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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 36: thirty-six
I changed my mind in the end, and decided to visit Freddie first, then Brigid. I was trying to convince myself there was a reason for this, that having Freddie on side first would help my case with Brigid.
In reality, I was absolutely petrified of seeing her and was just trying to put it off for as long as possible.
So I headed to Freddie’s place early in the morning, before he left for work. His face was a picture when he opened the door and saw me standing there.
“Bloody...” he gaped. And then he pulled me into a hug.
“I didn’t think we were the man hug type,” I joked, reciprocating all the same.
“I’ve been so worried about you, mate!” he said. “I mean, you lamped that bloke, and then you just vanished! None of us had any idea what had happened to you...”
“I just needed to get away,” I said simply.
And I think he understood.
He ushered me inside, and shut the front door behind me.
“I’m sorry,” he blurted out the moment we’d sat down. “Going out was a bad idea. Brigid told me off the moment she found out; she said it was really irresponsible...”
“No, it wasn’t,” I interrupted him. “You were the only person who knew I didn’t want to be shouted at. We were just unlucky, that was all. Don’t blame yourself for it.” I paused. “You’ve, er ... have you talked to Brigid much lately?”
“Course I have! We’ve both been worried sick about where you went! She feels really guilty, she’s blaming herself for what happened...”
“Bet she’s still angry with me, though,” I said gloomily.
He winced. “Little bit.”
“I need to see her next. Get things sorted out with her, and then get myself back on the team...”
“Just be honest with her.” He shrugged. “Apologise to her, but make sure she knows if you’re still upset with her about something.”
“You don’t need to beat about the bush, mate. Spit it out.”
He shifted uneasily in his seat.
“She told me what you’d yelled at her about. I ... I don’t think she realised that you were still upset about the whole Ingrid thing. And to be honest, neither did I.”
I’d known that was going to come up eventually. How could it not?
“Can you blame me, though?” I said quietly. “What she did was wrong. You know it was.”
He had a pained expression on his face. I knew the reason for it all too well.
“It’s not as though I’m the only one who still resents her for it,” I added.
“Yes, but I’ve moved on from it all-”
“But have you?” I prompted.
We’d never talked about it before, not properly. Freddie hadn’t wanted to, so I hadn’t wanted to push him. In fact, we’d never really talked about anything with each other before. It just wasn’t how our friendship worked. I tended to go to Teddy, and Freddie ... well, he’d always gone to Brigid, when we’d been back at school. Their friendship had always been different from the one I shared with either of them. They’d seemed to understand each other on another level. That was why it had become so clear, by our Sixth Year, that they’d get together one day. It was inevitable ... surely?
Ingrid had thrown a spanner into the works though. I’d started seeing her in Fourth Year, and Brigid had hated the idea from the start. At first she’d thought I was just pitying the Slytherin loner, cast aside because of her mother’s infamy. But then she realised it wasn’t just pity, and that was when she’d decided that it was all a ploy of Ingrid’s, to snag the eldest Potter boy.
Her dislike hadn’t been that strong at first. She’d made it clear to me she didn’t like the situation, but she’d tried her hardest to be cordial towards Ingrid; I guessed I should at least be grateful to her for that.
But then, in the spring of our Seventh Year, it all went wrong. She’d clearly been hoping it was just a teenage romance, and I’d eventually end it. But instead, Ingrid and I started talking about moving in together, and even looking at places.
To give Brigid a bit of credit, it wasn’t all her doing. Far from it. The media had played their part marvellously from the start, and Albus in particular had been just as disapproving. In fact, Ingrid’s biggest fan had possibly been Lily, who, frustratingly, had been hundreds of miles away from us throughout the whole sorry affair.
Brigid had snapped. Utterly paranoid about Ingrid’s motives, she’d taken me to task over the entire relationship.
And I’d crumbled. In this instance, my backbone abandoned me. And I ended it.
Unfortunately for all three of us though, Freddie’s backbone hadn’t abandoned him. He’d never had a problem with Ingrid, and Brigid’s disapproval had only endeared her to him more. He’d always felt anything that made me happy was a good thing for me.
Perhaps Brigid just tried looking out for me too much, perhaps she became too determined that she knew better than me, that I’d lost my way and she was my only voice of reason. Freddie, on the other hand, always chose to step back, to let me be happy or to make my own mistakes.
And when it all came to a head, he stepped forwards.
