Hands all over her – well I knew what that felt like, though seeing him doing it to someone else was a little like an out-of-body experience. Shirt half off, belt undone and trousers open, and her robes pulled up around her thighs. Snogging as though their lives depended on it. And he was supposed to be my boyfriend?
So this was what Sirius had wanted to show me. My boyfriend being overly friendly with someone else. I didn’t know what I had expected to see when the tapestry fell, but I did know it wasn’t that.
In any case, I stood there in shock for what seemed an eternity. Suddenly I found my voice. “Something you wanted to tell me, Bertram?” I asked coldly.
“Laura! It’s not what it looks like! I can explain!” He sounded panicked, fumbling as he tried to do his trousers back up.
“I think it’s pretty obvious what it is,” I said, mustering as much dignity as I could find under the circumstances.
“No! Please!” He looked hopefully at James, Sirius and Remus, who had cold fury emanating from their faces.
“I’ve seen enough,” I said, still coldly. “How about you just keep on doing whatever you think it is that you’re doing. Do whatever you like – or whoever you like. I don’t care. I never want to see you again.” And I turned on my heel and walked calmly away.
At least, I hoped it was calmly. I had a storm raging inside me but I was determined to get out of sight before I would let it take over. After what seemed like forever I reached the bend in the corridor where I had hidden back in November and, rounding it, sank to the floor and leaned up against the wall, relieved to be out of sight.
I was sure I had steam coming out of my ears. Why did he do it? How could he do that to me? What did I do wrong? After everything he’d said, after all the romantic gestures, how he’d behaved over the holidays, insisting on meeting my parents and everything, how could he do that? I wasn’t sure if I was more angry or upset. I didn’t love him but I was fond of him and had been increasingly growing fonder, and he had seemed so sincere. Clearly I wasn’t as good at reading people as I had thought.
And I understood why Sirius had refused to say anything on the way downstairs, why I’d had to see. Because if they’d just told me it was happening I may not have believed them. Bertram didn’t like them at all and I had the occasional impression that the feeling was mutual, so I could well have thought that they were just trying to discredit him for whatever reason. But this, this was proof. There was no talking his way out of this, there was nothing else he could possibly have been doing. And to think I’d been starting to actually believe him when he’d said how special he thought I was, how exceptional, how beautiful …
Through my inner turmoil I heard footsteps moving quickly away, and wondered if the boys were letting Bertram escape or if they would do something to him for me. Make him suffer. “Thanks, Wormtail,” said James’ voice, sounding further away than it actually was.
Sirius had come around the corner to check on me. “Geez, I am so sorry,” he said again, seeing my face as he sat down beside me. “But you had to know.”
“Did I?” I asked scathingly. “What if I was happier not knowing?”
“It would have hurt more in the long run,” he said reassuringly, putting an arm around my shoulders and giving me a squeeze. It was warm and surprisingly comforting and I allowed myself to relax. “Would you rather have gone on, maybe for months, and then found out about it?”
I thought about it. “Probably not,” I agreed finally. “But why would he do that?”
Sirius shook his head. “I can’t work it out either,” he said. “He needs his head read. He must have known what would happen.”
It was a bit feeble but I appreciated the show of support, and he gave me another squeeze as we sat there, me feeling rather comforted by his presence as I attempted to work my way through what were definitely some conflicting emotions. My eyes were dry but I wasn’t sure how long they’d remain that way, though I was doing a fairly good job at keeping the tears at bay for the time being. Eventually I felt ready to stand again and Sirius helped me up and back around the corner to the scene of the crime, his comforting arm still around my shoulders.
I stopped dead. Peter and Remus had disappeared, but Bertram was still there, thankfully fully clothed by now. It looked like he was in a full body bind and his head had ballooned to double its normal size. James had levitated him and was pushing him along the corridor impatiently.
“Thanks, guys,” I said weakly.
James turned around and looked at me. “How’s she doing?” he asked Sirius.
“Holding up,” he said. I nodded, though I suspected it looked a little half-hearted. “I think she needs food though.”
