Chapter 11 : To Be a Friend
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“Zabini looks like he’s close! Ooooh—narrowly avoids a bludger from the Tornados on the right. He shoots! Aaaand he misses, keeping the score tied at 110-110 for the Appleby Arrows and the Tutshill Tornados."
Al and I exchanged amused glances as groans of frustration from Arrow fans echoed through the stadium.
Al moved closer to me. “Why’d you bring me again?” He teased with a grin.
I scowled. He grinned down at me, reaching to pinch my cheek as I stuck my tongue out at him.
“Real mature,” he informed me.
“Likewise.” I laughed as he pulled me close, throwing an arm around my shoulder. I watched the game for a moment before looking back up at Al.
“You know I don’t like Quidditch games too much.”
Al nodded. His gaze was still directed towards the pitch but his arm around me tightened.
“And please, as if you aren’t excited to be here, watching a professional Quidditch game,” I continued. “And I haven’t seen you in forever. And James gave me two tickets. And--,”
“Alright, alright,” Al interrupted with a laugh. “I’m sorry I haven’t come around lately. Work’s been killing me.” I could hear hesitation in his voice and I looked up questioningly. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye before sighing. “Also…there’s this girl at work that—,”
“A girl? Who? She’s at your work? Do you like her?” I asked eagerly. It’s a rare occasion that Al mentions girls so whenever he does, I can’t resist an interrogation.
Al took in my excited gaze before replying quietly, “I don’t know.” He had an odd look in his eyes but he turned his attention back to the game. “I don’t know,” Al said again, his voice strange. “We’ll see how things go.”
I frowned. I would be a horrible best friend if I couldn’t tell that there was something bothering him. “What is it, Al?” I asked gently. “Are you worried she won’t like you or—”
“No,” Al stopped me. “It’s just—I don’t know how I feel about her yet.” I continued to stare at him in concern but he shook his head at me. “It’s nothing, Nat. Don’t worry about it.” He gave me a small smile. “Look. James has the Quaffle.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and he laughed, both of us knowing he was changing the subject purposely. But I turned to watch James streaking down the field, a Tornado Beater following closely behind.
“What is he doing?” Al asked, his voice suddenly anxious. The Beater, Meridock had just rammed into James as he moved to throw the Quaffle. James veered sharply to the side, clutching onto his broom tightly. It looked as if Meridock said something to James as he circled around him. A second later, James grabbed onto Meridock’s broom and pulled him back, managing to throw a punch at his jaw before Meridock dislodged himself.
“Oh no,” I groaned. Meridock, his face contorted in anger rammed into James again, who was trying to fly away. By then, Luke and the other players were converging on them to try and pry them apart. The ref, whose continuous whistles had been ignored finally flew up into the air and with a flick of his wand separated both of them to opposite sides of the pitch.
The ref’s face was grim. “Penalty to both sides.” He blew his whistle again, much to the dismay of the whole stadium.
“Luke Zabini to take the penalty for the Arrows! Bad luck, looks like he’s going to….no, he feints and he scores! The Arrows take the lead, for now. Here’s Fred McArthur for the Tornados. And ohh, an incredible save by Mathews! It’s 120-110 for the Arrows!"
The stadium filled with the cheers of the Arrow’s fans. Al himself sighed with relief. My eyes however were narrowed on James.
“I think he’s injured,” I said out loud. He was steering the broom with one hand, the other clutched tightly to his side where Meridock had rammed into him.
Al groaned in frustration. “Even if he is, he’s not going to stop the game. Not now.”
Thankfully the Arrows’s Seaker caught the Snitch relatively quickly after the fight. But I watched James the entire time, noticing the grimace on his face, his grip on his broom faltering more and more. The moment the whistle was blown, he landed immediately and disappeared into the locker rooms, a Mediwizard running after him.
“Well, I have to stay for awhile. James mentioned something about going out to dinner with some of his teammates,” I told Al as we walked down the stairs.
“I should get going.” Al reached over and pulled me in for a hug. “I have some work to get done. I’ll come by for lunch sometime.”
I waved him off and waited outside the locker rooms. The entrance was crowded by several fans, all clamoring for an autograph of the players. I stood by them, feeling rather awkward.
