Chapter 1 : The Harpy With the Mohawk
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Hell, she was a professional Quidditch player, not a businesswoman. She was famous for her unusual hairdos. The Harpy with the green hair. The Harpy with the mohawk. Of course, she thought disgruntledly, since she was merely a reserve player for the Harpies, it was basically the only thing she was famous for. She had spent nearly all of the four years since being hired to the team warming the proverbial bench while the Harpies' lead Keeper, Lyra Brownyard, played every game.
The season before last, Lyra had sat out two games with an injury, and Molly had finally got to play. But it hadn't lasted; Lyra was back to full form and Molly hadn't got off the scrimmage pitch since. The worst part was, Lyra was genuinely talented and nice to boot, so Molly couldn't even dislike her for it.
Still though, Molly missed actually playing the game. Playing in front of a crowd, hearing the cheers and feeling the adrenaline of the game were some of the best times of her life. She missed the junior league when she'd been the star Keeper for her team, and she even missed her student days at Hogwarts and playing Keeper for Gryffindor. As much as she loved the Harpies, she was growing dissatisfied with her spot on the roster. Stepping up to the major leagues was starting to feel a lot like stepping down.
So when she'd received an invitation for a private interview with the manager of Pride of Portree, she'd accepted, though it felt a bit disloyal to the Harpies. The Holyhead Harpies were taking good care of her, it was true: she had a wonderful flat in a good part of town, plenty of free time and money to do as she pleased, and the training schedule was rigorous without being gruelling. It was just that she never got to play in a game. A year ago, she wouldn't have even considered interviewing with another team. Now she was starting to feel itchy for a change. This wasn't the change she'd been hoping for, though.
The Prides had slipped in the rankings last season, falling to the bottom of the league alongside the perpetual last-comers, the Chudley Cannons. The team was a mess, and there were rumours flying everywhere about what would happen to them. She wasn't so sure even entertaining an offer from the Prides was a good idea. Moving from one reserve team to another held no interest for Molly, but she'd take a free dinner any evening. If nothing else, she might find out some good gossip from this interview, and the restaurant they were meeting at was unlikely to be patronized by any of the other Harpies, so the meeting should stay under the radar. Molly's stomach fluttered.
“Deep breath,” she told herself aloud. “All you have to do is hear them out.”
If she didn't like what they said, she could go back to her life with the Harpies and cross her fingers for game time this season.
The restaurant was nearly empty, but it would have been easy to pick out the Prides' manager even in a crowd. Meghan McCormack was a retired Keeper for the Prides, daughter of a famous Quidditch player and sister to a famous rock star, a fabulously talented player in her day. She was in her early fifties now, but her hair was still the same reddish blonde, her fireplug build only slightly thickened with age. She had taken over management of the team ten years ago, shortly after she retired from active play. Molly had kept a poster of McCormack over her bed at Hogwarts, idolizing the Quidditch star who played her favourite position for her favourite team. She kept the note of star-struck awe out of her voice as McCormack stood and shook her hand.
“Nice to meet you.”
“Thank you for coming,” McCormack said warmly, a Scottish burr flowing like honey in her words.
Glasses of red wine were brought out, and Molly was surprised to find it was a vintage she was very fond of. McCormack had done some homework on her.
They placed their orders, and as the waitress bustled off, McCormack leaned forward, elbows propped on the table.
“You've probably guessed why I wanted to speak to you,” McCormack began. “I'm sure you've heard the rumours about Pride of Portree.”
“I heard you sacked the coach, if that's what you mean,” Molly said cautiously.
McCormack chuckled. “That's a fact. I sacked half the line-up and our entire reserve team as well.”
Molly blinked in surprise. She'd been prepared to believe the Prides had a new coach, and perhaps a few new players, but half the line-up and all the reserve players? It was unheard of. It was probably making Quidditch history. She didn't think half a team had got the sack for a few hundred years.
