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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 38: thirty-eight
“I hear Minerva McGonagall’s struggling to find a new flying teacher,” Mum said conversationally while cooking breakfast next day. It was a Saturday morning, of course, and she’d turned up as though the last five weeks hadn’t even happened.
“She’s still not filled the vacancy?” I raised my head sharply.
“How did you know there was one?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
She smiled wryly.
“Neville told your dad,” she said. “Your turn.”
“She asked me if I knew of any players who might want it.”
I shrugged. “Nobody’s interested. Trouble is, any players who might be considering retirement – like Julia or Laura – would be doing so to spend more time with their families. And a job at Hogwarts is hardly conducive to a family lifestyle, is it?”
“Neville manages,” she pointed out.
“Yes, well they’re hardly normal, are they?”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” I said. “I just meant, they’ve lived in the Leaky Cauldron for years. Living above a pub is hardly a regular occurrence, is it? Alice and Francesca probably barely noticed Neville wasn’t around, what with living in the gateway to Diagon Alley. And he’s home over the summers, and at weekends, and now Alice and Frankie are at Hogwarts it makes things more normal – except that their Dad teaches them Herbology, obviously. And ... he’s always done that, you know? If he were to change jobs, he’d probably pick one which lets him spend more time at home. It’s exactly the same for players – if they want to retire, it’s because they want to spend more time with their kids, so they’re not going to want a teaching job at Hogwarts. Not straight away, anyway. Maybe someone whose family are grown up...” I mused.
“The trouble is, it’s generally hard to find people who want to teach at the school, because it is a time-consuming career even if you don’t live at the castle – it’s not required for teachers to even live in...”
“Yes, but practically they kind of have to, don’t they?” I said. “I mean, all the pupils live there; you need some teachers to live in, and if too many decide to live at home then it won’t work as a boarding school.”
“True,” she conceded. “But if anything, that makes the situation more delicate. The best options are people without many commitments. Which means people who’ve just left school and don’t have a family of their own yet, or older people – like you said – whose families are independent. But older people are less likely to want a change in career so late, and especially not to become a flying teacher.”
“It’s funny; I never realised before how hard it was to fill a teaching post...”
“Well, that’s because nobody’s had to fill the flying one before in your lifetime,” she pointed out. “For academics, teaching is as respected a profession as researching or writing. But when it comes to Quidditch, the best players just want to play; you guys aren’t interested in teaching. The best coaches will go into professional coaching, because there’s far more respect in that field than at a school. And the best referees will become professionals because of the money involved in it.”
Quidditch refereeing was probably up there with dragon breeding as one of the most dangerous jobs in the wizarding world. As a result, the wages were huge in order to tempt people into it.
“People don’t want to teach at Hogwarts when they’re young; it’s nowhere near as glamorous a job. And, evidently, there’s a lack of older people, who’ve done all that already or are otherwise suitably qualified, that want the job.”
“It’s a shame,” I said. “I mean, surely teaching ought to be the most important aspect of Quidditch? If younger people don’t learn to play, and develop an interest in it, how are we going to keep the game alive? That’s where it all starts. All of us players plied our trade at school originally; without that we couldn’t possibly be the players we are now. Hogwarts students are the future of the game; it’s vital they have someone to nurture their talent.”
Mum smiled slightly.
“Perhaps you should head Minerva’s campaign. You make it sound like a most admirable profession.”
“Well, it is,” I said, slightly put-out by her mocking tone.
“Oh, no, you misunderstand me,” she said hurriedly. “Don’t get me wrong, I completely agree with you! Your passion for the game is second-to-none.”
An odd smile teased at the corners of her mouth.
“Freddie would be a good shout for it,” I said suddenly, as the thought dawned on me. “He was on the Quidditch team for years, and he’s good at tactics too. He’s only working in the shop because it’s convenient...”
“He’d either take to the extra responsibility very well, or he’d be utterly terrible,” she summed up. “And I don’t think Minerva would take that risk. It’s a shame though, because I think he has some of the right traits.”
“Brigid?” I mused.
“Doesn’t have the patience to teach. I can’t envisage her showing First Years how to fly, somehow.”
Neither could I, to be fair.
“Hey, how about you?” A cheeky smile spread across my face. “You’re fresh out of a job...”
She threw the tea towel at me.
“Actually,” she then admitted, “I’ve told Minerva that if she doesn’t find anyone to take the job by September, and Madam Hooch stays for another year, I’ll take it on from next September.”
“Really?” My eyes widened. I’d only mentioned her as a joke – I couldn’t see her teaching any more than I could Brigid.
“I thought I’d do her a favour. It’s not something I’d consider ordinarily, but it’s getting to be a desperate situation. I initially said I’d do it for a couple of years, but if I take it up, I can’t leave it unless I have a replacement, especially when I’m only in my mid-forties. You know who the obvious option would be to take the job, of course?”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a stand out candidate. Someone who has all the qualities required, and more. Someone who’d love teaching young people, and who’d be revered by them. Come on, James, it’s right underneath your nose...”
