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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 17: seventeen
“James ... there’s nothing here.”
“That’s what you think. That’s what your eyes are telling you. But there is, actually, a Quidditch pitch here.”
“James, we’re in the middle of a moor. There is nothing here. And besides, I should really be at work-”
I grabbed Carlotta’s hand as she tried to move away.
“Oh no you don’t,” I said. “For a start, your shift doesn’t start for five hours. Secondly, we’re about two hundred miles from London, and in the middle of nowhere. How exactly do you expect to get back without me?”
She sighed with aggravation.
“James, this is daft-”
“It’s not! Look, don’t you want to come to the match? It’s right there, in front of us! See, the changing rooms are to the right, and they’ve put a stand up for next Saturday-”
“James, this is ridiculous. We’ve been here for half an hour, and I can’t see the damn thing. Because I’m not meant to, am I? I’m a Muggle, I’m not allowed to see your precious wizarding places. It’s not going to happen.”
“It will, Maddie and Kit can-”
“James, just take me home.”
She looked close to tears. Awkwardly, I reached forwards and wrapped my arms around her waist, Apparating us back to mine.
Once back in my living room, she turned her back to me. I suspected she was wiping away tears. I shifted from one foot to the other.
“Look, Carla ... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to push you. it’s just ... I do want you to be able to watch the match, you know?”
“It’s fine,” she said thickly, her back still to me. “I didn’t mean to disappoint you. I mean, I really did want to see it...”
“You haven’t disappointed me, don’t be daft!” I stepped forwards, and placed a hand on her shoulder. “These wards are meant to be hard to break. I’d be pretty damn impressed if you’d managed to see it that quickly. It did take Maddie and Kit a long time. We ... we can try again some other time if you want?”
She turned to face me, smiling weakly.
But she looked so downtrodden that I just had to say something.
“You can come to Lily’s hockey thing with me if you want?” I suggested. “You won’t need to break any wards for that. Heck, you’d know far more about all of that than any of us would.”
She smiled slightly.
“I never played sevens at school. But that sounds good ... won’t Lily mind?”
“Mind? She’ll love it if you come! The more people there to watch her shine, the better. Plus, I think she quite likes you. Just, so long as Maddie and Kit don’t scare you off...”
“Maddie is quite...”
“Unique is pretty apt,” I supplied. “But yeah, she can be pretty forward. Kit has a bit more tact. They’re both great, though. It was a while before Lily told them about magic, and sometimes I wonder if she should have done it sooner. She needs people who can understand what she’s going through, you see. I think she’d go nuts if they didn’t know. For a start, her workload is ridiculous, she needs them around to manage it for her and to stop her from overworking herself. That, and she was struggling to hide the fact that she was writing to us by owl post – because that was the only way to keep in touch with us when we were at school.”
“It ... must be hard for her.”
“Sometimes I wonder how she does it. But she manages really well. That’s just the way she is though, she always tries to make the best of a situation. I think she gets that from Mum, because positive thinking isn’t one of Dad’s strong points.”
“What’s your dad like?” she asked curiously. “You seem to talk more about your mum than you do him.”
“Do you not get on?” she asked.
“It’s ... difficult. I don’t think he totally approves of me playing Quidditch. I think he thinks I could be doing something more worthwhile. Which is unfair, because Mum played professional Quidditch, and they were already together at that point...”
“That does seem unfair.” Carlotta wrinkled her nose. “I know the feeling though. My parents think I could be doing more with my life than working as a barmaid at the Tav. I’m not just a barmaid though; it’s a restaurant during the day and I help out in the kitchen. Dad thinks I’m just wasting my time, that even if I do get my own restaurant it won’t be a sure-fire job. Mamá is a bit more understanding – she’s the reason I love cooking – but she’s still a bit wary. They just want to know I’m going to be okay though; it’s only natural for parents to want what’s best for their kids. I guess it’s the same thing with your dad. And sometimes, what we want to do isn’t what’s best for us.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Maybe,” I mused.
“Anyway, I should really be going.” She paused. “I am sorry, really, about earlier-”
“Don’t blame yourself! It’s not your fault, seriously-”
“I still feel like it is though. Anyway, standing here moping about it won’t get the roast dinner cooked, will it? I’ll see you round, I guess.”
