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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 43 : forty-three
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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“How did you know?” I asked as soon as Dad opened the door.

He frowned. “Know what?”

“Carlotta, of course!” I elaborated, as I pushed past him into the hallway.

He gave me an odd look and shut the door.

“Are you suffering from memory loss or something? I told you, it was in the file-”

“No, I don’t mean about that.” I continued into the kitchen. “I mean, how did you know that was why she was holding back?”

“Oh,” he said. “Well, I guessed, really. It seemed to make sense she wouldn’t want to burden anyone else.”

There was that word again. Burden.

“And you’d know all about that, huh?” I sat down in my chair and rocked back on two legs. “You’re the pro at the whole ‘don’t get too close to me or you’ll just get hurt’ mentality. And it worked really well for you.”

He sighed heavily, and pushed himself up to perch on the kitchen unit – even Dad rebelled when Mum wasn’t around to scold him.

“It’s a horrible feeling, to be dragging people you love and care about into such a situation,” he said. “Of course, I know now that I couldn’t have defeated Voldemort without Ron and Hermione’s help, and trying to push your mother away hardly changed how we felt about each other. But I hated the thought that they were doing something detrimental for my cause. Even if they – and the whole family – were fighting for the bigger picture, and wanted Voldemort dead as much as I did, they still risked themselves further still for my sake. It’s not a nice thought, James. I realise it’s a different situation here, but it’s still the same principle; it’s about not wanting to see someone else sacrifice so much when they don’t have to. It’s one thing choosing to make a sacrifice yourself; it’s a lot harder to accept it when other people do the same thing for you.”

“Well, at least we know which house she’d have been in if she were magical, what with that attitude.” I sighed. “But if she’s going to get all Gryffindorish on me, I’m going to play the same game. Her situation might be different to yours in some ways, but I’m going to be as stubborn as Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were on this one. If she thinks she’s getting rid of me that easily, she’s got another think coming.”

The expression on Dad’s face was a mixture of pride and concern.

“James, you do realise what this entails, don’t you?” he asked gently. “Trust me, I totally understand your stance here – you want to help her, and I can’t criticise that in the slightest – but I don’t want you going into this blind.”

I frowned.

“How do you know so much about it?” I asked. He’d been raised as a Muggle, but only until he was eleven, and I seriously doubted he’d have had that much awareness of long-term Muggle illnesses at that age.

“Your Aunt Audrey’s talked about it a few times; it’s part of her research.”

Of course. Aunt Audrey was a research Healer, which meant she did more than just treat people in the hospital; she worked on projects concerning medical advances alongside her hospital work. She’d been working on her current project for the last ten years; it was a hugely important one, and received a huge amount of Ministry funding and support. She’d been tasked with trying to find magical cures for Muggle illnesses which were currently thought to be incurable. I knew that one strand of her research involved trying to discover why we seemed to be all-but unsusceptible to such illnesses, and whether this immunity could be shaped into a cure for Muggles. Unfortunately, that road had led to a dead end a long time ago; it seemed the immunity was a part and parcel of being magical, and given that we still had no idea what made someone magical in the first place (or, indeed, what deprived people like Lily of magic, or how Muggleborns like Aunt Hermione gained their abilities) there was no way of garnering a cure that way.

“If you want answers,” Dad continued, “then Audrey’s the person to ask.”

***

Parkinson’s disease,” she said, stunned. “How old is Carlotta, again?”

“Twenty,” I said morosely. Right then I felt so down about the situation that even Aunt Audrey’s mouth-watering shortbread, sitting between us at the table – why were my family conversations always orientated around kitchen tables? – didn’t appeal to me.

“Well, you sure know how to pick them, Jim.”

“Not helping.”

“I’m sorry.” She looked it. “It’s just rare for someone that young to develop it...”

“I know,” I said darkly. “Is ... is there honestly nothing that can cure it?”

“Afraid not,” she said regretfully. “Only stopgaps, things to make the symptoms less severe. But they’ll get worse; they always do. And more will crop up, too. It ... it’s only downhill from here, I’m afraid.”

I didn’t want to think of it like that.

“There are always ways around things,” I said firmly. “Surely we must have something? Maybe not a cure, but a more effective way of treating the symptoms? I mean, we have potions that help muscle stiffness – I know we do, because I’ve used them before, after a long Quidditch match...”

“There are things available,” she admitted. “And they may be more effective than the Muggle remedies in terms of stopping the pain. But ... they’re not ideal solutions, Jim. It’s not wise for Carlotta to start using magical remedies instead of the Muggle ones she’s used to. She’s far from fully integrated into magical society, and forcing that would be a bad move for everyone concerned. And it would be detrimental for her to start using our remedies when she’s not living in our society, because what if she then has to go back to Muggle treatment? Her body wouldn’t be used to it any more. Not to mention, her Muggle doctor presumably keeps track of the severity of her symptoms. We shouldn’t get in the way of that. She’s a Muggle, with a Muggle illness; if we can’t cure it, then we can’t get in the way of how it’s treated. Does that make sense?”

