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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 63 : sixty-three
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 12


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It was a good thing Carlotta’s insomnia was causing her particular problems recently, as I had no chance of getting to sleep that night. My head was buzzing far too much. Instead, we stayed up baking all night. Or at least, she baked, and I attempted to help though I was probably more of a hindrance, given that I had no idea what I was doing. But the result of the baking spree was a good one; shortbread, brownies, and my favourite – treacle tart.

“Maybe we should take it along for pudding later,” Carlotta mused.

I glared at her, and pulled it close.

“Don’t even think about it,” I said darkly. “They wouldn’t appreciate it. Especially not Hugo or Louis; good food is wasted on them. Make another one if you want, but this one is mine.”

“You regress to a five-year-old when food is involved,” she said, sounding amused. “I might make a cup of tea, do you want one?”

“You just want to use my teapot,” I smirked. “I’d love one.”

“Do you think it knows any victory songs?”

“It used to know pretty much every Muggle song under the sun,” I told her, as she pulled it out of the cupboard. “You’ve got no chance of it knowing anything other than Celestina these days unfortunately.”

“Why do you have it?”

“Freddie,” I said simply.

“Ah,” she said with a smile. “Say no more.”

As she busied herself with the kettle, I pulled the winner’s medal I’d been awarded out of my pocket and stared at it. I’d been doing this for hours now – just staring at it, revelling in the moment. It was incredible to think that it was mine, this wonderful medal with the words ‘Quidditch World Cup Winners 2026’ engraved around it. I’d spent the last four years aiming for this. Subconsciously, of course, I’d wanted it far longer. Now, here it sat in my hand.

I could never have imagined it would have happened so soon. It was like something out of my wildest dreams; making it to England standard in time for the home World Cup. But somehow, despite all the fallbacks, despite nearly losing my mind completely, I’d managed to achieve my most ambitious goal.

And now I was all out of goals.

“You can stare at it forever, it still won’t start doing somersaults.” Carlotta’s amused voice startled me out of my wistful thoughts.

“Wanna bet?” I grinned, picked my wand up from the table beside me and pointed it at the medal. It proceeded to perform a selection of acrobatics, nearly taking out my waltzing milk jug as it went.

Carlotta laughed, her eyes dancing with glee as they always did when someone performed magic.

“Okay, so that turn of phrase doesn’t work on magical people." She filled the teapot with hot water from the kettle. “So.” She set the teapot down in front of me, and sat opposite me. “What next for James Potter?”

I set my wand down and picked up the medal once more.

“I need a new goal,” I said simply, then looked up at her, smiling. “And I think I have one.”

***

A more sociable hour of the morning found me knocking on Sinead Murphy’s front door. I’d rang her in advance, and she’d sounded tired and grumpy but had welcomed me over nevertheless.

It was Brendan Murphy who opened the door to me, and he smiled warmly, despite my having beaten his son to the World Cup just the day before. He offered me his congratulations on the result as he led me through to the living room, where Sinead was sitting with the largest mug of coffee I’d ever seen. After offering me a drink, he headed out of the room, leaving the two of us alone.

“Is everything alright?” she asked me straight away.

“Yeah, it’s fine, why wouldn’t it be?” I frowned, as I sat down opposite her.

“You called me at nine in the morning the day after you won the World Cup. I can’t imagine you’ve come round to finalise your contract extension.” She gave me a piercing look. “You don’t seem nearly as hungover as you should be.”

I tried – and failed – to suppress the smirk.

“You mean, I’m not as hungover as you? I didn’t drink much and I haven’t slept yet, I expect that’s what it is. You didn’t touch the mead, did you?”

“I swear, right now I’d kick Adelheid Brand off the bloody team if I didn’t think Ryan would follow her ass anywhere she went,” she growled. But the corners of her mouth twitched slightly, giving her away.

“You, er, saw them last night then...”

She snorted.

“Course I did; I could hardly miss it, could I? They couldn’t keep their hands off each other all night. About bloody time, too. And as for Brigid – oh, this’ll be her now.”