“Yeah, see you...”
Once she’d left, I span round and threw an angry punch at the wall. And then regretted it.
Training became a lot more Tornados-specific in the run up to the match. Their main threat was their Chasers, one of whom was Jeremiah McLaggen, which meant a tough challenge for our Chasers and Keeper.
I was by no means assuming I’d be one of the Chasers. Naturally I hoped to be, but all six of us had been performing very well in training, so there was a possibility that I might not be picked.
Suspense built steadily throughout the week, until Sinead took pity on us on Wednesday afternoon and announced the team.
“Keeper and Captain; Alfred.”
Well, that was no surprise. Alfie Keitch had been club captain for years and therefore played most games. Luckily his rival for the spot, Sophie, was never too bothered about this. She was coming to the end of her career, and now had a young family, so she was simply glad to still be playing for a professional club. She did get games, of course – Alfie couldn’t play them all – but she watched most games from the sidelines with her children.
“Chasers; Adelheid, Ryan and James. Della, you’re vice-captain.”
Della patted my shoulder in congratulations and I punched her arm lightly in return.
“Beaters; Cato and Cleo.”
No surprise there.
And now we were down to the Seeker. This was where we really had no idea who would be chosen. Stefan Krum and Klaus Brand were both international quality players, for Bulgaria and Germany respectively, and Sinead had been known to toss a coin to decide who would play. Other selection methods she’d used were the drawing of straws and, perhaps most fairly, a simple half-and-half split. I wondered whether she would do that this season, it being a World Cup year.
Della hissed triumphantly under her breath, so quietly that only I could hear her. I hid a grin. Della had nothing against Stefan and, like the rest of us, had every confidence we would catch the Snitch regardless of which Seeker we played. She was just happy for her little cousin.
“That’s all for today, chaps! Report back nice and early tomorrow; we’ll try to get some more match-specific moves in place.”
“Well done, Del,” I said, as our squad began to disperse. “Vice-captain. Nice one.”
“Thanks!” Her grin was unmissable. “Good you’re starting, eh, Junior? And you, Murph,” she added as Ryan joined us.
“I hope your new position doesn’t mean you’re going to preach at us for the next age,” he said, pulling a face.
She laughed, and punched his arm. He winced. From most girls that wouldn’t have felt like anything more than a tap to him, but Della wasn’t most girls.
“Watch it, Murph, or I will pull rank on you. Anyway, we’ve gotta be on our top game on Saturday, boys! Big game first up. Eyes on the prize, we need to win this one and win big.”
Ryan’s gaze was most definitely focused on her, but I didn’t quite think that was what she’d meant.
Roxanne then approached us.
“Well done, guys,” she said, her tone cheerful, but I could tell she was disappointed, and felt guilty. We Weasleys always looked out for each other, and so naturally Roxanne and I both wanted each other to succeed. Unfortunately for her, I was the Chaser whose position on the team she was most likely to dislodge. As a result, I always felt bad for her when I was chosen.
“Your mum should pick Roxie for the Arrows game,” I murmured to Ryan once she and Della had started talking to Cleo. “They’re a weaker team than the Tornados, and she needs a run out.”
He nodded in agreement.
“I was going to mention that to her. Actually, I was going to offer to give up my slot. Trouble is, you know mum, she doesn’t take any teams lightly. She likes to pick the three best Chasers, and perhaps more relevantly, she likes having Chasers who work well together. And you, me and Della know each other’s games inside out by now. Out of us six, the players who Roxanne would play best with are me and you, seeing as we played together at Hogwarts for two seasons. But Mum’s not going to drop Della now she’s given her the vice-captaincy, is she? Not for the second game of the season, at any rate. Roxie’s going to have to have some games, though, or she’ll leave, and we can’t lose a talent like her.”
“But then ... maybe your mum thinks that she doesn’t need Roxie, if she has us three? I mean, we’re all young for Quidditch players, we’ve got a lot of years left in us...”
“Injuries permitting,” he pointed out. “That, and Della is always a definite for Germany, and I have a chance of being picked for Ireland-”
“I’d say you’re a definite too, Murph,” I interjected.
