For Jade, Maggie, michaelasaurus, Taylor, and Gal22.
My whole body froze up. It wasn’t just a freeze-ray sort of freezing. Or the stupefy sort of freezing. No, it was the heart-hammering, terrified, what the fuck am I supposed to do next sort of freezing. I was standing just outside of the suite, head barely peeking over the doorway, watching Mr. Flynn almost do an evil-laugh at his random mate. There were a few other people in the suite, all of them gathered at the front watching what I assumed to be the players moving across the field toward their benches.
Mr. Flynn held his glass of wine, twirling the stem between his fingers, with a sly sneer on his face. “I’m not kidding,” he said, arching his back and stretching it. “This is exactly what I’ve been waiting for.”
“Another one of your big breaks, David?”
“You know what I mean,” Mr. Flynn replied impatiently. “I’ll be able to move back into that big Surrey house with those windows.”
“Don’t see why you need windows.”
“Don’t need. Want.”
I moved backward, hoping I wouldn’t be spotted, and sank against the cold wall. Well, fuck. It wasn’t confirmed, but it was quite clear Avery was going to be used for something dastardly. Something evil and Puffer-esque. Well, Slytherin-esque if we’re bringing houses into it. And we are.
Avery was going to be the face of a product, and in turn Mr. Flynn was going to get his large windows. And probably more than that. Like overly bronzed women in gold bikinis.
What was I supposed to do? Of course I had to tell her. Go rat him out like he did to his teammates.
I stood, dusting off my trousers and sighed.
“Hello, Mr. Potter.”
At this point, my last name didn’t sound so wonderful. On Mr. Flynn’s lips it sounded a little closer to coming out of Clint Lawson’s mouth. So, naturally, my lip curled.
“Fancy seeing you here,” I said.
“I’m well versed in the language that is Quidditch.” What a prat.
“The language?” I said, raising a brow. “Okay. That’s brilliant. Really. I’m on a mission so I’ll just talk to you later.”
“I’m assuming my daughter is here,” Mr. Flynn said.
“Technically, yes,” I said tartly. “She’s here. Somewhere. But I’m not telling you where.”
“Hey, Dad,” Avery said, emerging from the suite next to us with a bright smile and her hair spread over her shoulders. “What’re you doing here?”
Mr. Flynn’s sneer went to a large grin. “Avery!” he cried, moving toward her in a graceful movement. “How lovely to see you, darling.”
Like she was his darling. Or his daughter. Well, technically. But not really. That fake smile was absurd.
“Do you go to a lot of matches?” Avery asked, hugging him. Damn woman saw the good in everyone.
“I do,” Mr. Flynn said, nodding heavily. “Yeah, some of my friends have a suite and I’m invited quite often since I know so much about the sport. I consider myself a bit of an expert on talent.”
And on throwing people under the bus.
“That sounds fun,” Avery said with another smile. Why the hell was she socializing with him like he was a member of her family or something? Well, in a different sense. In the long lost half-sister that has your same eyes sort of way. “James’s mum got us tickets and a suite so we’re definitely going to be enjoying this game much more than sitting out in the sun.”
“We’re dating now,” I blurted.
“Ah,” Mr. Flynn said, giving me a cheerful fatherly look, but in his eyes I knew he was thinking that was the worst possible outcome. “Congratulations are in order. I hope you keep my little Avery in line.” He patted me on the shoulder.
I thought about clocking him in the face.
“Right,” Avery said, laughing. “As if James could keep me in line. I think I keep him in line.”
A few whistles blew in the distance.
“We should go,” I said suddenly, glancing left and right even though there was no escape hatch. “The game is going to start soon and we don’t want to miss the songs or introductions or the release of the Snitch.”
“Of course not,” Mr. Flynn said with a nod. “I’ll speak with you soon then.”
Yeah? Yeah, will you? How about not write Avery for ten thousand years then decide you want contact so you can get filthy fucking rich? How about you write her about that, Mr. Flynn?
“Lovely,” Avery replied, taking my hand and lacing our fingers together. “I look forward to hearing from you.” And about your heinous plot to exploit her. With one more smile, she steered me toward the suite.
