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Off the Rails by water_lily43175
Chapter 6 : six
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6


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A/N: For those of you who wanted more Carlotta ... this is for you. :) Also, I would like to state to anyone named Albert that no offence is meant by this chapter. :)



 “I still think this is a really bad idea-”

“Oh, shut up, Rosemary,” I scowled. “Aren’t we supposed to be encouraged to mingle with Muggles?”

“For a start,” Rose said. “Don’t call me Rosemary. Secondly, there’s a difference between mingling with Muggles and picking a Muggle girl up in a club, especially when you tend to stick with a girl only until it gets too serious for you. You know we’re only supposed to break the Statute in exceptional circumstances!”

“I’m not going to break the bloody Statute, Rosie,” I grumbled, falling back into the sofa.

“Don’t flop into the sofa like that, you’ll break the springs!” she scolded. “And you will break the Statute, because there’s no way that you can keep magic a secret with a girl round your flat all the time. The broomstick, the Floo network, the television programmes, people Apparating in-”

“She’s got a point with the last one,” Al added, sticking his head round the doorway from his bedroom. “You can block or hide the rest, you can’t stop people Apparating in.”

“I could,” I reasoned. “Hogwarts is anti-Apparition-”

“Yes, but there’s a reason that only Hogwarts has that security, James,” Rose said patronisingly, as Al retreated back into his room, “and that’s because it’s difficult magic.”

“We’re the kids of three of the most powerful people in wizarding Britain, I don’t see why that should be a problem.”

“Because that’s abusing their abilities, James. You can’t just cast anti-Apparition spells willy-nilly!”

“Well, in that case, people should start respecting my privacy and stop Apparating straight into my house.”

Rose snorted in an unladylike fashion. Well, she was her father’s daughter.

“When you start respecting other peoples’ privacy, they’ll respect yours,” she said.

“I do respect-”

“Let’s recap. How did you arrive here not ten minutes ago?”

I closed my mouth.

She smirked.

“So,” she continued, “how was the Witch Weekly interview?”

I groaned and threw my head back.

“It went well then?”

“I can’t believe Brigid arranged for me to do it! What in the name of Merlin was she thinking? After all the rubbish they spouted out about Dad, and your mum...”

“That’s the media for you.” She shrugged. “It’s all about raising your profile, James. It’s fickle, is fame. People love you when you’re on top, and hate you when you’re not. You’d better get used to it, cause you’re gonna get one hell of a lot of attention in the coming years.”

“I wouldn’t mind that,” I grumbled, “if I wasn’t forced to answer stupid questions. They don’t want to know a thing about Quidditch!”

“Of course they don’t. The average Witch Weekly reader can’t even spell Quidditch.”

“Nana reads it,” Al reminded her, joining us in their lounge.

“Well, that depends who you believe,” she said. “She’ll have us believe she uses it as compost. Now then, Albie.” She turned to him. “I’ll be having no rumpus from you tonight, please. I’d like to sleep in my own bed, if that’s at all possible.”

His cheeks tinged red.

“This is why you should have your own flat rather than sharing,” I said, leaning back with my hands behind my head.

“James, I’m only a minor employee in the Department of Magical games and Sports and Albus is still only a trainee Auror. Our wages don’t exactly compare with those of a top-notch Quidditch player. Anyway, I should be fine. Unlike you, Al doesn’t seem to feel the need to bed a different girl every night.”

“For a start, it’s not every night, and secondly, it’s not a different girl every time-”

“Oh, stop trying to defend yourself. The point is, Al has more self-restraint than you-”

“Is that what you call it?” I asked, turning and raising an eyebrow at Al.

His response, which I expected would have included a few choice swear words, a vulgar hand gesture and numerous insults, was interrupted by the fireplace, whose flames turned green long enough for Lucy to stumble out onto the rug.

“Evening, Luce,” said Rose as Lucy brushed the ash off her shoulders. “Make sure you clean that up.”

Lucy grimaced.

“You sound like Molly,” she said, disgruntled. “I’ve only just escaped her, please don’t start channelling her.”

“What was she doing this time?” Al asked, amused.

“She’s seeing some fellow from work. He’s boring as hell. Suits her down to the ground. Scourgify.” Lucy tucked her wand back into her pocket. “Dad simply loves him, of course. They could talk for hours about cauldron thickness. She invited him round for dinner. It was the most horrific two hours of my life.”

I pulled a sympathetic face. I had little time for Molly – mostly because she disapproved of near enough everything I did. This was why I liked Lucy so much; she might think I was a complete idiot at times, but most of the time she let me get on with it without complaint.

“So, why are we off out tonight?” Lucy asked, taking a seat and a bottle of Firewhisky. “And where are your normal drinking buddies?”

