The Christmas holidays were much the same as they had been the previous year, though without the distraction of Beatrice stressing about her NEWTs. I wondered if I should start doing that just so Dad had something to do, but decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of going out to Bobbin’s when I didn’t need a Calming Draught at all. After all, the snow had come and it was quite nasty outside, so heading out into it when there was no real need seemed a bit pointless.
Bea was still living at home – and would be, I suspected, until she was kicked out – but had managed to find a job doing research for the Committee on Experimental Charms. We all agreed it was the perfect job for her, but knowing Bea she would botch it completely and end up unemployed before another twelvemonth was out.
Christmas Day itself was a palaver of running around to different family events. Because Mum was a Muggle, most of her family had absolutely no idea that the magical world existed and so we had to go through a Muggle Christmas as well as a wizarding one. This meant at least two different Christmas functions, which were usually on the same day. Fortunately this year neither of them were at our house which made things a little easier, as all we had to do was show up with the right pile of gifts and make sure we took Mum’s car to her parents’ place in Bath rather than going by any magical methods. Which was easier said than done because a thick layer of snow coated the ground and the roads had iced up, making driving a little more difficult.
The remainder of the holiday was spent, as the previous year’s had been, doing the homework I’d been set over the break, watching old movies and various other things on the telly, and sitting in front of the fire with a good book. I didn’t get many as gifts that year so I had to scour our bookcases for something I hadn’t yet read, ending up with a sizeable pile which I worked my way through with care and attention. By the time I needed to start thinking about getting packed up and ready for school again there were only two books left in the pile, which Mum agreed I could take back to Hogwarts with me to read there. If I ever got a spare moment to read, that is, as I knew our mountains of homework would only get bigger as the year progressed.
The weather hadn’t improved much since the snowstorms had arrived and despite being wrapped up as warmly as possible we were all feeling rather cold and windswept when we arrived at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters in early January, ready for the journey back to school. It didn’t take long to find the other girls on the platform, bundled up in heavy coats though we were, and I noticed both Mary’s cat and Charlotte’s owl were huddled in the corners of their cages, shivering and looking for all the world like they would like some heavy coats too. My parents greeted everyone cheerfully and I stood back to talk to them before it was time to climb aboard the train.
“All set, sweetheart?” Dad asked fondly as I fumbled with the fastener of my suitcase.
“I think so,” I replied, successfully opening the case and pulling out my woollen Gryffindor scarf. “Good, I’ll need this,” I went on, wrapping it around my neck. “If we think it’s cold here, it’ll be that much worse in Scotland.”
Mum nodded. “Look after yourself, won’t you?” she said. “And don’t get in too much trouble – four owls last term to tell us about detentions, that’s as many as you normally have in a year!”
“I’ll try,” I said with a smile. “There’s times that I just lose my temper when people start going on about all the blood purity rubbish. But I’ll do my best.”
Dad smiled indulgently. “Still got a bit of the Welsh spirit in you, haven’t you?” he said. “Fair enough then. But only hex people if they really do deserve it.” He winked at me.
“Okay,” I agreed, still smiling. “Only if they really do deserve it.”
“Take care when you go to Hogsmeade,” Mum went on, “and don’t do anything too risky. We want you to come home in one piece if it’s at all possible.”
“Yes, Mum.” This was becoming a bit of a lecture now.
“And above all, enjoy yourself,” she said, smiling again. “Remember, you’re only young once.”
Just how I was supposed to be enjoying myself when I was staying out of trouble and not doing anything risky was a bit beyond me, but I smiled all the same. “Thanks, Mum. But I’ve got to go, it’s almost time to get onto the train.”
A couple of bear hugs later and I finally extricated myself from my parents and found a compartment with the rest of the girls, levitating our suitcases onto the luggage rack and settling down for the long journey.
“All set? Finally got rid of the olds?” Martha grinned at me, taking off her thick coat as she sat down. The train was significantly warmer than the platform outside to our immense relief, so much so that Charlotte’s glasses misted up a bit.
“Hey, what can I say, they miss me,” I replied carelessly, making myself comfortable in my spot by the door. “Though if the alternative is Beatrice, I can’t say I’m surprised.” I grinned at her.
