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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 48 : forty-eight
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6

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“There’s nothing there, James-”

“You said that last time, and remember what happened?”

“James, I work two doors up from here! There is absolutely no way there’s a wizarding pub here!”

Given that I was currently looking directly at it, it was all I could do to suppress a laugh.

“But you can see Freddie, right?”

“Well, yes, he’s right there.”

Freddie winked at me, before turning and heading into the Leaky Cauldron.

“I – wait, he’s just vanished! He-” Carlotta turned to look up at me. “Did he just go into the pub?”

I grinned. “You’re learning.”

“So it is there.”

“I told you it was!”

“Yes, but when I can’t see something the most likely assumption is that it’s not there.”

“Oh, you and your Muggle mind.” I squeezed her shoulders slightly. “You’ll soon learn to think wizard. Want to try again?”

“What does it look like? That helped last time.”

“It’s an old building. Built in the fifteen hundreds sometime. Nothing too special – it’s a bit shabby if I’m honest with you, but it looks like your typical sixteenth century Muggle pub. There’s even a little sign hanging over the door – you have those on Muggle pubs, don’t you? This one looks like a cauldron, oddly enough-”

“Got it!” she said triumphantly.

“Good stuff.” I grinned, and led her forwards into the pub. “Welcome to the gateway to wizarding London.”

The pub was heaving with patrons celebrating the Falcons win. Stefan was sitting by the bar, surrounded by admiring women and seeming to enjoy every bit of the attention. Roxanne, Alfie, Cato, Cleo, Klaus and Jake were seeing off shots further up the bar counter, and as I watched, Louis and Maddie joined them. The rest of the squad had pushed three large tables together and were sitting round them, with a few more of my cousins, Albus, Lily and Kit. They too were surrounded, and Carlotta and I had to fight through the throng to get to them.

“Maddie and Kit are here?” Carlotta hissed. “But they’re Muggles too-”

“Lily first brought them here years ago; they’re pros at this by now.”

“Are we staying here all night?”

“No, we’ll move on to the Hinky later.”

“The what?”

“The Drunken Hinkypunk. The nightclub up the way.” I squeezed onto the bench seat next to Ryan and pulled Carlotta down beside me.


“Magical creature. You guys name places after animals, right? Well, so do we.”

“Up the way?”

“Out the back of the pub. Diagon Alley.”


“No, Diagon Alley.” I took care to enunciate. “It’s where most of our shops, restaurants and general community are located. And our best nightclub.”

“But ... there’s no room for it-”

“Course there is!” I took the tankards of mead Della handed me with a grateful smile. “What you have to remember,” I continued, sliding one of the tankards into Carlotta’s hands, “is that you have a narrow perspective on the world. You believe what you see, and if you can’t see it then it can’t happen. That’s one of the reasons we’ve managed to stay hidden from the Muggle world all these years. You need to understand that space can be manipulated, changed, expanded. Don’t ask me the specifics because I’m no expert on magical theory, but that’s how Diagon Alley fits into Muggle London. It doesn’t need Muggle space; it exists in magical space. Make sense?”

She shook her head but she was smiling all the same.

“None at all!” She laughed and looked down at her tankard. “I think I need more of this before I try to get my head around it all.”

“Good plan,” I said approvingly.

The night passed in much of a blur. Mead turned into Firewhisky, and then we hit the brandy and that was when things really got going. The sight of Diagon Alley amazed Carlotta, and the best thing was I knew she’d barely remember it in the morning, so I’d be able to bring her back here again and get that same reaction from her all over again.

We were joined by players from other clubs as and when their matches finished.  Puddlemere had beaten the Cannons within ten minutes flat, and both squads and their spectators had headed straight to Falmouth to watch our match; the majority of them had then headed straight to the Leaky Cauldron once the match had finished, pre-empting our evening’s movements. But the other matches were longer affairs, and so Tornados, Kestrels, Harpies and Pride players alike all joined us in dribs and drabs as the evening went on.

Some of the more friendly Bats players showed up in the Hinky later on. I presumed they’d headed back to Ballycastle for a few hours to come to terms with the result and have a post-season briefing. We’d had something similar in our own changing room after the trophy presentation, though it had been short and alcohol fuelled.

