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Chapter 2 : Changes in Camelot
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“Oi, Martha,” she said, throwing her towel at her through the bathroom door. Martha looked at her, toothbrush in mouth.
“What?” she mumbled through her toothpaste.
“What’s going on with Sirius? Long story or not, you promised to tell us tonight!”
“Absolutely, ’fess up,” Lily agreed.
Martha went red, turning her back to us to both rinse out her mouth and hide her glowing cheeks. After splashing some water over her face, she came back into the dormitory.
Charlotte and Lily were both staring her down. “Well?” Lily prompted, after Martha didn’t say anything straight away. “We thought you two hated each other!”
“We don’t hate each other. We just had a – misunderstanding,” Martha said sheepishly, looking around the dorm and noting that Mary and I, who were both sitting on Mary’s bed, were going to be part of the conversation too, by default if nothing else. “My dad found out about what had happened, I think McGonagall must have written to him after I sent Sirius to the hospital wing that time. One too many detentions for hexing people, probably.”
Charlotte giggled, a reminiscent look on her face. One of Martha’s jinxes had gone haywire and Sirius had come down with a nasty combination of octopus tentacles sprouting from his face, a missing nose and a muscular bind, where he couldn’t move his upper body. In the end they sent him to Madam Pomfrey in the hospital wing and she had, after much trial and error, managed to undo the damage.
“Anyway,” Martha continued, warming to the task at hand, “Mum and Dad sat me down and gave me a long lecture on stereotyping people. Apparently Mum went to school with Sirius’ folks and she gave me a rundown on the sorts of things they used to do and say to people, particularly Muggle-borns and half-bloods.” She looked at Lily and then me as she took a deep breath and went on. “She made me tell her exactly what Sirius had done, and I realised it was nothing like what she’d been describing used to happen in her day, and nothing like what Sirius must have been brought up to believe. She pointed out that to even be Sorted into Gryffindor he must be really different from that, and, well, I couldn’t say anything to that. Because it was all true. I felt so ashamed of myself. So then they both sat me down and made me write to him to apologise.” She was now sitting on her bed, silent tears forming in her eyes.
“He was really nice about it,” she went on finally, breaking into a grin when she saw the dubious look on Lily’s face. “Yeah, I was as surprised as you are. It was only because I was so stubborn I wouldn’t admit I was wrong, that he kept it up all that time. He was angry with me because I refused to see what should have been obvious. So when I wrote and apologised, he wrote back, saying he forgave me and saying that by apologising I was becoming a bigger person. So I wrote this really flirty and suggestive letter back, never intending to send it, but just to make me feel better. I never even finished it. Unfortunately Mum found it in my room and, thinking I’d forgotten to send it, gave it to Lechuza – our owl,” she explained, seeing Mary’s confused look, “and – well – he read it. ’Course, he’d just had that other letter so he’d know my handwriting, even though I hadn’t signed it. So I had three options – pretend it didn’t happen, get horribly embarrassed, or go along with it.”
Lily was getting red-faced from trying not to laugh, while Charlotte abandoned all pretence and thumped her mattress in appreciation.
Martha grinned suddenly, a mischievous twinkle in her damp eyes. “I figured that the potential benefits of going along with it were far greater than any alternative,” she said. “I mean, Sirius Black! If he went along with it … wow! I couldn’t do much better, could I?”
“True,” Charlotte agreed. “He’s quite a catch, I must admit. Rich, too, everyone knows the Blacks are loaded.” She paused. “Pity his ego is larger than a Hungarian Horntail!”
“And just as dangerous,” added Lily. “Between him and James …”
I smiled as I made my way back to my own bed. Trust her to bring James into it. That denial thing she was doing just wasn’t as convincing as it had once been.
“It seems to be working, though,” said Martha, grinning even more broadly. “Proves it definitely was worth a shot!”
“Ye look goo’ together, too,” Mary said shyly. Martha looked at her, surprised: Mary rarely included herself in these conversations – she and I usually preferred to sit on the sidelines, taking it all in but not really contributing. “Bu’ ye dae,” she insisted, getting a bit braver. “Ye seem t’ match, somehoo. Prob’ly because ye’re both gorgeous.”
Martha blushed and mumbled something into her bed hangings. She never was particularly good at taking compliments.
Mary was right, of course. Martha had dead straight honey-coloured hair that cascaded down her back, cornflower-blue eyes and the sort of face that normally adorned magazine covers. She was one of the best looking girls in the school from any year group, so when paired with Sirius Black, who was the best looking boy, it did seem a good match.
The week wore on and all our teachers seemed intent on pointing out that this year we would take our OWL (Ordinary Wizarding Level) exams which could determine our future careers, and that we should all be buckling down now and spending every spare second with our noses in various textbooks. It was all a bit of overkill and by Thursday we were sick of what felt like a speech the teachers had all learned. It was apparently important because we needed a good OWL grade in order to progress to most classes at the next level, which was known as NEWTs (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests), for which we would take final examinations in seventh year.