I glanced over my shoulder and his fatherly grin had faded to a nasty frown. I narrowed my eyes. He narrowed his.
We were now enemies.
The thing about professional Quidditch matches were they were fucking awesome. Not just a gathering of Hogwarts kids in House colors, munching on concession chips and gossiping about which player they would sleep with (every Ravenclaw refused to say Freddie, but their eyes were on him. Perverted buggers). It was a coming together of people of different backgrounds in one stadium. Rich, poor, Hogwarts graduates, people from out of the country, people with hook noses or regular snubby ones. All in one place. All together.
All there to watch the Tornadoes slap the shit out of the Finches.
I was practically on the edge of the sofa watching the introductions. The way the players waved with glee written all over their faces. Like they loved the fans. Like they would die without them. Their careers would anyway. The T’s across their chests glimmered. My fucking smile must have glimmered from the suite.
“Going to make it through the whole game?” Avery teased, nudging me in the side. “You look like you might die of happiness.”
“No promises,” I said with a cheeky grin, casting a wink in her direction before turning back to boo the Finches and shout some inappropriate language which was muffled by the crowd.
This was my kind of place. My sanctuary away from the stress of Twitwards and the inability to find a ditch shallow enough to contain Meta’s love for me as a captain. I didn’t have to worry about classes, about Falcon Cat turning into a teacup, or about whether or not Dad would approve of me begging via owl post to join the Tornadoes team. I had to get a letter though. I was the best captain Hogwarts had ever seen. Right? I hoped.
The teams came together in the center of the pitch. In professional Quidditch, they each shook hands with the player before them, the player in their same position. It wasn’t such an absurd rivalry as Gryffindor as Slytherin. No one’s fingers were broken by the end of the shake. The Captains exchanged a brief nod of acceptance. A nod telling the other their team would win. Would prevail. Would kick the shit out of the other until their fingers bled from splintered brooms.
All assumed their positions. Chasers in the row of three a meter from the center line. Two Beaters in their windows. The Seeker behind them, centered. Keeper a meter behind, his feet already arched to zoom back to the hoops. Their faces were identical. All in the zone. Like the reader who stops and realizes a war has happened. The Healer who saves a life only to find a blizzard buried them. The zone.
Some of my players had no damn idea what the zone was. It wasn’t something you could teach. It was something you felt. Which I tried to teach, only to find out their puzzled expressions and hunger whining signified their idiocy.
Another whistle and the Quaffle was released. In a blur of blue the Chaser grabbed it, tossing it faster than my eyes could move. These guys were really in a league of their own. I watched them for a moment, my sight-line dizzy from the movement. It was unreal. Every time I saw professional Quidditch it was unreal. When I watched the other teams, there was no blur. Though that might have been because some of them still had the Nimbus 7Mil.
Someone ruffled my hair from behind, but I ignored it. I refused to tear myself from the game. This art form.
“James, I think you’re drooling.”
Except for Avery. I glanced over at her, wiping my mouth. “It’s beautiful.”
“I think you have a disease,” she said, snickering. “We might have to take you to a meeting to talk about addiction. Or get you some pills.”
“You can’t tell me you don’t love it.”
“Oh, I love it,” Avery said, meeting my eyes. “I just don’t worship it.”
“Same thing.” I shrugged, laughing and leaning back into the leather sofa. “I suppose you have other things on your mind.”
“Like your dad hanging out one suite over.”
“I was actually thinking about going over there during half-time and chatting.”
I rolled my eyes. “Avery,” I said.
“What?” she replied. “What’s so wrong about that? He’s finally back in my life after years and he even stuck around after I yelled at him.”
I groaned. I wanted to tell her. To say, Avery Flynn! You are stunningly gorgeous and your dad wants to make you the face of witch’s acne cream to make a quick buck once you get signed. And then he, as your pompous agent, will pocket the money and scram.
But the look on her face. The way her brows knit together. I could tell she was thinking of those Father’s Days where she wrote a card to my dad. She was probably thinking about the father-daughter dance at her wedding one day. About her mother working a thousand jobs so she could have a decent broom to compete.
