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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 50 : fifty
 
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“You know what this means?” Freddie said excitedly.

I prayed he wouldn’t say it out loud. So far, I’d been able to kid myself into thinking it was a farcical idea, one that wasn’t within the realms of possibility. Hearing it said out loud...

“You’ll be back in! It’s a no-brainer.”

I frowned.

“I don’t think so.” I tried to ignore the excited flutter in my stomach. “She dropped me; she’s hardly going to want me back-”

“She said she just wanted you to get better. And you have. Why wouldn’t she pick you?”

“Because – I’ve hardly done anything showy since I’ve been back. I’ve just supported the others.”

“So? There’s nothing wrong with that. Some of the best Chaser units work like that, with one player taking the back seat. Besides, it’s not as if she’s not seen what you can do. She picked you originally, remember? She picked you based on that play. She knows you can do it. You’ve just shown her you’re versatile. She’s picked you once, there’s no reason why she can’t pick you again. Not to mention, you’re already registered to play for England. Makes life much easier. You’ll be in by the end of the week.”

“I don’t think so.” I shook my head. “For a start, we don’t know if this means Wadcock’s out-”

“Course he is. Fawcett said it was serious. That’s enough to put him out of the World Cup. Aside from anything else, you can’t have a contagious player hanging around, can you? Besides, if it wasn’t enough to force him out, Robins would have told the press he’d come down with a mild strain but would be back in a couple of days. She certainly wouldn’t have wanted to leave it open to all this speculation. Have you seen the front page of the Prophet? They’ve picked up on the fact the whole League is being tested; they know it’s something big-”

“I don’t get that rag any more,” I cut in.

“Don’t you?” he said, surprised. “Would have thought you’d want something to feed to Cordelia.”

“There’s less expensive pygmy puff food around.”

“True enough. But the point is, people think it must be serious, if they’re hauling a good few hundred people into St. Mungo’s to be tested for the pox, so they’ve started poking around, trying to get the full story. If I were Robins, I’d just tell the press everything – unless it meant changing the squad. I’m telling you, Wadcock’s out for the count.”

“But there’s a cure-”

“Only for the mild strain,” he reminded me. “Remember, Wadcock’s been out to Romania recently visiting his brother, who works with Uncle Charlie. This case must have come near-enough literally from the dragon’s mouth. He’ll have to wait for it to clear up on its own. There’s no way he can play Quidditch in two weeks’ time. You heard it here first – you’ll be back in.”

I shook my head, dumbstruck.

“It won’t happen,” I said. But even as I spoke, a part of me was beginning to wonder ... beginning to hope...

“Can she make changes this close to the start of the tournament?” Carlotta chipped in.

“Course she can,” I said. “You can change a squad at any time, in the event of illness or injury, or severe disciplinary reasons. Can’t shelve someone just because they’re in poor form though, obviously; that wouldn’t be fair at all.”

In reality, few Quidditch players were actively dropped from such squads. Few injuries or illnesses would force a player out of the game for any length of time; most could be cured within twenty-four hours. Normal cases of dragon pox wouldn’t cause the slightest problem. That was why I’d known once I was dropped that – short of another player going off the rails like I’d done – my chance was as good as gone. Because the odds of an England player picking up something severe enough to put them out of the tournament were so slim...

But it had happened.

“It’s a funny name, dragon pox,” Carlotta mused. “And it’s actually connected to dragons?”

Freddie and I both looked at her, bewildered.

“Course it is,” I said. “Why else would it be called dragon pox?”

She shrugged.

“We have an illness called chicken pox, and you certainly don’t get that by kissing poultry.”

“Why call it chicken pox, then?”

I don’t know. There are numerous theories, but none of them suggest it actually being related to chickens.”

“Well, this one’s related to dragons alright.”

“Do you turn green?” she giggled.

“You may laugh,” Freddie said sombrely, “but it’s not as funny when you start growing scales.”

Her smile vanished.

“He’s joking,” I said hastily.  “You do turn green, though.”

The talk of symptoms seemed to have reminded her of what worried her most.

