Chapter 42 : Back to school
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“Is that you, Laura?” Mum called out as I let myself inside.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I said, hoping to be able to disappear upstairs before she saw me.
“You’re home early,” she said, poking her head around the corner and seeing my face. “Oh, Laura, what’s wrong?”
If you’ve ever had someone ask you that question when you’re trying to hold everything in, you’ll know that it causes you to break down completely. In this case I just dropped my bag and burst into tears, and she rushed over to give me a hug.
“Careful,” came Dad’s voice. “We should make sure it’s actually her.”
“It’s her,” Mum said reproachfully over my shoulder as I cried into her. “You think I don’t know my own daughter? And she’d never be able to answer any questions when she’s in this state, anyway.”
Dad conceded defeat, and once I’d calmed down a little Mum managed to coax a little bit of information out of me.
“I was made a fool of,” I explained, hiccoughing uncomfortably. “I trusted someone I shouldn’t have and it backfired.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
Definitely not, I thought. Instead I just shook my head.
“That’s fine,” she said, “whenever you’re ready. There’s a letter here for you, too,” she went on. “Is that anything to do with it?”
I shook my head again – it was easier to lie when I wasn’t talking. “I’d better go upstairs and answer it.”
Or, I thought, I’ll go upstairs, burst into tears again, and then send the letter back unopened. I knew that I didn’t want to know what he had to say, it was too soon and too painful. To think you believed him, a voice inside my head chastised me. You should have known it was too good to be true.
I gestured to the owl to follow me upstairs. Once in my room with the door shut, I pulled off my new bracelet and daffodil clasp, wrapped them in a bit of parchment and tied them to the owl’s other leg. “Take this and the letter back again,” I told it. “And don’t bother coming back, I don’t want an answer.” Whether it understood me I had no idea, but once I opened my window it flew off anyway, probably back to James’ house.
The next week was torture. I’d written to Mary to explain what had happened, and while she was sympathetic she had her own new relationship that was occupying her attention, and I didn’t want to depress her with my problems. Charlotte would probably have understood, but while we were much closer than we had been, we still weren’t really close enough for me to pour my heart out in a letter to her. And Sirius, well …
He hadn’t even tried to follow me.
This fact tore at me more than anything else. I’d kept an eye on my rear vision mirror as I drove away from James’ house, hoping against hope that he would try to coax me back, that the black motorbike would appear from nowhere and try to make me stop. But all I’d seen was a dog, probably a stray, which seemed to like the challenge of chasing the one car on the roads that early on New Year’s Day. Eventually, as I neared the motorway, even that had given up, its large black shape slowly disappearing behind me as I drove north.
Shows how much you really meant to him, that annoying voice in the back of my mind kept pointing out. If he’d really cared, he would have tried to stop you from leaving. He would have tried to get you to come back. And I knew that was true, because that was what I would have done if the tables were turned. I would have tried anything I could think of to get him to change his mind. But all he did was write a short note – I knew it was short due to the size of the parchment attached to the Potters’ owl’s leg – and leave it at that.
Right, so perhaps that wasn’t fair. There had probably been a dozen letters in the week between the party and school going back, but I hadn’t read any of them; they’d all been sent back, unopened. Cerridwyn was probably sick of the journeys to Somerset and London by now, but whatever he had to say could wait. I probably couldn’t have read his letters, anyway – my tears would have bled the ink across the page before I could have gotten through it. The trouble was that it had all felt so real – more real than anything else in my life – and I was having difficulty coming to terms with the fact that it wasn’t.
My parents, of course, realised something was wrong, but they weren’t very successful in getting any answers out of me, even with Mum at her police-officer best.
“Laura, is this about a boy?” she asked gently one night when she came into my room. “Is that why you’re not talking about it?”
“I’m not allowed to have boyfriends this year,” I said automatically, not looking at her. “I know the rules.”
“Something happened at that party,” Mum said, ignoring my answer. “You were unusually happy before it, and you’re unusually upset now, and all you’ve said is that you trusted someone you shouldn’t have. It looks to me like a broken heart.”
Well, that was uncomfortably accurate. When did she get so perceptive? “I’m fine,” I said stiffly. “I’ll be fine. I’d just rather be alone.”
“Hmm,” she said doubtfully. “I’ll bring a cup of tea up then, shall I?”
“Fine,” I agreed. “Now I need to get this homework done.” I looked pointedly at her and she left the room, closing the door gently behind her.
“Laura, can I have a word please?”
I looked up with dread as the train compartment door opened, but it wasn’t Sirius. It was, however, Remus, and I wasn’t sure how prepared I was for this conversation.
