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Chapter 14 : No One Plays to Lose
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Penny predicted incorrectly: Roger didn't seem even slightly interested in groveling for help. As the team ran through their drills above her, Rona was in her hidden corner, grumbling at the irony of spying on her own team. She had admit the practice went surprisingly well, though Roger seemed to have a perpetually angry expression. He chose smart plays for the upcoming game and directed the team around the pitch with skill.
Regardless, the backup plan was put into motion. After practice, the team shuffled into Flitwick's classroom and draped themselves over the furniture, exhausted. Duncan and Grant were already half-asleep. Jason raised a finger to speak but he couldn't let anything out except for a croak before his head lolled back.
Randolph sprawled himself against the desk. "Three weeks... and... already... out of shape," he panted.
Rona pulled herself up to sit on a table, wondering how she was going to talk strategy to a team lacking any sort of consciousness. She also wondered what she was going to say. Roger had caught most of the team's mistakes, leaving her only nitpicks at Cho's speed and Randolph's Five-Headed Hydra maneuver.
She looked around at all the slumped figures and sighed. "You lot are doing fine," she said, setting down her notes. "Bugger knows what he's doing."
"That's good, right?" said Duncan, lifting his head weakly.
"Yeah, I suppose," she muttered. It was for the team, but less so for her. It only meant she wasn't needed anymore and being dumped to the side of the pitch after years of help did not give the fuzziest of feelings. Roger was doing a damned good job of ruining Quidditch for her.
Rona ended their meeting early, and they shambled out as enthusiastically as they entered. Waiting for her back in her dorm was fifty pages of Goblin revolution excitement to read. If that wasn't enough, the whole dorm was in low spirits. Hannah continued to be tight-lipped on the subject of her and Jeremy, Edie still guilted herself over not noticing Roger's eavesdropping, and Penny was annoyed that all these debacles weren't getting fixed soon enough.
She met Oliver briefly before dinner to walk to the Great Hall together. She was still getting used to the attention of interested passer-bys who peered into their faces interestedly as if they were surprised they were still together. Frankly, she was quite surprised, too, considering everything up to that point.
"How's the team?" asked Oliver, swinging around her hand with a finger hooked around hers. "I see Roger's been pushing them to their limits."
She wasn't sure if it was the way he said it or if she was paying more attention to everything he said, but a sudden bout of dread prickled the hairs on her neck. "How did you know that?" she asked.
Oliver glanced down at her and she couldn't tell if he hesitated or not. "I saw them coming back from the pitch," he said.
"Oh." She searched the recesses of her mind, trying to recall his schedule and if it was possible. She could swear that he had a Dark Arts class during that time. She cleared her throat, remembering that he was right next to her. "They're mostly alive, I suppose. You're starting practices soon, right?"
"Five days a week if I can manage it," he said with a tilt of his head. "But I think they can take it. ...Did your meeting go well?"
It wasn't just in her head; Rona kept hearing a cautious pause before his sentences. "Yeah," she said. "I mean, I guess Roger's... doing fine, so I haven't been really needed... except for minor hitches with speed and turning..." She had never talked so directly about her team before and wasn't sure what was safe territory. "We're managing," she finished.
He stared at her for a moment with a slight frown, as if analyzing every facet of face, before turning away and nodding slightly.
Rona considered that perhaps his strange demeanor was because he was upset with her. She approached the topic cautiously. "Are you... still mad about Natalie?"
He opened his mouth to speak and she thought she could see him mouth 'yes', but the words that eventually came out were, "It was... surprising. That's all." He didn't meet her eyes.
Her worries simmered for another day. The next time she met him, his shift in attitude was even more unmistakable.
Rona sat on the hallway floor with her book balanced on her tucked knees next to Oliver. Their conversation had been unusually stilted, but she kept trying to fill in the awkward silences. "Do you think that I can still meet with the scouters after matches even though I'm not that involved with the team anymore?" she asked, turning to him.
"Does it matter what I think?" he muttered as he picked at the hem of his shirt.