“I’m drowning my sorrows after the Witch Weekly interview, and the others can’t cope with more than two nights out a week.”

“A little bird told me that Adelheid wasn’t out on Saturday when you went to the Tavern,” Rose said, looking intrigued. “I thought she was your first port of call for a night out? And she never turns down a night on the town.”

I shrugged. “She can get a bit overbearing.”

“That certainly goes some way to describing her,” Lucy agreed. “She’s a lovely girl, but she’s very brash. It’s no wonder you two get on,” she added cheekily, before ducking to avoid the cushion I threw at her.

“Watch the vase!” Rose yelped, but it was too late. The cushion flew right into it, sending it crashing to the floor.

“Oops.”

***

“I’d rather be at the Hinky,” Lucy grumbled as we reached the Tavern.

“Yeah, we all know how you feel about the barman there, Lu,” I retorted.

“Oh, shut up.” She elbowed me lightly. “What’s with your fixation with this place then?”

“One of the barmaids,” I replied, following Rose to a table. Al had headed to the bar.

“Does that mean you admire her from afar or that you’re hoping to get her back to yours?”

“He’s already gotten her back to his,” Rose interjected.

Lucy raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I can’t say that’s one of your best ideas,” she said.

“You’ve taken it better than Rosie did.”

“Put it this way, James. Do you remember, in Fifth Year, when you decided to jump off one of the Quidditch hoops without a broom?”

I grinned at the memory.

That was a better idea than this.”

My face fell.

“Not you as well! What’s wrong with getting with a Muggle?”

“Both of you would do well to remember we’re in a ...” Rose glanced round, then mouthed the word ‘Muggle’ “establishment right now and you’d do well to keep your voices down if you must yack about such things.”

Lucy waved a hand airily.

“Point is,” she said, “that little stunt only risked your life. Now, I’m sure your death would cause your parents and Al and Lily a lot of grief, and I’d be disappointed too, but it wouldn’t threaten the existence of our entire community.”

I stared at her incredulously.

“What is it with you guys thinking I’m going to single-handedly bring about the downfall of the wizarding world? Brigid’s just the same. Honestly, I’m seeing a girl. We’re not even dating. I’ve only chatted to her twice. You’re acting as though this is the end of everything!”

“Well, it could be,” Rose pointed out. “One wrong move, and you know what could happen. Remember the last Muggle? She-”

“Nearly fell over my broom, I know. It won’t happen this time!”

“You don’t know that. Better safe than sorry. What’s wrong with going for a witch? I thought you had something going on with Allegra Fawcett?”

I shrugged.

“Haven’t really seen her since. Came here instead the other day.”

“Well, I wish you’d just go back to the Hinky in that case,” Rose muttered. “Have you ever considered celibacy?”

Her suggestion was met by laughter from Lucy. Nice.

***

I soon learned that “cheese night” basically meant a club night with rubbish music that sounded far better when drunk. During my lifetime, the wizarding world had adopted a few things from the Muggle world, such as television and telephones. Those I had embraced wholeheartedly, but one thing I was content not to even sample was Muggle music. The tripe being played in the Tav confirmed to me that I had made the right decision.

“I was wondering if I’d see your gorgeous face tonight.”

Carlotta leaned against the bar counter opposite me.

“You thought I wasn’t going to come?”

She shrugged.

“I thought I might have seemed desperate and scared you off. Drink?”

“Yes, please. And for the record, you didn’t seem desperate at all.”

“Good,” she said, grabbing a plastic cup, “because I wasn’t. I expect I’d have just about got over it if you hadn’t showed.”

I smirked.

“Thousands of girls don’t, you know,” I told her, as she measured out some Muggle alcohol into the cup.

“I’m not thousands of girls,” she retorted. She turned back to face me, grabbed a hose from behind the counter and squirted some form of fizzy Muggle drink into the cup. “Here, have it on the house. Don’t get used to it though; you’re paying for the rest.”

“Well, aren’t you a charmer?” I took the cup from her.

“I’m not trying to charm anyone, sunshine. Bring Blondie tonight?”

“Na, she’s all partied out for the week.”

“Shame; I could have offered her a night of frivolity with a dashing young fellow.”

“She wouldn’t go for it.”

Carlotta raised an eyebrow.

“Too in love with matey boy?”

“Partly, but it’s just not her thing anyway. She likes to think of herself as a self-respecting young woman.”

“And you don’t agree with her?”

“Who said I didn’t?”

She shrugged.

“Just the way you said it, that’s all. Who have you come with, then?”

“My brother and a couple more cousins,” I replied.

“Check out the street cred there. Do you have any friends that aren’t cousins or in love with them? Come to think of it, how many cousins do you have?”