“Yeah, all right,” I heard myself saying. Might as well get it over with. Getting out of my seat and following him, I found myself in the roomy bit at the end of the carriage. “What is it?” I asked, trying to summon enough energy to sound interested.
“Padfoot,” he said seriously. “Look, Laura, what happened? All we know is that you left in a huff, and he hasn’t said anything except that he was a stupid idiot for letting you jump to conclusions, and you dumped him.”
“Like he cares,” I said bitterly. “He made it clear that it wasn’t that important to him, anyway.”
“You’re kidding,” Remus said.
“I’m not,” I said. “Like I said, he made it clear.”
“He can’t have,” he protested. “I know Sirius, and there’s no way known he would have done that. And he’s downright depressed at the moment, he’s taking it really badly.”
“Right,” I said. “Whatever. All I know is that I was a fool to believe him and I’m better off how I was before.” And I turned away from him and went back to my compartment, pulling the blinds down as I got inside.
“What did he want?” Charlotte asked. She looked a little strained, and I realised that Remus talking to me like that wouldn’t have been easy for her. I certainly wouldn’t have been comfortable if Sirius had stuck his nose in looking for a word with her.
“To talk about Sirius,” I said shortly. “Which should explain why it was a very short conversation.”
I was sitting with Charlotte and Martha, Lily being busy with Head Girl duties and James, and Mary spending her time with Sebastian. I didn’t blame her for that – if Sirius and I were still together, I would have done the same thing, and the last thing she needed was me dragging her down with my tales of woe – and the other girls were perfectly happy to hold my hand for the duration of the train journey.
Martha kept trying to cheer us up by badmouthing both Sirius and Remus, trying to get us to say how awful they were (and in the process let off some steam), but she was met with a stony silence on both sides. I was heartbroken, yes, but I couldn’t bring myself to speak badly of him to other people, not even my fellow exes. Instead, we concentrated on the food we’d bought from the trolley witch, the passing landscape, and homework – just about anything that wasn’t male.
I couldn’t escape the gossip, though. Because Sirius and I had appeared separately on the platform, had occupied different carriages, and didn’t speak on arrival, it was impossible to ignore the whispers. “I knew it wouldn’t last” … “The amortentia wore off, did it?” … “I see he came to his senses …”
“Ignore them,” Charlotte said steadily as she helped me to the Gryffindor table at supper that night, sounding uncomfortably like Sirius had done before the holidays. “It’ll stop soon enough.”
“Whatever,” I said dully. I was having difficulty putting any effort into anything at all, and seeing Sirius at the same table didn’t help. He looked hopefully at me as I sat down, as though I might have been willing to hear him out, but I wasn’t ready to face him yet and turned away, and he moved onto ignoring me after that. He looked a little different – paler than usual, perhaps, with a bit of a closed look to his face – but he was still Sirius and having him there at all tore at my heart. I didn’t like the constant reminder of what I’d lost.
I barely ate that night. In fact, I barely ate all week. Lily cast a few Cheering Charms on me but even those didn’t have the desired effect, instead wearing off after quarter of an hour or so, though that may have had something to do with the fact that I still wasn’t sure how much I trusted her. In any case, just getting to classes at all was a huge effort and I struggled to get my homework done, something which didn’t go down very well with Professor Flitwick.
“Not at all to your usual standard, Miss Cauldwell,” he said as he handed back a particularly bad Charms essay. “You seem to be losing your flair.”
“Yes, Professor,” I said automatically. “I’m sure it will come back eventually.”
“For your sake, I hope it’s before final exams,” he said kindly, and moved on to the next student. I realised dully that Dad had been right after all – distractions during NEWTs were a bad idea. Boyfriends especially.
As Flitwick left I turned to look at Sirius, hoping that he didn’t realise he was the reason for everything, but from the look on his face I wasn’t convinced he was taking anything in at all. His head was turned towards me, but he looked so blank that for a split second I considered waving a hand in front of his face to see if there would be any reaction. At least, I realised, he wasn’t getting any satisfaction from my despair. In that one sense, I was probably one up on Dione Turpin.
Martha wasn’t really helping, either, though she probably didn’t know she was doing it. In her case, it was more a matter of not thinking.
“What’s wrong with Sirius?” she asked as she came into the dorm one night, joining Lily and me in the room. Mary was out with Sebastian somewhere, and Charlotte was finishing off some Divination homework.
Lily glared at her and put a finger to her lips, pointing at me. “You know that, Martha.”
“Oh.” Martha shrugged as she flung her bag onto her bed. “Really, though? He’s like this over a break-up?”