“Natalie, right?” I looked up to see Ryan Mathews, the keeper in front of me. “I don’t know if you remember me—” he started.
“No, no. You’re the one James shoved into a locker,” I said with a grin.
He laughed and shook his head. "I let him do that,” he informed me with a wink. “Did you want to come wait inside?” He asked.
“No, I don’t mind waiting here—.” Before I could finish, Ryan tossed his arm over my shoulder and steered me purposely into the hallway, ignoring my weak protests.
“So what do you do, Natalie?” Ryan questioned as we walked.
“I’m a Healer-in-training. It’s my last year,” I replied with a smile.
Ryan grinned. “Maybe we should have had you look at James instead.”
“What happened?” I asked immediately. “I knew it! Is he okay?”
Ryan raised his hands. “He’s fine. In fact, you can ask him himself.” He pointed to a small room right next to the Arrows locker room as he continued down the hallway, waving goodbye. I hesitated outside the room for a moment, my nerves suddenly building.
It was okay for me to be concerned about him, wasn’t it? We were somewhat back to being friends, by now.
I gently knocked on the door before walking in. James was sitting on a small bed, his robes thrown on the floor. He glanced up for a second before he turned his gaze away.
“What happened?” I hesitated before moving closer.
“Fractured rib,” James muttered. “I’m fine.” He raised his eyebrows at me. “They’ve already healed it and I’m supposed to drink this in a minute.” He gestured his head towards the glass next to the bed.
I nodded. “Did they give you anything for the bruises?” I winced, my eyes tracing over the dark bruises already forming on his side. My cheeks flushed as I finally realized he wasn’t wearing a shirt. I looked back up at him.
“Yeah.” His eyes locked on mine. Suddenly the air between us crackled with tension as we stared at each other, his gaze warming me to the core. My heartbeat thundered—surely he could hear it.
Finally I cleared my throat. “That’s good.”
James nodded. “Where’s Al?”
“Oh, he had to finish up some work.” I explained, grateful for the distraction.
His eyes flashed with an emotion I couldn’t quite place. “Well, I’ll meet you outside in a couple minutes.”
I blinked, taken back by his sudden dismissal. But I left the room, to my luck finding Luke walking by just at that moment.
He took one look at my face and sighed. “What happened?”
I shook my head. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to his bloody mood swings.”
Luke chuckled. “Join the club.” He shrugged when I shot him a glare. “Fine, you’re right. But there’s usually a reason for them. If you look closely enough, you might be able to figure out what’s bothering him,” Luke told me gently.
I raised my eyebrows at him. “Since when did you become such a relationship guru?” I teased.
“Never doubt me,” Luke informed me loftily. “I am a man of many skills.”
Luke and I were still laughing when James finally came out of the room, wearing that black t-shirt that left nothing to the imagination. I abruptly stopped mid-laugh, clearing my throat as a blush formed on my cheeks.
Luke clapped James on the back. “Coach wants to speak with you, mate.”
James scowled. “Bloody perfect,” he muttered as he stalked away without a glance at either of us.
I stared after him until Luke nudged me with his elbow. “Now. What can you take from that, my young apprentice?” Luke questioned with a grin.
I shoved him in the chest as we walked after James, to which Luke simply laughed.
James’s mood didn’t improve. It got progressively worse during dinner with Luke, Luke’s girlfriend, Ryan and a couple of the other teammates.
I watched in exasperation as James signaled the waitress for another drink. “James, I think you’ve had enough,” I murmured.
He turned to me, giving me that unreadable glance I’d been getting from him all night before leaning closer to me.
“Do I need to give you a list of reasons why I’m not going to listen to you?” He asked me quietly. “I’m fucking suspended from the next game. My own brother can’t even stay to…I don’t know bloody congratulate us on winning. I don’t even know why I care. And you—,” James paused to look at me for a moment. “Forget it. Just leave me be, alright?” He shook his head before reaching for the glass of Firewhiskey in front of him, raising it towards me as a toast, his eyebrow cocked arrogantly, before he downed it.
“Oi,” Luke snapped at us. “Don’t make me come separate you two.” His eyes twinkled with amusement. My cheeks burned as the whole table turned to look at us. James was strategically positioned so that it was as if he was simply whispering sweet nothings into my ear.
