Chapter 41 : At the Potters'
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James opened the door for me. “Laura!” he said, smiling. I saw Sirius bound up from behind him at my name, only to pull up abruptly as another voice took over.
“Make sure it’s really her, James.”
James made a face. “Dad,” he said. “He wants me to check that you’re you and not someone impersonating you. So … um … where did you and Padfoot meet up last week?”
“Out the front of Bristol’s city museum and art gallery,” I said immediately. “Ten o’clock in the morning. On Friday.”
James turned around to look at Sirius, who nodded. “Okay, then, I believe you,” he said with a grin. “All yours, Padfoot.”
Sirius didn’t need telling twice. “Prongs is waiting for Lily,” he explained as he pulled me to one side, “we don’t want to keep him. And unfortunately you’ve missed lunch …” He took me aside and kissed me deeply.
“I missed you too,” I smiled when we eventually came up for air. “But I should hang out my dress robes for tonight. The trip took longer than I thought.”
“Later, later,” he said. “You look gorgeous anyway. And I have to show you around and introduce you to your hosts.”
Mr and Mrs Potter were in the sitting room, watching us curiously. They were the couple I had noticed at Kings Cross earlier in the year and were definitely significantly older than I would have expected James’ parents to be. My parents were not yet fifty, but James must have been a late arrival – his parents were easily on the other side of seventy and may have been even older. Sirius took me in to meet them.
Mrs Potter was smiling broadly as her eyes went from Sirius to me. “We’ve heard so much about you,” she said kindly. “Whatever you’re doing to Sirius, keep doing it – I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.”
Mr Potter laughed. “Certainly is a pleasant change,” he agreed. “Not like that time he showed up on Christmas Day covered in gashes and bruises, eh?”
I looked at Sirius questioningly, but he just gave me a bit of a squeeze.
“Didn’t he ever say, dear?" asked Mrs Potter. “He showed up on the doorstep looking like he’d just had a duel with Voldemort himself, cuts and bruises all over him, dragging his trunk and with holes all through his robes. Just run away from home, poor dear, and needed somewhere to stay before they killed him.”
This was all news to me. I’d known that he’d left home and come to the Potters’ to stay, but not that he’d been badly hurt in the process. I wasn’t about to admit that to James’ parents, though.
Mrs Potter went on. “Of course he was more than welcome here, he’s like a second son to us. But that independent streak – as soon as he could afford to go somewhere else he was off, said he couldn’t live on charity.” She shook her head admonishingly at Sirius. “I’ll say it again, you’re more than welcome.”
He looked a bit uncomfortable. “Thanks, Mrs P, but it didn’t feel right. I’ll still come over for Sunday lunch, though,” he grinned.
Mrs Potter smiled indulgently at him. “He always was a bit troubled,” she said confidentially to me, lowering her voice. “Difficult family life. Between him and Remus, you’d never know anything personal about them, they just don’t talk about it. But, they know we’re always here for them …” She trailed off, winking at me. “Anyway it’s lovely to finally meet you, dear.”
Eventually Sirius showed me to the room Lily and I would be sharing. I looked at the twin beds and turned to him a little sadly.
“Charlotte hasn’t been invited, has she.” It wasn’t even a question, just an unwelcome reminder that not everyone’s life was going as well as mine was. I barely even wanted to think about what it must have been like for her, sitting at home knowing that Lily and I were here and she wasn’t, when at the start of the ball it had seemed so close. It would have been horrible.
Sirius shook his head. “Moony wasn’t comfortable,” he said, and by his tone it was clear that this was all I would find out about that. Whatever Remus’ reasoning was, the boys had built an impenetrable wall around it to keep it from the rest of the world.
I shook my head despondently. “I just wish there was something I could do to help,” I said. “I know I can’t, because I’m not allowed to know what it’s about, but I wish I could.”
He surprised me by laughing, though it sounded a little sour. “You know, I bet Moony wishes that, too. Hey,” he went on, changing the subject, “how did you get here? Did you Apparate, or what?”
“Drove,” I told him. “Mum wanted me to get the practice.”
His face lit up. “Drove? You mean, in a Muggle car? Brilliant! JAMES!” he shouted, “get up here, now!”
