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Chapter 1: The Will
He’s snuffed it.
Only an event of such significance could bring this family together for consecutive meetings. The first, of course, was the funeral. And now that he’s resting peacefully six feet below, we’ve gathered once more for the reading of the will.
I tug my lower lip between my teeth as my gaze flits around the office of his long-time attorney Rosalia Clarke-Jenner. She’s standing near the window, a wisp of a woman in black robes and a matching ribbon wrapped around her signature steel-grey bun. Her right foot taps an erratic beat against the hardwood floor, and her hand keeps slipping into her pocket, where she constantly extracts and examines the face of her pocket-watch. Nude lips grow thinner with each time check. As a woman who operates a tight ship, she doesn’t tolerate tardiness, and my stepmother is at least thirty minutes late.
Attempting to be fashionably late, no doubt. Blind to the fact that she’s actually being tacky. What else can be expected of the woman who moved her lover into her husband’s house not long after his death was confirmed? But that’s my family for you.
A commotion from behind has every occupant in the room, including me, turning our heads towards it. Standing tall in the doorway is the woman we’ve all been waiting for. As soon as she’s certain that every eye is upon her, she moves towards the only vacant chair and lowers herself into it. Almost promptly, she bursts into tears.
Missing her calling, that one. With performances like this, she could easily add a man named Oscar to her collection.
“Now that we are all here,” Rosalia begins briskly, having crossed to the mahogany desk that dominates the room, “I shall proceed.”
She summons a roll of parchment, and uses her wand to break the seal. With a clear and surprisingly loud voice for someone so small, she begins reading.
I tune her out for the most part. It’s all quite boring and I’m only here because I’m listed in the will. Surprising, really, since he’d threatened to cut me out of it if I posed for Howl. I did it anyway, and was thereafter banned from his home and his company. Needless to say, I hadn’t expected anything.
I’d be lying if I say that I’m not anxious to know if I’ve been left anything good, however. My ex-husband took almost half of my hard-earned savings in the rather messy divorce, the attorneys took another chunk, and the rest dwindled away while I tried to live without a proper income. I can do with a bit of money to get me back on my feet while I await word from the magazine concerning some new jobs.
Shaking away the thought, I tune back in as Rosalia gets to the reason why we’re all present.
“I, Julian Lyle Collins, leave two hundred thousand galleons apiece to Helena Rose Collins and Chester Lyle Collins. This sum shall remain in a trust for each until the event that they both turn seventeen.”
Helena and Chester are my younger siblings, twins born to the award-winning bint sniffling next to me. I barely know them, because I was kicked out of the house while they were still young.
“To Antonin Romain Delacroix, I leave the sum of ninety thousand galleons. I trust that he will use it wisely.”
I turn my head slightly to observe the young man sitting behind my stepmother. He’s wearing one of those sad little smiles, and I have a feeling that he’s one of the few who will genuinely miss my father. Julian Collins was more of a father to him than he was to me, his own flesh and blood. When Antonin’s parents had both died prematurely, my father took him in and gave him every little thing his heart could possibly desire. We get along well enough, but a part of me will always harbor jealousy, for he was able to receive the type of attention I had always craved from my father.
“To my wife, Ophelia Imogen Collins née Roberts, I leave one galleon and my love. May the latter enrich her until her dying day.”
I resist the urge to guffaw as the sniffling ceases. I stare openly at my stepmother, and somehow manage to smother the smile that threatens to curve my lips. Her expression is absolutely priceless. Carefully painted lips have fallen open, and blue eyes are almost as round as saucers.
“There must be some mistake,” she says weakly, interrupting an irritable-looking Rosalia. “That can’t be all.”
Rosalia drops her gaze down the parchment, and I’m certain it’s just to humor Ophelia. She drew up the will after all, and probably knows what’s within like the back of her hand.
“I assure you, Mrs Collins. That is it. Now, if you do not mind?”
While Ophelia attempts to scoop her jaw up from the floor, Rosalia continues reading, listing charities that shall receive money as well. Ophelia can’t be surprised by what the will says, can she? She never loved him, and she hasn’t been discreet about her affairs. Then again, neither was my father. According to trusted sources, he died atop one of his mistresses. Quite a challenge to keep that under-wraps, but it managed to leak to the media anyway. Ophelia’s doing, I’m sure.
“And lastly, to my daughter, Norah Giselle Collins, I leave the Appleby Arrows. In the event that she manages to take the team to the top of the League in the span of two seasons, she shall receive everything I have ever owned. This includes all monies, homes, and assets. If she fails, everything shall be given to Antonin Romain Delacroix, who shall oversee the sale of the team. I only ask that my daughter refrain from modelling from this day onward. If she does, everything shall automatically be given to Antonin Romain Delacroix. This shall also come to pass if she declines.”
I sit there, speechless and in a daze. My mind attempts to wrap around what I’ve just heard, but a pounding has started behind my eyes. Of all the things he can have left me, he’s saddled me with a team that has managed to become a bigger laughingstock than the Cannons. Seriously. The Cannons look forward to playing the Arrows because it’s such a sure win. And he expects me, someone who hasn’t played a lick of Quidditch, to turn them into winners? I’ll admit that I know a tremendous deal about the sport, having grown up around it. That, and I’m an avid fan. When my funds were stable, I used to boast season tickets for the Falcons. But, making decisions surrounding a professional team is an entirely different game.
I’m much too young for this, I think, and rub at my temples as Rosalia drones on. I only turned twenty-eight a few days ago. No one, not even the members of the team, will take me seriously.