James grinned and winked down at me. His face jerked with surprise when his gaze strayed down to my hands and saw them shaking with anger.
His eyes suddenly turned apologetic as we stared at each other. But still, he didn’t say anything.
I could feel Luke still watching us. He must have seen that something was wrong because a second later, James ducked to avoid the leftover bread roll Luke had thrown in his direction.
“Are they always like this?” I asked Daphne, Luke’s girlfriend as we walked out of the restaurant a couple minutes later. I jerked my head towards Luke and James, determined that I wouldn’t let my confusion with James ruin the ruse of being his girlfriend. James was currently frog marching Luke down the street.
“Always. It used to be cute but now I just wonder about who I’m dating,” Daphne replied with a small smile.
“I heard that!” Luke glanced back at us, struggling to get out of James’s hold. Daphne shrugged but blew a kiss at him.
I finally noticed that we had made our way back at the Arrows’s stadium. The group split up and wandered through the pitch, some of them lying down on the grass, others racing each other through the seats.
Luke’s broom appeared in front of him with a flick of his wand. “My lady.” He gestured elaborately to Daphne. She rolled her eyes playfully but settled behind him on the broom. In an instant they were in the sky. I watched them soar around the pitch, their laughter clear even as Luke flew higher. And then I turned to see James, almost about to fly off.
“Oh, no no no.” I reached over and grabbed the end of his broom, holding onto it tightly.
“What the—.” James turned to stare at me. “What are you doing?”
“You shouldn’t be flying.” I crossed my arms angrily. “You just fractured your ribs today! You might feel fine right now but you still need to rest.”
His lips turned up in a smirk. “Well, consider me touched Natalie. That really means a lot,” he drawled. “But I’m fine.”
My cheeks flushed with anger. James winked at me and then kicked off from the ground to fly into the air. But then something went wrong. Because the minute he flew about ten feet away from the ground, the bond between us, that invisible iron grip around my heart tugged hard. I gasped as a sharp pain coursed through me, increasing the longer James stayed in the air.
I looked up, my mouth clapped shut to keep in any sounds of pain to see James clutching onto his broom tightly. Come down, I willed silently, not trusting myself to be able to speak.
A second later, James was on the ground. He strode towards me, his broom lying forgotten on the ground.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He grasped me by the shoulders as his eyes scanned my face urgently. “I forgot. I’m sorry,” he repeated again.
I nodded mutely. The pain slowly ebbed away. Thankfully, it was almost dark and no one noticed what had happened.
James must have been thinking the same thing. He looked down at me, his face full of relief. “I think we’ll be okay if you’re on the broom with me.” He finally said.
My stomach plunged. “No. No thanks,” I said as calmly as I could.
James blinked in surprise. “What? Why not?”
“I’d just rather not.”
A small smirk played on his lips. “Scared, Wood?”
I forced myself to meet his gaze. “Yes. I don’t like to fly,” I gritted out. The expression on his face froze, his eyes suddenly cold and very distant. I shivered. It was as if he was seeing me in a whole new light but didn’t like what he was seeing very much.
By now, Luke and Daphne had flown back and were watching us with concern. The tension between James and I was palpable.
“Guys, we should all get going. It’s getting late, anyway,” Luke finally interrupted.
James nodded. I glanced around the pitch. Most of the group who’d come to the restaurant had left already. As I said goodbye to Daphne, I watched Luke talking quietly with James. Luke’s face was earnest but James on the other hand, looked as if he couldn’t care less about what Luke was saying. But I was starting to learn that his indifference was just a cover for something that he didn’t want to or wasn’t ready to admit to himself.
James looked up to catch my gaze, his eyes still hard. He gestured for me to follow him. After waving goodbye to Luke, I grasped his arm as he apparated us to his apartment.
We were both quiet getting ready for bed. I could feel his angry gaze on me but he didn’t say anything and neither did I. But then the silence between us grew louder and louder until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“What?” I snapped.
James was silent for a moment before he laughed bitterly. “I can’t believe I actually thought this would work.”
My heart dropped. “What do you mean?” I asked softly, my lips shaking slightly.
“Us. This. Being friends again,” James spat out bitterly. “Merlin.”
And then I’d had enough. “You have to stop. I don’t even know what I did to make you so angry and I don’t have to listen to this—.”
