A week before the Easter holidays Gryffindor was playing Hufflepuff in one of the final Quidditch matches of the year. Gryffindor had a good team that year and were one of the favourites, along with Slytherin, for the Quidditch Cup. Fortunately Ravenclaw had hammered Slytherin in the previous game, and if we beat Hufflepuff by more than a hundred and ninety points we would take Slytherin’s spot on top of the table.
I went down to breakfast with the other girls, all bedecked in our red and gold mufflers with matching woolly hats and gloves in hand. While the weather had warmed up significantly, it could still get rather cold up in the grandstands where you were a good two hundred feet above ground level.
The boys were already at the table, helping James through a dose of nerves. It amused me that he was always so nervous before a game, seeing that he was so confident in other things and was also largely responsible for most of the Gryffindor victories over the past four years.
“Steady, Prongs,” Remus was saying in that wonderful calm way he had. “You’re used to this by now, remember?”
James downed a mugful of black coffee in one gulp and was clearly steeling himself. “Right. It’s only Hufflepuff, after all. I’ve faced worse.”
I stole a glance at the Hufflepuff table where Bertram, dressed in his House yellow, was trying to brace their Keeper for the match. And brace was probably the right word – James, Anna Vector and Clarrie Trimble sent the Quaffle through the hoops so quickly you could rarely see it. Gryffindor House had a running joke that if you wanted to kill someone, then a Quaffle hurled by James Potter would probably be quicker and more accurate than an Avada Kedavra.
“What, not going for Hufflepuff?” said a voice in my ear. I turned to see Sirius had planted himself next to me and was finishing the dregs of his tea.
“Why would I be going for Hufflepuff?” I asked, surprised.
“Because lover-boy used to play for them, of course,” he said as though it was obvious.
I was mildly astonished he would even think that might make a difference. “So?”
He shook his head, though he was smiling and his eyes were sparkling. “I don’t know, Laura, picking your House over your boyfriend. Some blokes might not take too kindly to that.”
“But I was in Gryffindor long before he came along,” I pointed out. “I might have always had a soft spot for Hufflepuff but the Sorting Hat had other ideas, so I’ve adapted myself. Just as well, too – Gryffindor’s got a much better team.” I grinned.
He looked confused. “But wasn’t your sister in Ravenclaw?”
“Yeah, why?” Now it was my turn to be confused – what did Bea have to do with anything?
“Then why would you have a soft spot for Hufflepuff?”
I laughed. Everyone knew his family history, no one knew mine. “Because, Sirius, prior to Bea, all my family were in Hufflepuff,” I explained. “She broke the trend and I broke it even further. Dad didn’t know what to do with us, he’d drummed Hufflepuff in our heads all our lives and then neither of us was Sorted there.” I paused, looking at him. “Imagine you got along with your family, you might have a soft spot for Slytherin.”
He grinned. “Nup, I can’t imagine that. It’s beyond the realms of possibility. But I think I know what you mean.”
“Anyway,” I continued, my eyes on the Hufflepuff table again, “Bertram knows that I won’t go against my House. Not even for Hufflepuff.” I didn’t mention it had been a cause of tension between us, that he had automatically expected I would swap my team for his. I’d been rather annoyed by that – Quidditch didn’t work that way and I had no intention of ditching the team I’d supported all through school on the basis of a few snogs. Maybe in the end he’d appreciated my standing up for what I believed in. I certainly hoped so.
Sirius was saying something innocuous, and I realised I’d not been paying attention to him. Oops. Some friend I was. I pretended I’d been listening by smiling at him as I poured myself a drink, and I suspected it worked because he smiled back, got up and said, “See you at the game, then.”
After breakfast I went down to the Quidditch pitch like the rest of the school. Bertram sought me out and I smiled as I defiantly pulled my red and gold Gryffindor scarf closer around my neck. I would have supported Hufflepuff against Ravenclaw or Slytherin, but not against my own House.
“Not changing your mind, then?” he asked, and his tone was easy but he was obviously still disappointed.
“Sorry, no,” I said. “Gryffindor by at least two hundred, thank you very much.”
His arm snaked around me. “And what would you be saying if I was still on the team?”
