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Off-Kilter by GubraithianFire
Chapter 17 : awkward as
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 6

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*awkward as

There came a point in Gemma’s relationship-mourning period when she began asking about other people. I hadn’t seen the signs that she had advanced this far in her recovery. Perhaps I hadn’t been as focused lately as I would have been otherwise. Baking. Commiserating. It ate up a lot of energy. And focus. Besides, Valentine’s Day was in less than a week, and Gemma would be alone on the holiday. I’d have thought that it would exacerbate her mental state, not, apparently, improve it.

“You got into your program thing, Corinna?” she asked me on Tuesday, as we were leaving Defence Against the Dark Arts. “The ruins restoration and all that?”

“I–yeah, I did.”

“Which ones, again?”

“St. Petersburg and Lima. The second one’s in Peru.”

She scowled. “I know where Lima is. Which one are you taking?”

“Petersburg, probably. Lima’s harder work, and I’d rather work my way up, learn the ropes, all of that.”

She nodded encouragingly. “That’s great, Corinna. That’s really great. I’m happy for you.”

I thanked her, all the while wondering what would come next.

I found out later that evening that the next step in her recovery was to talk to Piper. She still hadn’t recovered from the embarrassment of snogging Cedric all night, and the few times I’d seen them interact were vastly uncomfortable. But she’d kindly kept her head down (usually under her blanket) to let everyone’s attention fall where it ostensibly belonged, on the newly single crazy one.

“Piper, it’s been almost a month,” Gemma said, in a surprisingly authoritative tone. “Have you had one conversation with him that didn’t involve stuttering and avoiding each other’s gazes and general awkwardness?”

Cata helpfully supplied the answer. “Nope. It’s ridiculous.”

“It is,” Gemma agreed. “If you like him, sweetheart, you need to go after him. He’s nice and all, but he won’t wait for you. They don’t wait for you. They never do.”

If she meant for that to be comforting, she failed. For the rest of the day, Piper was stuck in her coma again, except it was not made of shock and joy. It was a panic coma, because no matter how much we dangled the carrot of Valentine’s Day Hogsmeade date in front of her, she would never bite.

However, Gemma moved on from this–another lost cause, she deemed it–in favour of Cata’s problem. Her real problem, of course, only I knew, but everyone knew how stressed she was. After the Black break-in on the day of the Gryffindor-Ravenclaw game, security was the only thing anyone who wasn’t one of us cared about. Much of the pressure of maintaining that security on a personal level was put on the prefects, meaning Cata.

“You poor thing,” Gemma cooed to her when she stumbled back in at ten o’clock Friday night, already barefoot.

There was nothing else, as there wasn’t much any of us could advise her to do (we were self-involved, but not stupid), but as Cata informed me a little later that night, “It’s the thought that counts.”

Gemma thinking about other people definitely counted.

With Crazy healed (or as good as healed as she could be), I found that it was much easier to set my eyes on other things. I finally got a chance to talk to Robert again. He had steered clear of all of us during the dark ages, and I approached him on Thursday to ask him something that I’d wondered for awhile now.

“Was she spying or not?”

Robert, still wearing his pretentious glasses, shrugged his shoulders.

“That clears that up.”

“How would I know?” he asked. He didn’t sound exactly indignant, though. More like indulgent. I hated that almost as much as the glasses. “Why don’t you ask?”

I assumed that he didn’t mean to ask her. He couldn’t possibly be that stupid.

“Is he still mad at you?” Robert asked shrewdly.

I thought about that for a moment. “No. No, he’s not mad at me anymore. But,” I added, thinking about the kitchens episode, “I don’t… I think we’re all right.”

“Then you can ask him, can’t you?”

“No.” That seemed to be the obvious answer. Oliver didn’t hate me, it was true, and we were still friendly, but I didn’t want to risk angering him again.

“She hasn’t said anything about it? Thought she would’ve,” he said, “seeing how she… dwells… on things?”

Robert clearly remembered the days after the first break-up. That time, because she deemed us unsatisfactory with helping her through her mourning process, she fled to the boys. Particularly Dexter. It was, as Robert said, “the single worst week I’ve ever experienced with a girl in my life.” Dexter didn’t mind so much. He was quite good at badmouthing Oliver, and was delighted with the opportunity to do it. He was also a splendid listener. And she was an extraordinary talker.

But that hadn’t been the case now. Gemma had been recalcitrant and generally mopey, but never exactly articulate. Her cries were more We were so happy this time than He thought I was spying or I was spying.

