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Chapter 45: Duelling lessons
Sirius, who was starting to look rather distressed, stopped suddenly and turned to me, his expression clearing. “Is that what this is about?” he asked, putting both hands to my face, most probably trying to ensure I didn’t pull away from him again. “You think I don’t trust you?”
I looked at him and nodded, the tears making my vision blurry. “It does look like it,” I pointed out. “All this secrecy and sneaking around, you know?”
James, behind Sirius, was fidgeting impatiently. “We need to get going, Padfoot,” he said. “We’ll be late. You can explain tomorrow.”
Sirius looked annoyed and glared over his shoulder. “One minute,” he snapped. “We won’t be any later than usual.”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
He stroked my cheekbone and shook his head. “Not now,” he said. “But I will tell you eventually.”
I stiffened. “Eventually? So that means you don’t really trust me, do you?”
“Of course I trust you,” he said quietly, and I had the distinct impression that he was trying to ensure no one overheard our conversation. “How long have you known about the map? Or James’ Cloak? You really think I tell everyone that sort of thing?”
I smiled behind my tears – he did have a point. “I guess not,” I admitted.
“So, then, you have to believe that this is something I’ll tell you too,” he said, kissing me gently. “Just not now, because it’s not my secret.” He wiped a tear off my cheek. “And no more of these, either, okay?” he went on. “I hate it when you cry.”
I nodded, swallowing hard in an attempt to calm down, though I still wasn’t completely appeased. Sirius seemed to think I was, though, as he smiled briefly, kissed my forehead and turned away, following James and Peter through the portrait hole.
I felt absolutely confused as I watched it close behind them. What did it mean? Should I just take him at his word, or was this something I shouldn’t be accepting at all?
Lily, who had joined me at the portrait hole, was shaking her head in frustration. “I told them this was a bad idea,” she muttered crossly.
“So you knew about it?” I asked as she steered me back to the dorm.
She hesitated. “Sort of. I knew they were going out tonight, and James asked me to keep you in the dorm so Sirius could go without you knowing. But it was a bad idea from the start.”
“What should he have done, then?” I asked.
“Tell you,” she said like it was obvious. “At least that he was going to be out of action tonight. Boys’ night out, something like that. Apparently, though, he was worried about lying to you.”
I smiled grimly. “And he thought sneaking out behind my back was a better idea?”
“You’d think people as smart as those two would’ve known better,” she said, opening the door to our dorm and leading me inside. “I didn’t want anything to do with it, I knew it wouldn’t work. But James … well, let’s just say he can be very persuasive.” She blushed and smiled in an embarrassed kind of way.
“So what’s going on?” I asked, collapsing onto my bed.
She shook her head. “I don’t know either. But they do this every so often, and from what I can gather it’s nothing bad. They’re not seeing other girls or anything like that, if that’s what you’re worried about. It’s just something they’ve been doing for years and they always go together and they’re out almost till dawn. So you might want to tread gently tomorrow, too, ’cause they’ll be a bit tired I expect.”
“And you just accept that?” I asked. “Not knowing what they’re doing?”
“I trust James,” she said simply. “And I think you should trust Sirius, too.”
“But that’s the problem,” I explained, staring at the bed canopy. “This whole relationship is supposed to be based on trust. But this has got me wondering if he really does trust me.” I shook my head in frustration. “Like I said, it has to go both ways. And now I don’t know what to do.”
Lily nodded. “Yes, I can understand how that would be a sticking point,” she agreed. “But I think it’s really up to you now. If you want to stay with Sirius, you’ll have to take him at his word with this. It’s as simple as that. And he worships the ground you walk on. If you can trust anyone not to hurt you, it’d be him.”
I looked at her helplessly. “It’s just that I’ve been trying so hard, to take things as they are and not get worked up about anything. Because I do trust him, deep down. It just feels …” I trailed off, wondering how I could word it so it didn’t sound petty. “It feels like I’m the one who’s doing all the work here. I’ve been working really hard, because I don’t want it to fail. And now he’s come out and pretty much said, ‘look, it’s all great, only I don’t really trust you.’ It’s like a kick in the guts.”
