Chapter 27 : The Friend Zone
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Happy October! Have your James & Avery costumes yet? Or are you going as Victoria?
I knew more about Meta McLaggen than most people did. Everyone knew she was a bitch, she popped her gum, and she fucked Bink Legace for a couple months. What I knew didn’t make her into some tortured victim, but it did give reasoning behind why she was such a pain in my ass.
Meta spent every day of her life wanting to be the best. No, it didn’t come from some daddy complex where her parents didn’t pay attention to her. It wasn’t because of a tragic childhood accident or because we picked on her. If anything, it was the other way around with the picking. What a ruthless girl. But all the same, Meta had to be better than everyone else.
She spent our first year trying to outdo Mary Mary Quite Good Gradesie in classes, even though Mary was one of the smartest in our year. Spent the years after trying to get in the fabulous graces of Maxwell and Dara Wood. Meta worked hard, but she never did any more than the rest of us. I believed that to be her downfall.
When Bink wanted to pass potions, he went in and asked for extra lessons and actually went to the library. Freddie wanted to date that one Ravenclaw whose name escaped me, so he went out of his way to get her shiny presents and be romantic. When I wanted to be made Captain, I worked my ass off on the pitch and kept pretty good grades to show I was well-rounded, even if Dara and I never saw eye-to-eye. She saw I was working hard and Meta was reading romance novels by the fire. It was a phase.
But Meta McLaggen always had to be the best at everything. When she wasn’t, she was unbearable. When the announcement came, from both Dara Wood and Longbottom, that I had been made Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, I couldn’t describe the fire behind her eyes. It was a scary situation that I removed myself from as quickly as possible.
She’d been extra bitchy this year, and I expected she wouldn’t let me forget my position as Captain and her position of mediocre Seeker. Not that she was bad. Wished she was. No, she was quite good actually.
You see, most people in Hogwarts thought there was something good in everyone. The only good part of Meta McLaggen was her Quidditch talent.
I tossed this around in my head while getting ready for Quidditch practice. It was a rainy February day, not quite cold enough for snow, and the team was abnormally quiet around me. I looked at Meta. Her head was down as she laced up her shoes.
Part of me couldn’t blame Bink. If she really had some sort of heart in there, she wouldn’t be a bad person to be around. But everything in his story screamed out a warning to me. Inviting him to Quidditch games to gain his affection. And I wasn’t dumb enough to know it was just an invite because she was lonely. Meta McLaggen had plenty of people in higher positions than Bink she could have invited. Her father worked at the Ministry and she always had nice box seats while chatting with authority figures. A few of the pictures were in Quidditch Weekly.
I still couldn’t believe it went on for that long, especially when we got back and she conveniently remembered she couldn’t boss around my players. Insufferable wretch. And the other part of me knew that if she was doing it with my best mate I might be thrown off. Which I was.
But, like Bink said, the sex was fantastic.
Not that I would know anything about that.
Maybe it was angry sex. I’d read about angry sex. Supposedly good.
“What the fuck are you pansies waiting for?” Meta snapped, grabbing her broom and heading out the door.
“Can we kick her off the team?” Bink said.
“I’d yell at you for breaking the Code before,” I said somberly, “but I think we’d all love that.” I grabbed my broom and threw on my practice robes.
Paloma snorted. I resisted the urge to ask her what the heck was going on between her and Al. I hadn’t seen any hardcore snogging or announcement of dating or something else dramatic. I’d save that for later.
“Well, come on, pansies,” Fred said with a laugh, pushing the door open for the rest of us.
Bink was pretty much the opposite of Meta in most ways. He never had to be the best, he just had to be a part of the celebration. He didn’t consider himself for Captain. He never got top grades—never studied for top grades, just enough to do well. And there was a reason behind is calm nature.
That was what I loved about Bink Legace. He had so many layers. Similar to an onion or Avery’s hair. He was calm and laughed at everything, but he could be intense and spontaneous, and, like he said before, he was always in love with the idea of the unknown. Which was his downfall for a while there. He gossiped, but Bink was an amazing secret keeper. He had that personality, while Meta could never compete.
