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Chapter 55 : Laura Cauldwell, amateur counsellor
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The gaping hole where her bed used to sit was an apt metaphor for the hole inside of me which her death had left. I still found myself looking for her in classes and when I woke up in the morning, or listening for her distinctive voice and laughter in the Great Hall or the common room. The only thing that really helped, aside from Sirius, was the duelling lessons he and James were still giving us, three times a week now.
Charlotte noticed me pause. “Are you okay?” she asked.
I started, having not realised she was in the room with me. “Yeah, I think so,” I said, thinking about it. “I’m trying to get used to her not being here. It’s just … it’s just hard, you know?”
She nodded, getting up from her bed to give me a hug. “We all miss her,” she said quietly.
“Well, once I learn how to fight properly, Merlin help whoever did it,” I said.
She looked at me, concerned. “You’re not going to go looking for them, are you?” she asked. “I don’t know, Laura, taking on a Death Eater …”
I giggled a little despite myself. “You’re sounding like Sirius,” I told her. “But no, I’m not going to seek them out. I just feel like if I can fight, then that will make me feel less … responsible, I guess. Being here, we’re helpless, we’re stranded. Out there, I can do something about it.”
“I get that,” she said, “but still, please don’t go out looking for revenge. We’ve already lost Mary. We don’t want to lose you too.”
I smiled grimly. “Well, I’m not planning on it, if that’s any consolation.” Pausing, I looked at her and decided to ask what I was thinking. “Hey, what’s going on with you and Remus? Has anything happened since the train ride?”
She sat back down on her bed, looking frustrated. “Why are you asking me?” she asked cynically. “How would I know what’s going on?”
Things were worse than I’d realised, if someone as easy-going as Charlotte was reacting that way. I sat down next to her. “He hasn’t run away again, has he?”
She nodded. “I’ve got no idea any more, Laura, absolutely none. Sometimes I think he likes me, but sometimes it’s like he can’t stand to be around me. It’s driving me batty.”
“Much as I hate to say it, it does sound like him,” I admitted. “Tell you what, how about I have a word to him?”
She looked glum. “It won’t make any difference. But do what you like. I guess it can’t get any worse, can it?”
By the time morning came around, I was re-assessing my offer. I was having enough trouble coming to terms with my own issues without helping other people through theirs – only as the month closed was I starting to get used to the fact that Mary was no longer around. Sirius could fill some of the void, of course, and knowing that he loved me and intended to always be there for me was unbelievably reassuring, but I had a feeling that no one would ever completely take her place. Some holes, I realised, can never truly be filled.
However, no matter how much I missed Mary, the truth was that the living had problems of their own and I might be able to help them in some little way. And, having made the offer in the first place, I really didn’t want to let Charlotte down. So I took a deep breath and approached Remus in the common room after Sirius had taken off for Muggle Studies. He was sitting alone by the fire, steadfastly ignoring Charlotte, who was at the table by the window. I sat down and jerked my head in her direction. “Why don’t you give her a chance?” I asked quietly, having Muffliato’d the nearest groups of students. “You’re pining for each other.”
He shook his head. “Laura, you know why,” he said, clearly surprised but keeping his voice low. “She deserves someone whole and undamaged. I can’t inflict myself on her.”
“But you’re only dangerous one night out of twenty-eight,” I reasoned. “And I really don’t think she’d mind. Charlotte’s a good person, she’ll look past that. She’s just about in love with you already.”
“But it’s not just about Charlotte,” he said wearily. “I’m not exactly a preferred dinner guest, people stay well away once they find out. Not everyone is like you,” he went on, giving me a small smile. “And I don’t want to get between her and her family. Can you honestly imagine the Trimbles welcoming a werewolf to their table? You’ve read what her uncle wrote in his book. If they reject me, she’ll take it personally, and then they’ll probably reject her as well. I don’t want to be responsible for that.”
