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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 19 : nineteen
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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“...and then she left.”

Teddy blinked at me.

“She left?”

“Yup. Go figure.” I took a slurp of butterbeer, and set the tankard back down on the pub table in front of me.

We were sitting in the Three Broomsticks, as we’d arranged, and we’d barely been there five minutes before I’d blurted out what had happened two days previously with Carlotta.

Teddy had been like an older brother when I’d been growing up. Until he’d gone to Hogwarts when I was five, I’d seen him at least three times a week and even after that, we’d seen a lot of him during the holidays. I used to talk to him much more –I felt less sure about dumping my problems on him now that he had a wife and kids – but now that we finally had a chance to talk properly, for the first time since Dominique’s wedding over two months previously, it was all coming out.

Teddy frowned.

“Well ... has she talked to you since?”

“Not a word. She said she might ring. I figured my best bet is to wait for her to ring me, rather than try to chase her ... I mean, I don’t do chasing girls anyway, and besides, I wouldn’t want to push her if she’s not happy with me...”

“Why wouldn’t she be happy with you? You haven’t done anything wrong ... unless you’ve kept something back?” he added, looking at me warily.

“I’ve told you everything, exactly how it happened.”

“In that case, as far as I can see, you’ve done nothing wrong.” He shifted in his seat slightly. “Maybe she was just nervous? I mean, you did throw her in at the deep end, she met a lot of people all at once.”

“Yeah, I guess ... but then, she wanted to come. It’s not like I forced her...”

“That doesn’t make coming face to face with half the wizarding population in one day any easier,” he pointed out.

I wrinkled my nose.

“True...”

“It’ll be fine. She’ll ring you in a couple of days, I expect. Or you could always ring her first?”

I said nothing, merely raised an eyebrow.

“Eh ... scratch that thought.” He drained his tankard. “Just ... be careful, Jim. Remember, she is a Muggle.”

I stared at him for a moment.

“Ted ... she already knows about us, there’s nothing to worry about...”

“I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about her. Don’t forget, she has a family, she has friends, and none of them can know about us. And ... well, things seem to be getting a bit serious between you...”

I snorted.

“Serious? We see each other every now and again, that’s no more serious than anything I’ve had with any other bird...”

“She went to the game,” he pointed out.

“Cassie went to my games. So did Vivienne before her, and Astrid before Viv. It’s hardly a big thing.”

“It is when you had to break countless Muggle Repelling charms and wards just to get her there. I mean, taking a witch along is one thing, but going to all these lengths? Seems a bit-”

“Look, I like her, Teddy,” I interrupted. “She’s a good laugh. She’s uncomplicated. She’s not looking for any sort of commitment. All she asks is that I go to her nightclub instead of the Hinky. It’s a no-brainer!”

“But her friends can’t find out about you,” Teddy repeated.

“I know. And they won’t-”

“And what’s going to happen afterwards? When it all ends, like it always does? When you get bored, or she decides she does want to make it official? Are you just going to walk off and ditch her, like you have with the others before her? Walk off and leave her knowing about the existence of a universe she’ll never live in, a universe she should never have found out about? This ... this isn’t good, James. And I’m sorry, because you’ve probably heard all this from your parents, and from Brigid, and from Lily, and I know I’m the last person you’d want lecturing you, but ... this is a big thing, you know. It’s not all fun and games; at the end of the day, this is a young woman’s life we’re talking about here.”

I groaned, and rested my head in my hands.

“I know, Teddy, I really do...”

“Then, what are you going to do?”

I raised my head.

“Well, I can hardly just walk away from it all now, can I?” I chewed my lip. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, you know...”

It wasn’t a lie. Those thoughts had plagued me on and off since I’d told Carlotta about the magical world, and the more she found out, the more involved in our world she became, the more I found myself lying awake at night wondering what to do. Was it really fair for her to spend her life knowing of our existence? The knowledge wouldn’t necessarily affect her ... but after all she’d already seen, after all I’d told her, would she really want to let it all go?

