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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 18: eighteen
“We’re really high up.”
“This is the best vantage point.” I paused. “You’re not scared of heights, are you?”
“Now you ask?” Carlotta said dryly. “No, I’m not ... are you sure this stand is safe?”
“It’s being held up by magic more than it is by the structure itself. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.”
“And ... is everyone going to be here?” Carlotta then asked.
“You mean the whole family? Yes, they will be. Everyone comes to see the first game of the season,” Mum said.
I was beginning to feel nervous again. I’d felt sick with nerves when I’d woken up this morning, but as usual Mum had managed to calm me down with words and food.
After breakfast, we’d waited for Carlotta to turn up, so that the three of us could Apparate to the pitch together. We were now sitting in the top row of the stands waiting for the match to begin. It wouldn’t start for another hour, but the teams were required to be there half an hour in advance and the rest of the family usually tried to get to the pitch early enough to see me and wish me luck before the match.
“Do you reckon Dad will make it?” I asked Mum now. He’d apparently been called into work, and wasn’t sure how long he’d be.
“I don’t know, darling. I know he’ll try his hardest to get here on time, but if Kingsley needs him for something then he might not be able to leave early.”
I pulled a face. Carlotta squeezed my hand slightly.
“Look, there’s Al and Rose.”
Mum pointed down to where two figures had Apparated just outside the pitch. Unsurprisingly, there were anti-Apparition wards on the pitch itself, for safety reasons, though privately I thought that anyone who was stupid enough to try to Apparate straight onto the pitch deserved to be hit by a Bludger or a player.
“See, that’s an easy start, you know them,” I said, bumping Carlotta’s shoulder lightly. She didn’t look too appeased. “Don’t worry, Mum will look after you. And nobody will bite you. Well, except Uncle Bill or Teddy, maybe,” I added cheekily, more for Mum’s benefit than Carlotta’s.
“Behave, James,” Mum murmured.
“But really, Uncle Percy and Molly may bore you to death, Louis and Hugo might try teasing you rotten, Grandpa Weasley may ask you about rubber ducks, and Dora and Remus may try crawling all over you, but generally we’re harmless.”
“I think I need a family tree,” Carlotta said.
“Well, we’ll try telling you who’s who when they turn up,” I said. “This is the problem with Nana and Grandpa Weasley being baby machines. They had seven kids, and five of them have had kids. Albus is my brother, sadly, and-”
“Albus? I swear that’s not what you said before...”
“No, I said Albert before.”
“Albert?” Mum butted in.
“Well, I could hardly say he was called Albus, could I?” I pointed out.
“What was wrong with something like Alex?” she said.
“I didn’t think of that – I was thinking under pressure!”
“Albert. The poor, poor boy...”
“Says the woman who christened him Albus Severus,” I said flatly, before turning back to Carlotta. “Anyway, so you know Al, and Rosie is my Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione’s eldest daughter. Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were Dad’s best mates at school. And here they are ... could you guys have trudged up those steps any slower?” I said loudly, as they reached the top of the steps.
“They’re bloody steep!” Rose moaned. “Hi, Carlotta. Alright, Aunt Ginny?”
“Morning, Rose,” Mum replied. “Albus, did you even try to comb your hair this morning?”
Albus grimaced, running a hand through his messy hair, which only made it worse.
“Let him be, Mum,” I said, grinning. “It’s not his fault the gene pool let him down.”
“Oh, sod off,” he scowled.
It was true that Al was the spitting image of Dad, while Lily was a miniature Mum. I was the hybrid in the family, as people often pointed out; tall, like Dad, with Mum’s bright brown eyes – and, luckily, her vision too – Dad’s black hair, though it wasn’t as messy and had a reddish reddish tint from Mum, and Mum’s nose and Dad’s mouth thrown in for good measure. Along with the red hair, I’d also avoided the Weasley freckles.
Most people said that I was the best-looking of the Potter children. I disagreed with that on two counts. For one thing, only Al had Grandma Lily’s green eyes, which girls went gaga over. I would freely admit that if I could change one thing about my appearance, it would be my eyes. I didn’t mind mine, but Dad and Al’s eyes just stood out in a way that Mum’s brown ones failed to.
