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Chapter 8 : eight
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“You can’t say you’re not desperate and then leave your phone number by my phone,” I said, when I rang Carlotta.
“And yet, you’re the one who chose to ring me,” she pointed out. “I was just giving you the option. Putting the ball in your court, shall we say?”
“Well, what if I don’t want it in my court?”
“That’s not a problem. Out tomorrow night?”
I suppressed a groan.
“Do you live at the Tavern?”
“I’ve got Tuesday night off this week. I’m having a night out to celebrate.”
“At the same place?”
“Perk of the job. Free entry, free drinks, it’s a no-brainer. Anyway, I’ll definitely be there Monday, so if you’re there I’ll see you, if not I won’t. Have a nice day!”
She hung up.
What a girl.
The Quidditch season lasted so long that we had little time off each year. Training ended the moment the season did, in late November, only to start up again in late January. In our case, we’d had even less time off last year, due to our extra training for our exhibition game three weeks ago, just before new year.
However, despite having had less than eight weeks without practice, Monday’s training session still turned out to be terrible.
It started with Ryan and Alfie breaking two of Sinead’s golden rules, turning up both late and hungover.
From there, it just got worse. Though Ryan, Della, Julia, Laura and I had played together for years, it was as if we, and Roxanne, had forgotten how to work as a team. Usually gifted at dummy passes, Della hardly made any at all and those she did make, we missed. On our day, Ryan and I could get a sequence of rapid passes together, so fast that nobody else could get to the Quaffle. Today, however, something just wasn’t clicking. Klaus and Stefan were both failing to find the Snitches that Sinead had released – all ten of them – and if us Chasers managed to get a shot on target, the odds were that the Quaffle would go sailing past Alfie and Sophie and through the hoops. As for the Beaters, Keira, Jacob, Cato and Cleo may as well have been competing to see which of them was worst and the rest of us had to execute some pretty sharp dives and swerves to avoid being injured by the Bludgers.
“This is good,” Della reminded me and Ryan as we stood on the ground, watching Roxanne, Julia and Laura attempt a Porskoff Ploy. I wasn’t sure which was worse, the girls’ efforts or Alfie’s performance at the hoops. “We’re getting all the bad stuff out of the way now, so that when the season starts, we’ll be damn invincible. It happens every year, remember?”
“Not really,” I said with a wry grin. This time last year, I’d been knocked out by a Bludger. Since then, I’d become an expert iron dodger.
“Back in the air, guys!” Sinead yelled at us. “You’re not going home until you’ve done a perfect Woollongong Shimmy, and given your performance so far, you could be here all week without sleep if you don’t start pulling your finger out.”
I glanced at the other two once Sinead turned her attention back to the others.
“It’s a date.”
After all, rules were made to be broken.
The three of us and Alfie made it to the Tav late that night. Training hadn’t finished until a good few hours after dark and then we’d sunk a few quick meads at Ryan’s before leaving, so we were feeling slightly the worse for wear, apart from Della, who could handle ridiculously large quantities of alcohol. Within moments, Alfie had caught sight of a girl and disappeared, leaving Ryan and me to stop Della starting a fight with a girl who’d fallen into her.
“If you get in a scrap, I’m not helping you out,” I said, steering her to the bar. “If you get kicked out, I’m not leaving.”
“Your loyalty astounds me,” she said dryly, before putting in an order for six pints of lager.
“There is no way I’m gonna be able to keep up with her,” Ryan murmured. “I’ll be comatose in the morning if I drink as much as she will.”
“What kind of a man are you?”
“Let’s see how much you can drink before having to bow down to her superior drinking skills.”
A pair of arms snaked round my neck, and Carlotta planted a kiss on my cheek.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” she said.
“Got out of work late,” I said, turning to face her. “This is Ryan, and Della. Kids, this is Carlotta.”
“You can call me Carla,” she said, flashing a grin at Ryan.
“You didn’t tell me that,” I protested.
“You can call me anything you like, gorgeous.”
