The next morning, on the way down to breakfast, Lily and I confronted James and Sirius, a new resolve in our hearts. “These duelling lessons we’ve been having,” Lily began.
James looked at her. “What about them?”
“We need more of them,” I told him. “The more the better.”
Lily nodded resolutely. “We want to learn to fight,” she explained. “Properly, not just this defence stuff you’re teaching us.”
The boys both stopped in their tracks. “You’re not fighting,” Sirius said, looking at me.
“No, Lily’s not either,” James added quickly. “That was never the point of the lessons. You were just supposed to know how to defend yourselves.”
I glared at him. “So, with what happened to Mary, we’re supposed to just sit back and take that? Not raise a wand in retaliation? I’m sorry, but that’s not going to happen.”
Lily nodded again. “If we can help take down whoever did that to her, then that’s the least we can do,” she said.
“You can’t do anything,” Sirius pointed out. “You’re stuck here. Look, the Aurors will take care of whoever attacked Mary, they’ll be in Azkaban before you know it. All we can teach you is the small stuff, which might not even be much help in the real world.”
James was also looking worried. “Please don’t think you can go out and avenge Mary’s death,” he said pleadingly. “This is bigger than any of us, you’ll get in way over your heads. And we want you to be safe.”
“While you both go off fighting?” I asked scathingly. “That’s not fair. One in, all in.”
Sirius looked sadly at me, and when he spoke his voice was quiet. “Fighting isn’t going to bring her back, you know.”
I faltered: until he’d said it out loud, I hadn’t realised that was exactly what I’d been hoping for. Unconsciously, unrealistically, I had thought that doing something practical like that would in some way reverse what had happened. It was a purely emotional reaction but it was also a false hope, and the finality of that realisation was almost more than I could bear. Fortunately Sirius somehow realised this – he was incredibly good at reading me these days – and wrapped both arms around me as I tried to fight my tears.
“Can we talk about this later?” James was asking. “Fine, we’ll try to book in more lessons, but please don’t go out seeking a fight, okay?”
Lily looked at me and paused. “We make no promises,” she said eventually. “We still want to learn. But we’ll consider it.”
The truth was that this close encounter with the war meant that everything seemed so much more imminent. Little things that had interested us before like who was going out with who or how someone had done her hair were now only minor distractions, completely irrelevant when compared with what really counted – winning the war. Mary’s death must not have been in vain, we’d realised. Her fate, awful as it had been, was spurring us on to make sure the bigger picture was taken care of. Voldemort must be defeated. There was no other option.
We weren’t the only ones to feel this way, either. The first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson that term was much more intense than usual, with not only the Gryffindors but also all the Hufflepuffs we shared the class with working extra hard.
“It’s fantastic to see you all applying yourselves so hard to this,” Professor Perkins said wryly at the end of the class. “I just wish that you would have taken it so seriously before this tragedy. I’ve been seeing a steady improvement from only four of you this year - ” she nodded at Sirius, James, Lily and me – “but I hope that this newfound enthusiasm for the subject will last long enough for you to get a good lead-in to your NEWTs. Awful as the events of the holidays were, maybe some good can yet come out of them.”
Charlotte was fuming as we left the classroom. “That was a bit insensitive, don’t you think?” she asked, her eyes wet behind her glasses. “Wanting to put Mary dying to good use?”
“Her timing could have been better,” I agreed, “but I can see her point. Mary would have hated it if we’d all failed because of her. She’d probably like us to use it as motivation. She liked to feel useful.” My eyes teared up again and Sirius gave my hand a squeeze. “I do miss her,” I admitted.
“We all miss her,” Lily said quietly. “I dare say we always will.”
Later that week I found myself walking alongside Bernie Carmichael as I headed from Ancient Runes to the Great Hall for lunch. “How are you going?” he asked quietly.
“Coping,” I said. “Just.”
He seemed to know exactly what I meant and nodded. “Seb’s having a really hard time of it,” he said. “He’s not doing well at all.”
“I’d figured as much,” I admitted. I’d noticed Sebastian looking rather haunted as he made his way around the castle to lessons. “Though, it’s not something anyone should have to deal with, is it?”
“Is it true you were supposed to be there?” he asked, his voice still quiet.