I remembered being thankful Ingrid wasn’t a Gryffindor, that she hadn’t had to sit in the common room and endure what was said. It had been a horrific argument, played out in front of the entire house. And I’d been a coward, unable to say anything, knowing what was going to happen but completely unable to put a stop to it.
They’d both said some awful things. Freddie had accused Brigid of being jealous of Ingrid’s looks. Unsurprisingly, she hadn’t taken too well to that. She’d accused him of wanting Ingrid for himself, which had gone down just as well.
And their imminent romance had been pulled to shreds before it had gotten off the ground.
The battle lines had been drawn that night. Albus and Rose sided with Brigid, Roxanne and Louis with Freddie. Lucy and Hugo had refused to get involved.
And so had I.
I still remembered Freddie’s look of betrayal when I’d refused to back him up. He’d just stood up for me, fought my corner, and yet I wasn’t standing in it with him. And Brigid had been furious with me too; she’d done this for my good, and I still couldn’t see that.
But I just couldn’t bring myself to pick a side. Freddie and Brigid had been all I’d ever known during my time at Hogwarts. We were being pulled to pieces, and I couldn’t bring myself to face it. It was as though I thought that if I pretended nothing had happened, it would all be okay in the end.
We’d never made up properly. Maybe that was the problem: why things had come to the surface again; why Brigid and Freddie still had their troubles.
Ironically, it was thanks to a Slytherin – Eoin Lynch, of all people – that we’d patched things up at all. He’d tried to make a move on Brigid after the last Quidditch match of the season. She’d refused – so he’d tried harder.
I’d been closer to them, but Freddie had run faster. As it was, we’d gotten there at the same time, and he pinned Lynch’s arms back while I punched him.
And it was as though nothing had happened between us. Nothing was said to anyone; we just went back to the way we used to be.
Except, we didn’t. Not really. We’d all been in the wrong; I could see that now. But none of us had admitted this. We all seemed to think we didn’t need to talk about what had happened, what had – and hadn’t – been said.
And because of that, I hadn’t realised how much I still resented Brigid for convincing me to let Ingrid go. It had been buried, only to come to the surface when things had gone wrong with Carlotta, the only girl since who’d rivalled Ingrid – who was better than Ingrid.
And I hadn’t realised how much that argument between Freddie and Brigid still lingered. Was that why he’d been holding back all this time?
Freddie was still looking agonised.
“I said some awful stuff to her, Jim.” His voice was almost a whisper.
“So did she,” I pointed out.
“But I started it. I got myself involved ... I just flipped, you know? She’s great, until she starts thinking she knows best, and then she becomes totally blind to anything else! And I was fed up, that she couldn’t see you were happy with Ingrid, that she seemed to think it was her business ... and she’s not learned! She’s still doing it, even now! And then when I’m not telling you I think something’s a bad idea, it’s not because I’ve decided to leave it up to you, it’s because I’m clearly irresponsible!” He waved his hands in the air in frustration. “Merlin, I ... I don’t know, Jim. But then, I love that about her at the same time; she cares so much about everyone else, and she really does want to help ... she just takes it too far! That’s why I always thought her being your agent was a bad idea.”
“You never said that before,” I frowned.
“It would hardly have gone down well with either of you, would it?” he pointed out. “Not right after we’d all started talking again. But...” He shook his head. “I dunno, man. I mean, her ugly side really came out that night. I know I can’t talk, because I was just as bad, but ... at the time, it really put me off.”
“At the time?”
“Well, you can’t completely quash it, can you? At the end of the day, no matter how hard you try-”
“So you do want to be with her still?” I said, ignoring the second part of what he said.
He shifted awkwardly in his seat.
“Well, that’s a tricky one...”
Then I processed his whole comment. No matter how hard you try...
“You – you don’t want to be with her?” I frowned.
He shrugged his shoulders in a would-be nonchalant manner.
“She’s not interested any more, so it doesn’t matter-”
“What do you mean, she’s not interested? Of course she is-”
“She’s off with Bagman now, isn’t she?”
“That was only one date,” I pointed out. “They’ve not really seen each other since.”
“But it was another guy. She’s obviously moved on-”
“No, she really hasn’t,” I said firmly.
I expected that to cheer him up, but if anything, he looked even more tortured.
“Look, I ... I just can’t,” he said finally.
“What do you mean, you can’t? She’s still our Brie, the same girl she always was, what’s changed?”
“Who says anything’s changed?” he said dully. “Look, it’s just ... I can’t, James. I just can’t.”
