Della, and the other international guys who are looking for starting spots-”

“Though I’m sure Della at least is nailed on,” she said smoothly.

Given that she was Germany’s vice captain, I had to agree.

“I know that Ryan’s not entirely certain on his chances of starting, though,” she continued. “I think he will. He says – and I’m inclined to agree – that Aisling Quigley and Fiona O’Sullivan will both play; it seems silly to split up Bats teammates. But is Ryan better than Shane Connolly? I’d say so.”

I nodded in agreement.

“Connors still struggles with the Porskoff,” I added. “We’ll have to do as many as possible, especially against the Kestrels, show Desmond Ryan that Murph’s been doing them for years – I mean, if I get to play, that is,” I added awkwardly, rubbing the back of my neck.

She smiled ever so slightly, but gave nothing away.

“Go and see the others. Merlin knows they’re all dying to see you.”

I grinned, and got up from my seat.

“Thank you.”

“Thank you, James. For coming back.”

“I’ll always come back to the Falcons,” I vowed.

***

I got home half an hour later to find Aunt Audrey sitting in my kitchen, a plate of shortbread in front of her.

“What are you doing here?” I asked as she got up and hugged me.

“Wanted to see you, didn’t I? I figured you probably won’t have the time to come and see little old me, now you’re back playing again, so I’ve come to you instead.”

“Who says I’m playing again?” I raised an eyebrow, and sat down opposite her.

“Brigid said you had a meeting with Sinead today. And there’s no way she’d refuse to have you back.” She busied herself with the teapot.

“I don’t know; she didn’t seem all that enthused at first...”

She raised an eyebrow.

“James,” she said, “she’d be an idiot not to take you back.”

And that was when I realised it had all been a test. All of Sinead’s questioning ... she’d just wanted to make sure I really did want this. She’d wanted me to realise how much it meant to me. And she’d trusted me to give her the answer she wanted to hear.

“There’s no guarantee I’ll play though,” I accepted a mug of tea from Aunt Audrey as she sat down. “Roxanne’s good. Really good.”

“Did you see her today?”

“Yeah, I did.” I grinned, remembering the way she’d nearly knocked me off my feet the moment I’d entered the changing rooms. The most touching thing about it had been that my return signalled a possible demotion back to reserve for her, but she didn’t seem to give a damn about that. She’d just been happy I was okay.

“You’ll play,” Aunt Audrey said confidently. “Sinead Murphy’s no mug.”

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t nearly as sure as she was. Instead, I took a piece of shortbread from the plate.

“Darling, I wanted to talk to you about something.” Aunt Audrey looked slightly nervous. “Brigid came to see me earlier, about you. And why all of this happened. She’s concerned that you don’t know how to deal with your anger-”

“I don’t have anger issues!” I said indignantly. “I hardly ever get angry-”

“But when you do...” she began.

She didn’t need to finish the sentence.

“I know.” I sighed. “I went overboard. But ... that was just because ... I got angry when Carlotta left. Because it made me unearth all my ... I just felt pressured. Because of Dad. And Carla brought it all up, so when she left, it made me angry. And I blamed that on the media, because it was their fault she found out everything about Dad. And then Brigid was angry with me, so I was angry back, and then I went to the bloody Lair...”

It had all been salvageable until I’d gone to the Basilisk’s Lair, I considered now. At that point, I’d just upset Brigid a little bit, but nothing overly serious. It had been after that fateful night out that the harm had really been done ... with her, Albus, Rose and eventually everyone else, when I threw my fists at that photographer.

But it had all stemmed from that ill-feeling I’d had towards Dad for years, along with my hatred of the media.

And then the two had combined in the shape of a pissed off Carlotta...

“Things are cool with Dad now,” I reassured Aunt Audrey. “That won’t happen again. And Sinead’s going to make sure that Brie’s always with me when I talk to media, so they can’t overstep the line and I don’t have a reason to get pissed off with them. So it ... it’s all fine now...”

Almost. Two of the three elements that had combined to produce such a poisonous result had been dealt with. The third element didn’t seem to want anything to do with me.

“That’s all very well,” Aunt Audrey said, “but I do think you need to lay off the Firewhisky for a while.”

I smiled wryly.

“You’re too late; Sinead’s already done that.”

“Good for her,” she said approvingly. “There’s something else we need to address. You don’t like the attention.”

“No,” I said, relieved that someone understood me on that one. “I don’t-”

“Then why become a professional Quidditch player?”

And that was when it hit me.

It had been staring me in the face the entire time. The reason why I was the one who’d had the breakdown, and not Albus or Lily. None of us liked the attention or the comparisons. But Albus worked in the Ministry; even if he was training to be an Auror, it still wasn’t a very glamorous job in the eyes of the Prophet; not enough to garner their full attention, at any rate. Perhaps once he was working on his own cases, he’d get more inches, but while he was just a trainee, he provided no juicy tidbits whatsoever. And most of Lily’s life made no sense to them. Even the bits that might, she kept private.

I went and chose a profession that found myself almost permanently residing in the back pages of the Prophet, and often the front too. Once I’d become a Quidditch player, of course they were going to talk about me more than anyone else. I was already well-known; I’d just given the papers something else to talk about. I’d given them a reason to hype me up.

That had been the reason for Brigid and Sinead’s peculiar looks. They’d realised, all along. Because why would someone who hated being famous, choose a profession that made them even more so?

To me, it didn’t matter that I had my own legacy now, even if it was only comprised of two and a half seasons with the Falcons. The trouble was, I’d never know how much of my media appeal was down to my own successes. Dad’s fame had been a huge springboard, and as far as I was aware, I was still on it. I didn’t hate being famous, I just hated that it was because of Dad. And it always would be because of him. No matter how successful a Quidditch player I might become, news articles would always link me back to the man who defeated Lord Voldemort.

“I just wanted to play Quidditch,” I told my mug. “I didn’t want to play it because of the following it has; I wanted to play it because I love the game. It was the only future I could envisage. It still is the only thing I can see myself doing.” I looked up at Aunt Audrey. “I guess I just have to learn to ignore the attention it gets me.”

She smiled slightly.

“Perhaps you do,” she said. “Perhaps you do.” 


Chapter 38: thirty-eight
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“I hear Minerva McGonagall’s struggling to find a new flying teacher,” Mum said conversationally while cooking breakfast next day. It was a Saturday morning, of course, and she’d turned up as though the last five weeks hadn’t even happened.

“She’s still not filled the vacancy?” I raised my head sharply.

She frowned.

“How did you know there was one?”

“I could ask you the same thing.”

She smiled wryly.

“Neville told your dad,” she said. “Your turn.”

“She asked me if I knew of any players who might want it.”

“And?”

I shrugged. “Nobody’s interested. Trouble is, any players who might be considering retirement – like Julia or Laura – would be doing so to spend more time with their families. And a job at Hogwarts is hardly conducive to a family lifestyle, is it?”

“Neville manages,” she pointed out.

“Yes, well they’re hardly normal, are they?”

“James!”

“I didn’t mean it like that!” I said. “I just meant, they’ve lived in the Leaky Cauldron for years. Living above a pub is hardly a regular occurrence, is it? Alice and Francesca probably barely noticed Neville wasn’t around, what with living in the gateway to Diagon Alley. And he’s home over the summers, and at weekends, and now Alice and Frankie are at Hogwarts it makes things more normal – except that their Dad teaches them Herbology, obviously. And ... he’s always done that, you know? If he were to change jobs, he’d probably pick one which lets him spend more time at home. It’s exactly the same for players – if they want to retire, it’s because they want to spend more time with their kids, so they’re not going to want a teaching job at Hogwarts. Not straight away, anyway. Maybe someone whose family are grown up...” I mused.

Mum sighed.

“The trouble is, it’s generally hard to find people who want to teach at the school, because it is a time-consuming career even if you don’t live at the castle – it’s not required for teachers to even live in...”

“Yes, but practically they kind of have to, don’t they?” I said. “I mean, all the pupils live there; you need some teachers to live in, and if too many decide to live at home then it won’t work as a boarding school.”

“True,” she conceded. “But if anything, that makes the situation more delicate. The best options are people without many commitments. Which means people who’ve just left school and don’t have a family of their own yet, or older people – like you said – whose families are independent. But older people are less likely to want a change in career so late, and especially not to become a flying teacher.”

“It’s funny; I never realised before how hard it was to fill a teaching post...”

“Well, that’s because nobody’s had to fill the flying one before in your lifetime,” she pointed out. “For academics, teaching is as respected a profession as researching or writing. But when it comes to Quidditch, the best players just want to play; you guys aren’t interested in teaching. The best coaches will go into professional coaching, because there’s far more respect in that field than at a school. And the best referees will become professionals because of the money involved in it.”

Quidditch refereeing was probably up there with dragon breeding as one of the most dangerous jobs in the wizarding world. As a result, the wages were huge in order to tempt people into it.

“People don’t want to teach at Hogwarts when they’re young; it’s nowhere near as glamorous a job. And, evidently, there’s a lack of older people, who’ve done all that already or are otherwise suitably qualified, that want the job.”

I sighed.

“It’s a shame,” I said. “I mean, surely teaching ought to be the most important aspect of Quidditch? If younger people don’t learn to play, and develop an interest in it, how are we going to keep the game alive? That’s where it all starts. All of us players plied our trade at school originally; without that we couldn’t possibly be the players we are now. Hogwarts students are the future of the game; it’s vital they have someone to nurture their talent.”

Mum smiled slightly.

“Perhaps you should head Minerva’s campaign. You make it sound like a most admirable profession.”

“Well, it is,” I said, slightly put-out by her mocking tone.

“Oh, no, you misunderstand me,” she said hurriedly. “Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with you! Your passion for the game is second-to-none.”

An odd smile teased at the corners of her mouth.

“Freddie would be a good shout for it,” I said suddenly, as the thought dawned on me. “He was on the Quidditch team for years, and he’s good at tactics too. He’s only working in the shop because it’s convenient...”

