I sighed in defeat as I shut another book. I’d started browsing bookstores in Diagon Alley during my lunch breaks, in the hopes of finding that one book that would have the answer to our problem. But so far I’d only found vague hints about the possibility to magically bind two people together—there were never any clear details.
I continued to look down the shelf in front of me, my eyes quickly flitting past the ones that I knew wouldn’t help at all. I glanced up as someone walked down the aisle and then froze. Grant Rogers was standing in front of me. He looked just as startled to see me but still, he smiled tentatively at.
I gave him a nod before turning abruptly back to the book in front of me. My heart was pounding; I wanted to confront him, I wanted to yell at him but I knew I couldn’t do it. Could I?
He was still standing there when I glanced back up again.
For Merlin’s sake, Natalie. Don’t be such a coward, the little voice in my head said.
“So Grant, do you always go for the nice guy cover?” I gave him a small smile. “I guess it does work best to hide that you’re just another sleazy paparazzi who’s only looking to pay his next month’s rent.”
I winced as Grant’s face jerked with surprise. His mouth opened but a moment passed and he didn’t say anything. I shook my head and turned to walk down the aisle when his voice stopped me.
“I’m sorry.” He gave me a shrug. “You’re right. I know what my job is and it’s all I have right now. But it also doesn’t mean that I don’t feel bad when my work hurts people like you, Natalie.”
I blinked. “Why do you keep doing that? You got your pictures. You don’t have to be nice to me.”
Grant laughed. “Trust me, Natalie. Right now, I’m not saying it for an act. I mean it." He sighed. "James is lucky to have someone like you.”
I stared at him wordlessly, not knowing how to respond. He turned to leave but then I had one last question. “Did you even mean what you said? You’re trying to go professional…that you’re doing what you love?”
Grant shrugged again, a rueful smile on his face. “It’s a work in progress. I’m scrapping by with what jobs I can get right now, which unfortunately hasn't helped me make many friends," he said wryly, looking ruefully at me. "But hopefully I’ll get my lucky break.” He gave me a wink as he turned to leave again. “Wish me luck,” he called over his shoulder. The door slowly tinkled shut behind him.
I spent the rest of the afternoon in daze, the conversation with Grant and my growing worry of not being able to find a cure both running through my mind. It wasn’t until Healer Blake summoned me to his office that I knew I had to snap out of it.
Blake gestured me in and I sat, a guilty look on my face. He surveyed me for a moment, his face stern. “Is everything okay, Wood?”
I nodded immediately. “I’m sorry. I know I haven’t been very attentive today and it won’t happen again.”
The stern look remained on his face for a moment and then he sighed. “Natalie…I know some here think I favor you over others. I admit I have, occasionally,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “But its only due to the fact that you’ve earned my respect. And I want to remind you that if you ever need help with anything, you can come to me. It’s okay to ask for help every once in a while.”
I nodded again, determined to keep a straight face to hide the smile tugging my lips. “I just have a lot on my plate right now. But I’m fine.”
I knew he wasn’t convinced but he let it go. “Alright then. Run along. Nathan wants you to supervise rounds at four.”
An idea suddenly crossed my mind as I stood to leave. I hesitated. “Actually, there is something I need help with.” I paused again, wondering how I could word this. “I came across something while studying that confused me. It mentioned two people being bound together magically.”
Blake raised his eyebrows. “How so? Through a potion?”
“Well, it didn’t really go into particulars. I’m guessing a potion, or maybe a written contract.” I hesitated again. “I was just wondering how to go about unbinding them…you know, in case it ever comes up in one of our cases.”
Blake’s lips twitched. “Always the inquisitive one.” He reached for a piece of paper. “I suppose I could grant you access to Mungo’s library.”
My eyes widened. That thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “Really?”
Blake shrugged. “Why not? It’s for a research purpose.” He winked. “Just don’t go spreading it around that I gave you permission.” He handed me the paper. “You know how to get there?” Blake grinned when I nodded. All the interns had attempted to sneak in at one point or another. “Put this in the box outside and you should be able to get in just fine.”
I couldn’t contain the wide smile on my face. “Thank you, Blake.”
He waved me off, his eyes sparkling with amusement.
I found James in the kitchen when I came back from work. He gestured for me to sit as he flicked his wand to levitate two plates onto the table.
“I have the best news,” I informed him as calmly as I could. But I couldn’t stop a huge smile from spreading on my face.
James looked at me in surprise. “Oh?”
