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.”
“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-”
“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.