Chapter Thirteen: Decision
“Dinner?” Rose said and he looked up. His smile was small and he shook his head. “Will you just have a bit?” she said. “Come on, Ella bought it and I don’t want it to go to waste.” He reluctantly took the plate and fork and stabbed at the chips. Putting one in his mouth, he chewed slowly and pointedly. She didn’t say anything but sat next to him and picked at her own plate.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to go and find out what happened?”
She’d been trying for four days to go and ask his parents what had really gone on but each time she’d been met with the same stoic, “I think we know,” and nothing more was said on the subject. This time, he didn’t even bother voicing his opinion. He just looked at her and shook his head. It wasn’t going to stop her, she decided. She would go over the weekend at some point. It didn’t add up.
“You should still go and see Victoire,” she said slowly. He didn’t say anything but put another chip in his mouth. For someone who’d been saying for days that he wasn’t hungry and living off toast, he was practically devouring the meal in front of him. It probably had something to do with the fact that she hadn’t cooked it. “What are you going to do?”
“About,” she said, putting her cutlery down and turning so she could face him, “your currently pretty pathetic life.” He livened up at that, turning to face her. “You can’t sponge off me and live on my sofa for the rest of it.”
“I’m not sponging off you.”
They both knew it was a lie but Rose didn’t say a thing. She wasn’t exactly short on cash. She didn’t even mind him staying with her. She appreciated the company. She was fine with being on her own but it wasn’t the same as having someone other than her mantelpiece to talk to in the evening. It was him lazing about feeling sorry for himself that annoyed her. He was stubborn and so was she, and she would win out. She just had to be persistent.
“You told me you wanted to change,” she said and he scowled, shoving another chip in his mouth. “That is not going to happen unless you make the effort.” He said nothing again. “James, I’m talking to you.”
“Oh really?” he said. “I thought you were talking to the owl.”
She flipped her hand back and swiped his arm. He jumped, a few chips sliding onto the carpet, and he turned to face her too.
“Will you just grow up?” she said, her voice shrill and she almost cringed for how like her mother she sounded. “You’re not fifteen anymore. It’s not funny.” He picked up the chips and put them on the coffee table. He kept his silence. She slammed her plate down on the table and turned to him. “Why did you go in the first place?” He put another chip in his mouth and she took the plate off his lap before he could react. “Come on, at least tell me that.”
He groaned and looked at her.
It was difficult. As far as everyone was concerned, he’d upped and left out of boredom. He’d taken the money to fuel his hedonism, he’d left his brother in a gutter to die and he hadn’t written for lack of time. The truth was, he’d written several times, the letters had just never made it to the owl. He’d written three apologies, neatly shaped and honest, but each time, he couldn’t bring himself to send them. He didn’t want their guilt. He didn’t want them to feel sorry for him. He didn’t want to go back.
They thought he was how he was because school had changed him. They thought he wanted to be the hero’s son. He’d played to the stereotype. To begin with, it had been novel. In a family of three, in an extended family of a dozen, he sometimes got lost. He liked the attention. He appealed to his audience and they had bowed at his feet. How could he complain?
“I wanted out,” he said and Rose nodded slowly. She looked like a shrink, he thought, all sympathetic eyes and gentle movements. “I wanted to stop being Harry Potter’s son.”
“We all feel like that about our parents,” she said, truthfully. He knew she was right. It wasn’t easy for any of them but he had always taken it to the extremes.
“I fucked up my NEWTs,” he said. “I did it on purpose and lo and behold, I still got four Es. It’s fucked up. The whole system’s a bloody sham.” He shook his head. “They were going to promote me at work.”
Before he’d left, he’d been in the International Magical Cooperation department. He’d started higher than most recent graduates, especially ones with only Es. Nobody had ever wondered how he’d managed it. He was Harry Potter’s child; favours were done where they were needed. James smirked. His father had always impressed on them the need for them to develop their own identities. They were proud of their parents’ legacy but still, every job James had applied for, the response had come back with the offer of a position higher than he’d wanted.
“I did fuck all but they’d screwed something up with Austria and they wanted a face higher up,” he continued. Rose was picking at her chips again but nonetheless listening intently. “I said no and they said I didn’t have a choice. That was when I started pissing about with the girls and the drink.”
“You did that at school,” Rose said and he laughed slowly.
“Fair,” he agreed, “but not like this. I did that to be cool. I did this to get sacked.”
“Did it hell.” He leant forward and scooped another two chips, soggy from the vinegar, into his hand. “They wouldn’t let me leave officially so I had to go. Only, it was a snap decision. I didn’t have time to go to Gringotts and deal with all that. They’d have asked questions. I wasn’t doing it for the fuss.”
“But Lily kept her money in her room,” Rose said. It all made sense now. He nodded.
“I was going to pay her back,” he said. “Honestly, I was but I just forgot.”