I looked at him. “I’d be hoping you had a great game and that Gryffindor won by at least two hundred.”
He shook his head affectionately. “You’re like the Rock of Gibraltar, aren’t you?” he said, tousling my hair. “Won’t budge for anything.”
“I’ve told you, you don’t just swap Quidditch teams on a whim,” I said. “You know that, you used to play. How can you expect me to be any less loyal?”
“You do realise this means we can’t sit together,” he said somewhat sternly. “Not if we’re supporting different teams.”
“Fine with me,” I replied. “It’s only an hour or two anyway, I’m sure we’ll survive.” I’d intended to sit with Mary anyway, as this was the first game she’d been to since getting together with Marcus and she’d asked me to provide moral support, so where Bertram wanted to sit wasn’t high on my list of priorities.
We stopped just short of the pitch and he pulled me aside. “Do I at least get a kiss goodbye?”
“Of course,” I smiled, reaching up and pulling his face towards mine. “A kiss goodbye, but not for good luck.” And before he could respond our lips were together – I’d always intended to have the last word.
After a little while we parted and I hurried up to the Gryffindor seating area where Mary and the other girls had saved me a spot. “That’s the trouble with going out with someone from another House,” I grumbled as I pushed past Martha to the empty seat. “Always want you to go against your own team just ’cause they asked you to.”
Mary laughed. “He wanted ye t’ support Hufflepuff? Fa’ chance o’ tha’!”
“Exactly what I told him,” I agreed. “Gryffindor by at least two hundred. Even if he was still playing, I’d still be saying Gryffindor by at least two hundred.” I paused, taking in the view from the stand. “Oi, Remus,” I said a bit louder, seeing him between Sirius and Peter a couple of rows in front of us. He turned around.
“Does James think we’re going to get the points? Enough, I mean, to get to the top of the table?” It was always good to get a perspective from one of the participants, and now I knew the boys well enough to ask for one.
“Probably,” Remus said. “Depends on whether their Beaters have a good day or not.”
I nodded. “That sounds reasonable.” The Hufflepuff Beaters were very good and as sixth- and seventh-years were a bit stronger than ours, who were both in fifth year. A rogue Bludger or two could do a tidy bit of damage if they had their eyes in.
We were interrupted by the starting whistle, and Mary was instantly an interesting but messy combination of nerves and pride. Every time Hufflepuff scored, against Marcus of course, she took it as a personal injury, but each throw he blocked was the pinnacle of success. Lily and I, on either side of her, would occasionally exchange a giggle when she wasn’t gripping our arms like her life depended on it.
The game had been going for about forty-five minutes when the Snitch appeared. The score was two hundred and seventy to two hundred and fifty, Gryffindor leading, but without another couple of goals it was too early for us to win by the required margin. The Hufflepuff Beaters had indeed played at their best, sending Bludgers at our Chasers at the worst possible times. Naturally, the Hufflepuff Seeker didn’t see the Snitch’s arrival as a problem and took off like lightning towards it but our Seeker, Persephone Alderton, appeared undecided as to whether she should pursue him or not. In the end she did, succeeding only in putting him off enough to make him miss the take. The Snitch, reprieved, took off underneath the grandstands, and I didn’t see it again until a couple of minutes later when Persephone rose triumphantly in front of the stand with it clutched in her hand.
Of course, we hadn’t won by enough to knock Slytherin off the top of the Quidditch table. The final score was four hundred and thirty to two hundred and fifty, meaning we were a lousy twenty points short. We would have to rely on other results if we were to get to the top of the table before the final game of the year, in which we would be playing Slytherin. No one wanted the championship to come down to that game so it would be a little nerve-wracking for a few weeks.
I found Bertram after the game. “Not quite what you were hoping for, was it?” he asked as he put an arm around me and we headed back to the castle.
“Not quite,” I admitted, “but still pretty close. And at least we won.”
He grimaced. “I knew I didn’t like that Potter for a reason.”
I laughed at him. James had scored a hundred and twenty of our points, with the remaining hundred and sixty not due to the Snitch shared between Clarrie Trimble and Anna Vector. “Don’t you dare say a bad word about James Potter,” I scolded lightly. “Otherwise I’ll just think you’re jealous he’s not on your team.”
