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Chapter 39: thirty-nine
My first day back at training was awful. It was as though I was starting the season all over again. I hadn’t even flown for six weeks; that was the longest period I could remember not being on a broom. Even our winter break, which should have been two months, had been broken up by our exhibition match against the Heidelberg Harriers.
Of course, once you’ve learned how to fly a broom you never forgot, so there was no rustiness there at all. But my fitness levels had dropped, and my general Chaser play was rusty. It took the whole of my first day before I was back to a level anywhere near that expected of a first choice player.
Training with so few other people was peculiar. It was a situation I hadn’t come across before. It certainly felt odd not having Ryan and Della around – it was a lot quieter without Della, for one thing.
I’d still seen them, though. In fact, I’d been visited by all six of our international players at various points during the weekend. Della, Klaus and Stefan hadn’t been able to stay long, as they’d travelled via international Portkeys from Germany and Bulgaria respectively, and couldn’t miss their return trips. Ryan, Cato and Cleo, who were all in Apparating range, had been able to stay longer. As their visits had accidentally coincided, the four of us had been able to have a long chat – though regrettably no alcohol was involved as it was now a banned substance for us all.
It had been nice to see them all, though. Cato and Cleo had seemed a little awkward at first until I realised they weren’t sure how to act around me following my release from the England squad. Once I’d reassured them that really, I was okay with it all, they loosened up a bit.
Was I really okay? Well, I’d finally come to terms with the notion that I wasn’t going to play for England in this World Cup, which was a start, at least. It had taken a while to completely sink in. I’d thought, when I was grovelling for my Falcons place back, that I’d already understood my England chance had gone, but there had undoubtedly been a not-so-small part of me that refused to believe it was over, still thought that if Demelza Robins saw I was back playing for the Falcons, she might change her mind...
She wouldn’t. She couldn’t. Not for the World Cup, at any rate. I might have a chance at the friendlies in the winter; she could re-jig her squad once the tournament was over. Until then, I’d just have to sit on the sidelines and watch.
It had been during my first training session with the Falcons, while I’d been practicing a Chaser play with Roxanne and Laura, that it really sank in. I was only there because England didn’t want me. I’d been dropped. Rejected. And it had all been self-inflicted.
But I had a job to do. We had a trophy to win. I’d let my teammates down once, and I couldn’t do it again. So I refused to let myself wallow in self-pity, and instead threw myself fully into training, in the hope that if I worked hard enough, perhaps I could begin to redeem myself, and make up for what I’d done.
Freddie visited at the end of the week. He brought some Firewhisky with him – “Come on, Jim, you can have just the one bottle! You don’t have a game for another week!” – but I refused to drink with him, instead sticking to pumpkin juice. I may have ignored Sinead’s orders about drinking many times before, but this time round I wasn’t going to do anything that might jeopardise my career. There were only so many chances she’d be prepared to give me.
The conversation started off fairly light-hearted, like most of my conversations with Freddie. He chatted about the latest shop merchandise, about Louis’ latest misdeeds, and about Grandpa Arthur’s reaction to our Rosie dating a Malfoy.
Then the subject topic soon grew more serious.
“Brigid’s going on a date with O’Hare,” he said sourly, taking an overly-large swig of Firewhisky.
“Aiden O’Hare?” I frowned, thinking of the Kestrels Keeper. “What is it with her and dating her clients?” I mused.
“He’s an idiot,” Freddie said irritably.
I shrugged. “Seems alright to me.”
“You would say that. She can do better than him, though...” He shook his head, and stared morosely at the fireplace.
I was itching to say something to him, to tell him to just get on with it and talk to her about whatever it was that was holding him back. Had he still not resolved the argument they’d had all those years ago?
He emptied the bottle, and set it down heavily on the coffee table. To hell with it.
“Bloody hell, Freddie, just stop moaning and do something about it if it bothers you!”
He jumped, clearly taken aback by the sharp tone of my voice.
“I’ve had to reassure her for years now, tell her that of course you’re interested, you’re just too nervous to do anything about it. I’ve given you every chance to get with her, I’ve never spoken ill of you to her, and what have you done about it? Nothing! So you argued with her, big deal! She’s over that, Freddie, she just wants to be with you, and every time you get with someone else it breaks her heart! These dates with other people, it’s her way of trying to get over you, because she thinks you don’t care. If you really care as much as you make out that you do, then why don’t you bloody do anything about it?”
