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Chapter 5 : The end of term
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Slughorn’s main concession to the aftermath of his party was that he looked even more than usual like he had been indulging in some of the finer things in life. His walrus moustache was rather droopy and his nose even redder than usual as he welcomed us into the classroom. As usual, Severus and Lily took their table at the front of the class and started setting up their cauldrons. Snape kept looking over his shoulder at the table James, Sirius, Remus and Peter were occupying at the back, his wand out and a nasty look on his face. Mary and I, noticing this, looked at each other and agreed it was only a matter of time before one of them grew bat wings or something similar.
Slughorn, true to form, noticed none of this, or if he did he ignored it as the main perpetrators were all members of his Slug Club. “Today,” he was saying, “we are going to be making a Befuddlement Draught. Who can tell me the uses for this potion?”
As usual, Lily’s and Snape’s hands both went up, and Lily ended up reciting the potion’s properties and applications. Upon opening my textbook, I groaned out loud – this had to be one of the most complicated potions I’d ever attempted, and that included the Draught of Peace at the start of the term. However, there was nothing to it but to do it, and Mary and I joined the queue of students to collect our ingredients from the students’ store cupboard and set to work.
“Look a’ tha’,” Mary said about halfway through the class. “Looks lik’ th’ lads hae bin at it again.”
I looked in the direction she was indicating to see that Severus Snape’s nose, already rather large, was steadily increasing in size. I stifled a giggle.
“Wonder how long that’s been going on for,” I said quietly. “It’s almost a foot long, surely Slughorn’s noticed?”
“Especially since he’s i’ th’ Slug Club an’ all,” Mary agreed. “I’m surprised he hasna said anythin’.” In any case Snape was very obviously incensed, as was Lily, but James and Sirius appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely.
At that point Professor Slughorn, so often oblivious to what went on in his classes, finally looked up from Maggie Flint’s potion and noticed what had happened. Being the Potions master, he immediately thought that Severus had been hit with some Swelling Solution rather than the Engorgement Charm it patently was. This resulted in him rushing around trying to concoct a Deflating Draught when all he had to do was get out his wand and say “Reducio”, which in turn meant Snape was getting more and more irate. To his obvious chagrin, his fellow Slytherins were laughing at him rather than taking his side or helping him out, an indication perhaps that he wasn’t as popular as he had tried to make Lily believe.
Fortunately for Snape, Lily had her wits about her and, pulling out her wand with surprising speed, cast the counter-charm fairly quickly.
“Thank you, Lily,” Professor Slughorn said with obvious relief, watching Severus’ nose quickly return to its usual size. “I think, though, Severus, that you should still go to the hospital wing. Just to make sure, you know, that there wasn’t anything else.”
Lily smiled at him and then very quickly turned around to look angrily in James’ general direction. James, for his part, gave her what I was sure he thought was his most winning expression, though it disappeared rather quickly under Lily’s hostile glare. However, never one to give up, he recomposed himself with considerable speed and was soon running his hand through his hair again, trying to make it look the way he wanted.
“Come now, Severus,” Slughorn was saying to Snape. “Pack up your cauldron and go and see Madam Pomfrey. You’re excused from the rest of this class.”
I turned to look at Snape, who had an expression of abject fury on his face as he made his way out of the classroom. If I was James, I thought, I would have certainly been on my guard, a feeling that was validated a second later when I saw Severus whip out his wand and send a hex at his rival.
“Ye’re kiddin’,” Mary muttered, a look of horror on her face as she watched the hex’s effect on James. He had obviously been hit with a Stinging Jinx, and because his attention had been on Lily he hadn’t been able to react in time. In a matter of seconds his face had swollen up to be unrecognisable.
I looked around at Lily, wondering what she thought of her friend doling out hexes like that, even if it was at James Potter, but she looked more confused than anything. “You know, I don’t think Lily even realises Snivellus sent that jinx,” I commented.