“Not a word. And for the record,” I said, “I don’t think she was.”

Robert took off his glasses again, in one sweeping, expansive motion. He liked the effect, I guessed. It meant that shit was about to get real. “You know,” he said, as seriously as you please, “you’re actually very charitable to your friends.”

I wasn’t sure where this was coming from. “Well, yeah, they’re my friends. I’m supposed to be charitable to them.” It was more than they did for each other, after all. They were blatantly unsupportive when it counted and overly helpful when it didn’t. “So?”

He was twirling his glasses in his hand, stopping every now and then he noticed a smudge on a lens or something. Avoiding the question, it seemed. “It’s just that you’re nicer than you’d like to think,” he answered eventually. He was going to say more, I could tell by the way he stopped fiddling with his glasses, but his answer was eclipsed by Michael’s arrival. He slid onto the table in front of us and waved cheekily.

“Can we help you, mate?” I asked, irritated that he’d interrupt Robert when he had something to say.

Michael, who was the second most attractive member of the band and took great pleasure in it, shook his head. “Yeah, actually. Cedric’s looking for you.”

Robert put his glasses back on. “What for?” he asked. Sounded rather weary, which was odd, as he hadn’t done anything truly taxing since the clean-up of his disastrous last hurrah.

“Not you. Her.” He gestured helpfully at me. “Something to do with Haverford, I think. Won’t say what, just that he needs to see you.”

“Where is he?”

Michael pointed towards the tunnels that led to the boys’ dormitories. “He’s in his room.”

I hesitated for a brief moment. Was I really supposed to go meet another boy, just barely an acquaintance, in his room? It was different with Robert, because I’d known him so well and because he was almost, practically my brother. But Cedric was a different story. He was (supposed to be) Piper’s. It felt like a violation of her trust to go meet him up there.

But, of course, I was too good a friend to not go.

When I got to the sixth-year dorm, I saw Cedric pacing in front of what had to be his bed; there were Tutshill posters and memorabilia and a little model Snitch, which he was tossing and catching. It was an excellent show of his skill and his anxiety.

“Hi, Corinna.” He smiled at me, a blinding, charming, Quidditch star-y smile. And as much as I regret admitting this, I should, for posterity: I went weak in the knees. Not that I needed reminding, but it was no wonder why Piper was so depressed over him.

“Hi.” It struck me as odd that his dorm was completely empty but for him. It was near eleven, and sixth-years didn’t party nearly as hard as seventh-years. Besides, it was a Thursday. Partying on Thursday was just bad form. “Mike said you wanted to talk about Piper.”

His face twitched a bit oddly, but he nodded and gestured for me to take a seat. When I had, he continued to pace.

“You all right?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, I’m great. Fantastic, actually.” He looked like he’d just seen Sirius Black. Or a dementor. Wasn’t sure which was worse. “But, er, we really do have to talk.”

“I’m listening,” I reminded him gently. The poor boy was obviously working up to something big, perhaps as big as what Robert had tried to say earlier. I wasn’t going to go be the Michael in this situation and make it worse for him.

So I was duly relieved when he finally started talking. His voice was nowhere near Robert’s in terms of a sense of intimacy, or even something like Michael’s, but it suited him. It was pleasant. “I mean… you know Piper and I have had… had our moments. The good and the, um, and the bad.”

They most certainly had. Or rather, I guessed that they had. Piper didn’t like talking about it, because it took too much out of her.

“And… I think things got out-of-hand at the concert.” He winced a little bit, for which I was grateful. “And I felt awful about what happened and I’d give anything to make it so that it’s not awkward between us again. Because it’s horrid, and it’s not at all conducive to get what I want, and… does this make any sense?”

“Yes, it does,” I squeaked. There was a welling up of warm, squishy feelings in my heart as I said it. Something to do with true love and cuteness and the look on Piper’s face when she’d hear all this stuff. Oliver could say he loved Gemma day and night (which he didn’t do anymore), but it made so much more sense with these two. It didn’t make me want to wrinkle my nose or scoff. It was as close to cute as I could tolerate.

My support seemed to give him a boost. “You understand! I was, you know, I was a bit nervous that you wouldn’t.”

“I do, though. And I’m sure she will, too, when she hears all this.”

The boost turned into carefully restrained elation. His eyes lit up, and he even dropped the Snitch. Almost crushed it under his pacing feet. “You think so?”

I wanted to say I know so just because, but Cedric didn’t wait for my answer.

He kissed me.

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