Hello, all! I just had a few things to say before we get this show on the road.
Firstly. This is the third-to-last chapter. Which means that after this one, there are two left. This is the beginning of the end, if you will.
Secondly. Thank you all so
much for the reads, reviews, and general support! I do my best to answer every review, so if I haven't yet, I will soon! So really, you know, thank you.
The pear yielded to my tickling. It swung forward without a sound. There was bustling from deep inside, of house-elves rushing about to prepare the next day. All was as it should have been for around half past eight at night.
Except, of course, for the fact that Oliver Wood was probably inside, armed with sugar, a single lemon, the reflexes of a Seeker and the brains of a corpse.
I drew my wand once I’d passed through the portrait. As I’d learned last month, you never could be too careful when there was sugar involved, and someone else was handling it.
The elves, happily, took no offense that I armed myself in their vicinity. A rather affectionate one named Tilly bounded up to me, with that cheery elfish energy, and squeaked, “Miss Cora, Miss Cora! You is here!” She adjusted her faded-flower pillowcase almost self-consciously. “Does Miss Cora require for Tilly to set up the baking station tonight?”
“Not now. Did you see a bloke come in here, Tilly? About twenty minutes ago? Good bit taller than me, fairly muscular type, Scottish, had bags of sugar with him?”
The elf nodded furiously. “Yes, yes, Tilly saw him! Mister Oliver dropped off powdered sugar and then he left, he did, he left!”
Humph. And I had thought there was more to the story. I glanced around the open area for another moment, trying to see where he might be hiding to ambush me in a minute. But I saw nothing but house-elves running around. “Oh. All right, then. I’ve got to go now, curfew’s soon, but I’ll be back early tomorrow morning to bake, all right? So, you know, don’t panic or anything.”
The elf bowed solemnly. “Yes, yes, Miss Cora, Tilly will be waiting eagerly for your return.” Rising from the bow, she proceeded to escort me to the exit, bow again, and bid me a fond farewell.
Thus thwarted, I trooped back to the basements. I was not at all looking forward to tomorrow’s day-long slumber party, especially because it would not involve sleep at all.
At least there would be chocolate.
Saturday the twelfth, exactly five weeks after the Knights concert, found us in much the same position: someone (Gemma) was yelling for food, someone (Corinna) acquiesced, someone (Cata) was amused by our dysfunctional relationship, and another someone (Piper) slept obliviously through it. I caught the look on her face as I was leaving our room to bake Michael’s cookies, and it made me think back uncomfortably to Boxing Day and the I wish it wasn’t a dream
Gemma squealed, “This is going to be so much fun!”
I couldn’t help but agree.
The kitchens were in full swing at eight in the morning, as the pre-Hogsmeade rush was settling in, so there was very little space for me to actually work. But because I was a seasoned professional, that was more an inconvenience than a problem; if there was enough room for the mixer, I was happy. Baking for Michael went off without incident–I even made the sandwiches into little hearts because I was feeling particularly charitable. After that, I made a whole bunch of baked goods, ranging from biscotti for breakfast to grapefruit-white chocolate macarons for lunch to blueberry and lemon pie for dinner. It was a veritable smorgasbord of sweets, and I munched on orange biscotti while I went back to the common room an hour later.
Michael was already in the common room, waiting for my delivery. They were very prettily wrapped, with pink tissue paper and white ribbons and all sorts of stupid stuff like that. Satisfied, he handed me three Galleons, and then charged off to the Great Hall to await his stupid girlfriend.
I allowed myself a snicker when he was gone; he was no romantic, but she evidently was, and being with a romantic had a habit of draining one’s pocket money. Then I turned around, to bring the remainder of my sweets to my friends, who were probably dying from sugar withdrawal.
I had just put one foot in the tunnel when I heard my name being called. Loudly. Coming from behind me. I whipped around as fast as I could without disrupting the tenuous balance of the trays in front of me to see Michael back inside, package still in hand. Or rather, packages in hand.
“This was sitting in front of the door,” he said. “Your name’s on it.”
Then, every bit the megalomaniacal little bastard he was, he tossed the little package–a white paper bag, it seemed, tied off with a yellow ribbon–in the air. It landed on the topmost tray, which carried the biscotti, because I have absolutely no reflexes.
“Thanks, mate,” I said. “Excellent throw. You should be a Chaser or something, you know?”
“I’ve been told as much,” he said. “Have fun.” Michael left with a smirk on his ever-smug face.
At least he could pull the look off.
Assured that he was really truly gone for the entire day, I finally took it upon myself to inspect the little bag. It did indeed have my name written on it, in jet-black ink, but it was scrunched up, as if the sender had written it before tying the bag. After two second-years almost trampled me to death for blocking the tunnel, I sent the trays up, praying that a minimum amount of cookies would fall onto the stone floors of the tunnel, and sat down in a nearby armchair, bag in hand.