Sinead had reminded us that our next commitment was the annual exhibition match against the German League winners in December and pointed out the possibility of short-term contracts with teams overseas in the interim; all Quidditch Leagues would pause for the World Cup, but several would start up again in September. Given that our season wouldn’t start until February, a short-term contract certainly seemed like the best option, both in terms of ensuring an income and maintaining overall fitness levels.

I knew Ryan and Della were amongst those who’d already told Brigid to hear offers from foreign teams. I hadn’t approached her with my own request yet, wanting time to mull the idea over fully, but I’d probably take up the opportunity. The thought of playing somewhere like Australia or Brazil for a few months was tantalising.

Aisling Quigley was one of many players who approached me in the Hinky, a rueful expression on her face.

“Nice work, Potter.” She held out a hand sportingly. “The better team won.”

“We got lucky,” I corrected her, taking her hand and shaking it firmly. “You could have won just as easily. It was just luck Stefan got to the Snitch first.”

“I wouldn’t call taking out our Beater lucky,” she pointed out. “Not many teams would even try that tactic, let alone pull it off. It was a good move. I hear you thought it up, too. Maybe there’s a Beater in you there somewhere!”

I grinned.

“I hope not; I wouldn’t want to end up like the Lynches.”

“They’re not that bad – okay, they are that bad,” Aisling admitted. “At least you don’t have to play with them, for club or country. Instead you get the Bagmans, who may be brutal on the pitch but are soft as anything off it.”

I pulled a face.

“I don’t know; I wouldn’t want to call either of them soft to their faces.”

She laughed.

“Enjoy yourself tonight, Junior, you deserve it.”

“Thanks, Quiggs. Good luck in the World Cup.”

She grimaced slightly.

“Don’t remind me. I’ve got all sorts of team duties to perform tomorrow at the draw; I can’t see myself enjoying it at all.” She glanced at her bottle of beer, apparently considering whether she should be drinking it. But then she shrugged, and knocked the rest of it back. “Well, it’s not like Murph won’t be in a worse state. I’d better go find Mikey Wood, he owes me a drink...”

As soon as she’d disappeared into the drunken crowd, Ryan appeared at my other side, and slung an arm round my shoulders.

“You did good today, Junior,” he said.

“So did you,” I countered. “In fact, I’d say you did better; without you, we wouldn’t have had a captain out there.”

He shrugged, and took a swig of his drink.

“It was nothing. I just happened to be the first one to find her-”

“You knew where she was. What was wrong. What to say to her. Trust me, mate, it was down to you in the end. I wouldn’t have had a clue where to start.”

“You’d have done a fine job,” he said, squeezing my shoulders tightly.

“Not as good as the one you did, though.”

“Well, I guess we’ll never know.” He shrugged again. “Hopefully we won’t need to give her that kind of pep talk again. And if we do, ideally she won’t be wearing wet, skin-tight clothing.”


“Please don’t ask me to describe the Burrow to you,” I begged Carlotta the next morning as we headed up the lane towards my grandparents’ house.

“Why not? That seems to help me get past the wards.”

“Because it looks completely barmy, even for a magical building. I’ve never seen anything like it. I expect it used to be a conventional farmhouse, before all the extra bits were added here, there and everywhere. It’s a hotchpotch of rooms. There’s no way I can describe it to you. But I absolutely love it here; it’s probably my second favourite place in the world, after Hogwarts.”

“Not your childhood home?”

I paused for a moment, thinking of my parents’ home just up the road, that we’d just walked from after Apparating there. The village of Ottery St. Catchpole itself was inhabited by Muggles so my parents’ house wasn’t hidden by anti-Muggle wards. Mum and Dad had been lazy and Flooed to the Burrow, but Carlotta couldn’t travel by Floo or Apparition to a place she couldn’t see, so we had to walk there.

“I guess I have a lot of happy memories from that house from before I went to Hogwarts, before I starting resenting Dad,” I said slowly. “But the more recent memories, from when things were awkward between us are more vivid. They ... they’re not unhappy memories, but I can’t say I’d use them to ward off a Dementor.”

