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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 31: thirty-one
My family seemed to think May was the month to take chunks out of me. Following Brigid and Albus’ lectures, the next person who decided to berate me was Rose.
I groaned audibly when she emerged from my fireplace the morning after my confrontation with Albus, looking in the mood for one herself.
“And what do you want?” I grumbled.
“Al told me what you said to him yesterday.” As usual, she looked unimpressed. “You were horrible, James! He’s only looking out for your best interests-”
“Yeah? Well he’s got a funny way of doing it.”
“Why, because he actually knows what rules and morals are? He’s a wonderful person, James, and you’d do well to take a few lessons from him-”
“Yes, he’s such a wonderful person that you confided in him straight away about seeing Scorpius Malfoy,” I snarled.
Her eyes flashed.
“That’s a low blow and you know it. They’ve had a bad history; I’ll be the first to admit Scorpius wasn’t the nicest person when he was younger. But Al’s perfectly fine with it now-”
“And by ‘perfectly fine’ you mean he’s at least stopped putting Bulbadox Powder in Scorpius’ shoes when he’s around.”
“That was once, and it was an accident, and how do you even know that?” She looked bemused for a moment, before shaking her head slightly. “Anyway, that’s beside the point! Stop trying to change the subject. You were utterly vile to Albus yesterday. Your treatment of him always has left a lot to be desired, but you’ve gone too far this time. He’s concerned about you, and for good reason! You should be grateful to have siblings who care for your wellbeing, who want to see you do well. So what if he’s bright? So what if he wants to be an Auror? You know what, James? I think you and Uncle Harry have problems. You may try to hide it, but it’s obvious; you’ve never been close to him! But that’s not Albus’ fault, and you need to stop taking it out on him-”
“Have you told your parents that you’re seeing the son of their school nemesis yet?” I cut in.
Her lip curled.
“No, I – what’s that got to do with anything?”
“Next time you want to lecture me on my relationship with my parents, maybe you want to make sure you’re not being a complete hypocrite first,” I snarled. “And if you don’t fuck off and leave me alone, I’ll tell them for you.”
She looked as though I’d just slapped her round the face.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
“Oh, I would. It would be payback for you telling Mum how Carlotta found out about magic, don’t you think?”
Her jaw dropped.
“You .... you are so underhand!” she said furiously. “I told her because she needed to know! You broke the Statute, James, she had every right to know how you did it! You may not be aware of this, you may prefer to just brush it all under the carpet and pretend it’s not an issue, but it’s a serious thing! Especially if you’ve just cast her out into the wilderness like the Prophet seems to think-”
I picked up the closest thing to me – a paperweight – and threw it at her with all my might. Her wandwork had always been rapid; she had her wand out in a trice and deflected it across the room, where it hit the wall and disintegrated into thousands of shards of glass. She stared at me for a moment, her chest heaving, and her wand aimed straight at my heart. I was unarmed, so I just stood there and stared at her challengingly, almost daring her to fire at me.
But after a moment, she pocketed her wand, her eyes still trained on me. The expression on her face was unreadable but really didn’t look right – fear? Was she scared of me? – but it was soon replaced with a look of resignation, as she turned to my fireplace and allowed it to take her home.
By the end of the week, I’d run out of the food that Kreacher and his minions had brought me. There may have been seven of them, but they were still small, and unable to carry around that much food at once.
So I summoned him back again.
Or at least, I tried to.
I didn’t think much of it when he didn’t turn up the moment I said his name. Although I knew that house elves tried to be as quick as possible, and viewed keeping a master waiting as a serious professional failure, I also knew that he had other work to do at Hogwarts, so when he didn’t appear straight away, I wasn’t too concerned.
But I’d been waiting for about five minutes, and there was no sign of him. I frowned, bemused.
“Kreacher!” I called again.
But still nothing.
I swore loudly, kicking the wall. Why the hell wasn’t he coming? I needed him. I could hardly leave to go to the shops myself; the papers were still full of stories about me, and Brigid was clearly remaining true to her word and doing nothing to deflect the attention.
