There was a storm in my head and heart, making all rational thought nearly impossible. My heart was beating so hard, the noise surely echoed off the canvas walls of my tent. It was so loud! I stumbled over to my cot, pulling of always-muddy tennis shoes and collapsing against the pillow.
What had I done?
I'd just kissed Oliver Wood, that's what. And that was no normal snog. Dammit. I couldn't be falling for him, could I? It was wrong and I knew it, and that was what scared me.
Ever since I'd started my fabulous new job, I'd been skating on thin ice, trying not to step over the line. Being a captain was hard and lonely, but it had always been my dream! I'd been so scared of screwing up my only chance that I'd lost control and done it anyways. True, it was Oliver's fault as well—but sitting on a higher pedestal than he, I had so much further to fall.
I pressed my face into the pillows, listening to the rain butting it's head against my tent. I've always hated rain, so cold and cruel. I live for the shining sun, crisp clear mornings and blue skies. I can't bring myself to take comfort in rain.
I rolled over finally, resurfacing to take a breath. I put a hand on my head, suddenly startled to feel how warm my forehead was. I gulped, and my throat felt puffy and swollen. Swearing softly, I sat up and dangled my feet over the edge of my bed.
I got to my feet, wet socks making damp imprints in the squishy, putrid orange carpet I'd always hated. The two players tents were nicer, I knew, but they had less room when they had to share. I wished Puddlemere United was a rich team, but the fact was, we weren't. We were the known underdogs, and I'd always pledged to overturn that reputation. For the past three years, it hadn't worked.
I was feeling lightheaded now, and a bead of sweat rolled down the side of my face. I swiped it away, wrinkling my nose.
When I tried to open the cabinet in the kitchen, my hand felt swollen and balloon-like, and my fingers were tingling so I had a hard time grasping the handle. I knocked over about a dozen potions before I found the one I wanted, and when I gulped it down it was still difficult to swallow. I slammed the door shut, hoping I'd taken the right one—but not really caring. Steadying myself on the counter, I set off on the dizzy journey to my bed.
If Philbert had decided to “pop” up right then, I'd likely murder him.
As the floor tipped and hazed around me, I tripped over my sneakers, fell, and lay on the floor, the room still bucking and tilting even though I wasn't walking anymore. Groaning, I grabbed a handful of sheets and hoisted myself onto the bed, diving under the covers.
I peered up at the ceiling, where a fly buzzed around the encased-candle lantern. I grabbed my wand from the table, waved it giddily in the general direction of the bug, and commanded slurredly, “Petrificus Totalus.”
The big didn't go stiff, but I managed to splinter the glass of the lantern and the candle went out with a slight “puff.” I think there was a flash of light somewhere along the line too, but I was barmy at the time and don't remember much.
The last thought I can recall before drifting of into unconsciousness was about Oliver. Bloody hell.
I woke up late the next morning, and I felt better but for a pounding headache that was getting me in a very crabby mood. The sun was shining through a crack in my tent, and this alone should have warned me. But I got out of bed slowly, stretching and yawning and taking my own sweet time getting dressed.
That's when I the cuckoo clock started cuckoo-ing ten o'clock, and I fell into a state of utter panic. I jumped to my feet and just about inhaled my toast, dashing out through the fields with crumbs flying from my mouth.
I was Blair Lochrin, team captain of Puddlemere United. I was supposed to be responsible, supposed to be organized! So why did I keep messing things up?
Mud flew behind me, speckling the back of my sweatpants brown. The sun was shining bright for the first time today, but for once I wasn't grinning about it. It was only making my head pound worse, and by the time I got to the pitch I was quite out of breath, which wasn't like me—I'd always been in shape, even off-season.
I bent over, hands on my knees, trying to catch my breath. I looked up and found the members of my team, all looking at me. Lucy and Sean flew down and dismounted on the grass, Lucy smiling warmly and Sean . . . well, staring
. Odd one, that. Seconds before, they'd both been tossing the Quaffle back and forth.
Oliver was flitting around near the goalposts, doing heaven-knows-what, and Jacey, Alla, and Riley were down at the far end of the pitch where it was harder to see. They all flew down to meet me, however, their glances curious.
“Hey, you lot. I'm so sorry about this morning, and thank you for having the initiative to practice without me—”
A male voice cut through my words scathingly. “The initiative! We want to win just as much as you, Lochrin. But we, unlike others, are responsible enough to actually practice
I stared at Riley, then attempted a weak grin. “Riley, I'm sorry, I really am. I don't know what's gotten into me . . .”
