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Chapter 25: Exposing the lies
On Friday I had lunch with Betram, who had a free period afterwards which we decided to spend together before I went upstairs to get set into homework before the weekend started in earnest.
“We don’t do this nearly often enough,” he murmured into my ear as we settled ourselves in a nifty little alcove he’d discovered behind one of the staircases on the first floor.
“Don’t talk about that now,” I said. “Just make the most of the fact we’re together.”
He grinned at me. “I like the sound of that.” I smiled back and pulled him in closer.
He was right, we didn’t catch up nearly often enough and so I tried to make the most of it when we did. Within reason, of course – I was still wary of heading back into the Hufflepuff common room or, worse, his dorm, and therefore preferred to stay in places just a little more public. The seductive part of it was, of course, the fact that when we were making out it meant that we weren’t talking and that meant in turn that I was less likely to stew over what was wrong with our relationship, instead focusing on what made it good. And lazy hours like this one certainly helped me do that.
Of course it was over much too soon and it seemed like no time had passed when we had to call a stop to it. “Bloody school,” Bertram grumbled as he put his arms around me again. “We have to do this again. Soon.”
I smiled as I reached up and kissed him. “Sounds good to me.”
We stayed for as long as we could but unfortunately we eventually did have to part, or at least we did if Bertram wanted to pass Charms, so at long last he grabbed his school bag and headed off to that class and I went in the opposite direction and started making my way up to Gryffindor Tower.
The quickest route from Bertram’s little alcove took me past the library, and as I walked past its entrance the door suddenly opened and I was bowled over by Sirius, who was looking a little fraught as he barrelled along at a rate of knots. The collision was pretty forceful and we both ended up rather awkwardly on the floor.
“Oh, Laura, sorry, I didn’t mean to run into you like that,” he said apologetically as we picked ourselves up and I gathered my scattered books back into my bag. “I was just trying to escape …” His voice trailed off.
Getting back to my feet, I looked at him in confusion. “Escape? What from?”
He looked a little uncomfortable. “More like who from,” he muttered, and I looked up to see Elvira Vablatsky and Greta Catchlove standing at the open the library door, noticing him talking to me and throwing death looks in my direction.
Sirius followed me around the nearest corner where I waited while he got himself sorted out, putting two or three library books into his bag. I grinned at him. “What, you don’t want to spend your afternoon with Elvira and her friends? Whyever not?”
He raised an incredulous eyebrow. “Do I have to answer that?”
“Of course not,” I said, “but I thought it might give you an opportunity to vent your spleen a little. You look rather like you want to.”
He laughed. “Yes, fair enough, it can get a bit irritating. And all I wanted was to go in, grab a couple of books for that Herbology assignment, and get out again. And it ended up taking me –” he looked at his watch – “three quarters an hour?” Looking shocked it had been that long, he shook his head in frustration.
I looked back in the direction of the library, but Elvira and Greta had obviously decided not to follow him. Maybe that three quarters of an hour had been enough for them. “What were they doing this time?”
“Inviting me to Hogsmeade, believe it or not,” he said, making a face. “We don’t even know when the next visit will be, but they thought they’d get in early. And they had an answer for everything I said, too – I think they must have planned it or something.”
“Well, at least they weren’t trying to force feed you some amortentia or anything,” I pointed out, trying not to laugh at his expression of discomfort and – was that embarrassment? Sirius Black, embarrassed by female attention? I mean, I knew he found Elvira and the fan club annoying, but it had never occurred to me that their behaviour might embarrass him. I swallowed my surprise. “Did you want company back to the tower, just in case?”
He looked at me gratefully. “That’d be great, thanks,” he said, and we headed in the direction of the nearest staircase. “So,” he went on, “any brilliant ideas? What can I do about them? Pr- James and I haven’t come up with anything that’s worked yet.”
I giggled. “Drench them in dragon dung. It’d do it for me.”
He looked sideways at me. “Or Bubotuber pus?”
I shrugged, struggling to contain a grin. “Hey, why not? It’s worked once, it would probably work again.”
“Ah, but you need access to the Bubotubers,” he pointed out, “and to be honest I’d rather not lead any of them into the greenhouses. They’d probably get ideas.”
“Yeah, you’ve got a point,” I conceded. “All right, how about one of Hagrid’s Nifflers?”
He shook his head, though he’d started to laugh. “Not enough jewellery,” he pointed out when he could get a word out. “Now someone like Mulciber, on the other hand ...”
I giggled again, remembering what the Nifflers had done to him during Care of Magical Creatures in fifth year. “Oh, that medallion,” I said with exaggerated exasperation. “Someone really needs to tell him that you can’t get away with that unless you’ve got at least some hair on your chest.”
