Chapter 41 : forty-one
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“Of course they’re not going to like me; I stormed out of an interview, attacked their photographer and lost them their best Quidditch reporter.” I shifted slightly in my seat as I referred to the photographer; thinking about what I’d done made me uneasy.
“They lost their best reporter all by themselves; they can’t blame you for that,” she pointed out, as she skimmed the next article.
“No, but they will.” I paused. “Why are you still reading that trash anyway?”
“I don’t by choice. I have to keep up with what they’re saying about my clients, don’t I?” Then it was her turn to look awkward, as she recalled the oversight which had contributed towards our fall-out.
“It’s alright,” I reassured her. “I know you didn’t expect to have to examine the gossip pages at great length.”
“I am now though,” she said darkly. “It’s all utter rubbish here. None of the writers have a clue about Quidditch, it’s painful. Anyway, you can stop acting all high-and-mighty about my subscription; don’t you get it too?”
“Not any more,” I said proudly.
She raised an eyebrow.
“Did you cancel it?”
“Well, no,” I admitted, “they cancelled it when they got fed up of the owls returning with the paper and no money. But I only ever got it because Mum wrote for them, so it’s no skin off my nose. I still have my Quidditch Weekly and Which Broomstick? subscriptions, and I suppose I could buy the Quibbler if she ever writes a piece for them.”
“You could always subscribe to it,” she suggested. “It’s run by a family friend; you’d be doing a good deed.”
“And Cordelia is short of dross to munch on now I don’t get the Prophet,” I admitted.
“Be nice.” She frowned, folded up the Prophet and tossed it to one side. “All I can say is your Aunt’s press reforms can’t come soon enough. But never mind, the publications that matter are all on side again. As are Witch Weekly, unsurprisingly. As you might expect, they’ve gone for a ‘tragic hero’ angle on the whole story. It’s incredibly nauseating but it’s always good to have the support wizarding Britain’s housewives, isn’t it?”
I smirked slightly.
“I’ll remind you of that cynicism next time you schedule an interview with them.”
She let out a short laugh, then fell silent, and frowned down at the table. Not for the first time since she’d turned up, I wondered how to go about asking her about her conversation with Freddie – or indeed whether to ask her in the first place. This time, however, she solved my dilemma for me.
“Fred wanted to talk to me about something the other day,” she said stiffly.
Fred. This didn’t bode well.
“What did he say?” I tried to sound as though I wasn’t already aware of the topic of conversation.
She gave me a withering look.
“I’m not stupid; I know he talked to you about it.”
“Well, he told me,” she admitted, then let out a heavy sigh. “He’s just such a fucking idiot! I mean, does he expect me to just accept everything and be fine with it?”
“What did he say?” I pressed.
“Some absolute bollocks about how we can’t be together because he’s got issues.” She scowled. “I could’ve bloody told him that.”
I shifted awkwardly in my seat.
“Look, you shouldn’t be too harsh on him-”
“What, you’re going to take his side again?” she snapped.
“No, I’m not taking his – what do you mean, again?”
“Every time, James. Every time there’s an issue, you stick up for him.”
“And how do you know I don’t stick up for you when I’m talking to him?” I pointed out. “In Seventh Year, I didn’t side with either of you, remember? And ever since, I’ve tried to be the moderator. I love you both equally, and I agree he’s being stupid about this. But that doesn’t mean he’s completely wrong.”
She looked guilty, which made me feel bad. She’d been put through the ringer by Freddie over the years, that was for sure.
“Look,” I continued, trying to rationalise my cousin’s actions as best I could, “I don’t deny what he’s done is stupid. Picking up other girls when you’re around is just mean, and he shouldn’t have gone down that route. But his reasoning? I don’t necessarily understand it, but ... I don’t want to sound like I’m trying to throw us a pity party here, but it’s not easy being in our family, what with all the attention, and everything that’s happened before ... and he’s right; Uncle George and Aunt Angelina do have a different relationship from my parents, or Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione, or your parents. And if he thinks that growing up in that environment has somehow had an impact, then who are we to argue with him?”
