Chapter 4 : pleasant as
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Cata was not generally as moody as you might have gathered from this narration. Usually she was as lethargic as Piper, as idiotic as Gemma, and as circumspect as me. Also, she was the somewhat reasonable one, which meant that she was smarter than obsessing over something as ultimately inconsequential as what to do about Gemma and Oliver’s newfound relationship.
That’s not to say that no one else cared. I did, a little bit, enough to start watching them together to see if what Piper had told me about Oliver’s feelings was the least bit accurate. And, to my surprise, it did seem a little accurate. He didn’t look like he wanted to kill himself whenever she was in his presence (which, as far as I had seen, did not involve nearly as many “passionate embraces” as I might have suspected). And she didn’t look nearly as crazy as she was capable of looking. So as much as I privately dithered over it, I resolved, after watching them for a few days, to lean back and see if they could keep it up for another week.
But that wasn’t Cata’s strategy, which surprised me, because it had echoes of her occasional rationality. I would have been proud of myself if I wasn’t so worried.
So the obvious thing to do was to ask her what on earth her problem was.
I waited until we were alone–that was the reasonable thing to do–to ask. She was doing Transfiguration reading. At two thirty in the morning. Because that’s utterly reasonable. I’d just woken up to go to the loo, and saw the light of her wand as I was about to go back to bed. So I climbed up to her bed, withdrew the curtains, and sat down.
She blinked behind her reading glasses. “Hi, Corinna. Can I help you?”
“Mm hm. I just had a thought about this whole Gemma thing and I was wondering what you thought about it.”
She put her book down on her lap and adjusted her wand so that the light shone upon us both.
“See, it’s weird that they’re back together,” I said, “but it’s weirder that it’s been over a week… and we’re still talking about it.”
There was something of a suspicion forming in her sleep-deprived eyes, but she didn’t say anything at first.
“So my thought was, why are we still talking about it?”
I watched her carefully for a reaction, but she didn’t seem to get the point of my question.
“Specifically,” I added, “why are you still talking about it? If you don’t mind my asking, I mean. But I’ve been thinking about it and you have been spending an inordinate amount of time–”
“Obsessing about it?” she interrupted me. She seemed rather cool as she said it, blinking twice. “Gemma already said that. Yesterday, in fact.”
Damn it, I thought. I should have known Gemma would notice things even quicker than I had; it was her life Cata was so concerned with, after all. And if Piper was hyper observant of Quidditch players, Gemma was hyper sensitive to things that involved her at all.
“Did she really?”
Cata was not amused. “Oh, yeah, she did. She asked me why I was obsessing–her words–over the fact that she and Oliver are back together.”
I didn’t ask what she had said. Cata didn’t get angry that easily, and it was even more rare for her to be angry with me, so I didn’t want to risk it.
“Even though,” she continued, after a brief pause, “it’s obvious that he’s not good for her because he’s already dumped her. Even though it’s obvious she has some deep issues with the fact that he’s already dumped her. Even though it’s obvious that she’s not ready for another relationship, especially with the bloke who already dumped her–”
I gulped and wondered what on earth I’d done now. I’d tickled the sleeping dragon.
My own intelligence frightened me sometimes.
“So yeah, I’m still the teensiest bit upset about this whole debacle.” She concluded by lifting up The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 7 and opening to what had to be a random page, and began reading again as if I wasn’t staring a little openmouthed at her.
But I found out in about two seconds that I was wrong. She did react to my staring by putting the textbook down yet again and picking up her wand. I winced as the light emanating from it and then practically squeaked in downright horror as she pointed it at me. Directly at me, mind. In my eyes.
“God–what?” Cata’s mouth was open like she was about to say something, but was too scared to. “What is it now?”
She cleared her throat. There was a series of other motions that followed, but I could barely see it because of the little tiny sun exploding in front of my retinas.
“Cata, get the light out of my eyes, please.”
“You can’t tell. You can’t tell Piper and especially not Gemma. Or… you just can’t tell anyone. Promise?”
“What? Yeah, sure, fine.” The light disappeared. Or rather, she put her wand back on the bed to spare my retinas. Although I still couldn’t see, I asked her what was so vital a secret that it required blinding me before divulging it.
“It’s–Oliver,” she said haltingly. “It’s–he’s not right for her, she’s not right for him, it’s a bloody disaster of a relationship, so–you know–”
I didn’t. It sounded like she was saying the same thing over and over again.
“Do I really have to spell it out for you?” she asked despairingly.
“I. Like. Oliver.” She didn’t even give me time to react, because she whispered “Nox” to her wand, and then kicked me in the shin. “Good night, Corinna.”
Dumbfounded, I essentially slid down the ladder, crawled into bed, and tried to scrub my brain of the images that Cata’s pronouncement conjured up.
(In case you were curious: Gemma and Oliver. Cata and Oliver. Gemma confronting Cata. Fight to death. Sexist blokes watching. Betting. Cata and Oliver in passionate embrace. Gemma watching. Sobbing.)
It was not a pleasant night.
It was not a pleasant morning, either. Can you imagine facing your friends after having been told such an earth-shatteringly insane something? Gemma was dating Oliver. Again. Cata apparently liked Oliver. Piper was driving herself mad about Cedric.
Nothing interesting happens to me.
And after that week, I started praying that nothing ever would.
I spent the next morning in the library (that’s the only place I know of where no one will go during the holidays), writing letters to essentially everyone I knew. My parents were in Majorca. Spencer had spent Christmas with Imogen’s family up near Glasgow, poor bloke; it was their first holiday season as husband and wife and he had to deal with their particular brand of Scotch crazy. (There are a lot of crazy Scotch people in my life. Gemma was unequivocally one. Oliver was not quite crazy as much as not in his right mind. Imogen the artiste was more adorably mad than anything, but still.)
In any case, it was a great way of avoiding the general population and I took great joy in it.
Or I did, until I heard footsteps resounding in the library. Which it is completely possible to hear, especially when it was that quiet to begin with. I stopped writing (this letter was to my cousin Miles, who was stationed in Novgorod that winter) to listen. When I saw who dared to intrude upon my peace, I accidentally-on-purpose dropped my quill and dived under the table to retrieve it.
And stayed there for a good thirty seconds, watching Oliver wander the aisles.
He stepped dangerously close to my table, which was already in a swarm of tables just like it. Could he… no, he couldn’t possibly…
“Maybe it’s just me, but if I was going to hide under a table, I’d bring everything that was on the table with me.”
He sat down in my chair.
I almost punched his leg, but didn’t feel like it. Instead, with all the dignity I had left, I crawled out and then took the chair next to the one he’d just taken. Oliver shoved my stack of parchment, my inkpot, and the already addressed envelopes to me, cool as you please, and grinned rakishly. “But I don’t know. Just saying.”
“Mm.” I discreetly shoved all the sheets of parchment into a single envelope, and then placed the new, much fatter stack, in front of me. “You weren’t looking for me, were you?”
“Only if you were trying not to be found.”
I narrowed my eyes. “That doesn’t make sense. Did you know I was here or not?”
“No,” he relented, “I didn’t know. But I guessed.”
“So you were looking for me?”
“You could say that.”
“All right, I will. Why were you looking for me?”
It occurred to me, right then, that I’d been asking a lot of questions lately, and never got quite the answers I was expecting. So I made to say “Never mind, be enigmatic and what not, but I have letters to post, see you later, Wood.”
Naturally no complete word got out.
Because Oliver just had to say, to me, of all people, “I love Gemma. Help me.”
Maybe the closest I’d ever get to “things happening to me” was “things happening to other people and then somehow reaching me.”
I revised my prayers.
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