Is this how he plans to repay me for disobeying his orders? He can have easily left me the exact same sum he left for my siblings --less, even, but instead he’s chosen to let me work for it. And if I don’t, everything goes to Antonin.
Yet again, I turn to look at him. Dark eyes stare right into mine, but his expression is unreadable. I’d give a galleon to learn what’s going through his head. While we get on well, it’s been a number of years since we last communicated. Is he hoping that I fail?
Wait. It’s not as if I’m going to accept these terms. Am I?
I return my gaze to Rosalia as she rolls the parchment, and slowly I become aware that the reading is over.
“Norah? A word in private, please.”
I nod dazedly. Standing, I walk on wobbly feet toward the woman. Before I can reach her however, Ophelia storms over to the desk and plants her palms atop it. She’s close to spitting fire, and I suddenly catch a glimpse of the darker side of her being part-veela.
“Is this some sort of a joke?” she asks through gritted teeth.
Rosalia arches a bushy eyebrow, not exhibiting any fear despite being towered over by the angry woman. “I am not a fan of comedy, Mrs Collins.”
Ophelia flicks a blonde lock and scowls. “I’m going to have my attorneys look into this. Julian can’t have been sober when he made that will.”
“You are free to contest the will, Mrs Collins,” Rosalia says simply, slightly tilting her head to the side as she does. “If you will excuse me, I have matters to attend to.”
With a huff at being dismissed, Ophelia turns and storms out of the room, slamming the door behind her. I suppose I can sort of understand why she’s upset. She married my father with the hope of inheriting his vast fortune, and he’s left her practically sickleless. At least she has her good looks to fall back on. If all else fails, she can always marry some poor unfortunate geezer.
“Norah?” Rosalia says gently.
I look away from the closed door, somewhat startled by Rosalia’s tone. For as long as I’ve known her, she’s never addressed me in a voice that borders on motherly. I’m so taken aback that I don’t think to respond.
“I know this is a lot to take in, but your father meant well. He would not have left the team in your care if he did not have faith in you.”
My smile is brittle. I honestly don’t know what to say to her words. Faith? I haven’t spoken one word to my father in ten years. He died without either of us having made a move towards reconciliation. So him leaving me his precious team comes as much of a shock as the news of his dying did. But nothing has made much sense these last few days.
“He left you a letter.”
I accept the envelope and sit down once more. Breaking the seal with trembling fingers, I extract the folded parchment and beginning reading.
My darling Norah,
I have spent many days considering the ultimatum I gave you that last night, and the only reason that I have never reached out is because I am a stubborn old coot. You must forgive an old man his flaw. Can you blame me for not wanting you to appear in that magazine? What good father would allow his daughter to do anything that would have others looking upon her in an unsavory manner? The threat was my final resort, and one that I thought would work. But, you inherited my bullheadedness. From the moment you learned to walk you have done the things that you want to do. An admirable trait, sometimes.
I haven’t been the best of Dads, but whenever I was tough on you, it was to make you stronger. I want you to know that I have never stopped loving you. I never said it enough, and if you are reading this, obviously I never got the chance to say it one last time. I regret that.
By now you have heard the news, and probably have no idea what to make of it. Do not, by any means, think of it as a punishment. I have nothing but the utmost faith in you. You are much like me. When you set your mind to do something, you do it to the best of your ability. This makes you the perfect person for the job.
I have left a team of individuals at your disposal. Terry is a genius with numbers, and Wes shall assist you with the contracts.
Do your best, Norah. The fans will be counting on you.
Forever rooting for you,
With the side of my index finger, I wipe away tears from beneath my eyes. God, I wish he had told me all of this before he died.
I don’t hear Rosalia’s approach, but she’s holding out a handkerchief. As I turn it between my fingers, I stare up at her.
“Is all of this even legal?”
“We did our research. It is.”
I bite my lip and stare at the now makeup-stained handkerchief. Can I do this? Should I? It’s not something I can make a decision on without plenty of thought, and I tell her that.
Rosalia nods, places a hand on my shoulder. “You have thirty days to come to a decision.”
On that note, I exit her office. As I move down the stairs, I notice Antonin leaning casually against a post. We make eye contact, and his lips curve, causing dimples to pierce his cheeks. I do my best to smile back.
“You going to do it?” he asks without preamble.
I don’t answer right away, but instead take the moment to watch the ends of his dark hair be rustled by the wind. My gaze dips, and the thought that he needs a shave swirls through my mind.
He pauses a few beats, adopts that unreadable expression he wears frequently. “He kept tabs on you, y’know. I don’t think a day went by where he wasn’t wondering about how you were doing.”
The throbbing in my head increases. I reach a hand up, lightly press my fingers against my closed right eye. I’m honestly not up to conversation, especially not when I’m still trying to figure out which way is up. If I hadn’t given up drinking, a stiff one would do me wonders right about now.
“Nice to know,” I say finally, for a lack of anything better to.
I think he picks up on my mood, for he draws himself upward, stuffs his hands into the pockets of his trousers. Just before he turns away, he says, “You should do it. I’ll be around if you need me.”
With a nod, he walks away. I stare after him, brows knitting. Is he being real?
With a sigh, I turn and proceed in the opposite direction. If there’s one thing this day has provided me with, it’s a lot of questions and not much answers.
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns the Harry Potter Universe and everything in it. Characters that you don't recognize belong to me, however.
A/N: I hope the fact that she's so young and has just inherited a team doesn't turn anyone off the story. I debated about her age for a bit, but then decided, why not? But yes. Thoughts?
In the next chapter, we'll learn Norah's decision.
Thanks for reading!