I nodded. “Yep. And I should have died too.”
“Don’t say that,” he said, grabbing my hand and giving it a comforting squeeze. “Losing Mary was a big enough blow without you being killed as well.”
I looked at him, my eyes filling with tears as we went through the doors to the Great Hall. “It’s just … it’s so completely unfair,” I said. “Mary never hurt anyone. She should never have been hurt.”
He squeezed my hand again, but dropped it very quickly when he noticed Sirius moving quickly towards us, his eyes flashing. “Carmichael …” he growled.
“Don’t worry, we were just talking about Mary,” Bernie said rapidly, moving away from me.
“Well, don’t,” Sirius said threateningly, standing between us and pulling me towards him. “She’s having enough trouble coping with it without having other people bring it up all the time.”
“It’s okay,” I told him. “Sebastian’s having trouble, too, Bernie was just worried about me.”
Bernie by now had gone to the Ravenclaw table, clearly seeing he wasn’t wanted, and Sirius walked me to the place he’d saved for me with the Gryffindors, his arm still protectively around me. “He shouldn’t be holding your hand like that,” he muttered.
“He was only trying to comfort me,” I explained. “There was nothing in it. You know that.”
“I don’t like him talking to you all the time,” he said uncomfortably. “He still likes you. He might try something.”
“He won’t,” I told him. “If anything, I won’t let him. Okay?”
He seemed only mildly appeased, sending a Bat-Bogey Hex across the room at Bernie, and was still in a rather dark mood when we did our duelling lesson that afternoon. For the first time, I was pleased that Lily had to partner him instead of me, as she was the one who had to deal with his temper. To her credit, she used it to her advantage and spent a lot of time honing her reaction times as he pelted her with different jinxes.
“Now, about you two fighting,” James said to Lily and me as we took a break halfway through the lesson, our Revulsion Jinxes now almost as good as the boys’ were. “We’ve decided that we’ll teach you some offensive spells, but that doesn’t mean that we want you to use them unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“And why wouldn’t we?” Lily said archly. “We’ve made up our minds on this. We want to fight.”
“You might change your minds once you see what it’s really like out there,” James pointed out. “Look, it’s really nasty. Dad used to tell stories from when he was in the Ministry, and that was before this war got to the extent it has.”
“And with people like Cousin Bella on the other side, it’s not going to get any nicer,” Sirius said grimly, his mood only mildly improved. “I know what she’s capable of. I don’t think the woman actually has a heart.”
“But she got caught,” I said, confused. “Didn’t Dumbledore give them to the Hit Wizards after Slughorn’s party last term?”
James looked surprised. “Didn’t you hear? They got away last week. Imperiused their guards when they were being moved prior to the trial. One of them must have had a spare wand or something tucked away that they hadn’t found when they searched them. It was in the papers.”
Sirius reached over and grabbed my hand. “On the weekend,” he pointed out, looking at James. “Laura had other things on her mind then.” He squeezed my hand comfortingly. “We all did.”
“Of course,” James said, a little subdued. “But the thing is, out there, against Death Eaters, if you make one false move then you’re dead. It’s as simple as that.” He paused, looking at Lily and me. “And you wonder why we don’t want you out in that?”
“But you’re going to fight,” I pointed out again. “How do you think we like that?”
Lily nodded. “Like Laura said the other day, one in, all in. If you’re fighting, we want to be right there with you.”
Sirius and James looked helplessly at one another. “And like James just said, maybe you’ll change your minds once we get out of here,” Sirius said quietly. “We’re nice and insulated from it all at Hogwarts, everyone knows Voldemort’s scared of Dumbledore so we’re about as safe here as anyone can be right now. But out there … well, it’s a completely different story. Just bear that in mind, okay?”
Lily set her jaw stubbornly. “We want to fight,” she repeated. “And we’re not learning anything sitting here talking. How about we get back into it now?”
I nodded, looking at James as I got to my feet. “Now, these offensive spells you mentioned …”
After supper, Lily disappeared for a little while without James, which raised a few eyebrows. We were so used to them being together all the time that something like this was most unusual. However, all was explained when she came back into the common room, a red candle in her hand. “Come upstairs,” she told me, Martha and Charlotte. “I’ve got it.”