The other reason was that, to me at least, Lily was already one of the most beautiful young women I knew. I imagined Mum must have looked the same way at that age – not that she’d lost her looks, but having three children had left her slightly plump and she also showed the stress of raising us. Lily, on the other hand, was short but incredibly athletic and wiry, and pulled off the Weasley hair better than any of the rest of our clan.
“Here’s Roxie and Lu, look,” Rose said now, sitting down on Carlotta’s other side.
Sure enough, two more figures had just Apparated in. Roxanne was unmistakeable, with her dark skin, and the kit bag slung over her shoulder and broomstick in her hand; she was the reserve Chaser. Even if I hadn’t been able to tell that the redhead with her was Lucy, it would be a safe assumption to make, as the two of them lived together. As it was, I could tell it was her by the way she was walking. Aunt Audrey had a very springy walk, which she had passed down to her second daughter.
The two split off as they reached the pitch, Roxanne heading to the changing rooms to dump her kit, and Lucy heading towards us.
“Roxie is Uncle George and Aunt Angelina’s daughter, and Freddie’s sister, obviously,” I told Carlotta. “And Lucy is Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey’s daughter.”
“You should draw her a family tree, James,” Rose joked.
“Off you go, then,” I retorted.
“Okay.” Rose dug around in her bag, which like Brigid’s had an Undetectable Extension Charm on it, and pulled out a roll of parchment and a Self-Inking quill.
“You can tell you’re Aunt Hermione’s daughter,” I said, as she unrolled the parchment on her lap.
“You never know when you might need to write something down,” she said, beginning to draw out our family tree for Carlotta. “Okay, so we have the matriarch and patriarch at the top, Nana Molly and Grandpa Arthur. Nana Molly will mother you all she can, so just let her, it’ll keep her happy. Grandpa Arthur may ask you lots of questions; Muggles fascinate him, you see, always have. Then there are six kids; the oldest is Uncle Bill, he married Aunt Fleur and they have three kids...”
I looked away from the parchment, to see that Roxanne had emerged from the hut with her broom. She threw her leg over it and kicked off. Lucy, half way up the steps, looked back, and began running the rest of the way up, clearly trying to race Roxanne.
“You lazy little thing,” I grinned as Roxanne reached us, hovering in the air.
“Why take the steps?” she shrugged, turning to Lucy, who had just reached the top of the steps and was panting slightly. “Beat you,” she grinned. “Hey, what you doing, Rosie?”
“Family tree for Carlotta,” she replied, now drawing Uncle George’s line. “This is where fatty Roxie comes in...”
“Watch it, ginge,” Roxanne said with a grin. “Anyway, nice to properly meet you, Carlotta. I think we’ve only met once before and we were both quite intoxicated. Not that it was a work night,” she added hastily, glancing at Mum.
“Of course not,” I added smoothly. “Weekend, wasn’t it, Roxie?”
“Naturally. Good conditions, eh? Not much wind, good cloud cover, fairly mild. Makes a change from most years; it’s usually rain and a howling gale.”
“Don’t you go tempting fate,” I warned. “But yeah, it should be a good game.”
Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione were the next to arrive, along with Hugo, who had gotten permission from Professor Longbottom to leave school for the day.
“Alright, Rosie?” Uncle Ron said, ruffling her hair as he filed into the row in front. “Ready for the game, James?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I said. My right leg was beginning to twitch. Carlotta put her hand on my thigh to stop it.
“You’ll be fine,” Uncle Ron said. “You guys are way better than that McLaggen bast-”
“Ronald,” Aunt Hermione scolded sharply.
Uncle Ron shot me a wink.
“I saw that,” she said dryly.
“Uncle Ron, Aunt Hermione, this is Carlotta,” I said hastily before they began rowing, which was a regular occupation of theirs.
“Ah, are you the Muggle girl Gin told us about?” Uncle Ron said curiously.
“That’ll be me,” she said, smiling slightly. “Unless James has got another Muggle bird on the go.”
