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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 61 : sixty-one
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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On the morning of the first match of the League season, Mum had come to my flat to cook me breakfast. She did the same on the morning of the Final, but there were a few more people here this time.

Dad, Albus and Lily had all arrived with her, while Carlotta had stayed the night – she was here more often than not these days. Freddie turned up not long afterwards; I wasn’t sure if he’d been aware of the family breakfast, but Mum appeared to have been expecting him, as she’d put on seven eggs and fourteen rashers of bacon.

Uncle Ron and Aunt Hermione dropped by first to wish me luck. Aunt Hermione gave me a huge hug, and Uncle Ron shot me a wink and clapped my shoulder.

“Make sure you win, Jim, I’ve got a bet with Finnigan on this one.” He shot a furtive look at Aunt Hermione as he whispered this to me, giving me the impression she wasn’t aware of the bet.

Rose and Scorpius were next. Albus bristled ever so slightly as they arrived; apparently he and Scorpius weren’t quite at the friendly stage yet. Dad placed a hand on Al’s shoulder to calm him down.

 “We’ve got to sit with him in the Top Box later, Al,” Lily pointed out once he and Rose had left. “You can’t give him the cold shoulder all day.”

“I don’t have to sit next to him though,” Albus pointed out.

“I hope Hugo doesn’t feel left out, what with you two and Rose in the Top Box,” Carlotta spoke up. “Wasn’t he meant to be watching it from the same box as you?”

“Oh, he’ll be fine." Lily waved a hand airily. “Maddie and Kit are in with them, and I think the Longbottoms have tickets for that box too. Trust me, he won’t even notice we’re not there.”

Freddie snickered.

Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur arrived with Louis in tow; Mum nearly fainted to see him out in public before nine in the morning.

“Nana Molly’s coming!” Louis pronounced. “She’s in with us!”

Lily squealed with joy, and Freddie and Albus both grinned happily. Nana Molly didn’t like Quidditch, so it was a mark of her devotion to the family that she was coming to watch me play. Aunt Fleur smiled fondly at her son; he still tried to act aloof round the family, but even he couldn’t hide his excitement at Nana Molly’s presence.

“I expect Victoire will be glad of another pair of hands to help with the kids,” Albus said.

“That’s why she’s coming with us, I think,” Uncle Bill said. “That, and she doesn’t fancy being in the box with George and Perce.”

I snickered. The family was spread across three boxes; Dad and Uncle Ron’s branches in one, Uncle Bill’s in another with Uncle Charlie and, now, Nana Molly and Grandpa Arthur – and, therefore, Uncle George and Uncle Percy’s families in the third. Freddie looked pleased to be escaping it.

Other relatives continued to drop by. Teddy brought well-wishes from his grandmother Andromeda. Maddie and Kit arrived shortly after breakfast was finished; they’d be going to the stadium with Mum and Dad, and didn’t seem at all bothered that Lily wasn’t watching the match with them. Della also popped by, though she looked rather torn as she naturally wanted Ryan to do well.

Even Allegra Fawcett turned up to wish me luck, though she looked incredibly sheepish when I opened the door, and even more so when she saw the family members behind me. Albus smiled and waved at her though, and she left looking slightly happier.

But the sweetest moment of all was when Nana Molly herself arrived, and pulled me into one of her warm, comforting hugs.

“I’ll be cheering loud enough for two grandmothers, darling,” she whispered to me.

I closed my eyes and buried my head in her shoulder. It was a much harder feat now than it had been ten or so years ago, when I’d been shorter than her. I breathed in her soothing Nana-Molly-scent, which went some way to calming the nerves that had been bubbling away all morning.

“They’d be so proud of you right now,” she added.

“Do you really think so?” I lifted my head to look at her.

She took my face in her hands, and stood on tiptoes to kiss my forehead.

“I know so, sweetie." She smiled at me fondly. “I’m more proud of you than words can say, and I always will be.”

I had to duck away at that point, to hide my tears.

Grandpa Arthur also had a few words to say.

“I always knew I’d get to watch a Weasley play Quidditch for England one day." He beamed. Having Dad’s surname didn’t stop me from being a Weasley. “Admittedly I once thought it’d be your Uncle Charlie, then your mother, but with this much talent running in the family, it was inevitable it would happen someday. And now look! One grandchild in England colours, and a second on the way.”

