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.
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-”
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.
“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.”
“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’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.
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.
“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!”
“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.”
“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.