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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 29: twenty-nine
I didn’t hear from Brigid the next day. Or the day after that. When I hadn’t heard from her by the end of the week, I knew that this time she was really pissed off.
I heard from family members, who rang me at varying times during the week to congratulate me. Aunt Audrey was the first, on Wednesday night – “I’d have rung you earlier, but I thought you might be busy with your media commitments and wouldn’t want your old aunt getting in the way”.
She didn’t mention the Prophet article.
Victoire, unfortunately, did.
“What on earth happened on Monday?” was the first thing she said when I answered the phone. “I’ve had my colleagues asking me if you’ve got anger issues! James, that really doesn’t look good, you know.”
“Have you just rung me to moan at me?” I grumbled.
“Of course not! Congratulations, Teddy and I are so proud of you. But you really need to make sure that you don’t do things like this, because you know the papers will pick up on them and they make you look bad!”
Her talk went on for a good five minutes; I didn’t listen to most of it, and was relieved when she had to stop mid-rant and end the call because Dora had just been sick.
Rose was just as disapproving.
“You’re lucky that I’ve told Mum not to get on your case,” she said to me. She had her righteous voice on, a tone that I was used to as she often used it when talking to me. “That was stupid, James. Couldn’t you have just stuck it out? Just told her you didn’t want to answer the question? You’ve made yourself look like an-”
I hadn’t hung up on Victoire, because I had a lot of respect for her. That, and she was married to Teddy, who aside from anything else would probably be after my blood if I dared put the phone down on his wife.
With Rose, I wasn’t so fussed, and I ended her rant before she’d gotten into full steam.
Uncle George and Aunt Angelina didn’t bother to ring me, but instead sent me a huge hamper of Wheezes merchandise – an infinitely better show of their approval. Likewise, I received a congratulations card from Lily, Maddie and Kit, which included a note from Lily apologising for the fact that they couldn’t see me in person, as they were all busy with schoolwork. I didn’t mind; I knew that she too would have found a way of steering conversation round to my hot-headed moment at the Ministry.
I didn’t hear from Dad at all. I wasn’t really all that surprised, though I was disappointed all the same. I’d hoped that this would be a big enough achievement for him, that he would find himself unable to ignore something as impressive as making the England squad. Unfortunately, I was proved wrong. The most I got was a hastily-scribbled note from Mum, scolding me for my behaviour but reiterating that she and Dad were hugely proud of me. It wasn’t enough to convince me.
The only other person aside from Brigid who I didn’t hear from one way or another, was the only person who I truly wanted to hear from.
I’d felt certain that Carlotta would see sense once she’d had a chance to calm down, that she would come to see me, to tell me that she hadn’t meant what she’d said. But as the week passed, it became more and more clear that she had no intention of getting in touch.
I knew that I shouldn’t let it bother me. But I couldn’t help but let it, and that in itself got me riled. Did she honestly not give a damn at all? In fact, the more I mulled it over, the angrier I got. And I couldn’t help but think about it every time I was left alone to my thoughts and my stash of Firewhisky.
And so, by the end of the week, I was once more on the phone to Freddie, trying to get him to go to the Hinky with me again. I figured that I needed a distraction, and this was the best thing I could think of.
“Just promise me that you won’t pull Lynch again,” he said wryly. “I tried to stop you the other day-”
I frowned slightly as I recalled the morning after that night, when I’d unceremoniously booted Cassie out of my bed for a second time. It was clearly becoming a habit with us.
“I could tell,” I responded dryly to Freddie now, distinctly recalling his attention being diverted by Allegra’s friend Mindy not long after he’d dished out his ‘advice’.
It was his fault I’d ended up with Cassie again, I thought slightly resentfully. He’d known full well that I’d been in a fragile state of mind, and instead of stopping me from making a mistake, he’d decided to advance his own interests.
I didn’t voice this opinion, not wanting to alienate my only current candidate for a night out – Al and Rose were a big no-no, Brigid didn’t want to talk to me, I didn’t fancy seeing any of my team and I didn’t like the way that no girls gave me a second glance any time I went out with Louis.
I’d decided that I wasn’t going to let myself hook up with any girls this time. For some reason, I didn’t like the thought of Carlotta finding out about Allegra and Cassie, and so I really didn’t want to add any more names to that list. Freddie seemed slightly scornful at the reasoning, but nevertheless avoided the girls himself while we were out.
