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Off-Kilter by GubraithianFire
Chapter 9 : shady as
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3

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*shady as

Within hours, the guest list for the Knights reunion show was finalised. All of Hufflepuff House was on the list because, as Dexter the guitarist said, “How are we supposed to have a common room concert if we kick out the common room?” Hufflepuff being a fairly sizable House, that left very little room for interlopers from out of House. Within a day, tickets to the show became extremely valuable commodities; Cata found about seven fifth-years, two with the surname Weasley, selling “shady black market tickets” to third- and fourth-years.

“Aww, come on, Catalina,” one of them said on Wednesday while I was walking her to Divination during break again. I couldn’t tell them apart: one was holding textbooks and the other sheaths of tickets. “If these kids are stupid enough to think these will get them into the Hufflepuff basements–”

“What d’you mean, the Hufflepuff basements?” asked Cata warningly. God, was she frightening when she went into prefect mode.

“Huh?” asked the ticket-holding one. “Nothing at all, nothing at all. What George is saying is that if they’re stupid enough to think these will get them in, they deserve to be punished.”

“And we’re sure that prefects such as yourself will catch all of those scoundrels while they wander the halls of Hogwarts in search of what we hear is a floating storm cloud Hufflepuff common room rock concert.”

For the first time since she’d got on her high horse, Cata glanced at me in what was obviously restrained panic.

I nodded at the unasked question.

She muttered something under her breath–either an expletive or a prayer, wasn’t quite sure–and then turned to the twins. “Rules are rules,” she said, all holier-than-thou again. “No touting. Hand them over, boys, and give me your list of sales, too.”

“And the money,” I added as they handed over everything else. “She forgot to mention that.”

The Weasley twins heaved a collective sigh (everything they did was collective) and dug around in their pockets. Cata handed me the tickets and the sheet of parchment with names scribbled in Weasley-hair-coloured ink in Weasley-boy scrawl while she collected their money pouches. Which, I had to admit once they’d shuffled dejectedly away, were much heavier than I expected.

“I have a question,” said Cata, as she took up her own bag of textbooks and gave me the pouches; she did, after all, still have that joke of a class to go to. “How on earth are they going to make a floating storm cloud in the middle of the common room?”

That had been the question on everyone’s lips for the past two days, so I didn’t give her any points for originality. The easy part was the floating; Wingardium Leviosa would do the trick. But the storm cloud bit, that was what no one could quite grasp.

“No idea,” I sighed. “But what do you want me to do with all this? And the money?”

Cata shrugged. “Hand it in to McGonagall, I guess, since she’s their Head of House.”

At that point, we reached the stairs that led to the North Tower, so I bid her goodbye and then started to make my way all the way back to McGonagall’s office to do as she had told me. I always obey Cata when she’s up on her prefect high horse; she and Sprout liked conspiring to have wrongdoers manure the greenhouses and other such heinous things.

But since McGonagall’s office was miles away, I practically collapsed in exhaustion somewhere on the third floor–where, incidentally, I found Cedric, dawdling outside of the Charms classroom. Talking to–


The girl emerged from her cocoon of fear and ecstasy and started looking around for whoever it was that had said her name. It was Cedric–that dear, observant boy–who pointed out that I was sitting down opposite them.

“Hi, there,” he said. “Need a hand?” He came up to me to offer his services, but I shook my head, dazzled at his height from that level and–dare I admit it–his profile.

“Oh, no, I’m just resting. I was just at the North Tower and, you know, it’s a long walk.”

Piper followed the object of her unfailing obsession as if he were… the pied piper. (I couldn’t help myself; my dad bred me on these fairytales). Only when she was next to him once more, but not too close, did she actually meet my gaze. “What’s all that?”

I told them the story about the Weasley touts and my Cata-given mission. Then I asked Cedric if he was going to try to sleep through the show.

“God, no,” he laughed. Very pretty laugh, he had; Piper was enraptured. “I figure we all need a bit of a pick-me-up right about now, don’t we? Classes have started, we’re out of the Cup. It’ll be fun.”

Piper’s expression screamed I don’t know what he said, but what he said.

