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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 62 : sixty-two
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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The official after-party was being held at – where else? – the Drunken Hinkypunk. It didn’t take us long to head there. Once we’d all lifted the Cup aloft, then done a few laps of honour round the pitch – Cleo on the back of Cato’s broom, Michael and Emily hand-in-hand, Jessica and Gregory Ellis holding an England flag between them, and Tamsin holding the Cup itself – we hurriedly showered and changed, then downed a Firewhisky or three each.

And then it was off to the Hinky, which was already heaving when we arrived. Not that that was surprising; my family in itself was large enough to fill the place.

Nana Molly was the first to reach me; I suspected she’d been lying in wait at the front door. She pulled me into a tearful hug, and seemed lost for words.

“I’m glad you came.” I hugged her back.

Grandpa Arthur was the next to congratulate me, with words, which was an improvement on Nana Molly, although his vocabulary seemed rather lessened than usual as well.

“World Cup winner!” he said triumphantly, clapping me on the shoulder. “Wonderful, just wonderful...”

I didn’t need them to tell me they were proud. It was radiating off them, and it was the most amazing feeling in the world.

“Come for dinner tomorrow.” Nana Molly finally found her voice. “We’ll have all the family around. Bring Carlotta too...”

I grinned, and hugged her again.

“I’m looking forward to it,” I said warmly.

They left after that; this wasn’t their scene. I was just touched they’d ventured to the Hinky in the first place.

Albus, Hugo and Louis were the next to get to me. Louis had an impeccable knack of navigating his way through a throng of people.

“Mead time!” Hugo greeted me, shoving a bottle into my hand. I winced as I looked at the label – Heidelberg.

“Down it, Potter!” Louis said gleefully.

I hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and necked the bottle, much to my cousins’ delight. They vanished after that, leaving me alone with Albus.

“I liked the chant,” I said with a grin.

“Rosie’s idea,” he replied. “She tried to get Malfoy to join in, but it’s a Gryffindor thing, he didn’t want to get involved.”

I laughed.

“You survived the day with him though?”

“He’s not all that bad, you know.” Albus shrugged. From him, that was the highest praise. “But enough about me; you’ve just won the World Cup!”

My grin widened.

“I know; crazy, isn’t it?”

“I always knew you had it in you.” He punched my shoulder as he’d done before the match. “Watch out for Mum, by the way; she’s a bit emotional.”

“So’s Lily, by the looks of things.”

“Nah, she’s good now. Mead’s always the solution to these things. Anyway, I’d better leave you to your admirers.”

“You staying for the night?”

He raised an eyebrow at me.

“Are you kidding? It’s a free bar; of course I’m staying.”

And with that, he was gone.

It wasn’t a Weasley who approached me next, but rather Brigid.

“Well done, Jim,” she said, hugging me once more. Her eyes looked red; I wasn’t sure who she’d been crying for. “I’m sorry I’ve been distant this past week, it’s just...”

“You don’t need to explain it,” I interrupted her. “I understand, really I do. And ... I’m sorry it was Ireland who lost...”

“One of you had to lose,” she said with a sigh. “Still, at least that means one of you won, eh? I can still celebrate.” She squeezed my hand tenderly. “You make sure you savour every minute of this, James Potter, because you deserve it more than anyone else...”

Her eyes were welling up again. I laughed, and pulled her into another hug.

“I love you, Brie,” I murmured into her ear.

“Love you too, Jim,” she whispered back.

***

Albus was right; Mum was in floods of tears when she finally made her way to me and flung her arms round my neck, telling me over and over again how proud and happy she was. He’d neglected to tell me Aunt Audrey, Roxanne, Lucy and Dominique were just as emotional. Although Dominique turned out to have an excuse.

“I’m pregnant!” she told me gleefully, taking both my hands in hers.

“Wow! Congrats, Dom!”

“Nobody knows yet. I didn’t want to tell anyone until after the Final; we didn’t want to steal any of your thunder. We haven’t even told my parents yet! You’re the first person to know.”

