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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 58 : fifty-eight
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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“Are you nervous?” Carlotta asked gently.

I raised an eyebrow at her.

“Don’t give me that look, it doesn’t suit you,” she said lightly, tapping my nose.

“Well, that’s the kind of look you get when you ask me a stupid question.”

“So, you’re nervous.” She paused. “What about?”

Now she really was asking stupid questions.

“Have you been taking crazy pills?” I asked.

“I’m always on crazy pills,” she quipped. “Point is. You’re nervous about the Quidditch, right?”

“You know, slow doesn’t suit you,” I said drily.

“But are you nervous about playing the semi?” she continued. “Or about whether you’ll be picked in the first place?”

I hated it when she did that.

“You’re far too perceptive for your own good,” I scowled, messing up her hair.

It was Monday, two days after our win. Russia versus Luxembourg, the last quarter-final, was on the television in the background, but I wasn’t really paying any attention to it. The result didn’t matter; not in the immediate future anyway. The winners of this game would play Ireland, who to my immense delight had beaten Uruguay in a seven-hour thriller.

We were to play Peru, at Puddlemere in five days’ time. Peru were the highest-seeded team left in the tournament. England hadn’t reached a World Cup semi-final in generations. We couldn’t have been dealt a much harder challenge.

In fact, it would be so hard that part of me was wondering if I even wanted to play in the match. I knew it was stupid to think like that, as being forced to sit on the sidelines at this stage would be sheer agony, but I was beginning to feel the weight of the country’s expectations on my shoulders. Now I didn’t get the Prophet, I couldn’t see how much coverage it was giving the World Cup, but Brigid had told me that it was well and truly both front and back page news by now. Besides, even without an active Prophet subscription, I could see how the Quidditch channels were focussing on England. Half the reason I wasn’t paying any attention to the current match was that the commentators didn’t seem to be either; they hadn’t stopped talking about England throughout the coverage. I’d muted it after ten minutes.

“Do you think you’ll get picked?” Carlotta continued.

“Do you think I’ll get picked?” I retorted.

“I don’t know a thing about Quidditch...”

“You know enough. Do you think I’ll get picked?”

“Well, yes, of course-”

“Of course you’re going to say that, you’d hardly tell me I won’t-”

She sighed. “You are hopeless, James Potter.”

She got up and headed to Cordelia’s cage. As soon as she took the pygmy puff out of the cage, the room filled with a loud, contented purring. She returned to me and dumped Cordelia on my lap. I smiled slightly, and stroked Cordelia with one finger, as Carlotta curled up next to me.

“I may not know much about Quidditch,” she continued, “but I do know you played well last weekend. And I also know everyone's saying you should play next weekend and not McLaggen. Surely that’s enough to reassure you?”

“I don’t want to assume I’m playing, though,” I pointed out.

“So instead you assume you won’t? Great idea.” She smiled slightly and kissed my cheek, then reached a hand out to run her fingers through Cordelia’s fur.

“I’m not assuming anything,” I pointed out. “I just ... don’t want to get my hopes up over something that might not happen.”

“You honestly think McLaggen will play against Peru?”

I wouldn’t play him, but I don’t pick the team.”

“Well, for what it’s worth I wouldn’t play him.” She paused. “What will you do after the Cup? People are talking about going abroad; I’ve heard mentions of Australia...”

“I won’t go to Australia,” I said. “Brigid reckons I’ve had offers, but I don’t want to go that far away. I’m thinking somewhere in Europe, a bit closer to home; I don’t think the other side of the world is a good idea. If you’re lucky, I’ll let you come and visit...”

“And if you’re lucky,” she said, with a smirk, “I might even take you up on that offer.”

***

To my surprise – and delight – Ryan popped round during the week.

“Well done against Uruguay,” I congratulated him, “that looked a tough game.”

“You have no idea.” He grimaced. “You guys did damn well against Brazil as well, especially when you think of their form lately.”

“We’d have been in the doghouse if we’d lost that one,” I agreed. “Butterbeer?”

“It’s about all we can drink these days,” he said grudgingly.

It was only once we’d settled down with a Butterbeer each that the reason for Ryan’s visit began to become apparent.

“Have you decided not to go outside Europe after the Cup?” he asked.

“Yeah, I have,” I admitted. “I figured I’d be better off staying closer to home – you know, what with me and Dad, and ... and stuff.”

“Carlotta, you mean.” It wasn’t a question.

“Yeah, basically.” I smiled wryly. “I don’t know where we are or where we’re going, exactly, but I think going to the other side of the world would probably kill it off pretty quickly, and I don’t fancy that just yet.”

“It might not...” Ryan began.

“But it might,” I finished. “And what with international travel being so complex, I figured it’s not worth it. I’ll play somewhere in Europe, that’ll be enough for me. Why do you ask?”

He shifted slightly in his seat.

“I’ve been offered a short-term deal with the Thunderers,” he said tentatively.

“That sounds good,” I said approvingly. The Australian team had just won their domestic league.