“I know,” she said softly. “Merlin, I know. I’ve known you guys for ten years, I know better than most people how being your parents’ kids has affected you. I’ve watched you struggle with the attention for years. And I’m not trying to trivialise his problems. But ... what does he expect? That he can say ‘I’m sorry I’ve shagged every girl under the sun this past year, but it’s because I have this theory I can’t love you properly, so really, I’ve done it all for you and you shouldn’t be mad at me’ and I’ll jump into his arms? If anything, his actions have just proven he can’t treat someone right.” She scowled. “And the worst bit is, he didn’t even suggest that he might change his ways; he seemed to think once he told me, I’d just understand his pain, and regret ever getting pissed off with him over it.”
I winced. “Did he say that?”
“Near enough,” she said darkly. “And the worst part is that if he’d just told me, right after we graduated, that he was interested, but didn’t think he knew how to treat a girlfriend, then I’d have been okay with that! We could have given it a go, and if it didn’t work out, well at least we’d know we’d tried. But his stupid idea of trying to help me move on from him, for my own good ... it’s just bollocks. He has a seriously deluded notion of chivalry.”
I rubbed the back of my neck awkwardly.
“If I’d known before, I’d have said something to him about it...” I began.
She glared at me.
“Oh, don’t even try pulling that one. What was stopping you talking to him before? All those times you’d reassure me he was interested, all along ... you didn’t know at all, you were just guessing! You could have said something to him, but you didn’t bother!”
Brigid had done so much for me over the years. She’d always looked out for me at school, making sure I got my work done on time and helping me when I was stuck with it. When we’d left school it had been Brigid who’d found my flat for me. And she was still looking after me even now.
I’d barely done anything for her in return. And right now, the guilt seemed almost too much to bear. Because she was right; I could – and should – have done so much more for her. And I hadn’t done, all because I hadn’t wanted to have a heart-to-heart with Freddie.
“I’m so sorry, Brie...” I began.
Her angry look vanished, and was replaced by an apologetic one.
“Oh, no, James – I didn’t mean it like that! It’s not up to you to run my love life for me; I should have just had it out with him years ago-”
“You’re my best friends, though,” I interrupted. “You’re right; I could have said something, and I didn’t, because I let my damn pride get in the way ... and you’re worth far more than that.”
She smiled slightly.
“Okay, maybe you could have said something. But don’t beat yourself up about it. I don’t want you to feel bad because of me. And besides, you left Dominique’s wedding early for me; it’s not as though you haven’t been there for me.”
This didn’t help to assuage my guilt, but I knew she’d shoot down any further attempts to apologise. I made a mental note that in future, if I could help her in any way possible, I’d do it in a heartbeat, regardless of anything else.
“What happens now, then?” I asked her.
“I have no idea. I don’t know if he wants to give things a go or not; he was ridiculously unclear about that. And even if he did, I don’t know that I’d want to, not right now at any rate. He’s been a total berk-”
“But you still care about him.”
Her face fell; she buried her head in her hands.
“Oh, Merlin, Jim, of course I do,” she told her palms. “Every time I’m mad at him I remember all the times he was there for me when we were at Hogwarts: all the detentions he ended up with for pulling pranks on anyone who upset me; all the times I’d sleep in his bed if I was feeling like crap; all the times he snuck out to Hogsmeade for me ... and it’s not as though he’s stopped caring since! It’s just ... he became the one who was upsetting me. And yet, no matter how angry I get with him, no matter how much I want to hate him, I still find myself lying in bed at night wishing he was there to hold me and make things better, like he always would...”
Her voice broke.
“And then I just hate myself, for being such a fool,” she finished in little more than a whisper.
I reached out and pulled her into a hug; the moment I touched her she burst into tears, and buried her head in my shoulder. I didn’t say anything – I didn’t know what more to say. I just held her as she cried, and silently cursed Freddie for being the cause of her pain, and for the fact that no matter how hard I tried to comfort her, I’d never be able to do it as well as he could.
The following day, Albus surprised me by falling out of my fireplace in a most ungainly manner.
“Why travel by Floo?” I asked him as he cursed while brushing the soot off himself. “And I hope you’re planning on tidying that up.”