But I didn’t see what other options I had. Despite the cons of the other options, there was no way I’d opt to have her memory wiped. It was cruel. Hell, it was beyond cruel. I’d seen the affects of Memory Charms before, and hadn’t liked what I’d seen. And it would be a lot to make her forget, especially as every day this went on, she learned more and more.

The only other option was-

“Stick with her,” Teddy shrugged, his thoughts catching up with mine. “I guess that’s your only option, for now. You like her, it wouldn’t be so bad. I don’t get what this whole thing with you and commitment is anyway; maybe it’s about time you actually got together with someone?”

“I’m only twenty-one, Teddy,” I reasoned.

“I was married with a child on the way by the time I was your age.”

“But that’s different. You grew up knowing Vic, you knew practically as soon as you started dating her that you wanted to marry her-”

“We were reckless, you mean,” he said humourously.

“Reckless is a strong word ... the point is, you knew she was the person you wanted to settle down with, and more to the point, you wanted to settle down in the first place. I don’t know that I do. Heck, can you even imagine me married to someone?”

“Not with your flat in the state it is, no.” He grinned. “Besides, you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself here, Jimmy. I didn’t say anything about marriage. I just suggested ... working at ... It. This ... thing you’ve got with Carlotta. Whatever it is. Because you don’t have to drop her, like you have everyone else...”

“There’s still no guarantee that it won’t end though,” I pointed out. “I mean, she’s not looking for anything serious either; that’s the point. And even if she was, it could still end! And then, the longer I spend with her, in whatever capacity, the more she finds out, and...” I sighed heavily. “Merlin, Teddy, I’ve screwed things up big time, haven’t I?”

“Don’t be daft, you haven’t screwed things up,” he said gently. “Not yet, anyway-”

“You think I will?”

“No ... that was the wrong thing to say, wasn’t it?” He smiled again, wryly this time. “My point is, nothing’s gone wrong. Aside from her finding out about magic, but that ended fine. Okay, it could have gone wrong, but I’m not the type of person to worry about what ifs, and neither are you. And this doesn’t need to go wrong. I mean, even if things don’t work out between you, in whichever guise suits you best, you don’t have to distance yourself from her. You can still stay friendly with her. I mean, things can’t have ended badly with all your previous...” He tailed off, seeing the expression on my face.

“Trust me,” I said, “things have ended badly a lot of times.”

He frowned for a moment.

“Well,” he said eventually, “if she’s definitely not looking for commitment, and isn’t going to start, then what could go wrong?”

***

The team for the next match was announced on Wednesday. There were only two changes from last week’s team; Stefan replaced Klaus as Seeker – and Roxanne was to play instead of me.

“Team rotation, guys, nothing more than that,” Sinead said reassuringly.

Nevertheless, she pulled me off to one side after she’d broken up the meeting.

“I don’t want you to think you’re being dropped,” she said quietly. “Because you’re not. I know you played every game last season, and you were probably hoping to do the same this season, especially as there are fewer matches and with England watching you. I spoke to Tamsin Robins after the Tornados game, and she said she was very impressed with you. But Roxanne needs a game too. And the only reason why it’s you she’s replacing is that the Arrows read you well last time, but they struggled to deal with Ryan’s speed. That’s all it is. In an ideal world, I’d play all four of you, but that’s not possible. Picking who to leave out is incredibly hard, because you’re all very talented. But someone has to miss out, and this time it just happens to be you. You’ll play next weekend against the Magpies though, I promise you that.”

I smiled – a genuine smile, not at all forced.

“It’s fine,” I said. “You’re right, Roxie does need a game. And besides, Appleby is a horrible place to play anyway. I don’t mind missing out.”

She returned the smile, before giving me a stern look.

“No going wild on Friday night, though. You’re Chaser reserve. You need to be at the ground fit and ready to go on Saturday morning.”