Moments later James appeared, followed by Lily (who had obviously arrived in the meantime), Remus and Peter. “What’s up, Padfoot?” James asked curiously. “Aside from the usual, of course.” He grinned at Sirius, who looked a little uncomfortable.
“Never mind that,” he said, a wide grin forming on his face. “Guess what? Laura’s got a car here!”
James’ face lit up. “Really? But that’s fantastic! When are you teaching us how to drive?”
Within minutes I was traipsing out to where I had left Mum’s car, the boys all following happily. Lily opted not to join in the fun, instead deciding to spend some time with James’ parents in the hope she would leave a good impression. (Like she ever wouldn’t, I thought, but it was very like her to try to do the thing properly.) Not wanting to kill the engine in the narrow laneway, I asked if there was anywhere inside the grounds of James’ house that I could park to show them the basics.
“Absolutely,” said James. “This was a Muggle house once, there’s even a garage. I think they used it to park their chariots.” He grinned. “I’ll show you.” And he clambered into the front seat while Sirius, Remus and Peter all squeezed into the back. I started the car and followed James’ directions, stopping eventually at a large garage behind the house where an enormous black motorcycle was already parked.
“I see I’m not the only one who came by Muggle transportation,” I said idly.
“Oh,” Sirius said suddenly, “that’s mine. But it’s not exactly Muggle transportation.” In the rear vision mirror I could see him smiling, while Peter and Remus laughed out loud.
“Do I want to know?” I asked with more than a little trepidation.
“It flies,” Peter explained.
I had engaged the handbrake and was undoing my seatbelt, but this distracted me somewhat. “It what?”
“Flies,” repeated Remus, looking rather surprised. “He never told you about the bike?”
“Nah, they haven’t exactly been talking, have they?” said James, laughing, and Sirius and I went matching shades of red.
“How about we talk about the bike later,” I suggested. “Lily will most probably be done soon and she’ll be wondering why you’re not doing laps of the house already.” I looked pointedly at James, whose face immediately assumed its most serious expression.
“Right you are, Laura,” he agreed. “Now, how do we start this thing?”
I showed them the basics of starting a car, with accelerator, brake and clutch, and how to put it into gear, and they took it in turns trying to move forwards. Before long Lily did indeed come to join us, wrapped up in a heavy coat against the cold and laughing with me as Remus became the latest to bunny-hop a few yards. Lily hadn’t gone for her licence as she had passed her Apparition test and wasn’t sure it was necessary, but she knew enough about driving to be able to joke with me about how best to not blow up an engine.
Sirius grasped the fundamentals first, which probably wasn’t all that surprising if he knew how to operate a motorbike. In fact, I was getting the strong impression he could pretty much turn his hand to anything he attempted. James, on the other hand, was having all sorts of difficulties, which I found incredibly amusing considering he was top of everything at school.
“There’s too many things to think about,” he complained, jerking the car forwards again as he tried to move on from a standing start. “How can you tell when the engine’s caught?”
I laughed. “And this from the man who can control a broomstick to within an inch of its life,” I said. “Try to feel it through. The car gives the tiniest bit of a shudder, that’s when you ease off the clutch and lean on the accelerator to get moving.”
“And that’s before or after I release the handbrake?” he asked, his brow furrowed and his glasses slipping down his nose.
Peter too was having trouble, which I found rather funny as well considering he was a half-blood and therefore should be vaguely cognisant with Muggle concepts. “Which one’s the clutch again?” he asked, the sweat dripping off his rather long nose as he tried to concentrate.
“Remember your alphabet, Wormtail,” Sirius called, grinning. “ABC. Accelerator, brake, clutch. Surely even you should be able to remember that!”
Eventually they all got the hang of starting up and moving, and Sirius and James had even progressed to doing laps of the estate, getting up to third gear which I thought was a bit fast considering the amount of ice on the ground. I wanted to give Mum her car back in one piece, after all, and I wasn’t sure how well Reparo worked on something as large as that. After a couple of hours we called it a day, not a moment too soon as the snow started falling again almost immediately, obliterating even the tyre tracks we had just made.
“So, are you going to take us out for a spin tomorrow?” James asked eagerly.