Mum sidetracked my visit to Brigid by showing up just as I was about to leave my flat.
“I wanted to talk to you without your father around,” she said, taking a seat at my kitchen table.
“Okay...” I was slightly confused.
“Listen, he won’t tell you this. Not properly, anyway. He might hint at it, but he won’t explain himself fully. And ... I think somebody needs to, just to make sure you understand.”
“Why he was so aloof all the time.” She smiled sadly. “I told you, didn’t I? I always said, you two needed to just talk to one another, then you could iron out this misunderstanding before it got too big...”
She reached out and took my hand in hers.
“You two were so close, once.”
I nodded, thinking once more about those days before I’d gone to Hogwarts.
“And then you sort of ... withdrew. Became more distant. I see why, now. You resented his fame. But at the time, he thought you hated him. He thought you didn’t want anything to do with him any more. And ... well, you know what your dad’s like; he’s not the best at that kind of thing. He thought he’d just leave you to it, that you wouldn’t want him bothering you. And I guess that’s where you got the idea that he didn’t approve of you from. He did, he does, he always has done, he just thought you didn’t want him.”
I stared at her, taken-aback.
“But ... it’s not ... it was never...” I shook my head slowly. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Because I didn’t know! I was in the same position as him, I just thought you were going through a phase where you thought it was uncool to like your parents or something! When he’d say he thought you didn’t like him, I’d tell him he was being silly. But then you started to think that he didn’t like you, which you had good reason to think because he’d withdrawn from you, but you’d gotten the wrong end of the stick about that! I didn’t know whether he’d been right all along, or whether it was his withdrawal that caused you to feel like you did. That was why I kept saying you needed to talk, to work it out for yourselves.” She sighed. “I should have tried harder. You’re men, you’re never going to actually talk about feelings. But I didn’t want to interfere...”
I squeezed her hands tightly.
“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s not your fault. You’re right; we needed to sort it out ourselves. And ... maybe it’s a good thing. Maybe I needed this kick up the backside...”
“I think we all did.” She smiled wryly.
I nodded in agreement.
“How ... how are things, anyway?” I asked her awkwardly. “With work, and...”
“I’ve gone freelance,” she said. “Probably the best thing for me. It’s going to work out fairly well, I think. Quidditch Weekly will take a lot of my stuff, and it will be nice to have the chance to raise the standard of stuff in The Quibbler; I’m going to write a weekly column for them about Quidditch. I think Which Broomstick? are even interested in getting me to write stuff for them, but I’d have to rub up on my broomstick knowledge first, obviously. It’ll be nice to be able to write what I want, when I want, though.”
“So ... so you’re not mad at me?”
“Mad?” She laughed slightly. “Oh, James, how could I be? The Prophet is still a poisonous place to be at. Losing my job was probably the best thing that could happen to me. I didn’t need them, at the end of the day. People didn’t talk to me because I was a Prophet reporter, they talked to me because they respected me. I’ve not lost anything from not being affiliated with them any more. It’s given your aunt a new mission, though.”
“Which one?” I asked, though I had a funny feeling I knew already.
“Hermione, of course. She’s working with your dad on a new bill about press regulation. It’s about time if you ask me; the Prophet was strangled somewhat after the war but lately it’s been allowed to get too big for its boots, and it needs taking down a peg or two. See why I’m glad to have gotten away scot-free?”
“So ... this is good, then?”
“It’s very good, darling. Besides, I kind of always wanted to go freelance. I don’t even have to write about Quidditch any more! I could write about anything I wanted...”
“What, like cauldron thickness?” I snorted.
“I said I could, not that I wanted to,” she pointed out.
I grinned; her enthusiasm was infectious. I was relieved that my idiotic actions hadn’t caused her any harm in the end.
“And Dad? He’s jumped a few hoops for me...”
“Nobody seems too angry, dear. After all, most people in the Ministry have used their position to their advantage one time or another. It’s only natural. And people understand it wasn’t for his own means, that he was doing it as a father. He gets a bit of respect on that front; whether he should or not is another matter.”
“What, so people don’t mind that I beat someone up and got away with it?” I scoffed.
“Well, some people were annoyed, but what do they matter? I bet they’ve all sinned before,” she added darkly.
Her comment reminded me of what Ingrid had said to me in the pub. Whose opinions in this world truly matter to you?
Maybe she was right after all.
“And Lily?” I turned my attention to my overworked sister. “How have her exams been? I can’t have helped that...”
