A week later, I stared glumly at the letter in my hand.
How are you? I haven’t seen you in a very long time. Please come visit and bring that new boyfriend of yours. I’m making blueberry pie next weekend!
There’s no avoiding this, I told myself. I tossed the letter to James who was looking at me questioningly.
“Please tell me you’re busy.”
James shrugged. “Nope, sorry. Next weekend works fine actually.”
I groaned. “I don’t want to lie to her about this whole thing. I mean, it’s not like I tell her everything, but I can’t lie to her.”
He shrugged again. “Well, more than half of my family thinks we’re actually together.” He played idly with the letter.
“Yeah, why is that? We can’t we tell family members?” I asked with a frown.
James cleared the table as he stood, gathering our plates before giving me a look. “The smaller amount of people who know, the less likely other people will find out. Do you want everyone to know that you’re magically stuck in a marriage and you can’t get out of it? Not to mention the papers would go insane to think I actually committed to someone.” His voice was somewhat bitter.
I avoided his gaze, biting my lip to resist blurting out anything that make him realize my growing feelings for him. It was becoming a major issue. As angry as he made me, as frustrating as he was, the slightest touch from him had my heart beating faster, the smallest look or that smile he would occasionally throw my way, his eyes bright, his lips tilted up slightly would send butterflies fluttering chaotically in my stomach.
And it wasn’t just physical attraction. He could make me laugh, until I forgot all my worries and just enjoyed being in the moment despite laughing at something completely silly. He was easy to talk to—when we weren’t arguing, that is. I found myself telling him about the people who I worked with, who I liked, who saw work as a competition, how much of a good friend Katie was. And he was a good listener, always patient with my ramblings and tangents, watching me with his warm eyes and that endearing half smile, his attention completely on me.
These were all reasons why I’d fallen for him before, why I had convinced myself a year before just to go for it, to show him how I felt about him.
See how well that turned out, the voice inside my head scoffed. A one-night stand which he’s definitely moved on from.
Sometimes I would wonder if there was a possibility that my feelings were returned. But then I’d remind myself that James was just a good person, that he’s kind to everyone. And because of the way he had treated me the past year, the bitter insults, the glares—it seemed he had always been angry when I was around, that my mere presence made him angry—I came to the conclusion that while we were somehow getting back to the friendship we had before, that no, my feelings were not returned.
I tried to keep the expression on my face neutral as I watched James warming up with his team around the pitch, James having warned me of the photographers who would be keen to take pictures of the both of us.
I turned to see Luke Zabini two rows behind me, waving wildly with a huge smile on his face. I waved back hesitatingly, my smile straining when he gestured for me to come over. I noticed people watching us curiously--star-struck by the presence of Zabini and then looking at me a bit too curiously.
Resigned by his enthusiastic gesturing I walked over to him, a polite smile fixed on my face.
“Sit with me,” he offered, beaming up at me. I tried to make an excuse but he reached out and pulled me into the empty seat next to him. “I want company,” he said, chuckling at the look on my face.
Choosing not to answer him, I turned my attention back to the field. James had just flown by, shooting me a small wink before speeding to the other side.
“I hear James is meeting your mother this weekend.” Luke was grinning at me wickedly.
“Yes,” I answered mildly. “Hang on. Why aren’t you playing?” I asked, turning to him with a frown.
He laughed. “I don’t know how James is with someone who doesn’t keep up with Quidditch news,” he said with amusement.
He tried to turn his laugh into a cough when I glared at him. “Hamstring injury during practice. I’m out for a week.” I nodded and attempted to give him a sympathetic look.
Luke was quiet for another moment before he started again. “So, this whole relationship with James was very sudden. I’m surprised he never said anything to me. He usually does.”
I swallowed nervously, my throat suddenly dry. “It was sudden for us too. We wanted to keep it to ourselves for awhile,” I lied.
Luke nodded, but there was sly look on his face.
“What?” I asked, suddenly wary.
“James told me, Natalie.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know about everything,” he continued in a low voice, his eyes twinkling mischievously.
My eyes widened. “But—what! He just told me that I couldn’t tell my mum! The fewer amount of people know, the less likely other people will find out,” I imitated his voice.
Luke tried to keep a straight face. “Natalie, calm down. I’m his best friend. I won’t tell anyone.”