I thought about that, and how my parents might react if I announced my boyfriend was a werewolf. And, I had to admit, he had a point. But that wasn’t fair, it wasn’t his fault he’d been bitten, and he shouldn’t have to be ostracised because of something he couldn’t do anything about.
“You could try them,” I said. “You never know, they might accept you. Once they realise what a great person you are, they should be able to get past it.”
He smiled weakly. “Thanks. But forgive me if I’m not as optimistic as you are. Besides, I’m not much of a catch. I’ll probably be unemployable once I leave here – who’d want to hire me? Having sick days all the time and potentially dangerous, not to mention the prejudice most people have. I can’t ask her to put up with that, to support me. It’s not fair on her.”
“I hadn’t really thought about that,” I admitted. “You having trouble getting a job. Is it really that hard?”
He nodded gravely. “Like I said, most people have a prejudice against werewolves. And I can understand that, we’re not exactly safe to be around if you catch us at the wrong time. You heard what Viridian said last year, you read the book. Well, that’s exactly what it’s like. I could have written the thing myself.”
“But what will you do?” I couldn’t abide the thought of Remus starving and homeless because he couldn’t get a job.
“James has offered to look after me,” he said, almost bitterly. I wasn’t used to hearing that tone in Remus’ voice and it surprised and saddened me. “He can do that with some authority now, he’s the head of the family. It’s not ideal but at least I have a fallback if the employment thing doesn’t work. Though I understand now how Padfoot felt,” he went on. “You need to sacrifice a certain amount of pride and personal dignity if you’re going to let someone else support you.”
I followed his gaze to Charlotte, who saw us looking and made a point of going back to her study. Next to me, Remus let out an almost imperceptible sigh.
“At the very least,” I said softly, “you could tell her why you’ve been so hesitant.” He threw me a sharp look before returning his gaze to the other table. “Look,” I went on, “school’s nearly over, there’s only a couple of months to go. You may never see her again after June, and what happened to Mary is proof enough that we might not have much time. Don’t you think she’s entitled to know why she’s been rejected? She probably already thinks no one will ever love her.”
“Of course someone will love her. Geez, I pretty much love her.” He tore his eyes from Charlotte and looked at me. “I can see your point. But it’s not as easy as that.”
“Why not?” I asked. “She read that book. She was really cut up by it, to tell you the truth. She’ll understand.”
He watched her again for a little while and then turned a tortured face to me. “Can you tell her?”
I shook my head. “It has to come from you.”
“I’ll think about it,” he muttered, looking at his knees. “I don’t know whether I should be thanking you or not.”
I smiled at him, even though he was still refusing to look up. “That’s fine,” I said. “Once you’ve told her, then you can thank me.”
Frankly I felt like a stiff drink after that little counselling session, but life had other plans for me. It seemed that that day I was needed to sort out all sorts of personal problems, and generally not my own. Not long after class finished for the day an owl arrived for Sirius, from his mother of all people, and after reading it he fell into a bit of a funk.
“This does happen occasionally,” James told me quietly as Sirius hurled the letter into the fire and stormed out of the common room. “They tell him he’s useless and has brought shame on the family name. You might want to go and see if you can reverse the damage.”
I looked at him in surprise. “But he doesn’t believe that, does he?”
“He tries not to,” he explained, “but some of it does hit home. It’s not nice, having the person who gave you life saying she wishes she didn’t.”
I was quiet for a bit. “I hadn’t thought of it that way,” I admitted. “I’ll go see what I can do, shall I?”
James looked relieved. “If anyone can bring him back, it’d be you.”
The extremely useful Marauder’s map in my hand, I soon found Sirius in the passage behind the mirror on the fourth floor. “Don’t take it to heart,” I murmured comfortingly, sitting down next to him and putting an arm around him. “They don’t even know you any more.”
“But they do,” he muttered. “It’s all true. I am a useless piece of crap who’s not worth wasting any time over.”
“No you’re not,” I said reassuringly. “They’re the ones who should be ashamed, rabbiting on about that blood purity rubbish and judging people based on who their parents are. You know as well as I do how stupid that is. You should be proud of yourself, the way you got out.”