“There’s a catch, though,” he said. “It’s a joint deal. They...” He hesitated for a moment. “They want both me and Della. Apparently they wanted you too, but they’d heard you weren’t interested in a deal from somewhere so far away, so figured they wouldn’t bother approaching you...”

“Really?” I frowned. “That’s odd, I don’t think I’ve said anything to Brigid yet...” I shrugged. “Anyway, I don’t see where the catch is. You and Della are awesome together, of course they’re going to want you both.”

“Yes, but...” He sighed. “I guess I kind of hoped a winter away from her might ... might help things, you know? And instead, we’re both going to be there...”

I frowned slightly.

“Look ... I know you’re worried about affecting the team dynamic and stuff, but ... maybe you just need to say something to her?” I suggested. “You know her, you know she won’t take it badly, regardless of how she feels-”

“I can’t say anything,” he interrupted. “How ... how stupid would that sound? And I don’t want to ruin this for her; she’s so excited at the thought of playing abroad for a few months, the last thing she needs is me coming along and marring the whole experience.”

“You won’t mar it, don’t be daft,” I said, suppressing an eye roll. “Look, if it bothers you that much, why not just turn the offer down?”

“Because if I don’t go, she can’t go, and I’m not going to pull a chance like this out from under her feet. I’ll do it; I’ll go. It’ll make her happy, and Merlin knows if I can do anything that makes her happy then...” He tailed off, his thoughts clearly running away with him.

“Don’t you think it’s about time you started making yourself happy?” I suggested. “I get that actually talking to Della about this is probably really daunting, but ... well, it’s a win-win situation. Either she confesses her undying love for you, or she ... well, doesn’t ... but at least you’d know. Wouldn't it be better than just sitting around here assuming, and making decisions based on her when ... well, shouldn’t you be putting yourself first when it comes to your career?”

“It’s not that easy when a no from me means she can’t play for the Thunderers either though, is it? If it was me and you, and I knew you wanted to go, I’d say yes for your sake too. It’s not as though I have anything to lose Quidditch-wise by going, because I do want to play abroad for a bit, and the Thunderers are a damn good team. I want to say yes, I just...”

“Does she want to play for the Thunderers?” I asked.

“She wants Australia, doesn’t she? With this, she gets Australia. It’s just, she gets me there as well...”

“Why don't you talk to her about the contract and whether you both want to sign it?” I felt as though I was talking to an eight-year old. “There's no point panicking about it if she's already read and binned it, is there? Then you can work things out based on her reaction to the idea of you both going. For what it’s worth, if I were in your shoes I’d just tell her you like her-”

“Yes, but you’re not exactly backwards in coming forwards when it comes to girls, are you?”

“That doesn’t count; any girl I’ve gotten with since Hogwarts has been a fleeting thing where I didn’t care about the girl in question. Even when I first got with Carlotta, that was only for fun. Things like that are a lot easier when you don’t care about the outcome. But if I really liked a girl, and especially if I thought keeping quiet about it would affect my Quidditch, I’d just bite the bullet and say something.”

“And what happens when she freaks out?” Ryan retorted.

“You know she’s not the kind of girl to do that. She wouldn’t be your type if she was, would she?”

“But it’ll change things between us...”

“Yes, you could end up with a few more kids than you had in mind. What if you never told her, and it turned out she’d liked you all along and thought you weren’t interested so she moved on? You’d hate yourself for it.”

“I know.” He sighed and stared morosely at his bottle of Butterbeer. “I just ... don’t like the thought of having to face her when she tells me she’s not interested.”

“Don’t do it face-to-face, then,” I suggested. “Write her a letter. Chicks dig that kind of thing-”

“She won’t ‘dig’ it if she’s not interested, James!”

“You never know,” I shrugged, “it might make her interested. If she’s not already, of course.”

He chewed on his lip for a moment.

“After the World Cup,” he said. “Once that’s all over ... then I’ll talk to her. Then I’ll tell her.” He looked sick to the stomach at the thought.

I just hoped that luck was on his side.

***

In the end, there was no debate over who would face Peru. Cleo had well and truly delivered on her promise, and sent McLaggen flying off his broom during practice with a superbly-hit Bludger. The blow was enough for Demelza to send him straight to St Mungo’s – I only hoped Allegra Fawcett wasn’t the poor Healer who had to deal with him. International rules stated that any player hospitalised for such an injury was to be sidelined for a week, so Demelza had no choice but to play me with Emily and Tamsin whether she wanted to or not. Not that she looked too perturbed by the situation.

“Oh, you were always going to play, Jim, this just means McLaggen can’t moan about it,” Emily Wood said confidently.

Freddie seemed to agree with her.

“Of course she was going to pick you, you idiot,” he said on the eve of the match, not even trying to hide his eye-roll. “Tell him, Brie.”

Brigid smiled.

“He is right,” she agreed. “But I’m not about to call you an idiot to get my point across.”

“Well, honestly,” Freddie said. “McLaggen? You’d have to be an idiot to pick him after your performances, Jim.”

“You wouldn’t have him in the squad if you had your way,” I pointed out.

“So?” he shrugged. “Maybe you need to start believing in your own hype. You’re the only person who doesn’t think you’re guaranteed to play. Don’t you think that says something?”

