He didn’t know why he still kept these newspaper clippings around.
For days like this, he supposed. For times when it seemed like an excellent idea to wallow in his own misery.
It was, after all, the most miserable collection of newspaper clippings imaginable. Most people saved articles about their achievements, or major national and world events, or humorous general interest pieces. Recipes, advice columns, anything constructive.
James’ collection told the story of his descent into nothingness.
It started with the first articles, dated February 27, 2029 – nearly a year ago.
Bright Young Quidditch Star Falls Puddlemere Seeker Potter hospitalized for major injuries
Sensational Seeker Shatters Shoulder Potter severely injured; Puddlemere loses to Cannons
The next one, dated May 15, 2029, represented a more hopeful time.
Potter Promises He Will Play Injured Puddlemere Seeker vows to return next season
That was when he had still felt invincible. Despite the crushing disappointment of his injury, he hadn’t been ready to let go. It just wasn’t in him to give up without a fight. It wasn’t in him to give up at all. Whether it was tenacity or stubbornness or simply egotism, when James Potter wanted something, he was like a dog with a bone – a trait that had earned him both praise and criticism in abundance.
It was hard to remember exactly what had fueled him onward – whether it was the love of the sport and the way the wind rushed through his hair, or the fact that it was the only way of life he knew, or just the love of fame itself – he could barely remember, now, in the pathetic state of existence he called his life, what had pushed him to keep going. If he were being honest with himself, it was a probably a combination of all those things. Or maybe it was simply the fear of being a nobody. For now he could barely recall any of those positive motivations, leading him to believe they might never have existed at all. Now there were only fear and anxiety and shame.
Whatever it had been, he remembered that some unattainable delusion had made the months of therapy bearable. Something had urged him on through the agonizing days and nights when he felt as though the tendons in his shoulder were being ripped open again. Something had allowed him to see past the weakness and hope for newfound strength, even as a small voice in his head had reminded him that he would always be weaker than before. And even as his progress had grown more noticeable, every night he had still prayed that he would wake up and find out that it had all been a horrible dream – that he had really caught the Snitch, that Puddlemere had won, that the Cannons had dropped in the League standings, and that chronic pain had not become a persistent fact of life for him.
It occurred to him that his persistence had, in fact, been nothing more than willful ignorance. He had been blind to what he simply didn’t want to see – that he would never again be the best. In some temporary bout of insanity, he had believed that all of the work, all of the therapy, all of the practice would be good enough…but, of course, it wasn’t.
And that was why the articles from the previous July told the story of an incomplete success:
Puddlemere Seeker to Play Reserve Potter’s performance not up to par; accepts reserve position
Seeker Switcheroo Former reserve Hoskins takes Potter’s place; Potter to play reserve
James ran one hand restlessly through his black hair as he skimmed the headlines. Accepting Puddlemere’s offer of a reserve spot had been one of the most difficult decisions he had ever made. He hadn’t played reserves since his first year out of Hogwarts, and over the past five years he had become one of the most popular Seekers in the entire British and Irish League. Returning to the reserves had seemed shameful somehow. It was a definite step down in status, and he wasn’t even guaranteed playing time. Whenever a player moved from the main team to the reserves, it was usually just a way of fading out more slowly. Death by mediocrity.
To James’ credit, he hadn’t glanced at any of these clippings over the past three months. In the beginning, he had spent hours poring over them, as if re-reading the descriptions of his injuries could make him immune to the pain.
The physical pain was now long gone – as long as he didn’t try to lift his arm completely above his head – but the embarrassment was a wound that had been continually broken open, so that now he wondered whether he had any chance of ever healing completely.
The only reason he was looking at these stupid things, was that he now had a new article to add to the collection. In big, bold lettering, smack in the middle of the page, it confirmed the fear that had haunted James ever since he had woken up in St. Mungo’s: that the last remnants of his former glory had been snuffed out completely.
James stared numbly at the Quidditch section of that day’s Daily Prophet, dated January 13, 2030.
Is Potter Finished? Puddlemere reserve Seeker misses Snitch, raises eyebrows
In yesterday’s match between Puddlemere United and the Tutshill Tornados, Puddlemere reserve Seeker James Potter seemed unable to keep up with Tornados Seeker Thomas Boyd. Boyd caught the Snitch, securing a Tornados victory with a final score of 370 to 250.