There was something wonderful about family support. They wanted me to win; of course they did. Not only were we a family of England supporters, but my family always backed me, no matter whose colours I wore. Even Uncle Ron cheered on the Falcons against the Cannons these days.

But I knew that if I lost today, my family would be no less proud of me. And that kind of support was more reassuring than I ever could have imagined. The support and attention from the public was stifling, but this – knowing I had a strong support base who’d be there for me through thick and thin – helped take some of the pressure off.

Once breakfast was cleared away and the rest of the Weasley clan had come and gone, we Apparated to the campsite by the Quidditch stadium. As a player, my Apparition pass would allow me direct access to the changing rooms – the stadium was protected from general public Apparition for obvious reasons.

But I wanted to walk to the stadium with everyone else. I wasn’t entirely sure why – after all, just seeing the supporters reminded me of what I was about to be a part of, and that wasn’t an entirely comforting feeling.  But the atmosphere was something I’d never experienced before, and there was no chance of me missing out on it.

Of course we were noticed as we walked in. Dad was noticed everywhere he went, and we were a conspicuous group. Albus and Freddie flanked me, so nobody could get too close, but supporters called out their good luck wishes, and in the case of the Irish, asked me not to win. It was all in good spirit though; that was the way with the magical community.

And one thing was for certain; there were a lot of Irish supporters. This was a home final for England, and there were hoards of white and red amongst the masses, but there was also a large Irish community in Britain and yet more had come across the sea especially for the tournament. I suspected once we were in the stadium, it wouldn’t feel much like home soil at all.

Once we reached the stadium, it was time to split from my family and head to the players’ entrance. Mum and Dad both hugged me, Mum kissing my forehead. Maddie ruffled my hair, Kit punched my arm, and the four of them headed off for their box.

“World Cup final, eh?” Albus said. “Who’d have thought, when we were in Gryffindor practice sessions, that we’d be watching you play here three years later?”

“Pretty surreal, huh?” I smiled weakly.

“Enjoy it.” He grinned back at me. “Win or lose, make sure you enjoy every minute of today, because it’s not an opportunity you get every day, and if you don’t savour the moment, you’ll regret it. I mean, winning would be nice as well,” he added, “but don’t get too caught up in it all.”

My smile widened slightly.

“Thanks, bro,” I said. “You’re alright, you know.”

Lily tutted.

Boys,” she said, stepping forwards to wrap me in a hug. “Well done, Jimmy.”

“Well done? The game’s not even started yet!”

“For getting here, you dolt.” She mimed smacking me round the head. “This is what you’ve always wanted, and I know how hard you’ve worked for it. Al’s right; enjoy the moment. You deserve it, you really do.”

“Thanks, Mini Potter.” I flicked her lightly on her cheek.

Carlotta didn’t say anything, simply stepping forwards and kissing me. She didn’t need to say anything, and neither did I.

Freddie went to speak, but he was interrupted by a cry of “Jimmy!” and a flash of blonde. And then Brigid was there, throwing her arms round me and burying her head in my shoulder.

“Good luck,” she whispered.

Another pair of arms enveloped us both, and Freddie’s musky scent intermingled with Brigid’s flowery perfume. For a moment I was transported back to our Hogwarts days, when the thought of playing for England had been one of my wildest dreams. Freddie and Brigid had believed in me more than anyone else, and no words could do justice to how much that meant to me. So I said nothing, and just hugged them both as tightly as possible.

All too soon, Brigid pulled away, and without another word, left as quickly as she’d come.

That was the cue for everyone else, and so, with one last smile, the four of them headed off up the stairs to the Top Box.

And I headed towards the changing rooms, to prepare for the biggest match of my life.

***

“At least there won’t be mascots,” Cleo murmured. “Imagine those leprechauns of the Irish causing havoc everywhere.”

It had been a long tradition that the World Cup finalists would bring mascots, symbolising their national identity, but it had been banned by the International Quidditch Committee eight years ago,  after the final between Bulgaria and Transylvania. Bulgaria had brought along their Veela, and Transylvania provided some particularly feral vampires. Needless to say, things got a little bit messy; it had taken countless officials to split the mascots up and with thousands of spectators injured, the game had nearly been called off. Broadcasters had pulled the live feed completely at the time, and to this day half an hour of the match couldn’t be shown by the Quidditch Channel in repeats.

I was certainly relieved that wasn’t going to be a problem today. I had enough to think about as it was.

