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Chapter 6: Quidditch Practice
I dreaded getting out of bed the next day. I felt guilty and I knew James had every right to be angry. But his words kept running through my head. “Bloody irresponsible.” It hurt that James thought so lowly of me.
I avoided his gaze as we ate breakfast. I got ready for work, my mind busy with the long list of patients I had to see and I almost didn’t hear James calling after me as I left. I looked down in surprise at the hand grasping my wrist. James tugged me back into the flat, his fingers warm on my skin.
“I wanted to talk to you,” James said quietly. He let go of my wrist and ran the hand through his hair, scrunching his face. He stared at the floor for a moment.
I shifted on my feet, waiting for him to say something. “I’m going to be late,” I started hesitantly.
He finally looked up, his face regretful. “I’m sorry.”
My eyes widened. “What?” I managed.
“You’re making me say it again?” A small smile tugged on his lips. “I’m sorry.”
He sighed as he racked his hand through his dark hair again. “I shouldn’t have given you so much grief just for going out. I mean, I’m not any less angry at you for losing track of time but…I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.” James paused again, his eyes scanning my face as if to monitor how I would react to his words. “You’re not irresponsible, you’re not some masochist. I just—I’ve never felt pain like that, and I overreacted and—,” he stopped again. He looked at me, his eyes shining with regret.
“It’s fine,” I said slowly, careful to keep my astonishment out of my voice. “Thank you.” I reached out a hand and awkwardly patted him on the shoulder.
James smiled again, his eyes crinkling in a way that made my heart swoop. I turned to leave but his hand found my wrist again, pulling me back.
He had an odd look on his face. “Promise me we’ll never have to feel pain like that again?”
The surprise was evident on my face this time, confused by such a request. Surely we’d be tugging at the boundaries of the spell at one point or another again. But then that smile reappeared on his face and he was looking at me with so much warmth in his eyes—or so I imagined—that the words fell out of my mouth. “I promise.”
His fingers squeezed my wrist tightly and his thumb stroked a path around my skin so quickly that I almost wouldn't have believed it happened if it weren't for warmth that trailed on my hand after his touch, and then he let me go.
Luckily Katie had the day off so I was able to avoid any awkward questioning as to why I had disappeared all of a sudden the night before, while the rest who had been too drunk to notice greeted me with strained smiles at work, no doubt wanting nothing but to go back to sleep.
The day passed by fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was back at James’s apartment. To avoid what happened last night, we had agreed on a fixed time which would allow us to be back at his apartment before the contract started working again and I had a little time to myself before James came home.
I drifted through the apartment, not really sure what to do. I paused when I found James’s owl. A couple minutes later, I watched as the owl flew off. I stayed at the table, staring out the window until a knock on the door jolted me from my thoughts.
I rushed to the front door and swung it open to greet Albus with a smile. He stood leaning against the doorway, his hands deep in his pockets.
“I got your note,” he said quietly. “What’s up?”
I felt my smile waver. “I miss you, Al. I feel like I haven’t seen you at all.”
Albus shrugged. “I figured you’d be having a hard enough time with all of this.” He smiled grimly. “I didn’t want to get in the way.”
A frown tugged my lips. “Don’t be silly,” I said. “Come on, come inside.” I pulled him into the apartment. He followed me into the living room, watching as I settled on the couch.
“I can’t stay for long,” he said. He perched on the edge of the sofa across from me, his hands still in his pockets. We were silent for a couple minutes and then Albus looked up at me, a strange look on his face.
“What?” I finally asked.
He shook his head and smiled wryly. “I just can’t believe you’re in this situation,” he replied. I made a face. “How has everything been? Dad told me Aunt Hermione found a way to get around it during the day.”
“Its fine,” I nodded after a pause.
Al raised his eyebrows and I knew he wasn’t satisfied with my answer but he stayed quiet. He got up to sit next to me, sinking back onto the couch. I leaned my head against his shoulder as he wrapped his arm around me.
