The next fortnight was ridiculously Quidditch-orientated, even for me. I’d planned to have a week off after our third match of the season against the Magpies, but at the beginning of the week’s training for it, Brigid told me otherwise.
“England want you in training next week for their qualifier against Transylvania.”
I groaned loudly.
“You’re joking,” I moaned. “They won’t play me, not against Transylvania. If we lose, we might not make the World Cup proper – and that Friday is my Granddad’s birthday! I can’t miss that; I haven’t not missed it once-”
“I’ve already mentioned that to management,” she interrupted me smoothly. “It’s fine, they’ll let you have an extra hour in the morning for it. I don’t think you will be played, but they want another look at you. I think you have a good chance of making the main squad for the Cup; otherwise they wouldn’t have called you up again. They haven’t called up the full twenty-one person training squad, you know. This is directed solely towards beating Transylvania, so the fact that they still want you ... it’s big. It’s good.”
“But I’ll only get a week off,” I complained.
“You’ve only played one match so far! Stop moaning, Potter. This is England! You don’t know when you’ve got it good, do you?” She shook her head, looking amused. “You’ll enjoy it, you know you will. And besides, another week’s training will only do you good. It’ll keep you out of the Hinky, for one thing. Although you seem to have a new favourite hangout, don’t you?” She raised an eyebrow.
“I’ve not been to the Tav in weeks either, you know that-”
“But you were going there more frequently than the Hinky even in pre-season. Let me guess, it’s clearly that favourable currency exchange rate that keeps you going there, right?”
“I generally get my drinks there on the house; exchange rates don’t come into it,” I grinned.
She shook her head incredulously.
“You wrap everyone around your little finger, don’t you? You jammy little bastard, you...”
The news that I was losing one of my weeks off was softened slightly when I realised that Ryan would be training with Ireland that week, and Della and Klaus were heading back to Germany for their own training camp. With two of my protagonists also out of action, the blow wasn’t so harsh.
I was back in the team for our home match against the Magpies. They were one of two Scottish teams in the League, and while they were weaker than their Pride of Portree compatriots, they were still a fairly strong team, and we knew that we couldn’t let our guard down. Klaus was also back in the team, partly to give Stefan a break after his marathon effort against the Arrows. Alfie, however, was sitting this match out, which meant that Sophie would get a rare outing in front of the hoops, and that Della was captain, which she was very excited about. She, Ryan, Cato and Cleo were all denied a break, as Germany, Ireland and England respectively wanted them to have as much match practice as possible before the important qualification matches.
Carlotta seemed disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t have one of my anticipated weeks off, and doubly so when she learned that I was unlikely to play for England anyway. Her work hours, coupled with my strict training regime, meant that we hadn’t actually seen each other much since the season had started. I was more used to this than she was, and admittedly she didn’t seem too cut up about the situation, but I could tell that she had been working on the basis that I’d have much more freedom once this third game was out of the way, and now that wasn’t going to be the case.
“You can still watch the England match,” I pointed out to her when she once again visited me during her work break, mid-week.
“I know, but it won’t be as interesting if you’re not in it,” she said. “Besides, it’s against – who was it you said? Transylvania? That’s not even a country...”
“Of course it is,” I said, giving her a bewildered look. “Why would you think it’s not?”
“It’s not a country in our world. It’s a part of Romania...”
I shook my head.
“You guys have odd country boundaries. Apparently Assyria’s not a Muggle country either...”
It was her turn to look bewildered.
“Assyria? Of course it’s not, it was a kingdom that existed thousands of years ago...” She let out a heavy sigh. “I give up. Anyway, back to the Quidditch, surely you’ll beat ‘Transylvania’ easily?” She formed quote marks in the air with her fingers as she referred to the disputed country.
“They’re ranked ninth in the world at the moment, and we’re fifth, but-”
“Ninth?” She looked confused once more. “Really?”
“Yeah, why shouldn’t they be? They’re good. We were awful for years, and they’ve knocked us out of a fair few World Cups before. We need to win this, because if we don’t make our home World Cup, it’ll be humiliating. So we’ll be putting out our strongest team, and I’m certainly not part of that. I’ve never even played a game for England before; it’s big enough that I’m in the squad.”
“They might play you,” she reasoned.
“They won’t, unless there’s an injury. It’ll be a bit frustrating, but if it gives me a chance of getting into the World Cup squad, it’ll be worth it.”
I reminded myself of that fact throughout the next two weeks, every time I got grouchy when thinking about my lost week. When it came down to it, Brigid was right; this was good, given thatnd that I wanted to achieve that goal of making the World Cup squad. Before the start of the season, it had been little more than a fleeting dream; now, with a week of training with England under my belt and another to come, it seemed attainable, but I knew that it would take a lot of hard work.