“Got what?” Martha asked as we dutifully followed her to the dorm.
“The fire,” she said, opening the door with her spare hand. “Dumbledore found some Gubraithian Fire for us, we’ve got an everlasting candle now.” She put the red candle down on the floor by Mary’s wall, where it dwarfed the original one Charlotte had found. “I tried to Charm the candle so it had the Macdonald tartan,” she went on, “but unfortunately the charm didn’t work with the everlasting flame, and I thought that was more important. Mary would have understood.”
We all looked at the flame, which was somewhat larger than that you would normally see on a candle, and cast long shadows on the wall behind it. On the wall itself, images moved of their own accord, different shots of Mary smiling, Mary laughing, Mary trying in vain to ride a broom, Mary cheering at a Quidditch game, Mary giving me a comforting hug.
“We’re like the fire, aren’t we?” I said suddenly. They all turned quizzical faces to me. “We’re not going to go out,” I said, trying to explain myself and this sudden epiphany I’d had that I wasn’t sure I even understood properly. “This friendship. No matter what happens, we’ll always be friends, won’t we?”
They didn’t answer immediately, clearly thinking this over. “I think you’re right,” Charlotte said slowly after a spell. “This has brought us closer together, hasn’t it? It’s like a weird kind of bond.”
Martha nodded. “Yeah, I think so too,” she said. She looked at Mary’s wall, her expression intense, before turning back to us. “Another toast, do you think?”
Lily nodded. “It’s needed, I think.”
Once our goblets were all full again, once more we clinked them and raised them to the wall of photographs.
Of course, not everyone had the same reaction to Mary’s death as we’d had. A lot of our fellow students hadn’t known her very well (or, in the case of those in younger years, at all) and so couldn’t have been expected to mourn for extended periods, and after a couple of weeks of rather sombre behaviour things eventually started getting back to normal. Unfortunately, that also meant that the fan club started getting back into the swing of things, and I had to cope with minor annoyances such as ink being spilled on my essays, or my things being Transfigured when I wasn’t paying attention. Eventually, as Remus and I made our way towards Ancient Runes one day, this culminated in Elvira swallowing her pride and actually talking to me.
“Laura!” she called, making me stop in my tracks, and ignoring Remus entirely. Why she did that I couldn’t understand – as one of Sirius’ best friends, surely he would be just as good a source of information as I was?
“Elvira,” I said, unable to contain my surprise. “How’s tricks?” Remus stopped as well, most probably wondering what would happen here.
As usual she skipped the preliminaries. “I heard you went to Sirius’ place over Easter,” she said without breaking step. We hurried to catch up with her.
I smiled wryly – news certainly did travel fast at Hogwarts. I hadn’t even told anyone except the girls in my dorm, and that had only been to explain my guilt at not being at the Macdonalds’ that fateful night. “Yes, Elvira, I did. It stopped me getting killed, actually,” I said pointedly. “What about it?”
“So it’s true, then,” she said aggressively. “He’s got his own place now.”
I smiled despite myself. “He’s had his own place since July. Wherever you’re getting your information from is a bit behind.”
She just scowled at me. “So? Where is it? What’s it like?”
I groaned inwardly. Really? After everything that had happened, she was worrying about something as trivial as THIS? She must have been shallower than I’d previously given her credit for. “It’s a twelve-bedroom mansion with two house elves, overlooking Hyde Park,” I invented. “He lets homeless people stay in it while he’s at school.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Remus trying to suppress a grin.
She stopped walking in surprise. “Really?”
I raised my eyebrows. “What do you think?”
“Fine,” she said, glaring at me. “Don’t tell me. But don’t think I won’t find out another way!”
I smiled to myself, unable to think of a single person who might have been to Sirius’ flat who was even the remotest chance of telling Elvira about it. “Then find out another way,” I said evenly. “Frankly, with everything that’s happened lately, that’s the least of my concerns.”
“I still can’t believe you got your hands on him,” she muttered, fingering her wand threateningly. “It’s been months and he’s not bored yet or anything. You must be such a good shag.”
She had such a lovely way with words sometimes. I raised my eyebrows and hoped I didn’t look as uncomfortable as I felt. “Well, why don’t you ask him?”