It did, but it didn’t mean I liked hearing it.

“I promise you, Jim, I’m still researching this. This project is endless; I’ll keep going until I find something. I may have exhausted a lot of avenues, but there must still be something I’ve not covered yet. I’ll keep looking, I’ll do all I can. For you.”

I felt an enormous swell of gratitude towards my favourite aunt.

“I – thank you.” I felt a slight lump in my throat.

She smiled gently at me.

“You ... you do realise just how big this is, don’t you?” she said tentatively. “I don’t want you wading into something you don’t fully understand...”

“I’m beginning to piece things together.” I propped my head up on one closed fist. “It’s not going to be easy, sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to run away from it.”

“She’ll need looking after,” Aunt Audrey said warily.

“I know.”

“And things will just get more severe.”

“She’s worth it.”

Aunt Audrey sighed heavily.

“James, your heart is as large as your father’s,” she said. Her expression grew somewhat sorrowful. “I guess this explains the interest Carlotta seemed to show in all of our magical medicine...”

I frowned.

“What do you mean?”

“Lu told her I was a Healer, and she asked if she could look through some of my books. Well, it doesn’t take much imagination to realise what she was thinking. You can just see it, can’t you? Having to come to terms with the fact what she’s got is incurable ... and then she discovers there’s a whole other world out there, one where everything seems possible. One where people can fly, where things can be vanished into thin air and conjured from it, where a mere cold is cured with a sip of a potion and broken bones are healed in a trice ... it would give anyone hope there was something out there that could help them. And then, that gut-wrenching realisation that even we can’t provide an answer for her ... having her hopes completely dashed, realising there really is nothing out there that can provide her with that cure that she so badly craves. Having to come to terms with it all over again...”

I closed my eyes. My hands were shaking with emotion. It was almost too much to think about.

“Why won’t she just let me in?” I pleaded.

That question haunted me for the rest of the night, long after I’d left Aunt Audrey’s. Why couldn’t she just let me help her? Was it resentment over the fact that magic could only do so much, that even in our world there were impossibilities? Was it pride, a refusal to admit she did need – and want – someone to be there for her regardless of how ill she was?

Or just a fear of feeling guilty for taking something away from my life by being in it – except that thought was utterly laughable. Couldn’t she see it was just the opposite, that she added so much to my life, gave me something else – not to live for, but at least to work for?

Right now I felt so angry – not at Carlotta, but at the situation. How was this fair? How was it fair that we magical people were all-but immune from these illnesses which were so resilient, while non-magical people were forced to put up a fight that seemed futile, trying to battle things like this Parkinson’s, and cancer-

I sat bolt upright in my bed as I reached this thought.

I knew who else I could talk to about this. Someone who’d know Carlotta’s state of mind like nobody else, somebody who’d surely know all the answers to the questions that still remained.

***

“James.”

Ingrid had always had impeccable control over her emotions, but even she was unable to mask her surprise at seeing me on her doorstep.

“Hi.” I smiled nervously. “Sorry for just turning up like this...”

“No, it’s fine.” She’d regained her composure. “Please, come in.”

I happily obliged.

“We were just about to have dinner, if you’d like to join us-”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t like to impose on your hospitality like that-” I began, as my stomach betrayed me by letting out a rumble.

She gave a slight smile.

“Don’t be silly, of course you won’t be imposing. There’s more than enough for three, and besides, you must have come straight from training.”

“Yeah, I have,” I admitted. The day had passed in somewhat of a whirlwind; my body may have been at Falmouth, but my mind certainly hadn’t been, and Sinead had had to threaten me with being benched to try to get some kind of reaction out of me.

“It’s shepherd’s pie,” Ingrid added now, with a knowing look on her face.

One of my favourite meals...

“You still know me too well,” I said wryly, allowing her to lead me through the house and into the living room.

“And you’ve not changed one bit,” she said. “I think introductions are needed. James, this is Mark, my boyfriend. Mark, this is James Potter...”

The man sitting in the large armchair looked as though he might have been quite good-looking once, before the cancer had riddled his body. As it was, he looked incredibly frail, though he was still able to half-raise himself out of his chair and hold out a hand for me to shake.

“You don’t need to tell me who he is, love,” he replied in an amused tone. “Lovely to meet you, James. I’ve heard so much about you-”

“-and he’s a huge fan of the Falcons,” Ingrid added.

I grinned, and shook his hand warmly, though careful not to squeeze too much. “Always a pleasure to meet a fellow fan.”

