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Chapter 32: thirty-two
When I was a kid, I used to be scared of the monsters under my bed. I’d be okay, so long as I was completely hidden by my duvet. Then, the monsters wouldn’t be able to get to me. When I was under my covers, I was invincible.
I’d eventually overcome this fear, with Dad’s help. That was back before anything had ever come between us, before I’d gone to Hogwarts and learned just how famous he was, before that fame had soured our relationship. And before I’d had a chance to disappoint him. Back then, he was just my dad. The guy who taught me how to fly, played Gobstones with me, and bought me my first Pygmy Puff.
Now that everything in my life had gone wrong, I was again trying to hide under my covers, as I’d done when I was eight. But the trouble was, my monsters weren’t under the bed any more. They were in my head. And no matter how deeply I buried myself under my duvet, I couldn’t hold those demons off.
And I didn’t have Dad to help me anymore.
My entire life seemed to have turned upside-down. I had no idea how or when it had happened; all I knew was that right now, I had completely no control over my life. And it scared me.
How had it all come to this?
The worst part was, I knew this wasn’t as bad it could possibly get. I’d not seen the Prophet yet. I’d heard the owl arrive, but I hadn’t answered its knock on the window, and so eventually it had flown away. But I didn’t need to see it to know what the headline would be. I would undoubtedly be front page news. My trip to the Lair had made the front page, but that had been the Sunday paper, which was always light on hard-hitting news.
But a Quidditch star assaulting a photographer? That would easily make Friday’s front page. And it wouldn’t end there. I doubted I’d avoid some sort of retribution for this. I’d thought I was confined to my flat before last night; now I truly was.
And as much as I hoped it might, my duvet wasn’t going to deflect the backlash.
A quiet pop signalled that somebody had just Apparated into my living room. I froze under my duvet, not wanting to see anyone, not daring to emerge from my safe place.
I heard the bedroom door open.
It was Brigid. I squeezed my eyes tight shut, not wanting to see her. Not because I feared her anger.
Because I feared her disappointment in me.
“James, are you awake?”
I lay deathly quiet, hoping she would leave.
After a moment, I heard the door close. I still didn’t move, just in case she was still in my room.
But the movement I heard sounded as if it came from the other side of the door. A minute or so later, there was another pop, and after that there was silence.
I waited a few minutes more, before slowly peeling the comfort shield that was my duvet back. My curtains were shut, and so my room was still dark despite it being mid-morning.
I stumbled across the room and pulled the door open. The light shining in through the windows nearly blinded me; I squinted in an attempt to alleviate the issue.
It only took a moment to find the note Brigid had left me. It was short, written in shaky writing, and stained by a couple of tear marks.
The Falcons management have asked me to inform you that, in the light of recent events, they have had no choice but to suspend you from the squad until further notice. Your presence at training is no longer required.
With every word I read, I felt what little resolve I had left crumble to pieces around me.
I was cocooned in the protection of my bedding once more when Aunt Audrey visited me. Unlike Brigid, she didn’t leave a note, but gently pulled my duvet back.
“Oh, James,” she sighed, stroking my forehead.
I didn’t move. I kept my eyes tightly shut. But there was no chance of me tricking a Senior Healer into believing that I was asleep.
“Darling, you need to stop running,” she said quietly.
But I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to. Running was all I’d ever done, all I’d ever known. I didn’t know how else to fix anything. And I’d pushed away the only person who could help me make it better.
And then the second owl came.
“Do you want me to get that?” Aunt Audrey said gently.
I nodded, my eyes still squeezed shut.
She left, and returned moments later with a slip of parchment.
“I think you need to read this,” she said gently, sitting down on the bed next to me.
I opened my eyes, and took the letter from her.
It is with great regret that I must inform you that I have had to remove you from the World Cup squad.
As you know, I set high standards for my players to follow. The England team represents the nation, and they deserve to be represented by those who will do them proud. Your recent actions have brought the game into disrepute, and to retain you within the squad would contradict the standards your fellow players work so hard to reach.
I remain an admirer of your talent on the Quidditch pitch, and hope and expect you to seek the help that you clearly need in order to get your career back on track.
“James...” Aunt Audrey began tentatively.
I said nothing, but merely rolled over and stared at the wall.
“James, please, talk to me...” she pleaded. “Darling, you need help; let me try to help you. You can’t just push people away...”
I screwed my eyes shut again, wishing that she would just leave. Eventually, she took the hint.
And then I did two things I hadn’t done in years, and it truly was as though I was still that eight year old boy who hid from monsters.
And I gave up.
The absolute final straw came the next morning. There had still been a small lifeline, the most minute of possibilities that things weren’t all that bad. Because so long as someone still believed in me, I hadn’t completely screwed up ... surely?
I’d always had three constants in my life. Three people who had never once stopped believing in me, who had always stood by me and supported me.
But Freddie wasn’t by my side right now. I’d disappointed him, just as I had done everyone else. That he was ashamed by my actions really went to show how bad they were. He’d never looked at me like that before. But even without him, it was still okay, because I still had Mum and Lily.
Until Saturday morning.
I got a letter from Lily. She didn’t receive the Prophet every day, because receiving owl post was too risky. That was the only reason I’d escaped her judgement after my visit to the Lair had been publicised.
But there was no way that this would escape her notice.
You really are a fool. What are you playing at, pulling a stunt like that? I’m sorry about the England thing, I really am, but you’ve brought it on yourself. This was your dream, why are you throwing it away like this? I thought you had more sense than this. You’re lucky that I’ve got exams on, or I’d be round there hitting you round the head!
Go to Sinead and apologise for what you’ve done, and make a public apology as well. That way, you’ll be reinstated into the Falcons squad in no time. I think you might have lost your chance in this World Cup though.
Please, don’t disappoint me.
But I’d already disappointed her. She didn’t need to say it; I could feel the disdain oozing out of every word she’d written.
I didn’t even get a note from Mum this time. I guessed she felt she’d said everything she needed to say; that her absence for the second Saturday in a row said more than a million words on parchment possibly could.
By Saturday, I truly was alone in the world.