“What, the smooth-as-a-baby’s-bum look doesn’t appeal to you?” he asked with a grin.
“Not really,” I admitted, for some reason feeling a little discomfited to be discussing my personal preferences in this sort of thing with someone like Sirius. I decided to change the subject. “But that’s not really the point. If a boy wants to unbutton his shirt half way and wear a medallion he should at least have something to show, don’t you think?”
It worked – my change of subject went without comment. In fact, Sirius was still laughing and I found it rather hard not to join in: it really was quite infectious and something about him just seemed to set me off. “He may prefer the hairless look,” he said eventually. “You never know, he might have Charmed it all off. Why he’d want to, I have no idea, but …”
“You know, you could be on to something there,” I said through my giggles. “And does anyone else think it’s weird that a boy wears more jewellery than any of the girls in the school? Or do you think he’s trying to tell us something?”
“Definitely trying to tell us something,” Sirius agreed. “Too bad Pritchard is so thick, otherwise she might have figured it out by now.”
“Either that or she thinks she’s got it made because he never tries anything,” I said dryly. Sirius stopped laughing for a second and looked sharply at me, but before I could work out his expression he’d looked away again, so I went on with my train of thought. “Or do you think that it’s because of her that he’s leaning that way in the first place?”
“Now that I like,” he said, chuckling again. “Scylla Pritchard is so appalling that she’s turned him gay. I almost feel like spreading that as a rumour to see how long it takes to catch hold.”
“If you start it,” I said, “about five minutes. If someone else starts it, it could take a little while longer, maybe up to two or three days depending on how reliable the source is.”
“So if you started it?” he asked, his eyes sparkling.
I shrugged. “I’ve never started a rumour before – that I know of – so I’ve got no idea. Considering no one ever listens to me, though, I’m leaning towards about a week.”
“Now that’s got to be an exaggeration,” he said with a grin. “I would have put it more about the two-week mark.”
He was still smiling and I wondered what he would do if I succumbed to the sudden urge to grab a book out of my bag and hurl it at him. The heavier the better, of course. But I didn’t know him quite well enough to get away with something like that, so I settled for glaring at him. “Gee, thanks for that,” I said sarcastically. “It’s so nice to know how much I’m looked up to.”
He suddenly looked mortified. “You didn’t take me seriously, did you?”
I grinned. “Sirius Black, how much of anything you say should be taken seriously?” His face visibly relaxed. “If I took that sort of thing seriously,” I went on, “I’d have such an inferiority complex that I’d never leave my dormitory.” I grinned as we reached the Fat Lady and Sirius, looking rather relieved, gave the password so we could go inside. “Well, it looks like you made it intact,” I said, having a quick look around the common room. “Not a groupie to be seen. Now do you think you can get up to your dorm without being molested, or would you like a chaperone up the stairs as well?”
He raised his eyebrows. “And you say you’ve never started a rumour? What do you think that would do?”
“Good point,” I conceded. “Though to be honest, if anyone actually believed that I’d be worried. Let’s face it, it’s no more believable now than it was when that story went around last Christmas.” I mean, really, Sirius Black, Hogwarts pin-up, with someone as uninteresting as me? Yeah, right, like that would ever happen. In any case I was somewhat relieved that I didn’t need to accompany him up to the dorm and wasn’t even sure why I’d said it in the first place, preferring instead to join the other girls at the table by the window to try to get a start on my Defence homework from that morning. “At least it looks like you’ll be able to start that essay in peace and quiet,” I went on. “Have fun!” And I waved cheerfully as I crossed the common room and set myself up next to Lily and Mary, only vaguely aware that he just stood there for a while looking thoughtful before disappearing up the boys’ stairs.
Saturday morning found me pulling things out of my trunk and emptying my bedside cabinet in a vain effort to locate my Charms textbook. We had an assignment due on Thursday and unfortunately the book was required, so wherever it had ended up last time I threw it in the direction of my trunk, I had to find it.
Mary noticed my agitation. “Wha’ are ye lookin’ fer?”
“I can’t find my copy of Quintessence,” I told her. “It’s here somewhere but I have no idea where.”
Charlotte giggled from the other side of the room. “Have you tried a Summoning Charm?”
I sat down and pulled out my wand, rather embarrassed that something that simple had evaded my thought processes. “Accio Quintessence!”
I waited for the book to dislodge itself from its hiding spot and soar into my hand. And waited. And waited.
After a minute or so Charlotte laughed again. “Okay, looks like it’s not in here at all,” she admitted. “Any idea where else you could have left it?”