Maybe that was their downfall. She wanted to have the best personality, but didn’t.
She was already in the air when we started, zooming back and forth between the hoops. Bink was making a joke with Wesley about Fred’s hair sticking up in the back. I was glad, for the most part, things were back to normal, but I knew it still wasn’t going to be easy. Bink and Meta loathed each other. There was nothing redeeming about their fight, especially when she called him out on that man issue.
I had high hopes for Bink, though, and none of them included the dry, irritating, Meta McLaggen.
“C’mon, pansies!” cried Bink in a shrill voice, kicking off the grass so hard his blond hair flew all over his face.
Practice went surprisingly well, as did my scores on the Herbology test and Charms paper (thanks, Aves). I even got an O on some Transfig, which I hated. Things were good. Surprisingly good. Even Avery said things were good with her when I inquired. Apparently she too got a fantastic grade (the academic kind) on her Charms.
We were in the common room watching Freddie and Albus play wizard chess. I was eyeing Paloma, who was a few feet away on the sofa reading. Their relationship was a little too platonic for my taste. At least Al was winning in chess. A knight was knocked out and Paloma didn’t even look up when Al cheered.
Avery noticed it too and jerked her head in Paloma’s direction.
“I know,” I whispered. “What’s going on?”
“Al is such an idiot,” she said.
“What? Why Al?”
Avery rolled her eyes. “He never made an actual move other than asking her to hang out.”
My jaw unhinged. “You’re right. Aw, hell, what a wanker.”
Freddie was scratching his chin. “I’m going to win,” he said stubbornly and we all laughed. He was damn near cornered. “Seriously. Come-back victory right here.”
Before I could tell him there was no going against Potter/Weasleys in wizard chess, my bowl of snacks was knocked over by a loud owl that had managed to get let in by some annoying first year. It’s feathers were all messed up and it dropped a letter in Fred’s lap before dive-bombing into my pretzels.
“What the hell?” Al said, taking the time to checkmate.
Fred’s eyes were scanning the print. “Aw, bloddy fuck,” he muttered. “I’ve gotta to, mates.”
“Where?” I said, staring at his mess on the chessboard. There was really no come-back happening. “It’s almost after-hours. Does Longbottom want to have a meeting about how my grades are actually good and you lot are seventh years so they will have to pick an entirely new team next year and it won’t be as good because Paloma and Wesley have only seen the inner workings for one year and he’s so worried because he wants the Quidditch Cup but pretends he wants his students to work hard and be smarties like the Ravenclaws?” I took a breath.
“Nope,” said Fred. “It’s Abigail. She wants me to go to the kitchens with her to get a snack.”
The room was silent.
“Wait, what?” Bink said. “Seriously?” He grabbed the letter. “Okay. I was thinking he made that up to go get laid, but that’s what it actually says.”
Freddie waved good-bye and disappeared through the portrait hole leaving a whole room of pity-partiers behind.
After Al finished the chess match by himself I pulled him aside. “We haven’t had a man to man chat in a while, baby brother.”
“Maybe it’s because you still insist on calling me baby brother,” he growled.
I walked him over to the giant window, ignoring his statement filled with bitterness. “What’s going on with you and Dove?”
He ran his fingers through his hair. Didn’t look as cool as when I did it. “I don’t know.”
“What do you mean? I thought you had this all set up?” I said. “The ice cream in Hogsmeade? The stumbling over your words? The swimming together at the grotto!” My stomach twinged at the thought of the grotto. Avery was across the room looking beautiful as always. Al, hurry up with this damn conversation.
“I don’t think she’s interested,” he mumbled, staring at his shoes. “We spent most of the time at the grotto plotting how to dunk Wesley anyway.”
I groaned. “You’re in the friend zone.”
“What? No, I’m not!”
“You’re hanging out with a cup of tea and a newspaper, mate.”