I thought about it. “I dunno. You might learn some new words.” They all looked at me quizzically. “I swear when I’m driving,” I explained. “A lot. Something to do with everyone else on the road being an idiot. I even taught my mum some new phrases, and she’s a copper.”
Sirius was looking curious. “I can’t imagine you swearing,” he said.
I smiled. “Got a lot to learn, then, haven’t you?” The other boys laughed. “Anyway, we wouldn’t all fit in the car,” I pointed out. “There’s six of us and only five seats. And you blokes aren’t exactly pixies.”
“Undetectable Extension Charm?” suggested Remus.
“Can you do those?” I was pretty sure I couldn’t, we hadn’t got to them in Charms yet and I’d never attempted one.
The boys’ faces dropped. Apparently none of them could do it either. They had thought that as Lily and I were both reasonably good at Charms, we might have known it. In the end, however, even Lily couldn’t cast the spell correctly, so instead we trundled inside for hot chocolate.
We dried ourselves off with hot air charms and settled ourselves in the sitting room, where afternoon tea had already been served. Lily immediately busied herself with handing out mugs.
“Have you enjoyed tearing up the garden?” Mrs Potter asked with a wink. “I never realised a car could toss up so much sludge.”
I was overcome with guilt. “Sorry, Mrs Potter,” I said. “I didn’t mean for us to do so much damage.”
“Nonsense, dear,” she smiled. “It’s nothing we can’t fix. Driving’s probably a good skill for you all to have anyway.”
“Yes, much more practical in real terms than a flying motorcycle,” Mr Potter agreed, grinning at Sirius.
Sirius grinned. “That’s practical,” he protested. “James and I got an Outstanding on that assignment!” I looked at him, baffled, but he just winked and said, “I’ll explain later.”
He took me out on the bike straight afterwards, after Mr Potter came out to put Disillusionment Charms on us and the bike to ensure no one would see us. “I’d’ve done them myself,” Sirius confided, “but we haven’t learned them yet and the ones I’ve tried haven’t worked too well. I had to fly out here after dark so I wouldn’t be spotted by any Muggles.” I nodded, steeling myself for the ride – I’d never been on a motorcycle before, flying or not.
The bike was so huge that I needed help to get onto the pillion seat but once there, sitting behind him with my arms around his waist, I felt quite safe, even when he revved up the engine and took off at great speed down the drive. We were almost at the gate, which I noticed belatedly was closed, when the bike took off and we were flying above the Somerset countryside. It was the most enormous adrenaline rush, soaring up there higher and faster than any broomstick could carry you, feeling the bike beneath us pumping away, the wind in our hair and the ground disappearing beneath us. Much better than my old Nimbus One Thousand and One, no matter how many charms I’d put on it. A broom just didn’t compare.
It was almost dark when we landed back at the Potters’ house and Sirius helped me climb off. “How was that?” he asked, taking in the huge smile on my face.
“Amazing. Exhilarating. Unbelievable,” I responded. I was on such a high it seemed that anything else would be a letdown.
He grinned with apparent relief. “It’s running pretty well,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for ages. There are still a few chinks that need ironing out, and I’m thinking of adding a few features, but it’s going okay. Got me here from London without any problems in any case, so I was pretty confident you’d be safe on it.”
“How long have you had it?” I asked.
He considered. “About a year,” he said. “Yeah, I got it last Christmas holidays. Picked it up for a song ’cause the engine was stuffed and the paint-job was pretty awful. Prongs was helping me fix it up.” He laughed suddenly. “We had to do a project for Muggle Studies where we picked a Muggle mechanical object and explain how it worked. Well, this was our project. That was what I was talking about before.”
I was still smiling. “Fair enough,” I said. “A project that has the added benefit of being a really really cool method of transport.” I laughed. “And there was James last summer, saying me being able to drive was cool. Now I feel like he was taking the mickey.”
Sirius gave me a hug. “It is cool,” he said, his arms still around me. “Being able to drive a car is definitely cool, ’cause you can drive other people around then. The bike only has room for one extra. Which I think will be you, from now on.”
“I can’t wait,” I grinned. “That really was indescribable.”
He laughed. “Excellent. We’ll turn you into an adrenaline junkie yet.”
