Chapter 19 : The Times Have Changed
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Disclaimer: JKR is the proud owner of Harry Potter. I am the proud owner of this particular story. They're both totally the same thing, OK?
"It's disgusting is what it is," James mutters.
"Seriously, I think I'm going to throw up," Ray nods in agreement.
"I shouldn't have tried the chocolate pudding at dinner," Fred says, "Now I'm starting to feel nauseous."
"I can feel my eyes burning," I mutter, "Farewell retinas, you have served me well."
"I think it's sweet," Lexie says, a small smile on her face.
"Sweet?" Fred utters incredulously, staring at her with wide eyes.
"My Great Aunt Petunia's cat Tibbles bites, scratches and claws anyone who comes within a five meter radius," James adds, "And I would still rather spend the day with Tibbles than watch this."
"I've known Bat Bogey Hexes that were sweeter than this," Ray agrees.
From across the room, Rose detached herself from Scorpius' lips, and glares over at us, "We can hear everything you're saying."
"Good, then you know that it's gross and you should stop," James replies.
"Just because you haven't got a girlfriend," Rose taunts.
"If I had a girlfriend, I would snog her in private," James mutters, looking annoyed, "Not in the middle of the bloody common room where everyone could see."
"Seriously, doesn't Scorpius need to come up for air?" Ray ask dubiously, "Are we sure he's not suffocating?"
"I think he's surviving," Lexie replies, as Scorpius gets a firmer grip on Roses thigh and pulls her lips back down to his.
"Ugh, and that's the sound of my dinner resurfacing," Fred mutters, "Goodnight."
He gets up and leaves up the staircase towards the dormitory.
"I've got an essay to finish for tomorrow," Lexie says, "I think I'm going to see if Madame Pince will let me study there for a few more hours. It's like a madhouse in here."
"Funny, you would think that Rose and Scorpius would have scared everyone off," Ray says, "I'll go with you to the library, Lex. There's a book I want on dangerous hexes."
"And what exactly would you want that for?" I ask her nervously.
Ray pauses, "Research on an essay I'm doing."
And then she and Lexie leave through the portrait hole, leaving James and I sitting in our armchairs, very much alone.
"She's probably just getting bored of using Bat Bogey hex on people," I say, "Maybe she's looking for a little variety."
"The spice of life," he nods.
I frown at him, "What?"
"Variety is the spice of life," he elaborates, "Haven't you heard of…never mind."
We've tried our best over the last few days to act like we're friends, but it's not working out as well as we'd hoped. There are constant lulls in our conversations and it's becoming unbearable.
"So, er, what time is practice tomorrow?" I ask him. Talking about quidditch seems to be a fair way out.
"7 am," he replies, "Bright and early."
I groan, "Why can't we do it at a reasonable hour?"
"What to you is a reasonable hour?" he frowns, "8? 9?"
"I was going to say 1pm," I reply.
At the look of horror on his face I add quickly, "Relax, I'm teasing."
"Oh," he nods awkwardly, "Right."
He leans back in his chair by the fire, and I find it hard not to focus on his loosened tie around his neck, or the strong muscles in his arms.
No Stella, he is your friend now. Just your friend. And friends don't look at other friends that way. Friends don't think about putting their hands-
NO. THINK OF SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
"Crappy weather we're having, isn't it?" I attempt.
Anything except that.
James nods to the window, "I know. I thought the snow would last until the end of January, but apparently not."
"I hope the rain'll stop soon," I add.
We are discussing the weather. I hate everything.
But thankfully Merlin has decided to take pity on me in the form of a friendly seventh year named Malcom, who comes over to James.
"Hey, Malcom," James replies, looking relieved for the pause in our horrible conversation.
"Have you heard about the party for Grace's birthday?"
Grace Prewett is Malcom's girlfriend, and she's one of the most stunning girl's I've ever seen. She's also one of Eve's best friends.
"No, I haven't, when is it?" James asks Malcom.
"The 10th of February," he replies, "It's in a few weeks, but I just thought I'd let you know now."
"Oh, OK. Thanks, mate. I'll be there," James nods.
"Cool," Malcom nods. He shoots an apologetic glance in my direction, "Sorry. It's seventh years only."
"Er, that's OK," I reply, feeling slightly resentful.
