Carlotta cleared her throat, and turned to the paper.
“‘England Head Coach Demelza Robins has included Chaser James Potter in her squad for the Quidditch World Cup, which was announced this morning. Potter has been in spectacular form for the Falmouth Falcons this season, leading to calls from several ex-Quidditch players for him to be elevated into the national squad.’ It goes on,” she said, raising her eyes back to me, “to mention everyone else who’s made the squad. But that’s not what caught my eye. You see, there’s a player profile on you. It’s bigger than the main article. Want to hear it?”
I didn’t answer, knowing that she was going to read it aloud anyway; knowing that she had already read it, and was just stringing out the confrontation. My intestines felt like they were tying themselves into knots as she turned back to the paper.
“‘James Potter is no stranger to our households, and as such will need no introduction. His mother is written into Quidditch legend as one of the best Chasers the game has seen, her lack of England caps only down to personal choice. But it is of course his father whose name is known worldwide. If Ginevra Potter is part of Quidditch legend, then Harry has pretty much single-handedly written wizarding legend thanks to his noble defeat of the Dark Lord Voldemort. Parents the world over are indebted to him for providing enough bedtime stories for their children to ensure that none has to be repeated – although this writer’s childrens’ favourite recital, that of his dramatic break into and escape from the wizarding bank Gringotts with a dragon, is requested at least three times a month.
“‘With that pedigree, it was almost a certainty that eldest son James would make it to the top, and this call-up cements his place in the upper echelons of wizarding society. A good-looking, charismatic young man, Potter has been at the forefront of domestic Quidditch almost since his breakthrough season, two years ago. Even in his first match, alongside names such as Adelheid Brand and against the likes of Tamsin Robins, James shone, giving us a tantalising glimpse of what was to come from him. Since then, his star has been on the rise, and a stunning League victory with the Falcons last year capped off a marvellous start to a career predicted for him by some, including this writer, from the very day he was born.
“‘It should of course come as no surprise to any of us that Potter is soon to don England colours. His days at Hogwarts were well documented, in particular his remarkable prowess on a broomstick, which saw him make his house team not quite as one of the youngest players ever – that record is partly held by his father, who made the Gryffindor team at just eleven years old – but nevertheless at his first try-out, as a Second Year up against students much older. From there on young James shone, contributing towards a remarkable six consecutive Quidditch Cup victories for Gryffindor, the last two as captain (the house has continued this streak since his departure, with cousin Hugo Weasley currently captaining the team towards a near-certain ninth straight Cup win). Not just content with being a success on the pitch, James also produced excellent results off it, with top grades in his O.W.Ls and N.E.W.Ts, as might be expected given his parents’ academic abilities.
“‘Of course, James was not a completely rule-abiding student – again, following in the footsteps of his parents before him, who were often in detentions for rule-breaking such as loitering in the corridors after curfew. While James’ own rule-breaking never amounted to running an illegal study group or flying an illegally bewitched car into a Whomping Willow, he still provoked the frustration of his teachers – and admiration of his schoolmates – through numerous pranks and hijinks, along with several night-time trips to the nearby village of Hogsmeade.
“‘Ambitious from the start, James was signed straight out of school by Falmouth Falcons coach and former Ireland Chaser Sinead Moran, who is well known for her willingness to gamble on raw talent. But this signing was far from a gamble, as James’ success at this level was a near guarantee. After all, who could expect any less from the eldest son of the well-known Dark Lord slayer, the Boy Who Lived?’”
My stomach had been twisting and convulsing right through the article. With its conclusion, I let out a small sigh of relief.
Carlotta folded the paper up and threw it onto the sofa, then crossed her arms. I licked my lips nervously. My stomach was still unsettled.
“So, let’s get this straight,” she said. “The Prophet seems to think that your dad killed this Voldemort guy. Now, either they’ve got it very wrong, or you lied to me when you said there was nothing more I needed to know about Muggle persecution. I appreciate we may have differing opinions on what I do and don’t need to know, but I’d say that your dad effectively saving the wizarding world is pretty damn big.”
“I-” I hesitated. “Look, I know you’re annoyed I didn’t tell you, and maybe I should have, but I really don’t see how it’s that big an issue. Does it change anything? Does it change who he is, or who I am, to you?”
“How can you say that?” she cried. “Just reading that article suggests that your dad has done incredible things in his lifetime, and you didn’t even consider telling me about them! That doesn’t just disrespect me, that disrespects him-”
“No, it doesn’t!” I pleaded, desperate for her to see my point of view. “You didn’t need to know! It’s not relevant to ... to this! To us!” I gestured at the space in between us. “Look, I knew this would freak you out, that’s why I didn’t tell you. I knew you’d think it to be bigger than it is-”
“Bigger than it is,” she repeated dully. “Yes, clearly I’m overexaggerating. Clearly, the fact that your father is this aforementioned Dark Lord slayer, who – what was it?” She grabbed the paper from the chair, and rifled through it to find the article – “Broke into a bank, commandeered a dragon, ran an illegal study group, flew a car and pretty much single-handedly wrote modern wizarding history, isn’t a big thing. In fact, it’s clearly not an achievement at all!”