“Getting a big head in your old age, aren’t you, Laura?” she laughed.
I shrugged. “Had to happen sometime, didn’t it? Anyway,” I went on, more seriously this time, “I finally managed to finish that Transfiguration essay – how much of a nightmare was that?”
Charlotte, sitting next to me, nodded. “You’re telling me. Who could possibly get three and a half feet out of the principles of rematerialisation?”
Mary, who on the platform had been almost unrecognisable underneath a thick woollen hat and muffler, just laughed. “I knew there wa’ a reason I didna tak’ Transfiguration this year,” she said cheerfully, shaking her head to get rid of her ‘hat hair’. “I jus’ had t’ start on a paper fer Muggle Studies tha’ explains hoo a mechanical objec’ works.”
Lily looked at her with interest over the thick Gryffindor scarf she was still wearing, which blended surprisingly well with her hair. “What did you choose?”
“Television,” replied Mary. “Can be a bi’ tricky, I know, bu’ I’m doin’ it wi’ Clio Zeller an’ she’s go’ some good ideas.”
“Well let me know if you need a hand,” Lily offered. “Not that I know much myself, but I can always ask Dad for information if you’re stuck.” As a Muggle-born, Lily didn’t need to do Muggle Studies but was always a little curious as to what was taught there.
The remainder of the train journey was spent comparing stories of the different family Christmases we had had, and also comparing presents. Despite the dark way our world was heading, we still managed to do the usual teenaged girl thing and giggled our way back to Hogwarts as well as anyone could, knowing that we would be reminded of the war soon enough and trying to enjoy the brief respite we were giving ourselves.
This turned out to be just as well, as the return feast that evening was a rather sober affair. Death Eater and dark creature attacks had been on the rise for a while and Professor Dumbledore highlighted the human costs of the war and the need to stick together to fight the evil that was Voldemort. Several of the Slytherins, I noticed, were looking at him with open derision, and people like Severus Snape and Irving Mulciber were blatantly talking over his speech as though it wasn’t worth even paying attention to. Whether Dumbledore noticed this I couldn’t have said, but if he did he continued nonetheless. His point was highlighted by the fact that Rosamund Croaker, a seventh-year Ravenclaw, hadn’t returned after the break as her mother had been killed on Boxing Day, and we were all feeling rather sombre by the time the speech had finished.
The mood didn’t improve as the term progressed, either – not so much from the news of various Death Eater attacks but from the weather, which was if possible getting worse and would have depressed even the heartiest of souls. January was proving to be rather a trial, with snow storms and winds of almost hurricane force peppering the castle. Due to the inclement weather students were allowed to make use of selected empty classrooms during breaks, and on a Tuesday before lunch four of the Gryffindor girls were settled in a disused room on the ground floor, Charlotte being in Divination.
“Oh, look,” said Mary, looking out the window, where it had stopped snowing and miraculously the sun had even come out. “Sirius an’ Clio are gettin’ cosy. Hope they dinna ge’ blown away oot there!”
It was true – they looked decidedly cosy as they snogged underneath the beech tree by the lake. Lily looked sharply at Martha to see if this caused any concern for her, but she was completely nonplussed. They had broken up over a year ago, after all. “Good luck to them,” she said vaguely, pulling a quill and ink bottle out of her bag.
“Wha’s tha’ bin nou – two, three months?” asked Mary, still watching the figures by the lake. “They micht be gettin’ serious.”
“Sirius, serious?” Martha snorted, aware of the play on words. “Please tell me you’re joking. He’s not going to fall for anyone just yet.”
I giggled. “Not even Dione?”
She laughed. “Oh, please. True love? Merlin only knows what potions she had to have been on to come up with that one.”
“No different from normal then,” Lily muttered darkly.
Martha turned and briefly looked out the window. “I wonder what James is doing,” she said almost abstractedly, facing the room again. “Must be in detention or something.”
“Why would you say that?” I asked.
Martha shrugged. “Well, that’s the only time he’d be seeking her out,” she said dispassionately. “When James isn’t around. Which kind of shows what his priorities are.”
Mary looked at Martha curiously. “It wasna tha’ bad, was it?”