Whatever. I don't want to go to the stupid party anyway.
"Why only seventh years?" James asks curiously.
"Grace wants to keep it classy, or something," Malcom replies, shrugging, "She says you can bring a sixth year as a date, though. But I'm sure you'll have no problem pulling one of the seventh year girls. What about Eve? I'm sure she'd go with you."
James looks extremely uncomfortable, "Er, thanks, Malcom. But I'm not really looking for a date."
"Well," Malcom shrugs, "Just thought you should know. See you later then."
He leaves us alone, and the silence is even more uncomfortable than before he arrived.
I'm not sure I could stand it if James started dating Eve. The idea makes my blood boil, even just thinking about it.
"Well, that sounds like a blast," I say, trying my best to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
"I don't know if I'll go," he shrugs, trying to look casual, "Grace is kind of stuck up."
Even though I've never even spoken to Grace, even though it's none of my business, I feel annoyed, like I want to get angry with him. It's bizarre and completely unfounded, and it's not even his fault, but I still feel irritated.
"Do you always think you're above everyone else?" I snap.
James looks at me in surprise, "What? Do you have a problem with me or something?"
"Nothing," I roll my eyes.
"Yeah, that's obvious," he glares at me.
"Why do you always have to act so high and mighty?" I ask, my feelings bubbling up and over, "I mean is no girl ever going to reach your ridiculous standards, are they?"
"I don't have standards," he says incredulously.
"Well I'm sure Eve Collins would meet your so called non-existent standards," I snap, "Or is she too annoying? Or too overbearing? Or too whatever?"
"Look, I don't know what your problem is," James says angrily, "But again I don't have any standards. Just because I think Grace is stuck up doesn't mean I don't like Eve."
"Oh, so you like her?" I ask, aware of how childish I'm beginning to sound, "Think you'll ask her to Grace's party after all, do you?"
"I never said that!" James puts his head in his hands, "What has gotten into you?"
"I'm going to bed," I reply angrily, "See you at practice tomorrow."
I get up without waiting to hear his reply, but I hear him muttering something like "Fuck," under his breath as I pass.
I realise that I'm being immature and completely unreasonable but I still stomp up to the dormitory with extra vigour, trying to prove a point to someone who isn't actually there.
Why the fuck am I being such a child? James doesn't even like Eve like that. He said he wasn't even looking for a date, and I had acted like he had just snogged her in front of me.
And even then my response would be inappropriate, considering we're just friends.
Fuck, I've never hated a word so much. Friend.
James and I are something. But that isn't friends. Friends knew how to be in the same room without snapping at one another. Friends know how to have a conversation without awkward pauses and inappropriate leering at muscles under shirts.
The problem isn't the fact that we have to pretend to be friends, when we're not, it's the fact that if we didn't have that label, I'd have no clue what we were. Would we have continued to snog occasionally, and avoid conversations about feelings? Or would we have become more? Would we be boyfriend and girlfriend? Had the idea even entered James' mind. It had barely even entered my own.
It was strange, considering that I'd considered myself in love with him for the last four years, but I'd never really thought about what it would be like to date him. I'd gotten so used to pining over him from afar that when something actually happened I had no idea where we stood or how I felt.
Shouldn't I have been more ecstatic when it happened at the time? I'm sure the idea of kissing James would have thrilled me a few months ago. But now, the idea fills me with a alien sense of panic and confusion.
I burst into the dormitory, fully prepared to rant for an hour to one of my friends, only to find it's completely empty.
Of course, Ray and Lexie are in the library. And Rose is downstairs with her tongue down Scorpius' throat.
I feel suddenly tired. Snapping unnecessarily at boys who you're supposed to be friends with but secretly still have feelings for takes it out of you.
So instead of ranting, I curl up onto my bed, and even though it's still ridiculously early, I find myself drifting off to sleep.
* * *
My eyelids open drowsily as my brain starts to register sounds of panic coming from somewhere to my left.
Suddenly Rose is hanging over me, her red hair tickling my face, "Stel, get up! Quidditch practice started half and hour ago!"
I sit up straight in bed, "What do you mean, quidditch started half an hour ago?" I ask her, sounding just as horrified as I was.
"Oh, I actually meant that hippogriffs have started to fall from the sky," Rose snaps, rushing over to her open wardrobe to pull out quidditch robes, "Did you not catch my drift?"
