Chapter 58 : Recovery
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The first question was answered almost immediately as I heard an argument outside the door. Most probably not very far outside, from the volume of it, but then again I was still a bit woozy and wasn’t game to trust my judgement too much. In any case, Sirius was definitely involved.
“What the hell did you think you were doing??” I heard him yell. “You could have killed her!”
“I would have thought you, of all people, would have no problem with trying to kill someone, Black,” came Severus Snape’s voice, calm as ever. “You tried to kill me, after all, only two years ago.”
“That’s got nothing to do with this!” Sirius shouted. “She could have died! She was that close, if we hadn’t been there …” His voice trailed off.
“But how much of a loss would that really be?” Snape asked silkily. “Mediocre skills, no particular talents, spawn of a Muggle and a blood traitor … Why, you seem upset, Black. What is it, you don’t want to lose your whore? Don’t tell me you’ve become attached to it …”
Gee he had a lovely way with words, better even than Elvira and fantastic for improving my self esteem. I could almost feel the tears welling up on the spot – after all, no one wants to be branded a whore and I had no idea how many others in the school shared that opinion. Fortunately Severus was cut off mid-sentence: I heard nothing more except a sharp cracking sound and then a thud, which I soon learned was Snape hitting the floor after Sirius punched him in the face. I discovered this fairly quickly as Severus was the next student admitted to the hospital wing and I could see the broken nose and cheekbone, and the bruising that was already starting to come up. He was clearly unconscious: it looked like it had been a good punch.
And it also demonstrated where Madam Pomfrey had been – there was another bed occupied, towards the back of the room and surrounded by privacy screens, and she had clearly been attending to whoever was in that. She came bustling out looking most concerned and immediately set to work on fixing Snape.
I’m afraid I didn’t react well to that, seeing the school Matron hovering with such care and attention around the person who had attacked me for what had felt like no good reason. I felt myself getting nauseous and started dry-retching into my hands, not having anything else to use. Let him rot, I thought bitterly, let those bones knit together just like they are. If he was casting cutting curses on people then he shouldn’t be entitled to be fixed up.
Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall and Slughorn had accompanied Severus into the hospital wing and once Madam Pomfrey had changed my bandages (behind a privacy screen, obviously) and given me a potion to help with the nausea, they sat around my bed.
“I understand you have been cursed, Miss Cauldwell,” Dumbledore began, and it occurred to me that I had seen more of him in the last week or so than in all of the previous seven years. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“We were leaving Potions,” I said slowly, trying to remember the sequence of events. “James had said something that got Snivellus a bit worked up. I don’t remember what it was but it was probably something to do with Lily. We all laughed and I said something that extended it and he got really ticked off. Next thing I knew he’d thrown a curse at us and it hit me here.” I indicated my left side with my other hand. “There was a tidy bit of blood and then I woke up here.”
“Would you say you were deliberately antagonising Mr Snape?” Professor Dumbledore asked quietly.
I thought about lying but decided very quickly against it – if he was a Legilimens there wasn’t much point, and it would have required too much effort anyway. “Yes, probably,” I admitted. “I didn’t intend for him to hear me, but I don’t think I would have minded much if I’d realised. I don’t like him and neither do the others. He’s nasty and he gives me the creeps.”
“And this is mutual?” Dumbledore prompted.
“Yes and no,” I said, unable to stop what had to be irrational tears spilling down my cheeks. “He hates James mostly because of Lily, it’s obvious he’s still got a thing for her. He doesn’t like Sirius either which I think is because of the tunnel under the willow thing a couple of years back. I don’t know that he’s got much of an opinion of me either way, though, we’ve never had that much to do with each other.” I took a breath and looked at the Headmaster, hiccoughing a little. “But don’t say that justifies what he did; we never got our wands out, not once.”
“I never suggested it was justified, Miss Cauldwell, I was just looking for motive. And getting a feel for our student dynamics,” Dumbledore explained, his eyes twinkling a little behind his half-moon glasses as Professor McGonagall handed me a tissue I could mop my eyes with. I tried to use my left arm but the muscles obviously weren’t fixed yet and the movement caused a stab of pain down that side, so my good hand took over.
Professor Dumbledore waited politely until I’d finished, though I was still hiccoughing rather uncomfortably. “So, in your opinion, do you think Mr Snape was trying to hit you with the curse, or someone else?”