Martha snorted again. “You bet it was,” she said. “Really, I had the feeling it was just something to do when he got bored. If you’re competing with James for his attention, James will always win. Remus and Peter not so much, but James, definitely. And he’ll let you tag along with whatever they’re doing, but you are just tagging along, you might as well not be there at all for all the attention he pays you.”
Lily looked thoughtful. “Is that why you said he’s not going to fall for anyone?” she asked. “Because he just doesn’t care?”
“Something like that,” Martha agreed, turning again to look out the window at the couple standing in the snow. “Looking at him with Clio, well they’re not much different to how him and me were,” she said, turning back to us. “Or him and Dione, for that matter. He doesn’t hang out with her much on weekends, he eats at our table, he doesn’t pay her much attention when they’re in classes together. They weren’t even sitting together on the train, come to think of it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them talk much. So it’s just like, have a great snog and a bit of a feel, and then go on your way. And it is a great snog, I can tell you,” she added, smiling reminiscently.
“Ye’re prob’ly richt,” said Mary. “I guess it wa’ jus’ th’ constant snoggin’ tha’ had us thinkin’ it.”
“Don’t let that fool you,” said Martha archly. “It doesn’t mean anything.” She paused, her mind obviously going back over her own relationship with Sirius. “You know that revoltingly annoying thing he says, ‘once you go Black you’ll never go back’?” she asked after a bit, rolling her eyes dramatically. We nodded – he would occasionally spout that when he was feeling particularly pleased with himself, and I’d heard he’d even used it as a (really bad) pick-up line. “What’s even more annoying is, he’s right. No one else compares, he really is that good. And that makes it so darn irritating!” She shook her head in frustration while we groaned in agreement. After all, he already had everything else, why could he not be rubbish at something?
“It’s all that practice he gets,” Lily said with a grin. “Had to pay off somehow.”
Martha grinned as well. “Probably. Although,” she continued, almost as an afterthought, “I have a suspicion that if he does fall for someone, he’ll fall hard. That is, through the floor hard. The girl involved won’t know what hit her. Which should be very funny to watch.” She winked mischievously at us.
I looked at her thoughtfully. I mean, I barely knew the boy but there was something in her theory that made sense. “You know, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that was true.”
Lily was nodding. “Me neither. And you’re right, Martha, when that happens, it will be hilarious.”
The following Sunday found us poring over the Sunday Prophet having a look through the list of that week’s casualties from the war. “A good week this week,” I said with a bit of a wry smile. “You can count everyone in each list using just your fingers. How’s this, Julius Mordaunt, Pearl Fawcett and Roland McKinnon were all victims of Avada Kedavra.”
“Oh, and families,” I clarified. “Fawcett had three kids with her, apparently, they were taken out as well. All under the age of eight, so they’re clearly high on the list of threats to You-Know-Who. Same with Mordaunt, two kids with him.”
“Bu’ still,” said Mary, looking rather serious, “tha’s nae many fer a full week.”
“Maybe something happened,” said Martha. “You know, a bank holiday for Death Eaters or something, and they all took the day off.”
We all giggled and I went back to reading out the names. “Okay, Barbara McLaggen, Edith Hobday, Glen Deverill, Herb Murray and Beryl Prod were tortured.”
Charlotte, sitting next to me, took up the narrative. “Disappeared without a trace were Cyril Twonk, Valerie Jenkins, Kevin Pinkstone. Hey, do you think he’s related to, what’s her name, Carlotta Pinkstone?” Carlotta was a rather well-known character whose purpose in life was to lift the Statute of Secrecy and have Muggles find out about the magical world. Last I’d heard she was in Azkaban for her latest effort in breaking the Statute.
“Prob’ly, it’s nae a verra common name,” Mary pointed out. “Does it say hoo old he was?”
Charlotte looked more closely at the paper. “Uh, yeah, he’s forty-eight, so he could be a brother or something. She’s about that age, isn’t she?”
Martha nodded. “Something like that, I think,” she agreed.
“Right,” Charlotte went on, her eyes going back to the newspaper. “Okay, disappeared list has Cyril Twonk, Valerie Jenkins, Kevin Pinkstone-brother-of-Carlotta-the-nutter, Phyllis Tremlett, Geoffrey Fancourt and Harold Cattermole.”