“Yeah, well, not wanting to blow my own trumpet. And then we’ll be losing you to England sure as eggs is eggs-”
“That’s not a guarantee at all-”
“Stop being so modest, Junior, it doesn’t suit you. Point is, Mum would be a fool to think she didn’t need to keep Roxie. She could go to a team like the Arrows and be picked immediately and at this point, she might think that better than just training with us. So she’s going to have to start playing her more regularly, but it means splitting us up...”
“I really don’t envy your mother.”
“No,” he said, “neither do I.” He paused. “How are things in paradise?”
“I’d hardly say it’s paradise, mate.” I rolled my eyes.
“She’s not asking for marriage yet, that’s close enough to paradise for you. She coming on Saturday?”
I pulled a face.
“Not at this rate, she still can’t see the damn pitch.”
“Really? But Lily’s mates can-”
“Yeah, after a lot of hard work. We tried on Sunday but she just got upset, and I don’t want to push her any more, you know? But it would be nice if she could come...”
“Shame the Quidditch Network aren’t broadcasting it, then she could watch it at yours. Wouldn’t be the same, but it’d be something...”
He tailed off, gazing unmistakably at Della.
“Done anything yet?” I murmured.
He shook his head, and turned away from her.
“Can’t, can I?”
“Of course you can-”
He shook his head.
“Team comes first, James. You know that.”
And with that he trudged off, looking thoroughly downtrodden.
I headed to the Tav when I got home, knowing that Carlotta was working there all day.
Not that I’d already learned her working schedule.
It was reasonably quiet when I got there; as it was late afternoon, the lunch crowd had all gone, and the night crowd hadn’t arrived yet. I headed to the bar, where a tall girl who I vaguely recognised from previous visits was rearranging some of the bottles of alcohol they had at the back of the counter.
“Hey, do you know where Carlotta is?” I asked her.
She seemed to recognise me, too.
“Yeah, she’s out back.” She turned her head to the door at the back of the bar. “Hey, Fortescue! Your fellow’s here for you!”
It was odd that we’d known each other nearly two months and yet, that was the first time I had heard her surname. Of course, I usually didn’t need to ask; the wizarding community was such a small one that I already knew who near enough everyone was. That, and knowing a girl’s surname was hardly the most pressing issue on my mind.
Carlotta emerged from the doorway, looking puzzled. The other girl moved away.
“James!” she said. “What on earth are you doing here? You don’t normally come here to look for me unless you’re drunk.”
“Are you trying to say I only want to see you when I’m drunk?” I raised an eyebrow. “Because that’s not true and you know it.”
“No, but you’ve not hunted me down at work while sober before. What is it?”
“Just figured I’d come and tell you I’ve made the team for Saturday.”
“I thought that you were always playing, though? Wasn’t that a definite?”
“It was a probability, but nothing is definite in the world of Quidditch, you know.” I grinned.
“Well, that’s pretty cool.” She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“What? Nothing’s up, don’t be daft-”
“Yes it is. I can tell.”
“It’s just...” She chewed on her lip. “You really want me to go, and I really do want to go, but I can’t see it, and I just feel like I’m letting you down...”
“You’re not letting me down,” I insisted again. “Look, we can have another go if you want, but I don’t want to force you into anything...”
She glanced at her watch.
“I’m due a half hour break, we could go now if you want...”
I blinked in surprised by how eager she was.
“Cool, let’s go.” She lifted up the bar hatch and slipped out.
“Fortescue, where are you going?” a sharp voice called from the other end of the bar.
“I’m having my break, I’ll be back in half an hour,” she called over her shoulder to the woman, not bothering to look back.
“A minute over and I’ll dock you,” the woman warned her.
“Yeah, whatever,” she muttered under her breath. “Bloody slave driver.” Once we were outside, she turned to face me. “Are we gonna have to go back to yours?”
“Na, we’ll risk it from here.” I pulled her into the alcove where I’d found her a few weeks ago. “I doubt anyone will see us, and even if they do, they’ll think it was a trick of the light or something.” I paused to Apparate us both to the training ground.