“I wonder if we can take him out before he plays us again …” he mused. “Break a leg or something.”
“It’d take more than that to stop James playing Quidditch,” I said. “You’d have to kill him. Which I’m not recommending, by the way – I’ve seen him duel.”
Bertram scowled. “Is there anything that bloke can’t do?”
“Of course there is,” I said, smiling as we made our way through the front doors of the castle. “He can’t get Lily to go out with him.”
His expression cleared. “Remind me to congratulate her next time I see her,” he said lightly. We stopped near the foot of the main stairs, his arms around me. “Laura, I’ve got a mountain of homework,” he went on. “Can we meet up at supper instead of this afternoon?”
I considered it. “That should be fine,” I said. “I’ve got a Potions essay to finish anyway, it’s due on Monday and I’ve barely done any of it.”
He kissed me gently. “Thanks. See you later on. I’ll save you a spot at our table.” His hands had found their way under my jumper and were running up my back.
I smiled and kissed him again. “That’d be great, thanks.” And, a rather warm hug later, I waved as I went up the stairs and he disappeared towards the Hufflepuff common room.
Even though the Easter holidays only went for two weeks, and there was a four-day weekend smack bang in the middle of them, my mother was keen that I go for my provisional drivers’ licence. As a police officer she wanted Bea and I to have a good understanding of the Highway Code and believed it would be very useful if we both learned to drive. She’d not had much luck with Bea, who showed little interest in getting her licence, but I was a much more willing participant and she spent many hours with me in the car, showing me the basics and supervising my driving when I did make it onto the road. Towards the end of the holidays she even persuaded one of her colleagues, who worked in driver testing, to take me out a few times to make sure I had a proper understanding of everything I would be examined on when I went for my licence.
In between driving excursions I was inundated with owls from Bertram, who was eager to see me before school started again and professed to be just as eager to meet my family. Unlike me he could easily Apparate over long distances (and, as a minor point, also had his licence) and made it to Bristol from his home on the outskirts of Nottingham without difficulty.
I introduced him to my parents – and to Bea, who was still living at home and even still had the same job – with a certain amount of hesitancy and trepidation. The problems even I was seeing in the relationship were frankly a bit of a sticking point: I wasn’t sure that it would be a long one and so didn’t see the need to bring parents into the mix. But he was showering me with kisses and compliments at the time he suggested it, so I was feeling more indulgent towards him than I sometimes was during my more introspective moments. Needless to say I was having second, third and fourth thoughts about his visit by the time he actually appeared on my doorstep.
The ‘meet the parents’ thing fortunately went off better than I had anticipated. Bertram was the very model of good manners and social niceties, and Mum even invited him to stay for dinner. However, there was something in the air that wasn’t quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it but it put me on my guard, and as a result I wasn’t quite my usual self that evening. Fortunately I didn’t think anyone noticed, and I made a point of contributing as much to the conversation as usual, but I was never really comfortable. Finally, near midnight, Bertram took his leave without having made one inappropriate suggestion or gesture, and I breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.
When the time came to go back to school, I found Mary on Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters before Bertram found me. “I probably don’t have much time,” I told her, “but I need to talk to you. It’s been, well, an interesting break.”
Mary raised her eyebrows as she hauled her small suitcase onto the train – only going home for two weeks, we didn’t need much luggage. “Bertram?”
“Came over to meet my folks, believe it or not,” I explained. “Fortunately it went okay, but …”
“Say no more,” she said, smiling. “An’ here he comes. We’ll talk tonicht, okay?” And she clambered onto the train and promptly disappeared, probably in search of Marcus.
I turned around to see Bertram, who was beaming as he walked towards me. “How’s my favourite girl?” he asked, kissing me.
“Great,” I smiled. “I take it you got home okay on Thursday night?”
“Piece of cake,” he answered, his hand stroking just behind my ear in an affectionate way. “Shall we find a compartment? Somewhere private,” he added much more quietly, his other hand tracing my spine and pausing when it reached the base.