“Bloody hell, you’re either too drunk or not drunk enough,” Della said, sliding two of the pints up the counter towards her. “Here, have a drink or two. Murph, Junior, you can pay me back for yours.”
“Get out of it, Brand,” Ryan retorted, reaching across Carlotta and me to grab his drinks. “You absolutely wiped me out of mead earlier, you owe me.”
“You guys don’t drink mead too, do you?” Carlotta said. “And there was me thinking you were decent.”
“If you don’t like mead then you’re a fool,” said Della flatly. She ordered another two pints of lager from the barman.
“She does like it, she’s just pretending she doesn’t.” I ruffled Carlotta’s hair. “You will soon learn, my dear, that mead is to be worshipped, not scoffed at. Especially the Heidelberg stuff you had the other night; it’s like golddust.”
Because it was a wizarding mead. But she didn’t need to know that.
“We really ought to find Alfie,” Della said, glancing round the club. “He’s not safe when left to his own devices.”
“Keitchy will be fine, Della, stop worrying and drink your booze,” Ryan said, taking his own advice.
“It’s not him I’m worried about, it’s the poor girl he’s with.”
“It could be worse. He could be like Junior.”
“Don’t say that. One James is bad enough.” Della pulled a face.
I elbowed her in the side and she laughed loudly enough to attract the attention of half the club.
“Pipe down, girl.”
“Why is your nickname Junior?” Carlotta asked curiously.
“Cause he’s small in the trouser department,” Ryan said quickly before I could say anything.
Della snorted into her lager.
“I beg to differ,” Carlotta replied smoothly.
I smirked and he responded with a rude hand gesture.
“Wash your hand out with soap, Murphy.”
In an absurdly surreal moment, my little sister appeared next to Ryan, and reached up to ruffle his hair. He nudged her arm away, and wrapped his own round her shoulders, pulling her towards him and planting a kiss on her head.
“What you doing here, Mini Potter? Shouldn’t you be at school like a good girl?”
“Shouldn’t you be tucked up in bed ready for tomorrow’s training like a good boy?” Lily retorted. “I had a job interview today. I may or may not have told them that it was a two day interview, so that I could have a night out here with Maddie’s sister and her mates.”
“What kind of Head Girl are you?” I asked incredulously.
“I know how to gain respect from my teachers and use it to my advantage. I’d say that’s a skill that deserves to be rewarded with a Head Girl badge.” She turned to Carlotta, and I drew in a sharp breath, well aware of what Lily usually thought of the girls I got with, and equally well aware of how freely she expressed those thoughts.
“You this week’s trashy pull then?” she asked.
Carlotta smiled serenely.
“No, I’m last week’s. This week’s trash had a previous engagement.”
For a moment, there was no response. I glanced at Ryan, fearing an all-out bitch fight. It wouldn’t be the first time Lily had caused one.
But to my surprise and relief, she reached out a hand to Carlotta.
“I’m Lily, James’s sister,” she said with a smile.
“Carlotta. It’s nice to meet you.” She took Lily’s hand and shook it.
“Ah, my brother told me about you!” Lily’s eyes widened slightly.
“Did I?” I frowned.
“Al, you idiot.” She rolled her eyes.
“When were you talking to him lately?”
“When he took me out for lunch earlier today, like the kind, caring, generous brother he is-”
“I was working!” I protested.
“Very true. And I’m sure you would have offered if you didn’t have training. I can just tell you’re just about to invite me to breakfast tomorrow, so I’ll save you the breath and gratefully accept the offer.” She smirked at me, then turned to Ryan. “You going to buy me a drink, then, Ry?”
“I don’t think so-”
“Or should I tell your mum that you, James, Della and Alfie are here?”
“What do you want?” he asked, reaching into his pocket for his money.
“Have you seen Alfie, then?” Della asked her.
“Oh, yeah, he was only sitting a few tables away from me, eating a girl’s face off, in a very distasteful manner, might I add. I figured that if he was here, then at least one of you three would be. And lo and behold, all three of you are. Where are Roxie and Klaus?”
