Chapter 57 : fifty-seven
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They made their actions clear a couple of days after the team was announced for the Brazil match. I’d been struggling in training, and they’d all picked up on how stressed it was making me. Tamsin and Emily had both reassured me that our little stumbles weren’t my fault, and they were only to be expected when players were coming together for the first time, but I couldn’t help worrying they were just saying it to make me feel better. And McLaggen's sneering didn’t exactly make things any easier. I didn’t think he could make his glee at my misfortune any more obvious.
I was beginning to wonder if I was getting to breaking point.
And that was when my Welfare Committee came to the rescue – by turning my flat into what appeared to be some sort of refuge for the helpless.
Well. It was basically a Weasley convention. But to all intents and purposes, that was the same thing, especially when three of those Weasleys were Freddie, Louis and Hugo.
They were lounging across my furniture, drinking Butterbeer and half-watching some Muggle film I vaguely recognised. Albus was also here, along with Lucy and Rose – who’d brought an uncomfortable- looking Scorpius with her. Maddie and Kit were here too, sprawled across the floor playing catch with Cordelia – but then, they practically counted as Weasleys as well these days.
“Er...” I began, more than a little bit surprised to stumble in on such an audience.
“Evening, Jim.” Freddie inclined his bottle of Butterbeer in my direction as though he were inviting me into his own place.
Before I could ask why they were all there, there was a knock at the front door. Rose, being closest, got up to answer it.
“Hi. Cato appeared, looking slightly puzzled. Cleo hovered behind him in the corridor. “Brigid left a message to come here...”
“Come in!” Rose said enthusiastically, practically dragging them into the room. “Here, have some Butterbeer – we thought we’d be nice and stay off the alcohol for you guys...”
Still utterly bemused, I headed into the kitchen, to find it almost as crowded as the room I’d left.
“Oh, hey James!” Lily said thickly, looking up from where she, Roxanne and Ryan appeared to be attempting to mix a cake mixture at the kitchen table – though they seemed to have more of the substance on them than they did in the bowl.
“Er...” I said again.
“You’re back! I didn’t hear you come in.” Carlotta came towards me and kissed me lightly. “How was training?”
“It was ... there are people in my living room. Why are there people in my living room?” I frowned.
“Thought you could do with a bit of a distraction,” Brigid explained, handing me a bottle of Butterbeer. “I didn’t expect quite so many of your cousins to come – you know what Lucy’s like, flaky as anything, and Hugo’s been off doing his own thing since leaving school. As for Louis, I don’t even know how he found out we had anything planned. And then Rose wanted to bring Scorpius along – you know, to ‘integrate him into the family’ and whatnot, and I felt like I could hardly say no, and Maddie and Kit are permanent fixtures these days, and Ryan has no friends of his own-”
She squealed and ducked to avoid the large ball of flour that he threw at her from across the kitchen; it sailed over her and crashed into the cupboard door, sending powder everywhere.
“Oi, enough of the missiles!” Carlotta scolded. “It’s a good thing I’ve already baked a cake, and we’re not relying on the monstrosity you guys will turn out...”
I snickered, as I drew my wand and cleared up the flour.
“And the wonder twins? Where do they come into proceedings?” I asked.
Brigid shrugged innocently.
“They’re Falcons, aren’t they? Figured we should include them more in stuff.”
“Oh, I see. That’s why Della’s here-” Ryan dropped a wooden spoon- “and Klaus, and Stef, and-”
“Details, details.” She waved a hand airily. “Besides, they’re in training.”
“Stef’s not,” I pointed out. “And Ryan is-”
“Well ... he’s my brother, isn’t he? Easier to contact. Now stop being picky and go out there and socialise. I can invite more people round if you want?” she added.
“I don’t think this place is big enough to hold anyone else,” I said dryly. “Unless someone’s going to eat in the bathtub.”
“Yeah, it’ll be you at this rate!” she scolded. “Now go, leave the cooking to people who know what they’re doing.”
I looked pointedly at Lily, Roxanne and Ryan.
“It’s keeping them occupied,” Brigid explained, as though they were Victoire’s kids and not our generation. She shoved me out of the kitchen, and shut the door behind me to make a point.
It was nice, I reflected as I shoved Hugo off the arm of the sofa and claimed it for myself, to see Brigid so relaxed and playful. I hadn’t seen her like that for a long time – in fact, I couldn’t put a time frame on it. Had I been that inattentive recently? I winced at the thought.
Still, she seemed better now. Whether that was because the World Cup was providing a happy distraction for her, I wasn’t sure. But Freddie certainly seemed to be acting better lately, even if he was still refusing to actually do anything on the Brigid front. Unfortunately, I was still at a loss as to what I could do to help.
I was jolted out of my thoughts as I heard my name.
“-James doing in training?” Lucy was asking Cato and Cleo.