“Aye, his timing wa’ verra good,” she said. “They were busy concentratin’ on each ither so he took his chance.”
“I wish it didn’t have to always be in class like this, though,” I said. “These potions are hard enough to get right even without them trying to curse each other into oblivion every lesson.”
“Aye, nae arguments there,” she agreed, groaning dramatically.
Behind us, James’ new look was causing delight among the Slytherins and general horror among his friends and admirers. Those of us who were neither just found the whole thing somewhat amusing. Sirius and Remus bundled him out of the dungeon like a shot and took him either to the hospital wing or somewhere safe where they could reverse the damage – which it was wasn’t clear from their garbled message to Professor Slughorn.
In any case, the end result was that neither James, Sirius, Remus nor Severus were with us for the remainder of the lesson. Lily appeared to enjoy the peace and quiet immensely and we all managed to get through the class with minimal disruption, a most unusual occurrence when you shared a class with those four. Mary and I were both rather pleased with our attempts at Befuddlement Draughts that we handed up to Slughorn at the end of the class, and I thought that if left to my own devices without too much interruption I may even get a decent mark in my OWLs.
The last school day before the Christmas holidays and the day before the Yule Ball was soon upon us, and no one was paying much attention to classwork. In our Astronomy theory lesson our checking of star charts was rather predictably disrupted by the boys, as usual making fun of the Canis Major constellation, to such an extent that Professor Dobbs threatened to call in Professor McGonagall to control them.
Herbology wasn’t much better. The lunch period had been interrupted by Peeves the poltergeist, who seemed to think that an avalanche of Dungbombs was just what everyone wanted in their food, so we were hungry and very smelly by the time we headed towards the greenhouses for the afternoon lesson.
“Wha’ dae ye think?” Mary asked as we left the Great Hall, covered like everyone else in the foul-smelling things. “Quick shower afore Herbology t’ wash it off?”
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to get a Dungbomb-inspired knot out of my hair. “Sprout will probably have us working with manure or something, it’s probably not worth it.”
“Aye, ye’re richt,” she conceded. “There wa’ a full moon las’ week, wasna there? So she’s prob’ly go’ some mooncalf dung fer us t’ spread aboot.”
And, as it turned out, we were right in that assumption. Professor Sprout had indeed obtained a fresh supply of mooncalf dung collected at that last full moon, so we spent much of the lesson carefully fertilising the Abyssinian Shrivelfigs and Fanged Geraniums, being extra careful with the latter to avoid being bitten.
Needless to say, after Herbology finished there was a general rush upstairs to the dorms so everyone could have a shower before heading back down to supper. I hadn’t had to wait that long to use the bathroom in any time in my schooling before, at least not that I could remember. Fortunately we were all in the same boat so could laugh about it in the dorm while we waited.
Finally it was all over, and we could finally relax now that the first term of OWLs had finished. All we had left before going home for the holidays was the Yule Ball the following night and most of the teachers, recognising it was Christmas, hadn’t even set much holiday homework. While the sensible part of me knew that I should be spending my spare time before the ball getting what homework finished that I could, the more realistic part decided that collapsing on a couch in the common room in front of the fire, book in hand, was a much more desirable option. Either that or hexing various Slytherins who got in my way, as Scylla Pritchard noticed when she tried to jinx me on my way out of the Great Hall after lunch on the Saturday and ended up with a cat’s tail and whiskers for her trouble.
Once lunch was over and Scylla had been safely dispatched to the hospital wing, Mary and I wandered outside and made some snow angels on the lawn near the lake, pausing only to dry ourselves off with hot air charms and throw occasional snowballs at passing students and also at the Whomping Willow, which was more of a challenge as if your aim was good enough it would hit them back.
