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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 54 : fifty-four
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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Mum and Dad took us out for dinner at the end of my first week as an England player. It was a joint celebration as Lily’s N.E.W.T results had arrived the same week. We joked to Albus that he was gate crashing the event, as he had nothing of his own to celebrate.

“I’ll have you know I received personal congratulations from the Minister for Magic himself this week for a report I submitted,” he said triumphantly, while grinning all the same.

Lily snorted into her drink.

She’d aced her Muggle Studies exam with two-hundred-and-seventy-three per cent, picking up the O grade she’d needed with ease. She’d also done well in her other four subjects; an O in History of Magic, an E in Arithmancy and As in Potions and Herbology. The latter two were technically only half-grades, as they had a practical element she hadn’t been able to do. Not that she cared about that, and neither did the Ministry. Although the job she’d now officially been offered normally required five N.E.W.T.s, her extensive experience with the Muggle world outweighed that.

“How do you think you’ve done with the muggle exams?” Albus asked her over dinner.

She shrugged.

“Much the same as the N.E.W.Ts, I think; better at history and maths than the sciences. But I should have passed them all, which is all that matters at the moment. Mind you, I had a terrible five minutes in my history exam. I had a question on migration to North America, and I started writing about potioneers heading over the Atlantic for their horned toads and how that sparked the migration flurry, and then suddenly remembered this was my Muggle exam and I was about to break the Statute. So I had to scribble my writing out completely and start again, which lost me a bit of time. Of all the times to forget which version of history I was meant to be writing about...” She shook her head. “But it was fine in the end.”

“I didn’t realise wizards migrated across to North America when settlers were first moving across.” Carlotta sounded intrigued. Mum had insisted I bring her along to the family dinner, and I hadn’t complained a jot.

“Course they did; how else do you think magic got there?” Lily smiled slightly. “Well, that’s slightly misleading; there are magical people in absolutely every community in the world including the Native Americans, so magic was always there. But even so, it’s not possible for a whole magical community the size of the one in North America to have come into existence without the influx of witches and wizards from Europe. Not in the space of four hundred years or so. There were wizards on the first ships to the continent – this was before the Statute of Secrecy came into force at the end of the sixteen hundreds. Those wizards discovered creatures there with magical properties and which could be used for things like potions, so they were a big part of the reason people wanted to colonise North America. Of course, that part of history isn’t known amongst Muggles these days because of the Statute.”

“Wow.” Carlotta looked enthralled by the conversation – as she was every time she learned something new about the wizarding world, to be fair. “I still can’t imagine how the wizarding world could have gone into hiding overnight. I mean, how do you suddenly hide your whole community from existence? It’s not as though the Muggles of the time would just forget about magic, is it?”

“Well, that’s the thing,” Lily said with an ironic smile, “they did just that. Albeit with the help of a few Memory Charms. Besides, even in those days, the two communities weren’t totally open with each other. They used to be, back in the early middle ages, but by the seventeenth century there’d been so much persecution of magic that we’d withdrawn anyway. And of course the records of the time were nowhere near as thorough and accessible as they are these days, so there wasn’t a huge mass of Muggle documentation that needed to be found and destroyed. And not everything was destroyed thoroughly, when you think about it – after all, one of my Muggle history projects this year was witch burning. And the stories of Merlin still exist too.”

“But that’s the point; they’re stories,” Carlotta reasoned. “We know the witch burning happened, but the general consensus is that the people burned didn’t actually have magic.”

“Which makes it easier for us to hide,” Lily agreed. “People consider them myths and legends, not things that actually happened. Of course, it’d be impossible to implement something like the Statute today. Globalisation and technological advances mean you couldn’t possibly just pull the wool over the world’s eyes overnight, especially with instant communication. Back in the seventeenth century it would take days or weeks to deliver a message across the country, whereas these days it’s possible to communicate with someone on the opposite side of the world in seconds. Just staying hidden is hard enough now. The divide between Muggle and wizarding worlds is becoming thinner and thinner, a combination of more Muggles marrying into wizarding families, and globalisation making the whole world smaller. The last war with Voldemort left its mark on the Muggle world, and it makes it interesting to learn about modern Muggle history and to spot the moments where the wizarding world had an influence. But that also makes it difficult to not throw references to magical history into a Muggle history exam,” she added dryly.