Carlotta did know about Dementors, which had come up in Dad’s backstory, so I didn’t have to elaborate.

“But my grandparents? I love them both to bits. We all do. Yeah, we all went through phases where we thought it wasn’t cool to spend time with family, and we didn’t wear our Weasley jumpers around school, but we all came out the other side and came to appreciate them as we should. I guess it’s a bit different for me, Al and Lily as well, because they’re our only set of grandparents. It’s a bit easier to appreciate your living grandparents when you’re used to visiting the dead ones three times a year.”

“Three times?”

“Their birthdays – Grandma Lily’s is in January, and Granddad James’ is in March – and Christmas.”

“January...” She looked at me oddly. “So, that time you said you couldn’t go out because it was your Grandma’s birthday, you ... you were visiting her grave?”

“You remember that?”

She shrugged.

“My memory’s not completely useless, you know. I remember it surprised me at the time, that you’d forego a night out because of having to visit a relative the next day. I didn’t understand why it was such a big deal that you couldn’t get through it with a hangover. But ... it kind of makes sense now. It ... it was more special than that.”

I’d worried Carlotta would think it odd I considered trips to a graveyard so important. I wasn’t sure exactly why I thought this – she’d not given me any reason to think so, and it was hardly as if other people didn’t visit the graves of their loved ones. All the same, it was something I hadn’t particularly wanted to highlight, and it was reassuring that she completely understood.

“So, are there lots of magical people living around here, then?” she asked now.

“A fair few,” I replied. “There are a lot of Muggle villages and towns with a relatively high proportion of magical families. We like to stick together, I guess. Strength in numbers. There’s only one completely wizarding village in Britain – that’s Hogsmeade, the village next to Hogwarts. Aside from that, we have to settle in Muggle communities or live out in the sticks like Nana and Grandpa do. The South West is a hotbed for wizarding families – here, Godric’s Hollow, Chudley, Budleigh Babberton, Tinworth, Ilfracombe, Millburn, Wimbourne – and Falmouth and Bodmin, of course,” I added.

She looked at me oddly.

“You made half those places up!” she accused.

“No, I didn’t! Just because you don’t know anywhere outside of London...” I teased.

“Oh, shut up,” she said, but she was smiling. “So there are a few magical families from round here, then?”

“A fair few. The Scamanders, the Boots, the Jordans, the Macmillans, the Fawcetts ... us kids all used to play Quidditch in Nana and Grandpa’s orchard. It was good fun.”

“It must be nice, when you can all stick together.”

“It is, but it means more close shaves with Muggles. I swear some of them must have seen us, or our Quaffle at any rate.”

She shrugged.

“I guess it’s like you said though. If we don’t think it’s possible, we just think we’re imagining it. I expect you were all fine in the end.”

“Yes, and no. Think of how many places have a crazy old Muggle man or woman who parrots on about having seen a ghost or a witch or a dragon. There was a guy down in Ilfracombe who saw a Common Welsh Green escape, about a hundred years ago now, and didn’t get Obliviated like everyone else. He swore for the rest of his life he’d been attacked by a flying lizard, but people just thought he was mad. He wasn’t at all; none of them are. Just think, that could be you in fifty years,” I added cheekily.

“Get bent, Potter!”


It took Carlotta a full half hour to break through the wards on the Burrow. Once she had, she realised exactly why I’d described the house as indescribable.

“That shouldn’t be possible...”

“What have we said about the magical world? Almost anything’s possible,” I reminded her, as I steered her into the house.

She’d been to Mum and Dad’s house before, of course, but for all intents and purposes that looked like a Muggle house, both outside and in. There were only a few, subtle giveaways that a magical family lived there.

Nana and Grandpa’s house was full of magical bits and bobs. I didn’t think twice about them, but I remembered all the occasions Muggleborn friends of the family had visited the house for the first time and been completely struck dumb by the moving photos and portraits, talking mirror, self-knitting needles, talking chess set, gobstones, lunascope, self-shuffling playing cards, various Wheezes products and all the other weird and wonderful things littered around the house.

Of course, the moving photos or chess set alone wouldn’t faze Carlotta as she’d come across them before at mine, but the other gadgets still caused her jaw to drop.