“MY PICTURE IS IN YOUR PAPER!” she exploded, holding it out at me.
With a particularly strong twinge in my gut, I saw that the Prophet had dedicated half a page to a picture of the two of us leaving the Tav, above an article entitled ‘James Potter’s Muggle flame: The secret behind his Quidditch success?’ The sight of this latest media speculation, coupled with Deirdre’s questions from earlier, fuelled me with an anger I’d never felt before.
“I’m in a national fucking newspaper, James!” Her chest heaved as she spoke and she threw the paper away contemptuously. “They know my name, they know where I work ... and you thought you could keep all this quiet from me?”
“I wasn’t trying to keep it quiet from you!” I snapped. “There was never the right moment-”
“Oh, really? How about that time your dear brother let it slip that a bloke killed Muggles, and I asked you if there was anything else you had to tell me? You’re telling me that wasn’t the ‘right moment’?”
And then I lost what little composure I’d had left.
“What, so I was meant to tell you that actually, my father is a really famous man, and that most people only ever give me the time of day because of what he did? That time I met you in the Tav, I was trying to get away from it all! Because I’m sick of it, completely sick and tired of it! All my life, I’ve been judged by who he is. People expect me to achieve everything he has; if I fail to do so, I’m not good enough to be his son, and if I do manage, it’s still nothing special, because he’s done it before. Even now, when I’ve been called into the England squad, it’s not about me, it’s about him, and how playing for England is really nothing compared with killing a few Dark Lords here and there. You read the article! My player profile ... it refers to him, all the time! It’s all just one big fat comparison between us; how he played for Gryffindor at a younger age than I did; how he managed to break the rules more impressively than I did. His academic abilities? He never even took his N.E.W.Ts! I beat him on that one, but they don’t mention that!
“It’s always been like this; I’ve lived my whole life in his shadow, with all this pressure on my shoulders. Al’s suffered the same. Everyone expected so much of me, just because of what Dad’s done. And Mum having played profession Quidditch doesn’t help either. That’s just more pressure. I’m expected to achieve everything, and what I don’t achieve, Al’s expected to. I don’t know which one of us is worse off. And then there’s Lily...” I laughed bitterly.
“She got off scot-free. She was set to have twice the expectations on her that we had, purely because she’s a girl – and then she turned out to be a Squib. She’s already achieved more than any of the rest of us, purely by not having magic. She’s more or less completely escaped it all; everyone loves her because she’s a Squib. And she gets completely left alone; she’s not hounded at all. Heck, the Prophet didn’t even realise her A grades were good until they consulted the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts. The fact she’s just gotten on with it, and turned what people thought was a bad thing into a good thing ... they love her. She can’t do wrong. She’s left alone to do her own thing – because how can she possibly become an Auror like Dad, or do what he did? It’s logistically impossible for her, and people recognise that and leave her alone. But Al and me? Well, we’ve got magic, right? Which means we can do everything Dad did, and we should be able to do it easily. And when we can’t, it’s not because we’re different to him, it’s because we’re failures in their eyes. It doesn’t matter that there is no Dark Lord to defeat; we should be able to overcome that, right?
“You know, when I first went to Hogwarts, I was so excited. And when everyone seemed to want to be my friend, I thought it was great. I’d be the most popular person at school! But they didn’t give a damn about me. All they cared was that I was Harry Potter’s son. So I learned the hard way how fickle people can be. I became so cynical, assuming anyone who wanted anything to do with me was just interested in the name.
“The only people I could rely on those first few weeks at school were my cousins. Brigid was one of the few people who didn’t care about my fame. She’s been through the same as me; she’s one of the only people who can truly understand what it’s like. Her mum is a Quidditch legend; she’s won countless World Cups for Ireland. And Brie’s grown up with that pressure on her shoulders, just as I have. Aside from my family, she and her brother were two of a handful of people who didn’t want to know me for my fame, who didn’t judge me for my father, who sympathised with me. That’s why she’s one of my best friends now. Because she cares about me for who I am, not who Dad is. When I’m with her, or with Freddie, or with Al, or you, that’s the only time I can escape from it all. Everyone else expects me to be like Dad, when I’m not.
“Do you know the worst bit about it? I tried flunking my N.E.W.Ts. I thought, if I fail them all, get Ts in them all, maybe people will finally realise that I’m not him. And I couldn’t even do that properly! I got all Os and Es. I should have failed them. I know I failed them. I barely revised, my written papers were awful. But the examiners handed me good grades anyway! And I can’t even do anything about that, because what would it suggest about Al’s results? He deserves the grades he’s got. He should have all Os, because he’s worked his ass off for them. But if I tell people I was given those grades unfairly, they’ll assume he was too, and that’s not fair on him. He doesn’t deserve to suffer even more.