And I bitched out.
I just wished she would stop seeing the good in people and kick them where it counts.
Especially Twitwards ages ago. Date? Puhh-lease
. Next thing would be her chatting up Lawson about his Earl Gray. And giving him Falcon Cat visitation rights.
“Nothing’s wrong with it,” I conceded. “Whatever you want to do.”
I felt like she was going to say, damn right, Potter. But she didn’t.
Avery squeezed my fingers again as the Finches scored. Bastard Finches. Assholes Finches fans cheering. How rude.
By half-time, I was exhausted. I had spent a good deal of energy jumping up and cheering each time the Tornadoes scored. Or hit a Bludger into a Finches player. Or breathed.
I wobbled to my feet, knees weak, and stumbled over to the refreshments table. It was a decoration of steamed shrimp and tilapia, crusted with spices and delicious greens I assumed I wasn’t supposed to eat but I did anyway. The Finches were still up by three goals, but it was only half-time and anything could happen. Hell, we were down by somewhere close to a zillion and still came back to win in a shoot-out. Suck on that, Darian Bay.
I wondered about Darian Bay. He hadn’t been around recently. Probably had his Puffer tail between his legs training for the next game.
Which would not, by the way, be the Quidditch Cup.
It took me a few minutes of gorging on seafood to realize Avery was gone. Still, when Fred appeared at my side and asked about her, it didn’t make it any easier. “Her dad is next door,” I mumbled halfheartedly into my meal.
“Same dad we cross-dressed to follow?” he asked, grabbing a shrimp off my plate and popping it into his mouth.
“The very same you cross-dressed to follow,” I agreed. “I wish she would stop trusting people.”
“She trusted you,” Fred replied, taking another shrimp. “Maybe that’s where she went wrong.” He winked at me, laughing, and then went over to join Rosey as she was grilling Bink about his untucked shirt and lackluster appearance.
“If you ever want to get a decent girl to like you, you have to tuck in your shirt!” she was saying.
Bink smeared cocktail sauce on her face.
Freddie joined in and Rose punched both of them in the shoulder.
I wandered over and sat between Albus and Paloma, munching on cod. “Are you two together yet?”
Paloma’s face flushed. Albus’s face went a sickly color. Sort of a pasty white.
Apparently that was a no.
“Playing the field then?” I asked Albus.
“Shut it, James,” he barked.
“I’m just asking.” I popped a shrimp into his mouth. “Paloma, you have clearance to take your bat out of your locker and smack him in the gob with it. He’s really quite thick.” I paused, watching her expression go from shock to amusement. “But hey, I guess you are too not to notice how bleeding into you he is. He actually came to me for advice. Out of everyone. He came to me.” I pointed to myself with the end of the piece of fish. “I’m clearly the expert on relationships.”
“On women,” Albus said, spitting the shrimp out. “That’s why I came to you. James, you’re currently ruining my life. Care to bugger off?”
“I invited you to ruin your life,” I replied, smirking at Paloma.
She nudged me. “Don’t put any more pressure on your brother than he already has with fourth year boys tailing me in the hallway.”
“You mean you gave up on the first year?” I said, gaping at her. “But you carried his shopping bags so well!”
“I’ve pushed that memory from my mind, thank you,” Paloma said darkly.
“Still wish I could have saved up enough,” Albus grumbled.
“That’s what happens when both your brother and your sister know where you hide your money,” Paloma said quietly, glancing around me at him. Her smile was gentle, kind, and teasing.
What a boring couple. They weren’t even a damn couple. Just snogging in the stairwells. I stood up and handed Albus my plate. “Carry on then,” I said in my captain voice and looked around. Avery still wasn’t back yet. Had Mr. Flynn already pitched it to her? The idea of her being a promotional pawn for his skeezy plan of getting rich? Certainly she’d see through it. Right?
Avery was beautiful, caring, and had the ability to see the light. But a lot of times, one thing she couldn’t see through was people.
She was back thirty seconds before the Quaffle was thrown up again and settled in under the crook of my arm. She was smiling.
“How’d it go?” I ventured. I was really hoping for more of a scowl or a grimace.