“He’s doing really well,” Cleo said with a smile and a wink in my direction. “Slotted in straight away, didn’t you, Junior? Pushed McLaggen out of the team – I can’t tell you how happy that’s made everyone-”
“Except McLaggen, of course,” interjected Cato, who’d joined in with the game of catch. Cordelia was still letting out squeaking noises which I took to mean she was enjoying herself – I liked to think those were happy squeaks at any rate, otherwise she was the world’s unhappiest pygmy puff.
“But anything that pisses him off can only be considered a bonus,” finished Cleo.
“I’m not doing that well,” I said in objection to her original comment. “I keep making mistakes-”
“Jim, you’ve been playing with Wood and Robins for two minutes, it’s hardly going to be smelling of roses straight away,” she pointed out. “Seriously, you need to stop being such a perfectionist on a broom, because you just heap unnecessary pressure on yourself. Everyone else is more than happy with how you’re performing in training – except McLaggen, but he’s a little shit, and if I haven’t smacked a Bludger into his head by the end of the Cup then I’ve failed myself as a Beater.”
This comment was greeted with laughs from my sympathetic family, and even I raised a slight smile.
“She’s right, though,” Cato added. “Mistakes happen all the time out on the pitch. The best players are those who learn how to deal with those mistakes.”
“What, like having to take a second shot to knock a player off his broom?” I said cheekily, referring to their tactics against the Lynches.
“That was always part of the plan,” Cleo said smoothly. “But that makes an excellent point, you see, because you think we’re capable of not just making a mistake on the pitch, but also rectifying that mistake in such a way that you wouldn’t even know we’d done anything wrong.” She winked. “That’s all you need to be able to do. You just need confidence in your ability to smooth over a mistake. And the ability to let it go, once it’s done. You can’t change what’s happened, but you can stop yourself from thinking about it too much and thus letting something else go wrong.”
“Seriously, if you’re worrying about the Brazil match, then you’ve no need to,” Cato agreed. “We’ve got every bit of confidence in you. And so’s Demelza. The way I see it? If you’ve got the big boss’s backing, you’ve no reason to worry at all.”
It was now blindingly obvious why Brigid had invited the Bagmans round for tea. Subtle as a brick at times, was that girl.
But even though I knew half her reason for inviting them round was so that they could reassure me about my performance in training– only half the reason, because I was sure she was being truthful when she said she was trying to be more inclusive towards them as Falcons players – it didn’t mean I disbelieved what they said. After all, I doubted she’d have gone so far as to brief them on what to say to me. And even if she had, they wouldn’t have listened to her. Sportspeople didn’t bullshit their words.
Unless they were McLaggen, but then he was the most unsportsmanlike person I knew.
And their praise and advice did reassure me. After all, nobody was perfect – hadn’t I told myself this enough times? I’d never played a perfect match, and I doubted many people had. Yes, this was the World Cup, and there was a lot at stake, but I didn’t need to let it eat at me at every waking moment.
So I let myself relax, if only for a few hours, and joined in as the rest of the family ribbed Scorpius something rotten, and gave Hugo stick over his not-quite-relationship with Alice Longbottom, and howled with laughter at the disaster that Lily, Roxanne and Ryan declared was a cake. Quidditch was forgotten about, as was any underlying issue between Freddie and Brigid. It took me back to all those evenings spent messing around in Gryffindor Tower, back when our biggest worries in the world had been handing an essay in on time, and we’d barely begun to think about things like careers, or relationships, or having to learn to stand on our own two feet.
Sometimes, I missed those days.
The first quarter-final started a day before our own game. The whole squad was interested in watching it, so Demelza let us leave training early. The interest was mainly on a pure Quidditch level; it was the knock-out stages of a World Cup, not to mention there was a chance we would face the victors at some stage.
But my interest was more personal than that. Peru were playing Germany, which meant Della and Klaus were playing. So it was with immense excitement I took my seat in the stands with Cato and Cleo. The tickets had been gifted to us by the German team, probably thanks to Della’s influence. They’d also secured one for Ryan, but he was in training for Ireland’s quarter-final which was due to start the day after ours, so he hadn’t been able to make it. Instead Roxanne joined us, keeping up the Falcon representation.
The ground was packed solid, with every single seat taken. There were German and Peruvian flags everywhere, and I suspected we as English folk were in an extremely small minority.
“The Germans have been piling over in their thousands since they won their group,” said Roxanne. “The Peruvians pretty much set up shop right at the start of the group stages of course; they expect to reach the semis at the very least.”
I didn’t question how she knew about the sudden influx of German supporters. She’d been at the campsites selling Wheezes merchandise from stalls with Freddie, Hugo, Louis and Lucy for the last week or so. It was an ingenious idea, which had actually come from Freddie. From what I’d heard they’d already raked in a huge sum of money, and Uncle George was working all hours to ensure the supply kept up with demand. They’d totally run out of pygmy puffs, though. Magic couldn’t speed that process up.
