“Robbie, I'd love to do this with you, really I would, but–”
“Don't worry,” he said. “This isn't a secret. You just can't tell Gemma.”
Those were much broader parameters than I'd been given before. “So you think, what, there’s a Quidditch spy in Hufflepuff?”
Robert nodded ruefully, then patted the bit of exposed blanket next to him. I clambered up to join him.
“As in someone's spying on you or you're spying on someone?”
“The second one.” He frowned for a second before returning to the story. Which, so far, didn't seem half as inane and idiotic as: being in love with someone who may be trying to kill you; trying to break up an already unhealthy relationship because you like the idiot mentioned previously; and being incapable of interacting with the object of your obsession. “Now, spying is obviously looked down on by the school, but there's no real mechanism to enforce fair play, so it's up to the Captains to make sure it doesn't happen.”
I wondered how Oliver could do that. He didn't seem to be a very effective leader to me. Definitely not a sensible one.
“And most of them do. Cedric's too noble, Wood's not stupid enough, and Davies doesn't think he needs to.”
I took his word for it; he'd been on our team for years and would have been Captain this year if he hadn't insisted on Cedric, a sixth-year, getting the spot. Something about having a consistent team for next year
and would rather focus on my studies and job search
“Which leaves... Flint.”
I could hardly believe my ears. “Marcus Flint?” I repeated. “The first bloke in forty years to be held back a year? How is he still allowed to be Captain?”
Robert made a disgusted face. “Don't ask me how Snape's mind works,” he said. “Point is, Flint's not above spying and with the Malfoy boy recovering, he's bored and a little desperate.”
“So he was spying on us?” I asked. “How do you know?”
“He thought he could take us with his usual tricks.” Robert thought otherwise, judging by his posture and fairly brooding expression. I had no idea why he indulged these stupid Quidditch rivalries–then wondered why all of the blokes I'd interacted with lately were attractive Quidditch players. “He's spying on Wood and Gryffindor. I think, anyway,” he said, “since I don't have any proof.”
My eyes widened in horror. “No, Rob, no. I'm not getting you any proof of spying and I'm not talking to Wood any more than I have to what with him thinking–” I shut up before I could say anything else. “Just–just no. I can’t. I won’t
“Relax,” he said, putting his hand on my shoulder in a stepbrotherly-in-law way. “I'd never ask you to do that.” Beat. “You're not good enough.”
I bowed my head in concession. “So... Have you talked to Oliver about this?”
I wasn't surprised when he said that he hadn't. Of course he hadn't. When I asked, with no little trepidation, why that was, this was his answer:
“I'm pretty sure that Gemma's working for Flint.”
Piper tried to ignore her. Cata thought she was dangerous. Oliver thought she was homicidal. And now Robert thought she was a spy. To be fair, I thought she was mad, but never to the extent that she could kill or spy on people. That wasn't Gemma's way. That wasn't Hufflepuff House's way. We don't need an excuse for being adorable idiots.
“It starts with the Garcia kid–yeah, Catalina’s brother. He wants to be Captain once Cedric graduates next year. The thing is,” he said, clearly relishing how the story was gaining momentum, “that Cedric and Sprout won't pick him.”
I didn't know Enrique as well as his sister, but looking at him in the light of the last few days, I understood why that might be.
“So what I imagine he wants to do,” Robert said, “is to show everyone that he is worthy of it.”
“All right, I get it. Enrique gets Gemma to go out with Oliver again–assure her revenge and ensure they lose. That's great. But it didn't work. They didn't get together until last week, and you played Gryffindor in November. And won.”
Gratified that I was playing along, Robert conceded the point. “I never said this was a good scheme,” he said. “It's unnecessarily complicated and doesn't make too much sense. But what he tried to do, you see, that's what's important.”
I was getting tired of this story. It was long, unbroken narration, no character development, no saving grace except for the way it was told–meaning Robert and his voice. Cata fancied him two years ago when he tried to start a band here at school. She went to all of Knight to E4's shows. To be supportive, she said.
“Let me guess. Flint, who's been spying on everyone, you included, got wind of what Cata's brother tried to do, and did it again, which makes much more sense–relative term–because Slytherin plays Oliver and company later than usual because of Malfoy's arm.”
“Well–done–Corinna,” he said, his words punctuated with claps. “I'm impressed.”
I'd been hearing that a lot lately.
“So how'd you get wind of this?” I asked. “You must have something to go on.”
With a knowing, sneaky glint in his eye, Robert said, “Don't want to say. You'd be offended, and besides, I thought you didn't want to be more involved in this than strictly necessary. So, er, think of yourself as a sounding board for my own issues.” He shrugged and somehow made even that mischievous.
God, why couldn't my friends fancy him? He was attractive enough. He was a Quidditch player. And he was something of an idiot in his own way.
He was perfect.
Late the next morning, Gemma, who I'd studiously avoided, asked me where I'd been the day before. “Nowhere. Everywhere. Writing thank-you's to family, caught up with Rob, et cetera.”
Her eyes lit up. “Rob, you said?”
I nodded nonchalantly. “Yeah. Went to visit him while he was sitting in his dorm filling out forms. I guess we both needed distraction from writ–oh my God, stop doing that.”
She was rubbing her hands together in dastardly glee, all the while suggestively wiggling her eyebrows.
“Gemma, stop it.” From the way I spoke, you couldn't tell that I semi-genuinely feared for my life and freedom even while talking to her.
“Oh, shut it, you know I’m right. About you and Robert.”
Piper, who still hadn't disentangled herself from her bed, sat up. “Are you two back together?”
“No,” I said immediately. I didn't want to think about what would happen if those rumours started whirling around. “We're not together. And no, Piper, there is nothing even slightly romantic and/or sexual about our interaction.”
Piper and Gemma exchanged a glance. “Has she always been this delusional?” asked the former.
The latter, who has known me since we were nine, giggled. “’Course she has. I mean, she dumped him–”
“It was a mutual parting of ways
They ignored me. “Merlin, they were adorable,” Gemma continued. “Cutest fucking couple of fifth year.”
Cata, who'd been in the loo, emerged and asked what was going on.
“Corinna and Rob shared some one-on-one time in his dorm,” grinned Gemma. “We're celebrating their inevitable reconciliation.”
Cata clapped her hands in glee too. Which she rarely did, especially now. She joined the other two and started digging around for some leftover Christmas chocolate.
“There was never a problem! We just outgrew each other!”
“Mm hmm. Right.” Cata snorted.
“And now she thinks it’s awkward for them because her brother married his stepsister,” sighed Piper. “May I plead delusional as fuck
“No, you may not. And it is
awkward when–oh, all right, then, celebrate all you want,” I snarled half-mockingly. But Cata’s digging around reminded me of Boxing Day and poison hair grease and macaroons. “But don’t think I don’t know about you baking without me, Matheson.”
The girls froze, Cata with her hand buried under her bed, Piper in the middle of brushing her hair, and Gemma in the middle of some sick victory dance.
“Oh, yeah. Raspberry linzer macaroons, hmm?” I poked her. Viciously. She winced, but I ignored it. After all, the girl was definitely a lunatic, possibly homicidal, or a spy, or both. Whatever it was she was doing, and for whatever reasons, she deserved it. “Word gets around, sweetheart. You know what this means, don’t you?”
Gemma had gorgeous eyes.
She looked quite pretty when she was horror-stricken.
“You. Me. Oliver. Kitchens. Tonight.” I smiled at her fear. “You’re baking for us.”