I grinned.

“I’m honoured, I truly am.”

“Of course, if you’d lost, you’d have been the last to know,” she said cheekily. “Isn’t it all so exciting! It now means I can’t drink tonight, but still...” She beamed, looking more beautiful than ever before. “I should probably go and save Ethan from the mead, I don’t fancy nursing him tomorrow. You take care of yourself, Jimmy, I want to see you in one piece at the Burrow!”

I snickered as she headed off to look after her husband.

“Mead?”

Lily appeared at my elbow, clutching two bottles of the vicious drink.

I groaned.

“Hugo’s already forced one down my throat-”

“Man up, Potter,” she said, forcing it into my hand.

“Says the person who was in floods of tears in the Top Box,” I pointed out with a cheeky smirk.

“I had something in my eye,” she said smoothly.

“What was it, a flobberworm?” I teased her.

“Shut up, or I won’t be nice sister, I’ll be horrible sister,” she threatened.

I laughed, and ruffled her hair. “Come on then, Mini P. Down on three.”

In unison, we counted down then downed our drinks.

“I think I might regret this in the morning,” she said, looking at the empty bottle. “Never mind, I’ll live. Has Heidelberg mead killed anyone yet?” she added as an afterthought.

I laughed.

“You’d have to ask Della that, she’s the mead expert. Is she here?”

“I saw her earlier. She was wearing a dress. Can you imagine that?”

I couldn’t. Della in a dress was about as common a sight as Maddie in a dress, and I’d only seen that once that I could recall.

“Anyway, well done Jimbo. You’ve done us all proud.”

“Cheers, Lil,” I replied with a grin. “Behave yourself!” I called after her as she disappeared into the crowd. She waved her hand airily in my direction.

“I don’t know why I bother...” I muttered to myself.

“Jim!”

A pair of arms flung round my neck from behind me, and a head of red hair came into vision. It wasn’t Weasley red though; it was England red. And there was only one person I knew who had the guts to wear his hair that colour.

“You’ve excelled yourself, Ted,” I laughed. “I like it!”

“Much more fun than Falcon grey, isn’t it?” he grinned. “I’m more of a Weasley than Vic now!”

“Suits you,” I grinned. “Where is Vic, anyway? You’ve not sent her home with the kids, have you?”

He snorted.

“Fat chance of me getting away with that one. Nan’s babysitting for the night. Vic was doing shots with Roxanne the last I saw.”

“Letting her hair down for the night, is she?”

“You know what she’s like. Loves a good party. And still thinks she can drink like she’s twenty.”

I snorted.

“Anyway, how does it feel to be a World Cup winner?”

I smiled wryly.

“Not much different to not being one, to be honest,” I admitted. “I mean, it’s an amazing feeling to have won, don’t get me wrong. But ... well, it’s not like anything changes. I’m still the Quidditch-playing kid of the Boy Who Lived.”

“I’m pretty sure your bank balance will change.” He gave me a cheeky grin. “Think of all the teams that will pay serious money to have you play for them this autumn! Not to mention all the teams in the British League – you could push your Falcons wage right up!”

“I don’t need the money,” I said, shrugging.

“Never say that. You don’t know what might happen, and the last thing you want to do is regret ever turning down a pay rise.”

“That’s a bit of a morbid sentiment for the occasion, isn’t it?”

“Alright, alright, I can take a hint.” He was still grinning. “You did a damn fine job out there, Jim. I know you’ve probably heard a lot of people say you deserve this, but you really do. I remember when we all used to play Quidditch in the orchard by the Burrow; everybody else was just having fun, but you were always asking me to help you improve, trying to be as good as you possibly could.  That’s the mark of a true professional, of a true champion. And I know I’m spouting out some clichéd bullshit right now, but it’s true.”

I smiled, touched. No matter how often I received compliments on my Quidditch, I still found them awkward to accept.

“Thanks for all the help over the years, it really did ... well, help.” I stuffed my hands in my pockets.