“Do the Germans expect to win this game, then?” Cato asked her.
“I don’t think so. They were hoping rather than expecting to make it out of their group; anything more is a bonus. I think they’re here for the experience more than anything. And good on them; it’ll make it a good atmosphere today, that’s for sure.”
“It could get tasty if they win, though,” Cleo pointed out. “The Peruvians certainly aren’t here just for the experience; they’ll be mighty angry if their guys lose.”
I winced at the thought.
In the end, there was no crowd trouble to worry about. Germany put up a good fight, mainly through their Chasers, but after a fair few hours of play, the Peruvian Seeker just pipped Klaus to the Snitch. Klaus looked devastated, and not for the first time I felt a pang of sympathy for Seekers, who often didn’t get the praise they deserved when their team won, and yet were far too easily blamed for losses.
The match was, for me, another eye-opener. The atmosphere created by the fans in this must-win contest was electric, and completely infectious. The German fans, driven not by expectation but by hope, remained supportive of their players even after they had lost, and their cheers as the team did one last lap of the pitch were the loudest of the day. The Peruvians, meanwhile, only truly relaxed once their team’s progress was ensured. Throughout the match they’d demonstrated a huge range of emotions, and I dreaded to think how that might have manifested itself had their team lost.
The English fans would be just the same at our match. I didn’t fancy exploring what happened when expectant fans were presented with a disappointing outcome.
“Brazil are easily beatable.” Demelza’s voice rang out in the changing room. “That’s not to say we’ll beat them easily. Bulgaria were too complacent, and look what happened to them. So I don’t want to see any complacency out there. Yes, Brazil had a blinder against Bulgaria, but every single one of Bulgaria’s players let themselves down last week. Their Chasers and Keeper didn’t create a comfortable situation for their Seeker to work from, their Seeker in turn didn’t catch the Snitch quickly enough, and their Beaters didn’t break up Brazil’s play enough.
“So. Chasers, you’re going to assert yourselves on this game as quickly and as completely as possible, to the point where I don’t want to see that Quaffle in the hands of any of their players. If they do get the Quaffle, it is not to go anywhere near our hoops. They are going to be sent scattering by those Bludgers. And if their Seeker ends this match, you guys won’t know what’s hit you. And that’s before the fans and the media get hold of you.”
She’d adopted the fear tactic before, but not this strongly. And admittedly, this was probably the place for it. Against tougher teams a more delicate approach would be needed, but against a team we could easily beat, a team that had arguably gotten lucky from a fluke result, it was the fear of losing that had driven us on in training all week, and that would continue to drive us on for the match’s duration.
Not that it was the only motivating factor. We didn’t even need to leave the changing room to hear the noise from the crowd outside in the stands.
And when we headed out to the pitch, it was to be hit by a wall of sound, louder and more passionate than anything I’d heard before. The stands were a sea of white and red, yellow and green. Banners, flags and scarves were held aloft, opposing chants intermingling with each other’s, fighting to be heard. I knew Mum and Dad were somewhere in the stand, along with Albus, Lily, Carlotta and whoever else had managed to secure tickets for the most anticipated England match in over a decade.
I hadn’t even started at Hogwarts the last time we’d made a World Cup quarter-final, and even then it had been more fluke than anything else. This time, we’d been almost expected to make it this far. And now that we had, it was clear the supporters were beginning to hope, beginning to dream, that we could go further, make the semis, make the final, maybe even win the tournament...
We had to win this match. For the supporters. They’d been let down for too long now, and it was about time they were given something to cheer about.
We shook hands with the opposition as was customary, then assembled on our brooms, fifty or so feet above the referee and the crate of balls. And then the balls were released, and the biggest game of my career yet was under way.
I fumbled the Quaffle on my first touch. Of course I did. It seemed to be becoming a habit of mine in important matches. Luckily, Tamsin recovered it and proceeded to pass straight back to me, and this time I caught it without trouble. My stomach was still bubbling with nerves, but I didn’t feel like I was about to capitulate as I’d done before.
It soon became clear that Brazil’s win against Bulgaria hadn’t just been a fluke. Their team was playing incredibly well; they’d clearly been training immensely hard for this.
But so had we. And finally, finally, I was playing as part of a Chaser trio that operated smoothly. Our varying strengths all complimented each other’s perfectly; in fact, we felt like a more balanced three than any other Chasers I’d played with, and I’d spent three seasons thinking no trio was better than Della, Ryan and me. Of course, we made a couple of mistakes along the way, but that was only to be expected in our first match together. If the mistakes had all been mine, it might have bothered me, but when the most experienced player in the tournament was making occasional slip-ups it eased the guilt slightly.
We won by two-hundred-and-seventy points. For a few moments after the match had finished, I felt absolutely on top of the world. But it didn’t take long for me to come back down to earth. After all, winning our quarter-final meant we had a spot in the semi-finals. The pressure just kept on mounting.
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