It turned out that the way to get Brigid’s attention when she was pissed off was to piss her off even more.
I’d never seen her so angry. In fact, she was practically shaking with rage. But despite that, she wasn’t yelling. Not that she wouldn’t at some stage.
“What were you thinking?” she said in a venomous hiss, brandishing the paper at me. I looked away from the photos, those awful, embarrassing photos...
“This is why I don’t like you going out with Louis!” she continued. “This is exactly what happens! You might get blind drunk with Freddie, but at least you don’t go to the seediest joints in wizarding Britain! How am I meant to explain this, James?”
I had no words for her. She was right; no self-respecting person ever went to the Basilisk’s Lair – or at least, nobody who did go came out of it looking good. Except for perhaps Louis himself; he seemed to have this infuriating way of managing to look good in the public’s eyes regardless of where he went. And he was two years younger than me – not that I was under any false illusions; I was well aware that he’d been frequenting the Lair long before he’d come of age. Clearly there was something in his Veela blood that allowed him to get away with these things.
Not that he’d escaped this time. The story was almost as much about him as it was me – not quite an even split, as my status in the Quidditch world entitled me to more column inches – but certainly he had garnered more attention than Freddie would have done if it were him in the same situation. Because Louis was the good-looking golden boy of our family, and the press loved him. Or they had done. This story was almost as much of a fall from grace for him as it was for me.
But he wouldn’t have to face Brigid’s wrath, and that was possibly worse than even the angriest quarter-Veela, or a wizard who had developed several of the worst werewolf traits including the fiery temper.
And he wouldn’t have to face Ginny Potter, either.
“And that’s not even the worst bit!” Brigid went on, now in full flow. “It’s bad enough that you’ve allowed yourself to be photographed with ... with these women, and none of these photos show you in a remotely decent light – but how the hell do you go about explaining this?”
The headline that she was holding up was the worst of the lot. “James Potter: our darling or our liability? Quidditch star breaches the Statute of Secrecy, and ditches his Muggle girlfriend mere weeks later.”
“You’ve ditched her?” Brigid said incredulously. “Do you have any concept of personal responsibility? Do you really think that you can just let her go like you have with all the other girls before her? We’re meant to be a secret, James, the clue’s in the title! You can’t just go round telling everyone about us and then throwing them away once you’ve gotten bored of them; do you have any idea of the repercussions? Do you know how this makes you look? Your dad is the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, and here you are breaching the most fundamental law of them all!”
I wasn’t sure what it was that made me snap. It might have been the insinuation that I’d just gotten bored of Carlotta and thrown her away, or perhaps it was Brigid’s general suggestion that I didn’t give a damn about our rules.
Most probably, it was the reference to Dad. Because it was always about him in the end.
“Yeah, that’s right, assume that it’s all my fault that Carlotta’s not around any more, because clearly I must have screwed it up, like I do everything else, right?”
“It’s not a case of who did what, it’s the fact that you let it happen-”
“Do you think I wanted this to happen?” I cried. “Do you think I wanted things to go tits up with the only girl in years who’s been interested in more than just the name? Do you think I like the fact that those girls in the Lair were all over me just because I’m a Potter, that that’s the only reason that anyone ever tries to talk to me?”
“Don’t go trying to make me feel guilty-”
“Oh, don’t worry, I know you won’t feel guilty, because you don’t give a damn, do you? You never do! All you care about is bossing my life about, telling me what to do all the time, not giving a damn about what I actually want to do! Congratulations, Brigid, you were instrumental in me making the biggest mistake of my life, and I still let you treat me like your fucking puppet. Well here’s an idea for you: I’ve had enough of it-”
“You’ve had enough?” She laughed hollowly. “James, when will you ever take responsibility for things? You’re honestly still going on about that Feversham issue? Still blaming me, as though I made you end it-”
“You hated her from the start! You never gave her a chance! You were always in my ear, telling me she was a fame-seeker, that I could do better ... you’re meant to be my best friend, you’re meant to be looking out for my best interests! What the hell else was I going to do with you feeding me all that bullshit for years? I cracked, okay? I fucking cracked, and I let her go, and it’s all your fault!” I was letting it all pour out; all of the anger and resentment that I felt towards her, that I’d forced myself to bury and move on from, but had lingered there the whole time, just waiting for something to dig it up again. “It’s always been the same with you; you’ve always told me what to do, and you’ve never thought about what I want! It’s all about you; you always have to be in control, don’t you? ‘James, do this interview, do that photoshoot, don’t go out drinking with your cousin because I don’t like him, don’t date that girl because I don’t like her’, no thought whatsoever about what I want to do! You always know best though, don’t you? And you wonder why Freddie won’t date you? Why the fuck would he want to? You think he wants a girl who bosses him about all the time, who condemns everything he does, who always has to kill the mood and spoil the fun-”
I felt oddly detached from the situation; I knew what I was saying, but I couldn’t control it, couldn’t stop myself, didn’t give a damn that Brigid’s face was utterly crumpling as I ranted on and on.