“And then there’s all the attention from the girls. Great, except none of them give a damn about me for who I am either. They don’t even care that I’m a famous Quidditch player most of the time, and that’s even worse; I’m not even being used for fame I’ve earned! Surely I deserve to be known for being a Quidditch player, for something I’ve achieved by myself? But no. I’m Harry Potter’s son, and that’s all that matters to anyone. The only girl who did care about more than just the name got chased away by the media and my best friend. That’s why I don’t do relationships, and why I don’t want to settle down with anyone, because I can’t. That’s ... that’s what makes you so different to everyone else! You didn’t have a clue about anything Dad’s done, or even anything I’ve done, and for the first time in ages it felt like someone cared about me for who I am, not for who Dad is, or for my Quidditch fame, and I just wanted it to stay that way.”
I finally finished, and took a deep breath, already wishing I hadn’t spouted out all I had. I knew I’d said far too much.
There was a pregnant pause, before she spoke.
“Did you honestly think I’d judge you any differently if you told me about your dad? Did you really think that little of me, that I’d change my opinion of you, try to leech off his fame, or try to mould you into him-”
“It’s not like that!” I pleaded. “I knew – I know – that to you it doesn’t matter as much. But ... look, the only other people I’ve met who’ve been able to get to know me purely for who I am, without the faintest inkling of Dad’s fame, are Kit and Maddie. And I liked that, I...”
“So, you hooked up with me because I didn’t know about him. You used me-”
“No!” I cried. “I went to the Tav because nobody there knew about him! Della had just done this interview, and she was talking about me, comparing me to my parents, and I was annoyed, and wanted to get away from it! I hooked up with you because you caught my eye, and I kept going back because I liked you! Then you found out about magic, and you freaked out, and then you came back, but all the time I liked you! I like just spending time with you! Yeah, I liked that you didn’t know about any of this, but that doesn’t mean I used you! If I was using you, would I have tried so hard to help you accept magic? Would I have worked so hard to help you to see the Quidditch pitch? No! I did it all because I like you for who you are inside. At first, it was because you treated me like a normal person, but it’s more than just that now-”
“If you really liked me so much, you’d have told me!” she persevered.
“I didn’t want to tell you!” I said loudly. “Okay? I didn’t want you knowing my dad is this all-powerful hero of the wizarding world and that I’m his biggest let-down! You wanted to know why I don’t talk to him? Because I’ve disappointed him. Because he didn’t want me to do the whole Quidditch thing, because he thought it was the easy way out, that it was my way of avoiding hard work. And I hate him for it! It’s his fault, it’s all his fucking fault that I have to put up with all of this every day, and he doesn’t even care about it! All he gives a fig about is Lily, and making sure that she’s happy and successful, and making sure that Al’s Auror training is going well. Me? I’m his disappointment. It’s all I’ve ever been, and it’s all I’ll ever be.”
She was shaking her head dumbly. “I-”
“You still think I should have told you all this before?” I said venomously. “Are you happy, now that you know?”
“I can’t believe you kept it from me...” she began quietly.
“Why? Because it makes things different? If I’d have told you this at first, would it have changed the way you saw me?” I snapped.
“If you’d have told me this at first, then I never would have gotten involved in this stupid fling!” she retorted.
A ringing silence fell upon the flat. For a moment, I had no words; I just stared at her, dumbstruck.
“Well,” I said finally, seething with anger – at her, at Dad, at Lily and her special treatment, at Deirdre from the Prophet, at my school examiners, at Brigid – “if that’s how it is, then I wouldn’t want to keep you involved in this stupid fling for any longer than necessary.”
She snatched up her bag, looking just as furious.
“I’d like to see you try to keep me anywhere,” she replied angrily, heading past me towards the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll show myself out.”
She slammed the door loudly as she left.
“Don’t worry, it’s not as though I want my door left on the fucking hinges!” I yelled after her, breathing heavily.
I kicked the leg of the coffee table angrily, and the photo of Lily and Brigid caught my eye. I picked it up, my lip curling, and threw it across the room with all my might. The glass frame smashed into hundreds of pieces.
And then my phone rang.
I glared at it, resisting the urge to set it on fire, but eventually picked it up.
“Hey, buddy, well done!” It was Freddie. My anger subsided slightly. “Let’s have a drink later to celebrate, eh? If you can drink now you’re important. Boys’ night out! I’ll let you buy; you’ll be rolling in dough after this!”
I smiled ever so slightly.
“Yeah,” I said, “that sounds good.”
“Cracking! I’ll pop round yours in a bit then, shall I? Where are we going? I suppose you’ll want to go to the Tav-”
“No,” I said firmly. “We’ll go to the Hinky tonight.”
I’d had enough of the Witch’s Tavern to last a lifetime.
I turned and saw Allegra Fawcett sliding onto the bar stool next to mine.
“Hi.” I swung round to face her. “You look...” She crossed her legs and my eyes were drawn to them. “You look nice.”
She let out a slight giggle.
“Thanks,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “Congratulations on your call up, you really deserve it.”
“Cheers.” I paused. “Can I buy you a drink?”
She eyed me suspiciously.
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?”
I resisted the urge to scowl.
“No,” I said firmly. “No, I don’t. So, want that drink?”
She smiled; I had a sudden urge to kiss the dimple that appeared.
“Alright,” she said. The strand of hair fell back in front of her face. I reached forwards to tuck it back behind her ear, and felt her light breath on my cheek.
“On second thoughts,” I murmured, “do you want to skip the drink and go back to mine?”