“You’ll join us for dinner?” he asked, resettling himself in his chair and tucking his blankets back round his lap.

“If I’m welcome...” I said tentatively.

“Of course you are! Any friend of Ingrid’s is more than welcome, and there’s enough food to go round.”

I was warming to him already.

“Take a seat,” Ingrid said, indicating the sofa. “We eat off trays, if you don’t mind that. Can I get you a drink? Butterbeer? Mead?”

“Pumpkin juice will be fine, if you have some.”

“Of course.” She shot me a knowing look, which told me that she had correctly guessed I was avoiding alcohol, and bustled out of the room.

I sat down gingerly on the sofa, looking across the room at Mark.

“Ravenclaw,” I said, as I cracked who he was. “Five years older than me; you were in Seventh Year when I was in Second. I played you at Quidditch once, you were a Chaser too...”

He grinned, clearly also recalling the match.

“And you were far better than me, if I remember rightly. You guys completely outplayed us. I knew from that moment that you’d be a pro one day.” He paused. “I’m impressed you remember that, though. I have every reason to remember that match, but you...”

I shrugged.

“I guess I remember things like that. I could tell you about every match I ever played for Gryffindor. How long have you been a Falcons fan, then?”

“For as long as I’ve known about Quidditch,” he replied. “My dad’s a big fan. I’m not one of these glory supporters who only jumped on the bandwagon when we started winning the League.”

“Always good to hear,” I said with a grin.

“I was so excited when you signed,” he continued. “Given how good you were at twelve, and how well the reports said you played for Gryffindor after I left, I thought you were a cracking signing. Especially as Murphy was already there. And you proved me right.”

I felt a pang of guilt – a sensation that had become all too familiar recently – as I thought about my actions over recent weeks. Mark was just one of so many Falcons fans who loved their club, and I’d let them all down massively. To make matters worse, that thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until now. The fans were the heartbeat of the club; without them, we would be nothing. And yet, we barely seemed to give them a second thought at times.

Luckily, Mark didn’t seem to pick up on this inner turmoil.

Ingrid returned, levitating a large tray which held three plates and three glasses. She removed one of the plates and handed it to Mark, along with one of the glasses. I watched with a slight smile as she fussed over him, in a way I wouldn’t have expected from her. It seemed so odd, especially when I thought how her mother had carried herself in comparison whenever I’d visited them. But then, Ingrid had always strived to be everything her mother wasn’t, and had been as warm as Mrs Feversham was cold. That caring nature had always been there ... it just seemed stronger now than when we were at Hogwarts. Not that that was much of a surprise, I considered, given her current situation.

I pulled myself out of my thoughts to take my own food and drink from her, with thanks. For ten minutes or so, there was a pleasant silence, peppered with the occasional compliment or light-hearted remark, as we all ate. My problems could wait, especially when I had homemade shepherd’s pie on my lap.

Once we’d all finished, Ingrid set her plate down on the floor, tucked her legs up underneath her and turned to face me.

“It’s good to see you’re better. Have you managed to work everything out yet?”

“Most things,” I said. “Things with Dad are good. Really good, actually. But Carlotta...” I paused, wondering how to word it.

And once my thoughts turned again to Carlotta, something else occurred to me.

She’d come to see me – sent by Lily – two days after Ingrid had talked to me. Two days after I’d told Ingrid everything about Carlotta.

That couldn’t be coincidence.

“You visited my sister.”

Ingrid looked slightly sheepish.

“I – I thought it might help-”

I was all but lost for words.

“Thank you. I – I really appreciate it.”

“You’re more than welcome,” she said. “So, how are things with her?”

“I-” I shifted in my seat. “That’s why I’m here, actually. I was hoping you might be able to help me, both of you...” I shot a nervous glance in Mark’s direction. They would know, the moment I said it, exactly what I was here for ... they wouldn’t be offended, would they?

“We’ll do our best.” She sounded slightly curious.

I rubbed at the back of my neck, conscious of the fact I’d been doing that far too much recently.

“She has Parkinson’s disease,” I blurted out.

Ingrid frowned, and glanced across the room at Mark.

“Is that what your grandmother has?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he answered, looking puzzled, “yeah, it is. How old is this ... woman?” he asked me in turn.

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, I couldn’t help but smile slightly, remembering how Aunt Audrey had asked the same question.

“She’s twenty.”

“Bloody...” His puzzled expression turned into a shocked one.

Ingrid, meanwhile, wore a look of complete comprehension.

“She doesn’t want you to stick around, does she?”

“No,” I sighed.

“But you want to?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. First off – don’t take this the wrong way – do you know what you’d be getting yourself into?”