James surveyed me critically, then nodded. “Chocolate. She’ll feel like she’s been through a Dementor attack. Take her down to the kitchens. I’ll find somewhere prominent to dump this git.”
I found I didn’t mind them talking about me as if I wasn’t there. Somehow it was easier to not actually participate in the conversation. James was right, I did feel a bit like I’d encountered a Dementor, and it wasn’t a particularly nice sensation.
“You all right to walk?” asked Sirius, looking at me. “It’s not far, just down from the Great Hall – do you think you can make it?”
I took a deep breath, wondering if I needed to convince him or myself. “Should be able to.”
“That’s the spirit,” he grinned, dropping his arm from my shoulder and taking my hand instead. “Let me know if you’re having trouble, though, okay?” He began to lead me through the very passageway Bertram and his hussy had been hiding in, which went down steeply, in some places becoming stairs. Every now and then he said “Duck,” as the roof dipped significantly and then levelled out again. Fortunately we were now moving much more slowly than we had on the way down from Gryffindor Tower – I didn’t think I would physically have been able to go at that pace again. Eventually we emerged from behind a statue and, after moving down another couple of corridors, stopped next to a still life of a bowl of fruit.
We were unnervingly close to the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room and I felt more than a little on edge just being there. Fortunately, as I was to discover, we wouldn’t be there long. Dropping my hand, Sirius tickled the pear and the painting giggled and swung from the wall, revealing the Hogwarts kitchens.
I had never seen so many house elves in my entire life. Upon seeing us, they clamoured around like a class of primary school children, none any taller than waist height, all offering their services to Sirius, who they seemed to know well.
“Mr Black! Mr Black! How can Totty help Mr Black?” came a high pitched voice, only to be outdone by what seemed like hundreds of like voices as they all clamoured around him. Sirius started laughing.
“Hey, hey, calm down,” he said, waiting for the palaver to subside. “Now, everyone, this is Laura. Laura has just had a bad shock. I was thinking she needs chocolate, maybe some treacle tart, that sort of thing. What can you do for her?”
In an instant I was bombarded by house elves. “Miss Laura, here is some food!” squeaked one, forcing on me a tray containing a pile of chocolate frogs, some éclairs, a slice of treacle tart and a jam doughnut. Another house elf was trying to give me a huge mug of hot chocolate with at least a dozen marshmallows in it. I felt a bit overwhelmed, so was relieved when Sirius again took control and took the tray and mug from me.
“You’ve been more than kind,” he called above the general turmoil, and the excitable elves rushed to him once again. “Thanks, all of you. But I think we’d better be going.” And, expertly balancing the tray on one hand, he grabbed my hand with his other one and led me out of the kitchens.
“So that was the kitchen,” I said as he settled me in an empty classroom nearby, though thankfully well out of sight of the corridor that led to the Hufflepuff common room. “Is it always that chaotic?”
He shrugged. “Pretty much. They’re always really keen to help.”
“And I used to think you lot were so smart, raiding the kitchens for food all the time,” I said wryly, unwrapping a chocolate frog and grabbing it absent-mindedly before it jumped away. “You’re not exactly forcing them at wandpoint to hand it over, are you?”
He grinned as he watched me wolf down another chocolate frog and start on the treacle tart. “You feeling better now?”
“Yeah, I am,” I realised. “Thanks.” I started on the hot chocolate.
He watched me in silence for a while, distractedly raking his fingers through his hair. “I meant what I said before,” he said eventually. “This way will be easier in the long run.”
“I know,” I said with a sigh. “Doesn’t make it easy now, though.” Suddenly a thought came to me and I looked up at him. “How did you know about it?”
He hesitated. Finally he reached into his robes and pulled out a blank piece of parchment and, unfolding it, laid it on the nearest desk and tapped it lightly with his wand. “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he intoned, looking at it. Suddenly it sprung to life, with lines and dots reaching to all corners of the parchment, which now I looked at it was rather large. I suspected it was the same thing we had seen them poring over in the common room a couple of weeks earlier. He beckoned me over.
“It’s a map,” he said as I bent down to look at it. “The guys and I wrote it.”