Albus groaned. “I am, aren’t I? She’s going to start dating other people, you know. She’s going to date them and live happily bloody ever after and I’m going to be an old cat bloke.”
“You like cats?” I asked.
“Sure. They’re cute and furry.”
“Don’t say cute.”
Al rolled his eyes. “I saw you with that kitten the other day.”
“That’s Falcon Cat.” I shook my head. “No! We’re getting off topic. You’d better make a move—and fast! She’s going to start dating Wesley or something.”
“I don’t think Wesley’s interested.”
“They all want to break the Code and ruin my life, of course he’s interested.”
I threw my hands in the air. “God damn it, Al! Quit trying to ruin my team!” With that, I stormed away, grabbed Avery’s arm, and tugged her upstairs.
Once I thought everything was going great, there was one day I wasn’t too happy with. There is always that day—that one day—the one you just can’t stand right in the middle of awesomeness. This one was a Thursday.
It started out with Meta being a bitch, though that is how most days start out.
I told her to run some laps. She flipped me off and said, “Shut it, Potter.” Then she didn’t run any laps. So I gave her more laps. Then she just walked off the pitch.
Some Captain I was.
Or, some bitch she was.
“What’s her deal?” Fred asked, zooming to the ground on his broom.
“Maybe she’s preggo,” I said, laughing.
“Don’t you dare say that,” Bink said, slapping me on the back of the head.
I rolled my eyes. “Shut up. She’s not and you know it. Get the hell back up there, what are you doing?”
Both took off and I watched Meta throw open the doors to the locker rooms and storm inside. Weirdo.
Later that afternoon Abigail rushed up to the Gryffindor table while we were eating and quite literally grabbed Fred’s wrist and tugged him outside. She looked mad. Fred came back rolling his eyes a couple hours later. The common room stared at him intently.
“Wanted me to help her practice for Potions.”
“You’re horrible at Potions,” I said.
“Yeah, I know.” Fred yawned.
“Did you at least get a snog?” Bink asked with a smile.
“Not one.” Fred stretched and then passed out on a nearby sofa.
Avery and I kept meeting each other’s eyes. It was partly because of Fred being such an idiot about Abigail, but partly because I wanted to spend time with her. Alone. Without everyone else there.
She nodded toward the portrait hole.
I threw my books in the air and ran out.
A few minutes later Avery met me in the hallway, laughing like an idiot. “I had to tell them I was going to check on you because you’d gone mental.”
“I may have made that a little obvious,” I said, chuckling. I laced my fingers with hers. Her hands were so soft I wanted to touch them forever. That was a weird thought, but whatever.
“So where are we off to, Captain?” Avery asked as we made our way downstairs. It wasn’t after hours, so every time we heard someone coming we would stop holding hands and she would shove me playfully like we used to do. I waved to a couple passing Ravenclaws. One I recognized as Abigail’s friend, Kara because she was at Ravenclaw practices a lot when I was scoping out the competition. I knew the other one just as Amy. She was a fifth year and wore sneakers under her robes.
Kara smiled at me and winked. Amy rolled her eyes.
Avery grabbed my arm and tugged me away from the Claws. Fred had dibs anyway.
We ended up in the vacant Great Hall. Everyone had cleared out after dinner and all that was left were four long tables and the fires lit on the sides. Oh, and some nice centerpieces with branches coming out of them.
“So other than McLaggen being a tosspot and Fred’s life being slowly ruined, how was your day?” Avery asked, sitting on top of a table with her legs sprawled out. I hoped they were cleaned before people ate on them for breakfast. Not that Avery was dirty. Because she wasn’t. Just that I never thought about what people did on the tables when there wasn’t eating happening.
I wondered about Freddie and Kay Davies. I mean, they did it on my pitch. Who’s to say they didn’t do it where I ate lunch?
“It wasn’t bad,” I said with a minor shrug. “Better now.”
