Chapter 5 : disconcerting as
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“Forgive me for being exceptionally dense,” I said, “but what the hell?”
Oliver looked quite mournfully at me. “I love Gemma. I’m in love with Gemma. Got that?”
I nodded, a bit perturbed.
“And I need help.”
“You’re the best chance I have, so yeah. From you.”
I buried my face in my hands, willing the words to stop echoing in my head. “So. Many. Questions.”
“Fire away.” He paused–perhaps to check the time with the watch he didn’t have–and then said, “I’ve got all day.”
“All right, first question. Are you quite sure you haven’t been hit by too many Bludgers over your long and storied career?”
He snorted. “Exact wording. I’m impressed.”
Of course he was. “Well?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Next one.”
Of course, I had plenty more with which to follow up. I never do run out of questions. Endearing quality and all of that. “You think you’re in love with Gemma why?” My voice was a little muffled, as it was coming from behind my hands, but I thought I got the gist of the question across quite clearly.
“Because I am.”
“Because that makes sense.” I removed my hands from my face and tried to see if Oliver was taking the mickey out of me. And as far as I could tell, he wasn’t. His expression was as cool and blasé as ever, but he was looking at me in a scary intense manner. It was super, super disconcerting. “You dumped her.”
“I know,” he scowled. “Because she’s insane.”
I waited for something building off of that answer that could lead to and that’s why I love her.
“But she’s insane in the adorable sense of the word,” he said.
In no alternate universe was Gemma adorably insane. Or even insanely adorable. That just couldn’t happen. And it couldn’t happen such that Oliver Wood believed either version.
“Fine, then,” I said. “How long have you been in love with her?”
As was becoming frighteningly common, I dreaded the answer. And the answer did live up to my fears. “Let’s say about thirteen hours.”
I was going to ask how he had calculated that when he didn’t have a watch, but that was beside the point, and I desperately wanted to get to the point. “Dear God, that sounds awful.”
“Trust me, it is.” He gave a wry smile.
Upon which I latched immediately. “If it’s awful, why’d you go and fall in love with her? Actually, why’d you even get with her? Again?” Since that was the most pressing question.
“Is it really that hard to believe? Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance?”
“Oh, don’t give me that abstract nonsense,” I snapped. “This is about my friend and, er, you. Why Gemma? Would you have gone back to her if she hadn’t asked you? Is she–”
“For your information,” he interrupted me, “she didn’t ask me anything. She started ranting about the break-up–”
And he thought she was adorably insane? I felt so disgusted. And confused. And offended that this was the bloke my best friend–make that two of my best friends–was hung up on.
“–so I asked her if she’d like to give it another shot and she said yeah, and here we are.”
Why did he look so bloody happy?
I tried to console myself with the fact that now I knew how it had happened. But it didn’t work, because–
“That doesn’t explain why you need my help.”
“Well, I’m fairly certain she wants to kill me.”
I need new best friends.
“You think I like doing this?” he asked. “You think it's pleasant to have to think your girlfriend is trying to kill you?”
I refused to admit that he had a point. Mostly because it would require admitting that Gemma herself had told me that she wanted to break him. “I'm still waiting for the explanation, Oliver.”
“She's been baking for me.”
This, I had to say, was highly suspicious. Gemma did not bake. I knew that better than anybody. She didn't even eat baked goods unless it was Christmas; then she wolfed them down like anyone's business. That's what she had done last week, in fact, with my linzer macaroons.
“The day after Boxing Day she sent me a huge platter of these cookies via owl. She'd written that she'd made them especially for me, and, you know, I was flattered.” That much I understood. Gemma exerting herself was definitely something. But she had baked. She never baked. Not even with me. “I ate one, of course, and almost gagged on it. I swear there was some poison or something in the filling. She said it was raspberry preserves, but it had to have been–I don’t even know. Something. Rotten Skele-Gro, Snape’s hair grease, something.”
“Raspberry preserves?” I repeated. Linzers by definition had raspberry filling. My linzers had raspberry filling, made from raspberry preserves. “Was it a macaroon? Like a sandwich? With powdered sugar on it?”