The front door had opened, and then shut again. Sure enough, moments later Brigid joined us in the living room, looking as bemused as her mother.

“Jim? Is something wrong?”

“Nothing at all,” I reassured her. “I just wanted to talk to you both about something, that’s all.”

She frowned, and took a seat.

Today?”

“That’s what I said,” Sinead agreed. “Well, fire away, Jim.”

I drew in a deep breath. I’d been practicing what I was planning to say for hours now, and I’d thought I’d got it sorted in my head. But now it came down to it, I realised how big a move I was making. I knew it was the right one, but it was only now it was really hitting home.

“I want to retire.”

There was a stunned silence. Brigid’s jaw dropped open.

“Retire?” she said eventually, dumbstruck. “As in, completely? Like, no more Quidditch?”

“No more playing Quidditch.”

There was a part of me that couldn’t quite believe what I’d just said, what I’d just done. The whole time I’d been mulling it over – when had the idea even come to mind? – it had only been a thought, an option. But now I’d finally voiced it ... it was reality. It was actually happening.

I was retiring from playing Quidditch.

Brigid still looked utterly lost for words. Sinead, on the other hand, smiled ever so slightly.

“Well, I’ll be sad to see you go, Jimmy, but it’s your decision,” she said. “So long as you’re sure it’s the right one. And if you decide it’s the wrong one, you can always come back. We’ll always find room in the squad for you.”

I nodded.

“Thanks, Sinead,” I said. “And ... thanks for giving me a chance. Most people wouldn’t have gambled on me so early, but you did, and I can’t thank you enough for that, because otherwise I doubt I’d be where I am now.”

Her smile widened.

“You’re a talent, Jim,” she said. “If anyone’s worth it, you are. It’s a shame, because there’s still so much potential there ... but you need to do what you think is right first and foremost, and I’ll respect that decision a hundred percent.” She paused. “Besides, on a selfish note, it saves me the headache of having to juggle four top class Chasers next season. I won’t lie, I wasn’t looking forward to that challenge.”

“Roxie will be happy; she’ll be able to play every game now,” I grinned.

“She’ll be better than you one day, mark my words,” Sinead said.

She got to her feet. “I need more coffee. I’ll leave you two to work out the details.” She bent down and planted a kiss on Brigid’s forehead. “And don’t you go anywhere, pumpkin. You’re staying for lunch and a good old mother-daughter chinwag.”

Her route through the room to the kitchen took her past me and she paused in front of me, resting a hand lightly on the top of my head.

“Sometimes,” she said quietly, “someone comes along who has all the perfect attributes to be a Quidditch player. But put them together, and ... the pieces don’t always fit. You’ve had too much attention, too much scrutiny on you, and it would be enough to make even the strongest of people crack. Deep down I think I figured it was only a matter of time before you realised maybe this just wasn’t for you. And I’m proud of you, because this ... this is what you dreamed of for years. And now you have it. And you’re letting it go. It takes a big person to do something like that.”

She paused, looking as emotional as I’d ever seen her.

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “For everything. And ... you’ll always be a Falcon.”

She lowered her hand to my shoulder and squeezed it lightly, before leaving the room.

“Your mother really is wonderful,” I said, turning back to Brigid. She was looking down at the floor. “Brie?”

She raised her head; her eyes were glassy, and clearly full of tears.

“We were good, weren’t we?” she said thickly, as a tear rolled down her cheek.

It felt horribly like a break up.

“Yeah,” I said, smiling slightly. “You were the best, Brie.” I hesitated. “You ... I mean ... I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about this-”

“Oh, James,” she said fondly. “You don’t have to tell me everything you’re thinking, you know-”

“But you’re my best friend,” I pointed out. “Completely disregarding for a moment that you’re my agent, you’re my friend and you’ve always been there for me and I didn’t tell you I was thinking about doing this-”

“Did you tell anyone?” she asked. “Freddie, Lily, your mum, Carlotta...”