She glared at me, her wand still out. “Yeah, right, ’cause he’d definitely tell me. But that’s the only thing that would be keeping him so long. Next thing we know he’ll even be giving you wand access to his place.”
I stayed silent as we reached the classroom and filed in, heading for our usual desks and me putting a hand to my face to try to work out if she had in fact jinxed me. Finding no evidence, I asked Remus. “Did she get me?”
He looked me over critically. “Doesn’t look like it. Not that I can see, anyway. It might be slow-acting, though, you never know with her.” We had reached our desk and he looked at me out of the corner of his eye as we sat down and pulled out quills, ink and parchment. “He’s already given you wand access, hasn’t he?”
I looked at him, surprised. “How did you know that?”
“Call it a lucky guess.” He smiled. “From what I know of Padfoot and from the look on your face when she mentioned it. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together. Did he give you a reason for it? Somewhere to crash, anything like that?”
I nodded, wondering what he meant. “He said to use it as a safe house if I needed to.”
Remus looked like he was trying not to laugh. “Of course he did,” he said. “That’s so much like him. But don’t let it fool you, it was just an excuse. He just wanted you to have access.”
“But I’ve been thinking about that,” I said. “Would it really be safe? I mean, if it’s known that he lives there, it might be targeted itself, mightn’t it? Blood traitor and all that?”
Remus shook his head. “I doubt they’d be able to find it,” he said. “Sirius, no matter how much he hates his parents, still learned a few things from them. His family home had every enchantment known to wizardkind on it to keep it hidden from everyone who wasn’t actually invited in, and I would imagine his flat is the same.”
“Oh.” I hadn’t thought of that. “So I had no problems because I was with him?”
He nodded. “To an extent. Any of us would be able to find it because we’re welcome guests and you can teach doors to recognise people. But, well, I don’t think any of us have wand access. Aside from you, of course.”
“I was surprised when he did it,” I admitted, not really sure what to make of that. “But it makes more sense now, and I’m certainly not complaining. It’s nice to have a base in London!” Or, more particularly, I thought, it’s nice to have a base where Sirius is, particularly now that my other London base had been removed in the worst possible way.
“Especially when it’s a twelve-bedroom mansion overlooking Hyde Park,” he agreed with a chuckle.
I sighed. “It seems such a long time ago, now, though, if you know what I mean. It’s like years have passed since then. I’m surprised that Elvira’s even thinking about it.”
Remus smiled grimly. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he said. “I think that’s just the way she is, Laura. And, no matter how ridiculous you think that is, you’re going to have to get used to it again.” And he looked away from me and focused on the front of the classroom, where Professor Babbling was preparing to begin the lesson.
Remus, as usual, had been uncommonly perceptive, and it wasn’t just Bernie dragging me into an empty classroom to tell me that Elvira had something big coming up that proved this to me. It was only a couple of days later that I reached into my bag at the lunch table, looking for a quill to write myself a reminder to write home when I got a chance, when I realised that something had spilled inside the bag, soaking everything in its reach. “Uh oh,” I muttered, “looks like I’ve broken an ink bottle. Oh, no, it’s not ink,” I went on quickly, correcting myself. “Ow.”
Sirius looked at me, clearly concerned. “What is it?”
I pulled out my hand and looked at it – blisters were forming and my eyes watered in pain. Something that smelled suspiciously like petrol flooded the air. “Bubotuber pus,” I said weakly – this hurt just as much as my broken arm had before the holidays. “Undiluted Bubotuber pus.”
“It was in your bag?” James looked surprised. “How’d Bubotuber pus get in your bag?”
“You need to ask?” Lily shot back. “Look at the Ravenclaw table, that should tell you.”
I didn’t need to turn my head to know that the fan club were behind this. Bernie had been warning me continuously for the past couple of weeks, after all. Thinking back, I could remember Elvira brushing past me as I left Ancient Runes in the last lesson before lunch – she must have dropped the pus in my bag then, without me noticing. In any case I knew that lunch could wait, I needed to get to the hospital wing so Madam Pomfrey could fix this.
Sirius, who seemed to be able to read my mind at times, had already risen from his seat and grabbed my arm, above the hand, ready to take me upstairs.