“I see what you mean,” she said, nodding again. “But I still think it’s worth a try. Put it this way, Laura, there’s a difference between not trusting you and not being able to tell you something. If he says it’s not his secret, then it’s probably not.” I nodded: there was something in that. “Incidentally,” she continued, “how long have you known about the map and the Cloak?”
I considered that. “The night I broke up with Bertram,” I said finally. “Sirius told me about them. Well, he showed me the map, but he told me about the Cloak.”
She looked surprised. “Way back then? He showed you the map?”
I nodded, wondering why that was so strange.
Lily let out a low whistle. “Well, Laura, if that’s not proof he trusts you, I don’t know what is. I didn’t see the map till Hallowe’en.”
I stared at her, surprised. “Really?”
She nodded. “Really. And we’d been together a month by then.”
Stunned, I thought about that. “Thanks Lily,” I said eventually. “I do feel better.”
Sirius sought me out before breakfast the next morning, bags under his eyes and barely able to stifle a yawn. It looked like Lily was right and the boys had in fact been out till dawn, and I had to give him credit for managing a shower and a shave in that state.
“Laura … I’m so sorry about last night,” he said, embracing me so hesitantly I was sure he thought I was going to pull away, and looking at me searchingly. “You’re okay with it though, aren’t you?” He paused. “We’re okay?”
I thought it best to be straight with him. “I don’t like being left in the dark, Sirius. With all that sneaking around behind my back, I felt like you were treating me like Bertram did.” His expression changed from hopeful to dismayed, and I held up a finger as he opened his mouth to protest. “But – Lily pleaded your case. And I think that if she can trust James with whatever it is you’re doing, then I can trust you.”
Relief flooded his face as he pulled me towards him and kissed me gently. “Then we’re all right?”
Ignoring his question, I asked one myself. “When are you going to tell me what it was about?”
“Eventually, I promise,” he said. “It’s just that it’s not my secret and I don’t have permission to tell anyone. Not even you.”
“One of the other three, then,” I said. “Isn’t it? The person whose secret it is, that is.”
He nodded. “Yes. Actually, thinking about it, it’s all of the other three.”
“I can accept that,” I admitted. “Yes, we’re all right. But Sirius –” I pulled back and looked at him again – “next time you’re planning on having one of those nights out, just tell me, all right?”
“I will,” he promised. “You can count on it.”
Later that week, I arrived back in the dorm after supper to discover my trunk open and its contents strewn all over my bed and the floor. Gathering them up to put them away, it became very clear very soon that whoever was responsible had also put stink pellets all through my belongings.
“Looks like it’s your turn now, Laura,” Martha said dryly, picking up a shirt and throwing it back to me. “The fan club have been in.”
I made a face as the smell hit me. “Great. I’ve been looking forward to this.”
“But how did they get in?” asked Lily.
“There’s at least a couple in Gryffindor,” said Martha, sorting my clothes from hers on the floor. “Fifth-years, I think.”
“An’ a sixth-year,” added Mary, who was helping me re-pack. “Wendy Savage, if I’m nae mistaken. Eeww, they really go’ ye good, dinna they?” she added, holding one of my jumpers to her nose. “This stinks!”
“The trouble is,” said Lily after a spell, picking up loose clothes from the floor and trying to sort out who they belonged to, “that the smell’s not just on your stuff any more. It’s infected our clothes as well.” She sat on her bed and made a face. “And the bed hangings.”
In fact, it was even in the Gryffindor and Welsh rugby flags on the wall next to my bed – the fan club had done their job well and the five of us were up till two in the morning trying to disinfect everything. As a result we all overslept the next morning, and I was a good half hour later than usual meeting Sirius in the common room. Fortunately it was a Saturday so I wasn’t running late for any classes, but I still wasn’t thrilled: I didn’t like keeping him waiting.
“What took so long?” he asked from his chair by the fire, where he and James were reading discarded editions of the Daily Prophet.