He flashed me the finger.
“Flooing seems slightly more socially acceptable than Apparating into the middle of someone’s house,” he explained, cleaning the floor of the soot he’d just discarded.
“It would be, if you didn’t bring half my grate with you,” I observed.
“Well that’s your fault for not keeping it clean,” he pointed out. “It never happens at the other end.”
“I’d rather not know what happens at your other end,” I said smoothly. “Anyway, what brings you here on this fine evening?”
“Do I need a reason to visit my brother?” He fell into the armchair opposite me.
“No, but your visits have been few and far between for about a year now; this makes a change.”
“I stopped visiting when you seemed to stop wanting me to,” he said in such a horribly matter-of-fact way.
“What – what do you mean?” I frowned.
“I know I’ve never been as cool as you. And I don’t really give a damn about that; I’m perfectly fine with who I am. But it always seemed like it bothered you. So I figured I wouldn’t bother you if you didn’t want me to.”
I stared at him for a moment, my mouth open. Then I found my voice.
“You ... you thought I thought you weren’t cool enough? Al, that’s ... that’s crazy! You’re proud to be who you are, you don’t give a shit what anyone thinks of you, that’s way cooler than anything I’ve done! And I admire you for that, I – heck, I’m envious of you, Al! You’re cleverer than me, you’re wiser than me, you’re nicer than me ... and I guess I always thought Dad preferred you to me. That you were the son he’d always wanted, and I wasn’t.”
Now it was his turn to look bemused. I had to give him some credit; if my face had looked anything like his did now, then it was a wonder that he hadn’t burst out laughing.
“You’re nuts,” he finally said.
“So are you,” I retorted.
His face split into a wide grin, which I returned.
“I can only imagine what Lily would say if she was here right now,” he said.
“She’d probably be banging our heads together,” I said dryly. “Why have you come round, anyway? Not that I want to get rid of you, of course...”
“Wanted to get out of the flat. Mal – Scorpius is round. It’s ... it’s still a bit awkward.”
“You’re cool with it, though, aren’t you?” I said.
“I’m fine with the whole Dark family thing, if that’s what you mean,” he said. “But at the end of the day, he’s still the kid who took the piss out of my name. Things are hardly going to be okay overnight. But he makes Rosie happy, and that’s the most important thing. So I have to at least make an effort, for her sake. Doesn’t stop things being awkward when he’s around though,” he added gruffly.
I grinned slightly.
“Is he round often?”
“All the time,” he said darkly.
And then I realised, with a slight pang of jealousy, just why Albus was here. He was here because Lily was off on her trip with Maddie and Kit. She, of course, would have been his usual go-to when he wanted to escape his flat.
I wasn’t sure which I liked less; that he clearly visited Lily just as much, if not more, than I ever did, or that it was her he was visiting and not me. It was hardly as though any of us had more right over each other, but at the same time it made me wonder if I was ever the least favoured sibling in their eyes. And it also made me determined to spend more time with him in future.
“So,” he continued, clearly wanting to move the conversation away from Scorpius Malfoy, “what’s going on with you and Carlotta? I quite liked her.”
“So did I,” I murmured.
“Did?” He cocked his head to the side.
“Don’t do that, it’s girly,” I berated him light-heartedly.
“Stop avoiding the question.”
A light smile played at the corners of my mouth at his persistence.
“She’s one of a kind...” I mused.
“Gotta talk to her, haven’t I?”
“Why haven’t you already?” he pressed.
“I tried,” I confessed. “I went to the Tav yesterday. I thought I’d find her there. She always works Sundays, see. Except, she wasn’t there. She’s not going to be there for a couple of weeks, apparently. And the girl I asked wouldn’t say why. So I can’t do anything. I’ll just have to wait a couple of weeks or more until she’s back at work...” I trailed off.
“Ring her,” he suggested.
I shook my head.
“I can’t chat over the phone. We need to talk properly, face to face.”
“Go round hers, then!”
“I can’t, I don’t know where she lives!”
He looked slightly bemused.
“How can you not know that?”
