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Off-Kilter by GubraithianFire
Chapter 20 : sweeping as
 
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Author's Note Yes, this is the second-to-last chapter. The very, very last chapter shall be up on 29 March. I'm excited, and I hope you are, too.

Without further ado—





*sweeping as



I was practically blinded by confusion and anger and the sight of Oliver wearing an apron.

It resembled mine to a scary extent. Shocking pink. Enchanted pastries. However, his actually fit him. And somehow, the apron didn’t entirely emasculate him. The flour on his face did that quite nicely.

There was no pressure from behind me anymore, meaning that Robert had set me loose in the kitchens. I considered whipping around to see if he was still here, but deemed that pointless. There would always be another chance to yell at him. He had presented me with an apron-clad Oliver, and that was a gift that had to be taken advantage of immediately.

“Morning, Corinna,” he said. “What’re you doing here?”

I snorted. “Should ask you the same thing.” I gestured to the apron and the flour and what had to be cooling racks in front of him. “The fuck are you doing?”

He pointed to the oven. When I got close enough, I saw there were certainly things inside the oven. Vaguely round, rather small. Yellow, perhaps.

I mean, if he baked you French lemon macarons, now that would be something.

Sneaky little bugger.

Muttering a spell under his breath, Oliver levitated the docile mixer back into the cabinet in which it was usually housed. “I was doing a little baking myself.”

“Uh huh.” There was definitely a lemony scent in the warm air of the kitchens; I even noticed a zester perched on a counter top. “Why, exactly?”

He rolled his eyes at me, and reached behind his back to untie the apron. “For you, actually. Thought you’d like them.”

“Uh huh.” I took a seat at the table he and I shared when Gemma was pretending to be able to navigate a kitchen.

It seemed like an age ago that we were swapping psychologically relevant childhood stories. Before that point, we were vaguely antagonistic acquaintances. After, we were quite possibly friends. Then we had an even deeper heart-to-heart, during which actual emotions, or the closest possible thing, were shared. After such a pivotal moment came an earth-shaking argument that called our entire friendship into question. Then we moved on to something tolerable. And now… he was trying to woo me.

Our relationship was right out of a mediocre romance novel.

It was about as compelling, as deep, and perfect as an adolescent relationship could be.

And to think I’d once thought that nothing ever happened to me.

“What’s with the apron?” I asked, in a blatant effort to stall. Somehow, knowing that Oliver fancied me was painful, and I would like to avoid it as much as possible.

“Alicia lent it to me.” He shrugged it off his shoulders and then tossed it on the counter.

“She bakes?”

“No, it’s her sister’s. I Enlarged it.”

“So you told her about this whole thing?”

He nodded.

“And last night, all the sugar…”

“That wasn’t a lie. Fred and George were trying to bake.” His attempt to mask his amusement was valiant, but futile. “Seemed to think I’d trust them to do this. I ended up coming back early this morning to get it done.”

“Must’ve been really early, I was here at eight.”

“I left at a quarter to.”

“Uh huh.”

“Could you stop saying that?”

“Could you explain what all this was?” I waved the paper bag like a flag of surrender. Surrendering not to his totally unsubtle advances, but to my curiosity. His advances were totally misplaced and misjudged. “The ribbon? The card? And what was up with Robert being all panicky and–”

Oliver frowned spectacularly. Or it would have been spectacular, if he still didn’t have flour on his face. “I’m meeting with a scout later today,” he said, “so I didn’t have much time. Ran into Morgan this morning, asked him to pass them along to you when he got the chance.”

Of course Michael was in on it. If Michael was party to this, then so was Robert. But–

“They’re baking right now.”

He glanced back at the oven as if he’d forgotten it existed. He half-expected the macarons to burn, I was sure, but he didn’t do anything more than look. “Ah. Yes. Well. This is a different batch. Because–” he paused to give a rueful grimace and, naturally, for effect–“the first was stolen.”

Of course this was all from a romantic comedy.

Nothing else could be quite as convoluted.

“I didn’t put in a card,” Oliver continued, frown deepening quite a bit. “I figured you’d realise it was me. So Fischer came to tell me about it and then I came back to do another batch, and then I told him to come get you before you got really pissed–so there you have it.” Another rueful grin. “See all the trouble I go through for you?”

I thought I vomited a little in my mouth. Dialogue straight out of a convoluted mediocre romantic comedy did that to me. The resemblance, obviously, was getting more than a little upsetting, so with another deep breath (of lemon-flavoured golden macarons), I did what I realised I’d have to eventually do. “So… this is some subtly sweeping romantic gesture, is it? Because, Oliver… I think you could do better. I mean, macarons? It’s so predictable, and besides–”

From behind me came the sound of a door swinging open.

Then:

“Co–Corinna!”

Oliver craned his neck and I leapt out of my chair when we heard it. It was a male voice. I recognised it immediately, but refused to believe my ears; there was only so much crazy one could tolerate this early in the morning, after all. The last thing anyone needed was Cedric Diggory bursting into the kitchens, wielding his wand and a bouquet of yellow roses.