“Ugh,” said Lily, wrinkling up her nose. “Isn’t there a Cattermole in fourth year or something?”
“I think you might be right,” I said, nodding. “Hufflepuff, I think. Wonder if they’re related.”
“Again,” said Mary, “prob’ly, it’s nae a verra common name.”
“I hate this war,” Lily said suddenly. “It’s all so pointless. No one can help what they were born or who their parents are, so why should anyone be persecuted because of it?”
“We all hate the war, Lily,” I said quietly. “Everyone does. Or, I should say, everyone except the Death Eaters and their Slytherin trainees.”
“Hear hear,” agreed Charlotte.
“And they’re picking on Ministry employees now, too,” I continued, suddenly remembering something. “I got a letter from Dad yesterday and he said that they reckon Robards from the Aurors’ Office is under the Imperius Curse.” I paused. “Though, how could you prove it? I mean, if the Death Eaters are casting that, they’d have to do a better job than Mulciber, wouldn’t they?” I stole a glance at Mary in the hope she wasn’t too concerned by me bringing that up again, but she just nodded and looked resolute.
“You’d hope they could do a better job than a fifth-year who hadn’t even sat his OWLs yet,” Martha pointed out.
“He’s not the only one, either,” said Charlotte. “I heard over the break that they’ve targeted a few people for Imperiusing. Mostly from the Ministry like you said, Laura, but there are some others. I even think Hambledon Quince was one!!”
That broke the sombre mood that had overtaken our area of the breakfast table. Lily started giggling and before long we’d all joined in.
“Hambledon Quince?” Lily choked, unable to stop laughing. “Really? But how could you possibly tell? He’s nutso enough as it is without anyone making him more so.”
Martha was looking rather thoughtful. “That could be why, though,” she said.
The giggles stopped abruptly. “Why would you say that, Martha?” I asked.
“Well, if he’s got a reputation for being a nutter, like he does,” Martha said slowly, “then no one’s going to question him if he does anything strange. For him, there is no behaving out of character, unless he suddenly starts doing normal stuff.”
“Ye know, ye’ve go’ a poin’,” said Mary. “He coul’ well be one o’ their bes’ recruits if he doesna raise any suspicions.”
Charlotte glanced at the ceiling, which was dark with storm clouds and occasional lightning bolts. “I’m going to the library,” she said, changing the subject. “That Defence essay isn’t going to write itself and I’d like to get a head start on it before we get back into classes tomorrow.”
Lily nodded. “Good idea, Charlotte,” she said. “Wait up, will you, I’ll come with you.”
Not that that went entirely as planned, either. Lily came back to the common room later that afternoon with her essay completed, but without Charlotte.
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing much of Charlotte for a while,” she said with a grin, her green eyes sparkling.
“Uh oh.” Martha had clearly seen this look on Lily’s face before. “Who is he?”
“Hector Bole,” Lily told her.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Charlotte’s got together with Hector?” As in, Hector who I went to the Yule Ball with? Somehow it didn’t seem right.
Martha just shook her head. “I knew she shouldn’t have drunk that old vitamin potion yesterday,” she mused. “Bound to be dodgy and now look, it’s clouded her judgement.”
Lily laughed. “A bit unfair, I think, Martha. Though I was surprised too,” she admitted. “But I caught them snogging in the Astronomy section, you know the spot, just behind where Madam Pince keeps the Charms journals. Needless to say she didn’t come back to our table after that. Though I will say he’s not much like Remus.”
Martha gasped dramatically. “Are you saying that Charlotte likes Remus?” she asked with fake astonishment. “I had no idea!”
“Does she seem happy?” I asked.
Lily nodded. “Yes, I think so,” she said. “Not my taste, of course, but then again the world would be a very boring place if everyone found the same things attractive in people.” And Hector looked nothing like James, I noted privately.
Mary grinned. “So ye were lef’ alone fer long enough t’ finish yer own essay,” she reasoned.
“Spot on, Mary,” Lily smiled. “Let’s just say that I had no desire to watch them snogging all afternoon, and that was the easiest way to take my mind off it. It was why I was in there, after all. And fortunately they stayed well clear of the Defence section so I could do the essay in peace.” Her eyes sparkled again and she grinned mischievously.