“He’d either take to the extra responsibility very well, or he’d be utterly terrible,” she summed up. “And I don’t think Minerva would take that risk. It’s a shame though, because I think he has some of the right traits.”

“Brigid?” I mused.

“Doesn’t have the patience to teach. I can’t envisage her showing First Years how to fly, somehow.”

Neither could I, to be fair.

“Hey, how about you?” A cheeky smile spread across my face. “You’re fresh out of a job...”

She threw the tea towel at me.

“Actually,” she then admitted, “I’ve told Minerva that if she doesn’t find anyone to take the job by September, and Madam Hooch stays for another year, I’ll take it on from next September.”

“Really?” My eyes widened. I’d only mentioned her as a joke – I couldn’t see her teaching any more than I could Brigid.

“I thought I’d do her a favour. It’s not something I’d consider ordinarily, but it’s getting to be a desperate situation. I initially said I’d do it for a couple of years, but if I take it up, I can’t leave it unless I have a replacement, especially when I’m only in my mid-forties. You know who the obvious option would be to take the job, of course?”

I frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“There’s a stand out candidate. Someone who has all the qualities required, and more. Someone who’d love teaching young people, and who’d be revered by them. Come on, James, it’s right underneath your nose...”

And then it dawned on me.

“Dad.”

“He always was good at teaching,” Mum said, and I knew that she was referring to their illegal study group, the DA. “Minerva knows all about that, of course. He’s still a fantastic flyer, and he knows all the laws of the game; he’d be a perfectly adept referee. I think Minerva’s secretly hoping he’ll take it, but you know him; he won’t leave the MLE unless he thinks his job there is done, and he comes up with new reforms and projects every week.”

“Have you told him you’re the back-up?”

“That’s one way of putting it.”She smiled wryly. “Yes, I’ve told him. When I got the boot from the Prophet I was seriously considering the job unconditionally, but then I talked to Percy about going freelance, and-”

Uncle Percy?”

She shrugged. “He and Audrey came round for lunch. He spoke a lot of sense, actually; he said he thought teaching was a fine career path – of course, you know what he’s like – but that I should do what I want to do, not what I feel obliged to do. I love writing about Quidditch, but I don’t know that I’d want to teach it or referee it. I gave up the practical side of things a long time ago. I don’t want the job, I’d much prefer to remain as I am. But ... the post has to be filled somehow. So I would do it, but only if it were completely necessary.”

“Would Dad do it on that basis?” I suggested. “If nobody else was available, and you decided not to, would he take the job?”

“I wouldn’t let him,” she said flatly. “I know how much his job means to him; how important it is for him to do what he can to keep the Ministry a clean, uncorrupted place. If it came down to me or him, it would have to be me, because I wouldn’t let it be him.”

There was something utterly wonderful about Mum’s boldly-declared self-sacrifice. I knew she and Dad had always been loyal towards each other, but her willingness to give up her job so he could keep his just served to underline how much she loved him. It was something I’d probably never tire of – at least so long as I wasn’t subjected to their demonstrations of affection. I’d grown up in a large, loving family; it was because of that love they’d welcomed me back into their arms so quickly. It was reassuring to know they were a constant in my life; that that love would always be there.

“You know,” I said, “sometimes I wonder if maybe Hogwarts should expand on the job of the flying teacher. I mean, I knew what Quidditch was when I got there, but Muggleborns don’t. And for anyone who can’t fly or lacks confidence, a couple of flying lessons at the beginning of First Year isn’t going to be enough, is it? Why don’t they become a permanent thing, for all years? Like, first you tackle the flying for those who can’t, then teach the basics of Quidditch, then you can get onto position-specific skills and tactics and things, even hold practice matches. It would give people who want to play much more opportunity to practice, so they feel more confident about trying out. It just seems like such a waste, having a flying teacher with the ability to referee matches, and yet having so little playing time for anybody who’s not on the teams.”

Mum looked thoughtful.

“You know, that’s actually a really good idea,” she said. “You should mention it to Minerva. You’re right; they have the resources to do so much more than they do, Quidditch wise. And how many House players are Muggleborns? Not many, I’d wager. If course, your father was put on the team before he knew what the sport was! But then, he was always a special case, wasn’t he? Don’t tell him I said that,” she added, “he doesn’t need an ego boost. But that’s a very good idea of yours; in fact, I might adopt it myself, if I do take on the job.”

I grinned.

“I really do think you’d be good at it.”

I paused, pondering something. The thought process had been triggered by Mum’s reference to her own retirement. Her career had been an odd one, that was for sure; she’d been good enough to play for England, but had refused the offer, which wasn’t widely known. Sinead Moran may have been my own inspiration, but that was because Mum was my mother and that somehow prevented me from seeing her as a player. She was just my mum, who’d once played Quidditch and now wrote about it.

But she’d been good. Really good. She hadn’t been my own inspiration, but she’d certainly been that of many other players, Roxanne and Della among them. Like me, she’d done something she absolutely loved for a living. And yet, she’d retired after seven years. I was only in my third full season, and it felt like I’d barely scratched the surface. For one thing, I wasn’t going to make this World Cup but there was always the next one, in four years’ time, to work towards. And even then I’d only be twenty-five. I could get at least ten more years of playing in on top of that. Sinead had retired at thirty-eight! Tamsin Robins was that age, and was still playing international Quidditch, her form was that good.

So why had Mum retired so early?

Oddly enough, it was something I’d never wondered before, despite being fully aware of the fact that her playing career had been a mere third of that achieved by many other players. But it hadn’t seemed quite so incredulous before I’d had a taste of professional Quidditch myself. Now that I had, I didn’t understand why anyone would give it up.

So I took a deep breath.

And I asked.

“Why did you give it all up? You were playing Quidditch for the Harpies; why retire when you did?”

She gave me a curious look.

“That was me choosing not to give it up,” she said cryptically.

I frowned.

“Wha-”

“What do you think I gave up, James?” She smiled. “I had seven years of Quidditch – well, a bit less than that, given that I had time out when I was pregnant with you and Albus. I enjoyed every moment of it. When I left school, your father and I still weren’t totally sure what we were doing, and I had the offer, so ... I took it. But then we got married, and had two beautiful boys...

“I’ve loved your father since I was eleven years old and he saved me from a memory kept in a diary. Since then, that’s what I’ve always wanted; to be with him, for us to be happy together, without the threat of death hanging over us. I finally had that, and I didn’t want to let it go. It got to the point where I just lost that drive to play. I wanted to spend my time with him, and you two, instead. So, yes, I retired. I didn’t want to juggle my family and my career any longer, so I chose my family. I love Quidditch, and I always will. I love writing about it. But I couldn’t play it any more if it kept me from my husband.”

She looked at me perceptively.

“You might understand that, one day,” she said.

I smiled slightly.

“I’ve hardly grown up in fear of my life,” I said, trying to sidetrack the topic.

“True,” she acknowledged. “Very true. You have no idea how much I envy you for that, sometimes...”

“But if you hadn’t been born when you were, and if Voldemort hadn’t come back, then you might not have gotten with Dad,” I pointed out.

“True,” she said again. “But then, I might still have six brothers. Swings and roundabouts. Anyway, stop trying to change the subject. I’d like to think I know you fairly well, given that I’m your mother. Well enough to realise that you put the barriers up when you left school. And you weren’t going to take them down for just anyone...”

She looked at me perceptively.

“I don’t think you took them down purposefully,” she continued. “I think that because she’s a Muggle, you didn’t have your subconscious telling you that she must only like you because of your father. And I think that meant you could be more relaxed, more off-guard ... and more attached to her.”

Of course. The conversation was going to come round to Carlotta sooner or later. Near enough everything else had been rectified; all that was left was her.

The only trouble was I didn’t know what to do. I’d apologised to her for not being honest, but she’d barely seemed to care about that any more. She’d just brushed it off, as though she didn’t mind my dishonesty.

But then she’d backed off.

I knew what Mum’s question would be. Was I going to fight for her?

But that wasn’t my question to myself. No, my question to myself was whether I wanted to fight for her. Because fighting for her meant I wanted more than just the little fling this had started off as.

Mum was right, of course, just as everybody else had been. It hadn’t been ‘just a fling’ for very long. In fact, the moment she’d seen that photo of Lily and Brigid, discovered Cordelia, realised I could materialise out of thin air ... that was the moment it all changed. My refusal to have her Obliviated meant that there had been no way back for us, and the more I’d let her into my life, the more attached I’d become.

But maybe it had actually started before I’d broken the Statute. After all, I’d chosen not to have her Obliviated in the first place ... somehow I didn’t think I’d have objected quite so much if she’d been more like Cassie Lynch.

I’d let myself care about her. That had been the problem. And she’d made it easy, too. After all, she’d cooked a load of dinners for me after only our second night together. Aunt Hermione always said the way to Uncle Ron’s heart was through his stomach (though given her lack of cooking expertise, I wasn’t entirely sure how this worked out for them), and I could see how that could be true of other men.

There was no reason I shouldn’t want anything more from this ... whatever it was with Carlotta. It wasn’t that I was relationship-phobic; I just didn’t want to be used. That had been the initial attraction with her.

But now it was about far more than just that.

I wanted to fight. I was going to fight.

I just didn’t know how.

***

“You’re lucky I’m fast with my wand,” Rose said sternly.

“I know,” I said glumly. Often I’d found myself cursing her quick handiwork. Now, I had to admit to myself it had saved me a lot of added worry and hassle. “I never meant to hurt you, though,” I added. “You know that, right? And if I’d been myself, I’d never have considered throwing a paperweight at you...”

She smiled slightly.

“I know,” she said. “Don’t worry, James, it’s all okay now. Though I will hold it over your head as much as possible, purely because I can.”

“I hope you mean that in a figurative sense.”