Charms was my favourite class, probably because I was good at it. Along with Lily I was one of the best in the year, though no one could oust Greta Catchlove from Ravenclaw from her spot at top of the class. It was taught by a very short wizard called Professor Flitwick, head of Ravenclaw House, who had to stand on a chair in order to be able to see over his desk, but who was also very good-natured and had a wicked sense of humour. Charms classes were always a lot of fun because there was so much going on, with a couple of dozen students practicing wand movements and incantation pronunciation, that you could use the time to talk about all sorts of things without Flitwick being any the wiser.
Herbology was another class I enjoyed, because it was basically gardening. We had a good sized garden at home and I enjoyed working in it over the summer to clear my head, so I saw Herbology as an extension of that. There were five greenhouses at Hogwarts and the teacher (and head of Hufflepuff House), Professor Sprout, had been working us through them and introducing us to more and more dangerous magical plants.
Transfiguration was trickier, and was taught by Professor McGonagall. She was head of Gryffindor House, but she never favoured us over other students and was someone you didn’t want to cross. Occasionally she could smile, which had surprised all of us when we discovered it in maybe second year, but you couldn’t argue that she wasn’t extremely fair even if her classes were, frankly, difficult. We had progressed to Vanishing spells that year, which required such concentration that I was frequently exhausted by the end of the lesson. Some of the smarter students seemed to get through without much difficulty, but for most of us it was a twice-weekly struggle to get everything right.
Potions was equally difficult, with Professor Slughorn, head of Slytherin House, as the Potions master. Short, round and bald, with a grey walrus-like moustache, he had a select group of favourite students and largely ignored everyone else – anyone who was beautiful, brilliant or well-connected was in, and everyone else was out. Of the Gryffindors in my year, Charlotte had been invited to join the Slug Club, as it was known, straight out of the blocks, as her uncle Quentin had written one of our textbooks. Once their brilliance became apparent, James and Sirius also received invitations, as did Lily for both brains and spunk. Needless to say Mary and I weren’t invited, and I doubted if Slughorn even knew our names as he called us something different each lesson.
History of Magic had to be the world’s most boring subject. I’d read the textbook by Bathilda Bagshot and some of the material was really quite fascinating but our teacher, Professor Binns, was the dullest teacher imaginable. He was a ghost, which sounds far more interesting than it actually was, and his dry little voice droned on monotonously, no matter how interesting the subject matter may in fact be. Generally within five minutes half of the class was generally in a bit of a dazed stupor, and within ten minutes the rest of the class had joined them. Mary and I had a standing agreement to elbow each other in the ribs if we caught the other actually falling asleep during class.
Astronomy lessons were also something of a trial. While I didn’t mind the subject matter, and sometimes it was nice having classes at midnight gazing up at the sky, I failed to see any relevance to everyday life. At least the others could be taught with some sort of perspective to them. Besides, Astronomy often meant the Canis Major constellation, which caused the boys in our class to have giggling fits every time it was brought up. Sirius, it seemed, was the name of its alpha star – apparently this was a naming tradition in the Black family – so whenever it got a mention it was seen as a huge joke. One which, needless to say, the rest of us didn’t share in and found rather irksome.
Care of Magical Creatures, an elective subject, was always fun. Along with Herbology it was one of the few to take place outside the castle proper, and was usually held on the lawns near the forbidden forest. The teacher, Professor Kettleburn, was an elderly wizard with only one and a half limbs left and a lot of white flyaway hair. He could get rather flustered if things didn’t go according to how he had planned them, but he did know his stuff and we learned a lot about several interesting and magical creatures.
Much less entertaining but equally interesting was Ancient Runes, which was the closest thing Hogwarts offered to a foreign language. Runes could be found on ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian wizarding tombs and in libraries from those times, so the class focused on interpretation and translation of the runes and applying their contents to wizarding society. The Runes mistress, Professor Babbling, was as her name suggested a rather talkative witch who encouraged class discussion about the subject, but she discouraged discussion of any other nature in her lessons and penalties for talking during it were harsh. Martha and Remus were the only other Gryffindors taking the subject, which was an elective.
The other three elective subjects were Muggle Studies, Divination and Arithmancy, but as I didn’t take them I can’t offer much information about them. Mary took Muggle Studies, which was as its name suggested the study of the culture, history and society of Muggles. Many pure-blood wizards knew next to nothing about Muggles so it was often a fairly popular class, though it was seen by some, perhaps somewhat unfairly, as a soft option. As my mother was a Muggle I had never really seen the point in my taking it. I mean, we even had a television set at home.