"Oh, stop stammering and just get dressed!" Rose cries.
That comment spurs me to action. I throw off the bed covers and start to rummage around in my cupboard for my robes.
"James is going to murder us," Rose whines as she pulls on her boots.
I don't comment on that because talking about James will only make the lump in my throat grow even more. And right now it's about the size of Jupiter.
Once we're both dressed, shoe laces undone and hair haphazardly tugged into suitable plaits, we both race down to the quidditch pitch at top speed. Rose can out run me easily, and soon she's at least fifty paces ahead of me. I gasp for air but we keep going. Death by heart attack is still more favourable than death by angry quidditch captain.
We both reach the field, to see that the team have already started. They're passing the quaffle to and fro, which means they've already finished the warm up.
James notices us and lands, looking just as surly and annoyed as I imagined he would.
"Right on time," he says, sounding very irritated.
Rose gasps, "Sorry! We overslept!"
"Get your brooms and get in the air," he says quickly.
Rose obliges immediately, rushing off to the broom shed.
I feel like I should say something to him, "Look, I don't know what happened. We had an alarm but-"
"I don't want to hear your excuses," he says sharply, turning away from me and straddling his broom again, ready for take off, "You've wasted enough of the team's time already."
"It's only half an hour," I protest. I know we're late but I feel like he's still being unreasonable. "You're overreacting."
"Whoops," he mutters, "I must have forgotten how much you hate overreaction."
It's a deliberate jab for last night. I feel my cheeks flush bright red.
"I'm sorry about last night, OK?" I try to reason with him, "Come on, James, we're supposed to be friends."
"Well right now, I'm not your friend. I'm your captain. So if you don't get your broom this instant you'll be running laps around the pitch for the next half and hour. Maybe then you'll get a sense of how long that amount of time actually is."
And he kicks off, without another word.
I feel like punching something and crying all at the same time. But instead I follow Rose to the broom shed, grab my broom and kick off angrily.
If he wants to be a tool, fine. Going back to hating his guts is fine with me.
As I swoop into the air, I notice for a brief moment of happiness, that I no longer feel that familiar feeling of nausea as soon as my feet leave the ground.
But that moment is soon gone as soon as James calls us all towards the centre of the pitch, the grim look of annoyance still firmly on his face.
"Right," he says, "Now that Rose and Stella have been kind enough to grace us with their presence…"
Said by anyone else it would be a joke. But the way James says it no one laughs. Rose and I glance at one another awkwardly.
"…As you all know," he continues, "We've got our match against Ravenclaw coming up next week. Now they've got a fantastic team this year. Not as good as ours, but then again I'm sure none of their players show up late to practice."
He doesn't bother shooting Rose and I a look, but his words sting enough without it.
"We're going to be practicing every day, without fail, no excuses," he says, "We need to be in tip top shape if we want a clean win next Saturday."
"We are in tip top shape," Archer mutters grudgingly from the opposite side of the circle.
James suddenly throws the quaffle hard at Archer's face. It races towards him and Archer only manages to grab it last second, taking a heavy blow to the stomach.
"What was that for?" he grimaces.
"If you were in tip top shape you would have caught that without looking like you're going to fall off your broom," James says sharply, "Anyone else like a quick test to see if they're up to my standards?"
No one replies.
"Good," he says firmly, "Let's practice then."
* * *
"I'm pretty sure I've broken my collar bone," Cameron winces as we make our way up to the castle, sore, bloody and bruised.
"You would know if you had," Rose says firmly, although her voice is weakening, "But it is possible that you're suffering short term memory loss from that blow to the head."
"I think I'm just going to crawl into my bed and die," Fred moans, "And ask Merlin why he ever thought it would be a good idea to make that my cousin."
"That was worse than usual, right?" I whimper, "I mean, it's not just because I've forgotten, being off the team for so long?"
They all shake their heads. Fred replies, "That made old James Potter look like our fairy godmother."
So I was right. It had been an unusually horrible practice.
From start to finish James had shouted at us, berated us, thrown quaffles from every direction and called us babies when we didn't catch them. If we made three mistakes in a row, it was three laps around the pitch.