“We never went back to hers. And she always took herself off home. I haven’t got a clue how to find her.”
“Have you tried looking in the telephone directory?” he suggested.
It was once more my turn to look confused.
“The phone book! You know, it has a list of the addresses and numbers of everyone who lives nearby. Didn’t you listen in Muggle Studies?”
“Of course I didn’t,” I said scornfully. “So, where can I find this phone book then?”
“Well, you should have one.” He looked round the room. “Big book, probably blue or yellow, comes through the letter box...”
“Hang on, that rings a bell.” I got to my feet. “I had one of them the other week; I gave it to Cordelia to eat...”
The book in question was a bit slobbery and chewed at the edges, but it was still salvageable.
“One of these days you’ll treat her to proper food.” Al wrinkled his nose as I sat down next to him with the book.
“What’s the point? She loves paper just as much. Now, how the hell do I use this thing?”
“Well, you need to look her up by her name...”
There weren’t many Fortescues in the book, but a quick scan down the list showed that Carlotta wasn’t one of them. I looked under ‘M’ as well, in case she was down under the name Martínez, but she wasn’t there either.
“Does she share with someone?” Al asked. “It might be that they own the place.”
“She does, yeah. But all I know is that her flatmate is called Flick or something like that.”
He pulled a face.
“I don’t know, then,” he said.
I absent-mindedly flicked to the ‘P’s, to see if I could find myself.
“You won’t be there,” he said.
“Why not?” I frowned.
“You’re ex-directory. Everyone magical is. It means you’re left out of the book,” he elaborated at my quizzical look. “The Ministry oversees it. It’s part of their efforts in upholding the Statute. The less Muggle interference there is, the better.”
“I’d never really thought about how much work it takes to keep the Statute intact...” I mused.
“Bucket loads. Which makes it all the more infuriating for them when oafs like you break it willy-nilly.”
“Yeah, that ... that wasn’t so good, in hindsight...”
“Would you have told her about us?” he asked curiously.
“I dunno,” I frowned. “Possibly, if I’d thought this was going to become something ... but then, why would I have thought that? And I don’t know how things would have panned out if she’d never found out. Would we have gotten closer, or would things have come to an end? I’m not sure.”
“I think you liked her more from the start, though. Why persist with a Muggle, given the Statute, if you weren’t interested on some subliminal level?”
“Al, I’m not fantastic with feelings at the best of times, let alone hypothetical feelings. Anyway, we can’t find her in the book, so what the hell do I do now?”
Albus smiled, as though the answer was obvious.
“Go to Dad.”
I’d never come to Dad for advice before. Things had become awkward between us before I’d got to the point where I ever needed advice. Instead, Mum had always been my go-to. So, while asking him might be the obvious choice for Albus, it hadn’t even struck me that he might be able to help me out here.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how he would be able to help me. Al seemed to put a lot of faith in his being able to fix anything, regardless of what the problem was. To be fair, judging by how he’d sorted out my messes at the Ministry, Al probably had good reason for that faith. But I’d not really experienced that as much as he had, and so I still felt dubious as I knocked on the front door – I hadn’t Flooed there for years, and the habit of visiting via the front door had well and truly stuck.
“James!” Dad looked surprised – but pleasantly so – as he opened the door. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“I just thought I’d drop by.” I shrugged and stepped into the hallway.
He shut the door behind me and led me into the kitchen.
“Your Mum’s in her study, but I can get her if you want...?”
“It’s fine; I only saw her the other day.” I sat down in my old seat at the large table. “Besides, she’s probably busy. And ... it’s you I’ve come to see, anyway.”
He gave me a slightly bemused look as he put the kettle on.
“She baked something earlier. I’m sure she won’t mind if we sample some with a cuppa...” he mused.
He began to look through the cupboards, presumably to find Mum’s creation.
“She get stuck on her article?” I said with a raised eyebrow. She only ever baked when she had writer’s block.
“If by ‘stuck’ you mean ‘she didn’t know what to write an article about’ then yes,” he replied, his head in one of the floor-level cupboards. “Where does she hide it all...”
“Surely you ought to know by now?” I reasoned.