“That people don’t like McLaggen?” I volunteered.

“That you’re better than him,” Freddie insisted. He sighed, and threw his hands back behind his head. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s match. Should be a good one.”

“Should be a long one,” I added, wincing.

“Which of your parents is stuck in the shop this time?” Brigid asked Freddie.

“Neither of them,” he replied. “They don’t get any business during the matches anyway, people are too busy watching them themselves. Besides, they couldn’t come to an agreement; they both wanted to work tomorrow.”

I frowned.

“I would have thought they'd both want to see the match...”

“Ah, but what they both realised, and you haven’t, is that whoever worked tomorrow would be able to turn round next weekend and call turns, and go to the final. So they’ve decided to stay shut for the next two weekends instead.”

Whatever the following day’s outcome might be, the Weasley clan would be out in force at the final. We had enough contacts at the Ministry and beyond, to get tickets for all of us, plus a few extras, to watch the final from various executive boxes. If England weren’t involved in the final, then I’d be watching the match with Mum, Dad, Albus and Lily, in a box provided by one of the Auror department’s biggest donors. Uncle Ron had also been given tickets for the same box, but apparently Rose wouldn’t be with them; she’d been offered a ticket for the Top Box, to watch the match with Scorpius Malfoy and his parents. She still hadn’t met them as Scorpius’ girlfriend, and she was understandably petrified – but the lure of the Top Box had been too much for her to turn down.

By all accounts Dad had been offered Top Box tickets but he had turned them down; while they’d offered him as many as ten tickets, he’d reasoned that it wouldn’t be fair if we couldn’t all watch from there. We’d be in separate boxes as it was, but at least we’d all be adjacent to each other.

But I was trying not to think about the final, and so I was glad when Freddie changed the subject.

“Actually, while we’re on the topic of the shop...” He rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “Brie, I was wondering if ... well, if you could help me out with some job applications?”

She frowned, looking bemused.

Job applications? You’re not leaving the shop, are you?”

He shrugged.

“I’ve been wondering if maybe it’s time for me to get a proper job. I mean, I’ve been working at the shop since I left school, and all I do is serve behind the counter and restock the shelves. It’s not exactly the most adventurous of jobs, is it? I just figured, maybe I need to test myself a little bit more? But I don’t really know where to start, so I was hoping you could help me out. I’m not sure I’ve got much to offer, but I won’t get anywhere without trying...” He tailed off.

Brigid frowned slightly.

“You shouldn’t put yourself down so much,” she said. “I think you’ve got a lot to offer. You’re cleverer than you give yourself credit for, you’re resourceful – I mean, that was a great idea to set up stall at the Quidditch camp sites – and you’re very good with people. You just need to be a bit more self-motivated, that’s all. I think you’d be a great catch for anyone.”

I could see where this conversation was likely to lead, and so got up to take our dinner plates out to the kitchen.

“I think you see more in me than you should,” Freddie said quietly. He was frowning.

“I don’t,” she said firmly. “I really don’t.”

It was testament to how much they both trusted me that neither put an Imperturbable Charm on the kitchen door once I’d shut it behind me. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t expect me to eavesdrop, more that while they wouldn’t have such a personal conversation in my presence, it didn’t concern them that I might still be within earshot.

I wasn’t too sure what it said about me that I was standing the other side of the kitchen door with an Extendable Ear, but I didn’t dwell too much on that.

“You know, it really doesn’t bother me, Fred,” Brigid continued quietly. “So you’ve got insecurities? We all have them, Merlin knows I do at any rate. And look at James; everyone else in the country can see he’s England standard but he still worries. It’s okay to be nervous about stuff that matters...”

“I’ve told you, Brie,” he interrupted, “you deserve better. Besides, I’ve been a total dick recently, you shouldn’t even want to be having this conversation right now.”

“That’s the funny thing with feelings, isn’t it? They’re not always rational. Of course my brain’s telling me that you hurt me, and I shouldn’t forget that. But ... I know that in your head you had this stupid notion you were doing it all in my best interests, and ... well, that means something. Besides, isn’t it for me to decide if I think you’re good enough for me?”

I felt a proud grin spread across my face at Brigid’s words.

“But I’ll just cock things up like I always do, you know that,” Freddie protested, and I suppressed a groan. “And ... you mean too much to me for that, I don’t want to ruin what we have...”

“Freddie, things haven’t been the same since we left Hogwarts,” she reasoned; I found myself nodding in agreement on the other side of the door. “And ignoring everything that’s happened in that time won’t take us back there. I just want a chance, Fred, I ... I want to give you a chance, I want you to give yourself a chance. Why won’t you do that?”

“We’re not having this conversation, Brigid,” he said sharply.

There was a pause, during which I seriously contemplated banging my head against the wall in aggravation.

“I’m not dropping this, you know,” Brigid said quietly. “I refuse to let you believe you don’t deserve a shot at something you want. I’m not walking away from this.”

Her words sounded familiar. They sounded a lot like what I’d said to Carlotta, when she’d been adamant I somehow deserved more than her.

With any luck, Brigid would be as successful as I was.


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