I thought about it. “At the time I thought it was me because I’d just said something that made him pretty irate. But he might have been aiming for James, he was on that side of me and Snape really hates him. But I really don’t know. You’d have to ask him.”
Slughorn snorted. “Unfortunately Severus has been knocked unconscious, so we’re not able to ask him anything at the moment,” he said bluntly. I smiled to myself – Sirius had done well there, I was rather proud of him. “And I hope, Albus, that you’ll be punishing the one responsible.”
“That is up to Professor McGonagall, as Mr Black is in her House,” Dumbledore said firmly. Slughorn scowled, though I was unsure whether that was because Dumbledore had left his punishment up to McGonagall, or because Sirius wasn’t in Slytherin like Slughorn had hoped he would be.
“Thank you, Horace,” Dumbledore continued, making it obvious that the conversation was over, then turned back to me. “And thank you, Miss Cauldwell, you have been invaluable. We will leave you to your recovery.”
I soon heard McGonagall speaking to Sirius out in the corridor, sounding less than impressed. “Muggle fighting, Black? I expected more of you than that.”
Sirius was clearly unrepentant. “He attacked Laura. He could have killed her.”
“I am aware of what Mr Snape is accused of,” Professor McGonagall said tersely, “but that is still not a reason to lose control like that. I expect students from my House to behave in a more appropriate manner.”
“Right.” Sirius sounded like he was getting stubborn again.
“Might I ask,” McGonagall continued, “why you chose to retaliate in that particular way?”
“James had taken my wand off me,” Sirius admitted. “I think he was worried about what I might do.” He paused. “Probably just as well, though, because I might have killed him otherwise. I don’t particularly want to spend my life in Azkaban.” He paused again, and when he spoke once more his voice had a resigned sound to it. “So, Professor, how many points have I lost this time?”
There was another pause, though very brief. “I will deduct ten points from Gryffindor for fighting. I will, however, let you off a detention. In this particular case I think you have suffered enough.”
“Thanks, Professor.” I waited for the sound of footsteps leading away but there were none. After a pause, Sirius spoke again. “Can I go in now? To see her?”
“That is up to Madam Pomfrey,” said McGonagall’s voice. But then she appeared to soften. “I’ll see what I can do, Black.”
“Thanks, Professor,” Sirius said quietly.
Please, Madam Pomfrey, let him in, I thought furiously. If I ever needed to be held, this was the time Unfortunately she decided to start fussing over me again, checking my bandages even though they had only just been changed and force-feeding me some potion or other, before I could get a word in and beg her to allow me visitors.
“I think not, you need rest,” she insisted as she took my pulse, first in my good arm and then my bad one, then peered into my eyes and asked me to stick my tongue out.
“But I’ll rest much better if I’ve seen people,” I pointed out hopefully once I’d complied with her requests. “Please, just five minutes, please?”
Eventually she relented. “All right,” she said, sticking a thermometer into my mouth. “But only five minutes, not a second longer.”
I looked at her gratefully. “Thanks, Madam Pomfrey.”
Within seconds Sirius was by my side, glaring at Snape’s figure across the room as he came in. “Are you okay? Does it hurt? Will you be able to use your arm again?”
I laughed as he put his arms around me, carefully avoiding contact with my injuries. “Yes, yes and I don’t know. But probably.”
“And what about here?” he asked, gently touching the spot under my arm where the curse had also hit. I winced involuntarily as pain shot through the area with even that minor contact.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “It hurts. I think I heard Madam Pomfrey telling someone that it’s only skin damage, he didn’t hit any organs or slice through the bones or anything. But she hasn’t told me much so I don’t really know.”
“I was so worried,” he admitted quietly. “There was so much blood and you looked like you weren’t breathing. Fortunately Moony had his wits about him and conjured up a stretcher to get you up here, I think I would have tried to carry you and that might have made it worse.”
“Looks like you got it all out of your system, though,” I said wryly, looking at Snape. “I think you improved his appearance.”
His face set grimly. “Deserved everything he got. If you knew the sorts of things he was saying about you …”
He loosened his grip on me and I lay back against my pillows, the hurt coming back as I recalled Snape’s words. “Actually, I do know. I’d just woken up and I heard everything.”
“What?” Sirius looked horrified. “Don’t let it get to you, he was trying to get me riled up. He didn’t really mean it.”