She seemed most taken with the three grandfather clocks which stood side by side in the living room, and didn’t tell the time but the locations of all family members. One was for us grandchildren (and great-grandchildren now that Victoire and Teddy had started on the next generation), one was for Nana and Grandpa’s children-in-law (although Teddy and Ethan had crept onto it) and the last was their original clock, with nine hands on it.

Uncle Fred’s hand permanently pointed towards ‘lost’ which I found oddly chilling. I sometimes wondered why it didn’t point towards ‘mortal peril’, though I supposed he was rather past that point by now. I also wondered how the clock determined whether someone was ‘lost’; whether it meant he was lost to us, or that he couldn’t find his way. I found the second one horrible to consider. I wondered why Nana and Grandpa hadn’t had a separate category created for Uncle Fred’s hand – given that removing it was clearly out of the question – but then I wasn’t sure what I’d name such a category. Sticking ‘dead’ on the clock just seemed crude.

Of course, while the Burrow was still ‘home’ for Nana and Grandpa Weasley, it wasn’t for the rest of us, so the Burrow was a separate category on all three clocks. It was towards that inscription that several of the hands pointed right now; not surprisingly, Uncle George and Uncle Ron’s branches of the family weren’t here yet, and neither was Louis.

Aunts Fleur and Audrey were deep in conversation in the living room, little Remus sitting on his grandmother’s lap. Lily and Maddie were sitting on the floor in front of them, playing with Dora and her dolls. Once Carlotta had had her fill of the clocks she joined them, presumably seeking out the people she was most familiar with, or perhaps those she identified with most.

Mum, Kit, Grandpa, Uncles Bill and Charlie, Dominique and Lucy were already watching the Quidditch Channel on the television. The draw itself wasn’t for another hour, but the pundits were already talking about the potential match-ups.

I headed into my favourite room of the house, the kitchen – there seemed to be a running theme here. Victoire and Molly were helping Nana Molly prepare lunch. Teddy and Ethan were playing chess at the kitchen table, and Dad, Albus and Uncle Percy were watching and chipping in with advice, though I doubted much of Al’s was proving all that helpful.

“Ah, here’s the man of the moment!” Teddy grinned as I joined them.

“I’d hardly say that.” I grimaced, and fell into the chair next to Albus.

“You clearly haven’t read the Prophet this morning,” Ethan said dryly. “Probably for the best, actually.”

“No, I don’t get it any more. Why, what did they say?”

“They didn’t like your team’s tactic yesterday,” said Molly, her tone suggesting also disapproved of it. “They’ve claimed it’s your idea; I think they’ve an agenda against you these days.”

“Well, they do,” I agreed, “but they’re right that it was my idea. Although I expect that’s just a fluke.”

Uncle Percy sniffed.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate,” he said.

“Oh, relax, Uncle Percy; Lynch was fine in the end! He didn’t even hit the ground!” Victoire chipped in.

“Well I agree with Percy; what kind of example is that for the children who were watching?” Nana Molly chipped in.

“I think most of them were actually more captured by James and the other Chasers,” Victoire reasoned. “Dora’s adamant she’s going to be a Chaser like her Uncle Jimmy when she’s old enough.”

Really?” I said incredulously.

“Of course!” Victoire looked round at me. “You were incredible yesterday! She was telling everyone around us you’re her daddy’s brother; she was so proud of you. The moment we got home, she took out her toy Quaffle and broomstick and asked us to practice with her.”

“Vic said no, of course,” Teddy chipped in, shaking his head. “Bloody spoilsport...”

“It was far too late, she wouldn’t have gone to bed on time!” Victoire insisted. “Not that you’d know, you never bother to put her to bed on time...”

I tuned out of their little marital spat.

Dora wanted to be a Chaser, because of me. I still found it hard to believe I was being coached by one of my idols and playing alongside another; the thought that I could possibly inspire young kids like Sinead and Della had inspired me was crazy. It was incredible to think I could be the reason a kid picked up a Quaffle, or got on a broomstick. It made all my struggles this season worthwhile.

“Is Carlotta here?” Ethan asked me, cutting across Teddy and Victoire’s heated discussion.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, she’s in the other room, playing with Dora.”