The Willow, on the lawns halfway between the castle and the forbidden forest, had been at Hogwarts for at least as long as I had, and had the title of ‘whomping’ because its branches would swing around and attack anyone who got too close to it. We couldn’t help but feel this was a bit of a shame, because there was a hole at its base which rumour had was a tunnel that contained a monster of some sort. Where the tunnel led no one was sure, but some people theorised that you could get out of the school grounds through it so, if the monster thing wasn’t true, it was a bit intriguing. When we were younger we used to dare each other to see who could get close enough to the Willow to touch the trunk, but that ended when Davey Gudgeon from Hufflepuff nearly lost an eye and now no one was allowed within fifty feet of it.
In any case it made good sport, hurling snowballs at its branches and seeing where it would hit them, and Mary and I were thoroughly enjoying our afternoon. The cold air energised us and it was with flushed faces and wet gloves that we finally made it back inside some two or three hours later. We were on our way back to Gryffindor Tower to have a long bath and wash our hair when we were assailed by Lily, who had apparently been looking for us.
“There you are,” she said with a grin from ear to ear. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Why, what’s up?” I asked as she got in between us and hooked her arms into ours.
“The ball, dummy,” she said as she steered us towards the nearest staircase. “We wanted to all get ready together, and to do that we needed you.”
“Already?” asked Mary with obvious surprise. “Bu’ we’ve go’ hours ye’, it’s nae e’en four o’clock.”
Lily just grinned even more. “Well, yes, but there’s bubble baths and hair treatments and all sorts of things we can do,” she said, winking at me. “Don’t tell me you thought it was just a matter of having a quick shower and getting changed?”
“Not exactly,” I admitted, “but that wasn’t far from the mark.”
“You two are far too much of tomboys,” she said, shaking her head in mock exasperation. “We have so much to teach you about the good things about being a girl.” And she would brook no opposition as she frogmarched us into the common room and then to our dorm, where Martha and Charlotte were waiting.
Getting ready for the ball took the best part of three hours, as the five of us had long baths with lots of different smelling potions in them, experimented with different shades of eyeshadow and lipstick, and exchanged hairstyling tips. Mary and I weren’t used to being included with Lily, Martha and Charlotte like this, but as Lily had already indicated that night the importance of getting things right for the ball and making each other over far outweighed minor things like who you would normally talk to. In the end I thought our efforts were rewarded, and we all looked rather fetching.
Lily, as possibly the prettiest girl in our year, was wearing robes of brilliant autumn colours – rusty orange, deep yellow, that sort of thing – all mixed together in a kind of tie-dye rainbow effect, with a scoop neckline and half length wide sleeves. Matched with her stunning auburn hair she looked absolutely vibrant. She accessorised with some gold earrings Snape had given her as an early Christmas present, her own locket and a gold charm bracelet that was Martha’s. A dash of brown lipstick that I contributed completed the effect. I thought, and the others echoed, that we would be hard pressed to find anyone at the ball who looked better than she did.
Martha, the blonde-haired blue-eyed beauty that she was, wore pale yellow robes with an ivory trim and plunging v-neck. We left her hair down but tied an ivory scarf around it for effect, and with gold hoop earrings and a pendant that sat just inside the V, making it appear slightly more modest, she looked magnificent. Mary lent her a light pink lipstick and Lily found some matching eyeshadow which made the overall impression amazing. Then again, she had a tidy bit to work with in the first place – I felt almost as though I would have killed for hair or a figure like that.
Charlotte, our African queen, wasn’t one for pastels and had chosen robes of emerald green. There had been a long discussion as to whether she or Lily should wear them, since they were the same shade as Lily’s eyes, but after they both tried them on we all agreed they looked better on Charlotte, something to do with her extra height. We matched them with silver jewellery – earrings of mine, a bracelet of Mary’s and a chunky necklace that Martha had once been given but had never worn – and her hair was out of its usual braids and in a half-up-half-down hairstyle. Lily then muttered a spell which gave Charlotte’s glasses elegant silver frames of quite a different shape to what she normally wore. The overall effect was stunning and Cadmus, her date, was sure to be knocked off his feet.