“I expect fun will be an understatement,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. But I’ve got to run, I’ve got Charms after break and I need to do the reading.” He turned a quarter of a turn so that he was looking directly at the utterly out-of-her-league Piper, who drew in a sharp breath when his dreamy chocolate-coloured eyes met hers. “So we’ll meet Friday afternoon in the library to–”

I was very much looking forward to hearing what it was that Cedric wanted to meet her in the library for, but she came to herself quite quickly and interrupted him. “Yeah, I’ll see you then. Bring your book this time, though.”

It was the most articulate Piper had ever been when in direct conversation with him. Realising that made me feel the teensiest bit guilty, as we hadn’t discussed the obsession-becoming-reality thing for over a week now, but I was proud that she’d made it this far without collapsing into the fetal position and refusing to leave her bed/my quilt.

“Great. See you later, then. Corinna, Piper.”

“Pay attention in class, Cedric!” I cried as he turned all the way around. Piper squeaked a practically silent goodbye; to his credit, he threw us back a grin before heading off into Flitwick’s classroom.

And when I say us, I mean her. I was an absolute afterthought during this entire exchange. Cedric only talked to me out of courtesy. Because, as I said to Piper after I pulled her down next to me, “Dear God, is he in love with you.”

She mumbled something ridiculous, like what on earth are you talking about or what do you mean, in love with me. When I asked her to speak up, she said, “Do you–do you really think so?” The idea seemed almost too much to bear, as she started fidgeting on the floor. Admittedly, she was sitting on the confiscated money pouches, but still, the terror and excitement were in her eyes.

“’Course I do. A bloke is nice to the girl he fancies as a rule, but he’s only nice to her friends if he really fancies her. Trust me,” I added, at her look of obvious distress, “I spent all night with Oliver and Gemma and didn’t want to kill myself. Plus, his eyes were on you the entire time.”

She was so distraught that she didn’t even make the connection that Oliver genuinely was in love with Gemma. It was all about her, her, her, with him, him, him. “But… he… Corinna, I…” She was at a loss for words. And I couldn’t blame her, either, not when the object of her obsession was coming to fancy her.

Taking pity on the poor girl, who couldn’t even begin to remove the pouches from under her bottom, I said, “You have anything to do during break?” She shook her head in the least dynamic way I’ve ever seen. “You can tag along, if you want. Give you a chance to recover.”

Evidently she’d recovered enough to be able to give me a dirty glare. While I hoisted myself up, she glanced around at the touting-related debris. “This is the list, is it?” She had even grown assertive enough to take up the list, unfold it, and actually skim through the names. I crouched back down and snickered at some of them with her–that Ravenclaw bitch Penelope surprised me, as did the name P. Parkinson, which had a fat little dog drawn next to it–but there was one name that actually caught me off-guard.

“That doesn’t say M. Flint, does it?”

Piper, who was holding the list, peered at the name. “Guess so.”

The cogs in my head started turning. Marcus Flint hated everything Hufflepuff-related. People, Quidditch, subjects, foods, and most certainly music. There was no way he would pay money (seven sickles, no less) to go into the Hufflepuff common room to listen to his Quidditch rivals play loud, whiny music. Unless…

“Piper, erase his name from the list. And take out seven sickles from one of the bags. Then go give everything to McGonagall. I’ll explain later, just trust me.”

I didn’t give her a chance to question me. I leapt to my feet and started jogging down the hallway. I had to find Robert, and fast.

I returned to the third-floor corridor some five minutes later, opposite the Charms classroom, because I remembered that Robert had Muggle Studies now. Piper was still sitting where I left her, fiddling with the Weasleys’ list of buyers. I peered over her shoulder to see that the name was gone, but now she had to shift all the other names around to cover up the space.

“Hello up there,” she said dryly. “Back so soon?”

Robert never had forbidden me from keeping it a secret, exactly, so I figured this much would be permissible. “Long story short, Rob thinks Gemma’s spying on Gryffindor for Flint.” Ignoring Piper’s slow coming-to-a-realisation, I continued. “I’ll bet, er, seven sickles that if it’s true, he bought a ticket so that he can meet her without anyone noticing and she can hand over whatever information she has. So McGonagall can’t know that he bought a ticket, because–”

“We want her to give him secret Quidditch information?”

“We want proof as to whether she’s spying for him or not.”

“Rob approves of this plan?”

“He will when I tell him.”

“Does anyone suspect?”

“God, no.”

“Well, what can possibly go wrong with this plan?”

“That’s the fun part.”

“You don’t mean that.”

Of course I didn’t.

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