I sighed. “I just want this all to be over,” I said softly. I closed my eyes, wincing as I imagined being stuck like this forever.
“It will be soon,” Al replied. But the uncertainty in his voice was clear.
I found myself about to doze off when someone cleared their throat, the noise loud in the quiet room. I opened my eyes to see James standing in front of us, his eyes unreadable as he surveyed us. “Albus. Natalie. Sorry about interrupting this… cozy moment but Natalie, you need to get ready.”
“Ready for what exactly?” I asked as I stood up. He was dressed rather nicely, I noticed. His usually messy hair was combed back and I could smell his cologne—a warm, woodsy scent.
“Didn’t you get my owl?” James frowned. “There’s this event I forgot about that I need to attend. And obviously, I can’t go without you—by the time we get there, the spell will have worn off.”
I scowled. “I have nothing to wear.”
“Already taken care of,” James replied smoothly. “I had this ordered after practice.” He pulled out a small parcel from his pocket and enlarged it with a wave of his wand before tossing it at me.
I caught it before it could hit me in the face. “But—.”
“Wood,” he cut me off. “You’re coming with me whether you like it or not. Now get ready. We have to leave in 15 minutes.” James looked down at Al who was still sitting on the couch, looking uncomfortable. “Bye Al. You can show yourself out.” He walked out of the room.
I gaped after him, irritated by how he was ordering me about and the way he’d spoken to Albus. I turned to see Al standing up.
“I’m sorry Al,” I said ruefully as I walked with him to the door.
His lips twisted into a small smile. “It’s alright, Nat.” He paused. “Well you heard the man. I should bugger off.”
I rolled my eyes as I gave him a quick hug. “Maybe we can have lunch sometime?” I asked. I was sorry to see him leave so quickly. It had become so monotonous going straight from work back to James’s apartment, to work, to his apartment, to work and then back to his apartment.
Al nodded and left. I turned my attention to the parcel James had thrown at me, eyeing it warily. I opened it slowly and my eyes widened in surprise as I pulled out a dress. It was beautiful—a deep, iridescent blue with lace details over the straps and the upper half of the dress before it flowed down to end most likely just above the knees. Hesitantly I peeked at the label and almost dropped the dress. While I earned a decent amount as a Healer-in-training, I rarely bought expensive things, especially not designer dresses like this.
I couldn’t possibly wear it. I carried it into the bedroom where James was fixing his tie. “I can’t wear this,” I informed him bluntly.
James turned to me. “And why not?” His face flickered with amusement.
“It’s too expensive.” I frowned. “I’m sure I can find something at my apartment. You’re not obligated to buy things like this for me.”
James sighed. “We don’t have enough time for you to go look through your apartment. Just wear the dress.” He gave me a hard look. “It was meant to be a sort of thank-you for coming along to this party. But if it bothers you so bloody much, I’ll have it returned tomorrow.” He paused to glance at the clock in the room. “Now will you please get dressed?”
I stared after him, feeling completely thrown as he walked out of the room. I hadn’t expected that. And then I couldn’t help but feel a little bit bad.
So after a bit of grumbling and pouting, I found myself staring into the mirror, finally ready to go. The dress had fit surprisingly well and I’d had just enough time to fix my hair and put on a little make-up that I’d brought with me to James’s apartment.
Feeling nervous, I walked out into the hallway where James was waiting. He had been pacing but stopped abruptly when he noticed me. My face flushed as I watched James survey me, his eyes slowly trailing down my body, lingering on the neckline of the dress and my bare legs.
His eyes rose back up to meet mine and we stared at each other for a second before he cleared his throat hastily. “Let’s go.” He walked over to me and offered his arm. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t disappointed he hadn’t said anything about how I looked. It’s not like we were actually together, I reminded myself.
Sighing inwardly, I grasped his arm and closed my eyes as he apparated. We appeared in a dimly lit hallway. Light spilled from a propped open door from where the light buzz of conversation drifted through.