Teddy grinned.

“No worries. It’s what brothers do, isn’t it? Besides, you’re teaching Dora now. Evens itself out in the end.”

“It was only one afternoon-” I began.

“Oho, don’t think you’re escaping her clutches, Jim. She’s determined you’re going to show her some more of your tricks, and you know what a determined Weasley woman is like.”

I laughed, thinking fondly of my female relatives.

“Anyway, I’ll leave you to your admirers.” He winked, before turning and elbowing his way through the crowd.

There were still four people I hadn’t seen, so I headed in the direction of the bar in search of one or more of them. Even if I didn't find them, I was in need of some liquid refreshment anyway. It was slow progress through the Hinky; everyone there seemed to want to congratulate me, and none of them seemed to understand I just wanted to find my best friends, girlfriend and dad.

Then I heard a triumphant cry of “Potter!” and I came to a halt, looking around me for the mass of black curls. Freddie came into view, clutching the World Cup of all things – how had he managed to get hold of that? – and thrust it into my hands.

“Drink up!” he said gleefully.

I groaned, looking into it to see a rather unpleasantly-coloured liquid inside.

“What’s in it?” I asked dubiously.

“It’d be quicker to tell you what’s not in there,” he said. “It’s all Carlotta’s idea. Have you ever heard of a top-shelfer before?”

I raised an eyebrow at him.

“When you say it was her idea, do you mean she told you the concept and you decided I was going to drink ... this ... out of the Cup?”

“Details, details,” he said airily. “Just drink up!”

I examined the cocktail for a second, then decided I was probably best off not knowing what was in it. I took a step back so as not to take Freddie out, then tipped the Cup up and downed the contents, much to the joy of the patrons around us.

“That,” I said once I’d swallowed, wiping my mouth with my arm, “was vile.”

“I know, I’ve already had one.” Freddie grinned wickedly. “Awesome match though, eh? Well, it was for us watching, until Cleo got taken out that is. I wouldn’t have wanted to play in it though. But...” He shook his head in disbelief. “Bloody hell, mate, you’re a World Cup winner! And to think, we used to think the Hogwarts Quidditch Cup was a big thing.”

“It is,” I said firmly. “And it always will be.”

“Course it is! I didn’t mean it’s a rubbish thing to win ... I just meant, back when we were at school, just winning that Cup was big enough. Winning the World Cup ... I mean, that was beyond our wildest dreams! And you’ve just done it! It’s crazy.” He shook his head again. “Oh, I’ve got a little bit of news myself, actually. Nowhere near as big as yours, of course, but-”

We were interrupted by Cato, who pulled us both into a rib-crushing hug.

“My favourite Weasleys!” he proclaimed. “Well, not quite my favourites, Roxanne and Lily probably take first spot-”

Freddie and I both puffed out our chests in a most manly fashion to protect our sisters’ honour, but before we could say anything Cato was gone, taking the cup with him.

“Bloody Bagman,” Freddie growled, though he only looked mildly bothered. Cato was harmless, really.

But then he remembered his news; it turned out he was being promoted.

“Mum and Dad want me to manage the Hogsmeade branch. Crazy, isn’t it?” He was trying to sound nonchalant, but the smile threatening to break across his face betrayed him. “I told them I was planning on leaving, and they asked if I wanted a managerial post. Turns out this was always a part of their master plan. I hadn’t realised it before, but ... well, I suppose it was. They’ve always involved me in the accounts and decision-making side of things, but I just thought that was because I was family, and they trusted me enough to delegate, you know? I didn’t realise they were planning on giving me the Hogsmeade shop to run by myself...” He looked slightly bewildered at the thought. “I mean, they’ll obviously remain in overall charge of the business, but I’ll have a lot of responsibility over day-to-day stuff. And I’ll get paid more too, and I get the flat above the shop as well. I’m not sure if I’ll actually live there, what with you and Brie both in London, but I suppose I could rent it out...”