“Overslept. I’m sorry,” I said, not wanting to elaborate. It was my job to deal with the fan club, just as it had been Martha’s two years previously.
Charlotte, however, had other ideas. “Stink pellets,” she said firmly. “Someone put them all through Laura’s trunk. We were up all night cleaning it up.”
The unmistakeable sound of giggling came from a far corner of the room, where Wendy Savage and the two fifth-years we suspected of being in the fan club were evidently watching the results of their actions. Sirius turned swiftly to face them, his expression furious.
“Was that your doing?” he asked harshly, striding over to them and pulling his wand out threateningly. “Stink pellets? Very funny, very mature.” They actually shrank back under his glare. “Listen, did you really think I’d break up with her just because she smelled like something from Zonko’s? What sort of person do you think I am?” He shook his head, obviously still fuming. “And if you’ve got a problem with who I go out with, you take it up with me, not with her, okay?”
The girls nodded, obviously alarmed at this demonstration of his temper, and Martha, who’d been watching the whole encounter, looked like she was even more surprised than they were. “Merlin’s beard,” she muttered. “He’s worse than I thought.”
Sirius had come back to the fire, still looking livid. “Come on, Laura,” he said, grabbing my hand almost roughly, “let’s get out of here. I don’t want to be in the same room as those people.” And he pulled me out the portrait hole, walking so fast that I struggled to keep up with him.
Once we were well clear of the tower he pulled me to one side. “Were you planning on telling me?”
“No,” I admitted. “It wasn’t that big a deal. It happened, we cleaned it up, it’s over.”
“But it shouldn’t have happened,” he said sharply. “They shouldn’t be doing things like that to you.”
I shrugged. “They’ve done it to all your girlfriends,” I pointed out. “Why should I be any different?”
“Because you are different,” he said, putting an arm around me. “I’m not going to put up with it.”
“I think you’re being a bit hypocritical,” I said sternly. “You do things like that to people all the time.”
“That’s me,” he said as though it was obvious. “They can do what they like to me, I don’t care. I’m not important. You are.”
I wasn’t convinced. “Sirius, you can’t be defending me all the time. I’m a big girl, I can look after myself. I don’t need you to fight my battles for me.”
He looked a little hurt. “But I want to,” he said. “If anything happened to you …” His voice trailed off and he kissed my forehead. “But that reminds me,” he went on, suddenly more business-like, “Prongs and I have been talking. We want to teach you – and Lily – how to duel.”
He often changed subjects suddenly like that and it took some getting used to. I blinked. “Duel?”
He nodded, looking very serious. “You need to be able to defend yourselves,” he said. “We won’t always be around to protect you so we’d be happier knowing you’re well equipped to handle what’s out there.”
“Right.” I had to admit my duelling skills weren’t great, and they certainly weren’t a patch on the standard of Sirius and James. “Did you have a particular time in mind or are you just letting me know?”
“We’ve all got Friday afternoons off,” he said. “Probably then. I’ll check with Prongs and if he’s cleared it with Lily we might start this week.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “Friday it is.”
He smiled suddenly and gave me a hug. “Excellent. I’ll tell James we’re good to go. Now, hopefully there’s still some breakfast left, I’m starving.” And we headed off downstairs, trying to catch up with the others who had probably already started on their bacon and eggs.
As it turned out, however, Friday wasn’t a good day to start. James got a letter on Tuesday after supper advising him that his father had just died of complications from dragon pox. Lily, who was with him when he read it, told us the story.
“He’s shattered, as you would be,” she said in the dorm. “His dad wasn’t young, but James is an only child so they were pretty close.”
“Did he even know he was ill?” asked Charlotte.
Lily shook her head. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t get told if either of my parents has something relatively minor wrong with them. Coughs, colds, the flu, even measles, they don’t tell me. It seems Mrs Potter thought he’d just get over it, so she didn’t mention it to James in case he got worried unnecessarily.” She paused, her green eyes wet. “But he was rather old and apparently his body didn’t react well. By the time they got him to St Mungo’s, it was too late.”