“We’ve done well, guys,” Tamsin spoke up. “Really well. And whatever happens today, this has been one of the best experiences of my life.”

A murmur of assent went up around the changing room.

“Hear, hear,” Michael said loudly, as Cato nodded.

We didn’t have a pep talk today. None of us needed to be told what this meant, how big winning a World Cup was. None of us needed to be told we were in it as a team, win or lose. We’d been together for the last six weeks, working our hardest to get to this point. Now, it was all about what we did on that pitch. We all knew we had to play our hearts out, fight to the end and never give up. That was the kind of ethos any Quidditch player had to have; it wasn’t something that could be drummed into you ten minutes before a match. It was the ethos which made or broke players.

It was the ethos that could see us lifting the World Cup.

With five minutes to go, Demelza propped open the changing room door. The almighty roar from outside hit us with a force I didn’t think possible. Cato got to his feet and swung his arms round. Michael closed his eyes and started practicing imaginary saves. Jessica, who as Seeker, was far and away under the most pressure, took deep breaths in and out, in and out.

I gripped Fiona the Firebolt tightly. We’d come a long way together, she and I.

The commentator in the stadium was beginning to ramp up the atmosphere – as if the crowd needed encouragement. And then, all too soon, he was announcing the teams.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for the Irish National Quidditch Team!”

We got to our feet, ready to head out to the stadium after them.

“O’Hare! Murphy!” My stomach twinged. “Quigley! O’Sullivan! Lynch! Lynch! And Kiely!”

 The crowd roared even louder.

It was our turn. We got in line, and Michael led us out of the changing room, down the corridor that led to the pitch. He mounted his broom, and we followed suit.

“And now, let’s hear it for the English National Quidditch Team! Wood! Robins! Wood! Potter! Bagman! Bagman! And Birch!”

I kicked off after Emily, following her along the corridor – and into the stadium.

I could barely hear myself think, such was the intensity of the cheering. There was white and red and green everywhere, cheering and screaming intermingled with the national anthems which played from the flags sold before the game. The large scoreboard read, “IRELAND: ZERO, ENGLAND: ZERO.”

The stage was set.

We lined up, fifty foot in the air, waiting for the referee to emerge with the box of balls. The Irish hovered opposite us.

It was an incredibly daunting – and horribly familiar – line-up that faced us. Brianna Kiely of the Kestrels was Ireland’s Seeker; three years older than me, she’d played against me in Hufflepuff colours at Hogwarts. Her club team-mate Aiden O’Hare was Keeper; he’d left Hogwarts three months before I started and had been a stalwart on Hufflepuff’s team. The Lynches I was all too familiar with.

Then there were my direct opponents, the Chasers. Aisling Quigley and Fiona O’Sullivan, the Lynches’ teammates at the Bats, had also played for Ravenclaw together and were a formidable duo.

And Ryan.

I’d played my first game alongside him at the age of twelve. We’d played together for four school years straight. And then fresh out of Hogwarts, I’d played my first professional game alongside him. In the more than fifty matches I’d played for the Falcons, I’d only played without him once. We’d always been on the same team, always supported the same team, always wanted each other to win unconditionally.

I’d never played a game against him before.

And now here we were, on opposing sides, in the World Cup final. The biggest match a Quidditch player could play, and my mentor, my most regular teammate, one of my closest friends, wasn’t only not on my side, he was playing against me. If I was to win, he had to lose. For the first time ever, we were going for a Quidditch Cup we couldn’t both win.

I knew he wanted this more than anything. And I hated the thought of being the one to get in his way. That I had to get in his way, stop him from achieving one of his biggest dreams, if I were to achieve my own.

That was the hardest thing about Quidditch. Not the training. Not the playing. Not the injuries, or the mental pressures, or the media attention. It was the camaraderie that came from being such a close-knit group within such a close-knit society, and the reality that if you personally wanted to win, you sometimes had to throw your friends’ aspirations on the fire in order to achieve your own. I didn’t give a damn about the Lynches, but Aisling and Brianna were two of my closest friends on the circuit, and Ryan meant the absolute world to me. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing them on the losing side.

But my teammates were relying on me, and I couldn’t let them down. We’d become such a close bunch, and I knew every single one of them would be putting their bodies on the line for me. For all of us. We played and fought as a team, and we would win or lose as a team. Today wasn’t about Ryan; it couldn’t be about him. It was about Tamsin, Emily, Cleo, Cato and the rest of my England teammates.