“Yeah,” he sneered, “jumping headfirst into homelessness and poverty and having to live off charity. That was really heroic of me.”
“But that didn’t last,” I pointed out. “You’re not homeless or poor now and you’re not living off charity. And that’s due to someone else in your family, your mother’s own brother no less, also realising what a great person you are and figuring you were worth paying some attention to.”
“But he only did that after he died,” Sirius said pointedly. “He didn’t bother when he was still alive.”
“It still counts,” I insisted. “He didn’t have to leave you that gold. He did it because he thought you were worthwhile.”
He was quiet for a bit. “Why are you bothering with me anyway, Laura?” he asked suddenly. “You could do so much better than me. Why don’t you find someone who’s actually worthy of you?”
Where did that come from? Him not worthy of me? Picking my jaw up from where it had dropped, I grabbed his hand and kissed it, not missing the irony that it was now me comforting him about this relationship. The tables really had turned. “Don’t say that,” I told him. “No one’s more worthy of me than you are.”
He looked at the floor, the light from our wands casting odd shadows on his face. “You’re way too good for me,” he muttered. “You should be with someone who deserves you, there are so many blokes here who would kill for you and they’re so much better than I am. Every day I thank my lucky stars that you haven’t realised that yet.” He paused. “Though me saying that now probably hasn’t helped my cause much.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked, hoping this was just symptomatic of his general mood and would soon pass. “I’m not too good for you. No way.”
“Of course you are,” he said quietly. “I’m nothing. Just a flashy combination of showing off and talking myself up so no one knows what I’m really like.”
“Actually,” I said, “you’re not like that at all. You’re smart, and you’re kind, and you’re funny, and you’re incredibly attractive.”
He looked at the floor again. “Don’t lie. I’d rather you just told the truth.”
I gave him a squeeze. “This is the truth. Why would I want to be with anyone else?” He didn’t look convinced. “Look, if I thought I’d be happier with someone else, if I thought they were better than you, then why would I be wasting my time here with you right now? I’m here because this is where I want to be. But if you don’t want to believe that then nothing I say will convince you.”
He looked at me again, his face looking more vulnerable than I had ever seen it. “I want to believe it,” he said quietly. “I really do. But I don’t deserve someone as great as you.”
“Too bad,” I said briskly. “That’s my choice, and I’ll have to live with it. Because I’m not giving up on you now.”
“You’re making a big mistake,” he said, but his voice wasn’t quite so despondent now. “You’ll regret it.”
I decided to change tack. “Right. Sirius, do you think I’m dumb?”
He looked shocked. “No, of course not. You’re smarter than I am in a lot of ways.”
“Right, then, do you value my judgement?”
He nodded. “Yes, of course I do. Probably more than my own.”
I smiled. “Then if I’m not dumb and I can make reasonable decisions, why on earth would I still be with you if you were as bad as you’re making out?”
He was quiet for a while. “I guess,” he said eventually. “Though I still think you’ll regret it.”
“Then I’ll deal with that when the time comes,” I said firmly, giving him another squeeze and kissing him lightly on the cheek.
“You mean it?” he asked quietly. “You’ll stick with me, even if I’m not worth it?”
“Always,” I promised. “That’s what ‘I love you’ means.” I paused. “And guess what? I still love you. Even when you’re being an idiot, like you are now.”
He smiled suddenly. “I am a bit of an idiot, aren’t I?” he said wryly. “Thanks, Laura. I do feel better.”
Once Sirius was back to normal, things went on much the same as usual for the next week or so, until Professor McGonagall called me back after Transfiguration one day. “A word, please, Miss Cauldwell,” she said as we packed our things into our bags, ready to head to Charms.
“What is it, Professor?” I asked, signalling to Sirius to go on without me.