“A lot,” I replied, with a slight grin. “It doesn’t leave me with many non-relations to be mates with, unfortunately.”

She let out a laugh.

“Brother, you say? He the hunk with gorgeous green eyes?”

My jaw dropped.

“You are joking. Hunk? My brother? What-”

She was laughing.

“He’s good looking, I won’t deny him that. Obviously not as good as you, darling, don’t get your knickers in a twist. What’s his name?”

“Al.”

“Short for?”

I paused.

“Albert.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“Albert,” she repeated.

I nodded.

“You’re telling me that they named you James, and him Albert?”

“Named after an ancestor,” I said smoothly, glad that I was the one with a Muggle friendly name. “He goes by Al, though.”

“I can see why. Poor boy...” She shook her head. “I think he deserves to get his whole bar bill on the house.”

“Don’t go feeling too sorry for him,” I said quickly. “He’s survived this long with his name. He doesn’t need sympathy dished out to him now.”

“I think you’re jealous that I think he’s good looking.” She smirked. “Oh, by the way, I need to just make something clear-”

“Carla! Less yacking, more serving!”

One of the other bar workers smacked her gently on the back of her head as he passed her.

“Alright, alright.” She rolled her eyes. “Don’t move a jot,” she ordered me.

“It’s okay, it’s not like I have anything better to do than to just stand here...”

She laughed and moved away to serve someone else.

Albus appeared at my side.

“How long does it take to get a drink?” He grinned.

I gestured towards Carlotta.

“Just chatting.”

He cast a look over her.

“So that’s her?”

“Yeah. And she thinks you’re called Albert, by the way.”

He looked at me incredulously.

“What did you tell her that for?”

“Well, I could hardly tell her you’re called Albus, could I? It’s, like, the least common Muggle name there is.”

“But Albert? Could you not have thought of a better name than that?”

“You try coming up with a false name under pressure!” I downed the rest of my drink. “Where are the girls?”

“Chatting to some guys. Well, Lucy’s chatting, Rosie’s supervising. Lu told me I was cramping their style.”

“So you’ve come to cramp mine instead?”

He shrugged.

“Pretty much. What do you have to do to get served in this place then?”

I gestured towards Carlotta, who was still serving.

“Chat up the hot barmaids,” I said. “And if she offers you it on the house, she’s joking.” I wasn’t having Al get all the perks from her.

“She worth the risk then?”

I groaned.

“Not you as well! Honestly, is everyone just going to lecture me about this?”

He shrugged.

“I think I’d be wasting my time if I did,” he said. “You’d listen to me as much as you do to everyone else, which is basically not at all-”

“I listen to people,” I said gruffly, “I just choose not to take their advice on board.”

“Just ... be careful, that’s all.”

I nodded.

“I know,” I said.

“But that’s the thing, James. Sometimes, I don’t think you do.”

***

I left the bar soon afterwards, as the demand for service grew and it became clear that Carlotta wouldn’t have any time to chat.

 I returned later in the night, slightly worse for wear.

“Here.” Carlotta handed me a cup of water. “Drink it, you’ll feel better in the morning for it.”

I pulled a face, but drank the water anyway.

“What time do you finish?” I asked her.

“Well, in theory, I’m here ‘til we close at two, but I could get off earlier. Why, wanting to leave already?” She grinned cheekily, and flicked my nose.

“I just want to put you out of your misery, darl-”

“Oh, whatever.” She rolled her eyes, her smile still in place, and refilled my cup, with something stronger this time. “That reminds me. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I find it’s better to be honest now than to sugarcoat it and end up married a year down the line. You seem a nice guy, but if you’re looking for a relationship or something from this, then I’d look elsewhere if I were you, because right now I’m just looking to have a bit of fun.”

“You,” I said, pointing at her, “are my kind of girl. Can we go yet?”

She laughed.

“You’re so drunk,” she teased. “I’ll see if I can leave now, stay here and drink up.”

She turned and headed towards the other end of the bar. Moments later, Rose appeared next to me.

“Can we go home yet?” she asked.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Giving up already?”

“We’ve been here for two hours,” she pointed out. “And you seem well in there with your bird. Albus and I both have work tomorrow, and Lucy’s drank too much as usual. Behave yourself, I’ll see you soon.” She ruffled my hair and disappeared back in the direction from which she’d come.

I downed my drink in one and set the cup back on the bar counter. A pair of arms snaked round my neck and I turned to see Carlotta standing behind me.

“Let’s go, before they change their minds,” she said with a grin.

I vacated the bar stool I’d taken up residence on and followed her out of the club.

“Would they change their minds?” I asked, as she pulled a jacket on.

“One of the girls got a bit stroppy when I asked to leave. She’s got uni lectures tomorrow morning and wanted to leave early. But I’ve covered that many shifts for her recently that she’s got a cheek kicking up a stink now.”