“Don’t count on it,” she said severely, though her eyes were dancing mischievously.

“How was the big dinner with the parents?” I asked. A cheeky grin spread across my face.

“It went alright,” she said brightly. “Wouldn’t you say, Scorp?”

She turned to look at him, as he pulled a face.

Alright is over-exaggerating slightly...”

“Oh, it wasn’t that bad...”

One of the bigger bits of news I’d missed while I’d been drowning my sorrows in the Hog’s Head was that Rose and Scorpius had made their relationship official – and had told Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione. From what Albus had told me, they could have taken the news better.

“I’m sure it went as well as the reverse situation would,” I chipped in. “In fact, how have your parents taken it, Malfoy?”

I may have been okay with Rose fooling around with him; indeed, I may even have stuck up for him to Al. But we’d always been on surname terms and that wasn’t going to change overnight.

He shifted slightly in his seat.

“They seemed ... okay with it.”

“I don’t think I’ll be invited round there any time soon,” Rose said light-heartedly.

“Don’t say that,” Scorpius frowned, “it’s not that bad-”

“Scorp, our parents have a lot of history between them. They’re hardly going to change their opinions about each other overnight, are they? They’ll come round, in time. When they realise we’re happy together. And when they remember we’re our own people, not carbon copies of them,” she added darkly.

It seemed to be a popular sentiment amongst my generation.


Chapter 39: thirty-nine
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

My first day back at training was awful. It was as though I was starting the season all over again. I hadn’t even flown for six weeks; that was the longest period I could remember not being on a broom. Even our winter break, which should have been two months, had been broken up by our exhibition match against the Heidelberg Harriers.

Of course, once you’ve learned how to fly a broom you never forgot, so there was no rustiness there at all. But my fitness levels had dropped, and my general Chaser play was rusty. It took the whole of my first day before I was back to a level anywhere near that expected of a first choice player.

Training with so few other people was peculiar. It was a situation I hadn’t come across before. It certainly felt odd not having Ryan and Della around – it was a lot quieter without Della, for one thing.

I’d still seen them, though. In fact, I’d been visited by all six of our international players at various points during the weekend. Della, Klaus and Stefan hadn’t been able to stay long, as they’d travelled via international Portkeys from Germany and Bulgaria respectively, and couldn’t miss their return trips. Ryan, Cato and Cleo, who were all in Apparating range, had been able to stay longer. As their visits had accidentally coincided, the four of us had been able to have a long chat – though regrettably no alcohol was involved as it was now a banned substance for us all.

It had been nice to see them all, though. Cato and Cleo had seemed a little awkward at first until I realised they weren’t sure how to  act around me following my release from the England squad. Once I’d reassured them that really, I was okay with it all, they loosened up a bit.

Was I really okay? Well, I’d finally come to terms with the notion that I wasn’t going to play for England in this World Cup, which was a start, at least. It had taken a while to completely sink in. I’d thought, when I was grovelling for my Falcons place back, that I’d already understood my England chance had gone, but there had undoubtedly been a not-so-small part of me that refused to believe it was over, still thought that if Demelza Robins saw I was back playing for the Falcons, she might change her mind...

She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Not for the World Cup, at any rate. I might have a chance at the friendlies in the winter; she could re-jig her squad once the tournament was over. Until then, I’d just have to sit on the sidelines and watch.

It had been during my first training session with the Falcons, while I’d been practicing a Chaser play with Roxanne and Laura, that it really sank in. I was only there because England didn’t want me. I’d been dropped. Rejected. And it had all been self-inflicted.

But I had a job to do. We had a trophy to win. I’d let my teammates down once, and I couldn’t do it again. So I refused to let myself wallow in self-pity, and instead threw myself fully into training, in the hope that if I worked hard enough, perhaps I could begin to redeem myself, and make up for what I’d done.

***

Freddie visited at the end of the week. He brought some Firewhisky with him – “Come on, Jim, you can have just the one bottle! You don’t have a game for another week!” – but I refused to drink with him, instead sticking to pumpkin juice. I may have ignored Sinead’s orders about drinking many times before, but this time round I wasn’t going to do anything that might jeopardise my career. There were only so many chances she’d be prepared to give me.

The conversation started off fairly light-hearted, like most of my conversations with Freddie. He chatted about the latest shop merchandise, about Louis’ latest misdeeds, and about Grandpa Arthur’s reaction to our Rosie dating a Malfoy.

Then the subject topic soon grew more serious.

“Brigid’s going on a date with O’Hare,” he said sourly, taking an overly-large swig of Firewhisky.

“Aiden O’Hare?” I frowned, thinking of the Kestrels Keeper. “What is it with her and dating her clients?” I mused.

“He’s an idiot,” Freddie said irritably.

I shrugged. “Seems alright to me.”

“You would say that. She can do better than him, though...” He shook his head, and stared morosely at the fireplace.

I was itching to say something to him, to tell him to just get on with it and talk to her about whatever it was that was holding him back. Had he still not resolved the argument they’d had all those years ago?

He emptied the bottle, and set it down heavily on the coffee table. To hell with it.

“Bloody hell, Freddie, just stop moaning and do something about it if it bothers you!”

He jumped, clearly taken aback by the sharp tone of my voice.

“Wha-”

“I’ve had to reassure her for years now, tell her that of course you’re interested, you’re just too nervous to do anything about it. I’ve given you every chance to get with her, I’ve never spoken ill of you to her, and what have you done about it? Nothing! So you argued with her, big deal! She’s over that, Freddie, she just wants to be with you, and every time you get with someone else it breaks her heart! These dates with other people, it’s her way of trying to get over you, because she thinks you don’t care. If you really care as much as you make out that you do, then why don’t you bloody do anything about it?”

“Because I can’t love her in the way that she deserves!”

His reply had me dumbstruck. I stared at him for a moment, lost for words. He said nothing more, clearly not wanting to elaborate, so it was down to me to break the silence, once I’d found my voice.

“Why on earth would you think that?”

“Because ... look at my parents, James. They didn’t marry out of love; they married out of grief. They mourned the death of Uncle Fred alone for years, and then figured that they could at least mourn him together; that way it wouldn’t be so lonely. But it’s nothing more; it never has been and it never will be. They don’t love each other! They’re business partners. They’re friends. But they’re not lovers. And the worst bit is, they’re still not over Fred’s death yet. It’s like being around each other just prolongs it, keeps him at the forefront of their minds. They don’t sleep in the same room; it’s been that way for almost as long as I remember, at least for as long as I’ve known that it’s odd for parents to have separate bedrooms. They hardly interact with each other at all, there’s just no attraction there! I mean, look at your parents-”

“I try not to.” I was unable to prevent the dry retort that came from my mouth, and winced, hoping he wouldn’t think I was disregarding what he was saying.

In reality, his admissions stunned me. He’d never so much as suggested this kind of insecurity before, and I’d certainly never noticed anything to suggest he was worried about anything like that.

“But they love each other, you can see it all the time! Even when they’re not being overly showy with it, it’s still there; a smile, or a look, or a gentle touch to the arm – it’s there all the time! They’re happy together! My parents ... it’s nothing like that. And that’s what I've grown up with! How can I possibly love someone when my parents aren’t in love with each other? Aren't in love with anyone?”

I said nothing for a moment, as I just tried to gather my thoughts. I doubted I was the best person to give anybody advice about love, but this involved my best friends, and I owed them the best advice I could possibly give.

“They still love you, though,” I said finally. “And Roxanne. And it’s not like they don’t like each other; they’re hardly unhappy...”

“But they’re not living a happy life, either!” he protested. “And besides, love for a child is different to love for a partner-”

“Is it, though?” I pressed. “In this context? They love you, Freddo; why shouldn’t you be able to love someone? In fact, I think you already do love her-”

“But that’s the point!” he said, his eyes wide. “I don't know if it’s love or not! And if it is, how do I treat her right? I just ... I dunno, Jim, I don't think I’m cut out for this. She ... she could do so much better-”

“I don’t believe that for a start,” I said flatly, “and I don't think she does either. She wants you, even if you have tried your hardest to convince her differently. Just try it, Freddie! At least tell her what you’re thinking! You owe her that much, at least.”

He fell into the couch behind him, and ran his hands through his unruly hair. He looked utterly tortured. And at that point, inexplicably, I was reminded of something my Nana Molly had told me when I was younger, when Mum had gotten upset over something to do with a diary. At the time, I hadn’t known the full story about Mum and Dad’s past. Now, of course, I knew everything.

“Wars scar people, James,” Nana Molly had said. “The thing with scars is that while the wound may heal, the mark remains. It never truly leaves us.”

At the time the remark had made sense – but I’d thought it only applied to those who’d lived through the war. Now I saw that that wasn’t the case at all. Uncle Fred’s death had left Freddie just as scarred as his parents were. The fight against Voldemort had managed to leave its mark on people who hadn’t even existed at the time.

“Look, Freddie,” I said gently, well aware of the irony of what I was about to say, “you’re not your parents. You’re you. You can love, of course you can! You just need to let go of whatever’s holding you back...”

I knew I’d grown up in my parents’ shadows; that I’d felt pressured by things they’d done before I was born, things I couldn’t have had any influence over. But I hadn't realised that Freddie, and Rose as well – perhaps our whole generation – had suffered the same.

Dad’s own generation, and many more older than that, had been through so much – torture, coercion, grief – but as a family, the Weasleys had possibly been through more than any other. We were abnormal; it had always been a joke of ours at family dinners, but we’d meant it in reference to the Veela blood, the werewolf tendencies, the Metamorpmagus gene, the prophecies and being a bunch of gingers. I hadn’t realised just how abnormal we were. Just how much the war had screwed things up.

I remembered Lily telling me once about the Muggle phrase the ‘lost generation’. The Muggles had had their own wars, and the phrase had referred to the people who came of age during them. In that context, my parents were part of a lost generation too; a generation of people who’d grown up and become adults under the darkest cloud of them all.