I looked at him in awe. “But this is incredible! It shows everybody at Hogwarts on it!” Sure enough, it did – the map, which seemed to feature every room and passage in the castle, also had little dots moving around it, each accompanied by a name in miniscule writing. In a room near the kitchens I could see two dots labelled ‘Laura Cauldwell’ and ‘Sirius Black’, indicating where we were. Finding the Gryffindor common room, I could see ‘Lily Evans’ and ‘Remus Lupin’ next to each other, probably discussing prefect duties, and ‘Martha Hornby’ and ‘Charlotte Trimble’ looked like they were at the table I’d been sitting at before all this started. I grinned despite myself when I noticed ‘Mary Macdonald’ and ‘Marcus Ogden’ in an empty classroom just down the hall – at least Mary’s boyfriend chose her to make out with. Looking further over the parchment, I noticed several passageways I hadn’t previously been aware of, and ‘Severus Snape’ was moving quickly down one of them that came out near what appeared to be the Slytherin common room. In addition, there were a number of tunnels leading out of the castle which went off the boundaries of the map in the direction of Hogsmeade.
He let me have a good look at the map before he spoke again. “We were checking the map to come – well, down here, actually, to the kitchens for a night-time feast – when we saw them in a small enclave behind that tapestry with the dancing trolls on it. Well, what else would they be doing in a place like that at nine o’clock at night? So we sent Wor- Peter out to check – he’s, er, good at sneaking around without being seen – and he came back and confirmed it.” He stopped as I looked up sharply, my brain finally working out the implications of what he’d just said.
“You’re saying this has happened before?”
He nodded. “Yep. We found out just after the holidays.” I nodded, leaning in closer to the map and staring at the spot Bertram and the Ravenclaw girl had been. Sirius had sat down on the desk opposite and was continuing. “I wanted to tell you straight away, myself, but Pr- James pointed out that it might’ve been a one-off, that these things can happen even in the best relationships. You know, caught off guard, a moment of weakness, that type of thing. And you never know, he might have got a fit of the guilts and told you himself… So James thought we should wait … and if it happened again … then we’d … tell you …”
His voice trailed off and I looked up at him, wondering if he’d meant to stop there because I had the feeling he hadn’t. And he did look somewhat distracted, eyes glazed over a little, though I couldn’t for the life of me think why that might be the case. Noticing me watching him, however, he very quickly came to, shaking his head a bit and looking almost embarrassed as he put his feet on a chair in front of him and leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. “Right. Well, since then we’ve been checking periodically to see if they did it again, and, well, tonight they did. So we put Pete inside the tunnel to stop them escaping that way, and James and Remus stood guard in the passageway under James’ Invisibility Cloak, and I – ” He paused again as I looked up once more: it was my turn to be distracted.
“James has an Invisibility Cloak??” That had to be how he and Remus had seemed to appear out of nowhere. But really, old money, a two-way mirror, and now this? Not to mention looks, popularity, sporting ability and brains. What did the boy not have? (Oh yeah. The girl of his dreams. But I was pretty sure that was coming.)
Sirius waved a hand impatiently. “Yeah, yeah, he has an Invisibility Cloak. Anyway, they stood guard and I came to get you. You know the rest.”
“I’m glad I dumped him, then,” I said, and my voice sounded more bitter than I’d intended. “James is right, once you can sometimes explain away, but twice …” I trailed off, not able to think of something to say that didn’t sound petty and vindictive, and I straightened up and made my way back to my original seat, my gaze focused on my plate. I had finished the treacle tart and was starting on the jam doughnut, the last thing on my tray, and I was definitely feeling better. In fact, from this distance, I was almost okay that my relationship with Bertram was over – at least I wouldn’t spend any more time fending him off or trying to justify who I talked to. Though, come to think of it …
“What did you do to him?” I asked, looking up again, though I was pretty sure I knew.
“Full body bind, simple Engorgement Charm,” he said, looking at me carefully. “We wanted to make his head a more appropriate size, considering what he thought he was good enough to get away with.” He was still watching me, looking for any reaction.
I smiled wanly. “And where did James leave him?”