“Three more,” I deadpanned.
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you, Carlotta,” Aunt Hermione said with a smile. “Don’t worry about meeting the rabble; we’re all harmless.”
“Move along the bus, Mum.” Hugo edged along the row in front to reach us. “Hey, I’m Hugo.” He held out a hand to Carlotta, which she shook.
“Carlotta.” She smiled again, seeming unfazed.
I noticed that she now had Rose’s family tree sitting on her lap.
“Here’s Lily,” Rose said suddenly.
We all looked round to see Lily, Maddie and Kit emerge from the training hut, having Flooed in from Kit’s parents’ kitchen.
“Lil!” Hugo cried, heading back for the stairs.
“Careful, Hugo!” Aunt Hermione called after him as he took the stairs three at a time to get to Lily, who had spotted him in turn and was running towards him.
They met at the bottom of the stairs, where he picked her up and span her round. Being the same age, they had grown up together, and had been inseparable for years. They’d always assumed that they would be together at Hogwarts, and had been gutted to learn that that wouldn’t be the case. They’d stayed close, however, and missed each other when they were at school. Normally they would have visited each other more during the school term, but this year they were both busy with exams.
Once he’d let go of Lily, Hugo shook Kit’s hand in greeting, and then turned to Maddie. She evidently said something cheeky, as he bent down and lifted her up, throwing her over his shoulder.
“HUGO!” we heard her scream, as he turned and ran back up the stairs.
“Honestly,” Aunt Hermione tutted.
“Here’s clan Murphy,” Mum pointed out.
I glanced down at the four new figures, two of whom were heading towards the training hut, the other two heading towards the stand.
“That’ll be my cue to leave soon,” I said, as Hugo and Maddie reached us. Hugo set Maddie down; she pushed her hair out of her face, looking disgruntled.
“Thanks, Hugo,” she said. “I do like to ascend steps in a ladylike manner, how kind of you for assisting-”
She stuck her tongue out at him, then turned to us.
“Alright, Mrs P? You gonna move any time soon, Jim? I’ll have your seat.”
“Thanks, Mads, nice to see you too,” I said, grinning as I got to my feet. I climbed over the seat in front, and Maddie clambered up to take my seat.
“Alright, Carla?” she said. “Oh, you’ve gotten a family tree? That’s not fair, we never had one. We just had to keep track of everyone mentally.”
“You didn’t meet everyone all at once,” I pointed out, as Lily and Kit reached us, and filed past Carlotta, Maddie and Mum to sit the other side of Albus.
“Would still have been helpful,” she said, glancing at it over Carlotta’s shoulder. “Cato Bagman here yet?”
“No. Hugh, don’t let her anywhere near Bagman.”
Hugo wrinkled his nose in distaste.
“Not you as well? Alice won’t shut up about him.”
“Pulled her yet?” Maddie chipped in.
Hugo flushed red.
“You Weasleys are all the same; none of you ever make a move,” she lamented.
“Hey! I’ll have you know that I was the one who made the first move when Harry and I got together, thank you very much!” Mum interjected.
“I don’t need to know,” Albus said loudly, as Lily clapped her hands over her ears.
I grinned, but turned to greet Brendan Murphy, Brigid and Ryan’s dad.
“Hey, Mr Murph,” I said, shaking his hand. “Good to see you again.”
Mr Murphy’s work often took him abroad, and so he wasn’t around often. When he was in the country, he tried to get to as many Falcons games as possible, to support both Sinead and Ryan.
“Good to see you too, James,” he replied. “Well done on England.”
“Thanks,” I grinned.
“Hi James, good luck James, scat James,” was Brigid’s greeting, as Brendan turned to greet Mum.
“I can take a hint.”
“Come on, I’ll give you a lift,” Roxanne said, swinging round from where she’d been chatting to Rose and Lucy.
I put a hand on Hugo’s shoulder and stood up on the back of the chair in front of me.
“James!” Mum, Aunt Hermione and Brigid all cried.