Oliver played it cool, though his expression was anything but. It was part panic, confusion, and the struggle to be totally blasé. I was starting to wonder if he was capable of that look again. Rather missed it.

But Cedric ignored his rival Captain–and apparently his rival in affections–to charge up to me and shove the roses in my face. “These–these are for you, Corinna.”

I didn’t take them. “Holy–what do you think you’re doing, exactly?” I hissed into the bouquet. “I thought I was quite clear–”

“I thought I was clear about the way I feel about you,” he countered. The devotion in his voice also made me vomit a little in my mouth. “I’m sorry about Piper, really, but it’s you, it’s always been you. I wanted,” he went on, with a cursory glare sent over my shoulder to what could only be Oliver and his apron, “to do this outside, but you didn’t show, so I won–”

At this, the other Captain exploded. “You?” he roared, every bit the Gryffindor lion of yore. “You’re the thief, Diggory?”

He withdrew the bouquet and sidestepped me to get a clearer line to Oliver. “What do you mean, I’m a thief? I didn’t do anything!”

“You put your ridiculous little card in the bag he left for me,” I snapped. “You stole the macarons meant for me. You are a thieving little wanker. I hate you. I genuinely hate you. Just–go away. Take your flowers with you and–why are you still here?” I demanded, even as he started backing out. “GO.”

His face was crestfallen, but not completely hopeless. That couldn’t bode well.

“B-but I–Corinna, I love you!” he cried.

Then the Gryffindor lion decided to step in. Protect the girl, as it were. “Shove off, Diggory,” he growled, in a way so menacing that a poor, would-be innocent badger like Cedric could never imagine. “The girl told you to leave.”

The badger, wide, flat tail between his legs, fled without another word. The lion preened like a bird, although, again, in such a way that screamed chivalrous bastard. It could have been rather endearing, and might have elicited a grin of gratitude in response, if the timer for the oven hadn’t gone off at the exact moment that the portrait-door swung shut behind the badger.

“That means they’re done,” I reminded him, perhaps a little more gently than I intended.

His mouth morphed into an O of realisation, and after another second of hesitation, he sauntered back to the oven and lifted the single baking sheet out. He gave them perhaps fifteen seconds to cool down, staring them down as if he expected them to explode–which, I supposed, was not a totally unreasonable expectation–and then began filling them with the ganache I hadn’t realised was made already. He worked quickly, and before my very eyes, a set of thirteen vaguely burned lemon macarons sat on the counter, and then was unceremoniously stuffed into another paper bag.

He chucked them to me from the counter, just as Michael had chucked his bag from me earlier this morning.

“Sorry for all the trouble,” he said. Then he turned his back on me and began putting away the remaining materials–the zester on the counter, the makeshift piping bag, the cooling racks. In the meantime, I inspected the macarons more closely. Not as a set of pastries, but as a romantic gesture.

Oliver seemed to read my mind. “About what you were saying earlier.” Apparently done with his chores, he turned back to face me, grabbed Alicia Spinnet’s sister’s apron, and came up to me. I put the bag down on the visitors’ table. “You didn’t use the words sweeping romantic gesture and mean it to apply to you, did you? I was just hearing things?”

His expression was curiously devoid of expression. Except for… oh, yes, there it was. A grin playing on the corners of his lips. He really seemed to have lost the ability to remain completely, infuriatingly blasé in potentially charged situations. I bet he missed that.

“Is that such an unreasonable explanation?” I asked. “You saw what that wanker just did. He stole for me. He brought me roses. That’s a romantic gesture, isn’t it?”

“Didn’t even realize you two had a connection.”

“Neither did I, that’s the strange part.”

“D’you think we do? Have a connection?”

I thought about that. How we’d exchanged dialogue straight out of a novel. How we’d gone through all the motions of a relationship, as society told us it was formed, developed, strengthened, and hadn’t come out any less human. “I… I think we do. We’re still friends, aren’t we?”

He glanced at the bag. “Was rather hoping you’d tell me.” Inclining his head in its direction, he said, “It’s sort of… my peace offering. I know we never really talked about that day–”

“What’s there to say?” I hated talking. At least about things that mattered.

“I know. Hence the baking.”

“S’pose it’s all right,” I grumbled, hopefully in a good-natured fashion. I was nothing if not good-natured. “Now, did you say you had a meeting with a scout?”

Oliver nodded curtly. “Yeah, a Quidditch scout. Puddlemere.”

“You should get going, then.”

He pulled back the sleeve of his robe to check his wrist. Which was, of course, still as blank as ever. “Yeah, I’ve got to be going.” He picked up the bag of cookies and pressed it into my hands. “Sorry about all this again,” he said. Then he bid me a quick, utterly emotionless goodbye, and set off at a healthy, not even sort of fussed jog out the kitchens.


I should have thanked him.


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