Chapter 44 : Confrontations
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“Okay, tell us how you did it,” Elvira said accusingly, taking the seat next to me. I was a little surprised as I understood she took Muggle Studies too, but maybe she was willing to risk the ire of Professor Penrose by being late.
I decided to play dumb. “Did what?”
“Got your slimy paws on Sirius, of course,” she snarled. “And I thought you were my friend! How could you do that to me?”
I laughed. “For one thing, Elvira, I would never have called us friends. Friends hang out at lunch time and go to Hogsmeade together and catch up over the holidays. That was never us.”
“But what did you do? Was it a love potion? ’Cause we tried that and it didn’t work.”
This was news to me but I wasn’t exactly surprised. Sirius would have to be really thick to eat or drink anything any of this lot gave him. However, it did give me something to work with.
“That’s right,” I said. “I stole some amortentia from Slughorn and fed it to him. Unfortunately it ran out over Christmas, though, and I’ve only just got my supplies up again.”
From the looks on their faces they actually believed me. “How much did you use?” Greta asked.
I had no idea how much amortentia would be needed to get someone interested in you, and unlike Elvira, Greta did NEWT level Potions so I’d have to be convincing. “Half a tablespoon,” I invented.
“So, was it worth it?” Greta demanded. “What’s it like?”
Well, if the fact that I couldn’t stop smiling didn’t give it away, then she and Elvira weren’t as smart as I’d previously given them credit for. Then again, there are none so blind as those who will not see, as my mother would say. “Definitely worth it,” I said dreamily, my mind going back just half an hour to the free period Sirius and I had spent together. “It’s amazing.”
Anyway, I might have been laying it on a bit thick because Elvira was looking suspicious. “Why are you telling us all this?” she demanded. “What if it gets back to him?”
This brought me back to earth a bit, though nothing had been said that offered me any unease. After all, before we got together I hadn’t given Sirius even so much as a breath mint, so I wasn’t overly worried even if they did tell him. “Tell him what you like,” I said. “You think he’d believe you anyway?”
“She’s got a point,” said a sixth-year I knew was in Gryffindor, though I’d not heard her speak before. “He wouldn’t listen to us.”
“She’s lying anyway,” said Elvira, eyeing me shrewdly, and I was reminded suddenly that she was a Ravenclaw. “You never gave him any love potion, did you?”
I grinned. “I admit it,” I said. “Caught out again. How did you guess?”
She didn’t answer, returning instead to her favourite theme. “So how did you do it? What do you have that we don’t?”
Again I refrained from giving the obvious answer – “Sirius” – and instead smiled a somewhat vicious smile. “Well, Elvira,” I said sweetly, “remember how I once suggested you not throw yourself at him but rather just be yourself, be a person who’s nice to be around, and see if it works?”
She blanched a little. “Vaguely. What about it?”
I kept smiling. “Well, guess what? It works.”
I got the distinct feeling after that little episode that my previously friendly, or at least cordial, relationship with Elvira was well and truly over. This impression was solidified that very afternoon, when Greta obviously decided I was a deserving target during our Potions lesson.
The seating arrangements in the dungeon had changed yet again, with me moving to Sirius, Lily and James’ table, and Remus taking my spot with Charlotte and the two Hufflepuffs. I was sure Charlotte was just as pleased with the rearrangement as I was, though Remus appeared a little uncomfortable. Slughorn, for his part, didn’t appear to detect that any had alteration taken place, but then again neither Remus nor I were in the Slug Club so we were beneath his notice, so to speak.
In fact, the only ones who paid any attention to the change at all were Leda Madley, who glared at me as I went to the table at the back of the room, and Greta, who looked furious and would occasionally send a hex my way from her position on our left. A simple Shield Charm was generally enough to put a stop to her antics, however, so it was very unusual that anything came of them.
“That’s it, ignore her,” Sirius said quietly, a jinx hitting the invisible shield as we worked together on the day’s assignment. “She’ll get tired of it before too long.”
“Aww,” I complained. “Can’t I turn her fingers into asparagus spears? Just this once? Please?” I checked quickly to see if Slughorn was nearby, but he was paying little attention to us as he explained something to Scylla Pritchard at the Slytherin table.