“I need to fill in the line-up,” McCormack went on, still leaning on the table with unabashed bad manners. “I saw you two seasons ago when the Harpies went up against Puddlemere. You were good. Damn good. Too good to waste sitting backstage to indestructible old Brownyard. I'm offering you the starter position as Keeper to the Prides.”
Molly stared at her, at a loss for words. She'd been waiting for a chance to move up from the reserves, but she hadn't expected it to be for a team trying to break a losing streak, with an entirely fresh and untried line-up. With over half the team being replaced, they would be starting from a lot further behind than the rest of the league. Possibly too far behind to catch up. The training season was already halfway over. This wasn't how she'd wanted her next big break to happen. It could be something wonderful, or it could sink her career.
It was a big gamble. She ran a hand through her hair, sending the mohawk fluttering.
“I also need a new captain. I'll be choosing from the new line-up. I hear you've got a history of leadership. Hogwarts prefect and Quidditch captain and then Head Girl? Twelve Outstanding N.E.W.T.s and not a hint of a mental breakdown? Seems like you can handle the pressure, and you've got the experience.” McCormack was watching her closely. She had definitely done her homework, if she'd bothered to check Molly's school record aside from sport.
“Who've you brought in so far?” Molly asked, delaying an answer. Normally joining a new team, she'd already know who all the players were. This time it could be anyone.
“Zara Mackie out of Ballycastle and Sid Whittlemore from the Wasps for Chasers. I still need a new Beater. I'm going to speak to Virgil Gittins tomorrow.”
Three other reserve players, then. Gittins played for Falmouth, who were known for rough play. He'd be a damn fine Beater, actually. And the other two would make an interesting combination for Chaser, if they could get along. Mackie was driven and hard-nosed; Sid Whittlemore was known for being class clown. Molly found herself intrigued by the possibilities.
“And who've you kept?”
McCormack smiled slowly. “Jinks, MacDougald, and Preece.”
The three most consistent players on the team. Not a big surprise there, now she thought about it. The other two Chasers from the Prides' old lineup had been better than Beathan MacDougald when they were on their game, but that had been spotty at best, and one had failed to turn up for games on two occasions. Declan Preece's opposite as Beater had the record for most fouls last season, including over two hundred counts of bumphing, but Preece played a fairly clean game, as Beaters went. And Evander Jinks's abilities as Seeker had been the only thing keeping Pride of Portree above the Chudley Cannons in last season's rankings.
McCormack had kept the best of what she had and jettisoned the dead weight. Mackie and MacDougald would do well together as Chasers, and probably keep Whittlemore in line between the two of them. Mackie would probably be a serious competition for captain as well. The thought of the challenge of bringing a team together almost entirely from scratch gave Molly a bit of a thrill. If she could pull it off, it would be brilliant. She'd be a shoo-in for the national team at the next World Cup, if the British managed to make it there again.
If, if, if. Molly didn't normally make decisions this big when there were this many ifs on the table. But her last sure decision, to play for Holyhead, wasn't turning out as well as she thought. It was probably time to roll the dice.
“So what do you say?” McCormack asked, breaking into her train of thought. “Ready to move to Scotland?”
Molly smiled at her. “When do you want me to report?”
McCormack looked triumphant. “We start training next week.”
Molly stretched a hand across the table and they shook.
“I can't wait to see you in Prides purple. Going to change your hair?”
“Can't keep it Harpy green if I'm in Portree,” Molly responded. The waitress had returned with their meals, and as she set the dishes on the table, Molly added, “One last question, though. Who's the coach?”
“She's insane,” raged Riordan Fitzroy. “Bloody insane!”
Max Halligan was stretched out on the purple velvet-upholstered sofa in the Pride of Portree changing room, tossing a golden golf ball into the air above him and catching it lightly in the same hand. “Tell me something I don't know.”
“I'm supposed to find a way to bring an entirely new line-up together with only half a training season? It's completely mental!”
“Preaching to the choir, brother.”
He kicked the gold-painted lockers. “She's out of her mind! No one sacks half the lineup! Where is she even going to find us enough players?”