Roxanne swung round to face the hut and flew backwards slightly. I jumped from the chair onto the broom, grabbing her waist. The broomstick sank a few inches before adjusting to the extra weight.
“Nothing to worry about!” she said cheerily.
A chorus of good lucks followed us as we flew to the hut and landed by the door to the changing rooms.
I turned at the sound of the voice, and grinned, kneeling down as little Dora Lupin ran towards me. She flung her arms round my neck, nearly taking my eye out with her Falcons flag.
“Alright, Dora?” I said, standing up. “You’re getting a bit big for me to be picking you up, you know.”
As usual, she was adorned in as much Falcons merchandise as possible; she wore the jumper, the scarf and the gloves, had a miniature figure of me in the hand that wasn’t holding the flag and had falcons painted on both cheeks.
“Will you win today?” she said.
“Of course we will,” I said, tapping her nose lightly.
“Come on Dora, James needs to get ready for his game.”
Teddy approached us, his hair currently in the team colours of grey and white. Dora pouted as he took her from me.
“Alright, James?” he said. “Feeling confident?”
“That’s part and parcel of playing Quidditch,” he grinned. He’d played Quidditch for Gryffindor too. Unfortunately, he’d been in his Seventh Year when I’d been in First Year, so we’d never played together. In fact, it was his spot which I’d filled on the team. “Reckon you’ll win, though.”
“We should do. We’ve been shit hot in training. But McLaggen’s damn good, and Robins has still got it. Klaus could have trouble getting the Snitch first too; Birch is the current England Seeker.”
“But you’ve got better Beaters.”
“You have no idea how nice it is to finally hear that,” I grinned. Our Beaters had been our weakness for some time, and so it was nice to finally not have to worry about who was in charge of the Bludgers.
“Although Victoire won’t stop harping on about bloody Cato,” Teddy said with a scowl.
“Her as well?”
“It’s his animal magnetism. Come on, Jimmy, we’ve got a match to prepare for. See you later, Teddy!”
Della and Klaus had arrived, and Della was currently tugging on my sleeve.
“We’ll chat later, James,” Teddy said quickly, before heading off to the stands.
“You managed to get your Chiquita in then?” Della said, as we followed Klaus into the meeting room.
“Yeah ... how can you tell she’s here?”
“Nobody else has that colouring,” she pointed out. “Dropping her in at the deep end, aren’t you? Throwing all the family at her at once.”
“She wanted to come,” I said, shrugging. “Besides, she’s already met a lot of people, and I’ve left her under Mum’s wing, she’ll be fine.”
“Except you’ve left her between Lily’s nutter mate and Rose,” she said dryly.
“She’ll be fine,” I repeated.
The worst bit about a match day was the waiting. Once we were all changed into our Quidditch robes, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.
With twenty minutes to go, Sinead stood up and clapped her hands loudly.
“Go and warm up,” she said.
We stood up and grabbed our brooms, filing out of the hut. The stand had filled up considerably in the time that we’d been inside. As I mounted Fiona and kicked off, I glanced at the people in the stand, my eyes finding the mass of redheads, intermingled with a couple of blondes and dark heads. I could only see one mess of black hair. I turned back to Ryan and Della, trying to ignore the feeling of disappointment in the pit of my stomach.
“Race you round the pitch!” Della said with a grin.
After three laps, Ryan, who was the fastest flier, had pulled out a good half a lap on Della and me, and pulled to a halt by our hoops, waiting for us to catch up with him.
“Do you want us to practice any drills?” he asked Della; as the most experienced Chaser, she tended to lead our warm ups.
“Do you think we need to?”
“Not really,” he said, shrugging. “Best to save it all for the match.”
The Tornados had followed our cue, and were also out on the pitch warming up.
“Good idea,” I said, glaring at Jeremiah McLaggen, who was showing off by the stands.
“Prick,” Ryan said calmly.
“He’s a bit of a berk, isn’t he?” Cato observed, joining us. He was swinging his arms round in circles, a frightening sight given that his bat was in his right hand.
“He always was one,” Ryan replied, eying the bat warily. “You should think yourself lucky on three counts; you didn’t have to share a common room with him, you didn’t have to be his team mate –captaining him was a nightmare – and you get to hit balls of iron at him.”