“I haven’t talked to anyone about it,” I admitted. “I didn’t even tell Carlotta before I left to come here, just said I needed to talk to you both about something. I expect she’s guessed, though. I ... well, I didn’t even realise I was thinking about it, not until last night. When I was wondering why I felt so empty, compared to the other players. Compared to everyone. And I realised, it’s because I’ve done all I set out to do. I’ve helped the Falcons win the league, I’ve helped England win the World Cup, I’d like to think I’ve helped other players along the way too ... I mean, I’ll never stop wanting the Falcons to win, or England. I just don’t think I’m the one to do it. The attention is so stifling, and if I carry on playing it’ll only get worse. I’ve just won a World Cup, for Merlin’s sake! And I don’t want all the front page spreads, all the corporate perks and the sponsorship deals ... I just want to play Quidditch! And I want to enjoy it. And for as long as the Prophet and Which Broomstick? and Witch Weekly are around and I’m Harry Potter’s son, I don’t think I’ll be able to. Not properly.”

I didn’t even know where those words had come from. I’d just talked, getting it off my chest for the first time in ages.

“I hid you from a lot of the reporters,” she admitted, looking slightly sheepish. “Everyone and his crup wanted to talk to you, but I knew you wouldn’t want that, so Demelza and I agreed to keep you shielded from it. If you still found it stifling ... I think you’re making the right decision.”

I stared at her, filled with love and adoration for this incredible, beautiful woman I was lucky enough to call a friend.

“You really did that?”

She let out a short laugh.

“Of course I did, Jim! I’d be a terrible friend and agent if I just gave them all access to you knowing full well how much you hate it, wouldn’t I?” She paused. “Is there anything else you want me to do? Let me know when you want it announced. We’re in the closed season now, so we can wait a bit for all the furore of the World Cup to die down. Then once it’s announced I’ll manage the media for you. Everyone will want interviews so I’ll keep them at bay-”

“Brie, you don’t need to do anything,” I said firmly. “You’ve already done more than enough for me over the years. I don’t want it announced. People will learn within the next day or so anyway; let them wonder. And in time, I might put out a statement or something. But for now, I want to pretend I don’t need to worry about the press.”

She smiled fondly.

“That’s my boy,” she said. “And ... well, thank you. For giving me a chance, an opportunity. I mean, you were looking to make a name for yourself in the Quidditch world,  and there are so many renowned agents around, willing to work for you, and you opted for the eighteen year old, just out of school with no players to her name.  I’m doing well now ... but it was because of you, at the beginning. So thank you.”

“I owe you, Brie, you put me with the best team in the league,” I grinned.

She laughed.

“James, my mother practically forced the contract into my hands! Trust me, it was your skill, not mine, that got you the position.”

“But you sorted all the paperwork and whatnot out for me,” I pointed out. “I didn’t have a clue how that worked – I still don’t, to be honest. So whether I was in demand or not, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

“We helped each other then, let’s come to a consensus on that.”

“I can do that.” I paused. “Enough about me, though. Did Freddie talk to you last night?”

Her cheeks coloured ever so slightly.

“He did. A lot.”

“Oh?”

“Well, he told me about his promotion – oh, isn’t it wonderful? I told him he could do it, if he only believed in himself – and then he apologised to me, for everything he’d done. He ... well, he got rather fixated on it, to be honest. He’d said sorry before, of course, when we first talked about it, but ... well, you’ve seen how he’s been around me, he wouldn’t let me forgive him!”

“He wanted to keep his distance alright,” I agreed. “But that was him trying to be noble...”

“He really is ridiculous.” She beamed, looking happier than I’d seen her in ages. “Of course I was angry with him at first, but I couldn’t stay angry with him for long. He’s Freddie. And yes, he’s made me cry over the years, but ... I mean, he wants me to be happy, and while he was a total idiot about it ... last night he apologised so much, and in so many different ways, that I nearly Silenced him. And when we left the Hinky he came back to mine, and we just played Gobstones and Exploding Snap and chess and talked, about absolutely anything and everything. It was like being back at school, before everything went wrong.”

