The summer was going to the dumps, but what I expected was relaxation and lots of sun. Baby sitting my sister. Advising my other sister to put on more clothes. Maybe playing video games with my brother. What I hadn't expected was my former best friend to suddenly make his way back into my life and drag me into his.
This isn't the kind of adventure I signed up for.
"GET DOWN OFF THE ROOF!"
"YOU'VE BEEN UP THERE FOR TWO HOURS!"
"GET DOWN BEFORE I GET OUT THERE AND DO IT MYSELF!"
I snorted; my mum would never climb up on the roof – she's scared of heights. In fact, the first time she found me up there, she nearly burst into tears. But she's used to it now; I climbed up on the roof every day to watch the sun rise. I didn't care if London didn't exactly have optimal weather; if it was dawn, I was up on the roof.
I slid back through my window and into my room. I replaced the screen before leaping over to my mum and squeezing her in a hug. I don't give hugs to just anyone, you know. My mum deserved the absolute tightest, bone-crushing hugs imaginable for putting up with my sour attitude and roof-climbing tendencies.
I mean, it probably sucked that her kid hated being home. Just two months, and I'd be out of there.
Summers are a waste of time.
Actually, that depends on what you're doing. I hate summer because I'm not at Hogwarts. It was that place that saved my sanity when I was eleven and getting positively sick from my neighbourhood. It was boring, and Hogwarts was filled with magic and learning and brooms and Quidditch and Hagrid and the Forbidden Forest and dangerous creatures and Hogsmeade and candy that makes your head blow up… Merlin, I'm getting sentimental.
I'm not usually so sappy, but Hogwarts was so full of secrets that I never got bored. Whenever I felt like I needed to throw my books against the wall and get out of the castle, I'd explore the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid. Sometimes I'd take my broom and fly away whenever I encountered anything less-than-friendly.
I really loved Hogwarts. I loved adventure – I always have. When I was younger, I had the habit of wandering through creeks with my older brother and fishing. I talked to frogs, too (don't judge me). When my brother turned seven and discovered video games, I had to wander by myself.
Not that I didn't like video games – I did. I currently had the high score in One Track, a game that my brother jealously tried to defeat just about a million and two times – unsuccessfully. I just didn't like being cooped up inside all day. Even when it was raining, I'd steal his huge yellow raincoat and jump into all the puddles.
After I'd finished squeezing my mother to death and kissing her on the cheek, I bounded across the hall and up the ladder to wake my brother. My parents were a little strange, and my dad designed a very odd house for us. Perhaps he was where I got my adventurous tendencies. My brother's room was located at the end of the hall, up a ladder and then up circular stairs to a tower. I am still so jealous that he got that room.
Damn him for being older.
My house didn't exactly look like a castle – it wasn't made of stone – but it was pretty freaking awesome. I didn't get lost in it anymore, but when we first moved into it, it was a maze. It's still a maze to all my guests – like my best friend, Nell, who was visiting for two weeks. In August.
I had to go without my best friend for a whole month. BOO.
I shook those thoughts away as I reached the top of his tower and knocked on my brother's door. "Victor, breakfast!"
Typical. My brother could sleep until three in the afternoon, if he had the chance. I'd suggested to him more than once that he move out – he'd just graduated Hogwarts, after all – but he seemed pretty content where he was.
Maybe it was because he got to live in a TOWER.
I knocked again, harder this time. "VICTOR! BREAKFAST OR YOU'RE TOAST!"
(I like my puns. Shut up.)
I sighed heavily. This happened every morning. My brother was born into a family of early risers, and it was rare to see him out of bed before nine. But it was my duty as his little sister to wake up him bright and early at seven-thirty, of course, so I impatiently turned the doorknob and shoved my way inside.
And immediately covered my eyes.
"Oh my Merlin," I mumbled in humiliation. "Oh my Merlin and his saggy pants – CAN'T YOU PUT UP A SIGN ON YOUR DOOR OR SOMETHING?"
Victor groaned and pulled the sheets up higher on himself and his girlfriend. "Mandy, get out."
"BUT YOU'RE NAKED."
"So you should get out."
"YOU'RE BOTH NAKED."
