Chapter 21 : sour as
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Back in the seventh-year Hufflepuff girls’ dormitory, hysteria reigned supreme.
Cata was sitting guard at the door, and leapt up when she saw me arrive. “We are in crisis,” she announced. “Are those more biscuits? We’re going to need them.” She snatched the bag over my stuttering protests, and then grabbed me with her free hand and led me inside. It felt like being led to the gallows.
I’d seen this very scenario play out in nightmares over the past two days. Ever since Diggory announced his love for me, I’d dreaded what would happen when knowledge of it spilled into this, the most sacred heart of female kinship and frustration. Piper at the foot of Gemma’s bed, staring with deadened eyes at a suspiciously empty pie tin. Gemma hanging upside down off her bed, keeping a stream of running nonsense going in Piper’s deaf ears. Cata watching them with a mixed sense of triumph and deepest pity.
And me, an outsider, the cause of every single misfortune they were all experiencing.
“Did something die?”
Piper promptly answered, “My chances for a happy life.”
I don’t know why I thought that could be an appropriate icebreaker. To make up for it, I asked Cata to explain what had happened while I was away.
“Well,” she said, flopping down next to Gemma on her bed, slapping her legs out of her face. “Our darling Piper overloaded on sugar and flew to the boys’ dormitory. So she stopped in front of Cedric’s dorm and was listening and apparently–would you stop that, please!”
Gemma kept coming dangerously close to kick her in the face, probably in some misguided attempt to spare Piper of more pain. As they traded affectionate obscenities, I watched Piper’s face fall and become even more adorably miserable.
“–apparently he just went after some other stupid bint and she rejected him and he’s all depressed,” Cata finished, shooting a dirty glare to the girl on her left, who was munching pensively on biscotti and looking generally sulky. “Now, because Piper is Piper and doesn’t know how to confront people without the use of alcohol or sugar, she ran back and has been here ever since.” She fished a macaron out of the bag and tossed one to Gemma and one to Piper. The latter didn’t catch it and let it land on the pyjama-strewn floor. I was going to complain, but thought it impertinent; it would be rude of me to make this about myself and my inability to read situations involving blokes.
Gemma dropped her biscotti on her blanket and stuffed the macaron in her mouth, then promptly spit it out. “This tastes like shit.” She Vanished all macaron-related matter and then snatched the bag from Cata’s hands. “Exactly how many lemons did you put in these? Nine? Don’t eat these, Piper. Evanes–oh, fuck.” She was trying to cast the spell with biscotti.
“I’ll get that,” I grumbled. “Evanesco.” The macaron near Piper’s feet disappeared. “Give ‘em here, will you? I don’t appreciate waste.”
Cata chucked the bag back; this time, I actually caught it and flung it on my own bed before anyone else could aim biscotti at it. I didn’t doubt the quality of Oliver’s baking, but that didn’t make me feel any better about Vanishing the results of his effort.
“So basically,” I said, slithering down opposite Piper, “you still haven’t talked to him.”
She started. “Err.”
Gemma and Cata replied for her. “No.”
“Oh.” I swallowed. “That’s lovely.”
“You know what else is lovely? Not having a best friend here to commiserate with.”
“Good point,” said Cata, with another dirty glare in Gemma’s direction. “Where were you this whole time?”
I repeat: I had no desire to explain to them the intricacies of the conspiracy that I’d been dragged into that morning. It would just elicit a lot of feelings that should have been eclipsed by Piper’s misery. Besides, I didn’t like talking about my own stupidity; as Cata said the day after the concert, I’d rather sit on my own high horse and judge the rest of the plebs from above.
However, I decided, it would be good to get everyone thinking about something other than Cedric and his mystery obsession. Perhaps it would revive Piper, too, and surely that was worth telling of some of the debacle (the parts not involving Cedric and his mystery obsession).
I found out three seconds after I finished that it most certainly was not.
Cata’s vicious amusement I could live with. Piper’s silent incredulity I expected. But Gemma’s–I couldn’t even describe it properly. Gemma’s reaction took the cake. (It also took my biscotti, macarons, and blueberry pie.)
“You heinous little slag.”
She chucked the remainder of her biscotti at me.
“Hei-nous lit-tle slag,” she repeated, enunciating wildly. Her eyes were about as wild. Like an icy tsunami of crazy. “How dare you even consider that my Oliver would–right after–I mean, it’s an insult!”
“That’s what I said,” I cried, exasperated. “I said that I didn’t want him and it turns out that he doesn’t want me!”
Cata slunk down to cower with Piper, who had recovered enough to know to be afraid. Very afraid.