It was all fine, until we were on our way back to my flat in the early hours of the morning. We headed out of Diagon Alley through the Leaky Cauldron, onto Charing Cross Road. A group of girls were heading the other way along the road, towards us. I didn’t recognise them at first, but as they came closer, and were lit up by the street light, my eyes fell on one of them and my stomach made an uncomfortable lurch as I realised it was Carlotta.
Her eyes fell on me – and then she looked away, completely ignoring me, and as they passed it was as though she had no idea who I was. I made as if to turn round and call after her, but Freddie took my arm and forcefully pulled me along, all the way back to my flat.
“She ignored me!” I burst out as soon as we were through the door. “Can you believe it-”
“Maybe she’s annoyed with you?” he suggested with a shrug. “You can’t just go chasing after her down the street though, mate. If she doesn’t want to talk to you, then you can’t force her to.” He looked a bit bemused, admittedly. After all, he didn’t know the full story, the proper reason why I’d managed to piss her off so much.
“But-” I had no idea what to say. I was annoyed, with both of them. I knew what I wanted to say to him – that I couldn’t just let her walk away like that, that I needed to talk to her, to try to make her see reason, that I needed to just see her – but I didn’t know how to say it. He didn’t understand, and I didn’t know how I could make him.
So instead, I said nothing.
“Look, we always said that this wasn’t really going to work out,” he continued gently, clearly not wanting to anger me. “Maybe ... maybe you should just leave it, now. You weren’t looking for a long-term thing anyway. This is just because you feel like you need to prove to the family that you weren’t making a mistake by hooking up with a Muggle, but you don’t need to do this. Just ... just leave it be. It’s the best thing, for both of you.”
I believed him. I really did.
But it still didn’t stop her face from haunting my thoughts all night, once he’d left and I went to bed.
I woke up the next morning with an odd sense of optimism. I wasn’t sure where it had come from; perhaps my mind had processed Freddie’s words while I’d been sleeping? But for whatever reason, the situation with Carlotta didn’t seem so bad. In fact, I wondered how I’d managed to get myself into such a funk over the whole thing. After all, I was in the England squad, wasn’t I? I’d achieved my ambition, the lofty goal that I’d set myself all those years ago, that I’d been striving to reach ever since. Was I really going to let some Muggle girl ruin my moment?
It was a Saturday. The day I had breakfast with Mum. I decided to do something productive while waiting for her to arrive, so I tidied my flat. That would please her to no end, and hopefully she would avoid the topic of Dad as a reward.
And then after breakfast, I would go to Brigid’s and try to reason with her. She would surely see that she’d been harsh on me, that this wasn’t my fault? After all, she knew that I hated the media responsibilities; she ought to have known that shoving so many interviews down my throat straight away would only be a bad thing. She’d had time to calm down; she would be able to see that she’d been at fault. I’d have to appease her, of course, by doing those interviews that I’d neglected on Monday – but that would be okay. I didn’t mind talking to Quidditch Weekly, Which Broomstick? or even the Quibbler. The Witch Weekly one wouldn’t be so enjoyable, but I was sure that I could manage even that one.
I was feeling positive. Today was going to be a productive day.
And then the owl came.
I can’t come for breakfast this morning. The editor wants me to do some World Cup media work. I’m sure that you’ll be able to manage without me for one morning though!
P.S. If you still want company for breakfast, I’m sure your father wouldn’t say no to having a morning visitor.
By the end of the letter, I was struggling to read Mum’s writing. It took a few moments for me to realise that this was because I couldn’t focus on it; that I was shaking with rage, and the parchment in my hand was quivering like a leaf.
Mum had never missed Saturday breakfast with me, not in three years. It was an unwritten rule between her and her boss that she never worked Saturday mornings. It was our time. She was that busy during the rest of the week; it surely wasn’t too much to ask?
Not to mention the fact that Mum always did my food shopping for me. What on earth did she think I was going to do without any food in my cupboards?
I screwed the parchment up into a ball and stuffed it into an objecting Cordelia’s cage.
But it was the last line that had pissed me off the most, that remained etched into my brain. I’m sure your father wouldn’t say no to having a morning visitor.
Right now, I hated my mother.
I couldn’t call Freddie, because he was working in the shop. He didn’t normally work on weekends. But now it was May, which meant that exams were imminent. This always coincided with a spike in Wheezes sales as students sought to find any light relief they could from the trials of studying. So Freddie would be hard at work today, and therefore unreachable.
So I did the thing that I’d been trying to avoid all week, and I rang Louis.
And the two of us spent all day and all night frequenting the numerous pubs and clubs in Diagon Alley.
I regretted it the next day, when the Sunday Prophet was dedicated to a series of articles, with numerous photos, documenting the entire sorry affair.