Chapter 33 : thirty-three
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He came via the front door. It was more respect than the rest of my family credited me with; they preferred to just Apparate or Floo in without invitation. Or perhaps – more likely – it was down to mere unfamiliarity. Because these days, it didn’t seem like we were father and son.
He wasn’t alone; Mum was with him. My first thought was that she had cajoled him into seeing me, but it soon became clear that this was a visit under his own steam. He looked tired and worn out; in fact they both did. But where he looked angry, she just looked ... resigned. It was a far worse thing for me to realise. Dad always seemed angry with me these days, and I didn’t generally care these days about what he thought of me. I’d learned that lesson years ago.
Mum just giving up on me was infinitely worse.
“Have you completely lost your mind?” Dad exploded the moment I shut the door.
“Harry-” began Mum, but he raised a hand to silence her.
“James, you are an adult!” he said. “It’s about time you started behaving like one! I cannot believe your behaviour of late. What on earth possessed you to assault a member of the public?”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t have a response. How could I possibly justify my actions? I squirmed under his angry glare, feeling about six years old.
“Do you have any concept of personal responsibility? This isn’t just a game, you know! You can’t go fooling around like this and not expect the ramifications! Do you realise how this looks?”
“How this makes you look, you mean?” I said venomously. “That’s the only reason why you’re here, isn’t it? Because I’m a slight on your character! Because you’re meant to be the important, respected Head of the MLE, and you can’t bear to have your reputation damaged by your son-”
“Don’t be so immature,” he snapped. “This is about you, and-”
“Oh, it is about me now, is it?” I laughed hollowly. “So you care now that I’m fucking up, is that it?”
“Whoever said I didn’t-”
“Don’t go pretending otherwise!” I interrupted him, getting angrier still at his own denial. “You don’t care unless it affects you; you never have cared, not in years! You never show any interest in my life, you only turn up at my Quidditch matches when Mum makes you! You didn’t even congratulate me on making the England squad!”
He was shaking his head, looking dumbstruck.
“You’re blaming me for all of this?” he said incredulously. “You-”
“And now you’re trying to deny it!” I interrupted him, my blood boiling. “Admit it; you don’t care at all-”
“James, why do you think you’ve not had the Law Enforcement officers banging your door down yet?” he exploded. “You’ve assaulted someone, that’s a criminal offence; the photographer had every right to press charges! I’ve had to pay him off to keep him quiet! Not to mention the Statute breach. You know how it works these days; you’re meant to apply to the MLE and the MAC for permission before telling a Muggle about us! The MAC wanted to get their hands all over this one, I’ve had to persuade them that there are far more pressing matters at hand than a simple slip of the tongue but that’s hardly going to take the heat off! And you think I don’t care about you?”
I felt the colour drain from my face. The Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes wanted to get involved ... that meant Obliviators. And Dad had put them off the scent.
But I couldn’t even feel the slightest amount of gratitude at that fact, because there was one thought at the forefront of my mind.
“You didn’t do this for me,” I said quietly, shaking my head slightly. “You did this for you. This is all about damage limitation, about you not looking good-”
“James, if I was worried about my own image then I would hardly be bypassing the legal system, would I?” he said, looking exasperated. “You know how I feel about corruption in the Ministry; I’ve just completely gone against the principles which I try to uphold, do you really think that’s going to make me look good? Or would you rather I put myself first and act properly, and hang two lawsuits over your head? And that’s not even the most important issue here; how about you stop challenging me about how I do my job, and ask your mother how hers is right now?”
“Harry – no, don’t-” Mum began, looking as though this conversation was the last one she wanted to have.
“What?” I frowned, confused. I turned to look at her. “What does he mean? What’s happened?”
“Your mother has been working non-stop for days trying to put a stranglehold on the media’s coverage of your antics. She didn’t leave the office all weekend!”
My stomach tied itself in knots as I remembered her no-show on Saturday. The lack of explanation. Because of this?
“Unfortunately, she’s not had as much success,” Dad added in clipped tones.
I was unsure as to where this was going. The Prophet had already been all over my misdemeanours, surely the damage had already been done?
“They want to run an article on you,” Mum said quietly. I turned my attention to her. I’d noted when she’d arrived that she looked tired, but upon a second look it seemed as though she’d barely slept in the past few days. Understandable, if she’d been working all weekend. The knot tightened. “Not like what they’ve done before. A full analysis into your life; your time at school, your time with the Falcons, everything. They want to interview friends, family, schoolmates ... as many people as possible.”
It sounded bad. But I didn’t see how it was that much of an issue. After all, there was no chance that my family and close friends would talk, not for this kind of an article. And as for people I’d been at school with ... well, that didn’t bother me. What could they expose? There was nothing to expose.
And then Mum dropped the bombshell.
“And my editor told me to write it.”
My jaw dropped.
“I refused,” she said, her eyes beginning to well with tears. “I said I thought it was morally wrong to probe into someone’s life like that, to try to pull apart someone who clearly needs help. And I said that I’d say the same thing even if it wasn’t you, and that I thought it was despicable to ask me to write it given that it is you. How can they ask a mother to drag her son’s name through the mud?” Her voice broke. “And then the editor decided, on the basis that I’d disobeyed a direct order and given that there was certain to be a breakdown in staff relations because my son assaulted my colleague, that he had no other choice but to dismiss me.”
