Chapter 1 : Chapter 1.
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CI of amazing-ness made by Elenia @TDA :)
I stood in front of the old, ramshackle stadium that served as the headquarters of Puddlemere United. Needless to say it was a far cry from when I was keeper. Back then the paint wasn’t gray and peeling and all the windows were still intact. I entered through a side door that looked and felt like it was about to come off its hinges and walked down the familiar hallway towards the locker room. The stench of sweat got worse and worse the closer I got, and a haze of smoke drifted towards me. Obviously this wasn't going to end well. But really, I had no choice. Believe me; I wouldn't have been doing this if I had one.
I groped through the toxic cloud in an attempt to find the door handle, but instead my fingers fell upon a little hole where it had obviously fallen off.
“Just give it a good shove,” came a voice with a thick Scottish accent from the other side of the offending lump of wood. I pressed my shoulder up against it, and tumbled through the doorframe, almost landing flat on my face in the process. I straightened my jacket and looked up to see six faces staring straight at me. They were obviously quite shocked.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” the same Scottish accent demanded. The voice turned out to belong to a black-haired girl, who seemed to be on the wrong side of twenty five, and very short. She was mid-way through lacing up the most battered pair of Quidditch boots I had ever seen and was sitting on a bench that looked as if it hadn’t been sanded in years. The thing gave me splinters just looking at it. I cleared my throat.
“Hello, my name is Oliver Wood, I am your new manager,” I announced, deciding to strike the pose that Dumbledore had favoured when welcoming students to Hogwarts, arms spread wide as if about to hug someone, big smile plastered on my face. They all just gawped at me, not blinking. I dropped my hands, but left the smile intact.
“Is this some kind of joke?” I peered down the long, narrow room to where a big, burly man was brandishing a beaters bat at me. In my experience, when big burly men are waving a bat at you, especially if they have a buzz-cut, you run. But unfortunately, that plan wasn’t going to work because, as mentioned earlier, I had no choice.
“It’s not a joke,” I said in what I think was a calm and soothing voice. Anything to get him to put down the big stick. He didn’t look convinced. “Honestly,” I added.
“I know why he’s here,” an American voice drawled. I looked to my right, to finally find the source of all the smoke. A male of undetermined...well, just about everything, since I couldn’t see his face because of the foul smelling cloud which was swirling around it, was leaning back in an uncomfortable-looking wooden chair, feet propped up on the giant splinter death trap, with a lit cigarette in his hand.
This is when sweat began to break out on my forehead; I had been counting on them all being oblivious to my ‘little’ problem.
“He’s bankrupt,” the American let the two remaining legs of the chair drop back onto the ground and leaned forward so I got a look at his face. I immediately didn’t like him. He had a smug face, the kind you immediately just wanted to punch upon seeing. His words hung in the air, like the stale smoke, until the black-haired girl spoke.
“Like we’d be dumb enough to believe that, Brody! The man owns half of Diagon Alley,” she scoffed.
“I read it in the Beetle just this morning!” he insisted. Luckily for me, the argument over whether I was bankrupt or not was interrupted by the sound of the old door opening again.
“You're late again Pip! This is the third time this week!” the Scot scolded.
I turned around to see a girl that could not be more than nineteen picking herself, and her gear bag up off the floor. She and I clearly shared a disagreement with that useless door.
“I know, I know! I’m so sorry guys, it’s just-,” she was cut short by the others.
“We had a late one last night,” they chorused.
“Pip’s parents own The Leg of The Duck pub on Spinners Lane,” someone explained. I looked round to see my informant, who turned out to be a weedy youth who looked in need of a good haircut and a wash.
“I’m sorry, okay? They couldn’t do without me!” she said, pulling a Puddlemere jersey out of her dirty gear bag at the same time. There was an Irish lilt to her voice, and she had evidently yet to notice me “Has Ritchie found a new manager yet? I swear to God if he suggests Damon Thiemann one more time I’ll scream! Sure, let's hire the cause of the Arrows doing so badly a couple of years ago! Great idea!”
“I don’t think you have to worry about finding a new manager Pip,” Big and Burly said, pointing towards me.
“What is he doing here?” she said incredulously.