“Opted out,” Ryan said, handing her a drink. “Scared of Mum’s wrath.”
She raised an eyebrow at the drink.
“How come I don’t get a pint?”
“Cause that’s the last thing you need. Now run along, and don’t get into any trouble.”
She grinned cheekily.
“Trouble is my middle name.”
And, as if to prove it, she planted a smacker on his mouth, before dancing off.
Glancing at me, he raised his arms in defence, looking scared.
“I didn’t do anything!”
“I know. I’ll be having a chat with her later about how to behave, mark my words.” I frowned slightly. “My little sister, in a nightclub ... she’s only been eighteen for two weeks!” I shook my head in disbelief. “She’s right. She’s trouble personified.”
I would have preferred to get through the night without any further proof of that though.
To be fair to her, it wasn’t until closing time that she ended up in her scrap.
Carlotta tugged at my arm as we were leaving the Tav, and pointed at a small group of girls just up the road. One of them had very distinctive red hair.
“Bloody hell,” I muttered, heading towards them. One of the girls was embroiled in an argument with Lily and the other girls standing behind were backing her up.
“I’ve told you, I didn’t do anything with your bloody boyfriend, it’s not my fault you can’t keep him under control!” Lily was saying when I reached them.
“I don’t need to keep him under control-”
“You obviously do-”
“If slappers like you didn’t try it on-”
“How dare you call me a slapper! Have you seen the mess you look like?”
The girl, who did look somewhat slutty, I thought, stepped forwards, her arm raised as if to slap Lily round the face. I stepped in front of her, my blood boiling.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I said angrily.
“What the hell has this got to do with you?”
I glared at her.
“You can’t raise a hand to my sister and get away with it.”
“James, don’t get involved,” Lily said from behind me.
“Maybe you need to learn to keep her on a leash then,” the girl spat.
Lily flipped. She tried to step round me, but I reached back and held her behind me.
“If I could I’d curse your face off-” she started.
“What’s going on?”
One of the bouncers arrived on the scene, with Carlotta behind him.
“These girls are trying to cause trouble,” I said quickly before the aggressive girl could jump in.
“There wouldn’t be any trouble if your slag sister-”
“These two with you, Carlotta?” the bouncer asked, gesturing to me and Lily.
“Right. Off you go, both of you.”
Lily didn’t seem too impressed with the idea. I took one of her elbows, Carlotta stepped forwards and took the other, and we forcefully led her away from the group of girls that the bouncer was now dealing with.
“You know you were asking me why I go to the Tav on nights off, and I said free entry and free drinks?” Carlotta said. “Well, knowing the bouncers helps too.”
“Thanks for that, I think I was about to snap. You okay, Lils?” I removed my arm from her elbow and slung it round her shoulders. “How’d you get caught up in that scrap?”
“That slag’s slag boyfriend decided I was more interesting than her, and because he can clearly do no wrong in her eyes, she decided to start on me.”
“Any idea who she is?”
“Maddie’s sister knows her and doesn’t like her. I’ve never seen either of them in my life before though.”
“She’s caused trouble there before,” Carlotta spoke up, her arm still linked through Lily’s. “She’s probably well on her way to being banned.”
“Come to think of it, I reckon she was the one who Della nearly kicked off at earlier,” I said.
“Wish she had,” Lily muttered.
“Why weren’t you with Maddie’s sister, anyway?”
“They all went off in the opposite direction. I was about to call Al to see if he could pick me up.”
“Where are you staying tonight?”
“No idea. I was meant to be going home, but that was before I decided to come out tonight, and I think Mum and Dad might be annoyed if I wake them up at this hour.”
“So will Al,” I pointed out. “Stay round mine. Then at least I know you’re not getting into any more mischief.”
“I’m not kipping round yours if you two are going at it in the other room,” she said, pulling a face.
“We’ll behave.” Carlotta grinned. “I’ll cook us a little treat when we get back. I’m sure your mum’s stocked James’s cupboards with food that’s too good to waste.”