“Did he sleep round yours?” I asked, smirking cheekily.

James! After all I’ve just blurted out, of all the things you could have asked, you want to know if I had sex with him? You are such a bloke-”

“Hey, I didn’t say anything about sex!” I held my hands up in mock-protest. “You’re the one who assumed I meant that – is that a guilty conscience?”

“If I had slept with him, I’d hardly be feeling guilty about it, would I?” She raised an eyebrow. “He did sleep round mine, though. He wasn’t going to, but ... well, I wanted him to.” Her cheeks went pinker. “It’s ... it’s nice, you know? Just lying in bed with someone...”

“I know,” I said simply. “You don’t need to try to explain it, not to me.”

She smiled at me.

“What do you know, my Jimmy boy’s in love...”

“Don’t start throwing that word about,” I warned her.

“Oh, stop being such a relationship-phobe!” she teased me. “Honestly, you and Carlotta are as bad as each other-”

“What do you know about what she’s like?”

“Sweetie, I tell her she’s in love with you on a regular basis. She denies it as much as you do.”

“You get far too much joy from other people’s love lives,” I said, smiling nevertheless. “Oh, come here, Mini Murph.” I got to my feet and took her hands, pulling her upright, then wrapped her in a hug and kissed her forehead. She made a noise which could have been a giggle or a sob, wrapping her arms round my waist, and I buried my head in her hair.

“I’m so proud of you,” I murmured. “You’ve always been so, so strong...”

“And so have you,” she whispered back, squeezing me tighter. “You should go,” she added, “or you’ll be late for lunch.”

“Yeah.” I smiled sadly. I loosened my arms and she pulled away, wiping her eyes. “You coming? Other halves allowed, you know.”

“I don’t want to rush things,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll be at the next one though.”

“I’m sure you will. You gonna be okay?”

“I’ll be fine.” She smiled back at me. “Go on, off with you.”

I laughed, blew her a kiss, and Disapparated.

***

My flat was empty when I returned to it. I could only guess Carlotta had somehow headed to the Burrow, so that was my next destination. I Apparated into the front garden and let myself in through the front door.

It was fairly packed with Weasleys already. My whole family had apparently decided to endure their sore heads together. Lily was the first to see me as I poked my head into the living room.

“Where the hell have you been?”

I raised an eyebrow.

“Nice to see you too,” I said dryly. “How’s the head?”

“Banging. Never drinking that mead again. Yours?”

“I’m fine,” I smirked. “Pepperup doesn’t work on that Hindelberg stuff, you know-”

“I know,” she said darkly. “I’m never talking to Dell again. Ever.”

I snickered, as I looked round the living room. Albus and most of my cousins looked just as bad as she did. Uncles Bill, George and Ron, and Aunts Audrey and Angelina also looked slightly under the weather.

“Carlotta’s in the kitchen,” Lily said, as though she’d read my mind. “Flooed here about half an hour ago.”

“Floo?” I blinked. “Well, I suppose I’d better go and check she made it here in one piece...”

“Pretty sure you can’t splinch while Flooing!” were her parting words to me.

I ventured into the kitchen, and found Carlotta with perhaps my only sober cousins, Dominique and Molly, helping Nana Molly with the cooking. She had her back to the door, so she didn’t realise I was there until I crept up behind her and placed my hands on her waist.

“James!” she yelped, turning to face me. “Don’t do that, you nearly gave me a heart attack!”

“Did you Floo here by yourself?”

“Well, I can hardly Apparate, can I?” she pointed out.

“But ... you haven’t Flooed before...”

She shrugged.

“I’ve watched you enough times. Figured it couldn’t be too hard, so long as I didn’t breathe in any ash.”

“You need to share Floo stories with Dad,” I said, amused.

“Oh, we already have.”

Oddly enough, that didn’t surprise me.

“How did the mysterious talk go?” she added.

“It was fine-”

“James, if you’re going to clutter up the kitchen then make yourself useful and set the table!” Dominique ordered, thrusting a handful of cutlery into my chest.

I looked apologetically at Carlotta.