Sirius came back over to the table and scanned the map. “Outside Dumbledore’s office, by the looks of things,” he said. I smiled to myself briefly – I didn’t even know where Dumbledore’s office was. “He’ll find him when he comes out in the morning,” Sirius went on. He looked sharply at the map for a second, but the expression of unease was gone as soon as I noticed it, and he shrugged quite unconcernedly.
“But you’ll get in trouble!” I said, suddenly horrified they would have to go through a detention because of me. I found I was much less worried about Bertram, with his swollen head, having to stay on a cold stone floor all night, unable to move.
He raised his eyebrows. “So? We’ll cop that. It was worth it.” I looked at him quizzically. “Look, Laura, it’s not like we’ve never done detentions before,” he said defensively, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “It will probably even be fun, if they don’t split us up again. And he deserved it, he should never have done that to you in the first place.”
I nodded vaguely, not really concentrating on what he was saying as my mind persisted in going at a million miles an hour. Despite the chocolate – and I did feel a bit better, I hadn’t been lying about that – the full implication of what Bertram had done was beginning to sink in and I was starting to feel in danger of breaking down, and I didn’t want to do that in front of Sirius. That was what people like Mary were for, after all. So I stood up, surprising myself by doing it without too much effort and without shaking, and said, “I think I’d like to go back to the tower now.” My voice still wasn’t at its usual tone, but it was getting there.
“Of course,” Sirius said, reaching for my hand again. “I’ll get you back in one piece.” He paused. “Oh – and Laura?”
I looked up at him. “Yes?”
“Would you mind not mentioning the map to anyone? We don’t want word about it getting out, we’d never hear the end of it.”
I nodded. “Of course not. I’d assumed that went without saying.” The map was clearly one of the boys’ secrets and I’d felt privileged to have been allowed to see it.
He smiled. “Thanks.” And with that he picked up the map with his other hand and, flicking it expertly, got it in the right place to check the corridors to make sure we didn’t encounter Filch, Mrs Clay, Peeves, or anyone else who might not take kindly to us being out after curfew.
Once back in the common room, I thanked him again and headed straight up to the dorm. Mary, who was obviously back from her detour with Marcus and had seen me come in, followed almost immediately.
“I hear’ wha’ happened,” she said quietly. “Remus came an’ tol’ us an’ then James came ba’ wi’ some more details an’ all. He said ye were i’ th’ kitchens gettin’ some food?”
“Yeah, Sirius took me in,” I said, suddenly realising what that would sound like to, say, Elvira.
“Are ye okay?” she asked.
I shook my head and all of a sudden I was crying. All the anger and pain and frustration came to the surface and I couldn’t stop myself. “So much for feeling wanted,” I sobbed.
“He’s a lyin’, cheatin’ scumbag who doesna deserve someone as good as ye,” said Mary loyally, as Lily, Martha and Charlotte all joined us in the dorm.
“Laura, we’re so sorry!” exclaimed Lily. “James and Remus told us what happened. How could he do that to you?”
I smiled at her through the tears. No matter how bad I felt, the indignation that the girls were showing on my behalf made me feel calmer. “I thought I knew him,” I said, hiccoughing, aware my cheeks were wet and my eyes red. “And I thought he was special. Now, I guess he’s not.”
“Anyone who can do that to a person is definitely not special,” Charlotte said savagely, squeezing my hand.
“But why did he do it?” I asked plaintively. “What did I do wrong?”
“Don’t be silly, you did nothing wrong,” said Lily firmly, sitting next to me and stroking my hair gently. “He just didn’t realise how good he had it. Deserves everything he gets.”
I smiled again despite myself. “Even if it comes from James and Sirius?”
Lily nodded. “Even then,” she admitted. “Actually, I don’t think I could choose anyone better at it than they are.”
“They go’ caugh’, too,” Mary said suddenly. “James, tha’ is. Filch foond him ootside Dumbledore’s office tryin’ t’ dump Bertram.”
“What!!” I sat up on my bed, horrified. Of course. They most probably only had one map, and Sirius had it which meant James wouldn’t have been able to see where Filch was patrolling. They’d decided my need was greater than theirs. I’d never realised they had that in them.