I pulled a face. I didn’t mind not playing, and I enjoyed watching the matches I wasn’t playing in, but being a reserve was awkward. I wouldn’t take part in the main practices before the game, but I’d still need to know the tactics we were adopting, in case I was drafted in at the last moment. I’d also have to be at the ground just as early as if I were playing. In contrast the other Chasers, Julia and Laura, wouldn’t even have to turn up, though I knew they would. We were a tight-knit squad with a lot of team spirit, and it was unheard of for anybody to miss a game without good reason. But they could have a lie-in, which was much more than I’d be able to do.

Watching Roxanne training with Della and Ryan felt peculiar. It had been a long time since I’d missed a game, and even longer since I’d been deliberately omitted. I knew and agreed with the reasoning, but it didn’t make things any easier.

Mere moments after I’d arrived home from Thursday’s training, I was surprised by a visit from Carlotta.

“I can’t stay long, I’m on my work break,” she said quickly as I let her in. “I just wanted to apologise for dashing off on Saturday.”

“It’s fine.” I shrugged. “I’m sure my family are quite daunting-”

“Oh, no, I was fine with them. They were lovely. It’s just ... well, it’s my flatmate, Flick. She’s having ... she’s having difficulties right now, and I wanted to get back to see if she was okay. I’m sorry, it probably seemed quite rude-”

“Not at all,” I said. My main feeling was relief that my family hadn’t scared her off – and more to the point, that I hadn’t done anything. “It’s fine, don’t worry about it.” I smiled, and she returned it more weakly.

“Do you have a game at the weekend?” she asked curiously.

We do, but I’m not playing in it.”

She looked slightly bemused.

“Why not? I thought you played well last weekend. Is it because of your fingers?”

I grinned.

“Broken fingers are easy to fix in the world of magic. They’re not an issue at all. Sinead, our manager, just wants to give Roxanne a match, and she’s totally right to do so. I’ll have to go anyway; I’ll be Chaser reserve, but I doubt I’ll play. I’m hoping I won’t, anyway. Are you going to come with us on Sunday, then? Lily’s hockey thing?”

“If you want me to,” she said with a nonchalant shrug. “I’ll have to try to get the day off work though, which might be hard, although I can possibly switch with Saturday – unless you want me to go to the Quidditch match anyway, that is? I don’t mind if you do...”

“Trust me,” I said, grinning, “you don’t want to come. If things go to plan, we’ll be there for hours.”

***

At first glance, Quidditch wasn’t a massively tactical game. The Chasers just scored goals until the Seeker caught the Snitch and ended the game. Simple ... right?

In reality, there was much more to it than that. In our game against the Tornados, a strong team with a Seeker who was too good to allow us to risk anything, our game-plan had been simple; us Chasers had to try to score as many goals as possible, as fast as possible. Ideally, one-hundred-and-fifty was the magic number, the cushion of points which would guarantee us a win even if Klaus hadn’t caught the Snitch. But Klaus had had the biggest role; he’d had to catch the Snitch before their Seeker Jessica, and so long as Alfie stopped the Tornados from scoring fifteen goals, that would guarantee a win for us. That was all that mattered; we weren’t prepared to risk losing the match just to try to get a bigger points difference.

The Arrows match was a totally different story. They were one of the weaker teams, and so we could aim for a riskier strategy. The League table was based on points difference. This meant that we were roughly mid-table despite our win against the Tornados, as other teams like Puddlemere and the Kestrels had played weaker teams and so had won their matches by larger points margins. This weekend was our chance to extend our own points difference.

The game plan here was to keep the match going for as long as possible. Their Seeker was one of the weaker ones in the League, so Stefan’s job was not to catch the Snitch himself, but to keep their Seeker away from it for as long as possible. Meanwhile, Della, Ryan and Roxanne were expected to score as many goals as possible, to try to give us a big points difference.

Last weekend it had been about keeping possession of the Quaffle. This weekend, it was about endurance. There was a reason why I wasn’t too bothered about missing this match of all matches.

And while this seemed like an easy baptism for Roxanne, in reality it was anything but.