"Mandy, if you don't get out in the next ten seconds, I'm going to tell Dad who decided it would be fun to shove leaves in the gutter and block it."
What? Unfair, I was only trying to bug him.
I put my hands up immediately. "Now, let's not get hasty, here."
"I mean, does he know you have a girl up here?"
"Plus, you can trust me with your secrets. You know that."
"You're skipping numbers? YOU CAN'T SKIP NUMBERS!"
"That's not fair, Vicky."
"Two. Get out before you're grounded for the whole summer."
"COME DOWN FOR BREAKFAST BYE." I flew out the door and slammed it shut behind me. Then I let out a long shudder.
Ugh. My brother. With a girl. Naked.
Victor and I used to be best friends when we were little, and that usually rekindled over video games. Otherwise, he was always off with his friends in his year, especially our neighbour, James Potter. They were like twins, honestly, with the same jet-black hair. My entire family had this hair. James was better-looking, though. My little sister and James' little sister Lily became friends, which left me with the middle child – Albus.
But I don't want to talk about that right now.
"Morning," I called as I entered the kitchen, grabbing my younger sister Addie from behind and giving her a bone-crushing hug. Could you tell I was known for those? She squealed and swatted me away.
I sat down between her and my other little sister, Eleni. I planted a kiss on her chubby little cheek. "Hey, cutie."
"Good morning," she replied in that little high-pitched voice of hers. I loved that girl. She was sweet and innocent and just about the cutest kid I'd ever witnessed in my life. Even if I had to baby-sit her a few too many times.
Speaking of which…
"Mandy, it's your turn to baby-sit today," Mum said, coming over from the stove and putting a plate of eggs and toast in front of me. "Addie did yesterday."
I groaned. As much as I loved Eleni, she was a sneaky little devil when she had sugar. "Great."
"I wanna go to the park," she said happily, bouncing in her seat.
"Finish your breakfast first," I told her, digging in. Victor and his girlfriend, Barbie, as I liked to call her, arrived a few moments later. I smirked into my eggs.
"Bianca," my mum greeted tersely. I knew she didn't like her much either, but my mum put up with blonde-haired bimbo over there because she knew that my brother never really had much emotional attachment to those sort of girls. "Eggs? Toast?"
"No thanks, I don't eat carbs," she replied, flipping her hair. I snorted; good luck surviving in this family if you don't like carbs. She glared at me before turning back to Victor. "I should get going."
"Okay, bye," Victor said sleepily before grabbing a plate and letting mum fill it with scrambled eggs. Barbie stomped her foot irritably before making her way through the maze that was my home. With any luck, she'd get so lost that by the time she got out, she'd never come back.
Oh, wishful thinking.
"So what are you all doing today?" Mum asked us all as she and Victor joined us at the table.
"I was thinking of hitting the mall with Lily today," Addie piped up. "We wanted to go bathing suit shopping."
"I should probably get the pool running," Victor agreed, glancing out the window to our backyard. We had a decent-sized pool that took up most of the yard, leaving room for some pool chairs and a barbeque. The pool was bright blue and chlorine-filled and I loved it.
But I didn't really like wearing bikinis, much to Addie's dismay.
"What are you doing, Mum?" I asked, shovelling another forkful of eggs into my mouth.
"Cleaning up the house, probably," she answered. "Everyone should be back by dinner, the Potters are coming over for dinner."
It was harder than usual to resist from groaning.
The Potters weren't so bad, actually. I mean, Harry Potter was the saviour of the wizarding world – he was awesome. They were pretty good neighbours and friends. It was also pretty helpful that they knew about magic, since my family wasn't too good at hiding it.
But it was just that every time they came over, Victor and James would get holed up in the basement playing video games, Addie and Lily would start gossiping about something or another and I was stuck with Al. Always. And this wasn't a problem when we were younger, because back then, we used to be best friends.
Al and I used to hang out every single day. I'm not kidding. Back in the days when Eleni wasn't born and I didn't have to baby-sit every other day, we used to sneak out our houses after breakfast and go down the street to the park. We'd play and race and climb trees and all that fun stuff, and afterwards, when we were both out of breath but didn't want to go home, we'd lie in the grass and talk about Hogwarts. We both wanted to go and explore every inch of the castle, unlock every secret and tell everyone how we did it. That was the plan. We pinky swore.