“Because I can’t love her in the way that she deserves!”
His reply had me dumbstruck. I stared at him for a moment, lost for words. He said nothing more, clearly not wanting to elaborate, so it was down to me to break the silence, once I’d found my voice.
“Why on earth would you think that?”
“Because ... look at my parents, James. They didn’t marry out of love; they married out of grief. They mourned the death of Uncle Fred alone for years, and then figured that they could at least mourn him together; that way it wouldn’t be so lonely. But it’s nothing more; it never has been and it never will be. They don’t love each other! They’re business partners. They’re friends. But they’re not lovers. And the worst bit is, they’re still not over Fred’s death yet. It’s like being around each other just prolongs it, keeps him at the forefront of their minds. They don’t sleep in the same room; it’s been that way for almost as long as I remember, at least for as long as I’ve known that it’s odd for parents to have separate bedrooms. They hardly interact with each other at all, there’s just no attraction there! I mean, look at your parents-”
“I try not to.” I was unable to prevent the dry retort that came from my mouth, and winced, hoping he wouldn’t think I was disregarding what he was saying.
In reality, his admissions stunned me. He’d never so much as suggested this kind of insecurity before, and I’d certainly never noticed anything to suggest he was worried about anything like that.
“But they love each other, you can see it all the time! Even when they’re not being overly showy with it, it’s still there; a smile, or a look, or a gentle touch to the arm – it’s there all the time! They’re happy together! My parents ... it’s nothing like that. And that’s what I've grown up with! How can I possibly love someone when my parents aren’t in love with each other? Aren't in love with anyone?”
I said nothing for a moment, as I just tried to gather my thoughts. I doubted I was the best person to give anybody advice about love, but this involved my best friends, and I owed them the best advice I could possibly give.
“They still love you, though,” I said finally. “And Roxanne. And it’s not like they don’t like each other; they’re hardly unhappy...”
“But they’re not living a happy life, either!” he protested. “And besides, love for a child is different to love for a partner-”
“Is it, though?” I pressed. “In this context? They love you, Freddo; why shouldn’t you be able to love someone? In fact, I think you already do love her-”
“But that’s the point!” he said, his eyes wide. “I don't know if it’s love or not! And if it is, how do I treat her right? I just ... I dunno, Jim, I don't think I’m cut out for this. She ... she could do so much better-”
“I don’t believe that for a start,” I said flatly, “and I don't think she does either. She wants you, even if you have tried your hardest to convince her differently. Just try it, Freddie! At least tell her what you’re thinking! You owe her that much, at least.”
He fell into the couch behind him, and ran his hands through his unruly hair. He looked utterly tortured. And at that point, inexplicably, I was reminded of something my Nana Molly had told me when I was younger, when Mum had gotten upset over something to do with a diary. At the time, I hadn’t known the full story about Mum and Dad’s past. Now, of course, I knew everything.
“Wars scar people, James,” Nana Molly had said. “The thing with scars is that while the wound may heal, the mark remains. It never truly leaves us.”
At the time the remark had made sense – but I’d thought it only applied to those who’d lived through the war. Now I saw that that wasn’t the case at all. Uncle Fred’s death had left Freddie just as scarred as his parents were. The fight against Voldemort had managed to leave its mark on people who hadn’t even existed at the time.
“Look, Freddie,” I said gently, well aware of the irony of what I was about to say, “you’re not your parents. You’re you. You can love, of course you can! You just need to let go of whatever’s holding you back...”
I knew I’d grown up in my parents’ shadows; that I’d felt pressured by things they’d done before I was born, things I couldn’t have had any influence over. But I hadn't realised that Freddie, and Rose as well – perhaps our whole generation – had suffered the same.
Dad’s own generation, and many more older than that, had been through so much – torture, coercion, grief – but as a family, the Weasleys had possibly been through more than any other. We were abnormal; it had always been a joke of ours at family dinners, but we’d meant it in reference to the Veela blood, the werewolf tendencies, the Metamorpmagus gene, the prophecies and being a bunch of gingers. I hadn’t realised just how abnormal we were. Just how much the war had screwed things up.
I remembered Lily telling me once about the Muggle phrase the ‘lost generation’. The Muggles had had their own wars, and the phrase had referred to the people who came of age during them. In that context, my parents were part of a lost generation too; a generation of people who’d grown up and become adults under the darkest cloud of them all.