“Have you warned her about-”

A squeal from the living room interrupted Victoire.

“It’s okay!” Lily called out. “Dora just turned her hair pink, nothing to worry about!”

“Dora’s Metamorphosing?” Victoire finished. “Well, she knows now.”

Moments later Carlotta joined us in the kitchen, looking gobsmacked.

“I ... she ... her hair changed colour...”

“Yeah, she does that,” Teddy said airily. “We’ve told her about doing it in front of people who don’t know about her Metamorphosing.”

“She can do that whenever she wants?”

“Not just her hair.” Teddy screwed up his face, and moments later his nose changed form to a duck’s beak. Carlotta squealed, and clapped her hands over her mouth.

“Ted!” Victoire scolded him, hitting him round the back of the head. “Stop freaking her out!”

“Ow!” Teddy said indignantly, but his nose changed back to normal nevertheless.

“It’s a genetic thing,” Victoire explained to Carlotta. “It’s quite rare, actually. Teddy’s mother was a Metamorphmagus; that’s where it comes from. Dora and Remus have both inherited it as well. They can change their appearance at will.”

“That sounds amazing...” Carlotta breathed.

“Try living with three of them,” Victoire retorted dryly.

“Haven’t you wondered why my hair’s the same colour as the Falcons kit at every match?” Teddy added, in amusement.

“I just thought you’d dyed it,” she said. “Or that you’d put a spell on it or something. Can you really change anything?”

He grinned cheekily. Albus and Ethan both let out snickers, and I had to hide a smirk of my own.

“Behave,” Victoire said sternly. Carlotta’s cheeks flushed red as she followed the train of thought.

“I could make myself look like a completely different person if I wanted to,” he explained. “It made the Concealment and Disguise part of the Auror test easy to pass.”

“Oh, you’re an Auror as well?”

“You know what Aurors are?” Molly chipped in, intrigued.

“James told me.” Carlotta shrugged.

The conversation was interrupted by Louis’ arrival.

“Morning, Nana Mol.” He headed straight to her to kiss her cheek.

“Only just,” she pointed out. “I hope you didn’t make any trouble for yourself last night?”

“I never make trouble,” he said serenely, joining us at the table and surveying his brothers-in-law’s forgotten chess match. “You could check him in three moves, Goldstein,” he advised.

“I could?”

“He could?”

Both heads pored over the chess board, trying to find the moves. But Louis had already lost interest, and looked across the table at me.

“Saw your old missus was at the match yesterday.” He leaned back in his chair. “Didn’t realise you were back in touch with her.”

I sensed Carlotta perking up slightly beside me. I assumed Freddie had explained who Ingrid was when introducing them but I wasn’t sure how much more she knew. She hadn’t yet asked me anything on the subject.

“Bumped into her the other week,” I said with an offhand shrug. “Her fellow’s a Falcons supporter, so I figured they’d appreciate tickets for the match.”

“She’s still looking hot,” he said approvingly. “What’s up with the fellow, anyway?”

“Cancer,” I said darkly.

A sharp intake of breath echoed round the room, and Louis winced. Carlotta turned her head sharply in my direction, and I wondered what she was thinking. Dad had definitely put two and two together. He gave me a knowing look across the kitchen.

“Cancer, huh?” Carlotta murmured to me later, as we all congregated in the living room for the draw, our plates heaped with food. The rest of the family had turned up eventually and Hugo had brought his ‘friend’ Alice Longbottom, which seemed to intrigue Lily and Maddie judging by the looks they shot each other. It was a tight squeeze – thirty-five of us, according to Nana Molly.

“Yup. Incurable, apparently.”

“That sounds awful...”

“I imagine it is.” I sat down on a spare bit of floor, and pulled her down next to me. “Least they’ve got each other though, eh?” I tucked a stray bit of hair behind her ear, then pulled her close and kissed her cheek.

“Yeah, I guess,” she sighed. “You ... you’ve talked to her about it, then?”

“A bit.” I didn’t elaborate further.

Either she was satisfied with my answer or she just didn’t want to talk about it anymore, as she changed the subject.