We’d always been referred to as the ‘golden generation’. Born well after the war was over and its antagonists dealt with, we were born at a happy time, brought into a world at peace, with so much potential and promise and so little to worry about. But in reality, we were just as marred by the war. We had scars too, scars we couldn’t even begin to heal, because they weren’t inflicted on us; they were inherited. And if we didn’t understand where they’d come from, how could we deal with them?

We weren’t the golden generation at all. We were more like the fucked up generation. The true lost generation. The generation who’d been born lost, and didn’t know how to find themselves.

“Just,” I began, “just tell her how you feel, mate. She ... she’ll understand. And you owe her that much, at least. If ... if you care enough about her, then you’ll tell her.”

It was all I could do.

***

On Sunday, we all gathered at the Burrow for lunch. It was something we didn’t do often, but Nana Molly had insisted on it to celebrate my recovery. I wasn’t sure I deserved to have a lunch party thrown in my honour, but I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint my grandmother, especially not when she delighted in any excuse to get the whole family together.

It was nice, to be able to see them all again. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed them – in particular little Dora, whose hair today was vivid pink. Teddy had been disgusted until Dad had told him that his mother used to wear her hair the same colour.

There it was, yet another reminder of what this family had been through. Teddy had never known his parents; they’d been killed before he was old enough to even remember them. I looked around the living room, at the various people collected there. Victoire ... daughter of a part Veela and a man with werewolf tendencies. It was little wonder she’d married Teddy in the end; she’d grown up with him, she knew he didn’t give a damn about that. Not like the people at Hogwarts ... she’d always thought they’d judged her. So had Dominique and Louis, which was most likely the reason for Louis’ outlook on life – he found it easier than having to actually admit to who he was. Just like me, I thought to myself.

Then there was Roxanne. Did she have the same hang-up as Freddie? Was she worried that because her parents didn’t love each other, she in turn didn’t know how to love?

And Molly and Lucy. The family had tried so hard to keep Uncle Percy’s story quiet ... but they’d failed, in the end. Too many people had known of his transgressions. How awful some of the taunts had been ... How did it feel, having a father who betrayed his family? It didn’t seem to matter that we didn’t care any more, that he’d been forgiven the moment he’d stepped back into the fold. People didn’t seem to consider that he’d fought Voldemort and his followers just as bravely as everyone else in the end, and had done far more than a lot of other people. They didn’t care about that. They just liked to jeer.

Rose had it bad too, with the entire wizarding world judging her for her relationship with a Malfoy ... did Hugo suffer as well? Did he also feel the huge burden on his shoulders, from being the son of two of the most famous people in wizarding Britain?

Albus ... Al had taken the plunge where I’d completely avoided the scenario. Training to be an Auror. Going into the same profession as Dad, providing the world with the biggest comparison of all. Giving them extra reason to scrutinise. But then, he’d always been braver than me. I’d hidden behind a stupid act of self-confidence that had never been real, while he’d never been afraid to just be himself. He could cope with it all, yet I couldn’t.

Lily had managed to escape it all, but at what cost? She was happy, I could see that much, but she was working herself into the ground, trying to straddle both worlds. And it had taken a long time for her to settle into Muggle school. I still remembered her first letters, written clumsily in pen and tear-stained, as she bemoaned the fact she couldn’t have a pet cat, and she missed Chocolate Frogs, and their first Muggle history topic was on witch burning of all things...

She’d acclimatised soon enough to her surroundings, helped by the fact that she’d had a tutor to prepare her for Muggle life for two years before she attended school. Then there was her friendship with Maddie, and the discovery that actually, she was quite good at Muggle sports. Not that she’d had an easy ride; there was the Obliviation for a start, not to mention the fact she was now too scared to tell any of her other Muggle friends the truth about just who she was.

And once she left school, she’d be going to work for the Ministry, advising the Muggle Prime Minister. Stepping right back into the line of fire, letting the spotlight swing round onto her again. How would she keep up the pretence to her Muggle friends and Maddie’s family, once they’d left school and she became more involved in the magical world?

We were all, in our own ways, well and truly messed up.

I loved my family to bits, and wouldn’t dream of trading any of them for the world. But sometimes I wondered what it would be like, to live a life free from all of the attention and pressure that came from being a Weasley. And I wondered whether any of my siblings and cousins ever had that same fleeting thought, as they lay in their beds at night.


Chapter 40: forty
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

We finally had a full squad of fourteen in training again the week before the Cannons match. It was good to have everyone back – for a start, things were much easier with a full complement of players.

I’d expected Sinead to be relieved at the return of the internationals, but, if anything she’d gotten more frantic as the week went on. It hadn’t gone unnoticed by anyone. Usually our training in the run-up to a match was specific to the team that would be playing that weekend. But Sinead had been rotating us Chasers so much I’d had a full practice with almost every plausible trio. It was peculiar – almost as though she wasn’t sure who she was going to play. That assumption seemed to be the correct one, as she didn’t make a team announcement that Wednesday like she normally did.

“Maybe someone should ask her what’s going on,” Della said in a low voice at the end of the day. She, Alfie, Cato and I had all hung back, clearly all wondering if anybody else was having the same thoughts. “Alf, you’re captain, you should do it-”

“If she wanted to take me into her confidence, she’d have done it,” he reasoned, giving a blasé shrug. “You should go, you’re Head Chaser and that’s the position she seems most uncertain about...”

But I wasn’t so sure that was the case. Now I came to think about it, I’d seen everyone else practice in a match set-up just as much as I had. Cato clearly felt the same, as he shifted awkwardly on his feet.

“Junior, you should go,” Della said suddenly.

I stared at her, taken-aback.

“Me? Why me? I hardly think I’m her favourite person in the world right now, how would I be of any use?”

Della smiled slightly.

“But that’s exactly why you’re the best person. Let’s face it, you screwed up big time. But she still took you back. She doesn’t do that with just anyone. I’d say you are one of her favourites...”

I frowned, and looked around at Alfie and Cato ... but they looked just as convinced.

I can’t ask her; I’ve only been here a few months. It would look like I was imposing myself too much,” Cato said.

I could certainly imagine that Cato, with his large frame, had that impact in most situations.

“Della’s right, Jim. You should ask her,” Alfie agreed. “You know what she’s like; she’ll talk to you. Plus, you know where her office is,” he added cheekily.

I scowled at him.

“Alright,” I said with a sigh, “though I’m not sure what I’ll find out. She’s probably just hesitant about playing me. She probably regrets taking me back-”

“Bollocks.” Della gave me a friendly smack around the head. “Just go!”

“Thanks for the support,” I muttered, and headed out of the changing rooms and up the corridor to Sinead’s office. I had absolutely no idea what I was meant to say – how could I question our coach’s decision not to announce the team as early as usual? What if it looked like I was impatient to get a game, despite my promise to willingly sit on the sidelines?

Her office door was ajar. I poked my head round it to find her sitting at her desk with her head in her hands, gripping her hair tightly. I cleared my throat awkwardly, and she jerked her head up.

“Oh, James, it’s you,” she said. “Is everything alright?”

She looked flustered, which was peculiar; Sinead was never flustered. I noticed that her desk was covered with what I assumed were various game plans. She wasn’t getting bothered about our tactics for the Cannons game of all things, was she?

“Yeah, it’s fine,” I replied. “We were just wondering when you were going to announce the team for the match on Saturday...”

She leaned back in her chair, and let out a loud sigh.

“Come in,” she said. “Shut the door behind you.”

I did so, and gingerly took a seat opposite her.

“I’ll be frank with you, James; I don’t know who’s playing on Saturday.”

I frowned.

“Is it that you can’t decide whether to play me?”

She snorted.

“You? James, you’re definitely playing, against the Cannons and the Kestrels. In fact, the way this is going, I might end up playing Jules as well. Bloody hell, if I wasn’t going to play you...” She shuddered. “No, it’s these ridiculous playing time regulations...”

There were international rules regulating the game, concerned chiefly with player welfare. One of them put a limit on the number of games a player could play in the six week period before an international tournament such as the World Cup. This meant that, as Brigid had hinted previously, Sinead would be forced to rest Ryan, Della and the other four internationals during our last lot of games. The rule was widely unpopular, partly because players felt it made them rusty and would prefer the option to play, but mainly because in a sport with timeless matches it seemed pretty pointless trying to regulate how much Quidditch someone played in any given period.

“Seeker shouldn’t be a problem, because I alternate the boys anyway, and they should only need one match off each. So I’ll play Klaus against the Kestrels, and Stefan against the Cannons and the Bats. I’m just worried that if the Cannons match goes on for too long, the Bulgarians might ask me to rest Stefan for two matches, which isn’t necessarily a problem but the Germans could do the same with Klaus if the Kestrels game is a long one as well.”

“They could do that?” I frowned.

“Course they could.” She sighed. “The regulations only state the minimum; now we’re in the World Cup training period the players are under their countries’ jurisdiction. If they wanted to make themselves look good they could argue they’re being generous in even letting us play them at all, because they don’t have to do that.” She pulled a face. “It’s bollocks, James, it’s an absolute load of bollocks. Are they trying to ruin our domestic game?”

“I’m guessing you can’t overrule them...”

“Oho, there’s no chance of me doing that. You know what that would mean.”

I did. Any manager who dared go against the regulations incurred fines, and bans for the players. It was the regulations which gave the international sides chief authority over their players at times like this, and thus the ability to pull their players out of any club games they wanted to.

“I’ve had a good rapport with the Germans since I signed Della four years ago, so I’m hoping they’ll be sympathetic to the fact both our Seekers are internationals, and be prepared to let us play Klaus for two games if we need to. But they’re not obliged to, and that’s the worry. But that’s out of my hands, so I can’t think too much about them.

“The trouble is, it’s easy to get sucked into permutations and tactics, and how long should we let each game run for anyway? I know we’d normally string it out against the Cannons, but we can’t do that this time. We’ll have to make it a short one.”