“Are you at university too?” I asked, trying to remember what I’d learned about further education in Muggle Studies.

“No, I’m not interested in uni. I...” She paused, looking a little embarrassed. “You’ll think it’s stupid...”

“Try me,” I said, slipping an arm round her waist as we walked.

“Don’t laugh,” she warned. “I ... I want to own a restaurant one day. Or a pub. Or a cafe. I’m not sure. But something like that. I like cooking and I want to do something in that line. I know, it’s stupidly overambitious, but if you never try, you’ll never get anywhere, right? And I know it’s going to need a lot of money, but that’s why I’m working here, so I can start saving and hopefully begin to get somewhere.”

I stared at her for a moment, impressed.

“I don’t think that sounds stupid at all,” I said. “I think that’s really good, that you know what you want to do, and that you’re actually doing something about it. I mean, better to do that than to waste time and money on something you don’t want to do, right?”

She smiled, presumably reassured.

“Exactly what I say,” she said. “Mamá totally backs me with it. I inherited my love of cooking from her, you see. Dad ... well, he wants me to be happy, but he also wants me to be successful, and that’s not really guaranteed with this. He’s going to help me out as much as he can though. He says he won’t leave me to struggle.”

“For what it’s worth, I think you’ll succeed,” I said. “I mean, you managed to teach me to cook, and my family and friends have been trying and failing for years.”

She laughed.

“I showed you how to cook sausages and mushrooms, James, I hardly think that demonstrates an ability to run a restaurant,” she said. “But thank you anyway, it means a lot. Anyway, what are you doing at the moment? Job? Studying?”

We had reached my flat. I paused and rummaged in my pockets for my key while I tried to come up with a plausible story.

“I play football,” I said, remembering the sports section of the Muggle Studies course. “It’s a small team,” I added hurriedly, in case she was a fan of the sport. “Nothing too special.”

“You any good?” she asked cheekily. I elbowed her playfully as I opened my door, causing her to squeal.

“I don’t think I’m too bad,” I said, nudging her through the doorway. “Better than you are at cooking, I reckon.”

“Blasphemy.” She kicked her shoes off. “Don’t suppose you’ve got anything of the alcoholic variety in your kitchen, have you?”

“Mead?” I suggested.

A bewildered look crossed her face.

“It’s good stuff!” I protested. “From Germany. I have a couple of German friends who bring it over. Trust me, you’ll like it.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“Well, I’ll take your word for it,” she said dubiously. “Lead the way.”

“Can you not drink on the job?” I asked, as we headed for the kitchen.

She laughed.

“Can you imagine me trying to serve people when I’m just as pissed as they are? No, that definitely wouldn’t work. How old are you, by the way?”

“That was random,” I said, as she sat down at the kitchen table. “Twenty-one. You?”

“A woman never discloses her age.” She smirked. “Twenty.”

“Same age as my cousin Lucy,” I observed, grabbing two bottles of mead from the side. “Want a glass?”

She shook her head.

“I’ll drink out of the bottle; I’m not at all classy. How many cousins do you have, then?”

“Nine.” I sat down opposite her. “And a brother and a sister. You?”

“A few cousins back in Spain who I rarely see, and a brother and a sister, same as you. Do you see your cousins often?”

“All the time,” I said. “We’re a close family, I guess. Couple of them annoy me at times, but in general they’re alright. Freddie and Lucy were the same school year as me, so I saw a lot of them in particular.”

“When’s your birthday?” she asked.

“What’s this, twenty-one questions?” I grinned. “September, why?”

“Working out how many school years ahead of me you are,” she said. “My birthday’s November, so I would have been the year behind you. Which school did you go to?”

“Boarding school in Scotland,” I said quickly. “You won’t have heard of it.”

“I wouldn’t have put you down as a boarder. Why Scotland?”

“Dad’s old school. Done interrogating me yet?” I grinned; she remained unabashed. “How’s the mead?”

“Surprisingly nice,” she replied. “I feel like I should be apologising to it for my preconception.”

“Just finish it, that’s an apology enough. Do it naked and it’ll forget you ever doubted it.”

She raised an eyebrow.

“And you’ve absolutely no ulterior motive for wanting me to undress?”

“Would I really advance my own interests in the name of my beloved German mead?”

“You’re a bloke; you’d do anything necessary to get a girl in bed.”

“Don’t sugarcoat it, love; say what you mean.”

She smirked, and drained the bottle.

“Drink up, gorgeous,” she said, getting to her feet and leaving the kitchen.

I glanced at my bottle of mead, which was still full, then got to my feet and poured the liquid down the sink.

After all, I could hardly leave her waiting, could I?


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