“Okay, I don’t know how many people know this but Mungo’s has a 6th floor,” I get out in a rush.
“A 6th floor?” James raised his eyebrows.
I nodded. “It was built during my first year at Hogwarts to house a library that can be used by any Healer at any time. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but I asked one of my supervisors for permission to go inside and he said yes. We can go take a look tomorrow during my lunch break.”
He frowned. “Why do you need permission?”
I laughed. “I’m not a certified Healer yet, remember? During our residency program, we don’t have access to it. But it’s not from a lack of trying. It’s an initiation of sorts for the first year interns,” I said with a grin.
“Really?” James asked, his voice laced with amusement. “What happens if you get caught?”
“An extra 30-hour shift, give or take.”
He winced. “Did you get caught?”
I smirked. “Nope. But it doesn't matter—it’s not like any of us were able to get in.” I shrugged. “What?” I asked, my eyebrows raised at the look James was giving me, his eyes dancing with laugher.
“Nothing,” he shook his head with a smile. “Just didn’t know you had that in you. You know, being who you are--never breaking rules, always going straight by the book. Merlin knows you never approved of the pranks the Marauders and I played while at Hogwarts.”
I flushed. His words stung. He made me sound so boring. “I was never that bad,” I muttered. I gulped the wine he had placed in front of me, avoiding his eyes.
I stiffened when I felt his hand on mine.
“I was just teasing, Lee. I didn’t mean to offend you.” His voice was sincere and it gave me the courage to lift my eyes up to meet his, which scanned my face anxiously.
My cheeks grew warmer. I shrugged, playing it off. “What can I say? I do have certain Marauder-like qualities that I keep under wraps,” I reply with a small smile, hoping to break the tension.
A smile tugged his lips as a look of relief filled his face. “I bet it rubbed off from me. The master of stealth and mischief.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, of course. You know, completely disregarding the original Marauders who actually created the map that you wouldn’t be here without,” I joked.
James shook his head. “Alright, alright. Let’s just quit while we’re ahead, shall we?”
He gave me a disarming grin as he winked. I blushed, stared down at my plate as we continued to eat. I thought I felt his eyes on me but whenever I looked up his eyes were looking everywhere but me.
It was silent but it wasn’t that painful, awkward silence that had filled his apartment during the first, tense days of living with him. Something had changed between us after that night at Luke’s. I remembered the conversation that had taken place between James and I as he put me to bed, but as usual I didn’t bring it up with James and he didn’t bring it up with me. But this didn’t change the thing I wanted most—to get back my friendship with James. At first, it felt forced and fake but it had been a week and it was almost like everything hadn’t happened between us, like we were back to how we were before I had made the decision to show him how I felt about him.
It was still sometimes awkward and strained on my part because of the contract, of the unsaid things between us and because I knew that I’d probably never fully be with him the way I wanted to be. But it was a start and I wasn’t going to complain, especially when James smiled at me with so much warmth in his eyes.
I glanced up from my notebook. We’d settled in the living room, James catching up on Quidditch news while I looked over the notes I’d taken on my patients.
He smiled when I looked at him in confusion. “You’ve been staring at the same page for almost fifteen minutes.”
My hand jerked. Had he been watching me that entire time? I cleared my throat nervously. “I’m fine,” I attempted. I stopped when he gave me a look.
“Come on, Natalie. I thought we were past this.” His voice was sharp.
My stomach jolted as I gulped. I must have looked like a deer in headlights because James softened his tone. “I know there’s something on your mind. You can talk to me, you know.”
I stared at my notes for a moment, my gaze blurred. What did I have to lose? This was what I wanted, wasn’t it?
I looked up to see James watching me, waiting patiently. “I saw Grant today.” He frowned. “Grant, the guy who was talking to me at your practice who ended up taking pictures of us for Witch Weekly,” I explained.
His eyes narrowed. “What did he want?” James asked. I could tell he was trying to keep his voice steady, but his jaw was clenched.
I shook my head. “Nothing. I saw him in a bookstore and I don’t know what happened. Usually I would have walked away but," I paused, still feeling shaky just thinking abou tthe conversation. "I actually confronted him. I mean it wouldn’t be a huge deal for most people but... I’m glad I did it.”
His lips twitched with amusement but then he asked, “Did he say anything about us?”
“No.” I said quickly. James raised his eyebrows. “I mean, he believes we’re a couple. Why wouldn’t he?” I explained. I wasn’t going to tell him that Grant thought I was “good for James.” But then I frowned. “Is it wrong that I feel bad for him though? As angry as I was…he is just doing his job, isn’t he?” I asked.