That's legit, okay?
But then when we got to Hogwarts and he was Sorted into Ravenclaw and I into Gryffindor. We sort of grew apart. Then when summer came, he invited a couple of his Ravenclaw friends over and they made fun of me. I flipped them off.
I guess it wasn't the most ladylike thing I could've done.
But I never claimed to be a lady.
And that's exactly why they made fun of me – being the boy next door. I mean, I guess it was a bad thing that I'd rather play in the creek than go shopping, but I didn't care. I still didn't. But I guess Al cared, because he didn't stick up for me, and I stopped trying to get my best friend back.
So, ever since then, dinners had become a bit of an ordeal. I started a food fight once. Al stomped back to his house and changed into another crisp and perfectly ironed shirt. That was another thing; over the years, Al had become a real stick-in-the-mud. He stopped going outside and spent his time poring over books. He became probably the bossiest Prefect ever known to Hogwarts. Or mankind.
For the most part, I preferred that he just leave me alone, anyway. But at the dinners, we were forced to sit together and make awkward conversation for long hours at a time. And it was annoying, okay? He was annoying. And boring. I wanted to shove his stuck-up nose in a book and never speak to him again.
I'm not bitter at all. I swear.
"I'm off to work," Mum announced, dropping her plate in the sink as she bustled to leave. "I'll be back at around four to clean, if anyone wants to help me? Victor?"
"Sure," he replied sleepily.
"Bye mum!" I called, finishing my own food. Eleni jumped up to grab both our empty plates and proceed to tell me exactly how to rinse my dish and put it in the dishwasher. Because I didn't know.
Ah, she was so cute when did it, so I didn't mind.
For the most part, I couldn't tell if Eleni was girly like Addie or a tomboy like me. She'd be a mix, maybe. She liked to wear frocks and go to the park and get it all dirty when she made sandcastles. But she also loved it when Addie did her hair. She'd probably grow up to become a very confused child.
Eleni was Daddy's Little Girl, though. Victor was a Mummy's boy. Addie and I were a little too in the middle, I suppose, but I didn't mind. Honestly, I wasn't exactly someone who wanted someone breathing down my back all the time. I'd rather go exploring without my parents, thank you.
I made Eleni wash her hands with soap (she hated soap and shampoo because it was 'mean to her eyes') and got her to put on her shoes by herself before grabbing her hand and taking her outside. It wasn't too hot out, yet; Dad worked at night in the summer for this reason. He was probably due back in a couple of hours, and then he slept all day.
I mean, whatever works.
"Mum, it isn't what it looks like!"
"It looks like you just came back home now."
Eleni and I stared at our neighbours. Mrs. Potter was standing in the doorway, red face matching her flaming red hair, arms crossed and evidently forgetting she was standing outside in her robe. She was so angry; I was just waiting for the steam to billow out of her ears.
And there was Albus, his black hair all mussed up and slouching guiltily in front of his mum. I rolled my eyes. First rule of breaking rules and not getting caught: don't look like you've done something wrong.
"Were you out with them again?" she asked him angrily.
"No," he said in a small voice.
"Lying, now?" She leaned against the doorframe. "This is the last time, Albus."
"But I –"
"Grounded," she announced loudly over her son's spluttering's. He stilled and stared up at her with wide eyes. She looked angry, but there was a glimmer of triumph in her eyes – like she'd finally gotten through to him.
"Grounded?" he choked out in disbelief.
"Grounded, Albus," she said firmly, pulling him inside by the ear. "For the entire summer." The door slammed shut, and I grinned at a confused-looking Eleni before ruffling her dark hair.
Well, well, well. Mr. Perfect had been grounded.
This oughta be good.
Here's a warning for all you rule-breakers out there: once you've done a crime and gotten caught, your parents' memories become a bit like an elephant's.
"Mandy, you're not going to start a food fight this time, are you?"
See what I mean?
"No, I'm not going to start a food fight," I answered, playfully pouting at my mum. "I'm much too innocent for that."
"And that, right there, is why I don't believe you," said Dad, waving a sauce-covered spatula in my face. I laughed. "That face, Mandy!"