To top it all off it was absolutely freezing, and there had been a horrible bout of January rain half way through, so we had all gotten soaked to the skin.
It was closer to boot camp than a team sport.
"I don't see how we're going to win against Ravenclaw if we're all hospitalised by next Saturday," Rose mutters.
"If you two are late again," Cameron says, "I swear I'll be up in your dormitory at six am screaming in your ears until you wake up, every day until the end of term."
"It wasn't just our fault!" Rose snaps, "He was in a horrible mood from the beginning, you could tell."
"Yeah, he was," Fred agrees, "Stella what on earth did you do to him?"
I double take, "Wait-what? Why am I to blame for this?"
"Whenever James is in a bad mood, he always takes it out on us at quidditch practice," Fred explains, "And he's always in a bad mood after you've done something."
"What about him?" I shriek, feeling very defensive, "Maybe sometimes he's the prick and I just tell him to shove it!"
"Keep your voice down," Cameron says,"My head hurts, and I'm sure there are some mermaids in the Black lake who didn't quite hear you."
"Well stop accusing me of something I didn't do," I snap. Even though James' bad mood probably had more than a little to do with my angry outburst last night. Still, it wasn't fair to blame every angry mood on me.
"We're not saying it's your fault," Fred elaborates, trying to calm the situation, "Still, maybe try not to pick so many fights with him."
"I'd think carefully before you finish that," Rose raises an eyebrow at me.
I keep my lips shut, having forgotten that Rose was still in the common room when I'd pissed James off last night, and had probably witnessed everything. I'd thought she was too enamoured with Scorpius' tonsils to notice much else.
"We should do a little experiment," Fred says, "Stella should be really, really nice to James for a day, and if he eases up we know why."
"I'm not going to be nice to him just to save us a few difficult practices," I reply sharply.
"That wasn't a practice," Fred mutters, "That was like the initiation for hell."
"It wasn't that bad," I try weakly.
"My ears are still ringing from when he yelled at me for not having quick enough reflexes," Cameron mutters.
"Look, all we're asking is that you suck it up and snog him a little bit," Fred shrugs, "He'll be right as rain the next day, you'll see."
"I will not!" I reply angrily, "How dare you-"
"You've done it before," Fred says, "Why not?"
"I have not-"
"Save it, Stella," Rose says, "Everyone here knows."
"…oh," I mutter, going bright red, "Well, just because I've done it before doesn't mean I'd be OK with doing it again."
Correction: I would be very, very OK with doing it again.
"How bad can it be?" Fred asks, "I know he's angry and moody all the time, but I'm sure he'd make a very gentle lov-"
"Fred, stop, right there," Rose says, "Before I throw up."
Fred throws up his hands, "Fine! If you don't want to snog him, at least pretend to be nice to him. For our sakes?"
"There is no correlation between my attitude towards James, and his mood the next day."
"Fine, be nice to him and prove me wrong," Fred shrugs, as we cross over the threshold into the entrance hall.
Lexie, who is waiting outside the great hall for us, waves a hello.
"Er, I'm going upstairs," Cameron mutters quickly, catching sight of her, "See you all later."
"Mate, are you sure?" Fred asks, "I heard they've got bacon this morning."
Cameron doesn't look enticed enough to change his mind.
As he walks away, hands stuck firmly in his pockets with his shoulders hunched, I say to the others, "I'll be right back, OK?"
I jog after Cameron to catch up, since he's already walked speedily away.
"Hey, Cameron, wait!" I cry after him.
He stops, finally, and turns to look at me, "Something you need, Artois?"
I'm slightly out of breath and don't have time to bother with the pleasantries, "You should ask her out again."
"What?" Cameron frowns, "Who?"
Maybe he really is as thick as everyone thought, "Lexie, you idiot," I snap, "You've done enough moping, and she still really likes you."
"That's funny," he mutters, looking unaffected by this information, "The last time I asked her to be my girlfriend she screamed at me in front of the entire common room."
"No, but, maybe, this time you need to ask her under better circumstances," I reply eagerly, "Maybe a little less drunk this time."
"No," Cameron shakes his head, "There is no this time, because I'm not asking her again. If she likes me so much she can tell me herself."
My eager expression drops off my face, "But she thinks you don't like her anymore."
"Good," Cameron snaps, sounding more and more irritated, "Let her keep thinking that."