“It went fine,” she replied. “You know, James, this is a stupid thought, but maybe he’ll stick around this time. I mean, he’s been through such an effort to keep in contact with me this year.”
“You mean when he went several weeks without writing after that game?” I asked. “Yes, that effort is obvious.”
“I know you’re biased,” Avery replied, watching the game flow in spectacular fashion in front of us. “But you could at least be a little happy for me.”
“If you’re happy, I’m happy.” I grabbed her hand and smiled.
“I don’t know what I am,” she admitted. “But right here. Right now watching this game with you. I’m happy.”
I heard an “aww” from Freddie behind us. Git.
I tried to concentrate on the game again. On how much I couldn’t stand the Finches. But my mind was plagued. I kept thinking of Mr. Flynn rolling in a pile of money. Which was odd since rolling in Galleons would be awkward and they would just spread out over the floor and you’d have to pick them all up. That would take forever.
How he could do something to a person like Avery was beyond me. Once, when we were second years, Avery got so upset because of a letter her mother sent her about not being able to get her the newest Firebolt Keeper model that she sat outside on the stairs for two hours before I found her. Soaked to the bone. She was shaking.
“I’ll never make the team,” she whispered to me, her eyes puffy and red.
“You’d make the team on my dad’s clunky broom,” I said to her, wrapping her in my embrace.
“Mum got fired from her second job.” Avery’s face turned toward mine for a moment. “She fell asleep assembling parts.”
The guilt was overwhelming. I hadn’t understood it before then. The struggles she was going through. All of first year she passed off her misfortunes as minor bumps in the road. She smiled through it. But she was breaking. Breaking in my arms. I told her I’d give her mother the money—out of my own bank account. She refused, smacking my arm at the thought. Avery Flynn had the pride of a Gryffindor, that was for sure. I even thought about going to my father about it, but she cut me off before I could suggest it.
“You’re right, James,” she said at last, sniffling. “If I can’t make the team on talent alone, I don’t need to make the team.”
“You’ll make the team.” I leaned my head against hers. “You’ll not only make the team, but you’ll be the face of the team. You’ll probably be made Captain after Dara, since we all know she’s up for it next, the wench.”
This made her smile. It was like lighting up a damp cave. “Mum says she’s going to apply to another factory. And she’s going to look for waitressing work. She used to be a waitress before she decided to marry my father.”
“You can borrow my father,” I blurted out, my ears reddening. “If you want. I don’t mind.”
“Borrow him?” Avery’s lips curled into another smirk. “How does that even work?”
“He likes you more than he likes me,” I replied, grabbing her legs and lifting them over my twelve-year-old knees. “I’m sure he’d rather have you as a kid. I mean, if you want someone to be in that role.” For a minute, I thought she’d slap me for the idea. But she didn’t. She moved her head to rest on my shoulder.
“I’d like that,” she whispered. But I could hear the pain behind it.
Yet now, in the middle of this Quidditch game, she had a chance to reverse it. To actually have a father figure to threaten her boyfriends (shit) and tell her that shirt is far too low-cut to go out in public. Well, I would be there for that regardless. And Avery craved it. I could tell in her eyes, the way she clung to my fingers, that she wanted this connection to work more than anything.
And so did I. Because remembering her so many times over the years being hurt by this man made me want it to work so bad. How could I crush her? How could I be the one to deliver the blow that could cripple her? I wanted her to be happy. To smile again like she didn’t have an empty spot hanging over her. Like just days before she got his first letter, when she was at terms with my father subbing for hers; my family subbing for hers. She’d never feel the same about me if I told her.
And what would I say?
Nothing. That is what I would say.
I had to take down David Flynn on my own.
“James!” Avery shot up, throwing her arms in the air. “GO!” she shrieked.
The Seekers were in a downward spiral at the center of the pitch. I was vaguely aware of my hands gripping the bar, meaning I was standing. Blurs of colors. A gasp of the crowd. A thunderous roar as the Tornadoes fans celebrated their well-deserved victory. Avery’s hands on my shirt collar to make sure I didn’t fall over the bar while jumping up and down like a bleeding idiot.