Martha had clambered over her bed and put an arm around Lily. “Did you want to go to James?”
“No, he wants to be alone with Sirius for a bit,” she said, looking at me. “I can understand that. I was a bit the same when I found out about Mum. Anyway, we’re catching the Knight Bus tomorrow for the funeral, we should be back on Friday.”
I nodded: Sirius was going too. As the surrogate second son to the Potters, he was just as upset as James was by the news. He had wanted me to go too but Hogwarts regulations said I couldn’t leave the school without my parents’ permission, and when I used McGonagall’s Floo fire to ask them they fulfilled my expectations and denied their consent. As I’d noted before, Dad saw NEWTs as the most important part of my schooling career, and missing three days of lessons was, as far as he was concerned, unacceptable, especially considering that all they knew about Mr Potter was that I’d come back from his house at Christmas time decidedly unhappy. I accepted it, but I didn’t like it – it was a heartbreaking side effect of having to keep it all a secret from them.
It was harder than I’d thought it would be, being at school without Sirius. He’d always been there, for better or worse, and it’s funny how used to things you get. I found myself looking for him in the classes we shared, and in the common room, even though I knew that he wouldn’t be there. However, it did let me spend some time with Mary, and get my homework finished, and I was completely up to date when he, Lily and James finally got back on Friday afternoon. Which was probably just as well considering how much trouble I had tearing myself away from him. Homework, I had discovered, generally took a back seat when he was around – it always seemed we had more important things to be getting on with.
“How was it?” I probably should have been asking James, it was his father’s funeral after all, but he wasn’t the one I was concerned about.
“It would have been easier if you were there,” Sirius said quietly, holding me tightly. “But at least we got to say goodbye.”
“How are you doing?” I asked, pulling back to look at him and putting my hand on his cheek.
“I’m all right,” he said. “It’s just so … final.”
I nodded sympathetically and gave him a quick squeeze. “And Mrs Potter?”
“Holding up. Probably not so well now Prongs is back here, but we can’t do much about that.” We followed Lily and James’ example and looked for an empty classroom somewhere so we could catch up properly.
We had found it hard to get much privacy. The common room wasn’t exactly designed with that in mind and besides, Wendy Savage and her cronies were always hanging around. I’d not been invited into the boys’ dorm yet, and knew that invitation – if coming at all – would most probably be months away; and anyway three other people lived there and it wasn’t fair to kick them out. Sirius refused to tell me how they’d got into our dorm so that wasn’t an option, and besides there were four other people living there as well. And while empty classrooms with Imperturbable Charms on the door were a decent alternative, any teacher worth their salt could break the charm and come in anyway, as we had discovered with McGonagall. The best option for not getting caught was the secret passageway behind the mirror on the fourth floor, but it was used fairly often by the boys and some other students who knew about it, and so was more of a last resort.
We didn’t get very far with our trysts anyway. It was still winter and any disused classrooms and secret passages didn’t have fires or anything in them so were icy cold, and hot air charms always seemed to run out at the most inopportune times. If we tried to light a fire in the grate it would invariably summon Filch (he must have had an alarm set on them or something) which meant that wasn’t really an option either. So no matter what people thought we might have been getting up to, the reality was that anywhere we went that had a scrap of privacy, we were more often than not troubled by the cold and therefore kept relatively bundled up.
Regardless of what we actually did, however, the fan club let their imaginations run wild and often pestered me with questions, probably on Elvira’s instructions but as she wasn’t talking to me any more I couldn’t be sure. “Is it true,” Carol Jones asked one day, “that he’s got his belly button pierced?”
“Of course,” I lied. “Twice, once on each side. And he’s got a chain that connects them, and if you pull on it he gets turned on.”
Another day it was a sixth-year Ravenclaw whose name I didn’t know. “Does he really have a tattoo of a manticore on his shoulderblade?”
I smiled. “No, but he does have one on his left bicep that says ‘Mother’.” From the look on her face, she didn’t even get the joke.