"If you just-"
"No, Artois. Stop," he sounds angry now, "You told me about her feelings. And when I got some of my own, you told me to act on them. And look how that turned out. My previous experiences of following your advice have all gone south for me, so stop telling me what to do. And stop trying to fix your friends love lives. It's getting more and more obvious that it's only because you have no idea how to control your own."
That last bit hurt more than I wanted it to. I don't say anything.
Cameron bites his lip, "Shit. OK, that came out all wrong, I didn't mean-"
I put up a hand to stop his flow of words, glaring at him, "It's fine. I'll stop interfering."
"Come on, Artois, you know I didn't mean it like that."
"Yes, you did," I reply monotonously, "And you're right. I can't handle my own love life. So I'll leave you too it then, shall I? Clearly you've got everything under control."
I spun around on my heel and left him standing there.
* * *
"I can't believe he said that!" Rose says that evening at dinner.
"Well it's true, isn't it?" I mutter, picking glumly at my dinner with my fork.
"Of course it isn't!" Rose cries, "Don't be ridiculous. Who really knows what they're doing with their love lives anyway?"
"Well you and Scorpius seemed to find it easy enough," I mutter.
Rose scoffs, "Yes, exactly. Five years of hating each others guts, and one year of tortured betrayal, lies and false hope later here we are, blissful as can be."
I'm about to open my mouth to reply, but Scorpius appears out of nowhere, crouches behind Rose and covers her eyes with his palms before she notices him there.
"Guess who?" he grins, leaning into her.
"Peeves?" Rose asks, grinning "Peeves, is that you?"
"Let me guess again," she says, "Hmm, you know, you sound a lot like my boyfriend."
Scorpius removes his hands from her eyes and takes the spot on the bench next to her, "Good guess."
Rose pretends to look blank when she sees him, "Oh, sorry. I thought you sounded a lot like my boyfriend. He should be coming soon. Stella, have you seen him?"
I shake my head, doing my best to play into their little game without stabbing myself in the eye with my fork.
"You're quite the comedian," Scorpius raises an eyebrow.
"Why aren't you laughing then?" Rose grins at him.
"Ha ha," he utters, before placing his lips on hers and drawing her in.
Despite how happy I am for her, it's still sickening to watch.
"Oi!" Fred shouts from further down the table, "Some of us are trying to eat here."
That only reminds me of how little of an appetite I have, and I get up.
"Oh, Stella don't go," Rose says, "We won't snog, I promise."
I give her a small smile, "It's fine. I'm not hungry, and I just realised that I still have a potions thingy due tomorrow. Snog away."
"No, really, don't," Fred shakes his head at Rose.
I leave the great hall, hoping to return to the dormitory in peace so I can wallow in self pity.
However, as I make my way along the corridor towards the common room, I hear loud voices around the corner.
I edge closer to the corner, wandering if I should keep walking.
"I don't understand you. I really don't," comes a girl's voice.
"Look, it's more complicated than that," comes the reply.
I recognise Al's voice almost immediately. Which means that the girl talking to him is-
"All I know is that you used to be nice, and now you're snapping at me every chance you get! If you really can't stand me, then why don't you just break up with me?" Cecily snaps.
"Of course I don't want to break up with you!" Al says, sounding exasperated.
"Really? Because ever since Rose's party you've been acting like I'm some dead weight who keeps following you around."
"I'm sorry, OK? I'm really busy with quidditch stuff, and school-"
"I've seen the way you look at her, Albus."
There's a silence. When Albus replies he sounds like he's got something blocking his throat, "What?"
"I'm not an idiot," Cecily replies cooly, though her voice is trembling, "Ever since she brought Fred as her date, you haven't stopped being angry. I saw you glaring at her across the bloody dinner table yesterday, it was that obvious. And I heard about your little altercation in the library last week."
"Cecily, I don't like her like tha-"
"The fact that you know who I'm talking about is proof that you're lying to me," she sounds even angrier now, "When you decide whether it's me or her you want, let me know so I know if I'm wasting my time."
I hear the rapid footsteps moving down the corridor.
Tentatively I turn the corner, embarrassed to have almost heard the entire thing.
Albus is banging his head slowly against the stone wall, his eyes closed.
"Al?" I approach him gently.