I couldn't look them in the eye—with Hannan's outburst, the whole silly ordeal was feeling all blown out of proportions. They'd been counting on me! They'd been counting on me to be a good teacher and captain, to lead them to the victory I knew we all wanted. They'd been counting on me to be the person I was being paid to be.
They'd been counting on me, and I'd let them down. And as highly wrought-out and over dramatic all this might have seemed, I felt like a right crummy captain—and a right crummy friend.
I looked up finally, catching the sympathy in Oliver's eyes and the confusion in Alla and Lucy's. Sean's were expressionless, Jacey's calculating, and Riley's scalding. But no matter what, there was disappointment in all those eyes. Disappointment in me, and me alone.
Oliver shook his head suddenly, cracking a grin and slapping Riley playfully on the arm. “Come on, mate. It's just a few hours, nothing to get your knickers in a twist about! And I think we all agree, Blair's been working hard. She deserved a break.”
I looked at Wood, letting him know that I was grateful, but at the same time I shook my head. “Thanks Oliver, but what I did was wrong, and I admit it. I told you all to be out here early, and I should have too.” I started to stride away, ready to take charge again, but a hand clenched onto my shoulder. It was Riley.
“You wasted our time! I don't think—”
“Don't you touch her, Hannan.”
Oliver had stepped up, shoving Riley away from me, and my head hurt even more.
“Oliver! I said you were wrong. Riley was right to be angry with me, and we'll just have to leave it at that.” I avoided his eyes, knowing there would be hurt there. We were better off on our own, anyways. We were just going to end up getting hurt if we kept entertaining this silly notion of love, and that was that. Who needed love when you could pick fights with your teammates all day long?
Riley let my shoulder go, smirking with satisfaction. Oliver let him arms fall to his sides, staring down at the grass like a scolded child, and I saw Alla biting her lip unhappily. I stared at the spot directly over her head, not wanting to look at anyone.
It would have been better then. There would have still been hurt, but we would have survived. It was when Riley opened his big mouth the third time that things began to steadily fall apart.
“Well, good. Glad to know you see it my way, Lochrin.”
I turned, gritting my teeth slightly. “Call me Blair,” I said politely, having a hard time keeping the steel edge off my voice. “And don't forget who the captain of this team is, Riley.”
Riley stared, surprised. “What the hell? You can sit up there with your crown chucking bludgers and trying to murder the rest of us, I don't give a damn. But if you're going to act
better than the rest of us lowly players—well, at least be better.”
I looked at him, open-mouthed, until Jacey spoke.
“Hannan, get ahold of yourself! Do you even know what you sound like?" She paused, her face conveying evident disgust. "A child, that's what!” She turned and stomped away, leaving all of us surprised once again. Riley stood there and blinked, then turned to go after her. Once he'd gone, I sank to the ground and buried my face in my hands, wanting nothing more than to be back in bed.
Oliver made a move to put his hand on my shoulder, but Alla was there first and knelt on the wet grass beside me. “For what it's worth, I think all the rest of them are loony,” she said with a grin. Then she leaned over and gave me a hug, and I hugged her back.
“Thanks, Alla. It's good to know someone believes in me . . . I have a feeling I'm going to need it.”
How was I going to tape us back together this time? With only a few days until our first match and the whole team in shambles, I just wanted to go to bed and not resurface until winter. No one had said it would be easy, at any rate whatsoever—we were all nearly complete strangers, converging for the first time since tryouts. We'd all been training separately in our hometowns for months (mostly due to our despicable budget).
I knew the incident today and my lateness wasn't what Riley and I had really been fighting about—it was deeper than that, and it confused even me. He always seemed to be picking a fight, but was I honestly any better? I doubted it.
Nobody said we'd all get along, nobody said we'd automatically be friends. But this
? All this tension mounting ever steadily day by day, people fighting and nitpicking and yelling. It was idiotic to the point of ridiculousness, and I was downright sick of it.
I wanted to fix it all, but what could I do? There were no spells for fixing broken hearts, no charms to mend deflated egos or hurt prides. There was no way I could see to bind up this steadily breaking team of mine, and at the same time I couldn't help wondering what in the world I was doing wrong.
What had I done to deserve this?