“There are perks to the job,” he said.
After a quick warm up, we headed back to the hut for a few last minute preparations.
“Don’t gamble with catching the Snitch, Klaus,” Sinead said. “A big points difference would be good, but we can’t risk Birch catching the Snitch first.”
He nodded. Sinead then turned to Ryan, Della and me.
“As many goals as possible, guys. Don’t let them get possession if possible. Remember, they don’t defend well against speed.”
Ryan and I glanced at each other. We both had a quicker pass than Della, and so we were going to have to take the fore in this match. We knew that already, of course; it had been part of our plans all week. Sinead was just jogging our memories.
“And Plumpton is weak on his right, so aim for his left hoop.”
There was a knock on the door. The referee was summoning us onto the pitch.
“Off you go then, boys and girls. Good luck, do your best, get the win,” Sinead finished.
We all nodded, and Alfie led us out onto the pitch, where the Tornados were already waiting for us. We gathered into a huddle.
Alfie didn’t say anything for a moment, and when he did, it wasn’t much.
“Let’s beat their sorry little asses.”
He wasn’t one for words.
We broke away from the huddle, and crossed to shake hands with the Tornados, as was customary. Following the English code of cordiality, Tamsin Robins and the Seeker, Jessica Birch gave me friendly smiles. McLaggen, however, squeezed my hand so tightly I thought he was trying to break it, and glared harshly at me, as was his wont.
“Up in the air!” The referee called once we’d all shaken hands.
We mounted our brooms and kicked off. Alfie and their Keeper, Plumpton, headed to their respective goalposts. Klaus and Jessica both shot up above the rest of us, to keep out of the way of the fight for the Quaffle. The Bagmans and the Tornados’ Beaters were on guard with their bats, ready to steer the Bludgers away from their players.
I took the chance to glance once more at the stand, and my heart sank. Still no Dad.
I turned my attention back to the pitch, trying to push aside the feelings of disappointment, as the referee kicked the chest of balls open. I had a game to concentrate on.
The Snitch flew straight up into the air; Klaus and Jessica both tried to follow it with their eyes but it soon vanished out of sight. They were unable to pursue it until the Quaffle was released.
Then the Bludgers were released. They shot straight up into the air, and the four Beaters all dashed in to control them.
But our eyes were on the Quaffle, which the referee was about to throw into the air. I tightened my hands round my broom handle in anticipation, waiting...
And then it was released.
Ryan darted in, as did McLaggen – but Ryan wasn’t going for the Quaffle. He successfully blocked McLaggen, as Della dived in and scooped up the Quaffle and then evaded Tamsin and their third Chaser to get the Quaffle away to me. I shot up the left hand side of the pitch, ducking the Bludger that their Beater had hit my way. McLaggen crossed to intercept me, and I threw the Quaffle up-
Where Ryan caught it, six feet above me, and shot off towards the posts, Della on his shoulder. He passed to her as Tamsin approached, and then dropped away as Della reached the posts. Plumpton was there, hovering in front of the middle hoop but ready to dart either way, as she pulled her arm back, aimed-
And dropped it.
Right into the hands of Ryan, who threw it up and through the left hoop. Plumpton, six feet too high, had no chance of getting to it.
I vaguely heard the cheers from the stand as the Quaffle sailed through the hoop, and I held out a hand to high-five Della as she headed back towards the centre of the pitch.
“That was a gift,” she said as I tailed her back. “They won’t give us an easy one like that again.”
And she was right. After they’d conceded the early goal, they raised their game. Their third Chaser, Ruby Ellerby, was a plucky young thing whom I remembered vaguely from Hogwarts; she had played for Hufflepuff, and been a stand out in their team. She’d clearly been given the job of marking me and, to my annoyance, she was occasionally managing to snatch the Quaffle from me.
“What the hell are you playing at?” Della hissed at me after Ellerby had managed to intercept the Quaffle and score.
“She came out of nowhere-”
“Then don’t let her! Remember what Sinead said, what we’ve been practicing. Fast passes. You take the middle, I’ll take the left.”