“He’s like this over this break-up,” Lily said quietly, clearly trying to wordlessly get Martha to understand that, with me there, the dorm wasn’t the place to be discussing this.
“It’s all right,” I muttered. “You can talk about it. I have to get used to it anyway.”
“I must say I’m amazed,” Martha went on. “I thought he must’ve been disinherited again or something, he’s really clammed up like he did in fifth year when he left home.”
Her words made me realise that I hadn’t heard him talking that term at all. He’d come towards me on the train platform as though he wanted to say something, but I’d turned my back on him and concentrated on talking to Mum and Dad, and he’d backed off, and then there was the attempt at contact on the first night at supper. And that was it. I hadn’t noticed any interactions with anyone else at all, not even James. As the week wore on he’d even stopped looking after himself – more often than not hair not combed, face unshaven, robes dirty or haphazardly thrown on. It was like he had shut himself down, like he just didn’t care any more.
“Well, he’s upset,” Lily said.
“Hmmm.” Martha looked at me. “How long were you together again?”
“About a fortnight,” I said. “Two weeks on, two weeks off, so to speak.” Together for a fortnight, broken up for a fortnight. And it still hurt like nothing else. I hated that he had this strong a hold on me, it just showed how stupid I’d been for getting that attached to him in the first place.
“Right.” Martha looked thoughtful before turning to Lily again. “You know, Lils, I think you might have been right. He did fall for someone.” She shook her head. “Too bad for him that it didn’t work out, hey?”
“He’ll get over it,” I said bitterly. “It’s all an act. He didn’t really care, not that much. He made that perfectly clear.”
“Are you sure about that?” Lily asked gently. “Are you sure that this whole thing isn’t just one big misunderstanding?”
“Oh yes, Lily,” I shot back icily. “I’m sure. You can depend on that.”
My week improved a little on Friday when Bernie Carmichael approached me after Ancient Runes. “Um, Laura, can I have a word please?” he asked.
“What?” I was so immersed in my own little world that I’d forgotten that other people even existed. “Oh, yeah. Sure.”
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Look, by all means tell me if I’m being too forward here, but I noticed that you and Black seem to have broken up.”
“Big call, that one,” I said dully. “Yeah, we did.”
“So,” he said a little hesitantly, “I just wondered if, when you’re a bit more over it all, whether you might consider, uh, me?”
I stopped dead. “You’re asking me out?”
He looked nervously at me. “Well, yeah, if that’s okay. But only when you’re ready,” he added quickly, as though I’d looked like I was about to curse him. (And quite possibly I did. I felt like cursing people all the time that week. It was nothing personal against Bernie.)
I considered his offer. He was nice enough, as I’d noted before the Yule Ball when I’d ditched him so unceremoniously. I felt horrible about that now – if I’d known how the thing with Sirius would end up, I would never have done that in the first place. This was my chance to make it up to him, and it would be a relief to think about someone else for a change.
“Thanks, Bernie,” I said with a smile that I didn’t even have to fake. “I’d like that.”
He beamed at me. “That’s great,” he said enthusiastically. “Maybe we could start sitting together in Runes, you know, just get to know each other a bit better. What do you think?”
“Sounds great,” I said, even finding a little enthusiasm. That would mean I didn’t have to sit with Remus – it was like killing two birds with one curse.
Remus, however, seemed to have other ideas. “I heard you and Bernie,” he said quietly as we made our way along the Gryffindor table for lunch. “Look, Laura, I might be completely out of line here, but I think that you and Sirius should try to work things out before you start thinking about seeing other people. You’re both miserable and, frankly, you’re pining for each other.”
I turned to him angrily. “And what would you know, Remus?” I spat. “How do you know what I’m feeling? It’s my life and if I want to go out with Bernie Carmichael, I’ll bloody well do it.”
“Well, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, then,” he said coolly, not blanching from my attack on him. “If it’s just to get back at Padfoot, or to try to get over him, then that’s not really fair on Bernie. Just keep that in mind.”
“Right, I’ll do that,” I said. “Now, if you’ve finished sticking your nose in other people’s business, I’d like to have some lunch.”
Or rather, I thought, I’d like to sit alone at the Gryffindor table, ignoring everyone around me and nibbling at a piece of bread. Because that was all I did at mealtimes these days. My appetite still hadn’t come back – in fact, the dinner at the Potters’ on New Years Eve was probably the last time I’d eaten properly. Mary had stolen into the kitchens a couple of times to try to tempt me with chocolate, but even that wasn’t working. At this rate, I’d waste away to nothing before my birthday.