“So what?” I said, angrily. I couldn't understand why I was getting so upset. Maybe because he hadn’t told me himself, that voice in my head said quietly.
Luke eyed me curiously. “Your best friend knows, his best friend knows. Don’t you think he should have some sort of escape from this too, someone he can talk to about it?”
I gaped at him. “What, so he can go and tell you everything—every annoying little thing I do, and how much he can’t stand me sometimes, how much he can’t wait to get out of this and—,”
I paused mid-ramble as the look on his face changed. His eyes filled with disbelief.
“You don’t actually think James can’t stand you, do you?” Luke questioned. A small part of my mind noticed how similar this conversation was to the one when I had confronted James about his argument with Ginny.
Suddenly thrown, I stared numbly at Luke. “I—I don’t know. Doesn’t he? I mean, it’s not like he made any effort to make things better between us before this whole thing happened.”
“Neither did you,” he said gently.
My eyes widened. But that—that would mean he—
Luke nodded, “I know about that night too, Natalie.”
He continued in a calm voice. “Did you ever consider the possibility that he avoided you because you were the one that ran from him that morning? Before he even got the chance to talk to you about what happened?”
I said nothing. My hands shook.
“And what about the past couple weeks? If he really couldn’t stand you, he wouldn’t have brought you along to all his practices and games, not to mention agreeing to go to your work that first week—he actually followed you around with the invisibility cloak for Merlin’s sake! And he certainly would have kept his distance this entire time, instead of making all these efforts to talk to you.” He paused. “And haven’t you been getting along this entire week?”
He shook his head. “Merlin, Natalie. He misses being friends with you. I know you do too.”
His words washed over me comfortingly. I stared out at the pitch, letting them sink in as I tried to think of something I could say to him. How was I supposed to react to this? I had just had a heart to heart talk with Luke Zabini, someone I had never really talked to. And damn him for being so bloody perceptive.
“Thank you,” I finally said, finding my voice. Luke nodded, a smile lighting his face as we looked at each other. His eyes were warm and reassuring and I felt that spark of hope I'd been feeling all week continue to grow, that maybe things could change between James and I.
“You both should come to dinner at my place,” Luke offered as we walked down the stands towards the locker rooms.
“Oh.” I couldn’t hide my surprise. “I’ll see if James doesn’t have any plans,” I started hesitantly.
Luke grinned. “He doesn’t. I already asked him.” He gave me a look as I opened my mouth to protest. “I know this isn’t exactly the most ideal thing to happen to you but I don’t see why you can’t take advantage of it.”
I raised my eyebrows. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Take me for example. There’s no reason why you can’t use this situation to get to know me better.” He winked at me and threw an arm over my shoulder as he steered me into the changing room, ignoring my protests. “I’m exceptionally charming, funny and quite good-looking.”
“Careful, Luke. Wouldn’t want people to think you’re trying to steal Natalie away, do you?”
I jumped at the sound of James’s deep voice, spinning around to see him giving Luke an amused expression. He’d thrown off his Arrows robes and wore just a tight white shirt underneath, which showed off his toned chest. I pointedly avoided looking at the rest of the team who were all at various stages of undressing.
James walked over to me, leaned down and kissed my cheek. I tried and probably failed miserable to keep a calm face. On the inside, my whole body seemed to be doing the tango and a victory dance, which was sad really since all I had gotten was a simple, chaste kiss on the cheek.
“That’s how you greet your girlfriend?” A loud voice laughed. “Come on, James. Give her a smooch.” The man who’d spoken puckered his lips up while the others around him tried to keep straight faces.
I froze in shock. James shot me a subtle look before replying smoothly, “Shove off, Mathews.” He looked down at me with a grin. “He’s the child of the team. The rest of us are gentlemen, I assure you.” James then ducked to avoid being hit in the head with someone’s shoulder pads. James retaliated by chasing Mathews, attempting to hit him with a towel he’d grabbed from another team-mate.
It was impossible not to smile at their antics. When he finally took care of Mathews by shoving him inside one of the lockers, he sauntered back to my side with a grin.
“I just have to change. Wait outside with Luke, I’ll be right out.”