“What if I get it?”

“You won’t get it,” I reassured her.

“How do you know that?”

“I tested negative, didn’t I?” I said.

“But that doesn’t mean I can’t catch it. If it’s been going round the League...”

“Look, Wadcock only came down with it the other day. That means he’d been carrying it for a week tops. We haven’t been in contact with the Puddlemere players in ages, there’s no way you could have picked it up-”

“You all move in the same circles; of course it’s possible.”

“Okay, so it’s possible. That doesn’t make it probable, though-”

“But it means you can’t know for certain!”

There was a look of utter fear in her eyes. It was one of the few times I’d been really aware that at the end of the day, she was a Muggle, and didn’t belong in our world.

There was nothing to stop her living in it, but it would take a lot of time and effort before she would come anywhere close to properly understanding it. Granted, she now knew all about Dad’s history, which would go a long way towards integrating her into society, but she still had no idea about so many aspects of our world which I thought so basic they weren’t even worth explaining. I’d obviously given some thought to the differences between wizarding and Muggle illnesses, but it hadn’t crossed my mind that while Muggles suffered from some things wizards seemed immune to, there were also wizarding illnesses she wouldn’t even have heard of. I had no idea whether she could catch any of them, because it wasn’t something I’d even considered before.

She wasn’t in the least afraid about the negative aspects of my world she knew about – Muggle baiting, genocide, and other acts of unspeakable evil, all of which had occurred within my father’s lifetime. No, what she feared was the unknown. The thought of learning new things every day clearly excited her, but as far as she was aware there were no limits as to magic was capable of. That had to scare her.

“I don’t know for certain,” I admitted. “But Allegra doesn’t think there’s any immediate concern, and if you do end up picking it up, Aunt Audrey is one of the best in her field. She’d have it cleared up in no time at all. If you’re interested, I’m sure she’d let you borrow one of her medical books to read. Actually, I think Mum has Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions and The Healer’s Helpmate; I could ask to borrow them next time I see her if you like? It might help put your mind at ease.”

She smiled slightly.

“Maybe. That would be nice, thanks.” She paused. “Are there any other books about magic I could read? Not medical stuff necessarily, just anything.”

“Are you kidding? There’s books on everything! You clearly haven’t been in Dad’s study, the walls are covered in books. Tell you what, we can pop round now if you want, you can grab as many as you like.”

“Really? You’re sure he wouldn’t mind?”

“Course not! He hardly reads them anyway; he just uses them for reference every now and then. Fancy it?”

“Would they be alright with us just dropping in?”

“They’d love it. It’s Sunday evening, they’re hardly going to be busy. Besides, I can see if Mum’s got any more scoop on Wadcock.”

“Thought you weren’t thinking about that?” Freddie sounded amused.

“I said I wasn’t thinking about my own chances. That doesn’t mean I’m not curious about what’s going on,” I corrected, as I got to my feet. “Fancy coming along?”

“Are you kidding? Sunday’s the day Aunt Ginny bakes, I’m not passing up that kind of an opportunity.”

I snickered at his predictability.

“We can Apparate onto their doorstep, right?” he asked.

“Yeah, or just outside the back door, either is fine. Just make sure you don’t stick your elbows out too much, or the Muggles will see you.”

“Got it.” He grinned, then Disapparated.

“We’ll give him a moment to clear the way, or we’ll end up landing on him and that won’t be pleasant,” I told Carlotta.

“Have you ever done that before?” she asked curiously. “Apparate onto someone?”

“Yes, and it’s not nice.”

“What happened?”

“I’d rather not talk about it.”

She laughed.

“Come on, surely it wasn’t that bad-”

“It really, really was, and it’s a story I’m taking to my grave.”

“You’re no fun at all,” she sighed.

“Course I am, or you wouldn’t be here. Come on, let’s find you some books to read.”

As I’d predicted, Mum and Dad were all too happy to see us, despite having seen us the last two days. My prediction as to where Freddie’s interests lay had also been right; he was already in the kitchen when we got there. Dad all too happily led us into his study and gestured towards his extensive book collection. Carlotta dived straight in, and I followed her.