James laughed, but his voice was humorless. “Trust me. We’ve all been through that. I guess it’s just a never-ending cycle that you try to get used to.” He paused. “It still pisses me off when I see new rumors and pictures but then…I tend to blame myself. I always feel like I should have acted better to avoid giving them those opportunities,” James explained, his voice quiet.
He looked up at me and then grinned, having caught me as a deer-in-headlights again. My eyes were wide and my mouth open, shocked and unsure of what to say. This was the most James had ever opened up to me.
“You shouldn’t have to blame yourself,” I finally said softly. “It’s your life, why can’t you live it how you want to?”
His lips twisted into a wry smile. “But you can’t honestly admit that you haven’t seen something in the papers about me and judged me for it, can you?” He nodded when I didn’t say anything. “It’s fine. I’m used to it.”
“I’m sorry,” I finally said. But I couldn’t look at him in the eyes, feeling shameful. I never realized how much it affected him.
“Don’t worry yourself too much about it.” James ran a hand through his hair as he stared out the window. “I get it from my own family, anyway. Like I said, I’m used to it,” he said, his voice emotionless. But his face was hard and I immediately knew that this was one of the reasons he was always angry with Ginny.
He looked at me for a long moment, his eyes full of tension and a sadness I had never noticed before. After all this time, I’d never seen his face so open and vulnerable. But then I still felt that there was so much I didn’t know about him--there were walls that he’d never put down around me. But I was the same with him, so who was I to complain? The moment passed and the expression on his face went back to his usual, unreadable look, where I was never able to tell what he was thinking.
“Let’s go to bed, shall we?” His deep voice brought me out of my thoughts and his words sent warmth coursing through me. I nodded and followed him to his room. My dreams that night were filled with images of James and Grant, both of them running down a long trail that never seemed to end. They never once looked up from their feet as they ran and they both ignored the flashes from the cameras that lined the trail.
I waited outside the gift shop, my eyes darting around the room nervously. I tensed as I felt a strong hand clasp my shoulder, turning to see nothing behind me. I gave a small nod, knowing James would see it from under the Invisibility Cloak and walked towards the stairwell, the written slip of permission from Blake clutched tightly in my hand.
“Where’s all that Marauder-bravado right now?” James’s warm breath caressed my neck as he leaned close to whisper in my ear. I tried not to shiver, unnerved by his closeness.
I rolled my eyes as I stopped by the stairs. “Shut up.” But I smiled as I felt James laugh quietly from behind me. I pulled out my wand and touched it to the wall.
“What now?” James whispered. Just as he spoke, another door appeared. I pulled it open and walked through into a small room. It housed two gigantic doors on the opposite side with a white box levitating on the side. The doors were able to differentiate between certified Healers and Healers-in-training. Since the library had been created, none of the interns had been able to get past the doors, no matter how many different spells, potions and disguises were tried.
I placed the paper in my hand into the box careful, holding my breath as the doors swung open. Barely aware of James following closely behind me, I walked in slowly, my eyes wide as I took in the room. It was light and spacious with bookshelves neatly lining the entire room. Small round tables were placed around the room and I could see parchment and ink on top of them.
“Where should we start?” James asked, an overwhelmed look on his face as he shrugged off the cloak.
“No, wait. Keep the cloak on,” I insisted. “Someone might come in.” I glanced down the aisles quickly. “Just take one side and I’ll take the other. We have an hour but don’t waste time on books that won’t help.”
James nodded and then disappeared under the cloak as he walked towards the right. I took the left side, scanning the first shelf of books for any names that sounded helpful. By the time I reached the second aisle, I felt a little hopeless.
“There must be categories somewhere,” I muttered to myself. I walked to one of the small tables on the side, squinting at the pieces of parchment on the table. They were blank but the top left corner had three different colored dots, with the first one labeled “magical bugs and diseases,” the second labeled “potions and plant poisoning” and the third was “spell damage.”
Of course, I thought to myself, shaking my head. The colors corresponded to the different floors of Mungo’s. I glanced at the closest shelf to me and the colored dot on the spine of the books was now glaringly obvious.
After that, it was easier to eliminate books that wouldn’t help. But soon half an hour passed and I was nowhere close to finding anything that would help.
My eyes flitted past the books in front of me. And then my eyes grew wide. With shaking hands I pulled out a small black book labeled Magical Contracts. It couldn’t be this easy, could it? I walked to the closest table and sat down, my eyes skipping pages as quickly as they could.