He still looked utterly dumbstruck. I laughed, clapping him on the shoulder.

“Well done, mate,” I said with a huge grin. “I guess you said yes in a heartbeat?”

“To be honest, I thought it was a joke at first,” he admitted. “I mean, me managing a shop?  But then I realised they were being deadly serious, and when I thought about it I realised it was perfect. I do love working at Wheezes, I just didn’t want to be a shop boy all my life. But shop manager is much better. I think Dad’s got half an eye on the future, too; he wants the shop to stay in Weasley hands, and he sees me as the right person to carry things on when he’s had enough. Which is ... well, it’s daunting, I mean they obviously trust me a lot. But it’s a nice thought, too.”

“You’ll be great at it, Freddo,” I said with every ounce of truth. “Think of all the Hogwarts students you can corrupt, too!”

“I know; it’s great, isn’t it?” He grinned wickedly.

“Have you told Brie yet?”

“Not yet; she’s seemed a bit flustered the last few days so I didn’t want to bother her. You’re the first person to know, aside from Roxie.”

“You should tell her now,” I suggested.

“Now? Really? I don’t know, mate, Ireland have just lost-”

“So she needs some good news to perk her up, don’t you think?” I interrupted.

“Yeah ... yeah, I guess...” He rubbed the back of his neck, his usual nervous tick.

“Go on, go tell her,” I said, with an encouraging nudge in her direction. He smiled nervously, and headed off into the crowd. I watched him go, a smile spreading across my face. I just hoped his job success might give him more confidence in other areas of his life...

I continued to search for Dad, Carlotta and Ryan. I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was wise to search out Ryan, whether he’d want to talk to me – or whether he was even here for that matter. Luckily, he found me first.

“Well played, Jim,” he said, smiling weakly.

“And you.” I returned the smile awkwardly. “I just wish we could both have won...”

“That’s sport for you,” he said. “If I had to lose, I’m just glad it was to you. It makes it feel a bit less disappointing, knowing that at least one of us is on the winning side.”

“It felt pretty rotten having to play you, though,” I admitted. “Especially when I had to mark you...”

“I had a horrible feeling I’d be competing with you for the Quaffle at the start,” he said, pulling a face. “Sorry if I bumped you a bit hard.”

“It’s fine. I’m a big boy, I can handle it.” I paused. “Thanks for helping me out with Cato – you know, stopping him from beating Lynch to a pulp. I mean, it would have played into your hands if you’d left him...”

“I wasn’t about to watch him completely lose his head,” Ryan said. “At the end of the day, friendship comes before sport. And I knew he’d regret it in the cold light of day. He’d have done the same for me.”

As would I. But I knew that went unsaid.

“We didn’t know the Lynches had that planned, you know,” he added. “None of us did. We all said we’d play it fair...”

“To be honest, I can’t blame them.” I shrugged. “We did the same to them in the League.”

“I guess,” he mused. “Still, when it’s our Cleo who goes down...” He shook his head. “You know, I honestly thought we had you, then. I thought it was only a matter of time before the Lynches took Jessie Birch out, and even if they  didn’t I still backed Brianna to catch the Snitch first. But then Cato ... I mean, he should have got Player.”

Jess had been awarded Player of the Match in the end, to nobody’s surprise.

“I guess they didn’t want to give it to him because of the punching,” I pondered. “But that was some hitting from him, wasn’t it? He told us he had a plan, but I had no idea that was it.”

“He spun the game right back in your favour,” Ryan agreed. “How he managed to get possession of both Bludgers, I have no idea. I’ll have to watch the game back and work it out. But his aim ... I mean, to take out half Brianna’s broom and not touch her – he could have taken her out easily, she was completely unguarded and unaware. I wish he’d done more than break Feargus’ arm, mind you,” he added, “if we were going to lose anyway. To be front row as a Lynch gets knocked off his broom twice in a season ... that would’ve been something.”