“I really do like you,” Lily replied, grinning back at her.
“It’s catching,” she said with a straight face.
“If you two start getting on, I’m either ditching one or both of you,” I said flatly.
“I might get in there first, and ditch you for Lily,” Carlotta replied smoothly.
“I wouldn’t blame you if you did,” Lily said.
“Now who’s bigheaded?” I let us into my flat.
“You’ll live. You got anything I can change into?”
“Some of your clothes are still in the bloody spare room.” I glared at her.
She grinned cheekily.
“Why do you think I leave them here? I can find some clothes for you to change into if you want, Carlotta?”
“That’d be nice,” she said, following Lily to the spare room. “And call me Carla, Carlotta is such a mouthful...”
I shook my head and fell into my favourite armchair.
About a minute later, Lily joined me, sitting down on the sofa.
“I like her,” she said quietly. “Still think it’s a bad idea, but I see why she’s worth the effort.”
She gestured towards Cordelia’s concealed cage.
“The whole having to hide everything business,” she said. “I know how hard it is.”
“You were doing a pretty shit job earlier,” I sat up slightly in the chair. “Telling that girl you’d curse her face off? Not clever, Lils.”
She had the decency to look sheepish.
“I was mad,” she said.
“Clearly.” I grinned. I glanced at what she was wearing. It was one of my Falcons jumpers. “I’d change that jumper before Carla sees it if I were you...”
She looked down at it.
“It’ll be fine.” She shrugged.
Carlotta joined us, in a hoody and pair of jeans belonging to Lily.
“Who are the Falmouth Falcons?” she asked, sitting down on the other end of the sofa and tucking her knees up below her chin.
I shot Lily a smug look.
“School hockey team,” Lily said smoothly, giving me the same look.
“Oh, do you play?”
“So, James went to a school in Scotland, and you’re at one in Falmouth. Don’t you like London?”
The first thing that came to mind was that Mum and Dad didn’t actually live in London, but near Ottery St. Catchpole, which was where we’d grown up. I glanced warningly at Lily, hoping she wouldn’t bring it up and raise suspicion.
“I like to be near the sea,” Lily replied, with a shrug. “And if you’re going to a boarding school, you may as well do it properly and go somewhere far away.”
“Did your brother go to a boarding school too?”
Lily nodded again.
“Same one as James,” she said.
“Are you doing your A Levels?”
A third nod. I could tell Lily was getting worried about letting something slip that she shouldn’t.
Lily shot me a look that made it clear she was revoking all previous comments about Carlotta being a Muggle.
“Maths,” she said slowly. “History. Chemistry. Biology.”
“I did maths,” Carlotta said. “If you get stuck with anything, give me a shout and I’ll see if I can help you. Anyway.” She turned to me. “Am I okay to raid your kitchen cupboards?”
“Go for it, if you’re feeding me you don’t need to ask.”
She got up and headed to the kitchen, swatting at my head as she passed.
“Get us some mead, will you?” I called after her retreating back.
“Find yourself another kitchen slave!” was her response.
“I’m on it,” Lily said, standing up. “Merlin knows I need a drink after that.”
“If you hadn’t worn that jumper, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”
“If you hadn’t pulled the Muggle in the first place I wouldn’t have been in that situation!” she hissed at me. “How the hell can you keep this up, James? If I’m nearly slipping up, surely that says something about how hard this is? And all for just a bit of fun and games? It’s madness. She’s a lovely girl, she really is, but it’s unfair on both of you.”
With that she went to help Carlotta in the kitchen, leaving me with my confused thoughts.
The following morning, after Carlotta left, Lily leapt into action.
“Where the hell does that spell hide your Floo powder?” she asked, peering into all the various ornaments and other junk on my mantelpiece.
“No idea.” I pulled my wand out of the coffee table drawer. “Why do you need Floo powder?”
“I need to get my stuff from Mum and Dad’s,” she replied. “And let them know I’m still alive.”