Sirius grinned. “Tempting,” he admitted. “But maybe you should wait until class is over. I don’t want you getting a detention.”
“But that ruins all the fun,” I pointed out, shaking my head. “Not much point taking control of her fingers away after we’ve left Potions.”
He laughed, almost slicing his hand open as he cut our valerian roots into smaller portions. “You’ve got me there,” he said. “But what happened to the girl who told me she never did anything wrong?”
I looked at him, surprised. “When did I say that?”
“That night you got me out of a detention when we were coming back from Quidditch practice,” he explained. “When Filch caught us out after curfew.”
“Oh, that,” I said, remembering. “If you recall, what I actually said was, no one ever thinks I’m doing anything wrong. Big difference.” I smiled as I sorted the frozen ashwinder eggs that Lily had brought back from the stores cupboard into four piles.
He put down his silver knife and snuck a quick kiss onto my forehead, his eyes flicking to where Professor Slughorn was still engrossed with Pritchard. “Of course, how could I forget?”
“By the way,” I said as something occurred to me, “was that a set-up? The whole I-must-be-escorted-to-and-from-the-Quidditch-pitch thing?”
Sirius laughed. “Of course it was. It’s taken you this long to work it out?” He grinned broadly. “Though Prongs was most disappointed I didn’t make the most of it, weren’t you, mate?” he went on, clapping James on the shoulder.
James, clearly suppressing a smile, shook his head as he dropped the frozen eggs into his cauldron. “I gave him every opportunity I could think of and he kept chickening out. Tell you what, Laura, I never realised Padfoot could be so gutless.”
Lily looked up from her potion and nodded. “Like I said, last term we were that close to locking you two in a broom cupboard. Never have two people been alone so much and never done anything.”
I laughed. “I think you probably need to work on your matchmaking skills,” I said, dropping a scoopful of Flobberworms into my cauldron. “In the end we had to work it out for ourselves.”
James raised his eyebrows, though his hazel eyes were sparkling behind his glasses. “Like hell you did. Padfoot would still be drooling from a distance if I hadn’t physically pushed him towards you at the ball.”
Sirius looked unimpressed. “I was already going, you didn’t have to push me!”
“Yes, of course you were,” James said placatingly. “We know what we saw, don’t we, Lils?” Grinning broadly, he turned back to his potion and began stirring it anticlockwise.
Lily grinned too. “Yes, and it looked a lot like hesitation from where I was.”
“I was going, all right?” Sirius was definitely not happy with the way the conversation was going so I decided to rescue him.
“I believe you,” I said, looking at him fondly. “And I’m going to change the subject and go back to hexing Greta.” We all turned our heads just in time to see another of her jinxes deflect off the shield that Sirius had erected, and I looked at him. “Am I allowed to do the asparagus thing?”
He paused as though thinking about it. “How about, if she manages to shatter the shield, she’s fair game. Do what you like.” I smiled as he dropped two dried Billywig stings into his cauldron and then mine, and then gave me a quick hug.
Of course, Greta didn’t shatter the shield – she may have been good at Charms but Sirius was brilliant at Defence, and I thought even a fully qualified Death Eater would probably have trouble shattering his Shield Charm. As a result she made it out of Potions hex-free, though if she kept up her attacks on me I couldn’t guarantee how long she would remain so. Even if I didn’t lose it first and retaliate, she could well end up with Sirius to deal with, and I wouldn’t have wished that on anyone.
The seating arrangements also changed in Defence, Charms, Transfiguration, and even Herbology as we made the most of every opportunity to be together, even if it was just sharing a desk during lessons. This made things a little awkward sometimes as Remus and Peter occasionally found themselves on the outer, but to their credit neither of them complained or even looked put out by the changes. (Actually, I suspected they were so relieved to have the old Sirius back that they were happy to put up with anything.) Equally Mary, Martha and Charlotte were unperturbed, Mary choosing to sit with Sebastian when he was in our classes, and Martha and Charlotte partnering each other, all insisting that I should take my time to feel my way into this new relationship.