Quidditch meant being ruthless. And today, I would have to be just that.

The referee strode onto the pitch, and set the balls down in the centre circle. My stomach twisted as he kicked the box open. The Snitch shot out; Jessica and Brianna both watched its path, but it was gone in a flash.

The Bludgers were released, and the Quaffle thrown up into the air. Then the referee kicked off into the air, and blew his whistle –and the game began.

Michael shot off to our posts, Aidan O’Hare speeding off in the opposite direction. The Bagmans and Lynches fought for control of the Bludgers. Jessica and Brianna shot upwards. And the six of us Chasers dove for the Quaffle.

Ireland liked sending Ryan in for the ball. He was by far the biggest of the Chasers, and could nudge smaller players out of the way as though they weren’t even there.

So Tamsin and Emily had gallantly decided to send me into the fray.

It was no use diving in half-heartedly. If I wanted to win this first contest, I was going to have to show some intent. So I angled my broom, crouched down low over the handle – both to increase speed and to give Ryan less to aim at – and flew.

We reached the Quaffle at the same time, and I suppressed a groan as he slammed into me. I wasn’t going to let him know it had hurt.

But despite the contact, I’d managed to get my fingers to the ball first. He reached out a split-second later, but determined not to give him even the slightest chance of snatching it from me, I tucked the Quaffle under my arm and dropped, swooping under him – he was fast on a broom, but I was more agile, and by the time he’d changed direction, I was away, and the ball was in Tamsin’s hands.

It didn’t stay with her for long; in a matter of seconds she’d passed to Emily, who passed back to me. As Aisling headed towards me, I dropped it down to Tamsin, who was flying across the pitch below me. Emily flew over my head, and Tamsin feigned a pass to her. Fiona shot across to intercept, but the pass never came, and Tamsin threw the Quaffle back to me-

Ryan collided with me, knocking the air out of my lungs and snatching the Quaffle before it reached me. He looped round and headed  towards our posts, Aisling and Fiona hot on his heels. I swore, as I spun on the spot and stormed up the pitch after them. He passed to Aisling, who passed straight back to him as a Bludger headed her way; he threw the ball out to Fiona, who ducked Emily’s attempted block and passed to Aisling. Tamsin got there first, and we all spun in the air once more. She passed to me, just as one of the Lynches hit a Bludger in my direction. Cato batted it away, directing it towards Ryan, and leaving me free to speed up, my eyes on the posts ahead.

I could sense Aisling and Fiona closing in from either side of me, but that didn’t concern me; they were both far lighter than me, and I knew I could easily duck them too. I waited until they were within touching distance, then dropped, swooping underneath Aisling and throwing the Quaffle up; Emily shot above me, collecting it under her arm, and I swerved to the right to avoid the Bludger which one of the Lynches had aimed at me just a fraction too late.

By now the Quaffle was back with Tamsin, and she was clear to aim at the posts. She aimed for the right post – but O’Hare was too good to fall for it, and he saved her eventual throw towards the left post with ease.

I was out of breath already, and we’d barely been playing for thirty seconds.

The game continued in much the same vein, with neither Chaser attack able to gain an ascendency over the other. When either unit did manage to create something, it was broken up by the Bludgers. If we managed to make it to the Irish posts, O’Hare stopped us scoring and Michael was proving just as successful at the other end of the pitch.

But finally a goal was scored  – and it came from Aisling.

“Don’t panic,” Tamsin said breathlessly, as we took advantage of the small break in play to come together. “That was a good feint ... O’Hare would’ve fallen for it too ... we’re keeping up with them, we’ll pull level...”

And we did, not two minutes later, thanks to Emily’s forceful throw, which grazed O’Hare’s fingertips on its way through the right post.

So far, it was a relatively tame match, with no fouls or dirty play. Yes, there had been a few collisions, but they hadn’t been deliberate Blatches, so the referee had let it slide.

But the Lynches clearly decided this wasn’t enough, and moments later Eoin smacked the Quaffle from Tamsin’s hands with his bat. From the look on her face, I was certain he caught her fingers too. She gritted her teeth, but didn't make a sound.

Fiona was below her, but made no move to catch the Quaffle, clearly disapproving of her teammate’s tactic. The referee blew his whistle sharply, signalling a penalty to us.