Probably due to the fact that half of the team was still eyeing the both of us curiously, he bent down again to quickly place a kiss on my lips. There was nothing I could to do stop it. Again, it was simple and chaste but my heart was left beating wildly. My cheeks flushed as the feel of his warm lips on mine brough back memories of the night I'd had with James--his strong hands tightly encircled around my waist, his forehead pressed against mine as he kissed me through jagged breaths.
James hesitated when he pulled away, one hand nervously running through his already messy hair, but then he quickly strode towards his locker, his eyes purposely avoiding mine.
I stared after him, unaware of Luke gently placing a hand on my back and leading me out of the room. I finally looked at Luke to see him giving me a smug look.
“What?” I asked warily, suddenly embarrassed.
Luke shook his head. “Nothing,” he replied innocently. He looked at me seriously then. “All joking aside, Natalie. I really like you. I wish we’d talked during Hogwarts. You seem like a really good friend.”
“Same here,” I admitted quietly. As much as he had intimidated me before, I was starting to see why James was such good friends with him. There was something about his presence that put me at ease and there was no way I couldn’t relax around him.
James walked out a moment later, wearing a simple black t-shirt and jeans. I gulped and then shook my head inwardly. My emotions were all over the place. It was as if I was in my 3rd year again, with a dizzying crush on the dashingly handsome Head Boy of Ravenclaw.
“You’re okay with going to Luke’s?” James asked suddenly as we walked. His hazel eyes scanned my face worriedly.
“Its fine,” I nodded. And then I was too distracted to say anything else. Because the moment we turned the corner, we were immediately blinded by the press, all lined up to take interviews and to get a snap of the players as they left.
“Fuck, I forgot.” James looked down at me apologetically. “Sorry, Lee. We’ll be quick.”
“Its fine,” I repeated with a smile. “I’ll just wait over here.” I nodded towards a corner of the room, free from the attention of the reporters.
He gave me a grateful smile. I watched as a reporter thrust a mic into James’s face while another talked to Luke about his injury. “Potter! Puddlemere is several points ahead of the Arrows for the league title. How do you think the Arrows will fare against them during next week’s game?”
“We’ve been training hard and we’ve beaten Puddlemere the last three times we’ve played them. We’re all confident we can win,” James replied firmly. I had to hide a smile—James was so self-assured sometimes, but it was turning out to be a rather endearing quality.
“James, our viewers have been asking about the recent ankle injury you had. Do you think that will stop your performance next week?”
James had stiffened slightly, as his “injury” was simply to cover up for having to come to work with me when we had no way to avoid the contract. But he said smoothly, “I’m all better now, thanks. I’ve been working with my trainers and it shouldn’t be a problem anymore.”
He threw a charming smile at the reporter and then he was back in front of me. Grasping my hand firmly in his, he led us out, ignoring the few paparazzi who had sneaked in and were taking several pictures of the both of us.
“I’m sorry,” James said again as we finally left the stadium.
I gave him a look. “James. Seriously, stop apologizing,” I told him with a scowl. “It’s unnecessary and then I feel dumb every time you do and—,” I trailed off when James started laughing. “What?” I demanded.
He shook his head. “It’s just nice to see this side of you every once in awhile,” James teased with a grin.
“What side?” I asked in confusion.
His grin widened. “You know. Pushy. Forceful. I mean, not that you’re a meek little person. But it’s nice to have you scold me sometimes.” James laughed again.
“Whatever,” I muttered as my face flushed bright red. But his eyes were soft as he watched me and his smile was so contagious that I couldn’t stay angry at him for long.
We finally reached Luke’s apartment and found him making drinks behind his apparently well-stocked bar.
“Excellent,” James said as he downed the Firewhiskey Luke had ready for him. I raised my eyebrows at him and he just gave me a wink.
“How come you don’t have one in your apartment?” I asked as I sat down gingerly on a nearby couch.
“Because he always just drinks my alcohol,” Luke chortled. He ducked to avoid a head-smack from James.
“You’re gonna make Nat think I’m an alcoholic,” James reprimanded. He turned and gave me an innocent look.
“Hey, I don’t care what you do. I don’t judge,” I quickly said, raising my hands in surrender.
“Really?” James questioned. He poured himself another glass and turned back to me, an unreadable look on his face. “So if I got rip-roaringly drunk, went out to a club and left with another girl you wouldn’t care?”