She gave me the ghost of a smile. “It’s about your broom,” she said. “Professors Flitwick and Perkins have looked it over and tested it for known jinxes, and it was found to carry both a Hurling Hex and a Confundus Charm.” She looked concerned. “It is highly unlikely that a student would have the skills to perform such charms on a broom without it reacting badly. Can you please describe again what happened that day?”
I thought back. “It seemed okay when I first got on,” I said, “but once I got a bit of speed up it started, well, misbehaving.” I paused. “Are you sure a student couldn’t have done this?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Do you have anyone particular in mind, Miss Cauldwell?”
I hesitated. “There are a couple of people here who don’t like me very much,” I said finally. “Students, that is. Smart people, too. I had thought it was them.”
“And are you prepared to name these people?” she asked.
I looked at her. “What would happen if I did?”
“Well,” she said, folding her hands on the desk, “if they were proven to be the culprits, there would certainly be some significant punishment involved, though its exact nature would of course depend on the guilty parties’ Head of House. This is a very serious charge, as I’m sure you are aware, considering what could have happened if you’d fallen from a great height.” She paused. “I suppose the question is whether you want this followed up or not.”
“Can I think about it?” I asked.
“Certainly,” she said. “And you may collect your broom from the staff room whenever you are ready. All jinxes have been removed and it should be safe to use again.
I smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Professor.”
As I left the Transfiguration classroom and headed up towards Charms, I came across Sirius, James, Remus and Peter darting into an empty classroom, their faces alight as they pored over the Marauder’s Map. “All right,” I said as I reached them, “what’s so funny?”
“Snivellus,” said James, who was laughing so much he had trouble getting the word out. “We got his wand first so he couldn’t fight back. You’ve gotta love Expelliarmus, it has so many applications! Then we cast a knee-reversing jinx on him and then Tarantallegra, so he was dancing backwards.”
“Then,” added Peter, wiping his eyes, “we put him in the girls’ toilets on the second floor, you know, where Moaning Myrtle is.”
Remus continued the narrative. “We put a Shield Charm around him so he couldn’t go anywhere and put his wand on the floor just outside the Shield, so he can see it but not do anything.”
“Seems he’s been making a bit of noise,” Sirius went on, smiling as he pointed at a spot on the map, “’cause McGonagall’s gone in to see what the matter is. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with for this one.”
I cast a sour look at them. “Won’t he tell her it was you?”
“Nup,” said James, struggling to get the words out. “’Cause Moony was back around the corner, Padfoot and I were under the Cloak, and Pete had transformed, so he couldn’t see who it was!!”
“He probably guessed it was us,” Sirius said with a grin, “but he can’t prove it. He doesn’t know about the Cloak, and anyone who saw it won’t be able to identify us. So we’re home free.”
Their laughter was infectious and I found myself grinning. “All right,” I said, “what did he do to deserve this one?”
“He was hassling Lily again,” explained James, suddenly serious. “He’s been making life difficult for her lately, keeps stopping her in the halls. He was trying to get his greasy hands on her.”
“Not to mention trying to cast the Finger Removing Jinx on Prongs,” Sirius added rather grimly. “Fortunately he missed and hit the plinth behind us, but that’s now missing a couple of claws at the base. It could have been nasty if he’d got us.”
“So they ducked out of sight and put the Cloak on,” Remus went on, “before he could finish saying the Scalping Hex, so he missed them with that too.”
“And where was Lily for all this?” I asked, wondering why the Head Girl hadn’t put a stop to things.
“She went to the library with Martha and Charlotte to look something up before Charms,” James said unconcernedly. “Went straight there after she got rid of Snivellus. So she didn’t see any of it.”
“Oh, look,” said Peter, changing the subject with his eyes on the map, “McGonagall’s dragged him out of the toilets, and it looks like Myrtle’s following him! Blimey, that’d be worth seeing. And that looks like a whole class has stopped to watch! Um – yeah, Lenny Dodderidge, that’d be, what, fourth-years?”