She sighed at his continual standoffishness. "Well, yes," she said, hoping he could hear the irritation and concern in her voice.
He sniffed, still not looking up. "I wasn't aware."
No matter how much she asked what was wrong, he wouldn't give a straight reply. All she knew was that he wasn't budging with an answer, and there were only so many things he would keep quiet about.
The meetings with the team eventually did come in handy. Roger's patience began to slip and his volume increased tenfold as a result of becoming insanely perfectionist by the end of the week. When Jeremy and Randolph made goals, he yelled at Grant for not blocking them. When he did block them, he yelled at Jeremy and Randolph for not making goals.
Sometimes, she caught Roger looking right at her during practices, and she was sure he could see her — she wouldn't have been surprised with the flimsy Disillusionment charm Penny placed on her. But if he did, he didn't mention it.
On the opposite end of decibels, her dorm managed to become even quieter. It was no big deal for Penny, Edie, and Rona, but it was driving Hannah crazy.
Hannah lay on her bed, twirling a finger in the air as she tried to stir up a conversation topic about Rona again, though it was obvious that she was grasping at straws. "Revenge. Seduction. Drunken nights," she said dramatically. "Friends becoming enemies. Enemies becoming friends!"
"So my life is the plot of my Gram's soaps," said Rona in a monotone as she skimmed a paragraph on the thrilling life and times of magical deciduous trees.
The room fell into another silence punctuated only by the occasional flip of a page.
It was only when Rona reached page thirty-three that she noticed that it had been nearly three whole days she had last spoken to Oliver. They had exchanged glances across the Great Hall at times, but she hadn't had time to meet up with him properly lately. He had not sought her out either. She meant to look for him herself, but as work piled up, she kept putting it off until she finally forgot.
Wary or not, she missed him. He knew how to calm her down and make her laugh and forget that she was paranoid in the first place. Unfortunately, the next day only had more work for her and the tiring cycle started all over again.
There was a pocket of time after lunch, but she could not find Oliver in the Great Hall. She wandered out to the pitch, half in attempt to find him, half simply to enjoy the place without needing to hide. Their practice wasn't for another hour and Slytherin already had theirs in the morning. She reached down to run her hand across the grass that was enchanted to stay clean-cut, dew-scented, and delightfully springy — somewhat deceptive for something that was the cause of innumerable concussions from broom falls.
As she circled the perimeter, she heard the faint sound of running water, and upon closer inspection, verified that it indeed from the lockers. No one else except Oliver would be there without a game coming up.
Rona stepped down into the hallway beneath the stand and headed toward the cloud of steam pouring from the entrance. As she tread deeper into the room, she could barely make out the back of his head at the very last shower and was about to call out to him, but thought better than to interrupt his shower.
The implications hit her full force. A shower. Naked. Behind a very short dividing wall.
Her cheeks reddened and she tried to make a quick escape, hoping he wouldn't notice her, but the floor was slippery. She grabbed on to the handle of the closest locker for balance, causing a loud clash of metal.
"Oi — " Oliver whipped around, spraying water around him. He took one look at Rona and raised an eyebrow, hand reaching for his towel. "How long have you been there — "
"I was — " Rona began, scrambling for any explanation that sounded less creepy than 'watching you', which was essentially any excuse at all. "I thought you were Jeremy!"
The eyebrow went higher. "You see Jeremy naked?"
Her grip slipped and she nearly fell again at his words. "No! No! That came out wrong," she stuttered, trying to find a way to explain her blasé attitude with locker rooms. "I mean, I — I thought this was my team's lockers — "
It was physically impossible for Oliver to look any more surprised. "You see your team naked?"
"Yes — I mean, no, I mean, I — " Panic gripped her throat. "Merlin, it's not what it seems!" She hurriedly tried to stand up, but her left foot flew through the air and she fell flat on her back with a resounding thump.
The squeak of Oliver's wet footsteps across the cement floor neared. Rona peeked up wearily, pushing herself up into a sitting position despite her smarting palms, her face still flushed with embarrassment. He had a towel wrapped around his middle now and his earlier bemusement was gone as he cast his eyes indifferently toward her before opening his locker.