And then it dawned on me.
“He always was good at teaching,” Mum said, and I knew that she was referring to their illegal study group, the DA. “Minerva knows all about that, of course. He’s still a fantastic flyer, and he knows all the laws of the game; he’d be a perfectly adept referee. I think Minerva’s secretly hoping he’ll take it, but you know him; he won’t leave the MLE unless he thinks his job there is done, and he comes up with new reforms and projects every week.”
“Have you told him you’re the back-up?”
“That’s one way of putting it.”She smiled wryly. “Yes, I’ve told him. When I got the boot from the Prophet I was seriously considering the job unconditionally, but then I talked to Percy about going freelance, and-”
She shrugged. “He and Audrey came round for lunch. He spoke a lot of sense, actually; he said he thought teaching was a fine career path – of course, you know what he’s like – but that I should do what I want to do, not what I feel obliged to do. I love writing about Quidditch, but I don’t know that I’d want to teach it or referee it. I gave up the practical side of things a long time ago. I don’t want the job, I’d much prefer to remain as I am. But ... the post has to be filled somehow. So I would do it, but only if it were completely necessary.”
“Would Dad do it on that basis?” I suggested. “If nobody else was available, and you decided not to, would he take the job?”
“I wouldn’t let him,” she said flatly. “I know how much his job means to him; how important it is for him to do what he can to keep the Ministry a clean, uncorrupted place. If it came down to me or him, it would have to be me, because I wouldn’t let it be him.”
There was something utterly wonderful about Mum’s boldly-declared self-sacrifice. I knew she and Dad had always been loyal towards each other, but her willingness to give up her job so he could keep his just served to underline how much she loved him. It was something I’d probably never tire of – at least so long as I wasn’t subjected to their demonstrations of affection. I’d grown up in a large, loving family; it was because of that love they’d welcomed me back into their arms so quickly. It was reassuring to know they were a constant in my life; that that love would always be there.
“You know,” I said, “sometimes I wonder if maybe Hogwarts should expand on the job of the flying teacher. I mean, I knew what Quidditch was when I got there, but Muggleborns don’t. And for anyone who can’t fly or lacks confidence, a couple of flying lessons at the beginning of First Year isn’t going to be enough, is it? Why don’t they become a permanent thing, for all years? Like, first you tackle the flying for those who can’t, then teach the basics of Quidditch, then you can get onto position-specific skills and tactics and things, even hold practice matches. It would give people who want to play much more opportunity to practice, so they feel more confident about trying out. It just seems like such a waste, having a flying teacher with the ability to referee matches, and yet having so little playing time for anybody who’s not on the teams.”
Mum looked thoughtful.
“You know, that’s actually a really good idea,” she said. “You should mention it to Minerva. You’re right; they have the resources to do so much more than they do, Quidditch wise. And how many House players are Muggleborns? Not many, I’d wager. If course, your father was put on the team before he knew what the sport was! But then, he was always a special case, wasn’t he? Don’t tell him I said that,” she added, “he doesn’t need an ego boost. But that’s a very good idea of yours; in fact, I might adopt it myself, if I do take on the job.”
“I really do think you’d be good at it.”
I paused, pondering something. The thought process had been triggered by Mum’s reference to her own retirement. Her career had been an odd one, that was for sure; she’d been good enough to play for England, but had refused the offer, which wasn’t widely known. Sinead Moran may have been my own inspiration, but that was because Mum was my mother and that somehow prevented me from seeing her as a player. She was just my mum, who’d once played Quidditch and now wrote about it.
But she’d been good. Really good. She hadn’t been my own inspiration, but she’d certainly been that of many other players, Roxanne and Della among them. Like me, she’d done something she absolutely loved for a living. And yet, she’d retired after seven years. I was only in my third full season, and it felt like I’d barely scratched the surface. For one thing, I wasn’t going to make this World Cup but there was always the next one, in four years’ time, to work towards. And even then I’d only be twenty-five. I could get at least ten more years of playing in on top of that. Sinead had retired at thirty-eight! Tamsin Robins was that age, and was still playing international Quidditch, her form was that good.
So why had Mum retired so early?
Oddly enough, it was something I’d never wondered before, despite being fully aware of the fact that her playing career had been a mere third of that achieved by many other players. But it hadn’t seemed quite so incredulous before I’d had a taste of professional Quidditch myself. Now that I had, I didn’t understand why anyone would give it up.
So I took a deep breath.
And I asked.
“Why did you give it all up? You were playing Quidditch for the Harpies; why retire when you did?”
She gave me a curious look.
“That was me choosing not to give it up,” she said cryptically.
“What do you think I gave up, James?” She smiled. “I had seven years of Quidditch – well, a bit less than that, given that I had time out when I was pregnant with you and Albus. I enjoyed every moment of it. When I left school, your father and I still weren’t totally sure what we were doing, and I had the offer, so ... I took it. But then we got married, and had two beautiful boys...