And feel my way in I did, in more ways than one. Quite frankly, Sirius as a boyfriend was a lot more touchy-feely than I had anticipated. I’d seen him with previous girlfriends and there hadn’t seemed to be much in the way of public displays, but now he was always there, holding my hand or with an arm around my waist or shoulders, kissing me at mealtimes in full view of everyone. Quick pecks, that is, not a full snog, but still not what I had been expecting. Occasionally when we were doing homework together he would grab my hand and kiss it, as though without thinking, and without pausing in whatever he was writing. A nd even in class he would sit as close as possible to me so that our chairs were touching. I didn’t mind – in fact, I found it rather endearing and definitely reassuring – but it was still a little surprising.
Martha had noticed it too. “He’s different with you,” she said that night in the dorm. “He won’t let go of you: it’s like he’s stamping his name on you, marking his territory so no one else dares come close.”
I laughed. “You make him sound like a dog!”
She shrugged and Lily looked like she was trying not to laugh as well. “Yeah, okay, maybe that was unfair,” Martha acknowledged. “But it is different. With the rest of us, he didn’t give a toss whether we stayed or went. But with you, if you go, he’ll follow. It’s almost like he’s worried that if he lets go of you, you might disappear again.”
Lily smiled. “No, it’s just that he thinks that time apart is time wasted. And I can understand that,” she said, a bit of a dreamy look on her face. “James is the same.”
Martha shook her head. “No, not even James is this bad,” she said before appearing to reconsider. “Or maybe he was, at the start, but he’s not any more.”
“Well then, give us a couple of months and Sirius will most probably back off too,” I pointed out.
She shrugged again. “Maybe. Like I said, he’s different with you. He may not back off at all.”
Charlotte giggled. “Well, Martha, you did say that he was falling hard. This is just the proof.”
Martha nodded. “Yeah, I think it might be.” She grinned suddenly, looking at me. “And don’t take this the wrong way, Laura, but I never thought it would be you he fell for.”
I grinned too. “If that’s what it is, of course.” Because no matter what they said, I still wasn’t convinced that was in fact what was happening.
Lily snorted and even Martha looked dubious. “Okay, I’ll admit, it’s just possible that it is,” I went on, trying not to sound ungracious and playing to their theory. “And if that’s the case, don’t worry, Martha. Neither did I.”
The following day, Sirius and I both had a break in the last period and so absconded to an empty classroom on the fifth floor for some time alone, a hot air charm around us in an attempt to block out the icy wind that insisted on coming through the cracks around the ancient windows. Unfortunately our rendezvous was interrupted when my Imperturbable Charm was broken, and the door opened to reveal Professor McGonagall. She did a bit of a double take as she took in the sight of Sirius on an old chair and me on his lap, facing him, having obviously just been interrupted mid-snog.
“Mr Black, Miss Cauldwell, you are well aware that is not appropriate behaviour,” she said, her eyebrows hovering somewhere near her hairline, though I got the impression she was trying not to smile. “I expect better conduct from students in my House.” She paused, looking at us over her glasses, and dropped her voice slightly. “You would also do well to remember that Imperturbable Charms are by no means foolproof.”
We got sheepishly to our feet. “Sorry, Professor,” we mumbled pretty much in unison, grabbing our school bags from a nearby desk.
She stood by the open door and waited until we had passed her, the ghost of a smile now definitely on her lips. I even thought I heard her mutter, “Good choice, Black,” as we made our way into the corridor.
I looked up at him as we headed downstairs to somewhere a bit warmer. “Did she just say what I thought she said?”
He smiled, his arm around my shoulder. “You know, I think she did,” he agreed. “Seems old Minerva approves of you. Who’d have thought it?”
I never got a chance to respond, though: as we rounded a corner we found ourselves face to face with Regulus Black. I’d seen him around but had never spoken to him; however, from the look on his face as he surveyed me it was evident that this wasn’t to be a friendly family reunion.
Sirius must have seen his brother’s expression but opted to ignore it. “Reg! What are you doing up here? Have you met Laura?”
“So it’s true then,” Regulus said, not answering the questions and looking at Sirius and then me with obvious distaste. “You’ve hooked up with her.”
“And what if I have?” The cheerful tone in Sirius’ voice disappeared with alarming speed and his arm dropped from my shoulder as he looked threateningly at his brother, his hand going inside his robes where he kept his wand.