“You should teach History of Magic at Hogwarts, Lil; you make it all sound far more exciting than Binns does,” I commented.

“Any history teacher who dispenses with myth and legend in the way he does isn’t worthy of being a history teacher,” she said disparagingly. “I can’t quite believe he’s still allowed to teach, quite frankly.”

“I don’t think McGonagall has much of a say in the matter, to be honest. I don’t think she can get rid of him.”

“Course she can; she just doesn’t want to try. She doesn’t want to look rude. But really, he puts far too much emphasis on goblin riots and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong, the riots are interesting to learn about, but not on their own.”

Dad snorted.

“Don’t I just agree with you on that one,” he said darkly.

“That was the O.W.L you fell asleep in, wasn’t it?” I grinned.

A dark shadow seemed to flicker in his eyes for a moment and I immediately regretted by comment. I knew that dream had become the fake vision that prompted his trip to the Ministry of Magic, which in turn led to his godfather Sirius’ death amongst other things. Although a lot of time had passed by since, he still didn’t enjoy the reminders.

But the shadow quickly passed.

“It was. Can you quite believe I only got a D in that exam in the end?” He shook his head in mock disbelief.

“History of Magic is one of the subjects with the lowest pass rate at Hogwarts,” Lily said. “It’s farcical, especially considering the importance of learning about the conflict with Voldemort at the very least. I think a lot of people would benefit by learning how to treat creatures like house elves and goblins too, and that’s best done by learning about their history.”

“Now you’re beginning to sound like your Aunt Hermione,” Dad said in a warning tone, but he was smiling. We all enjoyed teasing Aunt Hermione for her stance on things like house elves, but we loved her for it all the same, and besides she was completely right in what she stood for.

“Honestly, what with James’ view on how to teach Quidditch at school, and now you trying to reform History of Magic, Minerva McGonagall and the school governors should watch out,” Mum teased. “Anything you’d like to add, Al?”

“Well, they could teach Potions somewhere warmer than in the dungeons,” he said, grinning. “But I know I’d rather have had Lily’s tutor teaching me History of Magic than Binns.”

“Thaddeus would actually be an ideal candidate,” Lily agreed. “But I think he does a fantastic job doing independent teaching, and he was invaluable for me when we first found out I was a Squib. I wouldn’t want other Squibs to miss out on having his support.”

Thaddeus Ketteridge was a Squib himself. His job was basically to integrate other Squibs into the Muggle world. He’d brought Lily up to speed with everything she needed to know in order to slot into a Muggle secondary school without drawing attention to herself, including teaching her what most Muggles learned at primary school. While we obviously knew how to read and write and do basic arithmetic, we knew next to nothing about Muggle history, geography or science, things that Lily had to learn in order to continue with Muggle education. Thaddeus had also taught her a lot of her wizarding syllabus during weekends and holidays, once she’d decided at thirteen that she wanted to do her O.W.Ls.

“I still find his name ironic,” Dad said with a grin of his own.

“I know,” Lily giggled in agreement. “Of all the people to be given the same name as the guy who turned his Squib sons into hedgehogs...”

“What?” Carlotta asked, frowning.

“Thaddeus Thurkell. Seventeenth century wizard. Had seven sons, all Squibs, and turned them all into hedgehogs. A truly lovely man.”

“His own children?” she said incredulously.

“There’s a lot of stigma attached to being a Squib, unfortunately.” Lily shrugged. “All totally unfair, of course. If only every Squib had understanding parents and access to someone like Thad, who makes the whole process so much easier and emphasises how you can get by in both worlds at the same time, there’d be a much better attitude towards them. Luckily things have improved recently, but it’s still a far from perfect situation. The Ministry offers basically no support to Squibs and their families; I mean, most Squibs only find out they don’t have magic when they don’t get a Hogwarts letter at eleven! How wrong is that? Of course, the lack of evidence of magic as a child is always an indicator that perhaps a child is a Squib, but it’s no guarantee.”

“You really are sounding like Hermione,” Dad mused. “Maybe you should change that?”

Me?” Lily said scornfully. “A Muggle Liaison in the Minister’s Office? Yeah, cause that’ll fly.”

“Exactly. The Minister’s Office. You have influence at the highest level. Besides, you’re the best known Squib in the country and Thaddeus is the most successful; I’m sure that between you, the two of you could pull something off.”

“And I’m sure having the backing of Harry Potter would add to your cause,” Albus added slyly.