Occasionally these stories got back to Sirius one way or another. He thought it was hilarious and very happily invented all sorts of body art and birthmarks for me to tell them about. It got to the point that the fan club had no idea what to believe any more, which suited us just fine.
Of course they made things up as well which evened it out a bit, though their efforts sounded remarkably like Turpin Tales and were just as believable. In fact, some of them may have actually been Turpin Tales for all I knew, considering I’d never been the subject of one before and so didn’t have any experiences to compare it with.
“Jus’ so ye know,” Mary told me one day, “th’ lates’ story I’ve hear’ is tha’ ye’re pregnant an’ it’s nae Sirius’.”
“Lovely,” I said wryly. “Though if I was, you’d think I might’ve known about it.”
“Aye, ye’d have t’ be shaggin’ t’ ge’ pregnant, wouldna ye?” she grinned. “Anyway, Elvira’s nou callin’ ye ‘Whore-a’ because o’ it. So if ye hear tha’, tha’s where it started.”
The nickname didn’t last long once James and Sirius got wind of it, but it did take some getting used to, having things like this said about me. Being the subject of rumours and innuendo that weren’t to do with Bea was an unpleasant reality that I’d never properly experienced before, but while I found it wearing and occasionally upsetting there wasn’t much I could do about it without breaking it off with Sirius. And that wasn’t an option.
Naturally, there were also stories about Sirius, which people ensured reached my ears. I heard one day that he was working his way through the sixth-years – of both genders – behind my back, each conquest becoming another notch on his bedpost. I was also reliably informed that he and I had been caught shagging in a broom cupboard on the second floor by Dumbledore himself and been set separate detentions as a result, but I’d also heard that about Lily and James and I knew that wasn’t true either. Each tale became progressively more wild and outlandish (threesome with a hag and a Roonspoor, anyone?) and I found it incredible that even the most gullible first-year would believe them, let alone Sirius or me.
That weekend our attention was caught when the delivery owl dropped my Sunday Prophet on the breakfast table. My mouth dropped when I saw the headline. “Oh Merlin.”
Sirius looked up from his scrambled eggs. “What is it?”
“They’ve killed Nobby Leach!” Leach was a former Minister who had promoted Muggle rights during his reign, and had been found dead in his home the previous evening, the Dark Mark prominent in the sky above.
“You’re kidding,” he said seriously. “But why? He hasn’t been Minister for, what, ten years?”
James looked at us from across the table, his expression dark. “They’re taking out all the blood traitors, one by one,” he said. “I’ll be surprised if they don’t go after us eventually, Padfoot.”
Sirius glanced at James and then back at me. “Make sure your dad’s okay, won’t you?” He’d never even met my father but was as concerned for his welfare as I was.
“He’s pretty cautious,” I said, hoping it wasn’t obvious how worried I was. As the daughter of a police officer I was used to living with some uncertainty, but my family had never been specifically targeted before. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.” I quickly turned the page, looking for some better news.
Of course, before long we were poring over the list of that week’s dead, disappeared and tortured. Some we already knew about: Cadmus Branstone had been taken out of school on Thursday following the murder of his father, and Daisy Hookum, a redheaded Hufflepuff a couple of years below us who was going out with Charlotte’s brother Clarrie, had also lost a parent – her mother was tortured and left for dead in a field somewhere in Northumberland.
“Agnes Chittock,” Lily read from her seat opposite me. “Cursed so her head is covered in fur and she barks instead of speaking.” I had to admire her ability to read upside down like that. “That’s horrific. Do you think she’s related to Glenda?” Glenda Chittock was a loudmouthed Hufflepuff in about third year, so talkative and obnoxious that even we knew who she was.
“Possibly,” agreed James. “Though if she talks as much as Glenda, they might have done the world a favour.”
“Look at that one,” said Charlotte from next to me, her porridge forgotten. “Curtis Sloper and family, found dead with the Dark Mark over their house. Wasn’t he Eileen Sloper’s dad?” Eileen had been a Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team two years previously; Clarrie Trimble had taken her spot after she graduated.