“Ah, well,” Martha mused, “must say I didn’t see it coming, but if that’s what she wants …”
A couple of days later I was surprised to be joined by Sirius at the lunch table. “Got a question for you, Cauldwell,” he said as he sat down, turfing out a couple of what looked like second-years in the process. “Pr- James has just been hit with a hex that’s stuck his tongue to the roof of his mouth. Madam Pomfrey hasn’t seen it before – is that one of your sister’s?”
Swallowing my surprise that someone like him was actually seeking my company – and not as the result of a dare – I thought about it. “I don’t think so,” I said. “I don’t remember her ever doing that one, and I think she would have fairly often if she knew it. Shutting someone up is the sort of thing she’d really like doing.” I paused, looking at him. “Why?”
He looked disappointed. “Damn. I thought you might know the counter-jinx, no one’s been able to fix it yet.”
I shook my head. “Sorry, but no. Although …” I paused again.
He caught on. “What?”
I hesitated, then decided to plough on with what I’d been about to ask . “If you do find out what the spell is, and the counter-spell, could you let me know? That’d be a good one.”
He chuckled. “I can’t disagree, but it’s not likely that we’ll ever find out. It came from Snivellus, and we’re the last ones he’d share something like that with.”
“Bugger.” Then something occurred to me. “Hang on, you said that was a Snape spell?” He nodded and I looked two seats down the table. “Oi, Lily!”
Lily, like the other girls, had been listening in on the whole conversation with interest, but now pretended she’d not been paying attention. “Yes?”
“Did Snape ever teach you a spell that – what was it, Black?”
Sirius obligingly filled her in. “Sticks your tongue to the roof of your mouth.”
I nodded. “Yeah, that.”
She thought about it for a bit. “Langlock,” she said eventually.
“What?” Sirius looked like he was trying to commit it to memory.
“Langlock,” Lily repeated, a smile starting to appear around the corners of her mouth. “Laura’s right, it’s a Severus spell.”
Sirius looked confused. “Do you mean he invented it?”
Lily nodded. “Yes, that’s right. He’s invented a lot of spells, but not all of them are very nice or even particularly funny.” She grimaced slightly.
“Right.” Sirius looked like he wasn’t really sure what to make of that information. “Do you know the counter-jinx at all?”
“No, sorry,” said Lily, shaking her head. “Though if I know Severus, I’d guess that Finite incantatem wouldn’t work.”
Sirius shook his head too. “Nope, that was the first thing we thought of.” He stood up. “Well, I did try. Thanks anyway.”
“No worries,” I said vaguely, turning back to my pork chops. Lily made an equally vague gesture of farewell before she too concentrated on finishing her lunch.
Martha was all curiosity. “Since when has Sirius begun asking you things like that, Laura?”
I shrugged. “Since we did that detention together before Christmas, I think. I let slip that Bea taught me all those hexes she invented. Though in hindsight that might have been a dumb move.”
Mary giggled. “I shoul’ think so,” she agreed. “Ye’ll ne’er see the back o’ him nou, he’ll be wantin’ ye t’ teach him.”
“Oh no,” I shuddered. “I never even thought of that. It seemed harmless enough saying it at the time, it’s not like he ever spoke to me before.”
“Heavens,” said Lily, “those four knowing your sister’s spells. The school won’t know what’s hit it.”
“And you’re a fine one to talk,” I pointed out with a grin. “The person who unleashed Levicorpus on Hogwarts.”
She smiled. “Well, yes, but that was to make a point.”
Martha giggled. “What, that you fancy the pants off James?” she asked. “I dunno, Lils, there are probably more subtle ways of getting to see him half-naked. You could just ask, you know, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, and he might even choose somewhere more private than the Transfiguration -”
“You know that wasn’t what I meant,” Lily interrupted, blushing furiously as Martha dissolved into laughter.
“Are ye sure?” asked Mary, smiling wickedly and winking in Martha’s direction. “Ye dinna soond as though ye believe tha’ yerself, le’ alone tryin’ t’ convince us.”
Lily tried to take control by changing the subject. “So, Laura, what are you going to do? Teach the boys your sister’s spells, or try to get out of it somehow?”