“So, how does this draw thing work?”

“It’s fairly simple. There are thirty-two teams who’ve qualified to play in the World Cup. They get put in eight groups which are decided based on their world rankings. The top eight teams are in the first tier, the next eight in the second, the next eight in the third and the bottom eight in the fourth. One team from each tier goes in each group.”

“Which tier are England in?” she asked.

“The first, of course!” I cried incredulously. “We’re ranked fifth at the moment. Ireland are fourth.”

“Who’s top?”



“Yeah – why the surprise? They’ve got some seriously good players. Stefan’s Bulgarian.”

She shrugged.

“I guess Bulgaria never struck me as a particularly prolific sporting country.”

“You’re thinking Muggle sports again,” I reminded her. “Uruguay are second, and Peru are third. Transylvania are the highest ranked team to miss out; they’re supposedly ninth best in the world but they cocked their qualifying matches up. Belgium, too; they’re about fifteenth in the world but they didn’t qualify. Spain did, though,” I added.

“Spain play Quidditch?”

I had to hold back a laugh.

“Of course they do! Where do you think the Barcelona Banshees play?”

“Banshees?” She pulled a face.

“All-women’s team, like the Harpies. There are witches and wizards all over the world, you know...”

“I know, I know. It’s just ... I’m only just beginning to make sense of there being magic here in Britain, let alone in Spain. And Barcelona having their own Quidditch team...”

“There’s a large magical community in Barcelona. Dominique and Ethan went there for their honeymoon.”

“Yeah, she told me that. I guess I just assumed they went as Muggles.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but fell silent, as did the rest of the room, as the draw began on the television.

The beginning wasn’t that interesting, as the teams in the bottom tier were simply assigned a group each. The third tier included Spain, Wales and Scotland, so we perked up as their names were tipped into the next bowl to be drawn out.

Wales were drawn in Group Two, and Spain was the next name out, in Group Three with Nigeria.

“Is that a good draw?” Carlotta whispered to me.

“About as good as it could get so far. Nigeria are ranked outside the top thirty-two in the world, and seeded thirty-one in the tournament; only Turkey are lower than them.”

She nodded, seeming satisfied with Spain’s luck so far.

Scotland drew a somewhat tougher task. Admittedly they were one of the top teams in their tier, but all the same they couldn’t have had a harder draw than the United States, who were seeded twenty-fifth and therefore only just outside the third tier themselves.

Then came the second tier. Once more our interest levels rose. Amongst the countries to be drawn out here were Germany and Australia.

Germany were drawn in Group Two with Wales, and Spain’s group picked up Canada.

“Is that good?” Carlotta asked.

“Eh, so-so. They’re one of the higher ranked teams in that tier, but they’re fluky. A Spanish win wouldn’t be out of the equation.”

Group Four threw up a mouth-watering prospect, as Australia were drawn with New Zealand.

“I’ll be heading to that match,” said Louis, and several family members voiced their agreement.

Then, finally, we got to the first tier of teams. Ireland were the first country out of the pot, into Group One with Argentina. I pulled a face; that would be a tough match-up for them. At least the other teams in their group were much weaker.

England got drawn in – where else? – Group Three. With Spain.

“You have to be joking,” Carlotta said loudly.

Of course, everyone else in the room was more concerned with Canada than Spain.

“Well, that could have been nicer,” Freddie said.

“Could have been worse,” Uncle Charlie retorted. “We could’ve ended up with Argentina or Australia.”

“But Spain and Nigeria shouldn’t challenge us, and we ought to beat Canada too. We’ll get out of the group,” Dominique said confidently.

Finally, Uruguay were drawn into Group Eight, and the draw was done.

“One, Four and Six look tasty,” Uncle Ron commented.

I had to agree with him. Bulgaria had been drawn in Six with Brazil, who on their day were world-beaters. Like Canada, they suffered with inconsistency, but if they played well they could challenge Bulgaria.

“I like the look of Two,” Roxanne joined in. “Egypt, Germany and Wales in the same group? That could get interesting.”

“Uruguay should walk Eight,” Mum said. “But that’s the only foregone conclusion-”

“Are you kidding? Luxembourg will steamroller the others in their group!” Uncle George protested.