“But surely we need to build up our points difference?” I suggested.

“We can’t risk it, otherwise the people on high might try pulling the guys out of the other two matches, and we can’t have that. Not against the Kestrels and the Bats, of all sides. No, we’re going to have to make the Cannons as short a match as possible. Say, an hour tops? We need the points, but at the same time we’re top of the table; we’ll just have to back ourselves to stay there.”

“But what if other teams pull ahead of us through long matches against other teams-”

“We’ll have to take that risk. I need my strongest team possible against the Kestrels and the Bats – and more to the point, I need a Seeker! So, the Cannons match will have to be a short one, to make sure Stefan can face the Bats two weeks later.”

“Okay.” I frowned. “But surely everyone else is easy, then? Just rest them all against the Cannons; we can beat them even with the full reserve team-”

“No can do.” She sighed again. “That wouldn’t be enough of a break. It would make a mockery of the system; the managements would be sure to make me rest them for longer.”

“So how is it a long enough break for Klaus?”

“Because he won’t be playing in the Bats match either,” she reminded me.

“This is crazy...”

“You’re telling me? It’s threatening to mess up our entire season. Let’s take Beater. I can’t use the Cannons match alone as Cato and Cleo’s rest period, which means I’ll have to rest them against the Kestrels, because they have to play against the Lynches, there’s no doubt about that. And that leaves us in a sticky situation.”

“Keira’s not affected by this, is she?”

“Nah, she’ll be fine to play. She’s just a coach for England, it won’t affect her. And I’m not worried about playing her, she’s a class act...”

“But you’re worried about Jake.”

“I’m worried about Jake.”

Jake Jenkins was our fourth Beater. He was the same age as Roxanne and, like her, was in his first full season with us, having signed on as a reserve in the middle of last season after leaving Hogwarts. He looked good in training but, unlike Roxanne, he hadn’t played a game for us yet. If Sinead was going to rest both Cato and Cleo at the same time, she’d be forced to throw Jake in at the deep end.

“I make his first match a must-win against the Kestrels? It’s madness, utter madness. And then there’s you Chasers. I have to rest Ryan and Della. I need them both playing against the Bats; my best Chaser unit requires them. But can I rest them both against the Kestrels? You’ve never played with Roxanne and Julia; in fact, I can’t even remember the last time you and Jules were in the same line-up!”

“Actually, not as long ago as the last time I played with Roxanne,” I pointed out.

“Yes, but you and Roxie have four years of constant play under your belts. I know it was only at Hogwarts but I don’t underestimate that kind of experience, especially when you take all your training into account. No, I’m not at all worried about you and Roxanne as a combo. It’s the third person I can’t decide on. The trouble is, I don’t know if I can resist the temptation to throw Ryan in for one of those games. If I’m going to big up the four years you and Roxanne had...”

“Ryan was our head Chaser for two of those years,” I finished. “You want to see us three playing together again.” I couldn’t hide my grin.

“It’s the most likely combination involving you and Roxanne to be successful,” she summed up. “Which suggests I should play you three against the Kestrels, and you, Roxie and Della against the Cannons. But I don’t know if the Irish would play ball and let me off.”

“You played for them!” I pointed out. “Surely they’d let you off?”

“Totally different management-”

“Yeah, your ex-teammate.”

“Desmond Ryan doesn’t do favouritism.”

“But surely he’d understand that you have to play Ryan against the Kestrels-”

“But I don’t,” she said dully. “In terms of mere numbers, I have enough Chasers to rest him against the Kestrels. The fact that I don’t want to, won’t be relevant. And besides, if he lets me off, then the Kestrels and the Bats will put pressure on him to let them off too, and that could create a sticky situation, what with their international numbers.”

The Bats and the Kestrels had a reasonably even split of the Irish squad. The Bats had the Lynch brothers, along with two of the squad’s Chasers, Aisling Quigley and Fiona O’Sullivan. The Kestrels, meanwhile, had the fourth Chaser, Shane Connolly, along with the first choice Seeker Brianna Keily and Keeper Aidan O’Hare. The Seeker match-up would be slightly better for us against the Bats, but they had the extra Beater power to counteract that advantage. Likewise, the Bats’ Keeper was easier to get past than O’Hare was for the Kestrels, but the Bats’ Chasers meant it was harder to get possession of the Quaffle in the first place. All in all, both teams were tough to beat in their own way.

But the Bats would be tougher. That was why Sinead wanted her first choice team up against them. Unfortunately, it looked as though that meant compromising our team against the Kestrels.

But who was her first team these days? Certainly the Bagmans, Alfie, Della and Ryan were nailed on starters in an ideal line-up, while Stefan and Klaus were interchangeable. But what had happened to my spot? I’d seemingly be playing against the Cannons and the Kestrels ... but would I get the Bats match? Or had Roxanne earned that right?

“I’ve got more chance of playing Della against the Kestrels, and resting her against the Cannons,” Sinead mused, pulling me out of my thoughts. “The Germans like us; they’d probably let me off. And the Kestrels know a lot more about Ryan; that might work against us. But what if the Germans don’t let me? And more importantly, what if they do, and the Kestrels match goes on too long and they want her rested for longer? What if Desmond wants Ryan rested for more than just one match?” She groaned, and buried her head in her hands.

“You’ve been thinking about this a lot, haven’t you?” I said.

“Three weeks. Three bloody weeks of thinking and rethinking and permutations and tactics. I nearly had a hernia when I first realised how bad it would be. Imagine how terrifying it was when you were AWOL.”

“Guess I’ve done you a favour, being dropped by England,” I said wryly.

“It does make it easier knowing I can run you into the ground,” she admitted, sitting upright again. “Not that I want you to think I’m pleased in any way about the situation; you know I’d much rather see you in the squad.”

I smiled appreciatively.

“What do you think?” she suddenly asked.

“I – what?” I frowned, wondering if I’d misheard what she’d said.

“What do you think I should do?”

My frown deepened.

“You – you’re asking me?”

“Of course I am. You’re one of my team, aren’t you? You’re one of the most tactically minded players I’ve got. I want to know what you make of it.”

I was floored. Coming back into the dressing room, I’d barely expected to play, let alone be privy to such an important tactical conversation.

“Okay,” I said nervously, edging forwards a little in my seat. “Seeker’s sorted, right?”

“So long as nobody moans, Seeker’s sorted,” she agreed. “But that means getting the game lengths right.”

“We have to make the Cannons match short, for Stefan, you mean?”

“In an ideal world, they’d all be short. But then we run the risk of being told we’ve not rested the players for long enough. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope the Bulgarians are nice to us.”

“It seems unfair, given that both of our Seekers are internationals,” I said.

“The rule is unfair. In fact, it’s totally ridiculous. If only it was by hours, not matches ... but then, you’d still incur the same problem of not being able to predict how long a match will be. It’s just not practical, this regulation. But we have to comply, and so does everyone else. So, as I’ve said, Seeker is straight in my head. Beater?”

I paused for a moment.

“Keira and Jakey will probably have to face the Kestrels, right?”

“It seems so.”

“Okay. Play them against the Cannons as well.”

She stared at me.

“Are you mad?”

“The Cannons are easy to beat!” I reasoned. “It’ll give Jake some match experience, which will make the Kestrels game seem less daunting for him.”

“You’d take the risk?”

“Would you have signed Jake if you didn’t think he could do it?” I asked.

“It’s not that I don’t think he can do it. It’s just, if I’m going to give him his debut, I’d rather it was match fourteen of twenty-four, not match ten of twelve.”

“It’s either match ten or match eleven,” I pointed out. “And he’s made of strong stuff. Plus, this is the Cannons we’re talking about. And Keira knows her game. She’s a Broadmoor, she can deal with anything.”

“There’s only so much pressure you can put on a player’s shoulders,” Sinead reasoned.

“Still, if you rest Cato and Cleo for both matches, there’s no way Demelza can complain. And if you have to play the second string Beaters against the harder opposition, why not give them the easier opposition first?”

“True,” she sighed, picking up her quill and adding to her notes. “I’ll admit, it’s a good thought. Risky, but good. And it leaves the Bagmans to play against the Bats. Which is the most important thing, at the end of the day. I can’t leave them out against the Bats.”

Against the Lynches, in other words.

“And Chaser? Come on, James, pick your teammates for me.”

“No pressure, eh?” I said lightly.

“Now you know how I feel,” she said sourly. “Someone’s got to make the decision, and Merlin knows I’ve gotten far too tangled up in permutations to decide it for myself.”

“Me and Roxanne for Cannons and Kestrels, right?” I started.

“That’s the easy bit.”

“I know; I was trying to put off thinking.”

She smiled wryly.

“You don’t think Desmond Ryan will be nice enough to let Ryan sit out the Cannons match and be done with it?”

“Not if it’s too short. Which it has to be for Stefan’s sake.”

“But you think the Germans will let you use that as Della’s rest game?”

“Possibly. If I sweet talk them.”

“Right, well get sweet talking, play Ryan against the Cannons and Della against the Kestrels. And then we cross our fingers and hope the Kestrels match isn’t too long, either.”

“That’s leaving a lot of things to chance,” she said edgily.

“I don’t think so,” I said confidently. “I’d back us to wrap things up against the Kestrels reasonably quickly-”

“But would you?”

She had a peculiar expression on her face. It wasn’t one I’d seen on her before, and it took me a moment to twig what it was – fear.

She wasn’t scared about incurring a fine. She was scared about putting her players under an enforced ban.

More to the point, she was scared at having to take too many risks. Be overly cautious, rest too many first team players for too many games, and risk losing the League. Or back the team to wrap things up quickly – and be forced to play our most important match of the season without our best players.

She was scared of losing.