Slaps on the back of congratulation. Thanks from Paloma and Albus for inviting them. Her face was flushed. He had lipstick on the side of his lips. Rosey hugging onto Fred for dear life. She wasn’t cut out for the stress of Quidditch. She should have been policing rogue Finches fans in the hallway. Bink jumping on the sofa. And I turned to Avery, her face lit by the sun and the stadium lights. I grabbed her arms, pulling her into my chest and I kissed her hard. Not just because I cared about her, but because I wanted her to know it. How much I really cared.
Because no matter how bad I wanted to, I was incapable of hurting Avery Flynn.
And her father knew this.
Dinner was long finished by the time we made it back to the castle. We crept in through the passageway under Honeydukes and tiptoed back toward Gryffindor tower. Everyone was pretty exhausted and a little buzzed off champagne. Nothing to do with me, of course. I also had nothing to do with pouring it over Freddie’s head. Nothing. Except the pouring part.
Fuckshit damn. I turned, spotting Professor Longbottom in the hallway, leaning against the stone wall a few feet in front of us after we’d turned a corner. His face was expressionless, arms folded in a superior way. “Hey there,” I said awkwardly while the rest of the group froze. Yes, friends, if you don’t move, he can’t see you.
“Let’s chat.” Longbottom strolled away toward his office without another word.
“Fuck,” I grumbled, motioning to the others to save themselves. I was obviously the mastermind behind the flight (though I could still blame Rosey) and there was nothing I could do but follow obediently. Which was totally not my style.
When we arrived, I took my usual seat in front of his desk and stared at my hands.
“So,” he said. “I see that you missed several classes today.” Longbottom leaned back in his chair and grabbed a piece of parchment I was quite certain had my death sentence written on it. “Strangely enough, so did each member of the group you were walking with.”
“Huh,” I said quietly. “Coincidence.”
“You were really sick then,” he continued, staring at me over the parchment.
“Well, Victoria’s sick.” This morning she had looked a little purple before we left, but I chalked it up to bad diet again.
“So you were sick and contagious and that’s why your team and the two Prefects did not make it to class.” Longbottom’s tone was forceful. Obvious.
“Oh!” I cried. “Yes.”
“Good.” He pressed his lips together. “I hope you feel better, Mr. Potter. Drink fluids and get to bed.”
I leapt up from the chair. “I will,” I said. I even faked a cough, but he rolled his eyes. So I left, damn near running back to the tower before he changed his mind.
“Did you get detention?” Fred asked.
“You’re breaking the Code all over the place,” teased Bink.
“Did he string you up by your thumbs?”
“Wesley, you’re a fucking idiot.”
“And step away from Lily. You’re far too close.”
“She’s reading on the other side of the room,” said Wesley.
I sighed lightly and ran my fingers through my hair. “We’re all sick and highly contagious. And that is why we missed class.”
“That’s the lie you came up with?” Bink said, his jaw dropping. “Who the fuck are you?”
“No,” I replied, moving toward the staircase since that’s where I assumed Avery would be. “That’s what he came up with.”
They all stared at me.
Avery was in my dormitory when I arrived, but unfortunately, so was Emerson Edwards. He was perched on his bed, sprawled out reading a novel (probably about bird watching or how to be a twat), but his eyes were on Avery. She was tending to Victoria, patting her now-purple head and feeding her small treats.
“How is she?” I said, ignoring Emerson’s presence.
“She’ll be fine,” Avery replied, her eyes meeting mine for a second. It was obvious she thought better of asking if I was in trouble while Twitwards was there. “Just a little sick. Common cold.” She nuzzled her nose against Victoria, wrinkling it in an adorable way.
I nodded in approval and kicked off my shoes. Sitting down beside her, I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and patted Tory with my free hand. “Want to do anything tonight?” I asked.
“Sitting here is fine,” she replied, leaning her head against my shoulder. I think about that time in second year. In the rain. “Though we might have to pay Falcon Cat a visit. I think she’s jealous of all the time I’m spending over here with you.”
“Well, I am rather awesome.” I smirk in an arrogant way, twist a little, and kiss her tenderly. White-hot nerves fly up my spine. My stomach turns and she reaches to place her fingers on the nape of my neck.