“Don’t, it’ll only disappoint them.”
Her response to that was to push me into the table.
We found the Floo powder in the airing cupboard, and she darted off to Mum and Dad’s. I decided to stay behind and wait for her, rather than facing an inquisition about Carlotta from Dad. I spent the time reading the Daily Prophet, which only served to remind me why I didn’t do so often. Sometimes I really wondered how Mum could allow herself to be associated with such a crass newspaper.
Lily returned after ten minutes with her bag.
“Mum was disappointed you didn’t come too,” she said, brushing herself off.
I shrugged. “Didn’t fancy the third degree from Dad.”
“He wouldn’t have done anything, James.” She rolled her eyes. “Honestly, he’s seen you twice this year so far. Would it hurt to pay him a visit every now and again?”
“If he wants to see me, he can visit me,” I said in a sharp voice to indicate the discussion was over. “You coming to training, then?”
“If you’re ready to go now, then sure.”
“I’m ready,” she said quickly. “Are we Apparating?”
I nodded. She crossed the room and took a hold of my arm. I wrapped my loose arm round her and Apparated us to the training ground.
She bent over, her hands on her knees, and took several deep breaths. After a moment or two she stood upright.
“Hate Apparition?” I asked before she could say anything.
“How did you guess?” she asked dryly. “Can I dump my bag in your locker?”
“Go for it.”
I followed her into the changing rooms and was greeted by most of the squad, apart from Ryan, as I might have expected.
“Lily!” Della cried, feigning surprise. “I didn’t know you were around!”
I winked at her.
“I had a job interview yesterday!” Lily replied enthusiastically.
“How was it?” Roxanne asked.
“I don’t like tempting fate, but I think it went pretty well.” She grinned.
Just as we thought we’d covered for our previous night’s escapades, Ryan blundered in.
“Did you get home alright last night, Lil?”
Della’s head fell into her hands.
Tuesday’s training couldn’t have gone any better. Ryan, Della and I remembered how to play Quidditch, and the others had all dusted off the cobwebs too. A few hours in, something clicked with Cato and Cleo, and by the end of the day, our confidence was through the roof. Even Sinead had a large smile on her face.
“That’s more like it!” she said as we all landed. “Off you go, kids, see you bright and early tomorrow.”
Lily crossed the pitch to meet me as we headed to the changing rooms.
“James, do you think I could have a little fly?” she asked.
“Sure you can,” I said. I handed Fiona over to her. “Just don’t crash or fall off, or Mum will murder me.”
She grinned, threw a leg over Fiona and kicked off the ground with a confidence that surprised me.
“She’s really not that bad,” Ryan said.
“Don’t say that in her earshot. She’ll get some crackpot idea that she can replace me.”
“Might not be so crackpot, after a bit more practice-”
I shoulder-barged him, which knocked him off balance.
“Behave, boys,” Della said lazily. “Merlin’s beard, who let her loose?”
“She’s pretty good, actually,” Ryan defended Lily.
“I’ll give you that,” Della said after a pause. “Then again, it should really be a surprise, should it? Look at her brother. Look at her parents.”
Off she went again with the comparisons. I grimaced and looked down at the ground.
A few minutes later, Lily landed.
“I really should be going or Maddie will be wondering what’s happened to me.” She hugged Ryan and Della quickly, before turning to me. “See you for Grandma’s birthday, Jim.”
“Give my love to Maddie,” I said cheekily.
“No chance. Reckon Cato’s gone yet? I need a goodbye kiss...”
“Oh, no you don’t,” I said, trying to grab her as she gave me a fleeting hug and kiss on the cheek, before darting off. “Lily!”
But she was gone.
“Bloody hell,” I said, shaking my head. “What’s the big deal with Bagman, anyway?”
“Aside from the fact he’s damn gorgeous?” Della suggested.
I stared at her, distraught.
“Not you as well!” I said. “He’s not as good looking as me, though, is he?”
“Thanks, Adelheid. Love you too.”
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