"I'm no Slytherin, Dad," I pointed out.
I pointed my tongue out at him before taking his spatula and replacing him at the stove. I stirred sauce before dumping it into a pan of vegetables. "When are they coming over, Mum?"
"Five-thirty. VICTOR, ARE YOU FINISHED CLEANING?"
"NO," he called back from somewhere in the house. "IS THE FOOD READY?"
"CAN I EAT?"
Dad and I burst into laughter, and Mum merely rolled her eyes and yelled back, "FINISH CLEANING, VICTOR."
"Mandy, you can go get dressed," said Dad, taking the spatula again from me.
I grumbled as I ran up the stairs. Getting dressed for these things was usually very irritating; Mum and I always had a fight over what we were wearing. When I was younger, I could get away with shorts and a t-shirt, but now I had to fight for it.
I ruffled through my closet. Maybe a tank top? Would that be acceptable?
Ten minutes later, my mum came into my room as I was brushing my hair. She took one look at me and scoffed – as usual. "Mandy, you can't wear that."
I looked down to my plain grey tank top and black shorts. "What's wrong with this?"
"It's semi-formal, not casual."
"This is semi-formal for me."
"Maybe if you wore that new top I got for you the other day?" she asked hopefully, going through my closet and pushing t-shirt after t-shirt away. There were a couple of girly clothes in there – like a skirt. And a dress. (Shudder.) Mum pulled out one of those fancy tops that looked like a tank top with frills down the front. "What about this?"
I shrugged. "I guess I could deal with that."
"What about your black skirt?"
"Mandy, you look very –"
"Well, what about some lip gloss and eyeliner –"
"I got you some clip-on earrings –"
Mum sighed and rubbed her temples. "Will you be a girl for once? Please?"
"Being a girl is overrated," I mumbled, winding my arms across my chest. "We have to deal with literally bloody pains for a full week and eat everything in sight. I am not subjecting myself to wearing shiny pieces of crap. Aren't cramps enough?"
She rolled her eyes and threw the frilly tank top at me. "Language, missy. Put this on and meet Dad downstairs. He needs help setting the table."
"Sure he does." I snickered as Mum lightly smacked the back of my head and left the room. Okay, so our fights before these dinners weren't so bad, but they always made me feel guilty. I could have worn a skirt, sure – but then I'd bend and expose my chamber of secrets to everyone. No thanks.
I dressed, combed my hair one more time and made my way downstairs. I passed Eleni's room on the way; she was wearing a bright pink glittery frock. Addie finished braiding her hair just in time for me to swoop in and pick up my youngest sister and squeeze her into oblivion. Eleni collapsed in a fit of adorable giggles.
Best. Kid. Ever.
Even if I ended up baby-sitting her that night.
The Potters arrived promptly at about five thirty-five. I liked the Potters, in general; they were friendly and fun and when they invited their entire family over – the Weasleys – things became delightfully insane. Unfortunately, they didn't do that too often.
As usual, Mr. and Mrs. Potter followed my parents into the kitchen. James promptly dumped the cupcake container in my hands before following Victor to the basement. Lily and Addie hugged and squealed before going upstairs. Left in the foyer was an awkward Albus and I, avoiding each other's eyes.
And Eleni, of course.
"Hi, Al!" she chirped happily, holding out her arms to him. That girl was spoiled; between my siblings and I, Eleni never went without affection and expected hugs and kisses from everyone. To my surprise, Al chuckled and bent down to hug her.
"Do you like my dress?" she asked, twirling around.
"Thank you!" She curtseyed for him and took his hand. "Can I show you my room?"
"Uhh, sure." He stumbled upstairs as she pulled him to her room. I left the cupcakes downstairs and followed behind, trying not to snigger at the look on Al's face. He seemed to be looking for an opening so he could make an excuse and run.
Not on my watch, Potter. No way was he going to disappoint my baby sister.
Eleni's room was very… pink. It was her favourite colour, after all. My dad put up a large (pink) poster on one wall so she could draw, paint and put stickers on it. That girl loved anything to do with art. I think anyone could safely say she had that princess room every little girl wanted when they were little.
Well, except me.
Curse pink and glitter everywhere.