I met Tamsin and Emily in the air, looking expectantly towards Tamsin, who always took our penalties – but she was looking back at me, shaking her head even as I opened my mouth to speak.

“You’ve got to take it, Jim. I can’t feel my bloody fingers.”

My eyes widened, and I looked across at Emily.

“You’re a better shot one-on-one than I am,” she said. “You take it. O’Hare’s favouring his right, so aim for the right hoop. You’ll be fine.” She deftly caught the Quaffle that Ryan punted in our direction, and handed it to me.

I took a deep breath, as I glanced down at the red ball in my hands. If I scored, we’d go a goal ahead, and I’d plant the smallest seed of doubt into O’Hare’s head. If I missed this, my first shot of the game, I’d be the one worrying. If I scored, the English supporters would liven up even more. If I missed, the Irish supporters wouldn’t let me forget it.

The pressure was on.

I swallowed, and wheeled round to face the Irish posts. I flew forwards, taking my position in front of O’Hare. The noise of the crowd seemed to escalate in my ears, as I felt every single eye upon me.

The referee blew his whistle.

I flew forwards, aiming for the right post. O’Hare followed me, but then I lunged left; he fell for the double-bluff, leaving the right post unguarded. The Quaffle passed through it with ease, and I let out a sigh of relief.

“POTTER SCORES!” I heard the commentator tell the crowd. “Twenty-ten to England...”

We didn’t hold our lead for long. Ryan punched past our defence and threw the Quaffle just as Feargus hit a Bludger straight at Michael. Faced with a choice between letting the Quaffle through the posts and being smacked square in the face, he took the sensible option.

And so we were level once more.

The game grew fiercer and wilder. Us Chasers weren’t likely to play dodgy, especially against a team we liked, but the Lynches had no such qualms, and the dirtier they got, the more Cato and Cleo retaliated. After all, they were Beaters, and once the blood started pumping they thrived on this sort of tactic.

Soon enough, they began targeting each other rather than the Chasers. At first it was just the Bludgers they were using, but it didn’t take them long to realise it was easier to just use their bats. Within the space of a few minutes, Ireland were awarded three penalties, two scored and one saved, and we were awarded five. I took the first two, and scored with my first but missed with my second. Tamsin took the other three, having regained full use of her fingers, and scored two, but O’Hare saved the last. It left us ten points ahead.

Which didn’t last long.

It hadn’t occurred to us that the Lynches might try to use the Bagmans’ tactic against them. I wasn’t sure how it had happened, but somehow Eoin and Feargus managed to take possession of both Bludgers at the same time. They both swung within moments of each other, and it was obvious where they were headed, but Cleo couldn’t dodge them both; the first missed her, but the second sent her flying off her broom.

Cato roared with fury and headed towards Eoin, who was closer to him. He seemed to have forgotten he had a bat, instead sinking his fists into Eoin’s face. I swore loudly, turning sharply and speeding towards Cato. Ryan followed suit, and together we managed to pull him away.

“Leave it, mate,” Ryan said, panting, “don’t lose your head, you’ll just give away a load of penalties...”

The referee had blown his whistle to halt the game, and mediwizards headed up to tend to Eoin, whose nose was most definitely broken. A larger group were on the ground surrounding Cleo; I wasn’t sure if she’d fallen all the way or if they’d managed to break her fall.

The crowd was jeering loudly. The English were clearly incensed at the Lynches taking Cleo out – even if it was a legal move, it was one of those tactics that was unsportsmanlike unless your team benefited from it. The Irish were just as angry at Cato’s reaction. Unfortunately for us, that was most definitely not legal, and, as Ryan had said, the referee would penalise us for it.

He glanced across at me, and I shot him an appreciative smile. I probably wouldn’t have been strong enough to pull Cato away by myself, and Ryan had had every right to leave him get into further trouble – after all, the more penalties Cato gave away, the better for Ireland. And I was sure Ryan enjoyed watching Eoin being beaten to a pulp just as much as I might have in a different situation. But he’d come to our rescue anyway, and by the looks of things, he was almost as concerned as I was about Cleo.

But I knew there would be a part of him that felt relieved. We were now a Beater down, and that left Cato with a huge amount to do. It certainly gave Ireland the upper hand, especially given that they’d have the chance to take the lead through penalties before the game restarted.