“We’ll talk later,” I promised.

After all, we had all the time in the world to talk.

***

Once the dinner plates had all been cleared, and Carlotta’s second and third treacle tarts had been devoured – she promised me she’d put the first safely away in my kitchen – I decided to tell the family what I’d done.

“I’m retiring from Quidditch.”

Their reactions were as I’d expected. Mum dropped her spoon in shock. Freddie frowned in confusion. Lily looked ready to cry. Lucy let out a yelp. Aunt Angelina’s jaw dropped. Uncle Percy nodded approvingly. Aunt Audrey sighed sadly.

And Dad just looked at me knowingly. And then he grinned at me.

That was what told me I’d made the right choice.

Albus was the first to find his voice.

“Why?”

Carlotta squeezed my thigh comfortingly under the table.

“I just don’t think it’s for me anymore.” I shrugged.

“James,” Aunt Angelina said, “you just won the World Cup. You were player of the match against Peru. You were one of the players of the tournament. How is this not for you?”

“Well ... maybe it’s not that it’s not for me. Maybe I’m not for it. Sinead said earlier that I had all the attributes to be a pro, but the pieces just didn’t fit together. I think that sums it up.”

A few people frowned, trying to make sense of what I’d said.

“I just don’t think Quidditch agrees with me as a professional sport. I think we all realised that a few months ago. And while I managed to pick things back up again ... well, I think now’s the right time for a change.”

Carlotta’s grip on my leg tightened.

“What are you going to do, then?” Freddie asked.

“I’ve got a new job.”

Choruses of “Already?” echoed round the table.

“What is it?” Aunt Hermione asked.

“You’ll find out tomorrow,” I said cryptically.

“What did Sinead say?” Mum asked.

“She was ... a bit upset,” I said. “But she was almost expecting it, I think.”

“So will she have to find another Chaser now?” Louis asked.

“Oh, Louis, have some faith in your cousin,” I teased, a grin spreading over my face. “Why would she need to find anyone else? She’s got Roxie.”

There was a loud clang as Roxanne dropped her spoon onto her plate, and a high-pitched squeal as Aunt Angelina realised that her daughter had just become a first-choice Chaser for the Falcons. A moment later, Roxanne was buried under a pile of Weasleys, who all reached out to hug her in celebration.

I took the moment to get to my feet, pulling Carlotta up with me. I steered her towards the living room, but Dad intercepted us at the door.

He looked at me for a moment, before clapping a hand on my shoulder.

“Well done, Jim,” was all he said.

But it was enough.

“Thanks,” I said, grinning widely. “But don’t be too pleased with me; I think I’ll be racking your brains before long for tips on my new job.”

And with that clue hanging in the air, I left him in the kitchen, pulling Carlotta into the living room and shutting the door behind us.

“I – are you okay?” I asked, rubbing the back of my neck awkwardly. “I – you’re not mad, are you?”

She stared at me incredulously, before letting out a laugh.

“Mad? Why the hell should I be mad? It’s your decision.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t even tell you I was thinking about it-”

“Your decision,” she repeated. “Whatever you do, so long as you’re happy, I’m happy. Besides,” she said with a smile, “it’s not as though it came out of the blue. Not for me, anyway. How long have you been thinking about it?”

I shrugged.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I think it’s been there in the back of my mind for a while now, you know? Things happening here and there to make me rethink things.” I paused. “I only turned pro because I wanted to play Quidditch. I didn’t care for the fame, or the money, or the lifestyle, I just love Quidditch, and couldn’t think of anything else I could do with my life. But ... I don’t want to be front page of all the tabloids just because I’ve sneezed, you know? And if I keep myself in the public eye, then that’s what’s going to carry on happening. Not because I’m any good as a Quidditch player, but because I’m a Potter. It just so happens that I have a job which lets the media exploit that. Had a job,” I corrected. “I never stopped enjoying playing for the Falcons, and I know I’ll miss them more than anything. I loved playing for England too. But this seems like the right time to move on. I’ve just won a hat-trick of League titles, and a World Cup on home soil. Nothing I do can possibly top that. I’ve achieved everything I possibly can as a pro player. I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up.”

