Chapter 18 : wonderful as
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“What the fuck kind of move was that?” I shrieked the second I had control of my own mouth again. “What are you playing at, Diggory?”
For the record, he didn’t look like he was playing at anything. He was deathly pale and getting a little flushed, and his eyes were a little bit wild with… something. Which I would die before contemplating or analysing.
“Answer me, you lecherous little prick!”
He was taken aback by that. “I–I kissed you.”
My lips tingled. “I know that, wanker, but why?”
“Because I like you!”
That shouldn’t have come as a surprise, considering that he’d kissed me. But still–I mean, really. Huge, huge, huge surprise.
“No you don’t,” I said, shaking my head at his stupidity. “You like Piper. You know, cute, blonde, mooning over you?”
But Cedric shook his head too, in a rapid, jerky motion. Like an enchanted corpse which didn’t have control over its movements. “I never liked Piper.”
And then, he dropped something of a Dungbomb.
“It was always you, Corinna.”
His face went all soft, romantic, thoughtful, cuddly, adorable, loveable. His gaze was loving. His smile was loving. His arms were extended to give me a loving embrace.
“It bloody well was not, and if you keep on with this nonsense, you can kiss any chance of a love life in this House goodbye, is that clear?” I even threw something at him, for good measure. It was another model Snitch. I watched the gears and things inside it smash to pieces upon making contact with his stupid little face.
It was lovely.
I found Robert and Michael in the common room, discussing some application of the latter’s or other. I didn’t care, and plopped myself in the space between them. These two were the only ones I felt I could talk to now; the idea of facing Piper knowing that her adorable/disturbing tragic romance was a lie was too much to bear.
“What’re you doing?” Michael asked, a bit rudely. Which, in retrospect, was quite reasonable. But I didn’t see it like that.
“I’m having something of a crisis, all right?” I barked. “So either you can shut up and help me or go back to bed. Clear?”
Robert, levelheaded as always, intervened. “What do you mean, a crisis? Something happen with Cedric?”
I glared darkly at him, elbowed Michael in the (not completely hopeless) chest, and told him everything that transpired in the sixth-year dorm. From the Tutshill memorabilia (to which Robert had apparently contributed last year for the wanker’s birthday) to the pacing (a habit Michael roundly put down, claiming that “it’s for wankers,” which of course was rather prescient), to the speech that so obviously referred to Piper (Robert said that he “didn’t see what the problem was” and I told him to stuff it for three seconds), and then, in a burst of melodrama, “He kissed me.”
I waited for Michael’s snarky comment and for Robert’s comforting hug.
Instead, we sat together, contemplating how fucked up the world was.
Or at least, that’s what I was doing. I can’t speak to what they were thinking about.
Robert broke our almost-horrified silence. “I’m finding this hard to believe.”
Michael chimed in, “So am I. The idea of anyone being attracted to you…” He shuddered helpfully. And it was a mark of how shock-comatose I was that I wasn’t even bothered by the insinuation.
“He stared at her.” My voice was rather dull and horror-stricken, which I found appropriate. It was amazing that I wasn’t even trying to sound overdramatic; this was genuinely what my voice was coming out like, and it was incredible. “He… he complemented her. He took Charms lessens from her.”
“Why?” asked Michael. “Didn’t she get a P on the O.W.L.?”
I’d forgotten that, but assumed it was right. “He flirted with her. Endlessly. It made me want to vomit.”
Michael wanted to comment on how strange a reaction that was to cuteness, I could tell by the way he bit his lip. Then he probably remembered what I was like when I was with Robert, and that made the point moot; he’d made fun of me all that time, too.
“And he talked to me,” I added.
“Maybe it was ‘cos he fancied you,” said Michael.
“But he talked to me, like, twice that I can remember. In the past month. Maybe three times.” I buried my head in my hands and groaned. “If you fancy someone, aren’t you supposed to talk to her?”
They mumbled something. Probably something to do with accepting that I was right. But I wasn’t sure.
“Unless,” Robert said diplomatically, “he was trying to get through to you by lavishing attention on your friends. Making himself visible to you. Getting on your good side. And he meant to sort of sidestep his way into–”
My upper lip curled. “Sounds like one of your song titles.”
At that, I almost definitely felt a current of connection in which the boys agreed to meet later to write Sidestepping Cedric.
“The point is,” Robert hedged, “that he probably didn’t mean to lead Piper on. Cedric’s a good guy, Corinna. He didn’t mean any harm.”
His best friend nodded in agreement, and even offered me a pat on the back. “That’s right. Can’t hate him for his feelings.”
I’d hated people for much less.
I pouted. “He’s still a bloody wanker.”