“Do you think I like this, that my entire life is documented in the tabloids? I know I make mistakes sometimes, I get that, but I don’t need you and everyone else preaching at me every time I slip up! You’re always on my back about stuff, you pounce every time I do something you don’t approve of! Do you think I like that? Do you think I need it? But wait, we’ve already established that you don’t give a damn about what I actually think in all of this, haven’t we? Because it’s all about you, power-hungry Brigid Murphy, the woman behind James Potter, getting some sick, perverse pleasure out of bossing me around ... I bet that was your agenda all the time, wasn’t it? Befriend the vulnerable famous boy and take advantage of it-”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she exploded. “I-” But as quickly as she’d gotten riled up, she deflated; her shoulders sagged and her head dropped slightly. “You know, I can’t even be bothered to argue my case. James ... you’re messed up. I don’t even know where this has come from ... I’m through with you. I’m done with all of this shit, I’ve had enough of you thinking you can treat me like your personal slave. You...”
She looked on the verge of tears. She looked as though she had something more to say, but whatever it was, she didn’t say it.
And then she Disapparated.
Mum still didn’t visit. She sent another note instead, as though a slip of parchment with three lines of her writing on it was as good as her actual presence.
Are you a complete idiot? You should know better than to go to the Basilisk’s Lair! Fleur’s utterly fuming, and I can’t say I blame her.
Domestic Quidditch is one thing, but the international game is completely different. If you want to be successful at this level, you can’t afford to go out drinking with the frequency that you’re used to.
I suggest you stop attracting the media’s attention like this if you wish to remain an England player. Demelza Robins doesn’t take fondly to this sort of behaviour.
They turned up outside my flat on Monday morning. I only noticed when I glanced out of the kitchen window and saw them all congregated outside on the pavement, armed with notebooks and cameras, attracting bemused glances from the Muggles who lived in the same block of flats. I stepped back from the window in alarm before they saw me.
I’d been hounded by the media before. It was something I’d had to get used to, even when I was at Hogwarts.
But they’d never stalked me where I lived before.
They didn’t stay for long. Ministry workers arrived to move them on; ironically, in accordance with the exact same law which I’d broken, the exact same law which had caused all this furore in the first place. But I knew that they’d be lying in wait elsewhere, that no matter where I tried to go, they’d be able to find me.
I couldn’t leave my flat.
I needed some food, badly. I was nearly out, and what little I had left I had no idea what to do with. If Carlotta hadn’t blown up and left this time last week, she’d have done something with it for me. But she’d gotten mad, and hadn’t cooked anything, and I was still completely clueless. All I had was a bit of bread, some Chocolate Frogs, some Butterbeer and some Firewhisky, and I was running out of those too. What I’d give for a Hogwarts breakfast right now...
And then the idea came to me.
“Kreacher!” I called.
Kreacher worked at Hogwarts during term-time. It had been the arrangement between him and Dad since before I was born. He and Mum had never seen the need for a house-elf. But he’d remained Kreacher’s master, and so when Mum was pregnant with me, and Dad had had to go to work but hadn’t wanted to leave Mum by herself, he’d called Kreacher back from Hogwarts to help out around the house. And it had been that way ever since; if he wasn’t needed at home, he worked at Hogwarts. Once Lily had gone to school at eleven, this arrangement had settled itself down into a far more regular one; Kreacher worked at Hogwarts during term-time, and at Mum and Dad’s during the holidays, when there were more mouths to feed. Whether it would remain the same this summer, once Lily had left home, I wasn’t sure.
But it meant that Kreacher answered to all five of us. It had come in handy at Hogwarts, where I had taken full advantage of this ability to summon food from the kitchens when I fancied it – Brigid had always been disapproving of this, but that didn’t tend to bother me.
We weren’t meant to call him away from Hogwarts. Dad had drummed it into us that we weren’t to summon him away from school unless it was an emergency. But I knew that Lily abused this occasionally, and always had done – in her first year, when she’d been scared and homesick, he had been her most direct link to me and Al, and the wizarding world in general. He had always adored his little mistress, and had delighted in delivering her sweets and other food from Hogwarts, along with letters from me and Al.
So I really didn’t feel that guilty about summoning him
He arrived straight away, with a faint pop and a low bow.
“Master James wanted to see Kreacher?”
“Yeah, I did. Would you be able to bring me some food?”
“Of course Kreacher can. What food would Master James like?”
One of the reasons that I was so fond of Kreacher was that he didn’t care if I made mistakes or said something wrong; he adored me anyway. I knew that this was partly because it was ingrained in him to be loyal to his masters, but at a time when I was trying to avoid judgemental people, I appreciated it nevertheless.