The sun had well and truly gone down when we headed back inside to prepare for the evening’s festivities. I showered and changed into my dress robes, which I’d borrowed from Mary and were olive green, fitted and, to my great relief, self-ironing. Once dressed I looked at myself in the mirror, wondering whether Lily would show up and help me do something with my hair to make it look even a little stylish. Unfortunately, though, she was (understandably) too busy with James and I had to rely on my own limited abilities, ending up leaving it down as I wasn’t able to pull off a French knot with any success.
Finally, I was happy enough with how I looked, and went back out into the passage to look for Sirius. Fortunately I didn’t have to look very hard - he too had changed and was leaning on the wall by the door when I came out.
“Again she surpasses herself,” he smiled, stepping back to look me up and down. “You look beautiful. Even more so than normal, I mean.”
“You’re not too bad yourself,” I said, looking him over as well. “You scrub up pretty well. Though that might just be because it makes you look even more like Stubby Boardman.” I was joking to try to compensate for how nervous I still was, because even then I couldn’t really believe he’d chosen me. And while it was true – he bore a remarkable resemblance to the lead singer of the Hobgoblins – saying it was a bit of a tease as we all knew he wasn’t always pleased with the comparison. Fortunately he took it in the way I’d intended.
“And that’s the only reason you’re with me, right?” he asked with a smirk.
“Of course,” I agreed, probably blushing furiously. “Doesn’t every girl want to go out with a rock star?”
“Then I think,” he said, smiling wickedly, “that I need to persuade you otherwise.”
Well, that certainly sounded promising. Memo to self, I thought, teasing him about Stubby Boardman has extremely agreeable results. I put my arms around his neck and kissed him, not caring that we were in the middle of the first floor hall and anyone could come up and see us.
“So,” he asked quietly a couple of minutes later, “are you persuaded?”
“I think so,” I responded, absolutely caught up in the moment. “But I could do with some more …”
He smiled and his eyes glinted. “Then maybe we should find somewhere a little more private, don’t you think?”
That prompted a rather unexpected tour of the house, where he showed me what the Potters still referred to as his room even though he no longer lived there, James’ room, another bedroom which Remus and Peter were sharing, the kitchen (featuring a very old-looking house elf pulling a roast almost as large as he was out of the oven), the sitting room, the drawing room, the dining room, the ballroom. Yes, James’ house even had a ballroom. No wonder his parents could afford to host a huge party every year in the middle of winter. And then Sirius took me back to his own room and we collapsed on the bed together, trying desperately to make up for the week we had been apart.
By the time we had disentangled ourselves and readjusted our dress robes, and I’d reapplied my lipstick, it was time to go down to dinner. Lily and James were already there, looking at each other adoringly, while Remus and Peter, who had apparently been there all along without me noticing them, kept rolling their eyes at each other. Sirius and I found our place-cards opposite.
“Ah, you did make it back okay,” Lily said with a smile. “I hadn’t seen you since you took off earlier. But James said you were back and not to ask what you were doing, so I didn’t!” She looked fondly at James and he took both her hands in his and kissed them.
“Right, I think they’re out for the count,” Remus said with a grin as Lily and James kissed each other gently. “You’d think they’d be past that stage by now, but no.”
“I wish they would get past it,” said Peter, exaggerated revulsion in his voice. I noticed, however, that he didn’t stop watching them.
Remus laughed. “Don’t worry, Wormtail, you’ve got Padfoot and Laura here who’ll stay like that for a while yet.”
We were saved from responding by the arrival of dinner, which was a veritable feast. So much so that halfway through I started to worry that my dress robes would end up a little tight, and that Sirius might notice. I was still uncertain enough about the relationship to think that he might go off me if I put on a bit of weight, or even ate the wrong way, and I accordingly adjusted my food intake so that even though I wasn’t starving, I wasn’t bursting at the seams either.