After lunch it was Lily’s turn to try to talk me around. “I heard you’re thinking of going out with Bernie Carmichael,” she said as we headed up the stairs towards Gryffindor Tower.
“Remus been telling stories, has he,” I said bitterly. “Nice of him.”
She grabbed my arm firmly. “Laura, please talk to Sirius first,” she urged. “This is killing both of you. I’m sure if you just talked it over you could work things out.”
“Really,” I said. “Well, you think that if it makes you happy.”
“Now you’re sounding like him,” she said. “Look, Laura, he’s really suffering. James thinks he’s coping with this worse than he did when he had to leave home, he’s never seen him this down.”
“So you just want him to get over it, is that it?” I asked angrily. “More concerned about him than you are about me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snapped. “I’m just as worried about you. I was just about to say that you’re not doing any better: don’t think we haven’t heard you crying yourself to sleep every night, those Muffliatos you’ve been doing haven’t worked. And no one’s been able to get a coherent sentence out of you all week – not one that’s not bitter and, well, venomous.”
“Oh, so you just want me to be better company?” I snapped, trying to keep the bitterness from my voice in deference to her last remark.
“You’re being ridiculous again,” she said. “I saw how happy you were. Both of you. No one could fake what you two had. I was so happy for both of you, and now, for heaven only knows what reason, you’re both miserable.” She paused. “And, well, I know this is selfish of me, but I want James back.”
“I bet you do,” I muttered cynically. “It’s all about you, isn’t it?” Then I realised what she’d actually said. “What do you mean, you want James back?”
Lily sighed. “Ever since you left on New Years Day, James has been concentrating on Sirius, trying to get him either over this, or back with you. I’m lucky if I get a fifth of his time these days, it’s all Sirius. And, to be honest, I miss him. I love that he’s the sort of person who does this for his friends, but I want it back how it was.” She sighed again. “I know it’s selfish, but please, if you won’t do it for your own sake or for his, do it for me? Just talk to Sirius? Please?”
“Why should I do it for you?” I asked. “You’re obviously on Sirius’ side, not mine. Why do I owe you anything?”
“I’m not on anyone’s side,” she said impatiently. “I don’t think it’s a matter of sides, Laura. I think that once you sit down and talk it over, you’ll make up.”
“Yeah, whatever,” I said tonelessly, though I wasn’t so bitter any more. To be honest, I hadn’t considered how this might be affecting Lily and James’ relationship, and I was feeling somewhat guilty for driving them apart like that. No matter what I thought of Lily just then, I didn’t want to break them up.
“You will, I’m sure of it,” she said, steering me into an empty classroom on the fifth floor and sitting me at a dusty table. “I haven’t had a chance to mention this before, but I think you should know what Mrs Potter said over the holidays. It might help sway your decision.”
I looked at her, surprised, as she perched on a nearby chair. “Mrs Potter? What’s she got to do with anything?”
“She was trying to get me to dish the dirt on you,” Lily said smugly.
I stared at her. “She what?”
“You heard,” she said. “She wanted information, and she decided I was the one to give it. You should have heard her talking about you,” she went on. “She was amazed at Sirius’ behaviour. Apparently Clio went to last year’s party and he hardly spoke to her, and so if you compare that to this year …” Her voice trailed off.
“I don’t know,” I said. “James would say he hardly spoke to me this year. Well, until the morning, he didn’t.”
She giggled. “You know that’s not what I meant!”
“What was she saying?” I couldn’t help myself. Mrs Potter was the closest thing Sirius had to a mother, at least one who cared about him, and even if it hadn’t worked out between us I wanted to know what she’d thought.
Lily smiled mischievously, clearly relieved that I was willing to hear her out. “Well, Mrs Potter’s a sly one, I’m discovering,” she began. “She’s got this great façade of being the friendly motherly type, but she’s pretty shrewd underneath. She tried to trick me into saying bad things about you.”
I was stunned. “Really?”
She nodded. “I don’t think she really thought there was anything bad to say, but if there was she wanted to get it out of me. I think she wanted to make sure you were good enough for Sirius. Now,” she went on, “I don’t know if this is her usual behaviour or not. She might have tried to get dirt on Clio last year, or she might not have. To be honest, I got the feeling she didn’t. I think this was prompted by the way he was around you.”
“Right.” I paused, distracted enough from my problems to think about this. What could possibly have come out?
“Anyway,” Lily went on, “she just started out with, ‘tell me about Laura’. Nothing about you and Sirius, just about you. So I told her that we’d shared a dorm for seven years and you came from a half Muggle half wizarding household, that sort of background stuff. Born in Wales, lives in Bristol, big Quidditch nut, you know the type of thing. And I told her that for a long time I didn’t really know you that well, but in the past couple of years you’d really blossomed. And I said you were really smart and a lot of fun to be around.”