Regulus sneered. “I’ve looked up to you for years,” he said. “Years. I believed some of that stuff you said. Even when you got Sorted into Gryffindor, I defended you to Mum and Dad. I’ve disobeyed orders to talk to you, defended you to people in Slytherin. But this time you’ve gone too far. I can’t accept this.” He paused. “She’s a Muggle, for Merlin’s sake. A Muggle.”
“Actually,” Sirius said coldly, “she’s only half Muggle. You might want to get your facts straight. Not that it makes any difference anyway. She’s amazing, no matter who or what her parents are. And that’s what my point has been all along. A person is more than just their parents’ bloodline.” He put his arm protectively back around my shoulders.
“Her bloodline makes all the difference in the world,” Regulus said, just as coldly. “I’m sorry, but I can’t defend you any more. It’s her or me.”
My heart stopped in my chest. What if blood won out? He was fond of his brother, he wouldn’t want to lose him entirely, no matter what he’d said about me. I braced myself for the blow.
Sirius’ eyes had narrowed. “If that’s what you want,” he said. “I choose her.” I breathed out again, trying to hide my shock and relief. Did he just choose me over his own family?
Regulus looked at me with obvious disgust. “If that’s your choice,” he spat, his steel-grey eyes turning back to his brother. “But you’ve been warned. Even you must see she’s a target.”
Sirius’ face was stony. “Is that supposed to be a threat?” he asked, his voice colder than ice. “Because if you hurt her … well, you know what I’m capable of. And I won’t think twice, even if it’s you.”
Regulus sneered. “This is one step too far,” he went on as though he hadn’t been interrupted. “I can no longer call you my brother.” And he turned his back on us and walked off.
Sirius stood there and watched his brother leave. “You know, I thought he’d turn out all right,” he said eventually. “I thought he’d see sense in the end. He must be softer than I’d thought. Just goes to show, doesn’t it.”
I gave him a quick hug in what I hoped was a reassuring way. “It’s not your fault,” I said. “You did try.”
He turned to me abruptly. “Don’t take anything he said to heart,” he said, giving my forehead a quick kiss. “It wasn’t personal. It can’t be, he doesn’t know anything about you. Which I think he just proved.”
I was astonished at his reaction. He was worried about how I was feeling? “That’s not what was bothering me,” I said honestly.
He looked surprised. “Then what’s wrong?”
“I was more concerned about you,” I said. “Your brother, who you did still talk to, has just disowned you.”
He flashed a smile at me. “He’ll come round eventually,” he said, contradicting his earlier assessment of Regulus’ behaviour. Sirius Black, the eternal optimist. “It’s in there somewhere, only in Slytherin they don’t exactly encourage people to be open minded. So it’ll just take a bit longer than I’d hoped. Anyway,” he went on, changing the subject, “it’s nearly supper time, so we’d better get a move on if we don’t want to miss that.” And he dropped his arm from my shoulder and grabbed my hand instead, leading me downstairs to the Great Hall.
Overall, things with Sirius were progressing very nicely, as Mary discovered later that week when she waylaid me in the dorm. She had followed me up the stairs when I went up to drop my bag off before supper and, smiling slyly, fixed her eyes on me. “So, hoo’s it all goin’?” she asked. “Wi’ Sirius, I mean.”
“Better,” I said, sitting on my bed and grinning at her. It felt like eons had passed since we’d last had a good talk. “I’ve had to learn to ignore any doubts I might have because, like he said, if I don’t trust him it’s not going to work out. And I do trust him, deep down I do. So I’m just trying not to let anything bother me.”
“An’ does it?” she asked sitting down next to me. “Bother ye, tha’ is.”
“Sometimes,” I admitted. “But I’m getting better at it. I saw some tart from the fan club trying to come on to him the other day – pretty girl, too, you know that brunette from Slytherin who’s in about sixth year? Long curls and a body to die for? Yeah, her – and I even laughed at it. And, I think that before, I might have got all worked up over that.”
“Brilliant,” Mary grinned. “’Cause he’s mad aboot ye, we can all see tha’. So if ye’ve managed t’ work that oot, things shoul’ be bonny from nou on, richt?”
“I hope so,” I said with a wry smile. “I’m not sure I’d survive another break-up.”