“I don’t know; he had to play the rest of the match with a dud arm, didn’t he? I’d say that was amusement enough,” I reasoned.

Ryan wrinkled his nose.

“We’re borderline sadistic,” he pointed out.

“It’s my boys!”

Della interrupted our conversation, appearing from nowhere and throwing an arm round each of our shoulders.

“Well done, kids, you both did yourselves proud,” she said, beaming.

It seemed Lily had been right about her wardrobe choice.

“Bloody hell, Dell, you’ve got legs!” I exclaimed.

Ryan had apparently noticed this as well, judging by the look on his face.

“Oi! Just because you won today doesn’t mean you get to be insolent!” She went to smack me playfully round the head, but I ducked, laughing. She winked at me, and I wiggled my eyebrows back.

“Your lady’s at the bar, by the way,” she added. “Told me that if I found you, I was to tell you that yes, she would like to see you at some stage tonight, because she’s beginning to forget what you look like.”

I snickered.

“She’s got far too much sass,” I said fondly. “I’d better not keep her waiting any longer. Have a spectacular evening, don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she said with a wicked grin.

Ryan said nothing, apparently still entranced by Della’s dress. I figured I wouldn’t get any more words out of him for a while, so I headed off again in search of Carlotta. But when I saw a head of distinctively messy black hair, I made a sharp diversion.

“Hi,” I said once I reached Dad, “nice to meet you, I’m your son who’s just won a World Cup...”

He laughed, and gave me a one-armed hug.

“You cheeky little brat, you. I thought I’d wait for everyone else to have their fill of you first. After all, you’ve got a lot of people to get round.”

“Don’t I know it,” I said, pulling a face.

“Oh, don’t be such a misery. Soak it up, you might not ever have this opportunity again.”

He looked so full of pride and admiration. It was the look he always gave Albus or Lily when they’d achieved something, the look I’d always wished he’d give me. And now I realised he had given me that look before, countless times, whenever I won a Quidditch match. I’d just never noticed it for what it was.

I didn’t need him to say anything. His look said it all.

“Well done, kiddo,” he said fondly. “Keep this up, and you’ll be getting the perks for me before long.”

I laughed.

“Don’t get your hopes up. I don’t think you’re going to become ‘James Potter’s father’ any time soon.”

He pulled a face.

“A guy can dream, can’t he?” He grinned. “Anyway, I won’t hold you up. I think someone’s waiting for you over there.”

We were close enough to the bar that I could see it behind the people stood between us. More importantly, I could see the figure sitting on one of the bar stools, contently watching the goings-on.

“Seems a shame to leave a beautiful woman sitting by herself, doesn’t it?” I said.

Dad laughed, and patted me on the shoulder.

“Off you go, Jim. Enjoy the night. And don’t forget the Weasley dinner tomorrow!” he added to my retreating back.

I raised an arm in recognition of the comment, but I didn’t stop. I squeezed my way past the last few people, then halted for a moment, soaking up the view.

Like most others here, she’d managed to change after the match, and was wearing a dress I hadn’t seen before, but I definitely liked at first glance. Those legs...

She noticed me staring, and a smile played at the corners of her mouth. I strolled forwards, and sat down on the stool next to her.

“What’s a pretty thing like you sitting by yourself for?” I asked; the line I’d used when I’d first met her.

“Waiting for a good-looking Quidditch player to come along and sweep me off my feet,” she replied, winking.

“Well this must be your lucky day, because I so happen to be a good-looking Quidditch player,” I shot back. “Can I get you a drink?”

“It’s a free bar, but you can pay if you want.”

I shook my head in mock disbelief.

“Foiled again!” I groaned.

She giggled.

“I can’t believe I went for that line in the first place,” she lamented.

“If I remember rightly, you didn’t,” I pointed out, “and you only gave in because I wouldn’t give up.”

She cocked her head to the side.

“I like that version of events,” she declared. “So, do I get that drink?”

I grinned, spinning round to face the bar.