As always Madam Pomfrey was quick and precise, but unfortunately there was no fast remedy for Bubotuber pus and I had to be content with my hand being bandaged to the wrist, to stop anything aggravating the blisters. This meant that my wand hand was now useless.
“Good thing it’s Friday,” I muttered to Sirius as we went back downstairs. “No more classes.” I grinned suddenly. “Do you think James will let me off this afternoon’s duelling lesson?”
He laughed. “Well, considering you can’t hold your wand, I would expect so,” he said.
“Not that I want to,” I went on thoughtfully. “Get out of the lesson, I mean. Not really. If I’m going to make a difference in this war I have to be able to fight properly.”
“You’re not to fight if you don’t have to,” Sirius said sternly. “We’ve been over this before. I don’t want what happened to Mary, happening to you.”
“Mary died,” I pointed out. “We have to make it right somehow.” I looked at my bandaged hand ruefully. “Though, I will have to be able to hold a wand to do that, won’t I.” Looking up at his somewhat alarmed face, I smiled suddenly. “And you’ll have to feed me my lunch,” I went on mischievously, wondering how long I could pull this off for. “I expect to be waited on hand and foot from now on.”
“Certainly, Your Highness,” he grinned; he seemed to have relaxed a little now I wasn’t talking about fighting any more. “And will Madam need help undressing this evening as well? I’m sure I can assist with that, too.”
“Nice try,” I said, trying and failing to suppress a giggle. “I think I can do that one myself. Just lunch, if you don’t mind.”
He looked disappointed. “If you’re sure,” he said as we walked into the Great Hall again. “Though if you change your mind, remember I’d be happy to volunteer.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, smiling as we sat back down at the Gryffindor table and got stuck into what was left of lunch. “Like I could forget.”
My hand remained bandaged for most of the weekend, and pretty much as soon as Madam Pomfrey took the bandages off on Sunday afternoon and declared me cured, I made my way upstairs to the Ravenclaw common room and went in. Five years of looking after Bea had made me very good at answering the questions the door-knocker came up with, and I entered without difficulty. Once inside, I found Elvira in a comfortable armchair by the window, walked straight up to her and gave my wand a flick. “That’s for the Bubotuber pus, and for tampering with my broom,” I snarled, watching with satisfaction as cow horns sprung from her head, and a bell appeared around her neck. “I’m warning you, Elvira, don’t try any funny business with me, okay? Because this is positively affectionate compared to what I could do to you.”
She stared at me. “Is this supposed to be some sort of joke?” she asked indignantly.
I smiled sweetly. “I don’t think so,” I said. “Though, the spell didn’t quite have the effect I wanted. I was going to turn you into a cow, but, then again, you’re one already, aren’t you?”
“You made me like this,” she hissed, her eyes flashing. “If you’d just stayed away from him …”
“What?” I asked scathingly. “Kept him free for you? Yeah, because that’s worked so well for you over the past five years. He won’t go anywhere near you, and you know it. And in the greater scheme of things, this is honestly what’s important to you? People are dying and you’re worried about the love life of a boy who never even looks at you?” She flinched, and I knew that my words had hit the mark as I went on. “Of course, it’s not exactly mature, taking it out on me like this, and if you keep going then I’ll tell McGonagall who was responsible for jinxing my broom. I’m sure she’d be very interested in that information.”
“You can’t prove anything,” she said defiantly.
“Really?” I asked. “So, if Dumbledore is interested enough in this case to get out the Veritaserum, you won’t incriminate yourself? I have to say, Elvira, that’s news to me.”
“And if you try anything behind her back,” said a voice behind me, “you’ll have us to deal with.”
I turned around to see Bernie and Sebastian looking absolute daggers at Elvira, and she actually paled a little when she saw them.
“You might want to watch your step,” Sebastian said coolly. “You’ve done enough damage for a lifetime. Give it a rest.”
“You’re losing friends, Elvira,” I said. “Lay off. Like I said, I’m sure Professor McGonagall would be very interested to learn what you’ve been up to.” And, smiling gratefully at Sebastian and Bernie, I turned and made a dramatic exit from the room.
“It was hilarious,” Bernie told me before supper that night. He had pulled me aside as I approached the Great Hall, looking apologetically at Sirius for taking me away from him. “She didn’t know what to do with herself. And then Greta took her down to the hospital wing but Madam Pomfrey’s had awful trouble undoing the spell. That was a good one.”