I stared at him. “I don’t know what you want me to say, James.” My cheeks quickly turned red with anger, irritated by his question.
“Drink, Natalie?” Luke interrupted, probably hoping to diffuse the tension.
I shook my head, unable to shake my frustration towards James. “There’s a difference between judging someone and being angry at someone, James. Weren't you the one who told me you wouldn't cheat on me during all of this? I honestly have no idea why you're even asking me this.”
James looked at me for a moment. “And there’s no other reason you’d be mad at me?”
“No,” I said defiantly. I was not going to admit that he had any effect on me, what so ever. His eyes flashed with disappointment.
“I think I will have that drink,” I told Luke with a sigh.
Luke tried to give me a smile but it was strained. He must have recognized this because he then grinned. “Let’s turn those frowns upside-down,” he said with a laugh. “Come on, I’ve already cooked dinner and there’s an old Quidditch game on TV that I’m dying to see.”
We spent the rest of the time in silence except for several comments about the players. Luke and James continued to talk at some points but I was still too moody to want to contribute to the conversation so I sat and nursed my drink, which somehow kept refilling itself.
“I think it’s time I got you home.”
I looked up with squinted eyes to see James standing over me, his eyebrows raised in amusement. “There are two of you,” I informed him dryly.
“I know.” His face was deadpan. “Which is why we should get home.”
“No,” I mumbled, turning to bury my face into the couch. “It’s comfy.”
I vaguely heard a deep chuckle and then strong arms were around me, holding me close to a hard wall of muscles. Whatever was holding me was warm so I snuggled closer as my eyes fluttered shut. Through my hazy state, I heard another deep laugh and James saying goodbye to Luke. And then we were apparating. I winced at the sensation and opened my eyes to glare at James, now fully aware of what was happening.
“Why are you carrying me?”
He grinned down at me. “You’re my wife, remember? I can do whatever I want with you,” James teased, a wicked glint in his eyes.
I gulped. But I replied loftily, “You cannot. I’ll turn you into the Ministry for abuse.”
James laughed again. “I’d like to see you try.”
I chose to keep a dignified silence as James walked us to his bedroom. I was cradled close to his chest, carried as if I weight absolutely nothing. And my face was close to his, too close. I could see every freckle that dotted his face, the specks of gold in his hazel eyes, the smooth line of his jaw, his soft lips. Oh, Merlin was I in trouble.
James placed me gently on the bed and I instantly felt cold without his arms around me. He reached a hand to brush back a strand of hair that had fallen in my face.
“You okay? Can you change?” He asked quietly.
I nodded. Feeling slightly uncomfortable under his watchful eyes, I scowled. “What?”
He gave me a disarming grin. “I wouldn’t have taken you for a quiet drunk who likes to cuddle.”
“I am not!” I protested. “I’m not drunk.”
“Of course you’re not,” James said seriously. But the glint in his eyes gave away his amusement.
“You’re so mean,” I mumbled, turning my face into the pillow.
“Oh, no no no.” Suddenly there was a change in his voice and in my tipsy state I could tell we weren’t joking around anymore. “If I am--and as childish as this sounds-- I'm only that way because you were mean to me,” James continued quietly, his deep voice sending shivers down my spine.
“Am not.” I struggled with the comforter, unable to pull it around my body.
James sighed. “Are too.” His warm hands pushed mine away and gently pulled the sheets over me, tucking me in.
“Well, I’ll stop being mean if you stop,” I muttered.
I felt his lips brush against my forehead softly. Or did I just imagine it? “Deal.”
Through my hazy state, I was suddenly determined to get back the friendship that I used to have with James. It didn’t matter that we’d both go our separate ways after we found a solution to the contract. It would hurt like hell but as long as we could still be friends, as long as he was still in my life then I’d feel a little bit better .
“Okay,” I repeated.
A/N: Hey guys! Okay, so this chapter is kinda iffy for me but I really wanted to get this up for you as soon as possibe and this is the only free time I have this weekend so sorry if there's a bunch of grammatical mistakes. ANYWAY, please let me know what you think about the chapter! Your reviews really help me write, and write faster as well! And as always thank you so much to everyone who's read/reviewed/favorited! :)
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