“Remind me why you needed to come to this?” I asked, trying to keep my voice calm. The sounds of the party were growing louder as we walked down the hallway and I was starting to feel a little anxious.
James glanced at me and stopped us right in front of the door. “One of the sponsors of the team requires us to make appearances sometimes at the events they throw. And it’s good publicity for the team as well because it’s usually some type of fundraiser or gala event. Okay?”
I shifted on my feet, feeling nervous. “What will you tell everyone who I am?”
He shrugged. “That you’re my date.”
I hesitated and then asked, “And what if I see someone I know?”
James raised his eyebrows, an amused look on his face. “I don’t think this is really your crowd.” He gazed at me for a second before clasping his warm hand on my shoulder. “It’ll be fine. Just stay close to me. We don’t have to stay for long.”
I nodded. To my surprise, his hand slid down my arm and he laced his fingers through mine as we walked into the party. Considering how many people were milling around, I assumed he did it to make sure that we wouldn’t be separated but nevertheless, my heart started to beat faster and the warmth of his hand brought a blush to my cheeks.
James, unaware of my reaction scanned the crowd and started to pull me towards a group standing nearby. I offered a small smile as he briefly introduced me before jumping into a conversation about their upcoming game later that week.
I followed him from group to group, growing more and more uncomfortable by the minute. I didn’t miss the looks thrown my way whenever James introduced me. Some eyed me with curiosity, while others—mostly the girls—looked down at me haughtily.
My interest perked as a tall, dark-skinned man clasped his arm around James’s shoulder, leaning to murmur in his ear. A broad smile lit James’s face and they exchanged one of those man-hugs as they both laughed. I stiffened when the man’s face turned towards me. Of course. Luke Zabini. James’s best friend and fellow Quidditch player. I was never sure if I liked him or not. Many times at Hogwarts, when I finally tore what I thought was my subtle gaze from James, I’d notice Luke watching me, a knowing look in his eyes.
I hopelessly wished for myself to become smaller at James’s side so that he wouldn’t see me.
“Are you ever going to introduce me, James?”
I felt James tense at my side. He cleared his throat as Luke turned to me before recognition flew into his eyes. I could almost hear the surprised “oh” he must have been thinking.
He threw an inquiring glance at James before offering me a small smile. “Natalie. Nice to see you.”
I nodded in what I hoped was a friendly way but refused to speak. I was afraid that at any moment I would suddenly give something away.
“How’s your training going? You’re almost done right?” Luke asked.
I blinked in surprise. How did he know? “Yes,” I answered slowly. “I’ll be a fully certified Healer in a year.” A smile spread my face despite the situation we were in.
He nodded. “So, are you the reason I’ve barely seen James this past week?” Luke teased suddenly. “But I don’t blame you. I know James—he’s not going to let you out of his sight for awhile after pining after you all—,”
James interrupted abruptly. “Natalie was there when I stopped by Al’s. She was kind enough to accompany me here when I mentioned how I was dateless.” He raised his eyebrows at Luke and a look passed between them. I watched all this with wide eyes, my heart still thundering at Luke’s words. I couldn’t let myself believe it.
Luke is a charmer, I reminded myself. He could smooth talk the pants off of you if he wanted to. It was just a mindless sentence.
James tugged on my hand. “We should get going,” he told Luke. “I’ll see you at practice,” he called over his shoulder as he pulled me away.
I looked back and my stomach jolted as my eyes met Luke’s ever perceptive gaze.
James and I didn’t speak as we returned home and got ready for bed. We both sensed that things would become more awkward, more difficult between us if we acknowledged what had been said. So we did what we did best in our relationship: we avoided it.
Finally. It was here. A day off from work. We’d had no word from Hermione about the contract and after a 30-hour shift at Mungo’s I was looking forward to a whole day of just being lazy.
I settled on the couch in James’s apartment, intent on reading a book. Minutes into reading I noticed James wandering through the apartment, getting ready for practice but all the while throwing furtive glances in my direction.
I gritted my teeth. Concentrate Natalie.