“She’s a smart cookie, she moves her hiding place every time I stumble across it,” he grumbled. “It’s as though she doesn’t want me eating what she makes.”
“How inconsiderate of her,” I said dryly.
Dad emerged from the cupboard with a large cake, looking impressed with himself.
“It would be a shame to see it go to waste,” he reasoned, setting it down in the middle of the table. “I think she’s beginning to wish she still had an editor to oversee what she writes.” He returned to our previous conversation as his attention turned back to the kettle. “Sometimes she likes having the freedom to do stuff on her own terms, but it also means she needs to come up with all the ideas herself; she doesn’t have anyone prompting her on what to write. Which is difficult at times like this, when she doesn’t know what to write about. But she’ll get used to it.”
I leaned back on the back legs of my chair, savouring the fact that Mum wasn’t here to tell me off for it and that Dad couldn’t care less, and grabbed a cake knife from the drawer behind me.
“She might only be doing this journalism lark for another year,” I pointed out, cutting two generous slices.
“She says that...” he began.
“She’s given McGonagall her word she’ll take the job if nobody else does.” It was also nice not to be berated for not referring to old teachers as ‘Professor’. “You know nobody else will take the job, and once Mum gives her word, she doesn’t go back on it.”
“I know.” Dad took a seat opposite me and handed me a mug, taking a wedge of cake in return. “But she retired from playing because it took her away from home too much, and I don’t see why she’d take up another job that would do that exact same thing.”
“We’re all grown up now,” I said hesitantly, picking at my slice of cake. “Me, Al, Lil ... we’re not at home any more, we’re hardly going to be a factor in her decision...”
He sighed heavily, and looked down at the table.
“I know,” he said. “I guess I just don’t want to let her go, you know? I like knowing that no matter how long or how bad my day is, I’ll get home and she’ll be here ... but you’re right; you kids aren’t at home any more, you don’t need looking after like you used to.”
“I’d say I still do,” I joked with a smile. Then I twigged just why Dad didn’t like the idea of Mum’s new job. “You think she picks us over you, don’t you?”
“Don’t be stupid.” He attempted a light-hearted tone; it failed abysmally. “It’s just ... she felt compelled to work from home when you were little, and now you’ve all grown up she’s fine with working away from home for months on end again. It does seem a bit like I’m not really a factor in her decision.”
Of all the peculiar situations I’d found myself in, having a discussion with my father about his insecurities in his relationship with my mother had to be up there at the top. The fact that this was only our second proper conversation in years just added to the weirdness of the moment, along with the fact that I really wasn’t any good at giving advice about this kind of thing. Why did everyone seem to be coming to me with their problems recently?
“Have you told her you don’t want her to take the job?” I asked him.
“Well ... not exactly,” he said. “I didn’t want to seem like I was being difficult about it! I think she’d be great at it, but-”
“But you don’t want to have to cook your own dinners, right?”
“Exactly,” he said with a nod. “I just don’t want to burn the house down, that’s all.”
I hid a grin.
“I think you’d be good at the flying job, you know,” I said. “You always said you liked teaching the DA, and you know more than most people about flying.”
“I’d enjoy it,” he admitted. “But I don’t know if it’s the job for me. There are things I still want to achieve within the Ministry – and besides, it would stop me spending time with your mother just as her doing the job would.”
“It doesn’t have to,” I pointed out.
“But it would, in the end.” He sighed. “No, I think it’s already done and dusted. Your mum will take the job; she won’t want to let Minerva down...”
“Unless someone else takes it first?” I suggested.
“Who, James? Nobody wants it!”
“I’ll find someone,” I promised. My first scout around had been half-hearted, but that was before I knew about Mum’s plans. Now, I had the extra motivation of helping my parents out, and this time I was determined I wouldn’t fail. “Don’t worry, you won’t be deprived of your cake baker. I’ll make sure of it.”
“You’re a good kid really,” he said fondly. “So, what did you want?”
“I said, I was just dropping by.” I shrugged nonchalantly, but he didn’t look convinced. “Okay, I was hoping you could help me with something,” I admitted.