Divination was the study of prophesising the future. Charlotte and Peter were the only Gryffindors who took the subject so I relied on their reports of it, but it seemed they read tea leaves, crystal balls and people’s palms, among other things, to foretell the future. It seemed a bit vague to me and even Charlotte spoke derisively of it, though she continued taking it all through her NEWT studies. Arithmancy appeared to be a class that dealt with the magical properties of numbers, and the subject was taken by Lily, Martha and Charlotte, who were often working through complicated number charts and threatening to tell us all about ourselves based on the numerology of our birth dates.
Defence Against the Dark Arts was the final class offered, a core subject and the most important that we took. This was because of the rubbish spouted by the latest wizarding hatemonger, who had given himself the title of Lord Voldemort. This Voldemort was waging war on Muggle-borns and half-bloods, claiming that only those with pure blood were worthy of learning the skills of magic, and that everyone else was an impostor and not worth wiping your feet on. You get the general idea.
Most people were horrified by the undercurrent of ignorance and hatred that Voldemort inspired and thrived on – after all, the last major wizarding war had ended only thirty years ago with the defeat of Grindelwald, and now here was some new upstart trying to dredge it all up again. Not that anyone dared to say that out loud, of course. Voldemort had managed to arouse such fear among the community, with random Muggle killings and attacks on the ‘unworthy’, all of which ended with his signature emblem emblazoned in the sky above the scene of the crime, that many people were unwilling to speak his name: he was increasingly known as ‘You-Know-Who’ or ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’.
So, taking Defence Against the Dark Arts meant that we were equipping ourselves to survive Voldemort and his select group of thugs, known as Death Eaters. Our education in it had been a little disjointed as we’d had a different teacher each year – some said the job was jinxed – but we were all eager to ensure we did as well as we possibly could, this year under the tutelage of a middle-aged wizard by the name of Professor Dingle.
Of course, it wasn’t just the likes of Voldemort’s sympathisers and supporters that we had to deal with. Much closer to home were the various petty rivalries and jealousies that accompany any school group, and ours was no exception. Most of them were nothing to write home about – things like James and Severus each trying to impress Lily, for example – but it was impossible to ignore the vicious rumours spread by Dione Turpin from Ravenclaw.
Dione had a nasty habit of launching character attacks against anyone she saw as a threat or felt inferior to in any way, never needing anything as irrelevant as evidence to back up her insinuations. She was very effective in this because, while spiteful, she was remarkably subtle. Her attacks were always out of vision and earshot of any of the boys, to the extent that I didn’t think any of them even knew about them, and as a result she was perceived by many people as a lovely person. No wonder she was in Ravenclaw – you’d have to be really smart to be able to pull off a split personality like that. The Headmaster had even been taken in enough to make her a prefect.
Dione’s attacks were mostly jaw, all talk and little action, and it was an uncommon sight to see her actually jinxing anyone. This was quite possibly one of her smartest moves, as it was much harder to undo damage to someone’s reputation than it was to remove bicorn horns or something similar from their head. (There was that Ravenclaw thing again.)
Fortunately for me I was well outside her radar – as a Cauldwell there was never any possibility she might feel inferior to me, no matter what I as a person might achieve. Having Bea as a sister was more than enough to lump me well at the bottom of the social spectrum. People like Lily, Martha and Charlotte, however, were prime targets for someone like Dione, and especially after Lily too received a prefect’s badge she was singled out even more than she had been previously, clearly considered to be fair game.
It had to be jealousy, of course, as there was nothing about Lily not to like. But she was beautiful and gifted and had half the boys in the year drooling over her, and Dione had taken exception to this. The rivalry had been going on since about second year, with no encouragement from Lily whatsoever except for the occasional retaliatory hex that invariably couldn’t be traced back to her, but it seemed to be hitting new heights this year.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Dione muttered venomously as Lily walked past. “SHE’s a prefect? Dumbledore must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel, picking someone who has to copy all her work from the books in the library in order to pass.”
“Does she really?” asked Gertie Cresswell, her partner in crime. “Wow, I didn’t know that. We really should tell someone. Hey, do you think Elvira knows?”
And so it would start. I was never convinced that Gertie ever felt any real malice towards Lily (or anyone else Dione was targeting on any given day), but she would generally agree and do her bit in spreading the rumours anyway, possibly just to keep the peace.
Mary seemed to agree with this. “Ye know, Laura,” she said one day, watching them, “I’m nae sure that Gertie even believes Dione these days.”
“She probably doesn’t,” I agreed. “She’s fine with Lily and the rest of them when Dione’s not around, it’s just when she’s in full flight that Gertie goes along with it.”
“Prob’ly scared o’ her,” she suggested.
“Well, would you blame her if she was?” I asked. “I certainly wouldn’t want Dione as an enemy.”
