“-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.”
“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.”
“And is Fred taking his new girl with him?” she said, sounding disgruntled.
“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.”
“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.
“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 could hold my own.”
“Really?” She raised an eyebrow. “You, against two huge Beaters?”
“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.”
“She’s hardly better than you; I swear she was raised as a bloke.”
“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.
“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?”