I glanced around the pitch for Jess, who was still circling above us looking for the Snitch. We were now relying on her more than ever, because I couldn’t see us keeping level for very long now we were a Beater down.

Tamsin, Emily and Michael flew across to us, looking as concerned as I felt.

“Thanks, Murphy,” Michael said tensely, nodding at Ryan. He nodded back, and released Cato’s arm, giving him a pat on the shoulder, before leaving us to join Ireland’s huddle.

“Sorry, Wood,” Cato grunted. “I just saw red, you know? I mean, she’s my sister-”

“I know,” Michael interrupted. “It’s fine; they’ll probably get two for that, and I can save them both. It’s what happens afterwards I’m worried about. They’re going to target Jess, and there’s only you to stop them-”

“I can guard her,” he said.

Michael turned and shouted for Jess to join us. I frowned, and noticed Tamsin and Emily sharing a glance. Seekers hated being pulled into team huddles.

But Jess obliged, looking only slightly bothered.

Michael kept it short.

“The Lynches are going to try to take you out now. Do you want Cato to guard you, or can you dodge?”

She hesitated for a moment. I suspected she was balancing up all the factors. If Cato guarded her, he might get in the way of her Snitch hunt. But if he didn’t, she was going to be just as distracted by having to duck both Bludgers. The Lynches were probably going to all but sit on her, as they had no reason to be elsewhere.

If Cato guarded Jess, he couldn’t protect us. And if the Lynches took advantage of that, and managed to take one of us out, it would give the Irish the chance to pull away by enough goals that the Snitch capture didn’t matter. It was an awful position we found ourselves in.

“I think,” she said slowly, looking anything but happy with her answer, “I’m going to need shadowing.”

“We can manage without a Beater,” Tamsin agreed. “Us Chasers aren’t that fragile, you know.”

Jess smiled feebly.

“I’ve got a plan,” Cato spoke up, his eyes flashing.

“Will it work?” Michael asked.

“I don’t know. It would be handy if it did, though.”

The referee blew his whistle, signalling the end of the time out.

“Whatever it is, give it a go,” Michael told Cato, as Jess sped off; she’d already spent too long away from her Snitch search. “But don’t take too long with it; we need a Seeker!”

Cato nodded, before turning sharply and heading off.

Michael glanced at me, Tamsin and Emily. We were all looking rather the worse for wear.

“Prepare to duck,” were his parting words to us, before he headed back to his posts to face the penalties.

He was right; Ireland were awarded two penalties. Aisling took the first, which he saved. But Fiona outwitted him with the second, leaving the scores equal.

Our teams, unfortunately, were rather less so.

Michael recovered the Quaffle and passed it back to me. I passed to Tamsin, but within moments there was yet another distraction. The best way to fire Cato up was apparently to threaten his sister. With a fire in his belly like nothing I’d ever seen from him before, he took possession of both Bludgers at once, and aimed two shots.

The first broke Feargus’ right arm with a sickening crack, forcing him to drop his bat as he let out a loud cry of pain. The second took the handle clean off Brianna’s broom, striking the wood where her hand had been only moments before. Both were left in the air, but Feargus had lost the use of his dominant arm, and Brianna now only had half a broom to steer and accelerate with. She was a fine flier, but even the best fliers could only do so much with a damaged broom.

The mediwizards weren’t allowed to fix Feargus up. They could stop bleeding, as they had with Eoin only moments before, and they could see to concussions, but they couldn’t fix injuries. So Feargus had to play on, and though he could still use his left arm, he had infinitely less power and control behind his hits. Combined with the damage done to Brianna’s broom, it was just enough to swing things back our way.

Tamsin passed to Emily, but Ryan intercepted it, shooting up the pitch towards Michael. Meanwhile, Eoin aimed a Bludger straight at Jess, but Cato was on hand just in time to deflect it; it shot across the posts in front of Michael just as Ryan aimed, and collided with the Quaffle. The Quaffle went spinning off in the opposite direction, and Tamsin deftly caught it, dodging Aisling and heading back up the pitch.

Cato and Eoin were soon consumed in a one-on-one battle, as Eoin tried to take out Jess and Cato tried to stop him. Feargus left them to it, focussing his attention on targeting us Chasers. His blows were easy to dodge; in fact they were as much trouble to his own players as to us.