“I need to talk to Carlotta, but I don’t know where she lives. I tried to look her up in the phone book, but I couldn’t find her.”
He gave me a curious look.
“You know what a phone book is?”
“Of course I do! What, you think I didn’t listen in Muggle Studies?”
He didn’t look convinced.
“Alright, Al told me about it,” I admitted.
“That sounds about right,” he said, sounding amused. He got to his feet and crossed the kitchen, pulling open the drawer which I knew held all the important stuff he couldn’t be bothered to keep a flight of stairs away in his study. He pulled out a buff-coloured folder and slid it across the table towards me. It had Carlotta’s name on the front of it. I frowned, and picked it up.
“What is this?”
“It’s her folder from the MAC,” he said hollowly.
I stared up at him.
He nodded shortly, sitting back down opposite me. I flicked it open. It was all in there – name, date of birth, height, weight, shoe size, hair colour, eye colour, qualifications, occupation, parents’ occupations, siblings’ ages and occupations ... the list went on.
And there, right on the first page, her address. Jackpot.
“The Ministry has all of this information on her?” I said, dumbfounded.
“Had,” Dad corrected.
I eyed him suspiciously.
“Did you steal this from them?”
“Steal is such a strong word...”
“That’s a yes, then,” I said flatly.
“I borrowed it. For research purposes.”
“But you’re not going to give it back?”
“Why, do you want me to?”
“Of course not!” I cried. “This stuff ... it’s crazy, how much they know! How many people do they have this kind of information on?”
“Everyone who might threaten the Statute,” Dad said flatly. “Lily’s got a folder in there.”
I stared at him.
“Lily’s in there?”
“Yep. So are Maddie and Kit.”
“Bloody...” I shook my head, stunned. “And they’re allowed to collect this kind of information?”
“They have to make sure the Statute isn’t threatened,” he said in that same flat tone of voice that told me he really didn’t approve of the Obliviators’ methods.
“But you took Carlotta’s folder.”
“Because I knew you wouldn’t want them Obliviating her.”
My heart swelled with gratitude.
“I ... thanks,” I said awkwardly.
“No need to thank me,” he said with a smile.
I turned my attention to what was written down in the folder.
“Middle name Margarita, huh? Like the pizza.”
“That’s the first thing you comment on?”
“Just making an observation.” I shrugged. “They’ve documented all the times she’s visited anywhere magical ... this is detailed. And the schools she went to, and all of her qualifications from there ... wait,” I added with a frown, as I flicked through the pages. “There’s a page missing.”
“Is there?” Dad said in a curious tone of voice. Too curious. I eyed him suspiciously.
“Why did you take a page out?”
“Who says I did it-”
“Why?” I repeated firmly.
He sighed, looking nervous.
“There’s a lot of personal stuff in there, James...”
“Right. So why bother taking some of it out? Unless it was more personal than the rest, and I can’t imagine that...” I paused for a moment. “What do you know?”
“It’s not my business to tell you. It’s hers, if she wants to.”
“But what if she doesn’t tell me?” I pressed.
“Oh, I think she will. She might not want to, but I think she will in the end. Possibly the next time you see her, depending on what you want to talk to her about...”
It was a sentence looking for an answer.
“I just ... I want her back. Somehow.” I stared down at the folder in my hands. Just holding it made me feel as if I was invading her privacy, even though I already knew most of the information it contained. “Does this ... this information ... does it have any bearing on why she’s trying to distance herself from me?”
“Possibly,” Dad said cagily. “But I can’t speak for her on that one, obviously. Only she knows for sure.”
“Does anyone else know about this? Mum, perhaps?”
“I haven’t told anyone,” he said firmly. “The Obliviators will know about it, obviously, but that’s it. Just ... just promise me this, James. Promise me that when she does tell you, you won’t act ... rashly. Just ... try to be understanding about it.”
I looked at him, bewildered.
“How can I, when I don’t know what ‘it’ is?”
“You’ll see,” he said in an infuriatingly cryptic manner.
Before I could reply, I was interrupted by the angry redheaded woman I fondly referred to as my mother.
“Harry James Potter, cake before dinner?”
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