The Weasley contingent was slightly smaller than it had been at the Tornados match. Lily, of course, was busy with her hockey tournament, so she, Maddie and Kit, were absent from the stand. Dad, Al and Rose were supporting her. Having seen plenty of my matches, Rose had always planned to spend the weekend cheering on Lily, but had hesitated when Roxanne was included in the team, unsure which cousin to support. Roxanne had solved the issue by insisting she watch Lily. “It’s not as though I won’t have enough support,” she said in the changing rooms , grinning wryly.

Percy and Molly were both supposedly ‘busy’ with work. They both hated Quidditch and I had actually been surprised to see them at the Tornados match, so none of us batted an eyelid at this. Hugo was also missing as Hogwarts were hesitant to let their students leave at weekends.

Everyone else, however, was there, including Mum, who’d clearly done a fair amount of grovelling at the Prophet’s sport offices to bag our first two games. As the Senior Quidditch Reporter, the bigwigs at the paper tended to send her to the bigger matches. Our game against the Tornados had certainly been the biggest fixture of the previous weekend, but with the Kestrels playing the Harpies, and Puddlemere playing the Tornados – along with the England subtext in the latter fixture – it was surprising that she was covering our match this weekend.

In the stands, I bagged a seat next to Aunt Hermione. She wasn’t always the best person to sit with at a match, but I was no mug. This match had the potential to go on for a while, and Aunt Hermione tended to come to these matches prepared with food, drinks and Heating Charms.

Not that I’d experienced this before. But Freddie, who was sitting the other side of her, was a veteran at Quidditch spectating by now, and he’d learned her tricks fairly quickly.

Uncle Ron grumbled as he came to sit down.

“Can’t I sit next to my own wife?” he said, as he took the seat in front of her, next to Mum.

“You’d only argue with each other if you did,” Freddie chipped in cheekily, and then dodged to avoid the inevitable clip to the ear from Aunt Hermione.

“Roxanne doesn’t look too nervous,” she then observed, as the team flew out onto the pitch.

“She’s totally laid back,” I said, having been in the changing rooms with them earlier. “Nerves of steel, that girl.”

“Yeah, she’ll be fine,” Brigid added, joining us. “The only worry is whether she lasts the full match. We could be in for a long haul here.”

And indeed we were. Two hours in, Aunt Hermione brought out the pumpkin juice and sandwiches. After another two hours, out came the Chocolate Frogs. A few of the faster ones slipped out of our fingers and hopped off towards the pitch.

“Oops,” Brigid giggled.

Five hours into the match, Aunt Hermione pulled some bottles of Butterbeer out of her bag.

“You haven’t got any Firewhisky in there, have you?” Uncle Ron asked hopefully, receiving a smack round the head from her bag for his troubles.

After six hours, Albus and Rose joined us, their arms full of hot burgers.

“You are amazing,” I said, taking one from Al.

Uncle Ron, who was less sure of Muggle food, looked wary.

“It’s alright, Dad, they won’t harm you,” Rose said, sounding amused.

“How did the girls get on?” Mum asked eagerly.

“Topped their group. The knock-out stages are tomorrow. I felt exhausted just watching them play!” Al said, as he sat down next to Mum.

“So you’ve come to watch the tail-end of a marathon Quidditch match to liven you up a bit,” I grinned.

“How’s Roxie been doing?” Rose asked.

“When I’ve been watching, she’s been playing well.” As much as I loved Quidditch, there was only so much of it I could watch in one go before my concentration began to wane. “She’s tiring, though. They all are. Stefan will have to catch the Snitch soon; we’ve got a huge points buffer. There’s no point in making them play on any longer, not when we’ve got a game next weekend.”

It was as though Stefan had heard me. Twenty minutes later, he caught the Snitch, and the relieved expressions on the faces of the Chasers were unmistakeable.

Needless to say, none of us loitered for very long after the match, the team all wanting to get home as soon as possible. Mum caught me just before I left, having congratulated the players.

