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Chapter 2: The Decision
I spend the next couple of weeks at Mum’s place, trying to clear my head. She lives in a little village called Bluewood that sprang up sometime after the war. After she divorced Dad, she moved here because it’s quiet, what with the small population and all. For a while she almost couldn’t find herself, because she really did think that their relationship was the forever sort, but she eventually dug herself out of that rut she’d been existing in and got back into doing what she loves.
I’m enjoying a cup of tea as the sun rises. With my elbows resting on the rail, I balance the cup between my palms and view a patch of plants that give the village its name. Rays of sunlight kiss periwinkle blue petals that simultaneously open wide in greeting. I’ve never been here during winter, but Mum says that these delicate flowers survive it.
Mathilde, Mum’s crup, brushes against my leg. Her presence usually signals her owner’s approach, and soon enough, she emerges from around the bend with a bag of what looks like herbs in hand. This isn’t out of the norm, since she happens to create potions in her free time. Fills in at Beauxbatons when they need a substitute too, so needless to say, she knows her stuff.
“You’re up early,” she comments once near. She shifts her waist-length curls to over one shoulder, the light brown tendrils dotted with white seashells.
It’s something that’s become the norm these past few days, and it’s all because of Dad’s will. When the news broke about me possibly being the new owner of the Arrows, the sports media went berserk. I couldn’t walk out of the house without flashbulbs going off and questions being thrown my way.
Are you going to sell, Ms Collins? How does it feel to be the owner of the worst team in recent Quidditch history? What do you have to say about Artie Stein’s comments?
The last question still has me cringing. I don’t have a subscription to Quidditch Weekly, so I wasn’t aware of his little rant until Antonin gave me a shock by actually showing up at my doorstep with a copy of the paper in his hand. He handed it over without a word, but the sour look on his face said it all. When I managed to somewhat erase my surprise at him actually being there, I lifted the paper, took in the man gesticulating from the front cover.
I recognized him right away. Artie Stein is the longtime owner of the Montrose Magpies. He inherited the team from his father, who inherited it from his, and so on. He’s approaching one hundred and twenty, but he’s still very spry. The most controversial owner in the League, he’s been fined countless times for statements about players and referees. One time he even grabbed a player’s broom and flew out onto the pitch so as to yell at the official because of what he thought was biased officiating. At one point there was also a rumour circulating about him batting bludgers at players who upset him, but that’s never been proven. Then there’s the fact that he tries to get the League to dissolve the Harpies and disallow female players.
Unsurprisingly, his rant was less than flattering, and I refuse to repeat most of what was said. But he does say that he’ll take his money and go elsewhere if something isn’t done to keep me out. Tough for him, because there’s really nothing to be done if I agree to the terms of the will.
“I have some potion for that.”
“It’s fine. Not being able to sleep has given me more time to think.”
She bends down, holds out a treat on her palm for Mathilde. While she scratches the crup behind her ears, she looks up at me, the corners of her eyes crinkling as she squints. “Come to a decision?”
I shake my head in the negative.
As she brushes her hands off, she joins me against the rail. Curving an arm around my shoulders, she rests her head against the nearest one and gives me the same words of advice she did when I decided to take that modelling job that severed ties between Dad and I.
“Do what your heart tells you to.”
I did that, twice, and look what happened. I became estranged from my father and entered a marriage that ended in divorce. My heart hasn’t exactly led me to making the decisions that have fabulous results, but I tell her that I’ll take her words into consideration.
On Tuesday I send owls to Rosalia, and everyone else that I am required to, letting them know of my decision. By Friday everything is official, so I set up meetings with Terry, Wes, and the manager Mark Briscoe.
I arrive at the office well before everyone else, but that’s by design. Being as I’m a jumble of nerves (it took three attempts to button my shirt), I want to try and get my bearings by becoming acclimated with the place I’m surely going to be spending the majority of my days at.
The building is vast. I remember being in wonder of it when I was a little girl, but that was before I attended Beauxbatons and discovered what huge really is.