“We can do this.” I looked her straight in the eye. “I know we can. We’re good enough – we’re more than good enough. I promise you, Klaus can keep that Kestrels match a short one. We give ourselves an hour to make hay against the Cannons before Stef catches the Snitch. We make sure the Kestrels match runs for about two – not too long, not too short. Then, we have all the time in the world to play with against the Bats, with our strongest team. That’s more than enough time. We’ve got a hundred points on them in the table already; we’ll be starting that match from a position of strength. “We won’t need to be under any pressure to win. We’ll do it. Trust me.”

She stared at me for a moment, as though the words were sinking in. Then she nodded.

“I trust you,” she whispered.

***

Sinead was still just as nervous the morning of the Cannons match. She’d announced the team on Thursday morning, and we’d had two solid days of preparation. We all felt confident, even Jakey, who was making his first appearance for the team. But confidence alone wasn’t enough to shed Sinead’s worry that this would backfire.

I knew she felt guilty about putting so much pressure on Stefan. She was giving him the responsibility of wrapping up the game within the hour. Of course, it also meant he was free to catch the Snitch the first instant he saw it, instead of holding back, which I knew pleased him. For a Seeker, there was nothing worse than having to hold back while still trying to prevent your opponent catching the Snitch.

But it meant that the pressure would be on if he hadn’t caught it within the first fifty or so minutes. And that was a kind of pressure Seekers didn’t like.

“You know,” I muttered to Sinead, “you could possibly give him a bit more leeway than one hour; I’m sure the Bulgarians won’t mind-”

“No,” she said firmly. “I’m risking enough as it is. I’m not taking more risks than I need to.”

Truth be told, I was nervous too. These hadn’t necessarily been my tactics alone, but I’d convinced Sinead they were the right ones. If things went wrong, it was surely going to be my fault just as much as hers.

And why, oh why, did the Cannons match have to be involved? These were always family affairs; everyone loved coming to watch me play against them, mostly because they enjoyed being able to tease Uncle Ron when we inevitably won. It was a huge amount of pressure for my first game back. Not to mention that today of all days was Albus’ twentieth birthday.

“If Uncle Ron stops inviting us round to give us the gossip about our parents that they refuse to tell us themselves, I’m blaming you,” Roxanne told me in the changing room before the game.

“It’ll be fine,” I reassured her. “He’s used to his beloved Cannons losing by now. Besides, you know he enjoys telling us about the family’s mishaps far too much to stop.”

Luckily, I was used to playing alongside Ryan and Roxanne by now. It had been like second nature to us back when I was fifteen. Now, of course, I was far more used to playing with Della instead of Roxanne, but I still remembered the way the three of us had played for Gryffindor all those years ago.

There were actually a lot of similarities in the way that Ryan and I went about playing alongside Roxanne, in comparison to Della. A lot of tactics and plays were decided based on relative sizes. Della and Roxanne interchanging didn’t affect this – whichever one who played with me and Ryan would be the smallest of the trio. This made the switch near enough seamless. The only difference was Roxanne’s speed on a broom – she was even faster than Ryan – so a couple of moves which had previously used his speed had been adapted, so that she was the main player. Others had to remain as they were, because they also required his bulk.

I wasn’t feeling too worried about our part in the match. My concern was more over Stefan – and Jake. He seemed fairly confident,  but for all I knew that was just a front. After all, I did the same, as did most players. It wasn’t as though this match would be particularly hard, but that didn’t make a difference for a player making his debut.

He didn’t know he was also playing against the Kestrels. I agreed with Sinead on that decision – one match was bad enough, without landing the added pressure on his shoulders. Let him at least get this match out of the way first, before telling him he was also to play against half of Ireland’s first choice team in a must-win match next weekend.

Sinead called us all together just before we left the changing rooms, for her regular pre-match pep talk.

“I have a lot of faith in this team,” she said. “You’re all damn good players, and none of you needs to worry about a thing. You all know your individual roles; just go out there and perform them, and don’t let the mind games get to you. And that means not becoming too complacent. Yes, they’re the Cannons, but if we’re too confident we could easily trip up. We need this win. On paper, it’s easily done. So go out there, play your best, and put it into practice.”

***

In reality, Stefan’s game was an easy one. Because the Cannons’ Seeker – like the rest of their team – was so rubbish, he had the luxury of being able to put off his Snitch capture for as long as possible – there had been little chance of his opponent catching it first, even before he was forced out of the game after falling for three Wronski Feints. The amusement on Sinead’s face was unmissable; after all, she’d seen a Krum pull that trick before.

We were twenty goals up by the time Stefan finally caught the Snitch with a positively lazy gesture, with four minutes left on his stopwatch. The result, coupled with the Bats’ scoreline at Portree, meant that we pulled out on them by another sixty points in the table.

“But they rested a lot of their players too,” Sinead murmured to me in the changing rooms. “And I think they’ll do the same against the Harpies next week. It means we’ll definitely be facing their first team when we play them-”

“But we’ll be playing ours, too,” I pointed out. “Besides, by weakening their team now, they’re putting all of their eggs into one basket. They could be clawing back that points difference, but instead they’re letting it slip. It means they have to do more against us-”

“We lead them by one-sixty. If we played them tomorrow, they’d need to catch the Snitch while two goals ahead of us. That’s nothing in the professional game.”

I smiled, with an air of confidence that I didn’t truly feel.

“They’ve still got to catch the Snitch, though.”

***

“James!” Maddie cried, flinging her arms round my neck as soon as I emerged from the Cannons’ away team changing rooms. “Don’t ever put me through that again; I was worried I wouldn’t have a prom date!”

I laughed, and gave her a tight hug.

“You will, don’t worry,” I said sincerely. “Besides, I’m sure you had an alternative lined up...”

“Yup, I was all set to ask Alfie,” she said with a cheeky grin. “Good to see you back, though. You played well out there!”

“Thanks,” I said, smiling back at her. “I felt a bit rusty, but I guess that was only to be expected. I was just lucky to play. Are your exams over yet?”

“Last one was yesterday,” she said, her face brightening. “And Lily and Kit are all done too. We’re going to go on a road trip somewhere next week. I have no idea where; I’m just going to drive, I’ll let the others tell me where we’re going. It should be fun!”

Maddie liked spontaneity.

“You won’t miss the Kestrels match, now, will you?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You got us tickets?” she retorted. “You’re lucky we couldn’t make the three you decided to miss, young man, or you’d be in big trouble! Where else are we meant to get our tickets from?”

“I’m sure you could sweet-talk Cato Bagman,” I smirked.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she said sharply, her cheeks tingeing with pink.

“Nothing, just that you seem to prefer him over me these days. Why, should it have meant anything?” I teased.

“Of course not. Don’t be daft.” She smiled faintly, her cheeks still flushed. “We’ll be at the Kestrels match, so long as we have tickets. Someone might have to come and fetch us from wherever we end up, mind.”

“I’ll be on standby,” I promised her. “And the Bats match?”

“If you don’t get us tickets for that one, James Sirius, then you’ll be in big trouble.”

“What if it overruns, and you miss your dance?”

“Sod the bloody dance, I just want to see you win!” she said animatedly.

I grinned at her enthusiasm.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get you tickets...” I trailed off as I raised my head, and saw two people having an animated discussion at the other end of the pitch. “Oh, bloody hell.”

“What is it?” She followed my line of sight. “Is that Freddie and Brigid? What on earth are they arguing about?”

“I have no idea,” I lied, wondering why the hell they’d chosen the aftermath of the Cannons match of all times for an argument. I had a funny feeling I knew exactly what they were discussing; if I was right, I was going to curse Freddie the next time I saw him for having such piss-poor timing.

Ryan joined us, looking stony-faced.

“I know he’s your cousin,” he said flatly, “but if he’s breaking my little sister’s heart...”

“He’s not,” I said firmly.

“Really? Because it doesn’t look like it from here-”

“He ... he’s not,” I repeated, less certain this time.

Because after all, how was Brigid supposed to react to Freddie telling her he was ‘too scared’ to love her?


Chapter 41: forty-one
[View Online]  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

“Well, the Prophet still don’t like you,” Brigid said as she perused the paper on Sunday morning.

“Of course they’re not going to like me; I stormed out of an interview, attacked their photographer and lost them their best Quidditch reporter.” I shifted slightly in my seat as I referred to the photographer; thinking about what I’d done made me uneasy.

“They lost their best reporter all by themselves; they can’t blame you for that,” she pointed out, as she skimmed the next article.

“No, but they will.” I paused. “Why are you still reading that trash anyway?”

“I don’t by choice. I have to keep up with what they’re saying about my clients, don’t I?” Then it was her turn to look awkward, as she recalled the oversight which had contributed towards our fall-out.

“It’s alright,” I reassured her. “I know you didn’t expect to have to examine the gossip pages at great length.”

“I am now though,” she said darkly. “It’s all utter rubbish here. None of the writers have a clue about Quidditch, it’s painful. Anyway, you can stop acting all high-and-mighty about my subscription; don’t you get it too?”

“Not any more,” I said proudly.

She raised an eyebrow.

“Did you cancel it?”

“Well, no,” I admitted, “they cancelled it when they got fed up of the owls returning with the paper and no money. But I only ever got it because Mum wrote for them, so it’s no skin off my nose. I still have my Quidditch Weekly and Which Broomstick? subscriptions, and I suppose I could buy the Quibbler if she ever writes a piece for them.”

“You could always subscribe to it,” she suggested. “It’s run by a family friend; you’d be doing a good deed.”

“And Cordelia is short of dross to munch on now I don’t get the Prophet,” I admitted.

“Be nice.” She frowned, folded up the Prophet and tossed it to one side. “All I can say is your Aunt’s press reforms can’t come soon enough. But never mind, the publications that matter are all on side again. As are Witch Weekly, unsurprisingly. As you might expect, they’ve gone for a ‘tragic hero’ angle on the whole story. It’s incredibly nauseating but it’s always good to have the support wizarding Britain’s housewives, isn’t it?”

I smirked slightly.