“That’s not the point,” Gemma snarled. She twisted herself upright and glared with all the venom she could muster. Which was quite a lot, considering all the sugar she’d ingested over the past hour or so. “You know he’s mine. He’s always been mine and he’s always meant to be mine and how dare he do that for you. And it’s fucking Valentine’s Day, for God’s sake, and–”
“It’s the twelfth, you idiot.”
“I don’t care, and since clearly you don’t either, about anything, about me, about my relationship–”
“–which is over for the second time in about five months–”
“Or my feelings, which never went away–”
“–even when he dumped you both times–”
“For your information, I left him last time and it was for a totally stupid reason that I know you’ll make fun of me for and I know we can work past it and it’s all your fucking fault anyway and–what the fuck are you two staring at?”
They were staring at her feet, unable to do anything else.
“I hate you all.”
Gemma took one last opportunity to chuck another metal thing in my direction. This time, it was one of the trays. I dodged it, but by the time I recovered from the shock of having something flung at me for what felt like the fifteenth time this morning, she was gone.
Consigning Piper to the role of horrified observer, Cata and I immediately set on dissecting what was going on in Gemma’s obviously diseased little brain.
“She’s jealous of you,” she said authoritatively, slinking over from where Piper was cowed to the foot of my bed. Somehow being on Gemma’s bed, though convenient, didn’t seem all that appealing. “She’s ridiculously insecure and you threaten her.”
“But they’re over. Again.” I started chewing on Oliver’s macarons just to have something to eat (as I hadn’t all morning). They were just as god-awful as Gemma claimed they were.
“I told you she has fundamental issues with him.” Smug and prefect-y Cata was my least favourite form of Cata. “She likes him and yet there’s always something that drives her off the wall. I just–I don’t get it.”
“But she was always fine with me and him talking before.”
“She was there and knew about it.”
There were, of course, other times that had escaped her attention. I wondered if she knew that now, as a result of the conversation that led to them breaking up. Maybe that was why she had said that it was my fault; maybe she was alluding to how I too thought her a murderer and a spy.
“Now that she doesn’t have a hold on him,” Cata continued, “it’s worse for her, knowing he’s socialising and whatnot with other girls. Especially you.”
“But Oliver was never even sort of interested in me,” I pointed out. “We’re friends, that’s all he said. Plus, he thought he loved her. Because she’s mad. Or something, he never really talked about it.”
At this, there was silence in the dormitory. Only Piper made a recognisable human noise: a mouse-like gasp.
“I know, I couldn’t believe it, either.” I rolled my eyes. “But if he felt that strongly, it explains why they got back together.”
“And if he’s any bit as stupid as she is–”
“Which I assure you he is–”
“–then he could let them break up for something stupid.”
Relieved that Cata was getting the full picture I’d known for so long, I nodded. It was nice, being able to talk about this in some manner. I could never give her the whole picture, of course, about the possible homicide and possible espionage, but at least part of the burden of knowledge was out of my hands alone.
But she, and Piper, who didn’t seem too keen on analysing the madness that was Gemma and Oliver, bought the story. We sank back into our slumber-party-depression sadness, alternately venting about Diggory’s idiocy and boys’ idiocy and girls’ idiocy and the need for sugar and hysteria every now and then.
We indulged enough of those things that day. We didn’t even emerge from the dorm all day, living off of Cata’s disgusting Spanish tea and the few biscotti that Gemma hadn’t devoured. She didn’t return, but we weren’t particularly worried about her. It wasn’t like there was anything we could do, anyway, even if she did go on some rampage of rage. I managed to bottle up the entire story behind the kitchens episode all day. There was no way I would kill Piper’s happiness further. She’d find out some day, and I was just fine with waiting for that day.
Of course, no one knew I was bottling things up, so I did what the others were doing: sit back, relax, and wait for our sugary food supply to dwindle away until only Oliver’s lemon macarons were left. Since no one but me would eat them–Cata said they were too sour and Piper said they were too sweet–I took it upon myself to go out and find food.
In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Things always happened when I stepped out of the portrait door. I should have learned, that Saturday evening, to stay in the basements at all costs. It was warm, cozy, and startlingly simple in there. It was a place of catharsis. It was a place of understanding.
None of those things awaited me just beyond the portrait door.
What did await me were two idiotic, crazy Scots joined at the lips.
And practically everything else.
I couldn’t even muster up the strength to scream, berate, or–worst of all–swear. No questions sprang to my lips. No insults. Nothing.