“Looks like it,” I said. “They’ve got them listed here, Eileen’s name is definitely there. Ugh, that’s awful. She was so young! Didn’t even survive a year after graduation.” We’d all known Eileen, James better than anyone, and a cold uncomfortable feeling descended on us.
“Blimey, a Vaisey,” said Peter, like Lily trying to read upside down. “That’s strange, he’s a Slytherin.” Gilbert Vaisey was a quiet Slytherin boy in our year.
“Maurice Vaisey, found dead outside his home,” Sirius read aloud. “Maybe he tried to opt out of the Death Eaters,” he added. “Some people get cold feet, I’ve heard, and I doubt you can just hand Voldemort your resignation.”
“Not all Slytherins become Death Eaters,” James pointed out. “Maybe they tried to recruit him and he refused. Or maybe he’s a blood traitor like you and me, Padfoot.”
“True, true,” agreed Remus from Sirius’ other side. “What’s that one? I can’t make it out.” He reached across and pointed to a name near the bottom of the page.
“Berenice Shingleton,” I read. “Disappeared without a trace on Tuesday. You think she’s related to Gaspard?” Shingleton, a Ravenclaw, had graduated the previous year.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Lily said seriously. “Gaspard was pretty smart, if she’s anything like him they could have kidnapped her to try to get her to work for them. That’s if she wasn’t recruited, I suppose.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard that some of those disappearances are due to them turning,” Martha agreed. “They get taken off to little Death Eater camps and brainwashed. Either that or they’re just not game to show their faces any more in decent society.”
Flippant as it sounded, Martha’s comment lightened the mood and we finished breakfast feeling a little better than we had previously. James and Sirius, however, were still deep in thought and held Lily and me back as we moved to stand up.
“We definitely need to start those duelling lessons,” James said gravely. “This Friday, after lunch. Book it in. And if we can get one done sooner we will.”
“How’s the homework situation?” Sirius asked. “Can you spare an hour or two today?”
Lily and I looked at each other. I had a Potions essay to finish and a Charms assignment that just needed proof-reading so I was probably okay, especially considering I had two free periods on Monday mornings. “It’s fine with me,” I said.
“Me too,” Lily agreed firmly.
“Right, then, just after lunch? I’ll see if I can get us a spare classroom.” James was all business and as Head Boy would undoubtedly be able to find us somewhere appropriate. Lily and I nodded our agreement, and the boys looked at each other and grinned.
James and Sirius were as good as their word, and after lunch Lily and I were led to a large disused classroom on the third floor. “I’ve cleared it with McGonagall,” James explained on the way up. “Said we needed it for some practical exercises before our NEWTs. Which I suppose is true, in a way. And we want to be absolutely clear,” he went on, looking at us sternly, “that this is only as a last resort. We don’t want either of you joining in a fight if you don’t absolutely have to.”
“We’re starting with the basic stuff,” Sirius added. “Disarming, Impediment Jinx, Shield Charm, that sort of thing. Just to make sure you’ve got it all down pat before we move on to the harder ones.”
“And Padfoot’ll be partnering you, Lils, and I’ll be partnering Laura,” James went on, grinning. “For some reason we’re particularly keen to hex you two.”
We could already cast these spells reasonably well but the boys wanted to hone our timing, reaction speed and spell strength, and after a couple of hours they appeared pleased with our improvement. “Doing well,” James said as I threw him back his wand. I’d managed to Disarm him and had even hit him with an Impediment Jinx when he had his guard up. My Shield Charm had held up against the first half dozen hexes he threw at it, but I’d not been able to shatter his no matter what I tried. It was, however, progress.
Finally they deemed the lesson over. “Right, well done,” said James, smiling broadly as we sat down, exhausted, on some old chairs. “You’re both doing really well. Back here after lunch on Friday?”
“Sure,” Lily panted. This sort of thing was very tiring, we were discovering. I just nodded my agreement.
“Good,” said Sirius, also smiling. “We’ll get you trained up properly yet.”