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Dad said sheepishly. “But of course I’d back it in a heartbeat. And Kingsley’s fair, he’d implement some sort of support for Squibs if the suggestion was put to him.”

“I think it’s a good idea,” I volunteered. “You’d get more people backing you than just Dad, as well. I reckon it’s got legs.”

“Wouldn’t it seem a bit ... well, pretentious, coming from me?” Lily hesitated. “I’ve only just been given this job; I’ve not even started it yet. And already I’m trying to campaign for my own employer to introduce some sort of Squib foundation?”

“I don’t think so,” Mum reasoned. “I think it looks like two successful Squibs coming together and creating something that aims to give every Squib the same opportunities you had, as standard. I think it’s a fantastic idea, and it’s about time someone took responsibility for ensuring Squibs have the support they need. And if you need someone to push promotion, I’m sure I could write an article or two about it.”

Lily smiled slightly. Our encouragement seemed to have worked.

“Alright,” she said. “I’ll do it.”

***

Back in training, Demelza opted for a slightly different technique when it came to choosing her team to play Spain. She let us choose for her.

Jessica and the other Seeker, Archibald, both agreed he should play instead of her. Michael Wood was the captain, so there was no chance of Gemma Deans playing ahead of him. Gregory Ellis, the third Beater, pointed out that splitting the Bagmans up made them and thus the whole team weaker, so there really was no point in him playing instead of one of them – an admirable stance to take, and one that made me wish for his sake that there was room in the squad for a fourth Beater, so he had more chance of getting a game.

Then it was our turn to decide who should sit out.

Emily and Tamsin both volunteered not to play. McLaggen, of course, said that he felt he should.

“I don’t mind,” I said with a shrug, not wanting to demand a game when I’d only just made my debut. “Whatever’s best for the team.”

“You need more experience at this level,” Tamsin said straight away, and Emily nodded in agreement. “You’re definitely playing. It’s a case of which of us three sits out.”

“You should play, Tam, given that you didn’t play against Nigeria,” Emily insisted. “And James still needs more practice with you and Jeremiah. You three take this game, I don’t need to play it.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Demelza admitted. “I just wanted to see if you guys thought the same. We’re all good, then? Tamsin, Jeremiah, James, you’re playing this one.”

I couldn’t stop the grin from spreading across my face at the prospect of a second game in a row for England. And against Spain as well. I wasn’t sure if Carlotta would be happy or torn at the news.

Of course, Spain would be a tougher task than Nigeria. And on top of that, I’d never played with Tamsin before. Admittedly I had played a couple of games against her, when the Falcons had played the Tornados, so that, combined with what I’d seen of her in training, meant I wasn’t totally clueless as to the way she played. But we were still incredibly unfamiliar with each other’s game, and we only had a few days to overcome this.

Luckily, this kind of situation didn’t faze Tamsin, who’d been playing professionally for an incredible twenty years. That kind of longevity in itself wasn’t completely surprising, but for her to still be one of the best Chasers for her country was impressive. Few players were still playing international Quidditch after twenty years in the game.

Despite this, training was an absolute mess for the first day or so after the team had been picked. Previously, when I’d played alongside a new teammate, I tried to draw on similarities, comparing their play to that of someone I was used to playing with.

But I just couldn’t do that with Tamsin. She played so differently to any other Chaser I’d come across that it was impossible to work on comparisons, and I was forced to just get on with it and try to adapt my game to gel with hers. It had to be that way because of the way she played; she created and orchestrated absolutely every play, whether she had the Quaffle or not, and as a result the game had to revolve primarily around her style of play, otherwise her very strengths would be completely nullified right from the off.

Luckily for me, I didn’t have a particular style of play. While the role I’d adopted for the Falcons wasn’t too different from how I’d played back at Hogwarts, it was based more on me slotting in with the existing players, and using my flying and passing skills in accordance with the overall game plan. I was flexible, and so in theory I could remain fairly comfortable with changing Chaser partners.

Not that this meant I could adapt, not quickly at any rate. It was still incredibly hard to force myself to play differently to how I usually did. The added irritation was that Tamsin and McLaggen were used to playing alongside each other for the Tornados, and McLaggen seemed to expect me to fill the role of their third Chaser at Tutshill, little Ruby Ellerby. It was a stupid assumption, and one that angered me, as I was much bigger and faster than she was; there was no way I was going to be able to adopt her style of play when we were so different.