We’d always been referred to as the ‘golden generation’. Born well after the war was over and its antagonists dealt with, we were born at a happy time, brought into a world at peace, with so much potential and promise and so little to worry about. But in reality, we were just as marred by the war. We had scars too, scars we couldn’t even begin to heal, because they weren’t inflicted on us; they were inherited. And if we didn’t understand where they’d come from, how could we deal with them?
We weren’t the golden generation at all. We were more like the fucked up generation. The true lost generation. The generation who’d been born lost, and didn’t know how to find themselves.
“Just,” I began, “just tell her how you feel, mate. She ... she’ll understand. And you owe her that much, at least. If ... if you care enough about her, then you’ll tell her.”
It was all I could do.
On Sunday, we all gathered at the Burrow for lunch. It was something we didn’t do often, but Nana Molly had insisted on it to celebrate my recovery. I wasn’t sure I deserved to have a lunch party thrown in my honour, but I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint my grandmother, especially not when she delighted in any excuse to get the whole family together.
It was nice, to be able to see them all again. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed them – in particular little Dora, whose hair today was vivid pink. Teddy had been disgusted until Dad had told him that his mother used to wear her hair the same colour.
There it was, yet another reminder of what this family had been through. Teddy had never known his parents; they’d been killed before he was old enough to even remember them. I looked around the living room, at the various people collected there. Victoire ... daughter of a part Veela and a man with werewolf tendencies. It was little wonder she’d married Teddy in the end; she’d grown up with him, she knew he didn’t give a damn about that. Not like the people at Hogwarts ... she’d always thought they’d judged her. So had Dominique and Louis, which was most likely the reason for Louis’ outlook on life – he found it easier than having to actually admit to who he was. Just like me, I thought to myself.
Then there was Roxanne. Did she have the same hang-up as Freddie? Was she worried that because her parents didn’t love each other, she in turn didn’t know how to love?
And Molly and Lucy. The family had tried so hard to keep Uncle Percy’s story quiet ... but they’d failed, in the end. Too many people had known of his transgressions. How awful some of the taunts had been ... How did it feel, having a father who betrayed his family? It didn’t seem to matter that we didn’t care any more, that he’d been forgiven the moment he’d stepped back into the fold. People didn’t seem to consider that he’d fought Voldemort and his followers just as bravely as everyone else in the end, and had done far more than a lot of other people. They didn’t care about that. They just liked to jeer.
Rose had it bad too, with the entire wizarding world judging her for her relationship with a Malfoy ... did Hugo suffer as well? Did he also feel the huge burden on his shoulders, from being the son of two of the most famous people in wizarding Britain?
Albus ... Al had taken the plunge where I’d completely avoided the scenario. Training to be an Auror. Going into the same profession as Dad, providing the world with the biggest comparison of all. Giving them extra reason to scrutinise. But then, he’d always been braver than me. I’d hidden behind a stupid act of self-confidence that had never been real, while he’d never been afraid to just be himself. He could cope with it all, yet I couldn’t.
Lily had managed to escape it all, but at what cost? She was happy, I could see that much, but she was working herself into the ground, trying to straddle both worlds. And it had taken a long time for her to settle into Muggle school. I still remembered her first letters, written clumsily in pen and tear-stained, as she bemoaned the fact she couldn’t have a pet cat, and she missed Chocolate Frogs, and their first Muggle history topic was on witch burning of all things...
She’d acclimatised soon enough to her surroundings, helped by the fact that she’d had a tutor to prepare her for Muggle life for two years before she attended school. Then there was her friendship with Maddie, and the discovery that actually, she was quite good at Muggle sports. Not that she’d had an easy ride; there was the Obliviation for a start, not to mention the fact she was now too scared to tell any of her other Muggle friends the truth about just who she was.
And once she left school, she’d be going to work for the Ministry, advising the Muggle Prime Minister. Stepping right back into the line of fire, letting the spotlight swing round onto her again. How would she keep up the pretence to her Muggle friends and Maddie’s family, once they’d left school and she became more involved in the magical world?
We were all, in our own ways, well and truly messed up.
I loved my family to bits, and wouldn’t dream of trading any of them for the world. But sometimes I wondered what it would be like, to live a life free from all of the attention and pressure that came from being a Weasley. And I wondered whether any of my siblings and cousins ever had that same fleeting thought, as they lay in their beds at night.