“I don’t care anyway,” I said, suddenly resolving to try to make this actually true. It was only Severus Snape, why should I heed what he said? “I don’t care what he thinks. It’s not worth getting worried about.”
Sirius picked up my good hand and kissed it. “No, it’s not,” he agreed. “But you take it easy, okay?”
I nodded. “I’m just glad it’s my left arm. If he’d hit my wand arm I would have been in all sorts of trouble for the rest of term. Not to mention the exams.”
“You’ll be fine,” he said resolutely. “And we’ll make sure you’re kept up to date with everything. I know how important that is for you.”
I smiled weakly, feeling rather tired all of a sudden. Maybe Madam Pomfrey had been right to restrict my visitors. “What would I do without you?”
He smiled back but didn’t answer the question. “You just take it easy,” he repeated. “Go to sleep if you need to, don’t worry about me. But I’m here if you need me.”
I was in the hospital wing for close to a week, though if you’d asked me how long it had been I wouldn’t have been able to say. I spent so much time, especially initially, dozing on and off and waking up at all sorts of strange hours that I had no idea of what day it was, let alone what time. I did know that my parents – even Mum – made the trip north to see me, to make sure that I was recovering okay and to reassure themselves that the perpetrator was being punished, but I wasn’t really up to talking to them much or even being able to stay awake, so their visit was only a brief one. After about the fifth time I fell asleep in front of them, exhausted from the effort of trying to behave normally, they decided they weren’t really helping by being there and took off back home again.
That was probably a good thing, as their presence was keeping Sirius away, and that was a trial for both of us. In fact, aside from the time Mum and Dad were at Hogwarts, it seemed that every time I woke up Sirius was almost always there, in the chair next to my bed and probably most uncomfortable, particularly considering he seemed to sleep there. Charlotte told me that Madam Pomfrey had tried to make him leave several times, even attempting to physically eject him from the room, but he simply refused, leaving only when he had classes of his own, and I had the impression he only went to those so he could tell me what I was missing.
And then, there were other things to talk about. “Have you heard?” Lily breathed one day as she hurried in after lunch. “They’ve arrested someone over Mary!”
I sat up straight in my bed, wincing in pain as my injuries protested. “Really? Who?”
“There were a couple of them, people called Leon Bletchley and Felicity Gamp, apparently,” she said. “They got arrested last night. Low-level Death Eaters, according to the Aurors, but at least they’ve caught them.”
“I hope they rot in hell,” I said vehemently. “Mary’s family should never have been attacked like that.”
“Well, they’re likely to be sent to Azkaban, which is pretty much the same thing,” James said. “The Prophet says that the trial’s scheduled for July, so we’ll be able to keep an eye on it.”
“I wonder if we can go?” I wondered aloud. “To see them get taken down.”
“Not sure,” said Sirius, who seemed to be keen that I not get too worked up about this. “We’ll know more later. Don’t worry about it just yet.”
I leaned back onto my pillows and smiled, attempting to calm down. “Okay. I’ll try.”
As my strength increased, I was allowed visitors more frequently, though Madam Pomfrey still cast a resentful eye at Sirius whenever he was in the chair next to my bed. He regularly conjured up a desk that fit over the bed that I could use if I needed to make notes myself or to do the homework that was set, and at other times used it himself to get his own homework done. When he was away at Muggle Studies, Remus would take up residence in his usual chair and work me through what I’d missed in Ancient Runes, as well as making observations of the sort only Remus came up with.
“I’ve been talking to Sirius a bit lately,” he said matter-of-factly one day as he sat down. “You realise that he’s changed since he started going out with you?”
“Uh oh,” I said, worried. People don’t tend to like it much when their best friends have changed, and I didn’t want to get any of the boys offside.
“No, in a good way,” he explained hurriedly as he got out Friday’s Ancient Runes notes. “He’s not so impulsive or reckless, he thinks things through more.”
“Not always,” I said with a smile, my mind flicking to the episodes in the boathouse, the forbidden forest, and others like them.
He looked at me, his eyebrows raised, though he was smiling and his eyes had a bit of a twinkle to them. “I don’t think I want to know what you’re thinking about.”
“No, you don’t,” I agreed. “But I know what you mean, as a general thing. Though I put that down to growing up a bit. Plus what happened here,” I went on a little ruefully, indicating my still-useless left arm. “What does James think?”
