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