“Don't I know it.”
“She hasn't even got any top talent! Bunch of second-stringers, couldn't make it to the main teams- are you even listening to me?” Fitz, as he was universally known to friend and foe alike, snatched the golf ball out of the air before Max could catch it.
“Look mate, you've got to pull it together,” Max told him. “She's already done it, you can't get the old team back now. No point crying over spilt butterbeer.” He hauled himself upright, planting his long feet on the gold carpet. “Besides, all the players she sacked are the ones you said needed a good kicking and a reduction in pay until they pulled their heads out of their arses and remembered how to play properly. And she did sack that incompetent old bastard Rodan as well, and made you the team's head coach.”
“Head coach,” muttered Fitz, falling heavily onto the couch next to his friend. “I'm the only bloody coach now.”
“No one knows the game better than you. What the hell do you need an assistant for?”
Fitz rubbed a hand over his eyes. He certainly didn't need an assistant coach. He knew for the most part what an assistant coach needed to do, because up until two days ago it was what he'd been, at least for two months.
Before that he'd been an angry, unemployed ex-Quidditch player.
Up until the attack – “injury”, as everyone insisted on calling it – that had left him permanently unable to play the sport he loved, not to mention unable to lift his left arm above his shoulder, Fitz had been the star Chaser for the Montrose Magpies. Team captain. And then at the age of twenty-seven, he'd been forced into retirement. He knew he shouldn't blame the Magpies manager for giving him the sack; he couldn't play any more. Knowing it and doing it were two different things, though.
When McCormack had approached him to help her failing old coach Rodan get the team back in shape, he'd told her to go to hell. Twice. What the hell did he know about coaching? He was a player who couldn't play. That didn't make him coach material. The third time though, he'd finally agreed. If he couldn't play, at least he could be around the sport. And after all, he was only going to be the assistant coach. He wouldn't have to know what the hell he was doing. He could be assistant for a few years and learn the job until Rodan retired. But his luck was terrible as always, because McCormack had turned around and sacked nearly the entire team roster, including Rodan, a month after she'd hired Fitz.
Admittedly, the team had performed terribly last year. They'd been steadily declining for the past five years, with Rodan's incompetence and the general disinterest of their last team captain. Replacing the coach and captain had made sense. Replacing nearly all the players with poached reservists from the rest of the league, on the other hand...
Meghan McCormack had gone completely round the twist, that was all there was to it. The other managers were going to kill her when they found out she was stealing their reserve players a month before the season began. At least they would just replace the reserves and carry on with their starting lineup as usual. The Prides would have to start their training over completely, and with only half the training season in which to do it.
Untried players cobbled together from the other teams, and an untried coach. At least the players knew their jobs. Fitz hadn't been able to learn a damn thing from Rodan before the old man had finally been forced into retirement. What the hell was McCormack thinking?
“I'm going to bollucks this up,” Fitz informed his friend matter-of-factly. “I have no idea what the bloody hell I'm doing.”
“You were captain. You know Quidditch inside and out,” Max pointed out. “You played professionally for over five years.”
“I know how to play Quidditch. I don't know how to teach anyone else to play.”
“Can't be that hard.”
“What the hell do you know, you own a pub.” Fitz slumped down into the purple velvet. It crushed beneath him, pushing his dark hair up at odd angles. “I'm screwed. She's going to sack me next.”
“Why'd you take the job if you didn't think you could do it?” Max asked, still not looking convinced of his friend's imminent career implosion.
“Thought I'd pick it up from Rodan.”
Max snorted. “The incompetent old bastard?”
Fitz sighed. “I didn't realize he was that incompetent when I took the job. McCormack was the one who hired me, not the old bastard. I think he was getting a bit barmy in his old age. He was good in his day. The Prides won the league twice in the 60s, you know.”
“Sweet Hairy MacBoons,” said Max. “That's nearly seventy years ago. The old bastard was older than I thought.”
Fitz cracked a grin despite himself. “Ninety-five if he was a day.”