“Why do you still have all Lockhart’s books?” I asked Dad when I came across the offending titles.

“For laughs,” he said simply.

“Do I not want to check those out, then?” Carlotta asked.

“More information on a Chocolate Frog card than there is in his entire back catalogue,” I said disparagingly.

“I beg to differ; there’s ten Chocolate Frog cards’ worth of his personal information in them,” Dad chipped in.

“Well that sounds riveting,” I said dryly. “Clearly, knowing his favourite colour is violet is crucial to defeating a banshee.”

“Lilac,” Dad corrected. Then a horrified expression appeared on his face.

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that,” I said.

“Thirty-four years,” he said hollowly, falling into his desk chair. “Thirty-four years, and I still remember him telling us that. And the worst bit is, I can’t suppress the part of my mind that’s screaming at me to tell you it wasn’t in Break With a Banshee but Year With a Yeti that he said it-”

“Please, please try harder. Lock it away in that box in your mind where you store all your memories of walking in on Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione-”

“That’s great, James, really great. Only, I can shove as many memories as I like to that dark place in the back of my mind, but the minute someone else mentions them they barge right back to the front again. I’m going to be having nightmares of Ron and Hermione in your grandparents’ broom shed now...”

We both shuddered.

“‘Harmony between all magical and non-magical peoples’? Ideal birthday gift?” Carlotta looked up from Wanderings With Werewolves, a disgusted look on her face.

“Don’t make things worse,” I advised, shutting the book. “Trust me, you don’t want to read them. And I think Dad might have a mental breakdown if he’s forced to relive that time of his life. Which one did you prefer playing, Dad, the werewolf or the vampire?”

“We’re not talking about this,” he said, his eyes closed. I assumed he was doing his Occlumency trick to lock the dreaded memories of Lockhart away somewhere.

“Okay, so no Lockhart books.” She slid it back onto the shelf. “Did he really do all this stuff he says he did?”

“What, the guy with the most flowery ideal birthday gift in human history? Course he didn’t, he stole all the stories from other people. He’s in St Mungo’s these days, with severe memory loss. Got a taste of his own medicine. Another one of Dad’s life achievements.”

“That wasn’t me, it was his own fault for using a backfiring wand,” Dad chipped in. “Now that memory can stay. I’ve produced some of my most effective Patronuses with that.”

“A memory of Mum being held hostage in a chamber with a basilisk by one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes helps you conjure a Patronus? Nice, Dad, nice. What else do you use, Uncle Ron and that poisoned mead?”

“It’s funny you should mention that, it was pretty funny when he was dosed up with Love Potion,” he mused. “But no, I don’t use it. I do use the one of you hitting yourself in the face with a Beater’s bat, though.”

“That’s alright, my best memory would be the one of your chair leg giving way underneath you,” I retorted with a smirk.

“Ooh, Quidditch books!” Carlotta pulled The Beaters’ Bible off the shelf.

“That’s a good read,” I said. “Especially if you’re interested in the strategic side of things. Not that it tries to be too complex. The first rule is ‘Take out the Seeker’, and pretty much everything else comes back to that.”

“Maybe they should change that rule,” Dad chipped in. “‘Take out their Beater before they can take out your Seeker’.”

“Catchy, Dad, real catchy.”

“This is why your mother’s the writer in the family,” he observed.

Beating the Bludgers-”

“-A Study of Defensive Strategies in Quidditch,” I finished. “That’s worth a read as well, actually. Let’s see, what else is there? Quidditch Through the Ages of course-”

“Oh, I’ve already read that one,” she replied.

I frowned.

“You have? When?”

She shrugged.

“Ages ago. I can’t remember exactly. You had one lying around in your bedroom, I figured I’d give it a read. Flying With the Cannons?”

“Not unless you want to be bored out of your mind. I only read that once, to appease Uncle Ron.”

“Okay, we’re not flying with the Cannons then. Let’s see, what else is there ... An Anthology of Eighteenth Century Charms? I think I’ll pass over that one ... Blood Brothers: My Life Amongst the Vampires. Vampires? They exist?”