“Not necessarily; Scotland could throw a spanner in the works...”

Not in the mood to dissect the groups at length, I got to my feet and headed through to the kitchen, where Nana Molly and Aunts Fleur and Audrey had retreated the moment England had been drawn.

“Hello, dear.” Nana Molly proffered a plate of pumpkin pasties and I took one, reminded of Carlotta’s latest cooking as I did so. “Is something wrong? I thought you’d be interested in the Quidditch conversation.”

I shrugged, and took a bite of pasty.

“Our season only finished yesterday,” I said through a mouthful of crumbs. “Only so much Quidditch I can take.”

Aunt Audrey clasped a hand to her heart in mock astonishment.

“I never thought I’d hear you say that. And stop talking with your mouth full,” she added sternly before Nana Molly could reprimand me.

“Sorry,” I said, my mouth now clear. “And it’s been pretty tense nearly all season as we only had half the number of games we normally do. Besides, there’s still two weeks to go until it all kicks off, that’s more than enough time to talk about it.”

“’ear, ‘ear,” Aunt Fleur agreed. “Are you ‘oping to play abroad this autumn, James? I ‘ear Roxanne ees ‘oping for a team in South America.”

“Yeah, she mentioned Peru or Argentina. I expect I will, it’s not often you get a chance to play abroad. I’m not sure where to head, though. As long as it’s hot and sunny, I’m flexible.”

Little Dora then ran into the kitchen, her hair bright pink, and her broomstick and Quaffle in her hands.

“James, James, will you teach me how to throw? Please? Daddy says you will!”

“Does he, now?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Leave James alone, Dora, ‘e is still tired from ‘is match,” Aunt Fleur said gently. “Why don’t you ask Roxanne?”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind.” I ruffled Dora’s hair. “Come on, menace!”

She giggled excitedly and ran to the back door. I laughed, and followed her across the kitchen to open the door for her. She was in the middle of the yard in a trice, headed for the old hoops I’d learned to shoot through fifteen or so years ago.

By the time I reached her, she was already on her broom and in the air.

“Whoa, whoa!” I called her back. “You can’t learn to shoot until you know how to fly properly!”

“But I can fly already!” she protested, heading back to the ground and dismounting.

“Can you fly with one hand?” I picked up the Quaffle from the ground next to me and threw it up in the air a couple of times.

“Oh, yeah,” she responded, realising the problem. “I mean, no, I can’t-”

“I knew what you meant.” I grinned and released the Quaffle; instead of falling with a thump to the ground, it sank slowly, as all Quaffles did. “You need to learn to fly and keep your balance with just your legs. Show me how you normally fly.”

Within moments she was hovering in front of me, both her hands clasping the broomstick.

“See, your knees aren’t together,” I instructed. “You need to keep your knees together so you can stay on the broom without holding onto it.”

But she was already distracted.

“Hey, Carla, look! James is teaching me how to shoot!”

I turned to see Carlotta standing slightly behind me, a smile on her face.

“I can see that,” she said. “Is he a good teacher?”

“Really good! He can teach you too if you want?”

“Now, Dora-” I began awkwardly.

“I’m okay; I’m not really made for flying,” Carlotta said over me. “Besides, then he wouldn’t be able to give you his full attention, would he? I’ll watch, and tell him when he’s doing something wrong.”

“Hey!” I protested. “I never do anything wrong.” I picked the Quaffle up and threw it at her; she caught it deftly.

“James!” Dora whined. “You’re supposed to be teaching me!”

“Hey!” I turned back to face her, and tapped her lightly on the nose. “Patience, missy! Now, are your knees together? They’re not, are they? Ah, that’s better. Now, try taking one hand off the broom...”

Half an hour later, she successfully threw the Quaffle through the middle hoop, thirty feet in the air. Carlotta cheered and clapped next to me, as Dora squealed triumphantly and thumped her fist in the air, then hurriedly grabbed a hold of the broomstick with her other hand as she nearly lost her balance.

And seeing that overjoyed look on her face planted the smallest seed of an idea in the back of my mind, a seed that would soon sprout and flourish and take over almost my every waking moment.

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