He turns quickly, before his eyes settle on me, "Oh, it's you. I guess you heard all of that, did you?"
"The last bit, yes," I nod.
"Oh good," he mutters.
"You…you still haven't figured out what to do?" I ask him.
"Did you gather that much from our conversation?" Al says, a slight edge to his voice, "Your powers of perception have surpassed my expectations."
When I say nothing in return he sighs, "Sorry. I've been on edge lately."
"Really?" I reply dryly.
"I'm a real screw up, aren't I?" he mutters.
"I mean, of course I want to be with Cecily," he mutters, "I do. But Ray…she's a bloody pain that girl."
I smile a little, "Do you still like her that much?"
"What does it matter now?" says Albus moodily, "She's hated me since she found out what I did."
I find it hard to disagree with that.
"Help me, Stella," he moans.
"Oh no," I laugh, "Last time I helped you was how we got ourselves into this mess."
"You're right," he nods, "I'll go and ask Rose."
I roll my eyes, "Someday you're going to need to figure your shit our on your own."
"Yes but you and Rose figure out my shit so much better than I can," he whines.
"Well, let's hope you learn fast," I say, "Especially now that Rose is so busy with Scorpius."
Albus' face contorts into an expression of disgust, "You know, when I spent all that time pushing them to get together, I never thought about how repulsive I would find watching my best friend snogging my cousin."
I chuckle, "Let's get you to dinner," I sigh, "You look like you could eat something."
"Yes, mum," he snorts, but he still takes the arm I offer him and we walk to the great hall together.
"Albus?" I ask him, "Do you think I can't control my own love life?"
"What?" he frowns.
I shake my head, "Something Cameron said. I mean, do you think it's just me, or do you think none of us can do anything but let things take their natural course?"
Albus pauses for a moment, contemplating the idea, "Actually, I think we can be in control if we want to be. I think if we take matters into our own hands, then we make things happen. I mean, I wanted Ray, so I made a plan to get her."
"Look how well that turned out," I scoff.
He rolls his eyes, "I know the execution was piss poor, but it still got me further than I was at the beginning of this year. Ray knows who I am now. Even if she does hate me."
"So you think I should Carpe Diem that shit?" I ask.
He nods in agreement, "You should Carpe Diem that shit. I mean, at least then you know where you stand. Even if they don't like you, there's something better about knowing that than always being in the dark."
It made sense. But surely by not making a move, at least then you avoided being hurt.
"See," Albus continues, "Now I know that Ray doesn't feel the same way. It's not easy, but it helps in the moving on process."
I raise my eyebrows at him.
"I'm still working on the moving on process," he admits, "But, I'm getting there. I'll get there."
"Then I think you need to talk to Cecily," I reply.
"Hey, I thought I was giving you advice, not the other way around," he replies.
"The day I ask for romance advice from Albus Potter is a sad day," I sigh.
"Hey!" he looks indignant, "It's good advice, whether you choose to act on it or not."
"Fine, fine," I reply, "I'll take your advice under consideration."
We've reached the great hall, when I suddenly remember that I've already had dinner.
"You coming in?" he asks me.
"I, er, I have an essay to finish," I reply, "You alright to eat alone?"
"This may be hard to believe, but I have other friends besides you, Rose and Scorpius," he rolls his eyes at me.
"Fine," I push him towards the big doorway, "Go hang out with your mysterious other friends."
He grins at me, before leaving me in the entrance hall.
I do have an essay to finish, but right now working on that is the last thing I feel like doing.
Outside it's freezing, and I can feel the sharp winds blowing through the entrance hall from here, but it's dark and fresh, and it looks inexplicably inviting.
I fix my cloak over my shoulders more securely, and walk outside.
The harsh, cold air meets my face immediately, making me suck in a gasp.
But I keep going. I keep walking, out into the evening. The light is disappearing more and more quickly, with only a hint of sun behind the clouds.
And suddenly I find I'm at the quidditch pitch. It's completely deserted, and the sound from the castle is completely drowned out by the wind blowing in my ears.
I take a seat on the stands, wrapping my cloak around me tightly, and breathing into my hands to warm them up.
So Rose and Scorpius were happy. Cameron and Lexie were not. And Albus…well, maybe he'd go back to Cecily and apologize.