Her heart sank at the cold shoulder, and she scrambled to find reasons for it. In the ensuing silence, she didn't know what else to do but to continue her earlier fumbled explanation. "I... I meant to say that I'm used to talking to my team in the lockers and... I guess I'm too used to it now." Her voice trailed off at the end as she looked for any sign of a response.
He threw his clothes over his shoulder and shut the door with a startling slam, giving her another brief glance before heading behind the next row of lockers to change.
Every muscle of her body belied the calm she tried to keep. "You've been avoiding me," Rona said, biting the inside of her lip.
There was no response until he reappeared, dressed and drying his hair with his towel. "So you noticed."
"I thought nothing was wrong," she said quietly, though it was obvious the truth was otherwise.
"Maybe I lied."
She frowned at his terse replies. "You should've just told me if you really weren't okay."
Oliver threw his towel on the bench and opened his locker again, though it didn't seem like he was looking for anything. "Maybe I wished you'd figure it out on your own," he said. Frustration peppered his words.
"I've been asking you," she said, baffled. She couldn't be blamed for not making an effort. "I don't know what else you want me to figure out. What I did to Natalie was terrible, but I don't know how else I can make it up — " She stopped as he started to shake his head as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You think this is still about Natalie?" His grip tightened against the metal sides until they were white at the knuckles.
Rona frowned. She didn't know what else it could be about.
Oliver turned his head and she could barely make out his grimace. "Do you trust me?" he asked, the strained quality of his voice disclosing exactly how much he must have considered the question before.
Her lips parted in confusion, puzzled over what prompted his question, one that she remembered Roger asking once, one that she had been asking herself that week. "Yes," she said, though she knew how hollow it sounded.
His head dropped between his shoulders. "Then why does it sound like you don't?"
"I do!" she exclaimed, but her emphasis sounded silly now. She sighed. "Mostly. Mostly, I do."
He spun around, anger and pain flashing in his eyes. "Mostly?"
Rona stiffened. She didn't think it would be such a big deal to him. She had forgotten how explosive Oliver was when he was incensed; memories of the near-fight with Roger in the Great Hall flickered through her mind. "I think it's expected," she said, trying to sound reasonable. "We didn't exactly meet in the best of situations."
"Is it still that?" He struck the locker with the side of his clenched hand.
Her defenses shot up as fear and disbelief took over her. She wasn't prepared for this. "I don't understand why you're so angry. It's only been a few weeks — "
"Only? Only?" he scoffed. "What do I have to do to prove myself, eh? Haven't I done enough?"
Rona suddenly felt claustrophobic, her back pressed against the wall behind her, steam stifling her throat. "You've been acting weird! Asking suspicious questions. What was I supposed to think?"
"My suspicious questions?" he repeated, thrusting his hands out in indignation. "Like what, asking about how your team's doing? I'm not looking for bleedin' blueprints, I want to know how your day went! Quidditch is what we do; we're not just going to ignore it forever!"
"I'm not asking for forever! I just thought that maybe... maybe we would've been better off waiting until after our match and then — "
"You really think I would put a damn match over you?" He grit his teeth. "So that's what you think." He paced down the aisle, each intake of breath sharper than the last. He stopped at the end of the aisle and Rona thought to approach him and try to calm him down when he hit the lockers again, shaking her to the bone.
"I don't have a problem trusting you!" he yelled.
He's doesn't know what he's saying. His temper's fueling him. Or else he would see how I'm trying. Rona rose to her feet, however unsteady her legs were at the moment. "It's not the same — "
"Why? Because you can't be as shady as I can?" Oliver walked up to her and blood pounded against her throat as he trapped her with an arm on either side of her. She looked down, not wanting to see his hurt, but he followed her gaze. "I recall someone taking advantage of my team members — "
Her eyes flew up and she placed a hand on his arm, desperate to break him out of his fit. "You said that didn't matter anymore," she breathed, now grasping at straws to defend herself.