“That’s nice for Snivelly,” said Sirius, his fingers running through my hair. “He likes being the centre of attention.”
James was laughing again. “When do you think they’ll notice he’s speaking in German?” he asked. “That won’t wear off for at least forty-five minutes. I can still hear him. Topfer! Schwarz!” He dissolved into laughter as we all huddled around the map, watching the drama unfold.
Soon, however, we were interrupted by the classroom door opening – no one had thought to put an Imperturbable Charm on it once we were all inside, and we had been making a tidy bit of noise – and the dank head of Argus Filch appeared. “Oh ho ho,” he muttered as he saw the five of us gathered around a desk, “what have we here?”
James hurriedly got his wand out and muttered “Mischief managed,” before tapping the map quickly. The map disappeared entirely, leaving just the blank parchment I had first seen Sirius take out a year or so beforehand. Unfortunately, Filch had noticed him doing it.
“So, Potter, caught red-handed,” he gloated. “What’s that you’ve got?”
“Nothing,” said James, a bit too quickly. “Spare bit of parchment, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” asked Filch, his eyebrows raised. “So you won’t mind if I take it, then?”
“No,” Sirius said before he could stop himself, then recovered. “I mean, why would you bother with a scrap like that?”
“I think this is highly suspicious,” said Filch. “I think I need to inform the Headmaster of this little gathering.”
“Come now,” said Remus, his best prefect air about him, “why would you bother Professor Dumbledore with something as small as this? We’re just going over some schoolwork together, that’s all.”
“Nice try, Lupin,” scowled Filch. “But you haven’t convinced me. I think I’ll take that ‘spare bit of parchment’, Potter, if you don’t mind.”
James sighed and handed it over with obvious reluctance. Filch, however, hadn’t finished. “And you’ll all follow me,” he continued. “Detentions all round, I think!”
This was a bit rich considering we hadn’t actually broken any school rules as far as Filch was aware, but that minor point had never bothered him before. He marched us to his office and looked lovingly at the manacles that hung behind his desk. Rumour was that he kept them clean and oiled and was always pestering Dumbledore to let him string the students up by their ankles, but for some reason this was always refused. Maybe Dumbledore thought that the outbreak of Levicorpus a couple of years previously had been enough on that score.
“Names,” Filch was saying, writing clearly on what looked like a ledger book. “James Potter. Sirius Black. Remus Lupin. Peter Pettigrew. And – ” He paused, looking at me, having clearly forgotten my name. That was probably fair enough, I’d not been in his office for at least three years.
“Scylla Pritchard,” Sirius said quickly, grinning at me.
Filch appeared to have taken the bait. “Scylla Pritchard,” he mumbled, writing it down. “Crime,” he went on. “Creating a nuisance by excessive noise.” He paused, looking at what he had written. “Hey – she’s not Scylla Pritchard!” He looked up at me nastily. “Scylla Pritchard was in here last week for befouling the castle.” I smiled to myself, wondering what exactly that had entailed. “Name!”
“Elvira Vablatsky,” I said confidently, spelling out the surname for him. “Ravenclaw.” I was pretty sure Elvira had never been in trouble with Filch. With teachers, yes, for hexing other students, but not with Filch. I noticed James suppressing a chuckle behind me.
“Elvira Vablatsky,” he repeated, having scribbled out Scylla Pritchard’s name. “Suggested punishment – fifty lashes each.” We all looked at each other with raised eyebrows, knowing Dumbledore would never allow corporal punishment on his watch. “Suggested punishment,” went on Filch, scrubbing out the lashes, “detentions to be held at a time suggested by the Headmaster.”
Finally he had finished his paperwork and we were allowed to go. I’d heard that Filch wasn’t actually allowed to set punishments without approval from a staff member, so there was the possibility that our detentions wouldn’t have to be served at all. The main problem, so far as the boys saw it, was that their wonderful map had been put into a drawer in Filch’s filing cabinet marked ‘Confiscated and Highly Dangerous’, and it was unlikely they would be able to retrieve it in the foreseeable future. After all, you couldn’t break into Filch’s office and be sure of not being caught if you didn’t use the map, and we couldn’t do that as the map was what we wanted to retrieve.