When he was away, he was James Evans. He was any other guy. There were Evanses all over the world. It was just a name amongst many, fading into the background. He still needed the attention though. He’d still needed the fuel behind the fire. He’d still liked the thrill of the drink, the tug of a Portkey, the touch of a girl’s hand on his. Home was something he remembered and smoked away. Family weren’t as fun as Margaux or Giorgia or Sammi.
He hadn’t left. He’d run away, a note pinned to the front door.
“And Al?” Rose asked. He shook his head.
“Not my fault. He pulled his wand on me first. I Stunned him and he cracked his head in the fall,” he said defensively. “I didn’t have time to do anything except get him home and go.”
Rose nodded slowly. It was a lot to take in. Everything they’d assumed – that he’d left to feed his new loves, to keep himself entertained, to humiliate them – had been wrong. He’d left for the same reason she often wondered if being Rose Granger or Rose Prewett would be any easier. It was hard. It was so hard and James had cracked first. Even if he’d tried to confide in someone, they’d not have listened. They’d have thought him meek and selfish and cowardly. Perhaps he was, she thought, but if that was the case, so were they all. She knew full well that each of them had dreamt of it, a world where they were more than their surnames dictated. No matter how much their parents strived to shield them from a world that was safe yet still unfair, they would never escape it.
“You’re not a bad person,” she said after a moment’s silence. He scoffed. “You’re not. You don’t want them to hate you because you love them and I’m not having you sitting here and wallowing forever.” She stood up, and held out her hand for his. He frowned and slowly held his out too. She yanked him up and pointed to the fireplace. “Her kids will be in bed. Victoire, now. Fred’s on side. You’ve got two of us down, only nine more to go.”
She let go of his hand and held out the Floo powder. He took it tentatively and threw it into the flames. They burned bright emerald and he stepped inside. His voice was clear and resounded through the flat before he twirled away, leaving nothing but an empty grate behind. Rose smiled. It was all making sense, at last.
Victoire had always hated the Floo network. The very idea seemed so dated and so open. Her family could just walk straight into her living room without invitation and warning and she would have to entertain them. She much preferred Apparating or flying; admittedly, with the children it was now impractical and that was the reason they’d ended up getting connected to the network in the first place.
She made a mental note to get rid of it as soon as possible as she stood in her front room with James Potter smiling sheepishly at her as though he’d simply broken the sink or taught her son a swear word. She stared blankly back and walked past him to the kitchen.
“Can we talk?” he said, following her and she turned. “I want to apologise.”
She sighed, picking up the pan she’d been drying upon him landing in her sitting room and scaring her half to death. He had a cheek. He had more than that. She couldn’t believe he had the audacity to walk into her home as if nothing was wrong. He hadn’t even Apparated. At least then, she could have had the satisfaction of slamming the door in his face.
She knew it was a good question. He’d done nothing to her, not personally. He really had nothing to apologise directly for. If there was anyone in this house he owed an apology to, it was Teddy, who was upstairs getting changed from after work. He’d taken it hard; James had always irritated him within an inch of a slap across the head but he still cared a lot for him. Seeing him disappear with fistfuls of money stolen from his sister had made him feel like a ceiling had crumbled to bits on top of him – a direct quote, she remembered it like it was yesterday. But it wasn’t. It was two and a half years and one baby on. She’d bet good money that he didn’t even know Josie existed.
He didn’t answer her question. He couldn’t give her an answer and she knew it. Putting the pot carefully but firmly down on the worktop, so as not to wake either child upstairs, she shook her head.
“People don’t change in a week and a half,” she said, shaking her head. He seemed to have been caught out because he shook his head so that his hair fell into place and dug his hands into his pockets. “Sort yourself out and come back when you’ve actually tried.” She turned her back and returned to her drying up. He hung around for another few seconds but at the sound of a creak on the stairs, Victoire looked back. “Get out before he sees you.”
She was surprised. He nodded solemnly, gave a small smile and disappeared from her kitchen. She heard him give the name of his destination but couldn’t make out the words and not half a minute later, Teddy walked into the kitchen. His hair was a mess and he was wearing clothes that didn’t flatter him in the slightest but the crooked smile of his teenage years hung off his lips and she felt all anger towards James’s appearance dissipate.
“Are you going loopy?” he asked, taking the tea towel off her and finishing her work. She smiled and leant back against one of the worktops. “Could have sworn I heard you talking.” Her smile fell a little but she shook her head.
“Didn’t say a word,” she said. He looked at her a little bit sceptically but took her word for it. Upstairs, there was a shuffle and then a cry. She raised her eyes to the ceiling and sighed. “I wouldn’t give it long though.”
He laughed, grabbing her for a short kiss before letting her run upstairs. She smiled again as she found her way into her son’s room. He didn’t even know who James was, she thought as she stroked back his hair and listened to his tales of a vampire under the bed. Lucky thing.