“I’ve loved your father since I was eleven years old and he saved me from a memory kept in a diary. Since then, that’s what I’ve always wanted; to be with him, for us to be happy together, without the threat of death hanging over us. I finally had that, and I didn’t want to let it go. It got to the point where I just lost that drive to play. I wanted to spend my time with him, and you two, instead. So, yes, I retired. I didn’t want to juggle my family and my career any longer, so I chose my family. I love Quidditch, and I always will. I love writing about it. But I couldn’t play it any more if it kept me from my husband.”
She looked at me perceptively.
“You might understand that, one day,” she said.
I smiled slightly.
“I’ve hardly grown up in fear of my life,” I said, trying to sidetrack the topic.
“True,” she acknowledged. “Very true. You have no idea how much I envy you for that, sometimes...”
“But if you hadn’t been born when you were, and if Voldemort hadn’t come back, then you might not have gotten with Dad,” I pointed out.
“True,” she said again. “But then, I might still have six brothers. Swings and roundabouts. Anyway, stop trying to change the subject. I’d like to think I know you fairly well, given that I’m your mother. Well enough to realise that you put the barriers up when you left school. And you weren’t going to take them down for just anyone...”
She looked at me perceptively.
“I don’t think you took them down purposefully,” she continued. “I think that because she’s a Muggle, you didn’t have your subconscious telling you that she must only like you because of your father. And I think that meant you could be more relaxed, more off-guard ... and more attached to her.”
Of course. The conversation was going to come round to Carlotta sooner or later. Near enough everything else had been rectified; all that was left was her.
The only trouble was I didn’t know what to do. I’d apologised to her for not being honest, but she’d barely seemed to care about that any more. She’d just brushed it off, as though she didn’t mind my dishonesty.
But then she’d backed off.
I knew what Mum’s question would be. Was I going to fight for her?
But that wasn’t my question to myself. No, my question to myself was whether I wanted to fight for her. Because fighting for her meant I wanted more than just the little fling this had started off as.
Mum was right, of course, just as everybody else had been. It hadn’t been ‘just a fling’ for very long. In fact, the moment she’d seen that photo of Lily and Brigid, discovered Cordelia, realised I could materialise out of thin air ... that was the moment it all changed. My refusal to have her Obliviated meant that there had been no way back for us, and the more I’d let her into my life, the more attached I’d become.
But maybe it had actually started before I’d broken the Statute. After all, I’d chosen not to have her Obliviated in the first place ... somehow I didn’t think I’d have objected quite so much if she’d been more like Cassie Lynch.
I’d let myself care about her. That had been the problem. And she’d made it easy, too. After all, she’d cooked a load of dinners for me after only our second night together. Aunt Hermione always said the way to Uncle Ron’s heart was through his stomach (though given her lack of cooking expertise, I wasn’t entirely sure how this worked out for them), and I could see how that could be true of other men.
There was no reason I shouldn’t want anything more from this ... whatever it was with Carlotta. It wasn’t that I was relationship-phobic; I just didn’t want to be used. That had been the initial attraction with her.
But now it was about far more than just that.
I wanted to fight. I was going to fight.
I just didn’t know how.
“You’re lucky I’m fast with my wand,” Rose said sternly.
“I know,” I said glumly. Often I’d found myself cursing her quick handiwork. Now, I had to admit to myself it had saved me a lot of added worry and hassle. “I never meant to hurt you, though,” I added. “You know that, right? And if I’d been myself, I’d never have considered throwing a paperweight at you...”
She smiled slightly.
“I know,” she said. “Don’t worry, James, it’s all okay now. Though I will hold it over your head as much as possible, purely because I can.”
“I hope you mean that in a figurative sense.”
“Don’t count on it,” she said severely, though her eyes were dancing mischievously.
“How was the big dinner with the parents?” I asked. A cheeky grin spread across my face.
“It went alright,” she said brightly. “Wouldn’t you say, Scorp?”
She turned to look at him, as he pulled a face.
“Alright is over-exaggerating slightly...”
“Oh, it wasn’t that bad...”
One of the bigger bits of news I’d missed while I’d been drowning my sorrows in the Hog’s Head was that Rose and Scorpius had made their relationship official – and had told Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione. From what Albus had told me, they could have taken the news better.
“I’m sure it went as well as the reverse situation would,” I chipped in. “In fact, how have your parents taken it, Malfoy?”
I may have been okay with Rose fooling around with him; indeed, I may even have stuck up for him to Al. But we’d always been on surname terms and that wasn’t going to change overnight.
He shifted slightly in his seat.
“They seemed ... okay with it.”
“I don’t think I’ll be invited round there any time soon,” Rose said light-heartedly.
“Don’t say that,” Scorpius frowned, “it’s not that bad-”
“Scorp, our parents have a lot of history between them. They’re hardly going to change their opinions about each other overnight, are they? They’ll come round, in time. When they realise we’re happy together. And when they remember we’re our own people, not carbon copies of them,” she added darkly.
It seemed to be a popular sentiment amongst my generation.