“Of course I do,” I bristled. “I’ve talked to Dad, and my Aunt, and Carlotta’s friend-”

“Okay, okay.” She held up her hands in defence. “I had to ask, James. Because ... she obviously cares about you very much. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t be quite so concerned about keeping you at arm’s length. Deep inside her, she wants you to stick around – because nobody wants to be alone, do they? Unfortunately, there’s a part of her that thinks that’s a selfish wish, that she doesn’t deserve you. It’s a perfectly rational thought to have. You just have to convince her she’s wrong. She’ll want to give in, and the more you persevere the more likely you are to be successful. You just have to keep trying to knock down those walls she hides behind. You’ll do it in the end.”

“But how?” I asked.

Ingrid smiled slightly.

“How did she knock yours down?” she asked. “I’m sure you’ll manage. Make sure she sees that you’ll keep turning up like a bad knut, that you want to help her and won’t see her as a hindrance. Eventually, she’ll cave. It won’t be easy; there will always be a part of her that thinks you’d be better off without her. But so long as you know you won’t leave...” She leaned forwards and squeezed my hand lightly. “She just needs to know she’ll be loved. And I think you’d be pretty damn good at that.”

“You think?” I said.

“I know,” she said sincerely. “Just...” She paused for a moment. “It won’t all be an easy ride. There will be hard times. But if anyone has the strength to cope with that, it’s you.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m really sorry, Jimmy, but I’m going to have to clear up and dash, I’ve got work in half an hour...”

“That’s fine,” I said as she got to her feet. “You’ve been a great help, thank you.”

“Any time,” she said softly, before busying herself taking the plates out.

The moment she’d left the room, Mark leaned forwards, shutting the door to the hall with a wave of his wand.

“Might I give you some advice?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Don’t do it. Don’t ... it’s a life sentence, James. You say you understand what it entails, and it may seem easy enough now, but you really don’t, and it’s really not. You’ve got a great career, don’t throw that all away now. Steer well away from that kind of mess.”

I frowned in puzzlement.

“Well then surely I’m being selfish?”

He shook his head.

“It’s not being selfish, it’s just doing what’s best for you. Trust me on this one, I know what I’m talking about. Stay clear...”

I stared at him for a moment, stunned, before I caught on.

“This is about you, isn’t it?” I said. “You feel guilty about Ingrid...”

“Look at her, James. Look at her. She works herself to the bone. She’s juggling two jobs just trying to keep us afloat. And what good is it doing either of us? What can I give her? My days are numbered, we both know that. She shouldn’t be stuck with some cripple like me-”

“I don’t think she thinks she’s stuck,” I interrupted him. “Didn’t you hear what she said to me? All of that ... that’s how she feels. She loves you. She wants to help you, she’s happy. Much happier than she’d be if you were to push her away and not let her do anything. You can’t honestly tell me you’d rather be alone...”

“It’s not about me,” he said firmly. “It’s about her, and how she’s thrown her life away because of me-”

“She clearly doesn’t feel the same-”

“Because she’s an idiot!” he cried. “Because she cares too much, she thinks about other people too much – Merlin, what kind of a Slytherin does that anyway? She should’ve been a Hufflepuff – or maybe a Gryffindor, you lions are good at being stubborn and making rash decisions. The point is, she deserves far more than her lot-”

“And you don’t deserve to be happy?” I put in.

“Not at her expense-”

“But she’s not unhappy.”

It was at that moment that I realised just how big my challenge was. But no matter what Mark had said, or could say, I wasn’t going to change my mind.

“She’s happier now than she would be if you pushed her away,” I continued. “Because she loves you, and wants to be there for you. And that’s ... that’s what love is, isn’t it? Being willing to do anything for the one you love, to make them happy, and not seeing it as a hardship at all ... none of that matters to her, so long as she can be there for you. And if you love her, then you’ll let her do it. And I’m going to do the same thing.”

I got to my feet.

“It’s been nice to meet you. Thanks for the food and company.  And you do deserve her, no matter how much you try to convince yourself that you don’t.”

I’d evidently rendered him speechless; he said nothing as I left the room. In the hallway, I bumped into Ingrid.

“He didn’t need to shut the door,” she said quietly. “I know exactly what he was saying. That’s what I meant, when I said Carlotta will always think you’re better off without her. That’s the hardest part about all of this. Not the fact he’s in physical pain ... but the mental pain, the conviction that he’s not good enough for me, that I might be happier elsewhere...” She shook her head. “He can’t get rid of me that easily.”

She smiled painfully. I squeezed her hand lightly, not sure of what I could say to help.

“If you ever need to talk...” I began.

She kissed me lightly on the cheek.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “And good luck with Carlotta. You’ll be fine, I know you will.”

The moment the front door shut behind me, I pulled my phone out and made a phone call.

“Brie,” I said the moment she answered, “I need two more tickets for the Bats match.”


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