“It was one of Bea’s,” I admitted. “I don’t know that she used it much at school though so Madam Pomfrey may not remember how to undo it. Not that I’m offering to go tell her,” I went on, smiling broadly.
“Well, this might go down in legend,” he said, beaming at me. “You did well.”
As we went into the hall I spotted Elvira at the Ravenclaw table, the cow horns the Matron had been unable to remove poking out from underneath a scarf she was wearing to try to hide them. It appeared, however, that Madam Pomfrey had in fact managed to remove her bell.
Sirius was glaring in Bernie’s direction as I sat down. “What did he want?” he asked suspiciously.
“Just to congratulate me,” I told him. “Apparently Madam Pomfrey tried all sorts of things but she couldn’t get rid of the cow horns. The other Ravenclaws are finding it very entertaining.”
He looked only slightly placated. “Was that one of your sister’s? I don’t remember it. Did you teach it to us?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure, to be honest,” I said. “It was a while back and my memory isn’t what it used to be. I’m getting old, you see.”
“Yes, eighteen really is the stepping stone to old age,” James grinned. “I don’t know how you senior citizens manage to keep up with young bucks like me. Look at Pete, he’s going grey already.”
Peter blushed. “Only because of all the stress you put me through,” he said with an attempt at a smile. Not that we could really tell, I thought, Peter’s hair was that colourless sort that meant that even if he was going grey, it would have just blended in. “I’ve aged significantly since I met you lot,” he went on.
Sirius laughed. “I would hope so. You were eleven then.”
“See, his memory’s going too, he can’t even remember when we met,” James said, smiling broadly. “Been eighteen for three whole months now. No wonder he’s losing it.”
I laughed. “Didn’t you turn eighteen over the holidays?”
He blushed, his face now matching Peter’s. “Damn. You do remember that.” He grinned suddenly. “Though I’m still the youngest, you can’t deny that.”
“No, Mary’s the – yeah, okay, you are.” I had to correct myself mid-sentence: these days, James was indeed the youngest of our group. Mary would never reach eighteen.
“Yep, you should be able to tell just from looking at me,” James smiled, clearly trying to lighten the mood again. The times when Mary came up in conversation accidentally like this were getting less awkward, though there was still an air of gloom that accompanied them, and Sirius put his arm around me and gave me a bit of a squeeze, possibly noticing that I had once again become a little teary. “Those extra months really count,” James went on. “No wrinkles around the eyes, no grey hairs …”
“And no cow horns,” Lily added, also trying to lighten things up a bit. “Unlike Elvira. Though I must say it suits her.”
“It was too easy,” I said, allowing myself to get caught up in the conversation again. “She was that much of a cow anyway, this just added some finishing touches.”
James grinned. “You know, Laura, I’m starting to wonder if Padfoot isn’t a bad influence on you. You were never this aggressive before, were you?”
“Of course I was,” I said. “You just didn’t know me as well. And admittedly, I didn’t get quite this much opportunity because I was never really anyone’s target before. If anything, they’d steer clear of me because of Bea.”
“I told you she was a wild one,” Sirius said with a smile. “Just because she never turned her wand on us doesn’t mean she didn’t do it to anyone else.”
“Particularly Slytherins,” Lily said, smiling reminiscently. “Scylla Pritchard did look better with a banana instead of a nose. It really suited her.”
I giggled. “I’d forgotten about that one. But yeah, it did suit her, didn’t it?” I turned to look at the Ravenclaw table. “Hopefully, though, Elvira will back off a bit now. I’m getting a bit sick of it. I mean, in comparison with what we should be focusing our attention on, it just seems so trivial.”
“I guess at least she knows you mean business now,” James said. “Now it’s just a case of wait and see. She’ll either back off entirely, or up the ante even more.”
“Brilliant,” I muttered. “Just what I want. This thing to be escalated above what it already is. Just for once, I’d really like to be able to give at least some attention to my NEWTs, you know?”
“Cheer up,” Peter said encouragingly. “It might go the other way.”
I smiled suddenly. “You said it, Peter. Fingers crossed.”
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