“Are you coming tomorrow?”

“Of course I am!” I said indignantly. “Carlotta is too.”

Mum raised an eyebrow.

“I’ll cook breakfast for you both tomorrow morning; make sure you’re round nice and early. Your Dad will drive us all there. And don’t be late!” she added as a parting shot, just before I Disapparated.

My mother had such a lack of faith in me.

***

Carlotta and I turned up at Mum and Dad’s just as Mum was dishing up eight plates of breakfast. Carlotta seemed relaxed again, which puzzled me slightly; I felt certain that I’d be feeling nervous if I’d been in her shoes. But then, she’d already met everyone so perhaps that why she was feeling relaxed.

Freddie, Brigid, Al and Rose had beaten us there, and were already sitting around the kitchen table tucking into their breakfasts. We joined them, and for a few minutes nobody spoke, as we all wolfed down our food. In fact, Carlotta said nothing until we left the house to get into the car.

“Where’s the other car?” she said with a frown, glancing around.

Freddie looked at her oddly.

“What do you mean, ‘the other car’? How many do we need?”

“We can’t fit eight of us in one-”

“Magic, dear. It’s larger on the inside,” Mum said gently, as she got into the front of the car after Rose. The rest of us scrambled into the back, which was very roomy. I didn’t often think about the size of the interior, but now that I did, I supposed that the charms on it did a huge job – after all, whenever I was in Maddie’s car it felt far smaller than Dad’s.

“This is mad...” Carlotta breathed.

Dad chuckled as he reversed the car off the drive.

The school holding the tournament wasn’t far from where Mum and Dad lived, so it didn’t take us long to get there. Al and Rose, who knew where they were going, led us round to the pitches, where some teams were practicing on the pitches and others were in discussions, presumably about tactics.

“There they are.” Al pointed to a small group of people standing in a huddle not far from us. Most of them were wearing the navy blue kit of Lily and Maddie’s school, but I noticed Maddie’s brother and sister were also there.

They were first up, so we all took our seats in the temporary stand to watch them. Kit and his parents joined us.

“How good were they yesterday?” Brigid asked him.

“Very good. Impressive, since they’ve only been playing this form of the game a few months. Maddie ran the show for them. You could tell she’s played before.”

“How different is it with only seven players?” I asked curiously.

“Oh, it’s totally different. They normally have eleven players, and they’d play with a lot more shape to their game. They play this on the same size pitch, with only seven players. It’s all about attacking in this format. And there’s a lot of running about too.”

But it was Maddie who explained it best, after they’d played – and won – their first match.

“Imagine playing Quidditch with only four people,” she said, panting heavily. “Imagine the extra ground you’d have to cover – although ground is the wrong word to use here, given that you guys fly. And in fact, even that’s not a perfect comparison, because Quidditch has so many different components to it. But if you think about it, we’re used to having ten team mates. Here, we only have six. And there’s less time in a match too – which is a small mercy because I definitely wouldn’t survive a full match with only six other players! But you just have to go for it. That’s why Lily’s in, because she’s absolutely rapid. And, as much as I hate to say it, that’s why Rosalind’s in the team as well. Even if she has been batting her eyelashes at Robbie all weekend. You’ll have to divert her attention, James, I don’t trust him to have a good judge of character.”

I grinned.

“No chance,” I said.

She pulled a face, and took a large gulp of water.

“I hear you guys had a marathon match yesterday?” she said.

“A deliberate marathon. Wanted to rack up the points. I’m glad I didn’t play, it was over six hours long.”

“This is why Quidditch is a daft sport,” she said, but she was smiling. “Good to know you guys got the win, though. Hopefully it’ll rub off on us...”

Just then, she was called away by her coach.

Maddie’s mother, brother Robbie and sister Lottie joined us in the stands for the girls’ second match.

“How well do you reckon they’re doing, Robbo?” Kit asked.