“Nice one, ‘Elvira’,” said James, giving me a grin as we hurried towards the Charms classroom – break was well and truly over and we were running late. “You almost had me convinced in there.”
“Why dob myself in when it will most probably be thrown out anyway?” I reasoned. “And even if the detentions stand, I’m sure Elvira would be happy to stand in for me if you asked her to, Sirius.”
He considered. “You know, I think you might be right,” he said. “Though then I’d have to spend a detention with her. Not a good idea. I almost wish he’d believed you were Pritchard!”
Remus laughed. “Shield Charm, Padfoot, Shield Charm. That’d do the trick.”
As it turned out the detentions were overturned by Dumbledore, who apparently felt that having a bit of a chat in an empty classroom during a break between lessons wasn’t really a punishable offence. However, we did share a chuckle at Elvira’s face when Flitwick told her at supper that evening that she didn’t have to serve her detention – she obviously had no idea what he was talking about and continued to look confused all through the meal. It was only a small revenge on my part, but it was certainly still satisfying.
Once I got my broom back, things were quiet on the fan club front for a spell, especially after Madam Pomfrey finally succeeded in removing the horns from Elvira’s head. “Don’t get too comfortable, though,” Bernie told me after breakfast one day in an empty classroom. “They’ve got something up their sleeves.”
“Yes, I expect they do,” I replied. “But, if they do anything too bad, I’ll tell McGonagall it was them who jinxed my broom. Elvira knows she could be expelled for that.”
“Even so,” Bernie warned, “you should be careful, okay? Keep an eye on things.”
I shrugged. “Fine. But like I said, I’m not all that worried.”
This was a mistake, as it turned out. I should have realised, when I didn’t hear much from Elvira for a couple of weeks, that she hadn’t really given up her attacks on me, more that she was just planning something more substantial. I should have been paying more attention to what Bernie was telling me when he pulled me into empty classrooms and issued his warnings. And I should have been more prepared when it eventually did happen.
They struck in the second week of May, on a Wednesday, after we’d left double Potions. I headed to the library to finish my Ancient Runes essay and Sirius went to Muggle Studies, so we arranged to meet again at lunch time. Once the hour was up and lunch was about to be served, I left the library and headed down to the Great Hall.
I got a nasty shock when I found Sirius at the Gryffindor table and he gave me a filthy look. “Not you,” he spat, deliberately turning away. “I don’t want to see you.” And, leaving his lunch uneaten, he stood up and stormed out of the hall.
I stared, horrified, at the seat he had just vacated. What had just happened? What had I done? James, from across the table, was looking daggers at me as well, so it appeared that whatever had got Sirius so upset, James also believed. “You’ve got a nerve, showing your face after what you’ve been doing,” he snarled. Fortunately Charlotte came to the rescue.
“Elvira. And Carol Jones,” she said, hurrying to my side. “Apparently, in Muggle Studies they were passing notes to each other, and Professor Penrose picked it up and read it out loud.” She hesitated. “It said … it said that all those times Bernie’s been warning you about Elvira, well, what’s actually been going on is you’ve been seeing him behind Sirius’ back.” She looked worried, her brown eyes wide behind her glasses.
I was stunned. “And he believed that?”
She looked at me seriously, tears in her eyes. “The way James and Sirius are talking, they thought it was pretty convincing. And you did walk in here holding Bernie’s hand a couple of weeks back. So now they think that’s what’s been happening … Laura, you haven’t, have you? You wouldn’t do that, not to Sirius?”
“Of course not,” I said, staring out the doors into the Entrance Hall. Sirius was out of sight and I had no idea where he’d gone. “I couldn’t do that. And I’ve got to find him.” And, any thought of food completely forgotten, I dumped my bag at the table and hurried off in the direction he had last been seen.
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