I shook my head. “That’s just it, I have no idea where else it could be. It has to be here somewhere.”
Mary grinned. “Anyone woul’ think ye’re nae good a’ Summoning Charms. If it’s here, it woul’ hae come t’ ye. Here,” she went on, pulling her copy of the book out of her trunk, “use mine, ye can give it back when ye’re done.”
I smiled at her gratefully. “Thanks Mary. I’ll have it back to you in no time.”
And I meant to, I really did. Trouble was, it was soon Wednesday and I still had the book, and if she was going to use it for her own essay I would need to get it back to her soon. So with this in mind I went to meet her after my free period (in which I’d put some finishing touches on the paper concerned and done some more work on the Herbology assignment also due the next day) and her Muggle Studies class. However, my best intentions were stymied by Dione Turpin, of all people.
Not that Dione was actually there in person, it was more the effects of her actions. I headed to the second floor, where the classroom was, only to be greeted before I could even see her by Mary’s very characteristic laughter. (I swear, even that had a Scottish accent.) Rounding the corner, I saw her standing outside the classroom with James and Sirius, both of whom were looking a little concerned.
“Laura’ll back me up,” said Mary as she saw me, failing to suppress a giggle. “Wha’ dae ye say t’ this, Laura, James has heard tha’ Lily only got i’ Slughorn’s goo’ books by offerin’ him favours, if ye know wha’ I mean.”
Reaching them, I laughed too. “That is a good one,” I agreed. “How bad would her taste have to be for that to be true?” I giggled with Mary and then caught James’ face. He looked worried sick. Catching myself, I said to him, “Don’t tell me you believed it?”
He seemed to take some solace from the fact that both Mary and I thought the very idea was ridiculous. “You’re sure it’s not true, then?”
I shook my head and grinned at Mary. “Sounds like a Turpin Tale to me.”
Mary nodded. “Aye, one o’ her leas’ believable, too.”
I giggled. “Absolutely. I’d say the Toadstool Tales had more truth to them. Or the ones Beedle the Bard wrote. Honestly, if Lily had been half as busy as those stories have made out over the years, she’d never have had time for anything else. And let’s face it, she’s been in Slughorn’s good books since first year, so she’d have to have got started pretty young.”
“What’s a Turpin Tale?” Sirius looked confused as we started to make our way downstairs for lunch.
“Rumour spread by Dione Turpin,” I explained. “You know the type.”
He shook his head. “No, I don’t,” he said, plainly baffled. “Is she known for this sort of thing?”
I laughed as I realised just how good Dione was at hiding her true nature from some people, and Mary clearly had the same reaction. “Tha’s richt, ye’re male,” she said. “She’d ne’er let anythin’ slip in fron’ o’ ye. But aye, she’s bin sayin’ stuff lik’ tha’ since a’ least secon’ year.”
I smiled broadly at the incredulous faces of both boys and continued the explanation. “You remember that rumour that Lily had been plagiarising stuff from the library for her assignments and not writing them herself? That was a Turpin Tale. So was the one saying Charlotte was having it off with Professor Mopsus. Which is pretty similar to the current story, you might notice.”
James looked aghast. “But why would she say things like that?”
“Jealous, we suspect,” I said with a shrug. “She only picks on people she feels inferior to or threatened by so of course Lily, who’s pretty much perfect, is her prime target. But she’s also had a go at Charlotte, obviously, and Martha, and Clio, and Elvira, and Veronica, and even Greta Catchlove because she’s so good at Charms.”
“She is almost perfect, isn’t she,” said James quietly as if to himself, a dreamy look coming to his face as he obviously thought about Lily. He snapped out of it at a growled “Prongs!” from Sirius and went on. “But still, Turpin shouldn’t be saying stuff like that. If people start believing it she could do a lot of damage.”
Mary shrugged. “Only if, as ye said, folk star’ believin’ it an’ all. An’ nae much has stuck so far, so she’s nae bin doin’ tha’ goo’ a job.”
Sirius was frowning, and I remembered too late that he’d gone out with Dione the previous year. Oops, I thought, maybe I should try to be more sensitive before I spout off about people. He interrupted my slightly guilty reverie.
“Has she ever said anything about you?”
I looked at Mary and giggled a little. “Us? Goodness, no. We’re not anywhere near conspicuous enough.”
James looked puzzled. “Conspicuous?”
Mary laughed again. “Ye know, nae one notices us. We fade int’ th’ backgroond, especially when someone lik’ Lily or Martha is aroond. So we’re almos’ immune t’ things lik’ Turpin Tales ’cause Dione hasna any reason t’ feel inferior t’ us.”