Dad’s office is just as I remember it. I pause just inside the door, gaze at the portraits that line the walls. All the Arrow greats, from Lucas Coulson who is busy winking at me, to Hamish Walsh wearing his trademark sneer; the latter played a record fifty straight seasons. If he hadn’t been clobbered to death by a giant while on vacation, he probably would have played even longer. The one that stands out the most though, is the one that hangs right behind the desk. Rynn Lively, one of only ten females to have played for the Arrows in the last century, happens to be the best player that ever played for the organisation. At least, so I’ve heard. She died at the peak of her career, having been murdered in the first wizarding war.
My attention shifts to the corner cabinet, which houses our eight League Cups. Dad had hoped to add to that number, but the team never really flourished under his ownership. I think it’s because he never gave it the proper attention. His other business ventures came first, and the team’s legacy suffered for it.
I settle behind the desk, and I swear that the seat still feels warm. I close my eyes, recall the better days with Dad.
I must have stayed that way for quite some time, because the first arrival is standing in the doorway. With a blink, I allow him to come into focus. Brown hair rests just below his ears, and grey-blue eyes stand out behind wire-framed glasses. He’s not a tall man; we’re probably about the same height, give or take.
“Sorry. I knocked, but there wasn’t an answer.”
“It’s not a problem. Come in.”
He does, and extends a hand once close. “Terry Boot.”
“I know who you are,” I tell him, to which his eyebrow subtly lifts. I smile, and say simply, “I did my research.”
I pull a roll of parchment from a drawer, ready my quill, and jump right into the reason for this meeting. “What can you tell me about the budget?”
We discuss everything concerning the financial side of the team over the next few hours. Wes joins us at some point during the meeting, and we go over contracts. My mind’s already churning with possibilities as I contemplate which players can be sold, and which should be let go. It’s a good thing that the season ended just before Dad died, because it gives me a fresh start. I’ll be able to meet with the scouts, maybe even travel with them to certain locations. Unlike Dad, I plan to be very hands on, but hopefully not in an overbearing sort of way.
Mark Briscoe stumbles in as we’re discarding of lunch wrappers and cups. He’s a large man, more belly than muscle, with shaggy grey hair and a beard he twists into a point. Without shaking my hand like the other two men had, he sits in an available chair and looks my way, expression surly.
“Mr Briscoe,” I say in greeting. He grunts back. So, someone else is unhappy with the way things have turned out. Tough. His attitude actually helps in straightening my backbone. “You’ve been the manager for the last six years.”
“Yeah,” he says, and adjusts his girth.
“And in that time you’ve led the team to seven victories.”
He shifts again. “Well, the team’s only as good as its players.”
“If that’s the case, what exactly is your purpose, Mr Briscoe?”
“Look. I came out of retirement to manage this team because no one who actually wants to go somewhere would touch it,” he says baldly, effectively ignoring my question. “I’ve stuck around as a favour to Julian.”
He mutters something under his breath.
“Sorry. Didn’t quite catch that?”
“And apparently the old man really was getting senile, considering what he’s left in charge.”
What he’s left in charge, I ponder. I slide a glance at Terry, who is looking decidedly uncomfortable. Wes, on the other hand, looks as if he’s doing his very best to hold his tongue. I fear for his poor quill, which looks as if it’s close to being snapped.
“Ah. You took Artie Stein’s course on male chauvinism, I see.”
A snort comes from somewhere next to me. I’ll take a guess that it was Wes, seeing as Terry has the look of someone who would rather be anywhere else.
Mark glares at me. “That mouth will get you into hot water with the other owners.”
“Wading through hot water happens to be my specialty.” I straighten, shift some parchment around, and look him dead in the eye. “Mr Briscoe, it’s very clear that you lack the passion needed to successfully manage this team. If this team turns things around, it has to be with someone that actually cares, and apparently, you don’t. I have no plans to renew your contract, so I’m afraid that your time with the organisation has reached its end. I hope that you have success in whatever you take on in the future.”