“Aye, goo’ poin’,” Mary said with a grin. “Well, she is i’ Ravenclaw so she’d hae t’ be smart, maybe this is her way o’ showin’ it.”
Luckily for Lily, she was so well regarded generally that hardly anyone believed anything Dione said about her. Eventually people started ignoring Dione’s accusations and stories altogether and began referring to them as Turpin Tales. When this had started I wasn’t entirely sure but it was well entrenched by the end of fourth year and whenever we heard something particularly ridiculous – for example, Martha had been seduced by a vampire on the latest Hogsmeade visit – we dismissed it as a Turpin Tale and therefore no more worth believing than those of Beedle the Bard.
As pretty much everyone had expected, Martha and Sirius were an item by the end of the first week of term. Every now and then I would notice her gazing dreamily off into the distance during classes, or sneaking away during breaks with him to grab a quick snog between lessons. They didn’t stop hanging around with their respective friends, though, and from what Martha said when she finally made it into the dorm late at night they never actually got around to doing much talking. They were, however, very much the golden couple, the ones that everyone wanted to emulate, which wasn’t at all surprising considering, as Mary had pointed out earlier, they were both gorgeous. It was the gossip of the school for a while – until Charon Avery decided otherwise.
Avery, from Slytherin, was another nasty piece of work. He was from one of the old pure-blood families that thought Voldemort, who I mentioned before, had it right. As such, people like me, Peter and Remus (half-bloods) or Lily (Muggle-born) were regarded as the scum of the earth. Of course, we were in the same year as he was, which meant we had the same amount of magical training, so he didn’t pick on us. No, Avery wasn’t one to pick a fight with someone his own size. He was much more likely to find a Muggle-born in one of the junior years and have a go at cursing them. (He always was a particularly brave type.)
The furore started four or so weeks into term, when it was impossible not to notice the whispers throughout the Great Hall during supper one Saturday night.
“Has anyone seen him?”
“You know, that second-year from Ravenclaw, the blonde kid who nearly made the Quidditch team. The one who tried out for Seeker.”
“Does anyone know where he might be?”
The boy in question was called Lenny Dodderidge, and it seemed he’d been missing since before lunch. Professor Flitwick, the Charms master who was also Head of Ravenclaw House, was alerted and a full scale search of the castle was initiated. After an hour or two they found Lenny with Avery in one of the dungeons, where Charon had decided to use the younger boy, who was Muggle-born, to practice the Cruciatus (or torture) Curse on. This curse was one of the three ‘Unforgivables’, the use of any of which would normally result in a trip to Azkaban, the wizard prison.
Fortunately for Lenny, Charon wasn’t as good at the Dark Arts as he had thought. While he succeeded in inflicting a reasonable amount of pain on the younger boy, he didn’t have enough power or ability to actually torture him the way the curse intended. Lenny spent a week or two in the hospital wing under the watchful eye of the Matron, Madam Pomfrey, mostly for observation, and came out pretty much as good as new.
“I’m surprised Avery didna ge’ expelled,” Mary said at dinner that night. Because no permanent damage had been inflicted on Lenny, Avery was indeed allowed to stay on at Hogwarts – though he had been sentenced to spend four months in detention and be accompanied by a teacher everywhere he went for a long time.
“I don’t know,” I said, considering. “Dumbledore’s known for giving people second chances, isn’t he? I mean, there have been some pretty awful things happen in the past few years due to the war, and no one’s been kicked out yet. Not Unforgivables, I admit, but still …”
I wasn’t kidding. Two years previously some seventh-year Slytherins called Jugson and Crabbe had made a bit of a crusade of bullying young Muggle-born students, not to the extent of actual torture but certainly making their lives difficult (for example, hanging them off the Astronomy tower in their underwear in the middle of winter, with no wands), and more than one of their victims had decided to abandon the magical world entirely as a result of this harassment. And the year before that another Slytherin named Thorfinn Rowle, who had since been confirmed as having joined the Death Eaters, got in a lot of trouble for trying to perfect the Entrail-Expelling Curse, which it was suspected he had planned to use on some Muggles or Muggle-borns. None of these people had been expelled.
“Aye, ye’re richt,” Mary agreed with a sigh. “Though he mus’ hae convinced Dumbledore tha’ he wilna dae it again, an’ we all know Dumbledore can tell when ye’re lyin’.”
“Maybe they managed to instil the fear of Merlin into him if he even thought about doing anything like that again,” I said. “Or, at the very least, the fear of McGonagall.” Our head of House was such a strict disciplinarian that she could even get the boys in our year to behave, no mean feat in anyone’s language.
Author’s note: I’m still not thrilled with this chapter but it is better than it was to start with, so it will do for now. I may do some more tweaking later on, though, if I get inspired, so don’t be surprised if it changes slightly yet again.
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