In the end, I called Freddie. I knew he was at the shop, but I couldn’t think of any other option.
“Have you just been hiding in your flat all week?” he said quietly; he’d managed to leave the shop counter but couldn’t escape to anywhere further away than the store cupboard at the back, and was sensible enough to realise he should keep the conversation hidden from his colleagues and parents.
“I could hardly leave it, could I?” I reasoned. “You must have seen the Prophet these past few days.”
“It’s been brought to my attention,” he said dryly. “The Lair? You went to the Lair and didn’t invite me?”
I grinned. I could always count on Freddie to take my side.
“You were working, mate!”
“Not in the evening I wasn’t!”
“Well, Louis and I were already well gone by then, it slipped our minds,” I said apologetically. “Besides, you should be thanking me; imagine the lectures you’d have got from Brigid and your mum if you’d come.”
“Mum wouldn’t have batted an eyelid,” he pointed out. There were times I envied Freddie, and the way Uncle George and Aunt Angelina just let him get on with things. “But I’ll take your point about Brie. Was she not too happy with you?”
I hesitated, then decided not to answer the question.
“Listen, is there any chance you can bring me some food?” I asked. “I can hardly go strolling down Diagon Alley...”
“Do you not still have your Dad’s old cloak?”
“Na, I gave it to Lily when we left school, didn’t I?” I reminded him. I wished I hadn’t now; I’d do anything to be able to make myself invisible.
“Bad move, mate! Yeah, I can get some stuff for you, but I don’t finish until five so it’ll have to be after then. That okay?”
“That’s great,” I said, relieved. “Cheers, Freddo.”
“No problem,” he said brightly. “I’ve gotta go, Mum’s about to have a fit. See you later!”
I hung up, feeling slightly better. At least someone in my family wasn’t pissed off with me right now.
I was even more grateful when he turned up later, and I saw what he’d bought. There may not have been anything to rival Kreacher’s treacle tart, but one thing that the house elf hadn’t been able to bring me was Firewhisky.
Freddie had brought me a whole crate.
“I figured if you can’t go to the alcohol, then the alcohol can come to you!” he said brightly, falling back into my sofa with a bottle of his own.
His presence was like a breath of fresh air. I’d spent most of the week alone, with nothing but my ugly thoughts to keep me company. Any visitors had been hell-bent on criticising my every move. It was nice to spend some time with somebody who wasn’t taking the moral high ground.
Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.
“I heard you argued with Brie,” he said tentatively.
I scowled, as the memory of that argument forced itself to the forefront of my mind, determined not to remain in the dark corner I’d tried to push it back to.
“She was being overly-interfering.”
“She’s just trying to help you, mate. She just wants what’s best for you-”
“Where the fuck do you think you get off lecturing me about how to deal with Brigid?” I snapped at him.
He had the decency to look abashed.
“And Rose says you tried attacking her,” he continued, clearly trying to deflect attention from his treatment of Brigid.
“I tried – she drew her wand on me!” I cried. It wasn’t the complete truth, admittedly, but I wasn’t about to tell him what had happened.
But he already knew.
“Apparently you threw a paperweight at her,” he continued, looking unusually solemn. “I know she can get annoying, but ... do you think that’s wise?”
“Oh, so I’m going to get a lecture from you as well, now, am I?” I said sulkily. “Really, Fred? Really?”
“James, is everything alright?” he asked tentatively.
“Why the hell wouldn’t it be?” I snapped.
“You seem really bitter. You’ve just made the England squad! You should be happy, not locked away in your flat!”
“Yeah, well, blame the fucking Prophet for that,” I muttered.
Except, it wasn’t all the Prophet’s doing. They might have started it, but it had been Carlotta, and her stupid principles, that’d made it worse. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have hooked up with Allegra that night, and if she hadn’t gotten angry with me, then I wouldn’t have ended up in the damn Lair.