It was that feeling. That feeling that you wanted to spend so much time with one person. I wondered if I annoyed her, but judging by the grin on her face I supposed not. I just wanted to spend my whole day with her, laughing, and never have to put up with stupid Meta McLaggen or Nia or Elizabeth again. Lofty goal, really.
“You look like you’re thinking about something?” Avery leaned over and narrowed her eyes at me suspiciously.
“Falcon Cat,” I spat out.
“Aw, I miss that kitten,” she said. “I wish Victoria would have gotten along with her.”
“Tory is a one-man woman,” I explained. “She’s very protective.”
“She loves me,” Avery said.
“I guess she thinks you have no shot.”
She laughed. “I have a shot at snogging you, that’s for sure.” She kissed me lightly on the lips and I stopped breathing. Then I remembered I needed to do that in order to live so I breathed again. It hurt my lungs though. Not good. Well, good in the sense of holy fuck that snog was great even though it was only a peck, but not good in the being alive department.
I was about to finally reply (since I could breathe again), but Avery’s attention was caught by a small owl soaring through the hall. It was weighed down by a letter and hooting happily. The letter fell in front of Avery. She cocked a brow.
“Mum usually sends me stuff on Sundays,” she said.
“That doesn’t look like your mum’s handwriting,” I said, pointing out the lofty script. “Or mine. Or Dad’s.”
I could hear her breath get caught in her throat as she unfolded the parchment. “It’s from my father.”
“Have you even heard from him since the first game?”
She shook her head. “I saw him after the game and then nothing.” I knew what she was thinking. She didn’t even have to say it, but she did. “Like when I was a kid.”
The hall was dark since the floating candles were out and the fires were the only things illuminating the area. Each table looked like it stretched forever. I placed my hand on her thigh.
“Aves,” I whispered.
“He’s coming to the Hufflepuff game.”
My eyes widened. “After not communicating with you for weeks?”
“Apparently.” Her eyes skimmed the words again. “Yeah, he’s coming to watch us take on the Puffers. Already purchased box seats. Since it’s his old house he wants to see what they have now that he’s gone.”
“Darian Bay isn’t much to look at.”
“I can’t believe he’s coming.” She folded the paper and stuffed it back into the envelope. “I mean, at first I was excited since he kept coming around after I nearly offed him at the restaurant. But then he just didn’t contact me at all. Didn’t tell me what a good job I’d done. Didn’t tell me he wanted to have a relationship—that he wanted to get to know me. It was just nothing. And now something.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know that there’s much I can do.” Avery pulled a few treats out of her pocket (was she seriously keeping owl treats in there?) and fed them to the little owl. It hooted. I missed Victoria. And Falcon Cat. “He’s already purchased the tickets and there aren’t rules against him being here. It’s not like he’s causing harm.”
“Except to you,” I said slowly.
“Who knows, maybe he has a decent reason for not getting in touch?”
“That he didn’t bother to write down.”
Avery frowned. “Damn parents. They’re the pits.”
I thought about Dad and how Mum said he wouldn’t be able to make my Hufflepuff game. Busy time for Aurors. I wasn’t sure exactly what made winter busier than summer, but apparently it was. Too busy to make your son’s second to last match as a Quidditch player for Gryffindor. Second match total as a Captain. “Yeah, yeah, they can be that way.”
I put the thought of Dad teaching me fly out of my mind.
I called a team meeting several days shy of the Puffer game. I arranged for an evening gathering, or soiree, if you will, to get my team up to date on the happenings of the Puffers. It was in the kitchens, as usual, and before I was there the table was set up with éclairs, tarts, and delicious goodness. Whoever was expecting dinner would be either ecstatic or hungry.
To my surprise, Paloma arrived first. She had a long dress on under her robes, that weird cornflower blue color that made me feel awkward. She was all smiles though with her hair tied back and a clipboard with parchment ready to take notes on the Puffers. What a great team player.
“Hey, James,” she said with another trademark smile. I knew Al was interested, I knew about the Code, and I knew I’d never be attracted to her in that way, but damn Paloma Dove was a gorgeous girl.