"It happened on a Thursday. It must have, because Mariam remembered that she had been restless and preoccupied that day, the way she was only on Thursdays, the day when-"
James had walked back into the room. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he placed his training bag by the door before throwing another glance at me. Our eyes met and he looked away before hurrying out of the room, leaving me in peace.
“It happened on a Thursday. It must have, because Mariam remembered that she had been restless and preoccupied-
“Merlin. What, James?” I asked, snapping the book shut as I noticed him watching me again.
He didn’t look too surprised at being caught. But he hesitated. “Look, I know it’s your day off. But today’s practice is open to the public.” James paused again. “And I was just wondering—it’s fine if you don’t—but… do you want to come along?”
“Me?” I asked stupidly, thrown off guard.
His mouth twitched. “Yes. From what I’ve heard, people generally have a good time.”
I looked at him suspiciously. I couldn’t tell if he was teasing me or not.
“Um.” I glanced down at the book in my lap. A calm, relaxing day by myself or a nerve-racking, slightly awkward time with James? With that logic, it was hard to point out why I ended up agreeing to go.
I’d forgotten how intense some Quidditch fans get, not having been to any sort of game since Hogwarts. I chuckled as I surveyed the group in front of me again, who were completely decked out in Appleby Arrows jerseys, hats, and scarves—on top of having their faces painted in the team’s colors, all for an open practice.
James, who’d abandoned me once we reached the stadium, stepped out onto the pitch and I watched as he paused to sign signatures for several fans who were lingering by the locker rooms. I groaned inwardly as his appearance commenced the frantic screaming of many of the girls sitting by me. Once he finished he flashed a charming smile at the crowds and waved cheerfully before gracefully jumping onto his broom and racing into the sky in the blink of an eye.
I shook my head, snickering slightly at the wink he had thrown towards the fan club by the locker rooms.
I tried to concentrate on the drills that were being performed but the familiar setting of the pitch, the ever-present smell of freshly cut grass, the cheering of the fans, the rushing sound of a player speeding by made it all too easy to remember a time when watching Quidditch games on the weekends was a regular part of my life, where I would cheer on my dad and wait eagerly for the end of the game, hoping to Merlin that he would let me join him on his victory lap around the stadium. When we weren’t watching him play, he would be teaching my sister—Kate—and me how to play, encouraging us to fly a little faster, to make our form a little better until Mum would come outside and yell for the fifth time that dinner was ready and we’d better get back inside before it went cold. I panicked as tears prickled the back of my eyes at the thought of Kate and forced myself to breathe deeply.
I became so caught up on those painful memories that it took me awhile to realize that someone was talking to me. I looked up in confusion to see that someone had taken a seat next to me.
His light blue eyes twinkled with amusement. “Don’t come here often, do you?” He repeated.
I raised my eyebrows. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, this is usually where those who have season tickets sit. Plus, it’s basically an unwritten rule that you need to have on at least one kind of Arrows paraphernalia to sit here,” he replied with a brilliant smile.
“Well where’s yours?” I asked, eyeing his plain t-shirt, the expensive camera slung around his neck and his dark jeans.
He winked. “Appleby Arrow boxers.” He grinned as a blush formed on my face. “I’m kidding. I really just wanted a reason to talk to you.”
My cheeks burned again. I stared as he offered his hand with another disarming smile. “Grant Rogers.”
The little voice in my head snapped at me to get myself together. “Natalie Wood,” I finally said, reaching out to shake his hand.
“Wood? Any relation to Oliver Wood?” Grant asked, his eyebrows rising in surprise.
A pang of pain ran through me. But I nodded, hoping my smile wasn’t too strained. “Yes. I'm his daughter.”
“Your father is brilliant. I'm such a big fan.” I nodded again before turning my attention back on the pitch. As nice as Grant was, I really didn’t want to continue this conversation.
But I watched out of the corner of my eye as he started snapping pictures with his camera. My eyes ran along his face, taking in his tousled, blond hair, his strong jaw line. His gaze suddenly turned to mine. That warm smile was still lingering on his lips.