She laughed. “T’ be honest, Laura, I’m nae sure any o’ us woul’ ge’ through tha’ agin. Pinin’ fer each ither, bu’ every time I tried t’ help, ye herded me off. Wouldna e’en le’ me talk t’ ye aboot it.”
I turned to her, surprised. “Really? Was that how you saw it? Because I thought I was doing you a favour, not dragging you down with my moods. I thought you wanted to be with Sebastian.”
“An’ I did,” she said, “bu’ ye’re my bes’ friend, an’ ye were hurtin’. O’ course I wanted t’ help!”
“I’m sorry,” I said with feeling. I’d said those words a lot this term, I realised.
“Oh, it’s all richt,” she grinned. “I’m jus’ happy tha’ ye’re back t’ normal nou.”
“I talked to Bernie, too,” I said suddenly. “I felt horrible. I’d made him a promise and then I’d gone back on it right away.”
She nodded. “I though’ ye mus’ hae,” she said. “He’s takin’ it as well as can be expected.”
“This whole thing is my fault,” I said, again ashamed of my behaviour. “Poor Bernie, he was so nice about it, but he wasn’t happy.”
“Wha’ did he say?” Mary asked.
“That he understood and he’d most probably been a bit forward anyway in asking. He made it sound like he’d always expected us to get back together anyway, but he wanted to throw his hat in, so to speak.”
“He’s a nice lad,” she agreed. “Bu’ he’s richt. I dinna think anythin’ coul’ keep ye and Sirius apar’ fer too long.”
“In any case, I apologised,” I went on, not really sure how to respond to that. “I wish he’d find someone else, though. Not to get him off my back, but because he’s nice, like you said. He deserves to be happy.”
“An’ I’m sure he will be,” she said bracingly. “Jus’ give him some time, he’ll ge’ o’er it.”
“Anyway, enough about me, Mary Macdonald,” I smiled, changing the subject. “I’ve barely heard from you lately.” I looked at her expectantly.
Mary feigned innocence. “Wha’ dae ye mean?”
I grinned. “Well? Sebastian? How’s that going?”
She licked her lips. “Verra nice,” she said, a bit of a dreamy look on her face. “Nae complaints a’ all, t’ tell th’ truth. Well, aside from Gerry Stebbins bein’ aroond a lo’, nae complaints.”
I laughed. “Ah, poor old Gerry,” I said. “Though I guess he’s finally got the hint by now?”
“I woul’ hope so,” Mary laughed. “Spendin’ half my time snoggin’ someone else from his dorm, ye’d think he micht hae worked it oot.”
“And that’s all?” I asked innocently. “Just snogging?”
She blushed a little. “Well, maybe a wee bi’ more than tha’,” she admitted. “It’s verra nice t’ hae a real man agin, ye know?”
I laughed. “So, how long till you’re sneaking out to spend the night in Ravenclaw Tower?”
“Well, nae jus’ ye’,” she said. “Bu’ give it a few weeks …” She turned to me suddenly. “Tha’ reminds me, wha’s goin’ on wi’ ye an’ Sirius wi’ tha’? Are ye still takin’ it slow?”
I hesitated. “Kind of. Or, not really. Because we lost those two weeks, we’ve sort of sped things up to make up for it. And I get the feeling that it’ll stay that way.”
“An’ ye’re okay wi’ that?” she asked a little hesitantly.
“Yes, I am,” I admitted, smiling a little nervously. “If I wasn’t, then it’d all stop – he’s made that perfectly clear. Something to do with not wanting to freak me out like Bertram did.”
Mary laughed. “Well, I micht hae worded it a wee bi’ differently, bu’ aye, tha’s a goo’ poin’. Ye were on edge a lo’ wi’ him, I tol’ ye tha’ at th’ time. He didna mak’ ye smile, nae lik’ Sirius does.” She paused, eyeing me beadily. “Sirius really does hae ye worked oot, doesna he?”
“It feels like it,” I agreed. “And it’s kind of nice, you know, having the assumption being that it’s NOT going to happen, rather than that it is? It takes all the pressure away.”