And here I was, not sure if I was sad, or happy, or even somewhere in between.
I'd felt somehow more and more distant from my friends recently.
I used to be silly, bubbly Stella, who never said anything appropriate, and didn't know how to keep her mouth shut.
…Well, that last part still held true.
I used to be the girl with the school girl crush on James Potter, who acted like he'd rather have a hernia than be around me. And yet, how is it possible that I now understand him even less than I did then?
He doesn't act like he hates being around me anymore…most of the time.
I mean, we're supposed to be friends. He agreed to it didn't he? Or did he suggest the arrangement? I can't even remember.
So why do I hate him so much, when he wanted to be my friend? He'd made an effort to talk to me. He was polite. He was even considerate. Why can't I appreciate that? Why did I have to snap at him when someone made a random inference to Eve Collins, who James barely even knows?
Because I didn't want to be his friend. It was that simple.
Even when I used to think that James Potter was so far out of my reach he might as well have been on Jupiter, I didn't want to be his friend. I will always want more, or nothing.
"Wood? What are you doing out here?"
I look around, and see through the darkening gloom, James Potter himself, peering up at me from the bottom of the stands.
"Why are you here?" I ask him carefully. Did he follow me? Did he want to say something?
"I left my notes from today's practice in the changing room," he replies, "Why are you here?"
"I wanted fresh air," I reply, shrugging, even though it's so cold that it feels like my shoulders are frozen to my neck.
"Right," he frowns, "It's like zero degrees right now. Aren't you freezing?"
"N-no," I reply, as my teeth chatter.
"You don't even have a scarf," he shakes his head, "Come on Wood, go inside."
That makes me irritated, "I'll go inside when I feel like it," I reply angrily.
He throws up his hands in frustration, "Fine. I'm going to get my notes."
But I'm still sitting there when he reemerges from the changing room. He sighs, "I'm going to have to carry you in at this rate. It's getting really dark, too."
I shake my head.
He lets out another exasperated sigh, "At least take my scarf, or something."
He doesn't wait for my approval, and unwinds his red and yellow scarf from around his neck and hands it to me. When I don't take it, he takes the scarf, leans forward and winds it around the back of my head and twists it near my neck. He even takes my plait and pulls it out from underneath the wool.
The warmth from the scarf already starts to generate heat, and I feel my shivering body start to relax a bit.
"Better?" he asks.
I refuse to give him the satisfaction and agree. Instead I look at my toes.
"What's wrong, Wood?" he asks, "You aren't even talking to me now?"
"I wouldn't think you'd want to talk to me after the way you spoke to me at practice," I reply angrily, "You'd think you hated me."
He pauses for a moment, then surprises me by taking a seat on the bench beside me.
"You know I don't hate you," he looks down at his fingers, suddenly very interested in his cuticles.
"You're not giving me much evidence to go on here," I reply.
"Fine, I was pissed off with you," he replies, "But what the hell was that last night? It was like you'd gone crazy."
"I was," I pause, "I was having a bad day, OK? It pissed me off when that guy said sixth years weren't allowed to come."
That's only a fraction of the truth. But I'm not ready to admit that the idea of him and Eve together was what really got my blood boiling.
"So you took it out on me?" he frowns.
"Like you took your anger out on the team this morning?" I ask, raising my eyebrows.
He frowns, "That wasn't about you. I was being tough. I have to be. The captain of the team isn't supposed to cuddle you when you make mistakes. They're supposed to make you get up and try again."
"What you were doing was closer to pushing them down even harder," I reply, "So none of that was about me?"
"No," he replies, "I mean, I was still annoyed with you about last night. But I would never take that out on the team."
Some part of me wants to run up to the castle and rub it in Fred's face. The other part is more than a little disappointed. There was a small part of me that sort of hoped I could have that sort of effect on his emotions.
We sit there for a few moments, listening to the wind continue to howl.
"I want the team to be the best it can be," James continues suddenly, "We need to beat Ravenclaw, and there isn't another option."
"Is winning so important to you?" I ask him, "Would the world fall to pieces if you lost? If the team made mistakes?"
He looks down at the ground, but not before I catch a glimpse of a smile, "Sometimes I think it might."
"Well then you need a reality check," I scoff.
"Why are you on this team, if you don't want to win?" he asks me suddenly.