I grinned again, thinking that so long as he knew when to stop this would be a most enjoyable train ride, and leaned up to kiss his cheek.
Over his shoulder I watched the procession of students who were making their farewells to their families and boarding the train. Clio Zeller was there, still with Sebastian Quirke, who she had apparently hooked up with in Hogsmeade back in February. Gertie Cresswell and her little brother Dirk were there, alone – I remembered they were Muggle-born and therefore their parents may have preferred not to enter the platform. Lily was looking tearful as she gave her mum an extended hug before climbing aboard the prefects’ carriage. Maggie Flint was farewelling what looked like her parents and older brothers. Gerry Stebbins was looking around keenly, probably for Mary and probably in the hope she and Marcus had broken up. Anna Vector, the Gryffindor Quidditch captain, was surrounded by friends further up the train. James and Sirius were picking their way through the crowds with what must have been James’ parents, though they looked a little older than I would have thought. I noticed Elvira hovering brazenly behind the boys, eyeing them hopefully, and I suspected Sirius was aware of this as he was scowling as he made his way down the platform. Not wanting to be on the receiving end of his temper, I grabbed Bertram and we climbed onto the train.
Of course we didn’t spend the whole train ride joined at the mouth, or even at the hip. Bertram had brought the Sunday Prophet along and we picked our way through it, looking for names we recognised among the lists of people who had died or disappeared in the previous week.
“Oh look,” he said, pointing to Ruby Hopkirk’s name among the dead. “Do you think she’s related to Nestor?”
“Maybe,” I said, looking around as if I expected to see Nestor walking past our compartment at that precise moment so I could ask him. “How about that one? Could be related to Fin.” The name Niall Quigley had caught my eye; Finbar Quigley was in the year below me at Gryffindor, and a Beater on the Quidditch team.
“Oh, that’s awful,” I went on, my eyes transfixed. “Frederick Strout. I know that’s Thalia’s dad.” Thalia was a Hufflepuff in my year, and her father had apparently disappeared without a trace the previous Wednesday. “I wonder if she’s even come back this term, if that’s happened.”
“And look at that one,” Bertram said a little later. “Genevieve Keitch. I’m pretty sure she’s David Keitch’s mum. Looks like she’s been tortured.” David Keitch had been in Bea’s year, in Hufflepuff, so Bertram probably knew him.
“What for, though?” I asked rhetorically. “It’s not like she would have information they wanted, would she?”
It was a horrible side effect of the time we lived in that we could blithely go through a list of dead and missing as though it was the weekend’s Quidditch results. It was all due to Voldemort, of course – it was him and his minions who were responsible for the deaths and disappearances of the loved ones of our schoolmates. Even Muggle Britain wasn’t immune, with explosions and building collapses that the Muggle authorities described as freak accidents, but were actually random Muggle killings initiated by the Death Eaters.
By the time we reached Hogsmeade we were feeling rather sombre and serious, having heard more stories on the train about people’s parents, cousins, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, who had been on the receiving end of the Death Eaters’ wands. Bertram kept me in a close embrace, which I appreciated as it was more comforting than romantic. We clambered onto the horseless carriages at the station with heavy hearts and a sense of dread as to what the coming years would bring.
The feast that night was again a sober affair. Professor Dumbledore drew our attention to the large numbers of casualties from the war, reminding us that success lay in sticking together to fight this evil. United we stand, divided we fall. I was absolutely in agreement with him but I’d heard it all before and to be honest my attention started wandering before he reached the end of his speech. The food was on the table before I’d realised he’d stopped talking.
“So, wha’s up?” asked Mary, spooning a couple of jacket potatoes onto her plate. “Ye wanted t’ talk?”
“I think it can wait,” I said, indicating Fin Quigley down the table. It appeared that Niall Quigley was indeed a cousin of his who had been killed during the week. After all the bad news, having my whinge to Mary about Bertram suddenly seemed much less important.
Fortunately Mary understood my reluctance and went back to pouring gravy over her roast chicken. “Fair enough. Though it micht be a nice change, talkin’ aboot boys again fer a while!”