Hard work which started with the match against the Magpies. Their biggest threats were Chasers Cameron Maddock and Isla Watkins, both Scotland players who gelled incredibly well with each other. At times, it almost seemed as though they could read each other’s minds – though this might have been down to the fact that they’d been dating for years.
“See?” I muttered to Ryan on the morning of the match. “It is possible to play for the same team...”
But the look on his face soon shut me up.
We won the match, although it was a tough challenge for us Chasers. But we came through it, and Sinead’s relief was clear to see. Her method was to approach the season one block of matches at a time, the blocks of course being split by our weeks off. Normally the season consisted of eight blocks, so three matches barely made a dent into the season, but with the fixtures chopped we were already a quarter of the way into the season, and so there was no room for error if we wanted to win the League this season. We still weren’t top of the standings – Puddlemere and the Kestrels were still ahead of us, having played weaker teams such as the Cannons, who we wouldn’t play until later in the season. Nevertheless, we were certainly still in touch, which was a good situation for us to be in with the Tornados already beaten.
Our next match was against Puddlemere themselves. But that was three weeks away, and wasn’t at the forefront of any of our minds. Several of us had international training camps before that, and Ryan’s attention – and indeed mine too – was also redirected by Cato’s plan to take Brigid out to dinner the week after the Transylvania game.
We had slightly differing reactions. My concern was how Freddie would react if he found out, which he undoubtedly would sooner or later. Ryan wasn’t at all fussed about this; while I cared for them both equally, he was only concerned for his sister’s happiness. Despite this difference of opinion, we still took it upon ourselves to make it very clear to Cato what the consequences would be if he were to upset her in any way.
Not that I would have done this by myself. I cared for Brigid, but I also cared about keeping my nose intact, and Cato was much bigger than me. Ryan, however, would be less easy for him to flatten if he got angry.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Jimmy; he’s as laid back as anything!” Della laughed when I hinted this to her.
“Not when I’m talking to Cleo, he’s not.”
“That’s because you don’t just talk to her, you flirt with her. And do I need to remind you that you’re just as bad where Lily’s concerned? And Brigid, come to that, as you’ve just proved. She’ll be fine, she can look after herself. And he’s a decent guy, he’ll treat her right. I would, if I were him and I had Ryan’s wrath to worry about.”
“Are you trying to say he’s more threatening than I am?”
“Darling, if you went up against Cato, he’d flatten you,” she said sympathetically.
My week’s training with England passed much as expected. Demelza involved me in drills with the three incumbent English Chasers, which I hadn’t had a chance to do in the larger training camp. I was happy with my performances, and felt that I wasn’t that far behind them.
Nevertheless, I still wasn’t included when the team to play Transylvania was announced midweek, not even as reserve. I wasn’t surprised, but it was a disappointment regardless, as I would have loved to play.
It did, however, give me more time on Thursday afternoon to buy birthday presents, as the players who hadn’t been picked were allowed to leave an hour earlier than the matchday squad. It also made missing the beginning of Friday’s training less of an issue.
Granddad was always easy to buy for. The latest Wheezes products tended to suffice, and so Uncle George’s shop was my first port of call. That was followed by a visit to the florist to buy some white lilies, which were standard by now.
This time round, I got to Mum and Dad’s before Al or Lily, and Mum’s shock at this was unmistakeable. We had a little chat about the training camp, which Lily joined in with when she arrived and which Al’s arrival ended.
The birthday visit to Granddad Potter’s grave was just as short and sombre as the visit for Grandma Potter’s. These visits always were.
Mum and Dad had never tried to hide their past from us. In fact, before I went to Hogwarts they made a conscious effort to make sure we all knew and understood their roles in recent wizarding history – Dad’s in particular. They’d wanted to make sure that we weren’t caught out by people trying to befriend us for our surname. Therefore I knew all about my grandparents’ sacrifices. It was a sobering, heartbreaking thought, that by the time they were my age they had married, had a child – and died.
I couldn’t say that I missed them. How could you miss someone you’d never met? But every time that any of my cousins spent time with their other grandparents, it hit me that I didn’t have that option, save sitting in front of a patch of ground with a tombstone sticking out of it.
I often wondered what they’d been like. And I frequently wondered if they would be proud of me.
That England won the qualifying match against Transylvania wasn’t a shock. What was surprising was the nature – and the margin – of the win. Mum summed it up best in her article in the Prophet the next day:
This result won’t send shockwaves through the Quidditch world. But it will send a warning to the likes of Bulgaria, Uruguay, Peru and Ireland: England have finally arrived on the international scene. And they mean business.