I pause, thinking about my answer before I give it, "Because…I like the team. I like playing the sport. I like it."
James raise his eyebrows, "There was a time when you wouldn't be caught dead saying that."
I shrug, "Times have changed."
"They certainly have," he replies.
He looks straight across at me then, and I can't help but look back. Our knees are close together, never quite touching.
"I think we should give this friends thing another try," he says, his voice lower than usual.
I nod, "We just have to stop bickering, stop getting irritated with each other, and start being honest."
He nods, "I think that's a good idea. Almost impossible, with us, but I'll try."
"Hey," I look at him with a smile, "Was this our first grown up conversation?"
He grins back at me, "I think it might have been."
We sit there for a few moments, smiling at each other. I feel tongue tied and my stomach has a million butterflies in it.
"Well, I think we should go inside, otherwise you won't be around to be my friend, because you'll be frozen into a block of ice."
He stands up, offers me his hand.
I don't take it, however. I stand up and take a deep breath.
I need to tell him now. I'll never know otherwise, and it's killing me.
As Albus would say, Carpe Diem that shit.
"I don't want to be friends," I say breathlessly.
He stares at me, "What? Wood we literally just-"
"I know, I know," I cut across him, "I wasn't thinking. I-I don't want to be friends."
And before he can open his mouth again I grab his face between my hands and kiss him with all my might.
He puts his hands gently on my arms and pries them away. I back away, suddenly nervous.
"We can't," he says, his voice low and hoarse.
I shake my head at him, "I know, that stupid rule, but James, you can just get rid of it. No one would mind! People would get over it!"
But he's still shaking his head, "Stella, I can't."
"Stop it," I reply, feeling desperate to kiss him again, "You can."
I lean forward and press my lips against his again, but this time he's more insistent and he steps away.
"It's not worth it," he exclaims suddenly, putting his hand to his forehead, not looking at me, "My cousins would hate me."
I take a step back from him, suddenly feeling ice cold all over, "You mean I'm not worth it."
"No!" he replies, "That's not what I meant! But what do we really have to go on here? It's not like we're childhood sweethearts! Arguments, then kissing, then more arguments, then drunken kissing."
"You know it's more than that," I reply, "At Rose's party we were-"
"Out of out minds drunk," he finishes the sentence for me, "I would have snogged Peeves I was so drunk!"
I stare at him, too shocked for words.
He calculates my expression, "No, Stella, that came out all wrong. All I mean is that we didn't know what we were doing!"
"And that night at the New Years Eve party?" I ask him, my voice shaky, "When you told me that everything you saw reminded you of me? I wasn't drunk then."
He looks down at the ground, before uttering, "I was."
All of a sudden I feel about the size of a blade of grass. Shame, embarrassment and desperation are suddenly the only emotions I have.
And while I still feel small, it's like I'm looking at the situation through a magnifying glass.
Oh god. Oh GOD. I'm the sad, pathetic girl who thought that James Potter wanted to be with her.
"Oh God," I muttered, feeling like I was going to be sick.
"No, Stella!" he comes towards me, struggling to find the right words, "Shit. It's not that I didn't mean anything I said. I just mean-"
"You just mean that it's OK to snog me when you're drunk, but when you're sober you wouldn't think twice about touching me," My voice is full of revulsion. For him, and for myself.
"NO!" he replies urgently, putting his hands on either side of my arms, "That's not at all-"
I push him away, "Don't touch me."
I feel humiliated. So utterly humiliated.
He utters in a low, urgent voice, trying to compel me to listen, "All I meant is that it's not much to bet on. Please, try and understand. I still want to be your friend. I don't want you to hate me."
I feel the bubbling in my stomach, low, choking sobs coming up my oesophagus, begging to be released.
I suddenly can't stand to look at him any more.
I turn and break into a fast walk, which turns into a slow jog, which turns into a fast sprint.
James calls after me, "Stella! Please! I'm sorry! Stop!"
But I don't stop, I race up to the castle, stumbling and falling every other step, sobs racking my whole body.
Albus said the benefits of being honest are that you know where you stand.
Problem was, I hadn't really considered any other option than James rushing into my arms and telling me we were soul mates.
I hadn't considered that the alternative was this.
And it hurt like a bitch.
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