They started contradicting me for the next half an hour, but I didn’t care. Cedric was an idiot if he didn’t see the way Piper idolised him. He was cruel if he didn’t know what effect the last month had had on her. And he was downright delusional if he thought I’d ever choose him.
It was nearly midnight when I finally got a word in edgewise; the conversation, without my petulance steering it, had veered dangerously close to similar relationships that the Weird Sisters wrote about and all that shit. “As wonderful as this has been, none of this resolves the most pressing problem.”
They didn’t ask what it was, because they knew already.
The problem was Piper.
I avoided the problem by staying in the common room all night. Robert left earlier, muttering something about a meeting with Sprout in the morning about his Gringotts program thing, and Michael stayed about an hour after that, trying to harangue me into baking for him and his Gryffindor girlfriend before their Saturday Valentine’s Day date (which did, in fact, involve Madam Puddifoot’s, which reminded me that his whole artiste shtick was a front, which bothered me, which made him leave). When Cata asked me what had happened, I told her that I’d fallen asleep doing Ancient Runes translations. She and the others bought it, but I was pretty sure that was because they wanted to talk about the Hogsmeade visit that was scheduled for the next day.
“Can we not go?” Gemma asked at lunch. “Can we just stay here and eat biscuits and sleep on Saturday?”
“That’s what we do anyway,” Cata reminded her.
“But I like Hogsmeade in winter,” said Piper plaintively, pushing around her salad and looking generally sad and yet content. It occurred to me that, deep down, she half-expected the object of her obsession/snogging partner would ask her to Hogsmeade as a way to make up for what had happened in the past month. “It’ll do you good to get out.”
“Will not.” I couldn’t let Piper get her hopes up. It would break her heart to be out there amongst the happy couples when the other half of her apparently happy couple was leading her on. “Besides, it’ll be cold. So can we just have a lovely little slumber party with biscuits and chocolate and warmth?”
“We’ll be each other’s valentines!” Gemma grinned in a vaguely maniacal way.
Cata and I exchanged disgusted looks, and Piper sank into her seat.
“So it’s settled.”
There was a strangled sound coming from what had to be Piper’s throat, but I ignored it. I would keep her content and oblivious and miserable if it was the last thing I ever did.
While most other girls were either frantically tearing their closets apart in the search of the perfect outfit or hiding under their beds with a copy of Witch Weekly and a lot of chocolate, I was in the Great Hall. The last two students to leave were heavyset Slytherins, in third or fourth year, and as soon as they were gone, I pulled out my grandmother’s house-elf’s book. Michael hadn’t provided me with much guidance about what he and his Gryffindor girlfriend wanted, so I flipped through the book in search of the perfect recipe. It would have to be really complicated-looking, to impress them both, and yet very simple, because I didn’t feel like putting so much effort into his baked goods.
I had just stumbled across the recipe for what Spencer and I made for our mum’s birthday–rosewater sandwich cookies–when I heard footsteps in the Hall. Loud. Staccato. Trying to be furtive and failing miserably. Also, there was a smell of sugar in the air.
The footsteps picked up pace when I stopped flipping through the book. Rounding around the edge of the Hall. As if trying to avoid being seen. By me.
I didn’t expect that to work, but it did. For all of his bravado, Oliver was quite the obedient little Gryffindor.
He came back at me with a retort ready on his lips. “Halt? Really? Who says halt and expects that to work?”
“I do.” I shut the recipe book and swung my legs over the bench, facing him. He was on the far side of the Hall, near the Slytherin table, obviously making his way towards the other exit. Levitating in front of him were several bags of what I assumed was sugar, judging by how it streamed from a tear in the bottommost bag, and in his free hand was a lemon. “What exactly do you think you’re doing, though?”
He flicked his wand and the bags of sugar floated inelegantly to the Slytherin table. Another jerk of his wand and they landed with a loud, muffled noise on a bench. He kept the lemon in his hand, tossing it and catching it, tossing it and catching it, like it was a Snitch. Like he was Cedric.
“I was on my way to the kitchens,” he answered.
This was going to be interesting. “Why?”
Oliver shrugged. “Fred and George were hell-bent on baking those chocolate things. Tried to set up an oven and everything in their room. Percy caught ‘em and was about to turn them in, but I couldn’t let that happen, so I offered to clean up and give them extra laps and stuff.” He gestured to the sugar, which floated up hopefully, as he gestured with his wand. “This is all that’s left.”
Very interesting. “Oh. Off you go, then.”
He inclined his head to me, got the sugar back in the air, and went back on his way. He kept tossing the lone lemon as he left.
Twenty or so minutes later, when I realised he hadn’t returned, I stuffed my book in my bag, and then trotted off to the kitchens to see what he was really up to.
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