Not that Sirius seemed to notice whether my robes were getting too tight at all. I mean, his arm was often around my waist so if they were getting tight he should have noticed, but if he did it seemed the least of his concerns. In any case he didn’t change his behaviour, which was attentive enough to make Bertram’s most romantic efforts pale in comparison. (Or maybe I was just enjoying it more …)
Finally the meal was over and the rest of the guests started arriving for the dance, which I was told would begin at nine o’clock and finish sometime after midnight. We as a group were the youngest attendees by a fair amount, not counting a few children who had been brought by their parents, and pretty much kept to ourselves in one corner of the room, nice and close to the punch bowl. It was in truth an event for adults rather than teenagers, and it struck me that if the kids at school knew what the party was really like they wouldn’t be nearly so eager for an invitation.
I stood with Sirius behind me, his arms around my waist, and would occasionally be distracted from the conversation by him nuzzling my neck, which would prompt another snogging session. For this we were entirely unapologetic, as unlike Lily and James we were a new couple and had several months worth of catching up to do.
Before I realised how late it was getting, Mr Potter’s magically magnified voice echoed through the room. “Get ready, everyone, the countdown will begin shortly.”
The room became much more energised all of a sudden, as people rushed to the bar for more drinks so they could toast in the new year, and grabbed a partner they could kiss on the stroke of midnight. I noticed that rather than dancing properly, everyone was just revolving on the spot with their partner, waiting for the countdown and the band to play Auld Lang Syne. Finally, Mr Potter announced that 1978 had arrived.
Sirius leaned in and kissed me. “Happy new year,” he said quietly.
“Happy new year,” I agreed, smiling.
He was smiling too. “You know, I think it will be.”
“So do I,” I said. “Good times, great friends, and the man of my dreams. What more could I ask for?”
He looked pleased. “Am I really?”
“Like you need to ask,” I said. “Of course you are. You have no idea.”
Still smiling, he bent his head until his forehead was resting on mine, and we revolved slowly together until the song ended.
We called it a night at about three o’clock although parting from Sirius even then, when we’d spent over twelve hours in each other’s company without a break, was incredibly difficult. We stood outside the door of the bedroom I’d be using, kissing as though we would never see each other again, and it was with great reluctance that we eventually broke apart and I forced myself inside, knowing full well that it would be hours before I would get to sleep. There were far too many things rushing through my head for me to relax anytime soon.
I had pulled on my pyjamas and was lying awake in my bed – thinking about Sirius – when Lily came in to the bedroom suddenly and closed the door quickly behind her, her face the same colour as her hair. “Uh, Laura, you can keep a secret, right?”
“Of course,” I said, sitting up. “What’s up?”
She hesitated. “If I didn’t sleep in here tonight, you wouldn’t tell anyone, would you?”
I smiled, working out how long she and James had been together. Three months. It sounded about right. “Let me guess. James’ bed is big enough for two?”
She went even redder, if that was possible. “We don’t want anyone to know,” she said. “But I do love him, and it’s such a good opportunity …” Her voice trailed off while my mind was going at a million miles an hour. Had she just said she loved him? That was news to me, she’d not let that one slip in the dorm yet. Maybe it was a new thing, or maybe it was personal enough not to want to share. I could understand why she might feel like that so I decided not to mention it.
“Don’t worry,” I said before she died of embarrassment. “I won’t say a word. Just try to get back in here early enough in the morning in case anyone spots you on the way down to breakfast.”
She threw a very relieved look at me. “Thanks. We’ll be very discreet, I promise.” And she gathered up her dressing gown and some stray clothes and hurried out of the room, casting a quick look up and down the hallway before disappearing from view.
The next morning I woke up full of enthusiasm for what the day ahead might hold. I wasn’t due home till after lunch, having told my parents that it was customary to have a brunch the next day, and showered and dressed in record time so I could go and find Sirius.
Heading down the stairs, I heard the boys laughing together in the sitting room. Smiling a little, I made my way towards the sound.
“What you want, Wormtail,” I could hear James saying, “is someone like Padfoot’s exes. You know, tits and arse and not much else.”
“Not just tits and arse,” Peter protested. “They’ve also got –”
James cut him off. “Yeah, but they don’t let you near that, do they?”
Boys, I thought. I knew I shouldn’t have been surprised by this line of conversation. And, well, as far as Sirius’ history went, Martha had guessed as much. I liked to think that I was different, though, that this was different. Sirius had certainly given me that impression.