I glanced over at the scoreboard. We were sixty points up. A reasonable cushion, but nowhere near enough. If Jessica caught the Snitch now, we were dead and buried.
I snatched the Quaffle up on the restart and threw it straight out to Ryan, who shot off up the pitch. Following Della’s orders, I switched with her, and headed after him. He passed to me, just as McLaggen was reaching him. The Quaffle barely touched my hand before I passed it back. Within moments, it returned to me.
Sure enough, the fast passing was too much for the inexperienced Ellerby to snatch it up, and McLaggen was too slow to intercept. Tamsin, who might have been able to get a fingertip to it, was too busy marking Della.
As we reached the hoops, with Plumpton waiting, Ryan aimed. Plumpton drifted ever so slightly towards him, and Ryan instead passed to me, where I was greeted with an unmarked left hoop. The rest was easy.
“Nice!” Della said as we headed back for the restart. “We’re making them switch it up, Robins and McLaggen are having to swap...”
It clearly hadn’t been part of the Tornados’ initial plan, to have their two female Chasers marking me and Ryan. They’d evidently decided to match their biggest Chaser up against ours. Unfortunately for them, while McLaggen’s bulk slowed him down, Ryan was deceptively fast.
“Just be careful not to try that again too soon,” Della added, “or their Beaters may get wise to it.”
And they did. Four plays later, Ryan and I attempted another sequence of fast passes, but one of their Beaters sent a Bludger between us, forcing us to scatter, and Ellerby scooped up the Quaffle. Luckily, Cleo was on the scene, and smacked the Bludger towards Ellerby, who promptly dropped the Quaffle. Della recovered it, and we resumed our usual formation.
We hadn’t been affected by the Bludgers that much so far, I suddenly realised. Clearly, the Bagmans were doing their job extremely well.
And sure enough, moments later, a scoring move of the Tornados’ was quashed by a duel effort by Cato and Cleo, the double attack forcing them to abort. Alfie recovered the Quaffle, and lobbed it back to Della.
Unfortunately, not all the Tornados’ Bludger attacks were stopped by the twins. A few moves later, as I was in the process of scoring, one of their Beaters aimed the Bludger at my arm. I pulled my hand back once I’d sent the Quaffle sailing through the hoop, but I wasn’t fast enough, and the Bludger caught my fingers.
“Shit!” I cried, pulling my hand into my chest.
“Time out!” Della shrieked from behind me.
The referee’s whistle blew, and I wheeled round to face Della, who was flying towards me, looking concerned.
“Let’s have a shifty,” she said, holding her hand out. I placed my hand in hers; my fingers were out of place and were already swelling up. “Broken bones there, Jim. You gonna be alright to carry on?”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, trying to ignore the throbbing pain.
Cleo joined us, looking horrified.
“James, I’m so sorry, I tried to get to it but I couldn’t-”
“It’s fine; it doesn’t hurt much,” I lied; admitting to pain wasn’t very masculine at all. “You could kiss them better if you want?” I offered my hand out to her.
“Watch it, Potter.”
I grinned cheekily as Cato appeared at Cleo’s shoulder.
“Worth a try.”
“Alright, Junior?” Ryan asked as he joined the huddle.
“Just a couple of fingers, nothing serious.”
“In that case, man up and stop moaning,” he said with a grin.
“Cleo, do you mind if I borrow your bat for a moment?” I asked sweetly.
“What’s happened?” Alfie had finally reached us from the opposite end of the pitch.
“Bludger caught Jimmy’s fingers,” Della said. “Sorry I called the time out, Alf...”
“It’s fine; I couldn’t see a thing from back there anyway,” he said. “You gonna be alright, Jim?”
The pain was getting worse, but I nodded, gritting my teeth. We were still only ninety points ahead; the game was far from won.
“Right, we’ll get back on with things then, shall we?” He turned, signalling to the referee that we were ready to restart.