Carlotta smiled slightly.

“Except the ability to play Quidditch every day.”

“That’s what you think.” I tapped her nose lightly. “There’s one more thing I need to do, want to come along?”

She shrugged.

“Sure.”

I wrapped my arms round her.

“Brace yourself,” I said, before Disapparating.

My living room materialised around us. Carlotta took a few heavy breaths, as she always did when I Apparated with her. When she regained her composure, she blinked in surprise as she realised where we were.

“This is your flat,” she said.

“Never miss a trick, you,” I said, heading to the airing cupboard. “Oh, on that note, I’ve got a question for you. Do you fancy moving in with me?”

“What?”

I turned to face her as I opened the cupboard door.

“Well, I say move in with me, I won’t be here much – unless I can wangle it so I still live here all year round, which I’m hoping I can do – but even so, the principle’s still the same, right? I’m not asking just so there’s someone here, by the way. I do genuinely want you to move in, but it seems like a good time to ask, now I’ve got everything straight in my head – my priorities have changed a bit, you know? But it’s cool if you don’t, I mean-”

“You’re rambling,” she interrupted in an amused voice.

“Oh,” I said awkwardly. “Sorry.”

She smiled slightly.

“Well, Flick has been dropping unsubtle hints for the past two months that she wants to move in with her boyfriend. And you give good massages. And you have a much bigger kitchen than I do, and a much comfier bed, and more television channels ... so, I guess I’ll just have to say yes.”

“Really?”

She nodded, her smile growing.

“Brilliant!” I snatched Fiona out of the airing cupboard, then crossed the living room and pulled Carlotta into a deep kiss. She squealed under my lips, but returned the kiss with gusto. And when she finally pulled away, she rested her forehead against mine, her eyes still tightly shut, her fingers loosely teasing at my hair.

“Why do you have your broom?” she asked eventually.

“You’ll see,” I said. “Brace.”

She wrapped her arms tighter round my neck as we Disapparated again.

“I hate Apparition,” she muttered once we’d Apparated with a pop and she’d gotten her breath back.

“Well, it’s not meant for Muggles,” I pointed out.

“If that’s how it feels for everyone, it’s not meant for wizards either.” She glanced round our surroundings. “Are you introducing me to your other grandparents?”

“I figured it was about time.”

I took her hand and led her through the graveyard we'd Apparated into, until we reached my grandparents’ gravestone. I dropped to the floor, and sat cross-legged in front of it, patting the ground next to me; Carlotta followed suit.

“Hi,” I said to the gravestone. “Decided you two deserved a visit.”

I put Fiona down in front of me.

“You know,” I said, “I wouldn’t be here today, on two counts, if not for you two. My Quidditch talent ... Mum’s a damn good Chaser, obviously. But ... well, I owe my success to more than that. I got to play for England because of my flying ability. People have always said that Dad was the best flier of his generation, that nobody rivalled him for pure skill on a broomstick. And he got that from you, Granddad James. I wouldn’t be the player I am today, I wouldn’t have that medal, without you. So, I owe my success to you.”

I paused.

“And, it’s thanks to you, Grandma Lily, that I’m even alive. You sacrificed herself for Dad, and because of what you did, he’s got a wife. And three kids. And ... well, I know Al and Lily have made him proud. I’d like to think I have too. I mean, I know I’ve messed up a fair bit, especially this year, but ... I helped win a World Cup, didn’t I? I’d like to think that’s something to be proud of. So ... thank you. Thank you both.”

Carlotta slipped her hand in mine. I squeezed it tightly, just staring at the gravestone, at the spot under which my grandparents lay.

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed before I stood up, helping Carlotta to her feet.

“There’s one last thing I need to do,” I said, glancing round to check nobody was around. I then drew my wand, and, with a slightly shaking hand, pointed it at Fiona. “Incendio.”