My week improved that Tuesday when Professor McGonagall called me back after Transfiguration finished. “Miss Cauldwell?” she said as we gathered our books and stuffed them in our bags. “A word, please.”
I looked resignedly at the other girls and approached her desk with trepidation. Was my last homework assignment really that bad? I had the hang of Transfiguration now, my marks were pretty good and I was proud of what I’d been able to achieve. After all, just that day I had successfully Transfigured my hand into a cauliflower and back again.
She smiled when I reached the desk. “Miss Cauldwell, here is your clasp back,” she said, handing me the stunning piece of jewellery I’d been given anonymously for my birthday.
“Oh,” I said, momentarily lost for words. She’d had it so long I’d almost forgotten about it.
“Professor Flitwick, Professor Viridian and I have checked it for every jinx, hex and curse we can think of,” she continued. “It appears to be clean. Maybe the card just got lost.”
“Thanks, Professor,” I said, holding the clasp tightly as I found my voice again. “I don’t think it did, but you might be right.”
“Well, Miss Cauldwell, that is all,” she went on. “And might I say how pleased I have been with your progress this year. You are showing a new aptitude for the subject.” There was a note of finality to her voice as she smiled again, and I had clearly been dismissed.
“Thanks, Professor,” I said again and, hoisting my bag over my shoulder, left the classroom.
I didn’t care if I was late for Herbology. I stopped outside the Transfiguration classroom then and there to attach the clasp to my school robes. And then, not sure it was sitting right, I went to the nearest toilets and checked it in the mirror. A couple of adjustments later and I was on my way, beaming at everyone I saw, even the Slytherins. The clasp was clean, it wasn’t jinxed, and it was the most stunning thing I owned, so I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to show it off to everyone.
I got to Herbology just as Professor Sprout was directing us into Greenhouse Four. On the way inside, Lily looked at me questioningly as if to ask what Professor McGonagall had wanted, and in response I pointed at the clasp now attached firmly to my robes.
She beamed at me and directed Mary’s attention to it. “You got it back!” she whispered, clearly thrilled for me. “I knew it was going to be okay!”
Our attention was diverted by Sprout, who had started lecturing us about the correct way to prune a Devil’s Snare. The trick apparently was to do it little by little, inch by inch, so that it didn’t notice it was being pruned; if you took off too much at once it would immediately recognise you as a threat and try to strangle you. Pulling on our dragon-hide gloves, we prepared to spend a pleasant but careful hour pruning the plants.
“So it’s clean, then?” asked Mary as the three of us gathered around a Devil’s Snare.
“Seems so,” I said, looking around for some secateurs. There were none so I wandered up to where Professor Sprout was to pick up some more. However, I was so pleased with getting the clasp back that I wasn’t fully concentrating on where I was going (never a smart move in the greenhouses, where one of the plants might attack you), and realised too late that I was about to walk into someone. Looking up, I saw Sirius who apparently was also missing secateurs, and had just reached for the last pair.
“Oh, sorry,” he said, turning around once he realised I was there. “Yours, I think.” And he handed them to me without hesitation.
“No,” I said. “You were here first, you should take them.”
“I insist,” he said, smiling, and I found myself pleasantly distracted by the change it made in him, the way his face lit up. Yep, I thought, definitely way too susceptible. “Ladies first.”
“You’re assuming that I’m a lady,” I said, having located my voice. I noticed that Sirius’ expression had changed slightly too, and he looked a mixture of pleased and confused. However, at my words he started visibly, and shook his head.
“I don’t assume, I know,” he said, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “Seriously. Take them. I’m sure Sprout’s got some more somewhere.” And if anyone could charm some more secateurs out of Professor Sprout’s supply sheds, I reasoned to myself, it would be him.
I conceded defeat and took the secateurs graciously. “Thank you,” I said, and made my way back to the girls and our unpruned Devil’s Snare, my mind full of that smile.
No, Laura, concentrate, I thought to myself. You have a boyfriend. Stop daydreaming about someone you’ll never have and who most probably doesn’t even realise he’s flirting with you. And I shook my head and made an effort to join in Lily and Mary’s conversation.