Mary, with her dark hair, blue eyes and alabaster skin, was wearing pale grey robes that sat just off her shoulders, and opted to go with the smoky dark eyes effect with her makeup. Charlotte found a bold silver and onyx pendant in her bedside cabinet that really made a statement, and Mary had a silver bangle that her dad had given her before he died. We put her hair in a thick braid, leaving it to curl a bit at the bottom, and some dangly silver earrings completed the effect. She wasn’t quite the equal of Lily, Martha or Charlotte, but she certainly came up a treat and looked better than I had ever seen Mary looking.
My parents had given me the dress robes Bea had worn two years previously, with some alterations made to make them something I might be seen dead in. Bea’s taste wasn’t much like mine, and she had worn vivid pink robes with balloon sleeves and a ribbon and bow around the waist. The pink I could deal with, but a Severing Charm got rid of the ribbon and bow, and a quick trip to Gladrags did the same for the balloon sleeves. The result, sleeveless pink robes in a rather simple cut, was good enough for me. After all, it wasn’t like I had anyone to impress, and I wasn’t bothered enough find new ones. (As Lily said, too much of a tomboy.)
Martha and Charlotte fiddled and fussed with my mousy brown hair but even they couldn’t do anything about the kink that persisted in staying there, and ended up pulling it all off my face in a French twist, leaving a couple of strands dangling around my ears. Martha found some silver earrings that complemented the look and Lily came to the party with a silver pendant that sat just inside the neckline of the robes, setting it off perfectly. With help from one of Mary’s lipsticks I looked almost presentable.
The five of us headed downstairs to the Entrance Hall together to meet our dates. Martha and Charlotte disappeared quickly and just as quickly reappeared on the arms of Nestor and Cadmus respectively before heading into the Great Hall. Lily found Snape also without difficulty and the two of them were already deep in conversation as they walked through the doors of the hall. Of course as a pairing they looked completely out of place, with the beautiful and elegant Lily easily outshining the dank, pale, long-nosed, greasy-haired Severus. However, it appeared he had made at least an attempt to dress up for the occasion: his dress robes, which were simple and black, looked a little shabby but were definitely clean, and his hair looked almost like it might have been washed.
“Ye know,” said Mary, watching them, “I thin’ tha’ micht be th’ firs’ time I’ve e’er seen him whe’ his clothes haven’t bin covered i’ potion stains.”
“And grease marks from that hair of his,” I added, thinking about it. “You may be right. He looks almost presentable. I mean, the robes are clearly second-hand, but from what Lily’s said they don’t have much gold so you can’t hold that against him.”
“Hae ye e’er seen him wear any colour ither than black, though?” Mary continued. “Compared wi’ Lily, he looks lik’ a vampire or summit.”
“Mary,” a voice interrupted us. “I’ve found you at last.” We turned around to see Gerry Stebbins and Hector Bole, our dates for the evening. Gerry, who was the one who had spoken, continued. “You look fantastic.” Mary smiled and took Gerry’s offered arm, and I took Hector’s, and the four of us made our way into the Great Hall.
We were happily ensconced at a nice out-of-the-way table and on the verge of ordering our meals when everything stopped suddenly and all heads spun to the doors of the hall, where James and Sirius had made their appearance. Fashionably late, they walked in as though they owned the place, and well they might have, the way they looked. Even the staff stopped what they were doing to watch.
I couldn’t think of anyone else who could have frozen the room like that. Even their dates, who were done up to the nines trying to look as glamorous as they could, couldn’t match them for impact. This was what happened when the two best looking boys in the school, bar none, decided to make an entrance.
James was wearing robes of a dark red, which set off his black hair. He looked unruffled and elegant, though his hair was still messy, and I suspected he preferred it that way. Veronica Smethley, a slender Hufflepuff girl with blonde curls who was his date for the evening, looked very nice in pale blue robes and her hair up in a French twist, but struggled in vain to seem to fit the part of James’ companion.