Sirius frowned again. “But that’s not right, you’re just as good as they are.” He sounded eerily like Remus had a year or so earlier.
“But we can’t compete with them,” I said placatingly. “Mary’s right. If Lily or Martha or Charlotte is in the room, who pays any attention to us? And don’t say it’s not like that,” I went on, cutting off an interruption I could see coming, “because you know it is. And we don’t mind, either, so don’t apologise. It’s just the way things are. And there’s times that it’s nice, being close to invisible.”
Sirius looked like he wanted to say something, while James was shaking his head. “And to think you went out with her, Padfoot,” he muttered. “We had no idea.”
I laughed. “Don’t worry about it, she’s a dab hand at hiding it. You two aren’t the only ones she’s hoodwinked. Anyway, how was Muggle Studies?”
Sirius groaned dramatically and shook his head. “I never thought it could happen,” he said, “but Penrose has finally done the impossible.”
“And that is?” I asked.
“He’s managed to make a subject even more boring than History of Magic,” Sirius explained, and Mary groaned as well and nodded vigorously.
“Not possible, surely,” I protested. “Nothing could be more boring than History of Magic.”
“I would have thought so too,” said James, “but Padfoot’s got a point. He got us started on Muggle economic systems. Currency trading and the gold standard and – what was that other one?”
“Controlled versus market economy,” Sirius said with an exaggerated shudder. “And something else that even I can’t remember, that’s how enthralling it was.”
“And that really weird thing where different countries have different money,” said James, shaking his head. “That’s just bizarre. How hard would that make it to travel?”
“Because that’s something you do every weekend, is it, James?” I said wryly. “Quick jaunts over to the continent or across the pond to America.”
Sirius chuckled at this while James grinned. “Well, maybe not, but Mum and Dad do like to take me away every summer holidays. But we stay in the wizarding areas as a rule, and of course they’ve all got the same currency. Imagine having to go into Gringott’s and change money every time you get into a new country, it’d be a nightmare!”
“Aye, it’s bad enough havin’ t’ change t’ poonds an’ all when we go int’ Muggle London,” Mary agreed.
“Well, if it’s any consolation,” I said, “even Muggles find that sort of thing boring. And they live with it every day.”
We had reached the Great Hall and Mary, James and Sirius automatically headed to the right to where the Gryffindor table was. I stayed in the middle of the hall, my eyes searching the adjacent Hufflepuff table for Bertram, who I had arranged to sit with. “See you later on!”
Sirius, who was last in the line, whirled around. “You’re not eating?”
I grinned. “Of course I am. I’m just with the Hufflepuffs today.” And I waved cheerfully as I made my way to where Bertram was waiting for me.
He beamed at me and budged up a little so I could fit in the spot he had saved for me. “Get your essay finished?”
“Almost,” I said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek before grabbing a plate and heaping it with beef casserole and mashed potatoes. “But I’ve got another free period after Ancient Runes so I should get it done then.” The next day, Thursday, was full-on, with double Transfiguration, then Charms, then double Herbology, so I liked to make sure I had most of my homework for it done before Wednesday night so I wasn’t in too much of a panic.
“Pleased to hear it,” he said, pouring me a pumpkin juice. “Does that mean you’re free tonight?”
I grinned. “I might just be,” I said. “What did you have in mind?” We saw each other so little these days, with the amount of homework that we were both being set, that it was almost a special treat to catch up. Bertram apparently felt the same way.
“What do you say to a picnic on the North Tower?” he asked with a wink. “I’ll grab some things from the kitchens on my way up.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said. “I’ll just let Mary – oh, damn it!”
“I’ve still got her Charms book.” I leaned down to my school bag and fished in it for some parchment and a quill. “I’ll flick her a note, that way I won’t forget to give it back to her.”
Bertram looked confused. “But didn’t you come in with her? I would have thought you’d have given it back then.”
“I meant to,” I said ruefully, flattening out my parchment on the table in front of me, “but we got waylaid by James and Sirius, they were taken in by a Turpin Tale, and I forgot about it.”
A bitter look crossed his face and I remembered too late that he had something against them. I still hadn’t figured out what exactly it was because none of his explanations made much sense to me, but it was usually easier to avoid mentioning them entirely. Deciding that I shouldn’t need to justify my friendship with them, I concentrated on scrawling a note on my parchment (I’ve still got your book – don’t let me leave the Hall without giving it back to you) and, scrunching it up, threw it across the two tables to where Mary was sitting.