“I’ll remind you of that cynicism next time you schedule an interview with them.”

She let out a short laugh, then fell silent, and frowned down at the table. Not for the first time since she’d turned up, I wondered how to go about asking her about her conversation with Freddie – or indeed whether to ask her in the first place. This time, however, she solved my dilemma for me.

“Fred wanted to talk to me about something the other day,” she said stiffly.

Fred. This didn’t bode well.

“What did he say?” I tried to sound as though I wasn’t already aware of the topic of conversation.

She gave me a withering look.

“I’m not stupid; I know he talked to you about it.”

“You do?”

“Well, he told me,” she admitted, then let out a heavy sigh. “He’s just such a fucking idiot! I mean, does he expect me to just accept everything and be fine with it?”

“What did he say?” I pressed.

“Some absolute bollocks about how we can’t be together because he’s got issues.” She scowled. “I could’ve bloody told him that.”

I shifted awkwardly in my seat.

“Look, you shouldn’t be too harsh on him-”

“What, you’re going to take his side again?” she snapped.

“No, I’m not taking his – what do you mean, again?”

“Every time, James. Every time there’s an issue, you stick up for him.”

“And how do you know I don’t stick up for you when I’m talking to him?” I pointed out. “In Seventh Year, I didn’t side with either of you, remember? And ever since, I’ve tried to be the moderator. I love you both equally, and I agree he’s being stupid about this. But that doesn’t mean he’s completely wrong.”

She looked guilty, which made me feel bad. She’d been put through the ringer by Freddie over the years, that was for sure.

“Look,” I continued, trying to rationalise my cousin’s actions as best I could, “I don’t deny what he’s done is stupid. Picking up other girls when you’re around is just mean, and he shouldn’t have gone down that route. But his reasoning? I don’t necessarily understand it, but ... I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to throw us a pity party here, but it’s not easy being in our family, what with all the attention, and everything that’s happened before ... and he’s right; Uncle George and Aunt Angelina do have a different relationship from my parents, or Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, or your parents. And if he thinks that growing up in that environment has somehow had an impact, then who are we to argue with him?”

“I know,” she said softly. “Merlin, I know. I’ve known you guys for ten years, I know better than most people how being your parents’ kids has affected you. I’ve watched you struggle with the attention for years. And I’m not trying to trivialise his problems. But ... what does he expect? That he can say ‘I’m sorry I’ve shagged every girl under the sun this past year, but it’s because I have this theory I can’t love you properly, so really, I’ve done it all for you and you shouldn’t be mad at me’ and I’ll jump into his arms? If anything, his actions have just proven he can’t treat someone right.” She scowled. “And the worst bit is, he didn’t even suggest that he might change his ways; he seemed to think once he told me, I’d just understand his pain, and regret ever getting pissed off with him over it.”

I winced. “Did he say that?”

“Near enough,” she said darkly. “And the worst part is that if he’d just told me, right after we graduated, that he was interested, but didn’t think he knew how to treat a girlfriend, then I’d have been okay with that! We could have given it a go, and if it didn’t work out, well at least we’d know we’d tried. But his stupid idea of trying to help me move on from him, for my own good ... it’s just bollocks. He has a seriously deluded notion of chivalry.”

I rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly.

“If I’d known before, I’d have said something to him about it...” I began.

She glared at me.

“Oh, don’t even try pulling that one. What was stopping you talking to him before? All those times you’d reassure me he was interested, all along ... you didn’t know at all, you were just guessing! You could have said something to him, but you didn’t bother!”

Brigid had done so much for me over the years. She’d always looked out for me at school, making sure I got my work done on time and helping me when I was stuck with it. When we’d left school it had been Brigid who’d found my flat for me. And she was still looking after me even now.

I’d barely done anything for her in return. And right now, the guilt seemed almost too much to bear. Because she was right; I could – and should – have done so much more for her. And I hadn’t done, all because I hadn’t wanted to have a heart-to-heart with Freddie.

“I’m so sorry, Brie...” I began.

Her angry look vanished, and was replaced by an apologetic one.

“Oh, no, James – I didn’t mean it like that! It’s not up to you to run my love life for me; I should have just had it out with him years ago-”

“You’re my best friends, though,” I interrupted. “You’re right; I could have said something, and I didn’t, because I let my damn pride get in the way ... and you’re worth far more than that.”

She smiled slightly.

“Okay, maybe you could have said something. But don’t beat yourself up about it. I don’t want you to feel bad because of me. And besides, you left Dominique’s wedding early for me; it’s not as though you haven’t been there for me.”

This didn’t help to assuage my guilt, but I knew she’d shoot down any further attempts to apologise. I made a mental note that in future, if I could help her in any way possible,  I’d do it in a heartbeat, regardless of anything else.

“What happens now, then?”  I asked her.

“I have no idea. I don’t know if he wants to give things a go or not; he was ridiculously unclear about that. And even if he did, I don’t know that I’d want to, not right now at any rate. He’s been a total berk-”

“But you still care about him.”

Her face fell; she buried her head in her hands.

“Oh, Merlin, Jim, of course I do,” she told her palms. “Every time I’m mad at him I remember all the times he was there for me when we were at Hogwarts: all the detentions he ended up with for pulling pranks on anyone who upset me; all the times I’d sleep in his bed if I was feeling like crap; all the times he snuck out to Hogsmeade for me ... and it’s not as though he’s stopped caring since! It’s just ... he became the one who was upsetting me. And yet, no matter how angry I get with him, no matter how much I want to hate him, I still find myself lying in bed at night wishing he was there to hold me and make things better, like he always would...”

Her voice broke.

“And then I just hate myself, for being such a fool,” she finished in little more than a whisper.

I reached out and pulled her into a hug; the moment I touched her she burst into tears, and buried her head in my shoulder. I didn’t say anything – I didn’t know what more to say. I just held her as she cried, and silently cursed Freddie for being the cause of her pain, and for the fact that no matter how hard I tried to comfort her, I’d never be able to do it as well as he could.

***

The following day, Albus surprised me by falling out of my fireplace in a most ungainly manner.

“Why travel by Floo?” I asked him as he cursed while brushing the soot off himself. “And I hope you’re planning on tidying that up.”

He flashed me the finger.

“Flooing seems slightly more socially acceptable than Apparating into the middle of someone’s house,” he explained, cleaning the floor of the soot he’d just discarded.

“It would be, if you didn’t bring half my grate with you,” I observed.

“Well that’s your fault for not keeping it clean,” he pointed out. “It never happens at the other end.”

“I’d rather not know what happens at your other end,” I said smoothly. “Anyway, what brings you here on this fine evening?”

“Do I need a reason to visit my brother?” He fell into the armchair opposite me.

“No, but your visits have been few and far between for about a year now; this makes a change.”

“I stopped visiting when you seemed to stop wanting me to,” he said in such a horribly matter-of-fact way.

“What – what do you mean?” I frowned.

“I know I’ve never been as cool as you. And I don’t really give a damn about that; I’m perfectly fine with who I am. But it always seemed like it bothered you. So I figured I wouldn’t bother you if you didn’t want me to.”

I stared at him for a moment, my mouth open. Then I found my voice.

“You ... you thought I thought you weren’t cool enough? Al, that’s ... that’s crazy! You’re proud to be who you are, you don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of you, that’s way cooler than anything I’ve done! And I admire you for that, I – heck, I’m envious of you, Al! You’re cleverer than me, you’re wiser than me, you’re nicer than me ... and I guess I always thought Dad preferred you to me. That you were the son he’d always wanted, and I wasn’t.”

Now it was his turn to look bemused. I had to give him some credit; if my face had looked anything like his did now, then it was a wonder that he hadn’t burst out laughing.

“You’re nuts,” he finally said.

“So are you,” I retorted.

His face split into a wide grin, which I returned.

“I can only imagine what Lily would say if she was here right now,” he said.

“She’d probably be banging our heads together,” I said dryly. “Why have you come round, anyway? Not that I want to get rid of you, of course...”

He shrugged.

“Wanted to get out of the flat. Mal – Scorpius is round. It’s ... it’s still a bit awkward.”

“You’re cool with it, though, aren’t you?” I said.

“I’m fine with the whole Dark family thing, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “But at the end of the day, he’s still the kid who took the piss out of my name. Things are hardly going to be okay overnight. But he makes Rosie happy, and that’s the most important thing. So I have to at least make an effort, for her sake. Doesn’t stop things being awkward when he’s around though,” he added gruffly.

I grinned slightly.

“Is he round often?”

“All the time,” he said darkly.

And then I realised, with a slight pang of jealousy, just why Albus was here. He was here because Lily was off on her trip with Maddie and Kit. She, of course, would have been his usual go-to when he wanted to escape his flat.

I wasn’t sure which I liked less; that he clearly visited Lily just as much, if not more, than I ever did, or that it was her he was visiting and not me. It was hardly as though any of us had more right over each other, but at the same time it made me wonder if I was ever the least favoured sibling in their eyes. And it also made me determined to spend more time with him in future.

“So,” he continued, clearly wanting to move the conversation away from Scorpius Malfoy, “what’s going on with you and Carlotta? I quite liked her.”

“So did I,” I murmured.

“Did?” He cocked his head to the side.

“Don’t do that, it’s girly,” I berated him light-heartedly.

“Stop avoiding the question.”

A light smile played at the corners of my mouth at his persistence.

“She’s one of a kind...” I mused.

“So?”

I shrugged.

“Gotta talk to her, haven’t I?”

“Why haven’t you already?” he pressed.

“I tried,” I confessed. “I went to the Tav yesterday. I thought I’d find her there. She always works Sundays, see. Except, she wasn’t there. She’s not going to be there for a couple of weeks, apparently. And the girl I asked wouldn’t say why. So I can’t do anything. I’ll just have to wait a couple of weeks or more until she’s back at work...” I trailed off.

“Ring her,” he suggested.

I shook my head.