She winced slightly.
“Possibly not,” she conceded. “But you know Lily; she has the most remarkable ability to shut everything out if she needs to. I think she’ll have done just fine. I can’t wait for them to be over, though. The girl’s worked herself to the bone for years now.”
I nodded in agreement.
“It’ll be worth it though, if she gets the job,” I said. “The Muggle Liaison one. She really wants it.”
“And she’d be superb at it,” Mum added. “Fingers crossed.”
“Fingers crossed,” I agreed.
Right now, I had my fingers crossed for me. Hoping I’d actually survive this encounter.
Not that I thought there was much chance of that. I’d learned very early on in my life never to anger an Irish woman. There was a reason for that.
I took a deep breath, and knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” a voice called.
My heart sank. I wasn’t even going to get through the bloody door.
“James,” I said nervously.
There was a pregnant pause.
“What,” she said slowly, “are you doing here?”
“I’ve come to apologise. Will you let me in?”
I sighed and rested my head against the door.
“Look Brie, I was an idiot. I was horrible. I said some terrible things, which you didn’t deserve to hear. And I’m sorry, I’m so sorry...”
“I hated what you said about me and Ingrid, you know. I said it was okay in the end, but ... it wasn’t. It really wasn’t.”
I hadn’t planned on saying this at all; I’d just planned on saying sorry, and getting back into her good books. But it just came out. Perhaps it was for the best though; perhaps I needed to make it clear how I felt, if I wanted to save our friendship.
“You didn’t understand her. You didn’t try to. You were just determined you were right, and that I was an idiot for not listening to you. But you were wrong, Brie, you were wrong on this one. And ... I hated what you did. I still do. I never forgot it, I was never okay with it. I ...” I closed my eyes, swallowing. “I guess I never stopped being mad at you for it.”
I didn’t know whether she’d even heard what I’d said, whether I’d been talking to her or thin air. But then I heard the lock turn, and I stood upright just as she pulled the door open.
She stared at me for a moment, her expression a mixture of bemusement and remorse. It was a while before she spoke.
“I just wanted what was best for you...”
And that was the hardest bit of it all.
“I know.” I rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly. “But ... you didn’t know what was best for me, not properly. You thought you knew, and you wouldn’t listen to anyone who told you differently. You wouldn’t even listen to Freddie-”
“He just couldn’t be bothered getting involved, as usual-”
“No,” I said firmly. “He gets involved in his own way. He lets me do what I think is right, because he knows that I have to make my own mistakes. You try to stop me making them in the first place. But it doesn’t work like that, does it?”
She closed her eyes, looking tortured. I stepped over the threshold, shut the door behind me and pulled her into my arms, holding her tightly.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured. “I said some horrible, horrible things and you didn’t deserve any of them. I was just angry about the media, and then Carlotta got angry with me, and I started thinking about Ingrid again and I got angry with you as well, and you know how I get when I’m angry...”
She let out a small, muffled laugh, and hugged me back.
“I let you down...” she whispered.
My heart sank.
“No, you didn’t!” I protested. “You really didn’t! If anything, you were trying to look after me too much, and you shouldn’t feel bad about that.”
“You should have said...”
And that was the crux of the matter. Because we hadn’t; none of us had said a thing. We’d all just assumed, and that was what had gotten us into this situation.
“Promise me,” she said now, tilting her head to look up at me, “that if you ever have an issue with anything, you’ll let me know?”
She beamed, standing on tiptoes and planting a kiss on my forehead.
“Love you, Jimmy,” she said fondly, ruffling my hair.
“Love you too, Brie.” I hugged her tightly again, feeling a surge of gratitude towards the girl who’d looked after me for pretty much ten years without so much as a word of complaint.
“I didn’t mean it when I said you were a bad agent,” I mumbled into her hair.
“I know. And I didn’t mean to get angry with you, either.”
“I’ve fucked it all up.”
“No, you haven’t. It’s all still fixable, don’t worry.”
“I don’t see how,” I said morosely.
She pulled away, and took my hand in hers to lead me into the living room, where we sat down in front of her coffee table. She grabbed a quill and some parchment, and began writing as she spoke.
“Okay, first of all, you need to put out a public apology for your actions, particularly stressing your extreme remorse for how you treated the photographer.”
“But he’s a dick,” I protested.
She stopped writing and looked up at me, raising an eyebrow.
