The Reality of Card Games by kablamo
Life was like a deck of cards.
Or, more equitable, a game of hold ‘em poker. It wasn’t just about getting the best cards; it was how they interacted with the others in the game. While everyone longs for two aces, a two and three can be far superior if the same suite lies on the table. Some people fold before they even have a chance to see what they’ve got, while others go all in too late. To James Potter, cards had never been a problem, and neither had life. His cards always seemed to form a straight or flush without any intense strategy on his part. He always seemed to have the higher cards, always a King and Queen.
Except that his King and Queen were from an old brand, with faded faces and bent corners. Their fragility couldn’t be ignored, but they played their part well. This card game was not for chips or Galleons- it was for happiness and love and meaning and morality and friends and life. In a game of such high stakes, a dealer had to be present. Someone had to be giving out these cards, these destinies, because if there wasn’t, that meant you couldn’t ever cash in. James had never been religious, but he always believed in destiny, and, in turn, a dealer.
The day he stopped believing in both, he was sixteen. Lord Voldemort had nothing to do with it, nor any sort of Dark Magic. It was just life. It was just the day when one of his cards ripped.
The day he stopped believing in both, he was playing cards.
“Raise,” James challenged, sliding two Galleons forward into the pot. His face was impassive but confident. Looking up to meet his mother’s eyes, he gave her a rare grin. “Think I’m bluffing?”
His mother chuckled, leaning forward from her stack of pillows on her hospital bed. “You could never lie to your own mother.” Nevertheless, she dropped two Galleons into the pot.
“You don’t seem too confident,” James whispered, nodding toward his dad. Mr. Potter was fast asleep in a chair in the corner. It was well past noon, but he hadn’t slept in over two days. The light from the window shone brightly off of his practically white hair, and Mrs. Potters lined face creased as she smiled fondly at her husband.
“It’ll be our seventy-seventh anniversary a month from now,” Mrs. Potter informed her son, turning back to the game.
“Congrats,” James said, half-jokingly. “Raise,” he repeated, adding another two Galleons.
She smiled knowingly. “Fold,” she called out, dropping her cards into the discard pile. The various cards were strewn across her hospital bed in a messy fashion, much like her son and husband’s hair.
James grabbed the Galleons and put them on the bedside table. “Why do you always let me win, Mum?”
“You’re a good boy, James. You should always get to win,” his mother said, settling back into his pillows.
James rolled his eyes. “I know,” he said, standing up. His knees hurt from kneeling at his mother’s bed for the past hour. He glanced at his watch, a Christmas present he’d received from his father that morning. There were planets spaced around it instead of numbers, and twelve hands pointed whichever way. It was six o’ clock, which meant that him and his father would probably be kicked out any minute.
He pivoted at the sound of his name, to see what dying was really like.
No gradual slowing of breath, no graceful closing of the eyes. Charlotte Potter’s breaths were ragged and quick, and her eyes were popping from her skull. There was no peaceful acceptance of death, but sporadic, terrified movements, as though she thought she could cheat death by feeble jerks alone. He clutched her hand, screaming for help, but his voice was drowned by a reverberating ringing. Everything around him turned into a blur.
His dad was yelling.
Healers were coming out of nowhere, running their wands over his mother’s convulsing body, shouting spells, shoving potions down her throat, trying to rise to an impossible task. This was a card game that you couldn’t cheat out of.
Hands were trying to pull James away, but he refused. They were much stronger than his scrawny frame, but they were propelled away by a sudden release of magic. He barely took notice, staring into the mirror image of his own eyes, right down to the instinctual panic that filled them. The only differences were the deep wrinkles surrounding hers, and the free flow of tears from his. They were coating his face, blurring his vision, but James could still feel her hand losing tension. He gripped it harder, as though he could transfer the force into her, but the muscles only grew weaker.
“Mum! Stay! Stay!” he screamed.
“Charlotte!” his father yelled.
The Healers’ shouts were indiscernible, but James somehow caught, “We’re losing her!”
“No, no, no, no we’re not!” Mr. Potter roared, but the uncertainty in his tone was impossible to miss.
Charlotte did not say anything memorable or even good-bye to her husband or son. Real death did not give you that luxury. Real death couldn’t be prepped for, even when you knew it was coming. Real death wasn’t glorious, it was ugly and desperate and wrong.
He felt the muscles desperately clutching his hand relax. He saw the wide, blank look of his mother’s eyes, and her other hand slip sickly from the bed. But, most of all, James noticed that his sobs couldn’t be heard in the silence that was death.
It was the day that he stopped believing in card games.