Carlotta stifled a gasp as flames shot out of the end of my wand, engulfing Fiona. I cast a Shield Charm on the flames to keep them contained. After a short while, they died away, leaving a pile of ashes behind them.

“Oh, James...” she whispered.

I knelt down, placing my wand beside me, and dug a shallow hole right in front of the gravestone with my hands. I then pushed the ashes into the hole, before filling it up again, smoothing over the top. I picked up my wand and pointed it at the spot where Fiona lay; a small white lily grew up from the spot. Impressed at my own handiwork, I pocketed my wand, and stood up.

“Thanks for everything, Fi,” I said, trying to swallow the lump in my throat.

Carlotta once again took my hand.

“Come on, I want to show you something,” I said.

We left the graveyard, heading through the church grounds to the square.

“Where is this place?” she asked curiously.

“Godric’s Hollow,” I replied. “Where my grandparents lived. And died.” We came to a halt in front of the war memorial, that I saw as the statue of my grandparents and dad.  I moved to stand behind her, my hands round her waist. “Look at it,” I breathed into her ear. “Really look at it, like you do with the Quidditch stadium.”

After a moment, she gasped.

“Oh, James, that’s so beautiful...”

She tailed off, her fingers interlinking with mine.

“And Muggles can’t see it?”

“You can,” I pointed out. “Same enchantments as the other places. You can see it if you tell your mind there’s something there.”

“How long’s it been there?”

“Dad discovered it when he was seventeen. I don’t know how long before that it was built, but I guess it was shortly after Grandma and Granddad died.”

She nodded.

“You know,” she said slowly, “I always had a feeling you wouldn’t play Quidditch for much longer. I remember when you came back after England training. It was the day you’d been to the hospital, to see the kids. And all you could talk about, all night, was the coaching session you guys had given. You didn’t even remember to tell me you’d been named in the starting team until the next morning. And ... I think that sums it up. It shows what really matters to you, underneath it all. It’s not about personal glory, it’s about the game in its purest form. And ... well, I think that’s a pretty wonderful way to be.” She paused. “What do you think your family will think about you retiring?”

I wrinkled my nose, considering it for a moment. “I think, on the face of it, they’ll be sad. And a bit puzzled. I mean, why retire now when I’m doing so well? But in time, I hope they’ll understand why. I think Al and Lily will, and Freddie. Mum will understand best of all.”

“Really?” Carlotta seemed surprised. “But, she played...”

“Exactly,” I said simply. “I always used to wonder why she’d retired so early on. She never played for England, you know, although everyone used to say she was good enough to. And I could never understand why anyone would choose to retire before having had that experience. Surely, anyone who loves Quidditch enough to make it their career wants to get as far as they possibly can? An England career at your fingertips ... why let it slip away?

“But she didn’t play Quidditch for the glory. She played it because she enjoyed it. And when it came down to a Quidditch career or her family, she wanted the family lifestyle more. To this day, she doesn’t feel as though she’s given anything up. And neither do I.” I kissed the top of Carlotta’s head. “One last thing to see.”

It took a bit longer for her to be able to see the house. However, once I’d placed her hand on the gate, and the memorial plaque appeared, she let out a gasp which let me know that she could see what I could; the cottage, with half its first floor blown apart, ivy covering the remaining walls.

“Is ... is this where it happened?”

I nodded.

She turned to me and wrapped her arms round my waist, burying her head in my chest. I hugged her back, burying my head in her hair as I’d done with Brigid earlier.

“I’m sure they’re very proud of you,” she said, turning her head to the side so as to speak. “I know I am.”

“I should think so too.” I tightened my grip round her shoulders, not wanting to let her go.

After a moment or two, I spoke again.

“Do you know what time Quality Quidditch Supplies shuts on a Sunday? I need a new broom.” 



A/N: Don't kill me! *hides* I've known since FOREVER that James was going to retire at this point. I'm sure there are a fair few of you who want to throw things at me right now (or set the ninjas on me ... again...) but I hope it comes to make sense to you all in time. For what it's worth, this is one of my favourite chapters. :)

One more chapter to come...


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