“I keep telling you, he’s bankrupt,” Brody said in a sing-song voice. By this stage I was seriously contemplating pushing his chair over. He had resumed his swinging, and I wanted nothing more than to see him sprawled out on the floor, smug face crushed down into the concrete.
“Like we’re going to believe something you read in the Beetle! Everyone knows Rita Skeeter is a two-faced liar!” the Scot said, her tone fiercer than before.
The locker room erupted into chaos. It seemed everyone had an opinion as to whether I was bankrupt or not, and no one thought to ask me. So I just stood there. Clearly, this endeavour was going just swimmingly.
The locker room door burst open for the third time that morning. I turned around, and found myself face to face… well, face to chest with a portly man, who must have been a head shorter than me. His hair was thinning, and I could see a sheen of sweat on the crown of his head.
“Ah! I found you Oliver! I was getting a bit worried there that you weren’t going to show up!” he said in a relieved tone. “I see you’ve met the team,” he leaned around me to see the players still arguing andshook his head, “best to leave them at it, they’ll sort it out on their own eventually. Come with me, we’llfind somewhere quieter, then we can talk,” he bellowed as the noise level grew louder. He lead me back out into the narrow hallway, and up a rickety flight of stairs towards a door that was labelled ‘Manager’ in peeling paint.
“Now, in you come,” he shut the door behind him. I was glad to note that this door at least had a workingdoor knob. The room smelled damp and musty, and had the feel of a seldom used classroom. The desk closest to the window was littered with various papers and sweet wrappers, while the other lay vacant. I assumed this was to be my desk.
“Well, I suppose I’d better introduce myself,” the large man said, “Richard Coot, call me Ritchie, publicist and accountant of Puddlemere United,” he extended a rough, calloused hand. The first sign of an ex-beater, I noted.
“Oliver Wood,” I answered. We shook hands quickly, and Ritchie leaned back against his desk, hands clasped in front of him.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you’ve! We’ve been without a manager since the end of last season. Ivor decided he couldn’t take it anymore and switched to the Falcons,” Ritchie shuffled his feet nervously,“Look Oliver, I know that they’re a bit rough around the edges, but I do honestly believe they could go far with the right management!” He looked at me with wide, hopeful eyes.
I smiled and said I agreed wholeheartedly. I didn’t.
“We’d better get going, practice is about to start and I’m sure you want to get a good look at your new team in action!”
I wanted to tell him I’d rather watch paint dry that stand around and have my eyes burnt out by whatever atrocity the team I’d just met called Quidditch, but decided against it. The whole no choice thing was seriously coming into play today.
I had brought a notebook with me so that I could record things the team needed to improve on, but stopped after the first ten minutes of practice, because at the rate I was going, I would have written a full length novel by the time the hours training was up. There was no formation, no tactical awareness, the Chasers passes were sloppy and inaccurate, the Keeper would have better luck catching a cold than the Quaffle, the Beaters were more interested in walloping each other with their bats than anything else, and the Seeker just sat there on her broom, hovering a few feet off the ground, staring up at the clear blue sky as if the game didn’t interest her in the slightest. Ritchie was sitting next to me, looking anxiously at my expression. Evidently I wasn’t good at hiding my emotions.
“Have you gotten to know everyone yet?” he said in an overly positive tone, obviously worried I was going to storm off the pitch and refuse to re-enter.
“No,” I answered through gritted teeth, while I watched in horror as the Keeper failed to saved yet another goal. “What’s the Keepers name?” I said in a pained voice.
“Norman Loverton, he’s been playing for us for the last four years. He didn’t play Quidditch at Hogwarts, but he’s usually on better form than he is today,” he assured me “Then the two beaters are Brody Atkinson,” he pointed towards Mr Smug. “He transferred from the Sweetwater All-Stars two seasons ago. And then the other one is Henry West. He is a beast! Knocked out three people last season,” he said happily, as if that was an achievement, gesturing towards Big and Burly, before drawing my attention to the idle seeker. “Pippa Finnigan is a recent find, she only joined last month straight out of Hogwarts to replace Liam Ring. She was the reserve seeker for the Hufflepuff team. To be honest, she really should have been the permanent seeker, but she is a bit of a dangerous bet. Ferocious on the pitch, and broke the Hogwarts record for the fastest capture of a snitch, but also committed thirteen fouls during the one game she played last year.”