I decided to placate her, thinking she’d probably suffered enough. “I could always refuse,” I said. “I don’t know, something like Bea asked me not to share them until they get Ministry-approved.”
Martha laughed again, accepting the change of subject to what I was sure was Lily’s great relief. “Well, if anyone could pull that off, it’d be you. How you manage to keep a straight face with some of those things you say is beyond me.”
I grinned mischievously. “When you’ve got a sister like Bea, you get good at all sorts of things,” I said. “It’s called self-preservation. Your survival instinct just kicks in.”
We eventually left the Great Hall and headed up to the first floor for our afternoon Defence lesson, collecting Charlotte from Hector’s side at the Ravenclaw table as we went. I was somewhat surprised when we neared Viridian’s classroom to see all four boys were already there, waiting outside.
“He must hae ha’ th’ hex removed,” Mary said quietly, looking at James.
“What?” Charlotte looked confused.
“Apparently Snivellus hit James with a jinx that glued his tongue to the roof of his mouth,” Martha explained. “Last we heard they’d not been able to fix it.”
“Well it’s certainly fixed now,” Lily said as James’ laugh echoed in the stone corridor.
I wanted to know how they’d reversed the hex but wasn’t really game to go up to someone like James Potter or Sirius Black, especially as part of a group like that, to ask. Fortunately Sirius noticed the quizzical look my face must have worn and volunteered the information.
“Dumbledore,” he explained, taking a couple of steps in our direction as we approached. “Once we knew the incantation he could work out the counter-jinx. The man’s a genius.” He grinned broadly. “So thanks for that, Evans.”
James spun around to face us. “Evans? Was it you who helped out?” As always, his hand went automatically to his hair when he realised she was nearby, though at least he’d abandoned that stupid ‘Lily voice’ he’d previously put on for her benefit, having possibly worked out that all she did was laugh at it.
Lily blushed and got rather defensive, something I’d noticed she did sometimes when she was worried that she might let slip something that indicated she did in fact fancy James. “Only because Laura asked me, Potter,” she said icily, recovering her composure. “If I’d known it was for you I’d never have volunteered the information.”
I suppressed a smile. Since no one had actually said directly to her that it was James who’d been hexed, either just now or in the Great Hall earlier, she’d just admitted that she had in fact known all along. I wondered if James realised that.
“Well thank you, milady,” James said with mock politeness. “Though if you’d rather think of it like this, you’ve done the school a favour. If old Snivelly casts that one at anyone again, at least Madam Pomfrey now knows how to reverse it.”
“Absolutely,” Sirius agreed. “If you’re not careful, doing things like that too often might even see you made Head Girl.” He paused, a cocky grin on his face. “Then again, Evans, you might just be enough of a goody-two-shoes to actually want that job …”
Lily shook her head in frustration. “I’m not even going to dignify that with an answer,” she said, turning her back on the boys and facing us.
“But you just did,” Peter piped up gleefully, turning around with a hopeful hand up in case any of the boys decided to high-five him. (Only Remus did, and that was half-heartedly at best, as though he felt sorry for him.)
We all groaned. “Ignore him,” Charlotte muttered. “How we ended up in the same House as those four …”
Unfortunately James heard her. “Don’t say that, Trimble,” he said cheerfully. “You know you love us, really.” He winked at us, smiling broadly.
“Ignore them all,” said Martha, not caring who heard. And we were fortunately saved from further conversation by the door opening and Viridian letting us into the classroom.
The funny thing was, as it turned out the conversation in the Great Hall that day wasn’t an isolated incident. Sirius started being almost friendly towards me, saying hello when our paths crossed and occasionally even initiating a conversation. Only when the other boys weren’t around, of course, but it was still rather odd and decidedly unexpected. Eventually, after extensive conversations in the dorm late at night, we came to the conclusion that he probably did want to learn Bea’s spells and was just buttering me up before he asked me to teach him. I wasn’t really sure how to take it but it was only polite to respond in kind, and eventually I found myself actually looking forward to these little encounters. Like we had discovered about James the previous year, he seemed to be perfectly rational on a one-to-one basis and even, sometimes, a rather nice person. Unbelievable I know but, then again, stranger things have happened.
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