It is a decision I’d come to long before he opened his mouth. He hasn’t produced, and I refuse to waste any more of my father’s well-earned money on those not willing or unable to put in the effort. As he stands and mutters a slew of offensive comments on his way out, I know he won’t be the only person I piss off in the weeks to come.
Somehow, Antonin and I settle into a routine. Whenever something hits the papers surrounding the team, he shows up with a copy and sometimes a bag of food. I was a little uneasy with his presence at first, seeing as he has a lot to gain from my failure, but he’s proven to be invaluable. Besides, I can do with all the support I can get.
Today we’re sharing sandwiches and cake. It is when we’re like this, seated on the floor with containers between us, that I remember why we got on so well.
“You’ve really been shaking things up,” he says, disposable fork waving rapidly, briefly, from side to side.
I shrug, use the tip of my finger to scoop a bit of vanilla filling. “Only doing what I think is best. I don’t know what Dad had been thinking these last few years, but he’s kept on players who left their best years behind them ages ago. I can’t run the team like that.”
“Well, you certainly have the press in a frenzy. Some are calling you mental because you’re dumping players when there aren’t many experienced free agents available, though one or two think you’re doing what should have been done a long time ago.”
I clean the sweetness from my finger, then lean my head back so as to survey him. “And what do you think?”
He sets his fork down, after which he presses a napkin to his lips. It’s almost as if he’s stalling so as to go over his words in his head, just to ensure that he answers right. “If the system’s broke, fix it. I think you’ve made a good start towards that.”
I wonder if he’s just saying that to make me feel better, and hope that he isn’t. The truth will serve better in a situation like this.
“Your father surrounded himself with a lot of people who merely nodded their heads at everything he had to say. He also never took risks with the team. He came in with a system, and stuck with it even through the failures. Sometimes that works, but in his case...”
He doesn’t have to finish his statement. The team’s record speaks for itself.
“So, what are you going to do about a manager?”
“I’ve been shooting ideas back and forth with Wes, and we agree that Oliver Wood seems like the best candidate.”
I don’t know Mr Wood personally, but I like the work he did with Puddlemere upon retiring. They only won one Cup under his leadership, but he kept them hovering near the top of the League for the duration of his time there. What I love most about him is his drive, and I’ve heard that he’s very passionate about the game and about his team. No one was hiring around the time Puddlemere replaced him, so he’s been managing a team over in North America. Luckily for me, his contract’s up and they’re still in negotiations. I’ll just have to make him an offer he can’t refuse to bring him back.
“Not a bad choice,” he tells me. “I’ve heard he’s a workhorse. Holds practices even in bad weather. The players will hate him.”
“They’ll love winning more,” I say with confidence.
It’s not long before I’m meeting with Mr Wood at headquarters. Almost at first glance, I like him. He has this presence about him that I know will translate well with the team (once assembled), and while we talk, his enthusiasm for everything Quidditch spreads through me like wildfire.
What surprises me most about him is how young he looks. He’s in his late fifties, but he can very well pass for a player. It seems that not playing hasn’t led him to neglect himself, because he appears in tip-top shape as well. I almost want to have him tryout for the team instead.
“So, Mr Wood. What can I do to get you back to England? And more specifically, here with the Arrows?”
He grins as we walk slowly down a hallway. “Let me hear what you have to offer, and we’ll see.”
I run down a list of benefits, allowances, and additional perks of the job before getting to one of the more important aspects. “Do you have a figure in mind?”
He appears taken aback by this, but I don’t alter my expression. I’m open to negotiation after all, and I need to know if we can afford him.
We shoot numbers back and forth before calling it a day. An agreement hasn’t been reached, but I can tell that he’s interested, if for the simple fact that managing the Arrows will bring him back to more familiar soil. But even if that’s the sole reason reason for his interest, I know that he’ll give all he can to get the team back in good standings.
Now all I need is for him to agree to sign on the dotted line.
A/N: There will be tryouts and a dash of Fred in the next chapter.
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