Albus rocked back and forth on his heels impatiently, pretending to be interested as Eleni explained her doll set to him in extensive detail. I lay on her bed, leaning over on the edge with my chin resting on my arms and watching, occasionally letting out a snicker every now and then. After thirty minutes, Al shot me a desperate look.
I raised my eyebrows, as if to say, 'What?'
He gestured to Eleni, who hadn't noticed a thing, then mouthed, 'HELP.'
Hmm. Help this boy. Help him after he'd ditched me during the summer, busted me just about a million times for sneaking out after dark, given me detentions and let me sprain my wrist from all those lines.
Okay, so maybe I didn't actually sprain my wrist. But still.
He's going down.
I shrugged and gave him my most charming smile. I could see the fury flame in his eyes as he turned back to Eleni, who was still blissfully ignoring our exchanged looks and telling how her dolls got married. He bent down and waited until she took a breath.
"Hey, Eleni?" he asked uneasily, "I'm going to go downstairs, okay?"
Her lip trembled immediately. "Why?"
"I – uhhh –" he stammered, looking to me for help. I grinned again, and his hands clenched in fists. He turned back to Eleni. "I think I'm going to hang out with my brother, okay?"
"But…" Tears were welling in her eyes and her pale cheeks had turned a bright pink. "But I thought you would play with me."
"Ummm…" He gestured to me. "Mandy will play with you."
"I played with her all day!" she wailed, stomping her foot. "I wanna play with you!"
The back of Al's neck was turning red.
"Eleni, don't cry," I cooed, sliding off the bed and picking her up. I snuck a grin to Al before kissing Eleni's cute little nose. Fat tears were now running down her face. "Al's just a big meanie. Don't worry, he'll play with you after dinner."
She sniffed and wiped at her tears. "Really?"
"Really." I smirked at Al, who'd frozen. "Tell her, Al."
He cleared his throat. "Yeah, I'll play with you after dinner."
"Pinky promise?" she said softly, holding out her little finger. The grin slid off my face as he took it and locked it around his finger. It was horribly familiar and still caused a pang in my stomach.
What the hell? I was supposed to be over that.
"Let's go eat dinner, Eleni," I told her, putting her down and leaning down to wipe her eyes with my fingers. She smiled and nodded before running out of her room. I made to follow her when I felt a hand on my shoulder.
I jerked away and spun around. "What?"
"Why can't you help me?" he demanded angrily.
"Because you're a pompous ass."
"What did you call me?"
"Ask for help when you deserve it," I snapped. His fists clenched. "And don't break your pinky promise to my sister, or I'll break you."
"I'm not scared of you," he retorted.
"Yeah? Prove it," I snarled. With that, I flounced off, leaving him in the princess room all to himself. He could find his own way downstairs.
See? Not bitter at all.
"So James and Victor have graduated," my Dad began, raising his wine glass toward them. "Never thought I'd see the day."
Their grins turned into scowls.
"Hey!" James complained as Victor tossed a grape in Dad's direction. He ducked and laughed. "Come on, Mr. Mullens, we only blew up one toilet this year."
"That got old before the first time you did it," said Al from beside me, rolling his eyes.
"Did you see the look on McGonagall's face, though?" I retorted, sniggering to myself. "Totally worth it." Victor and James looked very pleased with me.
Mandy – 1; Al – 0.
"How would you boys like to celebrate?" Mr. Potter asked. Hey, that's right, we never celebrated – but it was only a week into vacation. We had a dinner on the night of their graduation, but I guess they wanted some sort of present. Selfish, selfish, selfish.
Victor and James always celebrated together – a combined effort from the two of our families. They were the same age and their birthday was literally days apart – December twentieth was James and twenty-second was Victor – so they always had a huge party the day in between.
I think, in some alternate universe, they're actually twins.
"We could have another party?" Addie suggested. I detected the hope in her voice.
"Nah," my Dad answered. Addie was second in the Daddy's Little Girl list (Eleni was first), so the mere mention of her at one of James and Victor's party was enough to send him into panic mode.
Wait until he hears about her new boyfriend.
"Picnic?" Mrs. Potter suggested.
"No," answered James and Victor in unison.