“Were we even friends before?” James continued, as if I hadn’t even spoken. “Sometimes I feel like I know nothing about you. How the fuck can we be friends when you can’t even tell me something as simple as ‘I’m bloody scared of flying?’ After all these years of knowing you?” He questioned, his voice hard, his words cutting through me sharply.
Anger coursed through me. “How—whatever this is, I can’t believe you’re putting the blame on me! Friends don’t just stop talking to each other, like you did to me James. And I have no idea why.”
“You cannot be serious.” His gaze hardened. He took a step towards me. “If I remember correctly, after that night you were the one who ran from me.” His voice rang through the room.
I swallowed as my stomach tightened with anticipation. I couldn’t believe he’d actually brought up that night. It was an unspoken thing. We were to never talk about it.
James took another step towards me, his eyes narrowed. "You play it so bloody innocent. But are you really that blind? Do you have any idea—.” He stopped abruptly.
That’s when I finally noticed how close he was to me, close enough for me to reach out and brush his hair off his forehead, close enough to reach out and pull him down for a kiss. The look in his eyes changed as we stared at each other. My heartbeat was racing so hard I felt as if it would leap out of my chest.
It was too much. But before I could look away, before I could even blink James wrapped his arms around me and pulled me flush against him. I could swear I heard him mutter a quick “bloody hell” but I wasn’t too concerned because suddenly his lips were on mine and he was holding me tight as he kissed me, one arm tight around my waist and pushing me even closer to him, the other gently cupping my face as he kissed me. And I was kissing him back just as hard, refusing to let him go, the small voice in the back of my head knowing that the instant we stopped to catch our breaths, this moment would be over and I’d come painfully crashing back into reality.
His kisses had been angry and rough, but suddenly they slowed and his lips moved against mine softly, sweetly, sending as much heat coursing through my body as before. James finally pulled away and leaned his forehead against mine as we both struggled to catch our breaths. My heart still pounding hard, I forced myself to open my eyes and meet his gaze.
His eyes burned through me. “You’re driving me insane, Natalie.” James whispered. His warm breath sent a shiver through me. His words could have been romantic. But his husky voice was full of confusion.
That emotion jerked me out of my haze. I stepped away from him suddenly. “I’ll—I’m gonna go shower,” I muttered.
He didn’t protest. But I didn’t miss the resigned expression on his face as he let me go.
My shower was longer than necessary. When I finally came out of the bathroom, James was already in bed, his light turned off.
I’d already settled under the covers, having gingerly made sure there was enough space between James and I, when he finally spoke.
“We need to talk.” He sighed, the sound almost echoing in the suddenly very quiet room.
My heart raced. I steeled for a moment before turning to face him. There was just enough light from the window to see his face. His hazel eyes were fixed on me.
“What’s there to say?” I asked quietly.
James paused. “I want to explain myself,” he started hesitantly.
“It’s really fine, James,” I interrupted. “Honestly, in six months we’re going to part ways and anything that happened between us won’t matter.”
His eyes flickered away from mine for a moment. “Is that what you want?” James questioned in a low voice. “To just forget that it happened? Like everything single thing that’s happened between us?” James mimicked my words.
I swallowed. Obviously, there was physical attraction between us. But past that? It was better to leave things unspoken because at least this way, I didn’t have to face rejection from him.
“Yes.” I said softly. I almost believed myself. But I couldn’t look him in the eyes.
He was quiet. And then, “Fine.” I watched as he turned away from me. His deep breaths eventually filled the room as he fell asleep. But I stayed awake for a long time, running the conversation through my mind over and over again.
I was nervous the next morning as we both got ready, worried that things would suddenly be different. To my relief, James acted the same and say goodbye with a smile as he left for work.
This was what you wanted, I reminded myself. This was what you wanted. But that did nothing to console the part of my heart that would never be okay with being just friends with James.
A/N: Yay for a quick (hopefully) update! By the time this gets validated, I'm going to be on vacation with limited access to internet so there won't be a new chapter till the middle of August. But as soon as I get back I'll be ready with lots of new material! Let me know what you think of the chapter--a lot happened! Who's getting frustrated with Natalie right about now? But you know what they say, all in good time or something. Anyway. As always, thanks for reading/reviewing/favoriting! <33
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