“No wonder he started wearing his underpants on his head, then. Look Fitz, you're just gonna have to make the best of this. Like ordering ten barrels of Hebridean Black Lager and getting ten barrels of Porlock Red Ale instead.” Max gave him a solid punch to the shoulder.
Fitz shot him a look. “You're no help whatsoever.”
“Learn to sell what you've got, even if it's not what you wanted.” Max got to his feet. “See you at the pub later?”
“Yeah, off with ya, then.” Fitz waved him out with a rude hand gesture.
As Max's footsteps faded, Fitz stared up at the ceiling and laced his fingers together across his chest. The ceiling was nearly the only thing in the room that was neither purple nor gold, and looking at it was almost a relief for the eyes, even though it was dingy and had a few cracks from overenthusiastic Bludgers.
Learn to sell what you've got. He didn't even know what he had, much less how to sell it. He couldn't show them half the things he wanted to, because his bloody shoulder was wrecked. The spell damage was permanent, even after a solid eighteen months of remedial potions and charm therapy. If he couldn't show them his skills, how was he supposed to teach them?
How the hell was he going to prove to McCormack that she shouldn't sack him while she was replacing everyone else?
“Thinking about your strategy for the rest of the training season?”
Fitz sat up straight at the sound of Meghan McCormack's smoky voice. He turned to see her strolling in with a smug expression.
“Who've you got now?” he asked warily, avoiding answering her question.
“Got us a Keeper. Molly Weasley.”
Fitz's brain shuffled through the rosters of the British and Irish League and flipped up a picture to his mind's eye. “The Harpy with the mohawk?”
“That's the one,” McCormack agreed gleefully. “Did you see her play Puddlemere two seasons ago when Brownyard was out with an injury? She's good.”
Fitz remembered the game. Weasley was good, he'd give her that, but she wasn't as good as Brownyard. Of course, Brownyard got a lot more game time than Weasley did. That made a big difference. Weasley'd been a top player in the junior league. His mind's eye was still examining the image of her. She was also very good-looking, despite the green mohawk, and sat her broom with a lanky, long-legged gracefulness. He shook that off and refocused. “The Harpies are going to kill you for poaching their players. Assuming the rest of the league doesn't get you first. First the Wasps, then Ballycastle-”
“I'm going to Falmouth tomorrow.”
'Duff' Gittins, no doubt. The Falcons had three reserve players for every position, so they could afford to lose one, but that wouldn't make them any less annoyed about it. McCormack was assembling a team and pissing off the league in one fell swoop.
At least the Arrows would still be friendly enough. They'd be gloating that she'd gone for the Wasps first and that none of their players had defected. Appleby's reserve Chaser Lizzie Keen had turned the offer down flat when McCormack had offered her a spot in the Prides' reserves.
“Word's going to get around,” Fitz warned her. “They'll keep their players from meeting you.”
“They can all go suck eggs,” said McCormack. “Gittins is the last one.”
Fitz raised an eyebrow. “Found a few to play reserve for us, have you?”
She nodded, the smugness still all over her face. “Deimos Flint agreed this morning.”
She'd already locked down Bram Carmichael from the Kestrels when Keen had refused. Adding Flint out of Wigtown only gave them two reservists, since McCormack had sacked all their old ones. That wouldn't be enough if someone was injured. His shoulder twinged just at the thought, and his lips tightened. “We're going to need more reserve players.”
“I've also hired Mariah Waldman,” McCormack said then.
Fitz turned slowly to stare at her.
“Is that going to be a problem?” she asked smoothly, the devil that she was.
Fitz didn't hesitate. “Absolutely not,” he told her evenly.
“Funny, that's exactly what she said.”
A/N: This story takes place within the Midnight Run universe, so the characters here are the same as in the Midnight Run trilogy and its one-shots, and more importantly in Sparks. And yes, Lucy and Hilarion will be appearing. Can't have a Quidditch story without Hilarion. :) If you haven't read any of those, you should still be able to follow along no trouble. Please review and thank you for reading!