“James,” she said flatly, “you punched him. He may be a dick, and there may be a lot of people privately congratulating you for it, but you still need to apologise for it. It’s a criminal offence, remember, and you’re damn lucky you got off scot-free. So, you’re sorry for that...” She continued writing, “and also for any other harm your actions may have caused. You also apologise to your Falcons teammates and promise to do everything you can to rectify things. You’re extremely regretful that you’ve lost your place in the England squad but fully agree with the actions Demelza was forced to take, and will seek help accordingly-”
“Help? I don’t need help-”
She looked at me again, a sad expression on her face.
“James, this happened for a reason. You clearly have issues with alcohol that you need to sort out-”
“Alcohol? This has nothing to do with alcohol at all; I was sober for half of it! I was just angry-”
“Well then, you have anger issues which need sorting out,” she said.
“Well no, I don’t, because I don’t get angry at everything, do I? You know me, I’m a laidback kind of guy! It was just this one thing, that’s all; just the media messing things up for me. I hate all that attention...”
She gave me a peculiar look, before turning back to what she’d written.
“Either way, we still need to say that you’re making amends,” she said. She read through it quickly, before handing it to me. “This okay?”
I skimmed through what she’d written, immensely impressed that she’d managed to come up with it on the spot. I couldn’t believe that I could ever have suggested she wasn’t good at her job – even if I was angry at the time.
“That’s perfect,” I said, handing it back to her.
“I’ll release that once we’re done, then,” she said. “Next, you need to get yourself back in the Falcons squad. You were only suspended until further notice, so you’ll just need to meet with management and get them to reinstate you. It shouldn’t be too hard; Mum likes you and really didn’t want to have to suspend you in the first place. It’s obvious you’re better than you were, so it shouldn’t be much of a task.”
“You say that as though she won’t be angry with me,” I said tentatively.
“I don’t know how she’ll react,” Brigid said frankly. “You might have to grovel a bit. But she’ll put you back in the squad. Whether you play for the rest of the season is a different matter. The World Cup might play into your favour here, because she’ll have to rest all the internationals for at least one of the last three matches. Obviously they won’t all have to be rested in the same match, and Stefan and Klaus alternate anyway which solves that problem. But she’s going to want to play her strongest Chasers, especially against the Bats. I know for a fact she’d rather play you than Laura or Julia. Whether you’d oust Roxanne if Ryan and Della both play is another story, though. She’s been fantastic, these past few matches.”
I nodded in agreement, feeling a slight twinge in my stomach. Of course I was pleased my cousin was doing well, but it was a bit of a kick in the teeth that it was at my expense. I reminded myself that this was all self-inflicted; that I deserved what I was getting.
“And ... what about England?” I asked tentatively. I knew my ship had probably sailed, but there was still a small part of me that hoped, prayed, there was a chance getting back into the squad...
Brigid looked wretched.
“Oh, James...” she said. “I think you should just concentrate on getting yourself reintegrated with the Falcons, for now.”
I understood what she meant. I didn’t have a chance of getting back into the England squad. My heart sank.
“Demelza’s hands are tied,” she continued. “She had no choice but to drop you once Mum had suspended you. Her squad is full; she can’t just put you back in because you’ve screwed your head back on. She can only replace someone in the event of injury or ... well, a case like yours.”
“So, she’s replaced me? Who with?” I asked, though I had a horrible suspicion I already knew.
“Mum will be in training now, but I can catch her as soon as they’ve finished if you want-”
“In training now? But isn’t this one of the weeks off?” I frowned.
“It is, but she’s called them in anyway. She wants them to keep their eye on the ball, seeing as we’re – they’re – top of the table, and they’ll have to adapt to missing players in the last few matches of the season.”
I smiled slightly, at her futile attempts to remain impartial. No matter how hard she tried, she never succeeded in hiding the fact she was an avid Falcons supporter.
“I’ll arrange for you to see her tomorrow afternoon, does that sound good?”
My facial expression must have betrayed my feelings on meeting up with Sinead, because she let out a laugh.
“Don’t worry, James, it’ll be fine! She’ll be more than happy to put you back in the squad! Look, I’ll go with you if you want, for moral support. But you really have nothing to worry about.”
I wasn’t overly reassured. It was wonderful to think I might be able to mend my Quidditch career, that I might not have completely thrown it away. But the fact that my one hurdle was the fair but strict Sinead Murphy had me a bit concerned.
“Tomorrow sounds fine.” I nodded in agreement.
After all, I had no other choice.