Feeling bad for being so rude, I tried to strike up the conversation again. “Are you a professional photographer?”
Grant laughed. “I’m trying. I’m lucky enough to choose what I shoot now and then. But then again, that doesn’t offer too much pay.”
“But you’re doing what you like,” I guessed.
He nodded. “True.” I glanced back at the pitch as the crowd cheered suddenly. A small smile lit my face as James sped through the stadium, whooping with exhilaration. I blinked in surprise as a camera flashed next to me.
I looked at Grant with a scowl. “You did not just take a picture of me.”
He just grinned. “I was just capturing the moment.” He paused. “You have a beautiful smile, Natalie.”
I felt my cheeks flush again and I glanced down at my lap, my eyes wide. Get a grip, I scolded myself. You are a grown woman.
The practice ended all too soon and after having said goodbye to Grant, who flashed me another very charming grin as he left, I waited for James outside the locker room.
I hadn’t seen him in such a good mood in a long time and I commented on this as we left the stadium.
“I love flying,” James said with a shrug. “There’s nothing that beats the adrenaline rush from being up there. You feel invincible.” His enthusiasm was infectious and I couldn’t help but smile back.
We were quiet for a moment and then James asked casually, “Who were you talking to? I could see you in the stands.”
“Oh. Just a guy. He was really nice.” I shrugged, my mind still preoccupied with memories of when my family had been whole, and not broken like we were now.
After apparating to Diagon Alley, we walked in silence through the streets, pausing frequently so James could sign signatures for the groups of fans that crowded him. We stopped to get food from a small restaurant and I fiddled with the menu as James chatted with the cashier, who seemed to be an avid Appleby Arrows fan.
I fiddled with the menu as we waited for our food at a small restaurant. “Natalie.” I looked up to see James watching me closely. “Are you okay? You’ve been…quiet, more so than usual,” he said with a wry smile.
“I—,” I paused. “I’m fine. It’s always just hard to watch Quidditch games,” I found myself saying. I stared at James with wide eyes the minute the words left my mouth, surprised that I had actually told him something so personal, something I could only admit to Al—and even doing that was difficult.
The expression on his face changed. “Because of your dad?” James asked quietly. His eyes were suddenly soft as he gazed at me.
I remained silent for a moment. “I don’t really want to talk about it,” I finally said. It was easier to ignore it rather than dwelling on what had happened. It would only make the ache I carried around with me, longing for my sister and father to be a part of my life again, harder to deal with.
James nodded. His lips were pressed into a tight line but he looked away before I could examine the look on his face.
Partly in an effort to change the subject and partly because I was genuinely curious, I wondered out loud, “Do you get used to it?”
James raised his eyebrows at me quizzically.
“I mean, on top of being the son of the Harry freaking Potter, you’re a famous Quidditch star. You get noticed almost everywhere you go, you’re always in the magazines and papers….doesn’t it get crazy sometimes?”
“Everyone always asks.” James let out a small laugh. “I suppose it’s easy to get used to. It’s nice when you get to see how much the fans appreciate you. But it’s frustrating when everything I do is picked apart—especially when it affects the way my family views me….,” he trailed off, his eyebrows crinkled into a frown.
I vaguely remembered Al saying something about Ginny being worried about James.
His frown deepened as I remained quiet. “Actually, I didn’t even think—we better go home now before anyone starts taking pictures of the both of us. We don’t need to deal with that on top of everything.”
He gathered our food and grabbed my hand, gripping it tightly as he apparated us back to his apartment. But it wasn’t until a couple days later that I fully understood what he meant, and realized just how much his actions were picked apart by the public.
A/N: So here's chapter 6! Thank you so much to everyone for reading/commenting/favoriting the story. I'd love to hear what you think about this chapter! Any predictions, thoughts about James, Albus, the two new characters--Luke and Grant--, my vague hints about Natalie's family? It really helps my writing soo much when I get to see how my readers are responding to the story, so please review! :)