Tamsin realised this was the case, however, and was on my side. She seemed just as keen as Emily to use my speed to finish off moves.

“But I don’t want to disregard you at any other moment on the pitch, because that’s just ridiculous,” she added. “And actually, that’s one criticism I’d give of the way you guys played last week. It was okay against Nigeria to play a basic game – use strength to get clear of the opposition, then let you streak away with the Quaffle – but it’s too one-dimensional a tactic to use against better opposition, and it won’t work. You were wasted, even if you did score the most goals. Whichever way Demelza does go for the bigger games, I don’t think playing you three all together works, and I’m not just saying that because I want to get games.”

I nodded in agreement, appreciative of the fact she at least wanted to use the talent I did have, in the way I best knew how, rather than to try to mould me into a player that I wasn’t. So we stayed behind at training one night, along with Emily who’d offered her help, and worked on adapting Tamsin’s best plays in accordance with my pace. After a couple of hours, I was feeling much more confident about being able to play what was a slight variation of the game I was used to.

All the same, I still felt that Tamsin seemed unconvinced by something. I just hoped it wasn’t me.

***

“Make sure you don’t cry too much when we beat Spain,” I teased Carlotta the night before the match.

“Oh, shut up.” She rolled her eyes. “Of course I’ll be supporting you. Just because my mother’s Spanish doesn’t mean I support them over my own country.”

“You should have pride in your heritage.”

“I do, it just comes second to my pride in my birthplace. And in you,” she added as an afterthought.

I smirked.

“You’re proud of me, huh?”

“Only a little bit. You’ve only got one cap, let’s not exaggerate things here.” She shot me a cheeky wink. “Hey, Ireland and Germany both played today, didn’t they? I wonder how those games went.”

“I can tell you, as I watched the end of Della’s match,” I volunteered. “They both won fairly easily. There was a bit of a surprise in Germany’s group though; Wales beat Egypt.”

Really? I thought Egypt were the best team in that group.”

“They are, in theory. But Wales have found some form from somewhere. They put up a fight against Germany last week. But this means that if Germany beat Egypt next week, they could make it out of the group. Obviously it’s more complicated than that because if Wales romp South Africa they could sneak through, but a win would be a good start for Germany.”

“When’s that match being played?” she asked. “That would be an interesting one to watch, if it doesn’t clash with England.”

“No, it won’t clash – at least, the start won’t. They play Monday and England’s game is on Tuesday. But Ireland’s last game is also on Monday; they’re playing Argentina in a straight shoot-out for the quarters. Hopefully Demelza lets us out of training early so I can catch a bit of one of them – actually, I hope they’re both being played at the same place so I don’t have to choose which to watch. I’m not sure which I’d go for – wait.” I frowned. “Next Monday ... is that the third of August?”

“Yeah, why?”

“That’s Brigid’s birthday. I’d probably have to pick Ireland in that case, to see her. Shoot, that means I’ve only got six days to get her a present. This is the trouble with her birthday; I can’t rely on her to get a present for me.”

Carlotta laughed.

“You’d better not rely on her to buy the present for my birthday; that won’t end well.”

I pulled a face.

“I don’t like the sound of that. Don’t you worry, I’ll remember.” I paused, thinking. “I should probably remind Freddie about Brie’s birthday – although actually, knowing him he won’t need reminding. He could do with getting her something really nice this time round, given what he’s put her through recently. The bloody idiot.” I shook my head in exasperation.

“You can’t scold him; you’re not much better,” she pointed out. “He just needs a little nudge, something to push him in the right direction-”

“But that nudge won’t work from anyone except Brie herself. Trust me, I’ve tried, Roxanne’s tried, he just won’t react to it. He’ll only react if it’s her, but-”

“Right now she’s too mad at him to do anything, and besides why should she be the one to initiate things after all he’s done?” Carlotta summed up. “He seems to have taken some of what he’s been told on board, though. I mean, he seems much more mellow recently. I don’t know if you noticed, but he barely drank when we were out after the last League match, and the only girls he talked to were family members. Do you think he’s trying to show her he’s changed?”

I considered that idea for a moment.

“I don’t think so,” I said slowly. “If he was trying to do that, then I think he’d try to make it clearer to her, and he’d actually be doing something about it. I expect it’s more of a subconscious thing; you know, he doesn’t realise he’s doing it, but because he’s thinking about her more, he’s acting more how she’d like him to. That seems to be the way he generally works.”