The most heavenly scent was coming from inside it. I tugged at the thin little ribbon until it gave way and the bag opened just the slightest bit, as if it had let out a breath of air it had been holding in. I made to open it wider, to let more of that heavenly scent–one part cotton, another lemon, and something that could only be described as rain–assuage my senses, but instead of scent, I got a little placard.
That was it. That was all it said.
I was more than slightly confused. For one thing, the wording was ambiguous. Did the sender mean outside the common room or outside the castle or outside the village or what? It didn’t make sense. And there was a lot of space out here; where was I supposed to go? And there was no way I was leaving Piper, Cata, and Gemma to themselves to meet some… someone…
I paused to inhale.
There were a few seconds when I contemplated running upstairs and confessing everything to everyone–my argument with Oliver and then the pseudo-friend stage we’d reached to how I might have had a hand in breaking him and Gemma up and how despite my best efforts Cedric wanted me instead of Piper and now apparently Oliver was sending me mysterious notes and I need help. But I dismissed it just as quickly. I was panicked, not suicidal. Yet. So with a guilty glance in the direction of the girls’ dormitory tunnels, and another glance at the bag in my hand and at the placard hovering just above it, I leaped up and ran through the portrait-door.
To find Robert leaning against the wall, looking supremely nonchalant and sexy.
“Good morning, Robert.”
He cracked a smile. “Morning, Corinna. What’s that you have in your hand?”
I waved the bag in his face, watching his expression closely. His eyes widened a bit behind the glasses–again, a look he pulled off, but not one I particularly liked–but that was probably because of how close I was to his face. “You wouldn’t happen to know what this is about, would you?”
“I might have a vague idea,” he said.
Of course he did. “What about this?” I pulled out the placard.
He peered at it for a moment, all pleasant curiosity, but then his expression shifted. “Shit.” There was no supreme nonchalance anymore, as his posture went into a slouch of panic and his mouth went from a smile to a frown.
“Something the matter?”
“I… er…” It seemed that he was actually at a loss for words. Which was not something that happened with him all the time. He took the paper bag from me, stuck his hand inside it, and, finding it empty, let it flutter to the floor. I still had the placard. “I… I guess there is. Could you go back inside and wait? I’ll–I’ll come get you when everything’s resolved.”
I bent down to pick up the bag, which still smelled wonderful. When I got back up, I asked crossly, “What exactly has to be resolved, Robert?”
“You’ll, er, you’ll see. Now go on, in you go–” He actually pushed me back to the portrait-door, barked the password at it (“Snickerdoodle
!”), and then herded me to the same armchair I’d just left. “Remember, stay here. Don’t talk to anyone. Just stay. Here. Got it?”
“Err, yeah, I got it.”
He beamed and then dashed back outside, muttering something that sounded like mayday, mayday
I waited for over half an hour. No one seemed to question that I was sitting in the armchair all by myself with only a delicious-smelling paper bag–the type found at Muggle bakeries, I remembered after five minutes–for company. It was worse because my friends didn’t even bother venturing out of bed to see where I was. They’d probably eaten all the stupid biscotti with that disgusting tea Cata was addicted to, and had moved on to the macarons. They were animals. And I was all by myself, waiting.
There was one reason I didn’t up and leave. That was the lemon scent. It occurred to me after twenty minutes that this whole thing was definitely Oliver’s brainchild. I could only assume it was meant to be romantic or something, and guessed the scent was supposed to be evocative of Amortentia or baking, whichever he thought was more appropriate. And yet, the gesture was clever, because there were no macarons in the bag, and he’d strung along another person, Robert, and, now that I thought about it, Michael, whose smirk seemed especially apt for this very situation, to help him.
All of this contemplation and analysis led to one conclusion.
This was supposed to be Oliver’s way of wooing me.
So much for true love
, I scoffed, turning the placard around and around in my hand. It was a very simple thing, which went along with his whole “theme” of unadulterated aggravation. Just over a month ago he confessed to me that he loved Gemma. One heated exchange of words with me later, they were over. And now, perhaps two weeks after the end of his second relationship with the same girl, he was going after another one? On Valentine’s Day weekend?
Oliver was going after me on Valentine’s Day weekend?
Of course he was.
It was quite convenient that Robert popped up just then.
“Oh, good, you’re still here.”
“Yeah, I have been. For about thirty minutes. Why has it been about thirty minutes, Robert?” I grabbed his arm and jerked him down so that he was about on his knees. “I am not leaving this common room until I get a full and complete explanation about all this. Clear?”
He rolled his gorgeous eyes. “Crystal.”
I knew he’d succumb. “Excellent. First thing–”
“Except I’m not paying attention to you.” Then, in an unprecedented twist in events, he got to his feet and suddenly I was on mine and he was essentially marching out the common room door and I wasn’t sure how it all happened. “Keep walking, Seward,” he said into my ear. Not in a whisper, which would have been weirdly intimate and yet tolerable; his voice was at its regular volume, which hurt my ear. “Now, brace yourself.”
And somehow, about two minutes later, I was in front of a giggling pear again.