"Whatever it is, it'll involve food," I said cheerfully, slurping up my spaghetti. Al wrinkled his nose.
"You're disgusting," he hissed.
"You're incorrigible," I hissed back.
"You make me want to hurl."
"You make me want to stab my eyes out."
"What about a waterpark?" Mum suggested, not noticing the exchange between Al and I. James and Victor's faces lit up. "There's a muggle waterpark that opened an hour outside of town, with huge water slides. And a kid's place for Eleni," she added gently, ruffling her hair.
"And you," Al whispered to me. I kicked him.
"Waterpark it is, then!" Mr. Potter decided gleefully, taking a hearty bite of his garlic bread. "Next week sound good?"
"Sounds good to me," Victor said. James nodded in agreement.
"So what's the plan for you, James?" Dad asked, waving his fork at him. "Living at home? Studying?"
"Well…" James glanced at Victor, who shrugged and stuffed his mouth with a forkful of spaghetti. "We were thinking of getting a flat downtown. I'm studying to be an auror."
Mr. Potter smiled proudly at this. "And Victor, you…"
"I have a summer job," he said, swallowing. "Quality Quidditch Supplies in Diagon Alley. I'll be starting in the Foreign Affairs and Sports Department at the Ministry in the Fall."
"What about you, Al?" Dad piped up. For some, very irritating reason, my dad loved the middle Potter child – probably because he was a Prefect and most likely Head Boy next year. I could never do that; I've gotten far too many detentions, and my grades were good, but not Prefect worthy. I didn't have an Outstanding in anything except for Care of Magical Creatures.
That's right, bitches, Hagrid loves me.
"I'm home this summer," Al answered shortly.
"Grounded," Mrs. Potter added. He scowled at his mother and stared down at his spaghetti.
My father seemed surprised at this. "Albus, grounded?"
"Seems to be taking after me," James boasted, and everyone but Al laughed. James wasn't really much of a trouble-maker – neither was my brother – but they did manage to blow up toilets a lot. There were also catfights involved at some point.
I don't even want to know.
"How about you, Lily?" Mum asked the red-headed girl. "Any plans for the summer?"
She shook her head. "Hanging out with Addie, mostly. Until she gets grounded."
"For what?" Mum asked, frowning at my sister. From the corner of my eye, I saw Victor get a massively wicked grin on his face.
"Well, if that boy who was all over her at the platform at the end of the year says anything, I bet she will be grounded," he said loudly, leaning back in his chair.
"Boy?" asked Dad, paling slightly.
Addie's face was a bright red. I could tell she was cursing Victor's existence at this point. "I haven't done anything wrong!"
"Addie, no boys until you're twenty-five," Dad ordered, causing sniggers around the table.
"But Mandy's allowed to have a boyfriend," she wailed unhappily, pouting at him.
"That's because she can't get one until then," Al mocked. More snickering around the table, and I kicked him again.
"That's right," Victor said, looking right at me. My eyes widened and I shook my head at him, knowing exactly what he was going to say. He gave me an evil grin. "I seem to recall a little of sister of mine taking a fancy to Kevin Corner last year."
My face burned. "Did not."
"Was that before or after he shot you down?" Al jeered, and everyone laughed. I kicked him again and stared down at my half-empty plate, beginning to smear my spaghetti sauce around my plate and trying not to think about stupid Kevin Corner.
I mean, you don't snog a girl and then publicly turn her down.
That had to be in a rulebook somewhere, right?
"Heard it was a dare," Al hissed in my ear, and I immediately knew exactly who dared Kevin. I should've guessed that – they were in the same house, after all.
"Whatever," I declared loudly over the laughter, "I give up on boys."
"Started in on girls, have you? Even they'll turn you down, you know."
"Shut up, Al," I snapped, throwing my garlic bread in his face. I wish he didn't have to know the weakest points of my existence, but I couldn't help it if they were glaringly obvious. Whatever, I didn't care.
"You're a poop face," Eleni told Al, throwing a half-eaten baby carrot at him. It hit him in the forehead, and I laughed.
At least someone stood up for me. Everyone else thought Al and I were just joking.
Let's not talk about the time they said it was sexual tension.
"Mandy's seventeen," Dad told Addie, still grinning. "When you turn seventeen, you can have a boyfriend."