She paused and I took the opportunity to interrupt. “Thanks, Lily.”
“No problem,” she smiled. “Of course, that was before you and Sirius broke up, so you were fun to be around then. Anyway, Mrs Potter then started asking about previous boyfriends, really subtly though. I think she was trying to get a feel for how you were going to treat Sirius. Like I said, this was before the fight, obviously. Anyway, I told her about Bertram and what he’d done, and I said that you were really hurt by it but you showed a lot of strength and dignity in dealing with it.” She paused when I snorted in disbelief.
“You call bawling my eyes out after I found out, dignity?”
She laughed. “Of course not, but that was in private. In public you were very dignified. Even James thought so.”
That surprised me. “Really?”
“Yep,” she nodded. “And if James thought that, then Sirius probably did too. Anyway, I told her you had a heart of gold and wouldn’t hurt anyone without a really good reason.” She paused. “Look, Laura, I don’t really know what happened with Sirius, and I’m sure you think you were justified. But I do know that you haven’t heard his side of whatever it is, so just maybe there are things in the background that you don’t know about. This is why I want you to talk to him – at least hear him out.”
“Right,” I said stiffly, unhappy at being returned to a reality where Sirius and I would never work out. “But you’ve changed the subject. Are you done with the Mrs Potter thing?”
Lily clearly saw that she was stepping very close to the mark and backed off. “Right. Mrs Potter. Like I said, you only hurt people if you really think they deserve it. So then she asked about things you’d done to people you thought did deserve it.”
“I can see why you’re calling her sly,” I admitted, my mind going back over everything I’d done to people over the years and wondering what Mrs Potter had thought about it.
She smiled broadly and nodded. “Yep. Anyway I said that it was mostly pretty harmless stuff, and mostly things your sister had taught you. I loved that one where you joined Gibbon’s knees together, by the way – that was a scream.” She paused, still grinning. “I think you passed, though,” she said. “I told her that I thought you and Sirius were a perfect match.” She paused significantly. “And I still think that, no matter what you think at the moment,” she said pointedly. “You just need to give it a chance.”
“Right,” I said again. “You just go on thinking that.”
She made a face. “You’re sounding like him again,” she said. “And you’re still thinking about him, too, aren’t you?”
“Does it matter?” I asked bitterly.
“It might,” she said. I just looked at her. “Right, back to Mrs Potter,” she said quickly. “I was there on Boxing Day, as you know,” she went on, “and she’d heard your name a lot by then even so that was why she was so curious about you. You should have seen Sirius’ face when he was talking about you, it was a bit like a prior warning of how he was going to behave once you did arrive. ’Cause you’d seen each other just before Christmas, right?”
I nodded, trying not to remember how wonderful that day had been. “Two days before, on the Friday.”
She smiled. “Yes, that was it. Anyway, when I was talking to her on New Years Eve she said, ‘I’ve never seen him like this. He hasn’t let go of her since she got here’, or something like that. Which was true, it was like he was scared you were going to get away. Or that you were a dream and if he let go you’d disappear. So I explained that he’d been crazy about you for months so of course he’d look like all his Christmases had come at once. And then I said that you were just as crazy about him. She seemed happy with that.”
I sat in silence for a little while, trying to take it all in. “So, what happened after I left?” I asked.
“The whole place was in uproar,” she said quietly. “Sirius was running off down the lane trying to catch up with the car, and when that didn’t work he came back and wrote to you to try to get you to come back. And then their owl brought the letter back unopened, with another parcel … he was devastated. What was in that parcel, anyway?”
“Gifts,” I said, somewhat surprised she didn’t know. “I didn’t want the reminder.”
She looked shocked. “That bracelet? You sent that back? But you loved it!”
“That, and the clasp I got for my birthday last year,” I said. “That was him, too.”
“Well, that would explain it,” she said, shaking her head. “He locked himself up in his room and didn’t come out again all day. When he did, he just got straight onto the bike and left without saying goodbye to anyone. James was terrified he was going to do something stupid like pick a fight with some Death Eaters, so he Disapparated to London to wait for him there. I’ve barely seen him since, to be honest.”
“I’m sorry, Lily,” I said guiltily. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble for you two.”
“I know you didn’t,” she said, coming over and giving me a hug. “So, will you talk to him? Please?”
I knew when I was defeated. “Yeah, why not,” I said dully. “Not that it’ll make any difference.”
“You never know,” she said quietly. “Wait here, okay? I’ll go and get him.”
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