“I can’t chat over the phone. We need to talk properly, face to face.”

“Go round hers, then!”

“I can’t, I don’t know where she lives!”

He looked slightly bemused.

“How can you not know that?”

I shrugged.

“We never went back to hers. And she always took herself off home. I haven’t got a clue how to find her.”

“Have you tried looking in the telephone directory?” he suggested.

It was once more my turn to look confused.

“The what?”

“The phone book! You know, it has a list of the addresses and numbers of everyone who lives nearby. Didn’t you listen in Muggle Studies?”

“Of course I didn’t,” I said scornfully. “So, where can I find this phone book then?”

“Well, you should have one.” He looked round the room. “Big book, probably blue or yellow, comes through the letter box...”

“Hang on, that rings a bell.” I got to my feet. “I had one of them the other week; I gave it to Cordelia to eat...”

The book in question was a bit slobbery and chewed at the edges, but it was still salvageable.

“One of these days you’ll treat her to proper food.” Al wrinkled his nose as I sat down next to him with the book.

“What’s the point? She loves paper just as much. Now, how the hell do I use this thing?”

“Well, you need to look her up by her name...”

There weren’t many Fortescues in the book, but a quick scan down the list showed that Carlotta wasn’t one of them. I looked under ‘M’ as well, in case she was down under the name Martínez, but she wasn’t there either.

“Does she share with someone?” Al asked. “It might be that they own the place.”

“She does, yeah. But all I know is that her flatmate is called Flick or something like that.”

He pulled a face.

“I don’t know, then,” he said.

I absent-mindedly flicked to the ‘P’s, to see if I could find myself.

“You won’t be there,” he said.

“Why not?” I frowned.

“You’re ex-directory. Everyone magical is. It means you’re left out of the book,” he elaborated at my quizzical look. “The Ministry oversees it. It’s part of their efforts in upholding the Statute. The less Muggle interference there is, the better.”

“I’d never really thought about how much work it takes to keep the Statute intact...” I mused.

“Bucket loads. Which makes it all the more infuriating for them when oafs like you break it willy-nilly.”

I winced.

“Yeah, that ... that wasn’t so good, in hindsight...”

“Would you have told her about us?” he asked curiously.

“I dunno,” I frowned. “Possibly, if I’d thought this was going to become something ... but then, why would I have thought that? And I don’t know how things would have panned out if she’d never found out. Would we have gotten closer, or would things have come to an end? I’m not sure.”

“I think you liked her more from the start, though. Why persist with a Muggle, given the Statute, if you weren’t interested on some subliminal level?”

“Al, I’m not fantastic with feelings at the best of times, let alone hypothetical feelings. Anyway, we can’t find her in the book, so what the hell do I do now?”

Albus smiled, as though the answer was obvious.

“Go to Dad.”

***

I’d never come to Dad for advice before. Things had become awkward between us before I’d got to the point where I ever needed advice. Instead, Mum had always been my go-to. So, while asking him might be the obvious choice for Albus, it hadn’t even struck me that he might be able to help me out here.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how he would be able to help me. Al seemed to put a lot of faith in his being able to fix anything, regardless of what the problem was. To be fair, judging by how he’d sorted out my messes at the Ministry, Al probably had good reason for that faith. But I’d not really experienced that as much as he had, and so I still felt dubious as I knocked on the front door – I hadn’t Flooed there for years, and the habit of visiting via the front door had well and truly stuck.

“James!” Dad looked surprised – but pleasantly so – as he opened the door. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“I just thought I’d drop by.” I shrugged and stepped into the hallway.

He shut the door behind me and led me into the kitchen.

“Your Mum’s in her study, but I can get her if you want...?”

“It’s fine; I only saw her the other day.” I sat down in my old seat at the large table. “Besides, she’s probably busy. And ... it’s you I’ve come to see, anyway.”

He gave me a slightly bemused look as he put the kettle on.

“She baked something earlier. I’m sure she won’t mind if we sample some with a cuppa...” he mused.

He began to look through the cupboards, presumably to find Mum’s creation.

“She get stuck on her article?” I said with a raised eyebrow. She only ever baked when she had writer’s block.

“If by ‘stuck’ you mean ‘she didn’t know what to write an article about’ then yes,” he replied, his head in one of the floor-level cupboards. “Where does she hide it all...”

“Surely you ought to know by now?” I reasoned.

“She’s a smart cookie, she moves her hiding place every time I stumble across it,” he grumbled. “It’s as though she doesn’t want me eating what she makes.”

“How inconsiderate of her,” I said dryly.

“A-ha!”

Dad emerged from the cupboard with a large cake, looking impressed with himself.

“It would be a shame to see it go to waste,” he reasoned, setting it down in the middle of the table. “I think she’s beginning to wish she still had an editor to oversee what she writes.” He returned to our previous conversation as his attention turned back to the kettle. “Sometimes she likes having the freedom to do stuff on her own terms, but it also means she needs to come up with all the ideas herself; she doesn’t have anyone prompting her on what to write. Which is difficult at times like this, when she doesn’t know what to write about. But she’ll get used to it.”

I leaned back on the back legs of my chair, savouring the fact that Mum wasn’t here to tell me off for it and that Dad couldn’t care less, and grabbed a cake knife from the drawer behind me.

“She might only be doing this journalism lark for another year,” I pointed out, cutting two generous slices.

“She says that...” he began.

“She’s given McGonagall her word she’ll take the job if nobody else does.” It was also nice not to be berated for not referring to old teachers as ‘Professor’. “You know nobody else will take the job, and once Mum gives her word, she doesn’t go back on it.”

“I know.” Dad took a seat opposite me and handed me a mug, taking a wedge of cake in return. “But she retired from playing because it took her away from home too much, and I don’t see why she’d take up another job that would do that exact same thing.”

“We’re all grown up now,” I said hesitantly, picking at my slice of cake. “Me, Al, Lil ... we’re not at home any more, we’re hardly going to be a factor in her decision...”

He sighed heavily, and looked down at the table.

“I know,” he said. “I guess I just don’t want to let her go, you know? I like knowing that no matter how long or how bad my day is, I’ll get home and she’ll be here ... but you’re right; you kids aren’t at home any more, you don’t need looking after like you used to.”

“I’d say I still do,” I joked with a smile. Then I twigged just why Dad didn’t like the idea of Mum’s new job. “You think she picks us over you, don’t you?”

“Don’t be stupid.” He attempted a light-hearted tone; it failed abysmally. “It’s just ... she felt compelled to work from home when you were little, and now you’ve all grown up she’s fine with working away from home for months on end again. It does seem a bit like I’m not really a factor in her decision.”

Of all the peculiar situations I’d found myself in, having a discussion with my father about his insecurities in his relationship with my mother had to be up there at the top. The fact that this was only our second proper conversation in years just added to the weirdness of the moment, along with the fact that I really wasn’t any good at giving advice about this kind of thing. Why did everyone seem to be coming to me with their problems recently?

“Have you told her you don’t want her to take the job?” I asked him.

“Well ... not exactly,” he said. “I didn’t want to seem like I was being difficult about it! I think she’d be great at it, but-”

“But you don’t want to have to cook your own dinners, right?”

“Exactly,” he said with a nod. “I just don’t want to burn the house down, that’s all.”

I hid a grin.

“I think you’d be good at the flying job, you know,” I said. “You always said you liked teaching the DA, and you know more than most people about flying.”

“I’d enjoy it,” he admitted. “But I don’t know if it’s the job for me. There are things I still want to achieve within the Ministry – and besides, it would stop me spending time with your mother just as her doing the job would.”

“It doesn’t have to,” I pointed out.

“But it would, in the end.” He sighed. “No, I think it’s already done and dusted. Your mum will take the job; she won’t want to let Minerva down...”

“Unless someone else takes it first?” I suggested.

“Who, James? Nobody wants it!”

“I’ll find someone,” I promised. My first scout around had been half-hearted, but that was before I knew about Mum’s plans. Now, I had the extra motivation of helping my parents out, and this time I was determined I wouldn’t fail. “Don’t worry, you won’t be deprived of your cake baker. I’ll make sure of it.”

Dad grinned.

“You’re a good kid really,” he said fondly. “So, what did you want?”

“I said, I was just dropping by.” I shrugged nonchalantly, but he didn’t look convinced. “Okay, I was hoping you could help me with something,” I admitted.

“Fire away.”

“I need to talk to Carlotta, but I don’t know where she lives. I tried to look her up in the phone book, but I couldn’t find her.”

He gave me a curious look.

“You know what a phone book is?”

“Of course I do! What, you think I didn’t listen in Muggle Studies?”

He didn’t look convinced.

“Alright, Al told me about it,” I admitted.

“That sounds about right,” he said, sounding amused. He got to his feet and crossed the kitchen, pulling open the drawer which I knew held all the important stuff he couldn’t be bothered to keep a flight of stairs away in his study. He pulled out a buff-coloured folder and slid it across the table towards me. It had Carlotta’s name on the front of it. I frowned, and picked it up.

“What is this?”

“It’s her folder from the MAC,” he said hollowly.

I stared up at him.

“The Obliviators.”

He nodded shortly, sitting back down opposite me. I flicked it open. It was all in there – name, date of birth, height, weight, shoe size, hair colour, eye colour, qualifications, occupation, parents’ occupations, siblings’ ages and occupations ... the list went on.

And there, right on the first page, her address. Jackpot.

“The Ministry has all of this information on her?” I said, dumbfounded.

“Had,” Dad corrected.

I eyed him suspiciously.

“Did you steal this from them?”

“Steal is such a strong word...”

“That’s a yes, then,” I said flatly.

“I borrowed it. For research purposes.”

“But you’re not going to give it back?”

“Why, do you want me to?”

“Of course not!” I cried. “This stuff ... it’s crazy, how much they know! How many people do they have this kind of information on?”

“Everyone who might threaten the Statute,” Dad said flatly. “