"A little late for that."
"Shut up, Victor," Addie said, stabbing her spaghetti angrily.
"Anyway, how about you, Mandy?" Mr. Potter said loudly, trying to keep a straight face. "What are you up to this summer? Any adventures lately?"
I shrugged. "Nell's coming over in August, but I haven't any other plans…"
"We're going on a vacation, too," Mum said cheerfully. "Camping in the last week of July."
We kept going on like this for the rest of the dinner, like we always did. It was tradition, really; parents made conversation, the kids answered questions, Al and I insulted each other, I kicked him, Eleni occasionally backed me up. When dinner ended and we had some time to go off before dinner, Al pulled her aside in the hall.
"Hey Eleni, I know I promised we'd play, but I think I need to hang out with my brothers, okay?"
I watched, leaning against the wall, my anger building as my baby sister's eyes welled with tears. "Why?"
"Because…" He kneeled down in front of her. "You know. I want to hang out with guys my own age. You understand, right?"
"But…" Eleni gestured to me in the corner and wiped her eyes. "Mandy always lets me hang out with her!"
Al rolled his eyes. "Well, Mandy's kind of a loser, so –"
"I HATE YOU!" she screamed, retreating and running up the stairs. He watched as she disappeared in the maze that was my home, pushing a hand through his hair and shrugging.
That just made me angrier.
"What is your problem?" I snapped, rounding in on him.
"Oh, come on, she's just a kid!" he protested.
"Exactly!" I said, throwing my hands up. "You didn't have to be so awful to her!"
"She's going to realize sometime that older kids don't want to hang out with her."
"Maybe," I said through gritted teeth, "but that doesn't mean you can go around breaking hearts of little kids. You promised her, prat. Is it so hard to pretend to listen to her stories about her dolls for a little while?"
"Oh, shut up," he snapped. "You're acting like this is the end of the world. Are you mad for what I said at dinner or something?"
I rolled my eyes and crossed my arms. "Like anything you say could bother me."
"Bet it does." He shook his head and turned away, probably heading for the basement. "You're such a stick-in-the-mud, probably because everything bothers you."
… what did he just say to me?
"Excuse me?" I spluttered, marching up to him and spinning him around. "I'm the stick-in-the-mud, Mr. Perfect Prefect?"
He snorted. "Like you know anything."
"I know you busted me for sneaking out, and my record says…" I pretended to think. "Oh, right. Thirty-three detentions."
"Not my fault you can't sneak around," he shot back.
"And you can?" I smirked as he flushed. "Who got grounded for the entire summer?"
"That's none of your business."
"I'm sure," I said, scoffing and turning away. "Amateur."
"Hey!" This time, I felt his hand on my shoulder, forcing me back around. His face was twisted in anger. "Like you could do any better than me!"
"I sneak out every night!" I told him. Technically, that wasn't true, but I did sneak out a lot. I just didn't go to places teenagers normally would go. Stargazing from trees only happen at night, you know.
"And you've never been caught," he said sceptically. "Right."
"I haven't by my parents. Only a nosy prefect."
"Fine," he said, arms tightening around his chest. "Show me, genius."
"Prove it." He glanced back into the dining room, where our parents were still talking and drinking wine. "Besides, it's not like you have anything better to do."
"Neither do you," I muttered. "Fine. I will. I'll prove it."
"I'm not a stick-in-the-mud."
"Whatever you say."
I stomped hard on his foot and punched him in the gut, taking him by surprise. He doubled over and groaned loudly.
"What was that for?" he asked angrily.
"For my baby sister." I kicked his leg again, as I'd done so many times over dinner. "You'd better learn to keep your promises, prat."
I left him there in the hallway, alone and groaning in pain. He'd be fine, I knew that – he was just being annoyingly dramatic, probably trying to get me in trouble. As I ran up the stairs to comfort Eleni, it occurred to me what I'd just done.
I'd just been tricked into proving myself to Al. The guy who used to be my best friend and now constantly picked on me and gave me detentions at every single opportunity. The guy who hurt my baby sister and broke promises. The guy I'd never, ever need to prove myself to.
And you know what?
This was the perfect opportunity for revenge.