The lesson ended with us being given a sizeable assignment where we had to compare the propagation techniques for the Mimbulus Mimbletonia and Bubotuber plants and suggest ways of improving growth rates, which was somewhat surprising as it had nothing to do with the lesson we’d just had. However, we had been studying Mimbulus the previous term (though not actually working on it – the plant was so rare that even Hogwarts only had one of them) so perhaps it was a throwback to that to refresh our memories before exams. In any case, it was hefty assignment.
In fact, this side of the Easter holidays we definitely noticed an increase in our workloads as exams loomed ever nearer. Every new lesson seemed to provide another three-foot essay, new project or practical item to be practiced, and every teacher seemed to think that we had endless hours in which to complete said assignments, when in fact it felt like every spare hour was already more than full.
However, if I was having trouble in sixth year it was nothing compared to Bertram’s experiences as a seventh-year. I hardly saw him, so busy was he with study for his upcoming NEWTs. We were lucky if we could find two or three hours a week together with our combined workloads, something even Martha noticed.
“Have you and Bertram broken up?” she asked in the common room after supper.
“No,” I said. “He’s just really busy with study at the moment. They’ve piled on the homework with NEWTs coming up and he’s having trouble keeping up to date with it all.”
She looked at me shrewdly. “How much of him are you seeing these days?”
I considered. “A couple of times a week if we’re lucky. Plus mealtimes, though they’re getting more rushed too. It’s better than nothing, though.”
She smiled suddenly. “Oh well. Like you said, better than nothing. Just don’t forget what he tastes like, okay?”
Trust Martha to say something like that to get me thinking. She really did have a way with words sometimes.
To get my mind off it I pulled out my Herbology textbook to get a start on Professor Sprout’s essay. Mary and Lily were doing likewise, the theory being that if we all worked on it at the same time we could bounce ideas off each other. Martha and Charlotte were doing some reading for their Arithmancy paper. I noticed the boys at a nearby table, having a whispered conversation with a large bit of parchment spread out in front of them.
Suddenly Remus frowned and peered at it more closely. “That can’t be right,” he said out loud, elbowing Sirius in the ribs and pointing to a spot on the parchment.
Sirius leaned in as well. “Mother of Merlin,” he said, his gaze flicking to our table. He caught me watching them and quickly looked back at the parchment. “Wormtail, can you go check what they’re doing?”
“I think I can guess what they’re doing,” Peter said slowly, staring at the page.
“They can’t be,” said Sirius, his eyes still fixated on whatever it was.
“The map never lies, Padfoot,” Remus said seriously.
James was looking very solemn. “Go on, Wormtail,” he encouraged. “You know where it is. You can get past the tapestry and not get noticed. We’ll need proof before we can do anything.”
“Right,” said Peter, nodding. He looked over at our table quickly and then scurried out of the common room.
James had taken control of the crisis, whatever it was. “Right, guys, we need a strategy for this. As Moony said, the map never lies.” Like the others, his eyes were transfixed on the parchment on their table.
“We have to say something,” Sirius said immediately. “If it was me, I’d want to know.” James looked up and glanced at him with half a smile on his face.
“Shh,” warned Remus, indicating our table, where there had been a conspicuous lack of quills moving across parchment since we had all stopped to listen. Chastened, we hurriedly turned to our homework again, feeling rather embarrassed. The boys went back to whispering among themselves.
About five minutes later Peter came back through the portrait hole, looking very serious. He glanced at our table again and nodded significantly at his friends.
“Settle, Padfoot,” James said warningly. “If it happens again, we’ll say something. And then you can do what you want.” And he glanced at our table and put a finger to his lips to remind them to keep it down.
Lily put down her Encyclopaedia of Magical and Mundane Plants and quickly Muffliato’d the nearest groups of students. “Well,” she said, looking intently at us, “what was that all about?”
Author's note: If anyone is thinking of leaving a review for this chapter, I'd just like to request that you don't quote Sirius' line in there about the "lying, cheating bastard". I have no problem with the language (obviously - I wrote it) but it's not 12+ and I've had some reviews deleted because it was in there. I appreciate each and every review and I think it's a real shame if they have to be deleted due to inappropriate language. Thanks!
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