We all resumed our positions. Klaus had continued his circling of the pitch during the time out; generally Seekers only abandoned their search for the Snitch if the Captain ordered them to. A movement in the stands caught my eye, and I turned to see what it was. My heart leapt as I saw not one messy haircut, but two. I grinned.
I was sure as hell going to remind Dad that this was the right career choice.
It was a good thing that Sinead had us practice catching and passing with both hands. At first, I tried to play on with my right, but the Quaffle kept catching my fingers, causing more sharp pain. In the end, I was forced to resort to using my left hand, a risky move as it made me more susceptible to being caught out. Luckily though, the change seemed to confuse the Tornados Chasers, and by the time they’d adjusted, we’d managed to pull ahead by another thirty points.
But soon, even that became difficult. I could normally fly without holding the broom handle, but occasionally I needed a hand on the handle for balance, and I couldn’t grip at all with my right.
“Del, we need to do more dummies and decoys,” I said after they’d taken advantage of a mistake of mine and scored.
She glanced at my bloody and swollen hand, but didn’t say anything, instead nodding and signalling across to Ryan the new plan.
This gameplan played into Della’s hands perfectly, as this was where she excelled. She then took utter control of the game, completely bamboozling their Chasers, who had absolutely no idea when she was and wasn’t going to pass the Quaffle. Her best trick was when she’d looked right, towards Ryan, and aimed as if to pass to him, pulling her right arm back – only to fling the Quaffle backwards, into my awaiting arms. Moments later, Ryan had the Quaffle and was scoring once more.
“One-twenty up,” she panted. “Hurry the hell up, Klaus!” she moaned.
The Tornados pulled back two quick goals. My hand was feeling so heavy that I thought it might drop off any moment.
And then Klaus dived.
Jessica followed him. She was lighter, and so was beginning to catch him, but wasn’t quite fast enough, and he rose upwards, clutching the Snitch in his right hand.
The rest of the team headed towards him, whooping and hollering, but I didn’t follow them. Instead I headed straight to the stands. I stopped in front of Mum, and held my now swollen and bloody hand out.
“Mummy, fix my fingers,” I said.
“James!” she cried. “Look at them! You should have gotten them mended in the time out!”
“Dad carried on playing with a broken arm; I figured what were a couple of broken fingers?” I pointed out as she drew her wand.
“You’re both as idiotic as each other,” she sighed. “Episkey.” My fingers straightened, and the pain all but vanished. “Besides, at least he ended the game moments later; you had to play through! Tergeo.”
“Yes, well, I was hoping Brand would take pity on me, but he decided that we could score some more goals first.” I turned to Carlotta. “Enjoy that?”
“It was amazing!” she said, looking utterly exhilarated. “You were really good...”
I pulled a face.
“I was okay,” I said. “Could’ve been better, especially after my fingers broke-”
“Your fault,” Mum reminded me. “Now, go and have a shower, you stink.”
“Love you too, Mum.” I reached over and gave her a hug, ignoring her protests, then headed to join the rest of the team, whose huddle had reached the ground.
“All fixed?” Della said brightly, a huge grin on her face.
“Good as new,” I grinned, waggling my fingers.
Cleo looked relieved.
“Don’t worry about it!” I said, throwing an arm round her shoulders. “Happens all the time. Murph had his elbow bent backwards by a Bludger last season. You two were incredible; half the time I forgot the Bludgers were on the pitch!”
She smiled, looking a bit happier.
Sinead then joined us.
“Not bad, guys,” she said. We all knew what she meant, though. In Sinead language that was a firm ‘Could do better’, and I knew that we all agreed with her. “Now, bugger off and shower, all of you.”
We didn’t need telling twice.
I showered quickly, and headed back out to the pitch, where some of the spectators were mingling with the players. Sinead had procured some Butterbeer, and handed me a bottle as I passed her.
I joined Carlotta, who was standing with Dominique and Lucy.
“Well played, Jim,” Dominique said cheerily.
“Cheers, Dom. Good honeymoon?”
“Really good, thanks. How did the England training go?”
“Alright, so long as I steered clear of McLaggen.”
She pulled a face.
“He’s an utter plank,” she declared.