And we just carried on, locked in a battle of attrition, neither team able to pull away from the other. If one team gained a lead, it wasn’t long before the other would equalise. We were all growing tired and beginning to show the signs of a long, hard, brutal match. It was proving to be one of the toughest matches I’d ever played in. But that was only to be expected, given this was the biggest Quidditch match in existence.

The first rule of Quidditch for any player other than the Seeker was to ignore the Seeker at all times. The game wasn’t over until the Snitch was caught, so to lose interest mid-match could cost points, and potentially the match itself. Even if the Seekers were engaged in the most intriguing of battles, nobody else was to look their way at the expense of their own responsibility.

But the World Cup had a funny ability to mess with one’s emotions, and when Jess and Brianna suddenly went into a perilously deep dive, all six of us Chasers ground to a complete halt. The Quaffle was forgotten, as our only concern was about the result of this contest, the biggest contest of them all. Ireland were now a single goal ahead, so the result of the match would come down to whichever Seeker could make it to the Snitch first.

If they were even chasing the Snitch.

Brianna had been in front, and was doing well to master her broom given that she was missing half of it, but Jess had far better speed and steering. Ever so slowly, she grew level; both stretched out their arm at the same time; it was impossible to see who had the advantage, or even where the Snitch was...

And then Jess threw her fist in the air triumphantly, the commentator bellowed that England had won, and the crowd exploded.

At first the only thing I could feel was relief, that the match was over. Even as I flew across to Jess, it still only felt as though we’d just won another game of Quidditch. Michael collided with her first, whooping and hollering. Tamsin and Emily crashed into them at the same time, and I reached them moments later; Emily squeezed me tightly, ruffling my hair.

The five of us sank to the ground as one. Cato had headed straight to the side of the pitch where Cleo was jumping up and down with glee. He landed, threw his broom to the side and ran the last few steps towards her, picking her up and swinging her round in celebration.

Demelza, the reserves, Keira and the rest of the coaches sprinted across to us. Keira pulled me into a huge hug, and it still didn’t sink in. Cato and Cleo finally joined the rest of us, Cleo looking unbalanced on her feet but utterly unperturbed by the fact, and still it didn’t feel real.

The English crowd had gone nuts. People were jumping around in the stands, screaming and shouting and singing. The Irish were applauding gracefully, but they seemed devastated. The Irish players had formed their own huddle, looking utterly dejected. Feargus Lynch was having his arm fixed by the mediwizards, and a couple of the others were having scratches seeing to.

But none of my teammates seemed to care about their scrapes. They’d began to form a circle, and then on either side of me, Jess and Emily each grabbed a hand, and the next thing I knew we were madly galloping around, screaming and whooping and laughing. Even McLaggen looked happy.

The commentator was talking again, but I couldn’t hear him, the noise on the pitch was too loud. It was only when Demelza shouted “The Cup, you need to get the Cup!” that I realised what was happening.

It was as though we’d forgotten we could fly there; we sprinted across the pitch to where the Irish team were filing up the stairs towards the Top Box. One by one, they were announced to the crowd, who cheered loudly in appreciation. I hollered as Ryan’s name was called out and heard Cato and Cleo do the same.

And then it was our turn. We were still running up the stairs as the commentator announced us, and the crowd grew louder still.

The Top Box was bathed with light, and filled with wonderfully familiar faces. Albus, Freddie and Rose were standing on their seats, bellowing out an amended version of the old Gryffindor chant that had always been sung during our matches at Hogwarts – they’d replaced ‘Gryffindor’ with ‘Eng-er-land’. Lily was sobbing; Carlotta had an arm around her shoulders and was grinning wildly. Even Scorpius Malfoy was jumping up and down on his seat, much to the apparent disgust of his father.

That was when it sank in; I’d just played in the World Cup Final, and England had won.

Michael took the Cup, and handed it straight to Jessica. She looked surprised, but held it aloft all the same; the cheers in the stadium grew explosively loud. She handed it to Tamsin, who also held it above her head, and then it was my turn, and all of a sudden I had in my hands the Holy Grail of Quidditch, the pinnacle of all wizarding sport and society, the Quidditch World Cup.

The cheers seemed louder still the moment I lifted the Cup. I wasn’t sure why; whether it was because of my performance against Peru, or an abundance of Falcons fans in the stadium, or most likely, because of my surname. It was the kind of thing that always bothered me, that should have bothered me now. But for once, as I stood here clutching the greatest prize of all, the culmination of months of hard work and wild emotions, I didn’t care a jot.


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