“He’s too busy going through the same thing because of Lily,” Remus said frankly. “Probably the growing up thing is part of it too.” He frowned slightly. “I’m not sure about you being cursed, though,” he went on, “it was happening well before then. Besides, Lily wasn’t attacked and, like I said, James is doing it too.” He paused, looking at me as though trying to work something out. “I like you as a couple,” he said eventually. “You’re different, but you complement each other, balance each other out a bit. It works well.”
“Thanks,” I smiled. “Sirius said pretty much the same thing at Easter.”
He looked surprised. “He did?” he asked. “What did he say?”
“Um,” I began, trying to remember the words he had used. “He said that I filled in the gaps where he’s missing things, that he’s a better person because of me.” I could feel my cheeks burning as I said it out loud, it felt a bit like telling secrets and I felt uncomfortable singing my own praises.
Remus let out a low whistle and looked at me as if with new respect. “He said that? Merlin’s beard, Laura, you have done a good job, if he’s recognised that!”
“What do you mean?”
“Put it this way,” he said, pulling out his Rune Dictionary and putting it on the desk Sirius had conjured. “Introspection and self-analysis have never been Sirius’ strong points. If he’s looking critically at himself, that means he wants to improve himself. And he’d never do that just for us. That, Laura Cauldwell, is your influence.”
I just stared at him, trying to take it all in. I had no reason not to believe him, and Remus was generally pretty cluey so if anyone would notice something like that, he would. He noticed my face and laughed.
“Don’t think about it too much,” he said gently. “You’re probably the best thing that’s happened to him, in more ways than one. Just enjoy that.”
I blushed. “Okay. Thanks.” I paused. “He said that, too.”
“I’m not surprised.” He grinned at me. “Now, here’s what we did in Runes last Friday …”
By the time I was finally released from the hospital wing my injuries had improved rather significantly, though my arm was still a little weak and both scars a bit sore. Madam Pomfrey explained that because I’d been cut with a curse, and one that she hadn’t seen before, she wasn’t able to seal the wounds like she would normally have been able to do, and it had taken a while before anything she tried had worked. In the end she’d had to call on Professor Dumbledore to help out, and between them they had finally managed to close the wounds, though I was warned that the scarring down my arm and across my ribcage would most probably be permanent. In any case it explained why I had been drinking so many Blood Replenishing Potions – if she wasn’t able to stem the bleeding then I would have been in trouble otherwise. No wonder I’d felt weak.
Severus Snape escaped serious punishment and, even more unfairly, left the hospital wing looking as though Sirius had never hit him in the first place. Anyway he lost fifty or so points for Slytherin, which apparently did not enamour him to his dorm-mates, and suffered a half dozen detentions, but he didn’t seem to have lost his petty and vindictive hatred for James and Sirius and made a point of referring to me loudly as 'Black’s whore' at every given opportunity. Then again, Veronica Smethley told me before Runes one day that he’d been calling me that for a while, it just hadn’t made it to our ears until the cutting curse incident. Charming, really, and while it stung a bit every time I heard it I resolved to never give him the satisfaction of knowing that. I could well understand why Lily had cut off her friendship with him. (Of course, I found no evidence he had ever referred to her as “Potter’s whore” – obviously the fact he still fancied her was enough to stay his tongue on that score.)
Sirius seemed to find Snape’s label of me even more offensive than I did – like I’d decided in the hospital wing, he wasn’t worth getting worried about, and I rather successfully put an imaginary shield between him and me so that what he said usually just bounced off. But Sirius saw it as a slight on my honour, which I suppose it was, and kept trying to defend me. Whenever we heard the reference he would pull his wand on whoever said it and cast what usually turned out to be one of Bea’s hexes on them, before turning to me looking worried. “You know you’re not just that, don’t you?” he would ask.
“Of course I know that,” I reassured him at lunch the next day, trying to ignore Maggie Flint doing an impression of me as, well, a whore. (Honestly! Had they never heard of subtlety? They had so much to learn from even someone like Dione Turpin.) “Do you really think I’d believe Severus Snape over you? They’re just trying to get a reaction out of us.”
“But I don’t like them saying it,” he said staunchly. “They’re spreading lies and they shouldn’t be able to get away with it. You’re so much more than that.”
“Are you going to have a go at Dione and Elvira as well?” I asked. “They all do it, just in different ways.”