“Of course they do,” I mock-sighed. “Keep up, Martínez!”

“That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? You didn’t tell me about vampires...”

“Yeah, they’re one of the few magical phenomena Dad hasn’t come across in his lifetime. Here.” I pulled Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them off its shelf and handed it to her. “That should enlighten you a bit.”

She set the book down on the floor, along with the two Quidditch books, and continued along the shelves.

Encyclopaedia of Toadstools?” I turned to Dad. “Why do you even have half of this stuff?”

He shrugged.

“Bedtime reading?”

“Ooh, Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. That sounds interesting...” Carlotta pulled the tome off the shelf.

“I’m mentioned in that,” Dad said proudly.

“Along with half the books in wizarding Britain,” I said dryly. “Yeah, that’s a good one to read. Doesn’t quite cover the end of the century though, which is when most of the big stuff actually happened. But you’ll pick up a lot of the background stuff from it. Here, this is a must-read.”

I handed Hairy Snout, Human Heart to her.

“Written by an anonymous werewolf...” She looked up at me. “Did you say Teddy’s dad was a werewolf?”

“I did.”

Hairy Snout, Human Heart was duly added to her reading pile.

A History of Magic-”

“Doesn’t cover anything later than the nineteenth century.”

She moved on.

Hogwarts: A History-”

“No need to read it, just ask Aunt Hermione to regurgitate it to you.”

It made the pile all the same.

Home Life and Social Habits of British Muggles? That sounds amusing,” she giggled, and pulled it off the shelf.

“That was my Third Year Muggle Studies textbook,” I told her.

It was apparently too alluring a book to pass over, as she added it to her growing pile on the floor.

Nature's Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy...”

“That’s Kreacher’s. It’s painfully snobbish pureblood stuff; the author would probably cry at the mere thought of a Muggle holding it.”

“Doesn’t sound all that riveting, I must say,” she agreed. “The Philosophy of the Mundane: Why Muggles Prefer Not to Know...”

“You’ll find it ridiculously patronising, but it might help answer a lot of your questions about why you don’t notice things all the same.”

“Try Muggles Who Notice, as well,” Dad contributed.

“Should that be nearby?” I asked.

“The two tend to go together. Lily borrowed it the other month, she might still have it...”

“No, I’ve found it.” I pulled it off the shelf and handed it across to Carlotta. “That one will tell you the story about the Common Welsh Green in Ilfracombe, I think. Anyway, what else do we have? Oh, here we go. The Tales of Beedle the Bard. It’s a must-read.”

She frowned, looking at the book.

“It’s a load of children’s stories...”

“Trust me, you need to read them. Especially The Tale of the Three Brothers; that’s my favourite.”

“I wonder why,” Dad said, amused.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Is it not yours?”

“I have a soft spot for Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump, myself.”

Carlotta stared at him.

“Babbity Rabbitty?”

“Read it,” he told her. “You’ll love it.”

“I’m sure I will...” She didn’t sound at all convinced, but she added the book to her pile anyway. “I’m going to need a wheelbarrow to get these home.”

“What’s a wheelbarrow?” I asked, bemused.

“Surely you learned about those in Muggle Studies?” Dad frowned. “I’ll find a bag to put the books in, don’t worry.”

“How big’s the bag?” she asked, assessing the stack of books.

“Oh, don’t worry, they’ll fit.” He grinned. “And I’ll charm the covers for you, so they look like Muggle books. Then you can read them at yours instead of having to leave them at James’.”

“You can do that?”

“Course I can. Magic knows very few bounds.”

“Thank you.” She smiled appreciatively at him, then turned back to the bookshelves. “Unfogging the Future-”

“Dross,” Dad interrupted. “Ignore that whole section, Divination’s not worth your while.”

“Says the guy whose whole life was set out by a prophecy,” I pointed out.

“True Seers may be able to make prophecies, but I still don’t buy into all of this palm-reading, crystal-ball-gazing nonsense.”