Oliver cocked his head to the side. “I can imagine that's what it should've been like, yeah. Still, I'm very impressed, Corinna. How'd you know that?”
The answer was startlingly simple.
“That bitch tried to steal my Christmas macaroons.”
Oliver was still “impressed” by how wonderful a friend I was. So was I. But the question no one was asking (except me, naturally) was: what the hell was Gemma doing stealing my recipes? And baking?
Except I couldn't get an answer to that question. Oliver didn't want Gemma to get suspicious because–I hate saying it even now. But the problem was that Oliver was in love with someone he believed was trying to kill him. Because that makes sense.
If I were him, I'd be more concerned with my life than stupid adolescent flings, and would confront the significant (possibly homicidal) other directly. Going to possibly homicidal other's best friend and yet forbidding said best friend from mentioning anything about said homicidal tendencies to possibly homicidal other seemed absurdly convoluted.
He didn't even have the decency to tell me what he expected me to do about the alleged poisoning attempt. All he said was, “Thanks for listening. I've got to go see McGonagall about a broom. So, you know, good luck. Let me know if you find anything.”
The first step, then, was figuring out what to do. But after some serious thought, I realised that I couldn't do this by myself. At the same time, there was no one I could turn to about any of the problems. Either I'd been somehow bullied into promising to not tell anyone, or I wasn't quite so suicidal as to involve the others.
My subsequent decision was, therefore, unerringly simple. And it made sense, which was becoming rarer and rarer nowadays. My solution was to involve someone who had nothing to do with any of these issues. As I'd found out, my social circle was startlingly isolated.
He looked up at me. “Hey, Corinna. You need something?”
I sat down on the floor next to his bed and gave him a great grin. “Not exactly, just wanted to talk. If you don't mind.”
He put down his quill and inkpot and shoved his forms on the night table. “Could use a break from those.”
“What are they?”
“Applications. I told you about that Gringotts thing, didn't I?”
“Oh, yeah, those. When're they due?”
“In a week or so. Been filling them out since Boxing Day.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Sounds awful. I sent mine in on Christmas Eve, never–”
“Oh, for those expeditions or whatever?” asked Robert, proud that he'd remembered. I wasn't proud or surprised, as I'd spent most of sixth year rambling to him about it. “Which ones did you apply for?”
He must have wanted a really thorough distraction. It didn't occur to me that he was genuinely curious. “Well,” I said, “you have to apply to the main organisation–that's the one I told you about, in London–to get in at all, and then there are the individual expeditions that you apply to secondarily, with the extra essays and whatnot, so I did about four of those.”
“To which ones?” he repeated. If he was starting to regret asking, he didn't show it. And if he didn't show it, I didn't care.
“Er, let me think... I avoided the obvious ones, like the Valley of Kings and the ones in the Amazon because they'll be harder to get into.” My grades, after all, were on the high end of average at worst and regularly good at best. “So I did one in St. Petersburg, because I have a cousin in Novgorod–you remember him from the wedding–and one in China, working on the Silk Road, and a few others I don’t remember. Hoping for the Silk Road, though. Or Petersburg. You know, they say Rasputin was–”
Robert nodded dumbly. “Uh huh. Er, good luck, then. I'm sure you'll be fine.”
“So will you!” I said brightly. I'm sure he thought I was being condescending, but I really wasn't. I'm only condescending to friends. Especially when they're as ridiculous as mine.
“So... what else is going on?” He really hated parchment work, I guess. “How are you? What's going on in your life?”
“Nothing except other people’s lives. And problems. And, you know,” I added, a little peevishly now that I think about it, “they absolutely must involve me.”
“That and other things. None of which I can tell you about.” I shuddered mentally to think about what Robert would say about these predicaments. “What about you?”
He rolled his eyes. “Nothing as dramatic as you, I'm sure,” he chuckled, “but now that I think about it, you might be able to help.” He leaned forward in a most conspiratorial manner.
Which couldn't mean anything good for me.
“Two words, Corinna. Quidditch. Espionage.”
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