He grinned. “Not Elvira, not any more,” he said a little triumphantly. “She and Catchlove in detention for the rest of the year. Separate detentions, that is, so they can’t plot anything else against you. Oh, and the Ravenclaw House points are looking even sicker than Slytherin’s.”
“Nice to see they got their just desserts,” I admitted with a smile. “But yeah, Dione’s still spreading her stories and you haven’t wanted to jinx her.”
“I guess,” he admitted. “But I don’t like it. If there’s one person at this school who’s irreproachable, it’s you.”
I shook my head wearily – I was still getting tired more quickly than usual, despite the potions I was still taking. “No one’s irreproachable,” I pointed out. “You just have a selective memory.”
“Of course you’re irreproachable,” he insisted. “You never do anything to anyone except in retaliation. You can’t say that about many people here.”
I gave up. “Whatever.” If he wanted to believe that I wasn’t going to bother arguing: it was so much easier to just agree with him. Then something else occurred to me. “Anyway,” I went on, feeling a little more energetic all of a sudden, “we’ll be out of here in another month or so, then it doesn’t matter what they say because we’ll never see them.”
He put an arm around my waist and gave me a squeeze. “That’s the spirit. And of course eventually you’ll be a Black yourself, so that particular label will be null and void anyway.” He froze suddenly, as though realising what he’d said. “Maybe. And only if you want to, of course,” he hurriedly added.
I smiled and relaxed into him. “That sounds nice.”
Sirius took me aside as we headed upstairs after lunch. “I hadn’t said that before, had I?” he asked a little sheepishly.
“What, that I’ll become a Black?” I asked with a smile. “No, I can’t say that you have.” I knew why he was a bit bothered by this – he and James were always very careful not to say anything like that to anyone. Apparently someone in James’ family had once made a similar off-the-cuff statement to a girl he was seeing and she’d taken it to be a proposal, and he’d felt honour-bound to abide by her acceptance. The story went that the marriage ended up being a disaster so James, and by extension Sirius, had learned to mind what they said in that regard.
He nodded, looking a little uneasy. “I … I …geez, Laura, I’m sorry, I don’t really know what I’m trying to say. I’ve just thought that so many times that I’d forgotten I hadn’t said it out loud.” He hesitated. “But you do know I meant not yet, right?”
I smiled again. “Well, the fact you used the word ‘eventually’ would generally indicate that, I think,” I pointed out. “Besides, I suspect it would be a bit of a giveaway to my dad that I’d been ignoring his orders this year.”
He chuckled, obviously relieved. “Yes, let’s get school out of the way first,” he agreed, putting his arms around me again. I winced slightly as he put pressure on my injuries but ignored the pain – he made me feel safe and secure and that was exactly what I needed after what had happened with Snape.
“Brilliant idea,” I said. “And speaking of which, we really should be getting to Charms. I can’t afford to miss any more classes.”
That was undeniably the truth. NEWTs were only a week away and we were up to our ears in study and revision. Fortunately I’d been attacked late enough in the year to not miss much that was actually new, as our teachers had been going over what we’d done in the two previous years, but I still had some catching up to do. At least I had a tidy bit of support, though – Sirius and James were more than happy to share their considerable knowledge, which Lily topped up for Potions and Charms and Remus for Ancient Runes, and the other girls not only helped me organise my thoughts but also made sure I didn’t get too worked up over anything.
Of course, the rest of the seventh-years were in a similar boat, and it was a common sight to see more than one person at mealtimes propping a textbook up against various bottles or dishes and continuing their revision while they ate. Even Cadmus Branstone, who’d gone home earlier in the year on the death of his father at the hands of the Death Eaters, had returned and was frequently seen knee-deep in textbooks and parchment as he tried frantically to catch up on everything he had missed.
Someone must have been looking after me, though, because my strength returned just three days from the beginning of exams. Whatever combination of potions Madam Pomfrey had been giving me had obviously worked, and aside from my scar still hurting on contact, I was pretty much as good as new. Okay, I still got tired a bit more easily, but overall you could say that I was cured.
Just in time, too, as I intended to use that weekend to get stuck into non-stop revision. After all, you only get one chance to sit your NEWTs (unless you fail and have to repeat the year – I had my fingers crossed that that wouldn’t happen) and a lot of Dad’s hopes were riding on my results so I didn’t want to disappoint him. I’d been blatantly disregarding his directive about having no distractions during the year, so it was really up to me to prove that the rule wasn’t really necessary.
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