“And I’m going to throw up,” Emerson mumbled, getting to his feet in a loud way and throwing his book on the floor. “You two make me fucking sick.”
“Still haven’t found lucky number seven?” I ventured, my eyes still on Avery’s.
“Avery, you deserve to be spending your time in better company of this V-Card.” Emerson grabbed his bag and headed for the door.
Since when did that become a nickname? Great.
“I’ll be around once you realize he’s an idiot,” he continued. “But it might take some coercing to make me want to snog you again. Considering now you’re damaged goods.” Emerson walked out and slammed the door behind him.
I shot up, ready to chase him down and punch him right in the gob, but Avery stopped me. Why was she so calm? I stared back at her.
“Don’t,” was all she said. “You don’t need a detention when you just got out of one.”
“How’d you know?” I asked, smirking.
“Oh, please, James,” she said. “I’ve seen your—I got a detention
—look a thousand times. I’ve known you for seven years, you know.” Her eyes were sparkling with malice. “Besides, don’t give him another reason to hate you. He already has quite the list.”
“I’m going to give him another reason,” I said, breaking free from her grip and marching across the room. “I can’t stop thinking about it. About what he said to you. The blackmail before he outed us. That you were to snog him as part of the agreement. And he’s been living on cloud fucking nine waiting for my mates to take me out. Waiting for the school to turn against me.” I narrowed my eyes, hexing his wardrobe open and staring into it. “This means war, Emerson Edwards.”
“James,” Avery warned.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “No physical pain. Just a dose of public humiliation to tone down his insufferable arrogance.”
“I think someone needs to tone you down a bit,” she muttered, still smirking. “You’re power hungry.”
“You like it,” I grumbled, pressing my lips together as I stared at Emerson’s clothes.
She didn’t deny it.
I know at breakfast when I hear the roar of the Slytherins first that I have succeeded. It took a bit of spell help from Freddie and some color creativity from Bink, but we managed it. I still felt like this wasn’t enough. That I had to defend Avery’s honor. That she wasn’t just some pawn or damaged goods to the world. She was special, beautiful, and she was my woman. And I’d be damned if I let anyone make her feel less than that.
Emerson Edwards, however, had to feel less than stellar that particular morning.
His top was made from faux pink fur, an ugly cardigan draped over a tight white t-shirt. His pants were spandex, going just below the knee. Purple leopard print. Leg hair poking out under them. A fierce scowl on his face. Emerson was looking daggers at me, having found my face immediately in the crowd.
“Nice color work,” I mumbled to Bink.
“I pride myself on pinks and purples,” he whispered back.
The hall was erupting in laughter. I actually wondered why he’d come down here. And then it dawned on me the amount of pride he had probably rivaled mine. Though floral robes were a little different than spandex and pink faux fur. He crossed the hall and sat near the center of the Gryffindor table with his nose held high.
People were still giggling. Slytherins stood up to get a better look. Even Clint Lawson, who had recently paired up with Emerson to beat me to a pulp, was laughing. Apparently the allegiance was severed when none of my friends hated me anymore. I was fairly certain Lawson was going to take it to the Quidditch pitch.
And outsmarting him made me a nice target with a pretty scarlet and gold ribbon tied around my neck.
Avery nudged me gently. “Did you have to do the spandex?” she said.
“Of course. Any respectable wizard wears spandex.” I wiggled my eyebrows at her, loving the way she reacted with a giggle. “I hope you feel better.” I paused, brushing some hair behind her ear. “I know how much he humiliated you.”
“It wasn’t public,” she said, not meeting my eyes.
“Didn’t have to be to hurt,” I said. I took her hand under the table.
“Unorthodox and I’m still cross with you for doing it,” Avery said, her eyes matching mine as Bink made a stuffed chicken walk across the table, “But thank you.”
A/N: James finally gets the mini-revenge he deserves. But now he has to focus on Mr. Flynn.
Thoughts? Favorite lines? What do you think is going to happen? Anyone doing anything fun over the summer?
Next up: A lot of issues with women.