“Not bad,” Robbie replied. “They just need to stop losing concentration, they’re conceding a couple of daft goals. Overall I’m impressed, though. And jealous, too. I wish one of the local boys’ schools had done something like this!”

“Rather you than me.” Kit pulled a face.

“Maddie is really good,” Carlotta said in awe as the girl in question scored. “She must put so much time into it...”

“Oh, hockey’s just a bit of fun for Maddie,” said Mrs Bennett, overhearing our conversation. “Tennis is the big one for her. She could have left school last summer and gone professional, but she wanted to finish her studies first. She’s got her head screwed on right.”

After Mrs Bennett had turned away to talk to Mum, Carlotta turned to face me with an incredulous expression on her face.

“This is for fun? She could play professional tennis?”

“Yeah, and your point is? Professional athlete here, baby.” I smirked at her.

“Yes, but that’s different...”

“Are you trying to downplay my achievements?” I cried, but with a smirk nevertheless.

“No, but ... well, that’s different-”

“How is it different?”

“Well ... look, professional in our sports actually means something to me! And ... well, that’s impressive...”

“Their school is pretty big on sport,” I supplied. “And she’s from a talented sporting family. You saw Lottie and Robbie in their team huddle. They both played lots of sports at school too.”

“But why put it off for a year? Surely if she had the chance, she should have taken it at the first opportunity?”

“She didn’t want to leave Lily,” I said simply. Carlotta looked bemused. “Look, Maddie ... she’s not had an easy time of it.” I lowered my voice slightly. “Her dad ... well, he’s dodgy. I’m not entirely sure what he’s done, but he’s a bad egg. That’s why she’s not the best in social situations; she lacks a bit of tact at times, and she’s very outspoken. She didn’t exactly have the most settled of childhoods, you see.  And she used to get bullied at her first school because of him. Her mum left him in the end but once people in their neighbourhood knew about him, she couldn’t escape it.

“Boarding school was a fresh start for her, a chance to make friends with people who didn’t know about her dad. And then a few months later, one of the girls in her year, Rosalind, found out about him and spread it about. Maddie was ostracised by most of the year, but Lily stuck by her. So when she had the option of leaving school and going into the professional tennis circles, or staying at school for one more year, she decided to stay so that Lily wouldn’t be left by herself. Maddie’s her only schoolmate who knows about magic, you see, and Mads didn’t want to leave her.”

Carlotta said nothing for a moment.

“That ... that’s a pretty big sacrifice...”

“If you want loyalty, you don’t need to look much further than Maddie,” I agreed.

The girls won their match – and went on to win their semi-final and the final to boot. Maddie’s family, who supported her as much as my family did me, got to them first and all gave Maddie massive hugs – and Lily to boot.

“Thanks, Mama Benny,” Lily said with an exhausted grin as Mrs Bennett greeted her with a hug, a kiss and a bottle of water. “Got a fresh pair of legs as well?”

She turned to us as Mrs Bennett moved back to Maddie.

“How was that?” she said, still beaming widely.

“Fantastic! Well done, darling.” Dad pulled her into a huge hug.

I caught sight of the expression on Dad’s face – one of pride and admiration – and couldn’t fight back the feeling of resentment that her achievements seemed to make him happier than mine ever had.

***

“That was really fun!” Carlotta said, when we got back to my flat.

“It was okay.” I shrugged my shoulders indifferently.

“Didn’t you enjoy it?” she said with a frown.

“I’ve watched her doing a lot of sporty stuff, it’s all the same in the end.”

“But she won! They won! Aren’t you happy for her?”

“It’s nothing new; they nearly always win,” I said in the same flat tone. “You seemed to get on well with Dad,” I added. She’d sat next to him for much of the day, and at times, they’d seemed deep in conversation.

It was her turn to shrug.

“He’s lovely,” she said. “Really friendly. I don’t get why it surprises you...” She paused. “You really don’t get on with him, do you?”

“We just don’t see eye to eye,” I said tensely.

I didn’t elaborate. I didn’t want to talk about it.


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