“Not Laura, though,” Remus said, confirming my thoughts. “She’s not quite like those other girls Padfoot went out with, is she?” I smiled as I reached the doorway and stood watching them, all facing towards the fire and unaware I was there.
Peter chimed in. “Yeah, not much by way of tits there.”
Oh. So that was how they saw me. Boys will be boys, though, I thought, bracing myself, though I decided to step out of sight until the discussion was over. I figured they probably wouldn’t want this sort of thing overheard.
“We have always said that,” James agreed. “She is somewhat lacking in that department.”
Sirius laughed. “Look, you all know my thoughts on that. But then, she makes up for it in other ways.”
I froze. Was that all I was? Another conquest – and a flat-chested one at that. (And part of me bristled at that – yes, they weren’t huge, but they weren’t tiny either. I liked to think I was in proportion.) And then, making up for it by what – shagging him? Was that what he was telling them? Trying to save face for having a girlfriend who didn’t even measure up to ‘tits and arse’? I didn’t know if I was more hurt or humiliated. And to think I had believed him when he’d whispered in my ear that this was different …
I moved to the doorway and cleared my throat. “Thanks for that, boys,” I said coldly. “It’s so nice to know how well I’m regarded.”
They all turned around, clearly horrified that I had overheard what they were saying. Sirius spoke first. “Laura!”
“I’ve heard enough,” I said, turning around to head back up the stairs.
He stood up and followed me. “What do you think I meant?” he asked. “Look, Laura, I think you’re making a mistake …”
Reaching the landing halfway up the stairs, I turned and faced him. “The only mistake I’ve made, Sirius, was trusting you in the first place. Now let me go and pack.”
He tried to get in front of me. “No. No, Laura, you’ve got it all wrong.”
I pushed past him and reached my door before turning to him again. “So that’s all this is to you? Tits and arse. Well, not even tits, by the sounds of things.”
“Of course not,” he said. “And if you’ll just let me explain …”
“What, so you can go back to your friends and say that you managed to sweet talk me around? I don’t think so.” I opened the door fiercely and stepped into the room before looking at him once more. “So that was the trade-off, was it? You act all gentleman-ly around me and say it’s due to respect and all that crap, when all the time you’re telling them that we’re shagging each other senseless. It’s not respect at all, is it? It’s more about bragging rights. And it’s not that you’re too good a person to feel me up, it’s because they’re so bloody small that it’s not worth your while. Need a search party, do you? Or should I do an Engorgement Charm on them, would that make them more appealing? At least then I would be ‘tits and arse and not much else’, instead of just being an arse for believing you in the first place!” And, without waiting for a response, I slammed the door in his face and magically locked it.
Furiously, I packed my bag as quickly as I could, not wanting to spend another minute in that house. I felt absolutely humiliated. This was much worse than the humiliation from the dance in fifth year, because this time I’d been stupid enough to think things were actually different. And Lily had perpetuated that myth – I’d have to think twice about whether she was really my friend any more, or just James’ girlfriend. Whose side was she on?
I could hear Sirius outside the room, thumping on the door and sounding furious himself. “Come on, Laura, just hear me out for Merlin’s sake! You’re jumping to conclusions!”
Once I’d packed, I opened the door again, obviously taking him by surprise by doing so. “About time you came to your senses,” he said, looking grateful that I appeared to be ready to listen to him.
“Yes, I’ve come to my senses,” I said coldly. “I’m leaving. Goodbye, Sirius.” And with that I Disapparated from the Potters’ house, appearing a moment later by Mum’s car in the lane outside the front gate. Not even looking back at the house, I got into the car, started the engine and drove away, barely even hearing Sirius’ voice call out from somewhere beyond the front gates, shouting my name.
Author’s note: Yeah, sorry about that. You’ll hate me even more when I tell you that I wasn’t even going to put that scene in here, but having thought long and hard about it I decided that yes, I would include it, and that this was the best spot. *casts a Shield Charm to protect her from all the foodstuffs about to be hurled her way*
Oh, and I'll put the language warning up again ... if you're going to review this chapter, please don't mention tits or arse as they're not considered to fall under the category of 12+ language. I'm sure you'll be able to come up with an all-ages alternative if you feel the need to refer to them. Thank you!
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