Gemma and Oliver went on in this way for a good thirteen seconds until they realised someone was watching them. At that point, they broke violently away from each other and started cantering in opposite directions: she towards the castle proper and he, for reasons I couldn’t begin to understand, to me.
His face was flush and his eyes bright when he took my hands and kissed them. Both of them. Twice. Each.
“Thank you, Corinna,” he exhaled in delusional delirium. “Thank you so, so much. Just–thank you. I can’t thank you enough.”
With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I withdrew my hands. “Pretty sure you already have.”
“How were the macarons?”
Not even my solemn pronouncement that they “tasted like shit” could dampen his expression. On the contrary, it seemed to make him beam more.
“Too much lemon zest, I suppose,” he said, without a hint of regret. His skin seemed to be cooling down, but the boyish, triumphant grin couldn’t be wiped away. No matter how much I wanted to.
“Yeah. What was that about?”
If I thought him perky then, it was nothing compared to now. His posture straightened up and he seemed to preen like a peacock or something, showing off his musculature and smile. “Oh, that?”
“Yes, that. And,” I added hurriedly, “if you’re going to tell me that–”
“We’re back together.”
“You are not.”
He grinned broadly for about the thousandth time. “I’m not having this argument with you again.”
“I’m not having this argument with you again, either. It’s just–you’re not together. You can’t be.” My head spun with the implications of his assertion. On the group. On me. On the school. On the Gryffindor Quidditch team. None of it was good. Rather disastrous, really. And dangerous. And… “She hates you. She tried to spy on you. Oliver, she tried to kill you.”
He didn’t even bring up the point about how she hadn’t really done the latter, and only possibly had done the former. That was how blissful he was. That’s how addled she made him. “I told you once and I’ll tell you again, Corinna: I love her. Always have, always will.”
Every molecule of my body shuddered in disgust. There was not a part of me that saw this as a good thing. I fundamentally rejected the idea, heart, head, and soul. “No, you don’t love her,” I said. “By Tuesday you’ll come and tell me she’s trying to crucify you or something, or paying Sirius Black to do it, and–”
“She’s not doing any of that.” His voice wasn’t even defensive when he said so. “I mean, really, other than our history, what’s stopping you from accepting this? Hmm?” He seemed to think he’d stumped me, but really, he’d only surprised me. Disgusted me.
I recovered quickly enough. “The laws of nature. Your clashing personalities. Her psychosis. Your neurosis. Her spasms of jealousy and your unceasing sentimentalism. Take your pick.”
He cocked his gleeful head to the side. “You know, by the way you’re talking, sounds like you’re the one who fancies me.” He narrowed his eyes as if to send me into dizziness with a smouldering look. He wasn’t half bad at it, either, but all I felt was roiling in my stomach. From disgust. “And you thought it was me.”
A strangled gagging sound came from my throat. “You can’t be serious. That’s not me, that’s Cata, and she’s written you off. Because you’re fucking insane.”
He took that tidbit of information in stride. “But have you?”
Another graceless shudder. “Yes. Yes, absolutely yes. You are the single most idiotic wizard I’ve ever met.”
“You’re a cynical nutter.”
“You shouldn’t be with her.”
“I don’t–I don’t know.”
“Ugh. I’d kill you in your sleep.”
“I’d poison your macarons.”
“They’re sour, aren’t they?”
“She ate one.”
“I cured her.”
“With a kiss?”
“You want one?”
“I mean, if you’re offering.”
“Run along, then. Your girlfriend’s probably waiting for you.”
I hated having to refer to her as such. It was wrong on more than one level.
Oliver inclined his head to me with something of a devilish smirk on his face. I preferred that to the gleeful grinning. The latter made him look like an idiot. “See you around, then.”
“I’d rather not.”
Oh, how wrong this is, I thought as he walked away, let me count the ways.
One: it meant that I’d have to undergo this whole thing again–the happiness, the paranoia, the contentment, the blow-up row, the reconciliation, everything.
Two: it meant that there was no way to get out of this cycle. Gemma and Oliver permanently altered the axis of my world’s rotation. They turned my entire life utterly off-kilter.
Three: it meant that I would have to be with them and watch them together even more.
Four: it meant I’d want to tear Gemma’s hair out more.
Five: because I hated her.
Six: because she was with him.
Seven: and I wasn’t.
Author's Note My heart is pounding as I type out this last a/n. I just thought you should know that. This is the longest story I've ever completed. Ever.
All of my love for Gina, Annie, Erica, Jordan, Celeste, and the countless others who have helped me through the writing, the plotting, the fluff, the feelings, the ridiculous, and eventually this, the end. All of my gratitude to you, readers and reviewers, for sticking with this story for so long.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
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