“Yeah, he did,” confirmed Martha. “Apparently Filch went straight to Dumbledore, who reversed the jinxes and got the story from Bertram. And James didn’t deny anything.” She paused. “Bertram named James and Sirius as the ones who had done it – I guess Peter and Remus had gone by then?” She looked enquiringly at me.
“Yeah, they left,” I said hoarsely.
“Right, so he named James and Sirius, and they’ve been given a double detention. I guess Sirius has found out about that now, too.”
I sank back down again. Sirius had told me that would happen, had been completely blasé about the whole thing, but I felt terrible that they had done this for me and been rewarded with a double detention. I felt like going to Dumbledore and asking to serve it with them, as it was my fault they’d done it in the first place.
“Who was th’ girl? Dae we know her?” asked Mary.
I shrugged. She had looked vaguely familiar but frankly I didn’t care who she was. “Some tart from Ravenclaw. Obviously she’ll put out, which I’m guessing would be why he chose her.” My voice, while still a little weak, sounded more bitter than I had intended it to.
Lily looked at me sternly. “Don’t you ever think this is your fault because of that,” she said almost severely. “If he really cared about you he’d respect your decision and not be pressuring you all the time. If he didn’t really care, then he was only after one thing and you’re better off rid of him.”
I thought about it. What she said made sense, and when my mind was in less turmoil I’d probably appreciate the advice. “Thanks,” I said, still a bit weakly. This had taken more out of me than I had realised.
“I thought Hufflepuffs were supposed to be loyal,” Charlotte mused. “Bertram mustn’t have got that owl.”
“They are loyal,” Martha pointed out. “Bertram’s loyalty just happens to reside with his you-know-what rather than with his girlfriend.” I smiled wryly – while her choice of words wasn’t what I would probably have used, she did have a point. “I’d offer to plot revenge,” she went on matter-of-factly, “but it looks like the boys have beaten us to it. Unless you wanted him to suffer any more?”
I thought about it. “I don’t know,” I said. “I feel like he’d deserve it, but then I’m not sure he’s worth spending the extra effort on.”
Lily nodded. “Well, if you do decide you want us to do something, just say the word. We’d be happy to.”
Mary pretended to look scandalised. “Is this a prefec’ offerin’ t’ break th’ rules?” she asked with a grin.
Lily put on her best ‘I wasn’t doing anything’ face. “Of course not,” she said, eventually failing to hide her grin. “At least, not any rules worth worrying about. However, if Bertram happens to be in the way when I’m practicing my spells, I won’t be held accountable.”
I had stopped crying and my cheeks were drying at a rate of knots. Charlotte was sitting on the bed holding my hand, and Martha had started rummaging through her trunk. “Chocolate?” she asked brightly, holding up a block of Honeydukes.
I shook my head. “Thanks, but I’ve had heaps. Sirius took me to the kitchens afterwards to help me calm down.”
“That’s right,” said Martha, shaking her head at herself. “James did say, but I’d forgotten. Well, since I’ve got it out … anyone else?”
Mary, Lily and Charlotte all helped themselves to a chunk of Honeydukes’ finest and lay on the beds talking about men, in particular hurling abuse at those deemed unworthy for whatever reason. Oddly enough, that night Bertram was at the top of that list. It was, however, a conversation that I didn’t really need to participate in which suited me just fine, especially since my brain was in turmoil and I was having trouble concentrating on anything. And then, out of the blue and surprising me by how reassuring it felt, it occurred to me that I’d just spent the best part of an hour and a half holding hands with Sirius Black.
Author’s note: We already knew what they did to Bertram Aubrey, so this is my version of why they did it. And before you complain that it wasn’t enough … well I’d just like to give James some credit as a moderating factor – yes, James – as well as the fact that Sirius didn’t actually get to touch him (despite getting the detention for it). Also a rather nifty introduction of both the Invisibility Cloak and the Marauder’s Map, don’t you think?
Finally, I'd like to remind all potential reviewers to watch their language in reviews so they don't end up getting deleted. Thank you!
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