Unfortunately Mary put her drink down at just the wrong moment and the note I had thrown bounced off her goblet and fell to the floor. I didn’t think she’d even noticed it. Sirius, however, was next to her and did seem to have noticed, so I got his attention and tried to convey with hand gestures that the note was for Mary. He was looking rather irritated and appeared to be stabbing moodily at the food on his plate so I felt bad for interrupting him like that, but Mary needed the book for her Charms essay and I had Ancient Runes just after lunch.
Fortunately whatever was aggravating him – quite possibly, I reflected rather guiltily, what we had said earlier about Dione – didn’t extend to Mary’s note and he graciously picked it up and gave it to her. I smiled at him gratefully, then turned my attention to Mary. She opened the parchment, read it, and then looked for me at the Hufflepuff table, nodding her head and grinning as I caught her eye. Good. I beamed at her and turned to Bertram.
“Just don’t let me leave without giving it back to her,” I told him, thinking that if both he and Mary were to remind me then it wouldn’t slip my mind again.
“No problem,” he smiled, his arm reaching around my shoulders. I relaxed into him with a smile. Bertram went on. “I think I can let go of you for that long.”
“But no longer?” I asked, still smiling fondly as I looked up at him.
He gave me a squeeze and kissed me gently. “Definitely no longer. That, Laura, would take a lot of convincing for me to agree to.”
On top of everything else we had to do, we were told during our next Apparition lesson that for those students who were of age, there would be tests available to be taken in Hogsmeade in early May. This was greeted with a flurry of interest from the sixth-years, most of whom would be seventeen by that time if they weren’t already. Mary, however, didn’t have her birthday until the end of June and was feeling distinctly disgruntled.
“Tha’d be richt,” she muttered in the common room after supper. “Everyone else will be able t’ Apparate an’ I’ll be stuck behin’ waitin’ on a licence.” We were already well into our Charms homework so I was a bit surprised she was still thinking about it.
“Don’t be like that,” I said. “Tell you what, I’ll not take the test this time. I could probably do with the extra practice anyway. Then we’ll go to the Ministry in the holidays, after your birthday, and take the test together.”
She looked at me incredulously. “Why woul’ ye dae tha’?”
“Let’s face it,” I said, “I’m still not the best at it.” And to illustrate my point I rubbed my eyebrow, which had needed to be reattached after the previous week’s lesson when I’d left it behind. “And I don’t feel the need to have my licence yet anyway. I’m happy to wait.”
She smiled at me. “If ye’re sure, then,” she said.
I smiled back. “Of course I am. I wouldn’t have offered if I wasn’t.”
“Thanks, Laura. I knew ye were a goo’ frien’.”
I went back to Spellotaping my copy of Quintessence: A Quest back together – it had turned up, torn and a little crumpled around the corners and generally looking the worse for wear, wedged between my bed and the wall and hidden behind a jumble of shoes and other oddments – and Mary started back on the latest essay Quintessence was supposed to be helping us with. Before long, however, we were interrupted by the portrait hole opening noisily and I looked up to see Sirius rushing into the room. He looked around, visibly agitated, until he found our table.
“Laura, I am so sorry, but you’ve got to see this,” he said, gasping for breath and obviously in a hurry. “Come on.” I looked at him, baffled. “NOW!” he shouted.
Figuring it was easier than arguing the point I got up to follow him, and he grabbed my hand and virtually yanked me through the portrait hole. Once out, he pulled out the two-way mirror. “Prongs! Got her,” he whispered into it, nodding significantly. “Don’t let them leave.”
“Are you going to tell me what this is about?” I asked as he pulled me along corridors and down staircases. More than once we took short-cuts I hadn’t previously known about, using tunnels hidden behind suits of armour or random paintings.
“You have to see,” was all he would say. “So long as we’re not too late …” He was still clutching my hand and it felt like my arm was going to be pulled from its socket – his longer legs were propelling us much faster than I felt comfortable going.
Finally we reached the tapestry of Andros the Invincible, where I had seem him talking to his brother on his birthday all those months ago. James and Remus appeared from nowhere, James raising an eyebrow at Sirius who promptly let go of my hand.
I was panting, worn out from the multi-storey sprint we had done. Sirius looked at me and said again, very quietly, “I am so sorry.” I was about to say something but James held up a finger to keep me quiet and let me catch my breath before grabbing the tapestry and tapping it with his wand. It immediately came crashing to the floor, revealing yet another secret passageway and, at its entrance, a couple locked in a tight embrace. Their surprised faces turned towards us and revealed a seventh-year Ravenclaw girl and – Bertram.
Author's note: Again, I'd like to request that any potential reviewers refrain from using bad language in their reviews. Remember all reviews must remain 12+ and if they're not then they'll be deleted, and I'd hate for that to happen. Thank you. :)