He twisted his arm away. "Maybe it does!" He swallowed hard. "If you still can't forget about the stupid things I've done, that I already apologized for, then why should I forget about everything you've done?"
"It's not that easy for me. I can't just trust people — "
"And you don't think it's hard for me?" he spat. "You don't think that I've ever thought that maybe you were using me? But that I told myself, 'Why the hell would I be so stupid to ruin my chances with a brilliant girl based on some bloody fear with no basis?'"
Her mind was telling her that he was blowing everything out of proportion, that she was in the wrong but not as deep as he was making it seem, yet she could not deny the pangs of guilt in her heart and the tears threatening to burst out. "I thought you'd understand!"
He stared at her, panting as the ire faded, and stood stock still as the silence dragged on. Finally, with slight shake of his head, he sighed, "I do. And I'm disappointed."
Dropping his arms, Oliver tore his eyes away from her. He whipped his towel off the bench and, without another glance, left the room.
After the echo of his steps faded away, Rona was left alone with only the sound of dripping water to accompany her shaky breaths. As the cold seeped into her clothes, she slunk against the wall, feeling the tremor of sobs coming up her throat, and fought every urge to cry.
He should've told me. He should've understood.
Rona tried to recall every conversation they had, searching for evidence that would make her sound valid. She wanted to tell him what she had risked for him and how her exile had been hell, but every justification seemed meaningless. Guilt drained her of color as she realized how much he must have cared to be that angry. About her. About them.
But his resigned expression when he left told her that it no longer mattered.
Rona alternated between bouts of crying and not-crying, his words repeating in her head, until it was nearly time for practice. Her legs were numb when she stumbled to her feet and walked over to the mirrors to check her eyes, rimmed with red. She splashed her face with water and quickly left the room, not wanting to risk being caught by her team.
She sat on the floor of the spectator stand, her hiding spot, still trying to clear her mind until she finally saw the familiar figures of her team take to the sky. But she couldn't focus no matter how hard she tried and had little recollection of the practice after it was over.
She was pacing around Flitwick's classroom when Jeremy entered, the first of the team to arrive.
He took one look at her and frowned. "Are you okay?"
Rona took a deep breath, ready to tell Jeremy everything like she always did, but the words couldn’t form. Admitting her mistake was more than she could handle. She could already see the creases of worry forming on his forehead when she plastered a smile on her face and said, "It's nothing."
He gave her a pointed look, but left her alone.
No one else mentioned anything until Penny pulled her aside after dinner, scrutinizing her up and down. "What’s wrong?" she asked flatly.
Rona's gaze flicked to the Gryffindor table momentarily. She cleared her throat. "Binns has been a right arse with assigning essays is all."
Penny furrowed her brows as she glanced in the same direction. "What happened?" she asked, her voice dropping to a whisper. "Please don't tell me he really is using you."
Rona wanted to laugh. It would've been nice to laugh, however bitterly, after her mess of a day. "No, it's nothing like that. He really did fancy me," she said with a small wavering smile. "More than I expected."
Penny's stance softened, realization dawning on her. "Rona..."
"I screwed up," she uttered, quiet and drawn. "We're over."
A/N *braces for reactions* Sooo. That was amazingly void of fluff. Sorry to brick y'all with that. But that means it can only get better right? 8D I never really thought about it before, but Rona being the emotionally dense one is a bit of a gender reversal for the stereotype. Also, I sort of never elaborated much on Oliver's characterization as Rona hasn't seen every side of him. Hopefully, now he's got a bit of depth with this new development. HIs angsty, angsty depth side. My beta compared him to a kicked puppy.
I'm so erratic with my style. I've figured out a pattern. Angst = descriptions, fluff = dialogue abuse. Yep. My writing style's actually changed drastically in general from when I first took up this fic again, so I might have to go back just to edit for consistency.
Anyhow, next chapter's in Oliver's PoV! More depth! Woohoo! And it shall be quite amusing, I assure you. And guess what? Only three more chapters. That's what.
Please leave a review! :)
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