Phrases jumped out at me: Magical contracts have been used since the middle ages. They were used especially to make sure that marriage promises between wizarding families wouldn’t be void. Different circumstances caused attempts of breaking the contract to lead to death.
By the time I finished the book, my heart was in my throat. The only thing the book had done was increase my fear that James and I would be stuck like this forever. I shut the book in defeat, my eyes quickly filling with tears of frustration. But then I frowned, my eyes narrowing as I stared at the odd shape of the back cover: it was thicker than the front.
I opened the back and stared at the small indentation at the middle of the inner hinge. Not knowing what I was looking for, I placed my finger at the indentation and pulled up. My heart stopped as the hinge opened to reveal a two pieces of paper.
My frown deepened as I stared at it. It was a potion. But would a potion help us? Wasn’t the problem with breaking the written contract? My stomack sank as I took in the ingredient list.
My head shot up to see James in front of me, his face anxious. “I couldn’t find anything.” His hazel eyes filled with concern as he noticed the look on my face. “What’s wrong?”
“This is the most complicated potion I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know where to find some of the ingredients,” I said as I handed him the paper. James didn’t miss the way my hands shook.
“I don’t even know if it’ll help. There’s no mention in this book about a potion being able to break a magical contract.”
I watched James read the paper, feeling helpless.
“It says it takes six months to make it,” James said slowly, his voice rough.
I looked at James with glazed eyes, unable to find my voice. I watched blankly as he waved his hand, copying the words from the paper onto a blank one.
“I’ll take this to Aunt Hermione right now. She should be able to help us.” He placed a warm hand on my shoulder. “It’ll be okay, Lee,” he said with a heavy sigh.
But I could hear the uncertainty in his voice and as I met his gaze, I knew he didn’t believe what he was saying either.
I paced around the living room anxiously, waiting for James to come back. After meeting with Hermione, he’d gone straight to practice so I had no idea what she had told him.
A loud pop sounded from the hallway and I stopped pacing, my heart pounding. I watched James walk into the room. His hair was disheveled, as it always was when he came back from practice. But I could also tell he’d been running his hand through it in frustration.
I bit my lip as I waited for him to say something
“Don’t look at me like that,” James muttered, avoiding my eyes as he placed his training bag on the floor.
I stared at him in surprise. “Look at you like what?”
“Like you expect me to bring good news. As if you expect me to solve this bloody problem,” he bit out.
My mouth fell open. “Don’t be ridiculous,” I finally managed through numb lips. “Just tell me what Hermione told you.”
“Merlin.” James closed his eyes. “What should I tell you that you don’t already know? The potion takes six months to make which means we’re bloody stuck like this for another six months,” James said angrily, his eyes cold as he looked at me.
“But she’ll help us make it?” I asked anxiously.
“Yes,” James replied tersely.
Seeing that I didn’t have any more questions, he turned away from me, his movements clipped and tense.
Before this “bloody problem” had happened—as James put it—I probably would have just ignored his anger. But I didn't think I could deal with going back to James treating me this way, always looking at me with that hard look in his eyes as if he couldn't stand me.
“You know, if we really have to do this for another six months, it really isn’t going to help if you act this way.”
James froze at the sound of my voice. He turned to look at me, his eyes wide with surprise.
“I'm as frustrated as you are but you don’t see me biting your head off for simply being worried, do you?” I snapped. When he continued to stare at me wordlessly, my scowl deepened. “Well?”
James grinned suddenly, throwing me off completely. “You’re getting better at this whole confrontation thing, Wood. Who knew that all it took was to magically bind you to someone?” He shook his head.
His expression turned serious then. “You’re right. I was frustrated and I took it out on you.” His eyes were sincere as he gazed down at me. “Forgive me?”
How could I not forgive him when he was looking at me with so much warmth in his eyes? I nodded wordlessly and he gave me a relieved smile before pulling me into a hug. His arms were strong, holding me close to him and I leaned my head on his chest, trying not to melt into his embrace as I repeated the words he had said before, trying desperately to believe that everything would be okay.
A/N: Hey guys! First, I'm so so sorry it took so long to write you this chapter. I won't waste your time with excuses but please do know that it is summer vacation for me and I really want to finish this story by the end of September. Anyway, thank you for sticking with this story despite my inconsistent updating! Please review and let me know what you think about the chapter!
Also, sorry about any mistakes--I was in a rush to publish this! I'll be fixing the mistakes later.