“Ladies! Have a mead on me,” Della said loudly, clutching a crate of what looked suspiciously like-
“Heidelberg mead? Again? Really, Della?” Lucy looked at the crate with trepidation.
“The more you drink, the more you’ll get used to it!” she said, handing Lucy a bottle. “Dom? One for the wedding, eh?”
“Why not,” Dominique said in an amused voice, taking the bottle Della handed to her.
She had been staring aimlessly around the pitch, looking at nothing in particular. She turned her head at the sound of her name.
“Mead?” Della proffered a third bottle to her.
“That’s the stuff you tried at mine,” I prompted.
“It’s wizarding stuff?” she said. “I should have guessed. Thanks.” She took the bottle.
Della then turned to me.
“I don’t think you need mead at this time of day, Junior-”
“Hand it over, Brand,” I said sternly.
“But you’ve already got a Butterbeer-”
She laughed loudly.
“Go on, then. Celebrate your goals, Jim.”
I took the bottle, and took a large swig.
“No worries.” She turned to Dominique. “So, how was the honeymoon? Where did you go?”
Carlotta pulled me off to one side as Dominique began to gush about her holiday.
“James,” she murmured to me, “you said your mum was one of seven.”
“Yeah, she was. Why?”
“Well, Rose only put six names on the tree...”
I winced slightly.
“Uncle George had a twin,” I said quietly. “Fred. That’s who Freddie is named for. But ... he died, when he was twenty.”
“Caught up in an explosion,” I said, not wanting to elaborate; now wasn’t the time to give her the whole story.
“James, we’re going to have to make a move now, Remus is playing up,” Teddy said apologetically, joining us. “Are you free at all this week? We could go out for a quiet drink one evening.”
Teddy and I used to talk a lot. Unfortunately, now he had a family of his own and I was a professional Quidditch player, we saw each other a lot less. We hadn’t had a proper catch up in months.
“Monday at the Leaky?”
“Sounds good,” he grinned. “Well done on the win. Nice to meet you, Carlotta. See you Monday, James!”
And then he left, with Victoire and the kids.
“You would go for one of my free nights,” Carlotta lamented.
“You were going to ask to do something?” I said, grinning.
“Well, if I’m not at work, then getting drunk with you always seems like a good plan.” She began massaging her neck with her free hand, wincing.
“Yeah, fine, just a bit stiff.”
“I’ll give you a massage if you want?” I volunteered.
“You’ve just played a game of Quidditch, shouldn’t you be the one needing the massage?”
“You can pay me back later,” I winked, setting my bottles of Butterbeer and mead down on the grass and turning her round.
“I look forward to it,” she said dryly, as I began massaging her shoulders. “Ooh, yeah, that’s the spot...”
“Kinky,” Freddie said, grinning, as he strolled over to join us. “Whose is the mead?”
Freddie picked it up and took a large swig from it.
“-but you can have it if you want,” I finished dully.
“Cheers,” he said. “Hey, who’s the Tornados’ new Chaser? She looks familiar...”
“Ruby Ellerby, Hufflepuff, couple of years below us at school.”
“If you value all your body parts, I really wouldn’t talk to her...”
But he was gone. With my mead.
“Huh? What did he say? I drifted off...” Carlotta turned her head slightly.
“Short attention span?” I joked.
Her shoulders tensed up again beneath my fingers.
“I should be going,” she mused.
“You alright?” I said, confused.
“Huh? Yeah, I’m fine. I just ... I need to be going. Is there any other way I can get home, or-”
“I’ll Apparate you back to mine, it’s not a problem. Do you want to say goodbye to anyone first?”
“No, I need to go.” She turned back to face me, but didn’t make eye contact.
“Okay, I’ll take you back,” I said soothingly. “Come on.”
Once we were back at mine, she headed straight for the door.
“Do I get my massage later then?” I said with a smirk.
She turned back to face me, her hand on the door handle, and smiled weakly.
“Maybe somewhen in the week. I’ll call you. Unless you call me first, I guess. See you.”
And then she was gone, leaving me standing in the living room, thoroughly confused.