“You guys do that too?” Carlotta was intrigued.

“People try. And trust me, it may seem like it should be a real thing but it’s all a total gimmick.”

“Dad’s a bit cynical when it comes to predicting the future,” I informed her.

“You shouldn’t meet my mother, then,” she told him, “she’s a total sucker for that kind of thing. Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches, that sounds interesting-”

I covered the book with my hand before she could remove it from the shelf.

“It’s really not,” I said hurriedly. “Move on, move on.”

“Because that’s not the reaction of someone who uses its tips all the time. It’s okay, I won’t read your sacred book. Weird Wizarding Dilemmas and Their Solutions? What kind of weird dilemmas?”

“Growing nose hair into ringlets?” I suggested. “Come to think of it, why do you own this book, Dad?”

“Birthday present from Ron and Hermione,” he replied.

“Really touching present.”

“They ran out of ideas long ago. I don’t really need anything, do I? I like novelty presents, they’re more fun. Did you know, you can-”

His anecdote was interrupted by a loud, excited squeal from Carlotta.

“What is it?” I turned back to face her, wondering what she’d found – only to find her clutching Enchantments in Baking, a look of sheer joy upon her face.

I should have guessed.

***

“So, what do you think of James’ chances of making the squad?” Freddie asked Dad.

He shifted slightly in his seat.

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “I’m not sure how forgiving Demelza is. I think a lot of it depends on whether there are any alternatives-”

“Which there aren’t,” Freddie said promptly. “The only English Chasers playing as well as Jimmy are Roxie and Ruby Ellerby, and neither of them are experienced enough to be picked.”

“Ellerby’s in a team with Tamsin Robins and Jeremiah McLaggen though, which might count in her favour-” Mum began.

Dad and Freddie both stared at her.

“Whose side are you on?” Dad said incredulously.

“Yes, because you’ve just firmly called for my reinstatement,” I pointed out, raising an eyebrow.

“There’s a difference between sitting on the fence and actively promoting the opposition,” he defended himself.

“I’m just providing a balanced argument!” Mum protested. “Personally I think James deserves the opportunity, but I don’t want to get his hopes up in case things don’t work out.”

“You won’t,” I reassured her. “Honestly, I don’t think she’ll pick me.”

“Don’t you?” Dad frowned. “Why not?”

“Because ... I just don’t think she’ll want to. I mean, she dropped me, why is she going to pick me again two months later?”

“Because you’ve learned, you’ve matured, you’ve reassessed things. Demelza will know that,” Mum reasoned.

“Plus, there’s really nobody else,” Dad interjected.

“Thanks for the support, Dad, really appreciate it,” I said dryly. “Honestly? I just can’t see it.”

“Who else is there?” Fred insisted.

“Ralph Chambers, at the Wasps-”

Chambers? He’s good, but he’s nothing special.”

“Or Lloyd Ollerton, the Wigtown guy-”

“He’s past it, there’s no chance they’ll pick him.”

“Or Tabitha Davies, she’s pretty much the Arrows’ only good player-”

“Exactly, the rest of the team make her look better than she is! Trust me, James, you’re their best option!”

“I can’t see them picking just on talent, though. Even if I am the best of the lot, I just can’t see them picking me again so soon after I totally screwed up!”

I wasn’t sure if I was trying to convince them or myself.

Of course I wanted Demelza to pick me. The thought of being given a second chance so soon was ridiculously tantalising. But I couldn’t bring myself to get my hopes up, just for her to pick someone else instead of me. Someone more balanced, more reliable. I really didn’t know if I’d pick myself if I were in her shoes.

“Sinead forgave you,” Mum reasoned.

“That’s different. That was only League level. Besides, she didn’t have much of a choice; she couldn’t replace me with anyone. Demelza has the whole country to choose from-”

“And you’re her best option,” Freddie said firmly. “Trust me, Jim, you’ll get the call.”

I couldn’t be bothered to argue with him any more.



A/N: I don't own the names of any of the books mentioned in this chapter; they've all come from one canon source or another and are all JK's creations.


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