Potter, who turns 25 this month, was injured last February when two Bludgers shattered his shoulder blade and several ribs and damaged several ligaments in his shoulder. After several months of therapy he was placed on Puddlemere’s reserve team.
This is the first time this season that Potter has played in a League match, filling in for regular Seeker Jamie Hoskins. Hoskins suffered a minor injury last week and is expected to play in Puddlemere’s upcoming match against Pride of Portree.
Critics are now questioning whether Potter’s Quidditch career has come to an end. Puddlemere manager Michael Slattery could not be reached for comment.
James had always thought the Prophet put a bit more commentary than was appropriate into its news articles, but even he had to admit that the reporter hadn’t been exaggerating about James’ inability to keep up with Boyd. Boyd was by no means the best Seeker in the League, but he was fast and he maneuvered well. And, while Puddlemere had tried to keep the physical aftereffects of James’ injury under wraps, word had somehow gotten around the League that James just wasn’t as fast or flexible as he used to be. No doubt Boyd had been encouraged by this fact, since he had flown better in this match than he normally did.
This time last year, James could have beaten Boyd with one arm tied behind his back. But his body just didn’t work the same anymore. He favored his right side, which affected the very manner in which he flew, especially his turns and maneuvers. If he tried to grab the Snitch right-handed, he was limited by the range of movement in his right arm. And, as his father had gently pointed out, he couldn’t make it solely as a lefty – the Snitch wasn’t always in prime location relative to his body for a left-handed grab.
But it hadn’t even come down to which hand he used to grab for the Snitch – because, as the Snitch had led James and Boyd on a winding chase across the pitch and around Puddlemere’s goal posts, James had fallen behind. He had trailed Boyd by mere seconds, but in a race for the Snitch, half a second was the difference between victory and failure.
He hadn’t been able to look his teammates in the eye after the match. A few of them had been supportive over the past year, but he knew the rest of them questioned whether he even deserved to play on the reserve team. Baxter hadn’t said a word to him before the match began. She had been opposed all along to Slattery’s decision to keep James. James had overheard them arguing the past summer when Slattery made the offer.
He should have known then that it was all over. How could he have expected to make a full comeback in anybody’s eyes, when his own captain didn’t want him on the team? He’d always gotten on so well with Baxter – and everyone on the team, for that matter. But it was a professional Quidditch team, not a social club. Winning was the only thing that was important.
As James read through the article for the fifth time, his parents’ barn owl Artemis soared through the open window in his kitchen and dropped a letter in front of him. James stared warily at the letter before opening it.
We heard about the match. I’m guessing you want to be alone for now, but you know if you need us you can always write or come over. Don’t worry – everything will work out.
“ ‘Everything will work out’?” repeated James aloud. “What does that even mean?” His career was over, and his parents wanted him to think he would wake up the next morning and everything would be right again?
“Get lost, Arty,” he said to the owl. “I don’t have anything to send back with you.”
Artemis clicked his beak critically and flew out the window. James tossed the note onto the table and bent his head over the Daily Prophet once more.
The article wasn’t as bad as it could have been – but it was only Day One. No doubt the Quidditch commentators were preparing to launch their various attacks in the days to come. Not to mention what the weekly and monthly Quidditch newsletters would hold. And the Prophet’s Quidditch Editor, Derek Byerly, was sure to cook up a scathing editorial within the next twenty-four hours. Byerly was notoriously harsh, and he apparently treated his staff the same way he treated Quidditch players who made too many errors, because James’ mum still talked about how much of a prat he was, even though she had quit working for the Prophet nearly five years ago.
The bad press was to be expected, though, especially given how badly things had gone in the end. Even during the highlights of the past year, when it had looked like James might actually have a chance at success again, the news coverage had been largely pessimistic. Hope and determination didn’t sell newspapers – disappointment and broken spirits did. Before his injury, the press hadn’t bothered James, but that was because he rarely gave them a chance to rip him apart. He won matches; he was the golden boy; he was the darling of the Quidditch page. But that had all gone to hell over the past year.
James stared at the page until the words started to blur together, trying with all his might not to care. But the more he tried to detach himself, the heavier the weight on his chest became. Sighing, he placed his head in his hands and wished he could disappear off the face of the earth. Considering this most recent bit of press, he was starting to think it would have been better if he had just been forgotten entirely.