It was like a blow to the stomach. I stared at her in horror, lost for words. My mother had lost her job because of me?
“You see, James?” Dad said, wrapping a comforting arm around Mum’s shoulders. “Your actions have had serious consequences! The press have been bombarding Lily for the past week trying to get a statement from her! She’s trying to sit exams, not to mention she’s at risk of breaking the Statute and being exposed to her schoolmates!”
The guilt over that would have felt like a lofty blow, if not for the fact that the sledgehammer which had hit me with the news of Mum’s dismissal had left me feeling numb. So numb that I couldn’t even summon enough feeling to get angry that Dad was once more bringing Lily, precious, fragile Lily, into the conversation.
“And as for abusing your privileges with Kreacher-”
For some reason, Dad’s knowledge of this rankled enough to prompt a response.
“How do you know about that?” I said angrily. “Albus told you, didn’t he? The stinking tattletale-” Then I remembered Kreacher’s absence when I’d tried to summon him a second time. “You forbade Kreacher from following my orders!”
“House elves are not at your beck and call to do your bidding,” Dad said thunderously. “It makes me sick to the stomach to think that you consider it okay to laze around and let him bring you food! After all I’ve taught you about the poor treatment of magical creatures-”
“And yet, you keep him on as your elf!” I interrupted.
“Because he knows nothing else! He’s not mine out of choice, he’s mine through law! If I had a choice, then I would have him leave my service, but to do so would break his heart. He lives to serve and through me he has a tie to his old family; I can’t take that away from him! I don’t want a house elf at all; why do you think I have him working at Hogwarts during the school term? But there’s a difference in letting him do what he enjoys doing, and abusing that power-”
“I didn’t hear you telling Lily this when she used him to deliver letters to me and Albus and to deliver her Chocolate Frogs,” I said coldly.
“She was in a delicate situation at the time, and I drew the line as soon as I felt she’d come to terms with her situation-”
There was an odd maniacal laugh; it took me a moment to realise that it was coming from my mouth.
“Here we go again, let’s treat Lily extra specially because she’s a Squib, and we’ll treat Albus specially too because he’s unsure about himself, but we won’t give a damn about James because he can handle himself and doesn’t deserve our attention-”
“How can you say we don’t think you deserve our attention-”
“YOU’RE ONLY HERE BECAUSE I’VE DONE SOMETHING WRONG!” I bellowed at him.
Dad’s eyes flashed; it was as though something inside him had snapped.
“Is that what you think? Because if that’s the case then I wonder why I wasn’t here sooner-”
It all happened so quickly; it was as though my actions were uncontrollable, as though my limbs were moving without my brain’s say-so, and the next thing I knew I had my wand aimed at my own father’s heart.
“James, no!” Mum cried, stepping forwards; Dad, a rapid draw, was quicker than her, and I found myself staring at the end of his wand.
“Go on then,” he said, panting slightly, “curse me.”
Mum whipped her own wand up and conjured a shield so strong that I was forced to take a few steps backwards. It knocked Dad slightly off-kilter too, and that seemed to jolt his senses; he pocketed his wand, stared at me in disgust for a moment, then left.
“James,” Mum whispered, “darling...”
She lowered her arm, and the shield dropped. For a split second I wanted nothing more than to go to her, to be held by her as I had done when I was younger, but then I realised.
She’d been on Dad’s side of the shield. She’d conjured it between me and her.
I shook my head slowly.
“I can’t believe you,” I hissed, and then I turned tail and headed into my bedroom.
“No – James, please, wait, let me talk to you-”
“You let him come here!” I bellowed at her, turning to face her as I reached the doorway to my room.
“I tried to stop him, I really did, but he was so angry, but he doesn’t mean to be, darling, he just wants to help you, we both do-”
“I don’t need your help,” I snarled, and with a sinking heart I shut the door in her face.
“No, James, please, don’t shut me out! You need to stop shutting everyone out, we care about you and we want to help you, we hate seeing you like this!” She started to cry, and I closed my eyes, resting my head against the doorframe. “Baby, we can fix this, but only if you talk to us and tell us what’s wrong, please...”
I sank to the floor, eyes screwed shut in agony, silently pleading with her to leave.
“James, I love you, you know that I do! We all love you, poppet, how could we not? Just let me in, Jimmy-”
She tried to turn the handle, but with a shaking hand I magically locked the door. Her sobs grew more intense.
“No, no, Jimmy, you can’t do this, please, I’m your mother...”
And at that point, I nearly gave in, nearly opened the door to let her in. Right now, all I wanted was to be enveloped in her arms.
But then I remembered that look on Dad’s face, and I knew what I had to do.
I raised my palm to the door, and pressed it against the wood, imagining that on the other side, she was doing the same. And then I raised my wand again, and pointed it at the door.
With that one word, I felt my heart splinter into a million pieces.
A/N: This is the confrontation which I think many of you were looking forward to. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s panned out the way you hoped! Rest assured, James isn’t doomed to live a life of loneliness and misery; there is light at the end of the tunnel, and things do begin to pick up for him soon. He still has some learning to do before things can be fixed, though. Thanks for all the support and reviews, I really appreciate it!
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