“Hi, Paloma,” I replied. I opened and closed my mouth several times, but eventually spit out what I was fighting with saying. “Oy, so what’s going on with you and Al?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“That’s exactly what I mean,” I said, dropping a few stacks of notes onto the table. “What is happening between the two of you?”
“We’re really great friends,” she said. “You have an amazing brother, James.”
I raised a brow. “Friends?”
“Sure. Al is a wonderful listening. It’s a bonus he’s so adorable.”
“Tell me,” I said, “is it the eyes or the hair?”
Paloma laughed. “I think it’s both.”
“Damn it,” I said. “He’s got the whole package.”
“Is that jealousy?”
“Never.” I huffed my chest out in a manly way. “I’m the Captain. Captains don’t get jealous of Prefects. It’s against the rules.”
“What rules?” Paloma giggled. “Surely the Code doesn’t have footnotes?”
“Course not. They’re just my rules.”
I dropped the subject of the lack of romance between Albus and Paloma just as Wesley walked in, followed closely by Bink and Freddie, who had taken to shooting tickling hexes at Wes. Wesley, however, had no idea and kept twitching.
“Good evening, lads,” I said cheerfully, popping several chocolate desserts in my mouth.
“You seen Avery?” Bink asked. “She said she’d check over my Transfig.”
“She has to finish mine before she checks yours,” Fred said.
I gaped at them. “You’re having Avery do your homework?”
“I mean, I asked nice,” said Fred. “It’s just I’m out all the time with Abigail and it gets hard.”
“So the nice, sweet Avery is doing your homework for you?” I said.
“We should pay her, huh?” Bink said.
“You should do a lot more than that.” I folded my arms just as the lovely lady herself walked in.
Even though she was in robes, her hair was in a knot on top of her head, and she wore slippers on her feet, I’d never seen something so beautiful. It was so strange. There was an explosion somewhere behind my navel and I felt like I wouldn’t be able to eat any more of my treats.
“Sorry, Avery,” muttered Fred.
“Sorry,” said Bink.
“Uh,” Avery said. “You’re forgiven? Can you tell me what you’ve done?”
“We won’t have you do our homework for us anymore,” Fred said.
Avery laughed, patting each boy on the head. “Don’t worry, boys, I have a few things in mind for making it up to me.”
“I wonder what Freddie would look like with no hair…”
He made a squawking sound.
I looked up to see the last of our team enter. Meta always seemed to be late and in a sour mood and tonight was no exception. She sauntered in, drinking a cup of hot tea, and slid into the seat at the end of the table. Luckily, Wes and Paloma flanked her instead of a certain blond.
“All right, let’s get this show on the road!” I said cheerfully, finally able to regain control of my breathing. I was careful not to look at Avery while I spoke. “Saturday is the Hufflepuff game. It’s a game against yellow and black, the color of pretty little bumblebees, badgers (I guess), and Puffers. I have a lot of things to say about them, but some are more important than others.”
“You always have a prelude to your speeches, Potter.”
“Shut the fuck up, McLaggen,” Bink snapped.
“Why don’t you go to hell, Legace?”
“Spent three months there.”
“You haven’t seen the worst of me.”
Bink snorted. “You mean you waking up with no makeup isn’t it? Bugger.”
Fred elbowed him. “Not the time, mate.”
Meta rolled her eyes. “How long is this going to take?”
I tried to think of happy thoughts. Like beating up Emerson or kicking whoever was snogging my sister. Or being in a dragon cave killing beasts and shit. Or training them. Anyway.
“Back to the Puffers,” I said. “Nia Baker used to date Darian Bay.”
“Oh, goodie, gossip.” Meta leaned back in her chair. Internally, I hoped she fell.
“Bay talked a lot about this game and what methods he was going to use to dethrone Gryffindor Quidditch.” I began my trademark pacing. “He wants to take us out. He wants injuries. I’m guessing he’ll try and take us out before the game, so I want all of you on your guard. Go with someone else everywhere and try not to spend too much time in a cluster. Not that that’s a problem with you, McLaggen, seeing as everyone bleeding hates you. Except me, because I’m the Captain and I love all of you equally.”