“Oh, and on the topic of drinks,” I added, “did you have to tell Freddie what a top-shelfer was?”

“Hey, that is not my fault. You’re not supposed to do them all at once...”

I snickered and pulled her close, kissing her.

“You taste of it,” she murmured against my lips. “It’s foul.”

“Think of it as karma,” I grinned, and kissed her again. “Bit of Firewhisky will soon fix the problem.”

At that moment I got the bartender’s attention, and within moments we each had a bottle of the drink in question.

“So, the Top Box was pretty cool,” she said airily.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Is that it? I just won the World Cup, and all you can say is how good the Top Box was?”

She smiled and leaned forwards, taking my free hand in hers.

“Yes,” she said simply. “Because I know you’d rather hear how my day was than hear me gush about how you won and isn’t it amazing and you must feel incredible about it all.”

I smiled, slightly taken-aback that, once more, she’d managed to hit the nail on the head.

But then, should I really have been that surprised?

“I’m really glad you enjoyed it,” I said sincerely. “It must have been amazing to watch.”

She grimaced.

“It was awful,” she admitted. “I had no idea whether or not we were going to win, and every time I thought you guys were going to score they snatched the ball away, and then Cleo got knocked off ... it’s a wonder I have any fingernails left.” She paused. “You seem remarkably  ... calm, for someone who’s just won a World Cup.”

“Do I?”

“Well, Cato’s still drinking out of the Cup, Michael’s lost his shirt, Emily and Jessica are dancing on a table, Tamsin is still jumping around all over the place ... and you’re sitting on a bar stool.”

“Would you rather I wasn’t here?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Not at all. I just remember how lively things were at the party after you won the League. Your celebrations now seem rather understated in comparison.”

“I just don’t feel like jumping around all over the place,” I said shrugging. “I’m ... content.”

Content?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, we wanted to win, and we won. So I’m happy. Contented.”

Truth be told, I was feeling a bit flat. The last few weeks had been so hectic, so emotional, that now it was all done with I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. It was a peculiar feeling. After all, Carlotta was right; I’d just won a World Cup, shouldn’t I be beside myself with excitement?

“I think Ryan’s pretty contented right now as well,” Carlotta giggled.

I looked round, and saw him and Della lip locked not far from where I’d left them.

“Bloody hell, finally!” I exclaimed.

“He deserves a bit of happiness of his own this evening, doesn’t he?” she said pensively. “He looked like he didn’t know what to think when he came into the Top Box after the match. I hope they don’t have a no-dating clause where they’re going, because I think they might find it hard to stick to that after tonight.”

“Merlin, they’ll be going at it like rabbits for ages. Bloody good thing it’ll be on the other side of the world; hopefully they’ll have calmed down by the next Falcons training session.”

“When will that be, January?”

“Na, we’ll have a couple of weeks in December  in prep for the exhibition match against whoever wins the German League,” I reminded her. “You’ve definitely got tomorrow off work, right?”

“Yes, why?”

“Because you’ve been invited to the-”

“Weasley dinner at the Burrow, yes, I know,” she said with a smile. “Nana Molly told me about it earlier when we were waiting for you to turn up. She was most insistent that I come along, you know.”

“I bet she was,” I said dryly. “The more the merrier.”

I took another look round the Hinky, surveying the goings-on. The likely suspects – mainly Quidditch players and my family – were already well on their way to merriment. But most of my aunts and uncles were still here, along with numerous others from their generation and older still. I hadn't expected them to stay much longer, but they wanted to take advantage of the free bar to celebrate in their own understated way before heading home.

As I was looking round, my eyes fell on somebody familiar. And in that split second, an idea came to me, so quickly and fully formed it was as though it had been in my head the entire time. I paused for a moment, thinking it over.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Carlotta, getting to my feet and placing my half-full bottle of Firewhisky on the bar counter. “Wait here.”

“Because I’ve not been doing that all evening already,” she pointed out, smirking.

I grinned, and bent down to kiss her cheek. Then I headed off into the fray.


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