“Um ... maybe just some toast and eggs, nothing too much...” And then I thought of something else. “Ooh, and some treacle tart, maybe?”
“Master James likes his treacle tart like his father,” Kreacher observed, to my slight distaste.
“Yeah, I know he likes it too,” I said, waving the remark away. “And maybe something for dinner tonight? I don’t have anything and I can’t leave the house-”
“Kreacher will bring Master James some food!” he proclaimed with another bow, before disappearing with another pop.
He was back within moments, but he wasn’t alone. No less than six other elves accompanied him; they were all almost impossible to see under the weight of the dishes they held.
“Um, I didn’t quite mean that much...” I tailed off as Kreacher led the other elves into the kitchen, where he began to put the food away, ordering the other elves as to what went where.
“Kreacher has some breakfast for Master James,” he said, setting a plate of cooked food down on the table, bacon, sausages, eggs and all, “and Kreacher has also brought some more food for Master James so that he does not need to leave the house!”
I glanced at it all as the elves put it in the fridge or the cupboards; there was a huge pie, a joint of meat, the treacle tart that I had so craved, a chocolate cake, even some Butterbeer...
“Wow, Kreacher!” I said in awe. “This is quite something!”
“Kreacher is bound to serve, Master James,” he said, sinking into another bow.
And then I felt guilty.
“Yeah, that’s great,” I said with a slight smile.
“Can Kreacher do anything else for Master James?”
“No, that’s it...” I tailed off.
“Master James will call Kreacher if he needs anything else?”
“No. I mean, yeah, I will, but I don’t think I’ll need anything else...”
The other elves then bowed, which made me feel really uneasy – it was one thing having Kreacher doing my bidding, but I didn’t like that I had half a dozen Hogwarts house elves carrying out my order.
And then they left with a synchronised pop, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
I didn’t quite feel as guilty once I dug into my breakfast, though; it was damn good.
Later that day, Albus visited me. I should have been prepared for it; after all, he’d have known about the Ministry operation to shift the press from the pavement outside. I was surprised that I’d not heard from him before – not that I was complaining. I hadn’t missed the preaching from my righteous brother. Now, my heart sank.
“What do you want?” I said gruffly.
He frowned at the bottle in my hand.
“You’re drinking Firewhisky?”
“It’s half one.”
“’M celebrating, aren’t I?”
He raised a brow.
“Haven’t you done enough of that in the last week?”
“Make your point, and make it quick.”
“You do realise you’ve acted like an idiot this past week?”
“I’ve been told,” I replied curtly.
“Yes, and you’re clearly doing something about it!” he said, gesturing towards the bottle again. “You have to take responsibility for yourself, James, you can’t just act like a layabout-”
His words would have pissed me off either way. But coming so soon after Brigid had said nearly the exact same thing, they really pissed me off.
“Oh, shut up,” I snapped at him. “It’s alright for you, isn’t it? The good son, the favourite, top marks at school, now following in his daddy’s footsteps and becoming an Auror, can’t do anything wrong ... you’re a fucking suck-up, you know that? You’re only here now because it’ll make you look good-”
“That’s bollocks, and you know it. I’m here because I care about you, James, and I don’t want to see you making a mistake-”
“You’re as bad as Brigid!” I ranted. “You claim that you care about my well-being but you couldn’t give a damn! You just don’t want me to make you look bad! That’s why you never liked me dating the Slytherin at school, isn’t it? And you can’t deny it; you’re just the same with Rose and Malfoy now! You couldn’t give a flying fuck, Albus, don’t you go pretending otherwise. I’m not an idiot, you know-”
“Could have fooled me,” he snorted. “You’re the one sitting here getting drunk for no reason. What’s gotten your wand in a knot all of a sudden, that you’ve decided that everyone’s against you? If this is what being an England player does to you, then it’s a bad move-”
“Oh, so that’s what it’s all about, is it?” I sat upright. “You think I’m going to steal your thunder! You don’t want me to be a success, because you’re scared I’ll overshadow you!”
He stared at me, dumbstruck.
“What is in that Firewhisky?” he said, sounding bewildered. Then he saw the plate on the coffee table. “Where’s that treacle tart come from?”
“What’s it to you?”
“That’s from Hogwarts. Have you been making Kreacher bring food to you? You know you’re not supposed to use him like that, James-”
“Here we go again, with the self-righteous bollocks! Merlin, lighten up a bit, Al. Why the fuck do you think you never pull women?”
He looked at me distastefully.
“You are repugnant,” he declared, and Disapparated.
I was used to Al looking down at me. He’d always been far more law-abiding than me, and had made no attempt to hide that he thought I lacked morals.
But there was something quite jarring about him finding me repulsive.
I tried to shake off the unease, but couldn’t let it go. So instead, I decided to drown it, and opened a new bottle of Firewhisky.