“That’s the thing with you Muggles,” I finished as she regained her balance. On the whole she seemed to be coping with Apparition very well; better than Lily at any rate. “You don’t see anything unless it’s right under your noses, and even when you do see, you generally assume it to be something else. Makes it slightly easier for us to get by.”
She scowled slightly.
“We’re not all like that, you know.”
“Course you’re not.” I ruffled her hair. “You know, I didn’t know what your surname was until just now.”
“Didn’t you?” She looked surprised. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t have. Although technically it’s Fortescue Martínez.”
“No, two surnames. Spanish naming traditions; you get a surname from each parent. Mamá was adamant that we were doing it that way. Most people lop the Martínez off the end though, but then that’s generally what happens with Spanish names anyway. Sometimes I call people up on it when they do it, to be a nuisance, but my supervisor’s in a pissy mood today so I daren’t. She means it when she says she’ll dock me for being a minute late. You nervous about Saturday then?”
“Not really. I’ve got a fair few games under my belt now. It’ll be tough, but I’m confident we’ll beat them. If anything, I’m excited. We haven’t played a proper match in months. You do realise that it could go on for hours, if not days? You might have to skip work on Sunday,” I joked.
“Only if I can actually see the damn match to watch it,” she grimaced. “Seriously, there is no way that there’s anything there...”
“Of course there is. Come on, let’s get a little closer, you might be able to see then...”
But that only caused trouble.
“James, I need to go, I have work-”
“You have a break,” I reminded her, maintaining a vice-tight grip on her wrist. “And you can’t go anywhere without me anyway, remember?”
“James, let me go-”
“Why? We’re in the middle of nowhere, Carla, stop trying to dash off, because you can’t-”
“But I need to go! I’m meant to be working-”
“You’re meant to be trying to see the pitch-”
“I can’t see it, James! I’m a bloody Muggle, I’m not meant to see the pitch-”
“If you keep telling yourself you won’t be able to see it, then you’ve got no chance!” I was beginning to lose my temper with her. I tried to calm down, knowing I wasn’t being fair; it wasn’t her fault she couldn’t see the pitch.
“Look, come here.” I tugged her round to stand in front of me, facing the pitch, and snaked my arms round her waist. Not that that was necessary, but I wasn’t going to waste an opportunity to get my hands on her. “It’s there, I promise you. Do you want to know what it looks like? There’s a set of three poles with hoops on them about thirty feet away from us, and they’re about fifty feet high. There’s another set five hundred feet away from them, at the other end of the pitch. There’s a temporary stand to the left hand side of the pitch, level with the centre. The stand is on stilts so the seats are about the same height as the hoops. And then on the right of the pitch, opposite the stand, is our training hut. It has our changing rooms in it, and a broom shed in case we want to leave our brooms here. I keep my Fiona at home though. And there’s a little kitchen in there too, so we can cook if we want to – or at least, the girls can cook for us – and there’s also a meeting room, where we discuss things like tactics, and who’s playing in the team. It’s a lot comfier than sitting in the changing rooms all the time. Next to that is the score board. That’s about fifty feet up as well, and there’s a seat next to it for the person keeping score. We tried Charming it to see if it could keep score magically, but it doesn’t really work. When we took the charms off, it had somehow turned blue, and we can’t change it back-”
“James, that’s purple,” she interrupted.
I stared at the top of her head, while I processed what she’d said.
“You’re not going to start arguing with me, are you? I’m telling you, it’s purple; you men are all totally colourblind-”
“You can see it?”
Carlotta froze for a moment, then clapped her hands to her mouth, as she spun round to face me. Her eyes were as wide as saucers.
“I can see it,” she said through her hands. “I can see it!” She threw her arms round my neck, and squealed happily.
I laughed, lifted her up and spun her round in circles.
“You’re making me dizzy!”
I grinned, setting her back down on the ground and pulling her close.
“I have that affect on girls,” I said cheekily.
“Oh, shut up, you big-headed pillock-”
I kissed her to shut her up. She giggled against my lips and responded in kind, threading her fingers through my hair.
After a moment, she pulled away reluctantly.
“James,” she breathed, resting her forehead against mine, “I really do need to go back to work now.”