And thinking of Carlotta just got me riled up again.
“Okay,” Freddie ploughed on, “here’s a thought. Why don’t you just apologise to Brie – I’m not saying it was your fault, but you know what women are like, they never admit they’re wrong. Especially Brie. So why don’t you suck up to her, get back in her good books, and then ask her to smooth things over with the Prophet for you? Then we can have a good night out in the Hinky to properly celebrate, without having to worry about the press hounding you.”
I glared at him.
“I am not sucking up to Brigid,” I said flatly.
“I’m not giving her the satisfaction of thinking she’s right,” I said, in such a firm voice that he didn’t dare argue.
“Can’t we have a night out anyway, though?” he pleaded. “Come on, we can evade the journalists! We can get into the Hinky through the back way, and they don’t let photographers inside, you know that. The bouncers will help us out. It’s not fair that you should have to sit in your flat all day every day, just because your agent’s being petty and won’t help you out. Come on. It’ll be fun. You need it.”
I considered his words carefully. He was right; I did need to get out. But I was scared of the prospect of the Prophet catching up with us, even if the Hinky did let us sneak in.
“I can ring them?” he continued. “We can sort it all out right now. It’ll be fine; they love us, you know they’ll be delighted to have us there. The only reason they’ll be bothered that you went to the Lair is that you weren’t there instead!”
“We visited the Hinky before the Lair,” I pointed out.
“Well, in that case they’re not going to have a problem at all! Come on, you deserve a bit of fun.”
I was beginning to come round to the idea.
“We’ll get the bouncers to keep people away from us,” he continued, “that way you won’t be disturbed by anyone you don’t want to see. It’ll be fine. We can get Louis out as well, if you want; send him in as bait so he deflects the attention. You up for that?”
I’d been confined to this flat for five days. The thought of being able to get away from it for a few hours finally won me over.
“I’m in,” I said with a slight grin.
“Great!” Freddie said, getting to his feet. “And you never know, once Brigid sees you can handle the media yourself, maybe she’ll come round?”
It was a fantastic idea in theory.
To be fair, his whole plan was fantastic in theory. We’d used the back entrance of the Hinky before, and it was far easier to remain unseen that way. Inviting Louis along was a bonus; once he was through the front doors, everyone’s attention would be on him, and we’d be forgotten.
But the theory didn’t take into account that Louis had been caught up in my media scandal just days before. It didn’t take into account the immediate assumption of the media’s that if Louis was visiting the Hinky, then I’d be with him.
It didn’t take into account the ability of a rogue Prophet photographer to sneak through the security at the doors in search of a scoop.
He found me easily. And I recognised him immediately. He’d been with Deirdre, the interviewer who’d pissed me off in the Atrium. He’d also been a part of the crowd that had assembled outside my flat after that story about me and Louis broke.
Freddie’s biggest failure was that his plan didn’t take into proper consideration my current resentment of the media.
The moment I saw the photographer, I snapped. I lunged for him, seized his camera and threw it across the room furiously. And then I pulled back my arm and punched him square in the jaw.
He staggered backwards, losing his balance slightly. A second blow saw him fall to the floor. I fell to my knees next to him, throwing punch after punch, oblivious to my surroundings; I couldn’t hear anything, couldn’t see anything, other than the bastard Prophet journalist in front of me...
Until multiple hands seized my arms and pulled me away from him, forcing me upright, steering me away.
“Let me go, let me go-” I said, struggling to pull away from the firm grip of my captors.
“James, stop it,” came Louis’ sharp voice.
It was as though his words cleared the air, lifted the red mist which had descended so quickly. I stared in horror at the aftermath of what I had done, and allowed Louis and Freddie to lead me through to the back of the Hinky, to Apparate me home.
Where they both just stared at me, lost for words, not knowing how to react to what had just happened. Louis looked disgusted. Freddie just looked disappointed.
And I stared back at them, just as shocked, with no idea of what to say or do.
What had I just done?