“I can understan’ tha’,” she said, then smiled mischievously. “Bu’ maybe ye want it t’ happen anyway? I’m guessin’ tha’ wi’ Sirius it’s a lo’ more – physical – than it wa’ wi’ Bertram.”
I giggled. “Well, I’m older now, so you have to expect that. And let’s face it, if you look at the two of them there’s no comparison, is there? Sirius is an absolute fox, whereas Bertram …” I paused and it was her turn to giggle before I spoke again. “And to think that I once thought Bertram was as good as I was ever going to get.”
We both laughed at that. “Ye definitely ha’ tha’ one wrong,” she said, smiling mischievously.
“Must have been that goat I sacrificed,” I deadpanned. “The planets aligned for me after all.”
She giggled again. “Well, ye’re happy nou, an’ tha’s all tha’ really matters.”
“Yeah, I guess it is,” I said. “And the other difference is, Sirius actually listens to me. You have no idea how much of a relief that is.”
“I can guess,” she said with feeling, then paused again. “Ye know, Laura, I’ve missed this. We dinna talk so much any more.”
“No, we don’t, do we,” I agreed. “Probably something to do with new boyfriends. But yeah, I miss it, too.”
She grinned. “Well, if ye can e’er drag yerself away from Sirius fer ten minutes, le’ me know an’ we’ll dae it agin.”
“Definitely.” I grinned too, even though I realised that dragging myself away from Sirius was in most cases much easier said than done. “Mary, you have my promise.”
Unfortunately, not everything kept on going as well as I’d been hoping. In the last week of January Lily ambushed me after supper and I only managed to escape the dorm after an hour or so as she pestered me with Potions revision. Hurrying down to the common room to find Sirius and apologise for being held up, I was surprised to see him in the process of heading out of Gryffindor Tower with James and Peter.
“Where are you going?” I asked, wondering why he was leaving without me.
Sirius paused uncomfortably. “Uh, Laura, I, uh, wasn’t expecting to see you.” He looked searchingly at James and Peter for help. “I thought you were doing revision with Lily tonight.”
“Funny that you knew about that when I didn’t,” I said coolly, a sense of dread enveloping me. This was starting to remind me unpleasantly of Bertram. “What, are you trying to keep me out of the way or something?”
He looked despairingly over my head and I turned to see Lily on the stairs, looking apologetic. “It’s not that, Laura, honestly,” Sirius said pleadingly, his face flickering from the combination of firelight and the cool glow from a full moon coming through the window. “Look, please, we have to go. I can’t tell you why but whatever you’re thinking, I promise it’s not that.”
James stepped in. “Marauder prank,” he said authoritatively. “Male bonding thing. Sorry we didn’t tell you.”
I didn’t believe him. I wasn’t even sure I believed Sirius. All the insecurities I had fought so hard to overcome came back again in droves and I struggled to keep the tears at bay.
Sirius had noticed and tried to comfort me. “Laura, you have to trust me on this. We’re not doing anything you wouldn’t want to know about.”
Scowling, I wriggled out of his grasp. “How about you go and do whatever it is that’s so important you couldn’t tell me about it,” I said coldly. “I can wait.”
“You’ll be waiting a while,” Peter said, sniggering.
I raised my eyebrows. “How long does it take to bond males, then?”
I noticed James look hopelessly in Lily’s direction while Sirius tried to embrace me again. “It’s not like that, I swear,” he said pleadingly. “And I wish I could tell you, I really do. Just please, just this once, don’t ask what we’re doing. You can trust me, I promise.”
I pulled away from his arms. “So it’s like that, is it?” I asked. “I have to trust you, but you obviously don’t trust me. I’m sorry, Sirius, but it has to go both ways.” I swallowed hard, trying not to cry. “And if you can’t do that,” I went on, my voice breaking a little, “then maybe this isn’t going to work after all.”
Author’s note: Once again, sorry about that. And I know I’ve only just got them back together and Laura’s now actively working on her insecurities, so it was all looking so hopeful. However, if you think about it, what Marauder relationship ISN’T going to have some sort of conflict within the first month, when the full moon comes? Assuming the boys were pretty careful who they told what, there were always going to be awkward secrets, especially early on in a relationship as they wouldn’t be close enough to share those particular secrets. So this is how I addressed that.
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