Bink laughed. “If you love me as much as you love her we must not be good friends.”
Meta whipped out her wand. “Give me a reason. I swear.”
“Put it away,” said Paloma, louder than I’m sure she intended. “This meeting is about Quidditch. I for one want to know how to beat the damn Hufflepuffs!”
Did Paloma just say damn?
Meta narrowed her eyes, but stowed her wand back in her pocket.
“I’m sure he’ll be going after the most important parts of the team. Avery and McLaggen—don’t look at me like that, you guys, she’s a damn good Seeker. So I want the both of you to be on the look-out at all times. Stray hexes can come from anywhere. Even Ravenclaws. They want to see us lose too since we humiliated them in the fall.” I snickered at the thought. “Bay has no restraint. It’s his last year and he wants to win more than he wants to retain friendships. Not that he has any.”
I cleared my throat. “So let’s get this show on the road. The first chart I have here is Bay’s lineup. Look carefully and take notes. Paloma, would you give McLaggen a piece of your paper and a quill? She’ll need it.”
The meeting lasted a little longer than I planned, but I relayed all the information I had. I only wished I could have gotten it to them sooner, but better late than never. I had more important things to worry about. Not that anything was more important than Quidditch. Because it wasn’t. But still.
“All right,” I said, taking down my last chart, “I have a little surprise for everyone.”
“Is it freedom?” said Freddie.
“It’s a team building exercise!”
Bink blinked. “Like learning each other’s names and shit?”
“No. This is better.” I took out a pointed hat. “We’re going to have a gift exchange before the game. It’ll be the morning of and we will all send our gifts via owl to the person we pick, but we can’t tell anyone who we picked. Just get them a little something and a note. It’s to boost self-confidence and moral.”
Meta looked like she might be sick. Maybe she really was preggo? Nope, that was just her look of disgust at me.
“Okay, everyone pick a name!” I was still excited even though Meta was giving me the stink eye. I had chocolate! I loved everyone. Except her. She really was a bitch. How did Bink stand her long enough for sex? It must have been amazing. It had to have been. I would have punted her across the room.
Everyone drew a name and I got the final piece of paper. It said, Paloma Dove. What to get a pretty girl who has everything?
The end of the meeting was nice for everyone, considering Fred jumped up and ran for the Ravenclaw Tower, Wesley and Paloma ditched out to find some of their friends, and Meta and Bink muttered threats at each other while they walked out of the kitchens. That left Avery and I standing there, me shuffling my notes.
“Who did you get?” she asked, tucking her slip of paper away.
“I can’t tell,” I said. “That’s the point. It has to be a surprise.”
“Okay, okay.” Avery laughed a little and helped herself to the last éclair. “I guess I’ll just wait and see. I have some big ideas though. It’s a good plan. I mean to say, it might distract some of us long enough to forget about the nerves.”
“Like you’re ever nervous.” I tucked the sheets of parchment under my arm.
“Sometimes I am.” Her voice was low. Her eyes were sparkly and even her slippers looked sexy. I meant attractive.
Avery kissed me lightly and my heart was racing so much I couldn’t hear the movement around me. I opened my eyes to look at her and then she was smiling at me. “I got you, you know.” She pulled the slip of paper out of her pocket. “So be prepared.”
I was fairly certain I wouldn’t be prepared for anything she sent my way.
A/N: Today I injured my pinkie nail and so whenever I press shift, enter, or backspace things get complicated. By complicated I mean I wince. But I got a chapter up for all of you! I hope you enjoyed more of an insight into Meta and Bink, as well as the lead-up to the next Quidditch game.
Feel free to share your favorite quotes! What do you think Avery is going to get James? What the heck is going on with Al and Paloma?
Up Next: gift exchange, Lily knows too much, more Falcon Cat, and a shower.
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