“Do you think they’ll ever get together?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Brigid’s still too pr-” I halted for a moment, remembering what Roxanne had told me. It wasn’t pride that kept Brigid away, because she was more sensible than to put her pride before her happiness. Hers was the natural reaction of someone who’d been hurt – and actually, now I thought about it, she was probably scared of getting hurt even more. I voiced those thoughts out loud. “You probably know the answer to your question better than I do, because you’ll know how Brigid’s mind works better than I do.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Why? Because we’re both emotional females?”

“No, because I’m a simple male, too simple to understand the complex workings of a woman’s mind,” I replied with a grin.

“Right answer, Potter. And don’t you forget it.”

***

It seemed that the nerves before the Nigeria match had been mostly due to it being my first match for England. On the morning of the Spain match, I wasn’t anywhere near as nervous, despite the opposition being theoretically tougher. It wasn’t that I’d settled into being an England player – far from that; this was still only my second match, and this one wouldn’t test my skill much more than the first. But the notion of playing for my country wasn’t quite as daunting as it had been. As it had always been my wildest dream, those moments before my first match had been terrifying, as I realised it was about to come true. Now, of course, it had.

Not that it meant the dream was by any means over. Of course my ambition had always involved playing more than one game; I wanted to get as much out of my career as I possibly could. But it meant I’d set things in motion, I’d gotten myself to the top table of Quidditch. Now I was there, all I had to do was stay there. It would obviously be hard, but if I’d gotten there in the first place, there was no reason to believe I couldn’t stay there.

My performance today would play a large part in that, but I was feeling much better about it now I’d cracked playing alongside Tamsin.

As this wasn’t my first match, I’d expected less of my family to show up, but I’d been wrong; there they all were again in the stands, along with my Falcons teammates. Stefan was absent again as his match was later in the week, but everyone else was there.

Actually, now I looked closer, the group was even bigger than last week’s. Maddie and Kit were there, of course, as they’d been last week, but so were Scorpius Malfoy and Hugo’s friend,Alice, one of Neville’s children. The rest of the Longbottom family were also in the stand, and when I looked again, I saw Allegra Fawcett and a few of her Ravenclaw friends on the edge of my large fan club, chatting with Albus. The three Irish girls – Aisling Quigley and Fiona O’Sullivan of the Bats, and Brianna Kiely of the Kestrels, were sitting with Ryan and Brigid. I smiled slightly at this. I knew some of them were possibly here more for the match than just to support me, but even so it was nice to see them, to know the support was there.

We took our positions opposite the Spanish players and waited for the match to begin. My personal opponent was from the all-women Barcelona Banshees. She looked slight, but I didn’t let that lull me into a false sense of security. Her size meant she was most likely quick on her broom. There was, after all, a reason she was the one I’d be marking. Demelza had done her research on our opponents very thoroughly.

The whistle blew, and we were off. McLaggen caught the Quaffle almost straight away, and lobbed it straight up to Tamsin’s awaiting arms. It was a textbook take, pulled straight from their Tornados training sessions. But that was where the comparisons ended. From now on, it was new ground for all three of us.

And we didn’t get off to a good start; Tamsin passed back to McLaggen but his pass to me was intercepted by my opponent. I cursed under my breath, spinning on the spot and heading after her to try to recover the situation.  I caught a glimpse of Tamsin’s face; she looked irked. I just hoped her frustration was aimed at McLaggen, not me. His pass wasn’t the best I’d ever seen on a Quidditch pitch but if I’d been more alert I could have outwitted my Banshee opposition.

At the hoops, Michael Wood saved the attempted goal with ease. He delayed his pass back to Tamsin just long enough for the three of us to re-gather, the look on his face telling us we needed to bump our game up a good few notches. Not that we needed him to tell us that.

After the poor start, we did, thankfully, improve. Three minutes into the game, Tamsin scored our first goal, and after that the floodgates opened. We won convincingly, and by the end of the day sat comfortably above Canada in our group.

It meant our immediate fate was well and truly in our hands, which was what we’d been aiming for – and indeed expecting – from the start of the campaign. A win against Canada, and we’d be through the group stage and into the quarter finals. A loss ... well, that just didn’t bear thinking about.


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