“Seriously?” I said sceptically. The notion that the girl who was currently ‘cloud watching’ could commit thirteen fouls in one match seemed completely preposterous to me. “But err… shouldn’t she be on the reserve team if she’s only just out of Hogwarts?”
“Then the first chaser is Evan Clark,” he continued hastily, avoiding my question. He pointed to the weedy youth. “He’s a solid enough player, but a bit too fond of the drink for my liking. Then over there’s Sakiya Amin,” he pointed to an Asian girl who, in my opinion, had far too much make-up on to be playing Quidditch. “And then there’s Kathy Owens,” he pointed to the black-haired girl from before.
“She looks a bit old to be playing Quidditch professionally,” I commented.
“She’s twenty eight,” he answered truthfully. That, in Quidditch terms, was ancient; the average retiring age was twenty six. It was a tough sport and you had to be on the top of your game, a couple of years and a few weakened muscles could be the end of you. “But she’s also the best player we have. To be honest, she shouldn’t be even here; she should be playing for the best team in the league! She wasactually, for a while, right at the beginning of her career, but then she got pregnant and had to quit. When she tried to get back into the game, none of the other teams would even consider her. Everyone knows players with kids are more trouble than they’re worth, but honestly Oliver, she’s amazing, I swear, she really is!”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said untruthfully. The first opportunity I got, I was benching her and putting in someone from the reserve team; with a squad like this I couldn’t afford to take a risk and end up missing a chaser because she couldn’t keep up. I looked over to the seating area especially set aside so the reserve team could watch the team in action, and was amazed to find it empty “Ritchie, where’s the reserve team?” I asked carefully.
“Ah. . . . about that. . . . we don’t really err… have one,” he mumbled.
“You don’t have a reserve team?” I spluttered.
“We haven’t had one for the last four years. Let’s be honest Oliver, we can’t afford a new door for the changing rooms, what makes you think we can afford to pay a reserve team?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.
I slumped back in my seat. So, my team was entirely made up of cast-offs or brutes and I had no reserve team to get rid of any of them.
Yep, this was going just swimmingly.
“Remember lads! Be here on time on Saturday or else!” Ritchie bellowed as the door swung shut behind the team after the disastrous practice.
A chorus of “Alright Ritchie,” was his reply.
“I’ll have to owl them all to remind them anyway, but it’s nice to pretend I can trust them,” Ritchie mutteredsorrowfully, rubbing at his forehead with two fat fingers. He sighed and gave me half a smile. “I’ll see you on Saturday then Oliver,” Ritchie clapped me on the back, and began to make his way up the steps to the small office.
“Hang on!” I stumbled after him “Ritchie! What’s going on here? This isn’t a team! Not a professional one anyway!”
“Look Oliver, I’m just going to be straight with you. You’re our only hope. The Association’s been breathing down our necks for Merlin knows how long over the state of the grounds,” Ritchie said, “and the team,” he added reluctantly. “Look, if this doesn’t work Oliver, Puddlemere’s going to be shut down.”
“I’m not a miracle worker, Ritchie, and to be honest after today I’m pretty sure it’s going to take more thanjust a miracle to save that lot,” I indicated towards the door, where we could hear the team flaring up again.
“I’m not asking for a miracle Oliver, I’m just asking for two wins! That’s all! Just two!” Ritchie pleaded withme. My heart softened at the sight of him. He looked a bit like a scared four year old trapped in the body of a middle aged man, except instead of pleading for sweets, he was pleading with me not to quit.
“When’s the first match?”
“Saturday,” Ritchie answered.
“Saturday?” I repeated a slight hysterical edge to my voice. I breathed in deeply, closing my eyes for a moment. “Who is it against?”
“The Wasps,” he said quietly.
“So, you’re telling me that our first match is on Saturday, against one of the best teams in the league?” I said, attempting to remain as calm as possible, but failing miserably.
“See you then Oliver,” Ritchie said quickly over his shoulder before scampering away up the stairs.
Wonderful. Just blooming fantastic.
Disclaimer: I own nothing! (sadly!)
So! New story! And its not a one-shot! Achievement!
Update: I now have a wonderful beta! Eternal gratefulness to Livi_77!