Sirius, if it was possible, looked even better, wearing simple black robes which were so elegantly cut that they had to have cost something roughly equivalent to Luxembourg’s national debt. He was with Fortuna Robins, a fourth-year who was also wearing simple and elegant robes, and with someone else she may have looked a million Galleons, but with Sirius she just looked plain. In a sense it was a real shame he and Martha had broken up, as she would at least have been able to give the boys a run for their money.
“Wow,” breathed Mary beside me. “They scrub up all richt, dinna they?” I nodded silently, unable to find my voice.
Next to me, Hector made a noise that sounded a bit like a growl. “Who do they think they are, swanning in half an hour late?” he said angrily. “Think they’re better than everyone else, do they?”
My voice came back at that remark. “Pretty much,” I said, trying to lighten his mood. The last thing I wanted was a date who was jealous of people whose paths would most probably never cross ours all evening. “Does it really matter?”
“Probably not,” he conceded, but he was still glowering.
“Imagine the impact if they were actually interested in the girls they’re with,” I mused to Mary. She nodded, acknowledging it was perfectly clear that they had absolutely no interest in their dates. If they had been paying them any attention at all, fussing over them or whatnot, I suspected even the most resolute of girls there would have been swooning, dying to swap places with them. Because Veronica and Fortuna were being ignored, however, the effect was somewhat diminished.
Mary started giggling, and I looked back to see why. “Poor lads,” she said, indicating Peter and Remus coming in behind their friends.
She was right. It was an anticlimax to see Remus and Peter with their dates. Remus, a nice enough looking boy, looked great in his navy dress robes, but he suffered in comparison with the other two. He was also rather pale, and I remembered he had been ill that week and wondered vaguely if he would make it through the evening. Peter, who was very plain at the best of times and had struggled to find a date shorter than himself, simply looked out of place, and was having trouble keeping up with everyone else. Even his companion looked slightly repulsed by him as she followed the others to a table.
Besides that distraction, the evening started well enough. The feast was lovely and Gerry and Hector paid Mary and me a lot of attention, so much so that we almost thought we had been their first choices as dates. After everyone had eaten the band started playing and we got up to dance. Hector was rather an awkward dancer, stepping on my toes several times, but it was a small price to pay for what was becoming a very pleasant evening.
After a couple of hours the butterbeer was flowing with ease, and Hector and Gerry found some Ravenclaw buddies and started chatting. Mary and I, eager for a catch-up, moved away and found a quieter spot by the wall where we could talk.
“How’s the date going?” I asked.
“He’s nice enough i’ his own way,” she said, “bu’ so dull! I’m startin’ t’ hope he loses interes’, I think I’ll die o’ boredom itherwise.”
“I don’t think that’ll happen somehow,” I said, looking over at the boys. Gerry was watching us and had a bit of a smile dancing across his lips as he surveyed Mary.
“I ken,” she said dryly, rolling her eyes. “I’m gettin’ th’ same vibes an’ all. Hoo aboot ye?”
I sighed. “Hector’s a nice bloke,” I said, “but it’s about the same as you. There’s no spark.” She nodded understandingly. “I just can’t imagine getting close enough to kiss him,” I went on. “Besides, he keeps stepping on my toes – I don’t think I’ll be able to walk properly for a week.”
Mary laughed. “A’ leas’ I dinna hae tha’ problem,” she said. “Gerry can actually dance – aye, I’m surprised too. Frankly, I’d though’ –” She stopped talking mid-sentence and stared at a spot above my right shoulder.
I spun around. Sirius Black was standing there, his hands deep in his pockets and a rather nervous expression on his face.
“Ah, Miss Cauldwell, I was, ah, wondering if you would, ah, allow me to have this dance?” he said in an amusing mixture of formality and awkwardness.
I was so surprised that he could probably have knocked me over if he’d breathed a bit harder. I recovered, however, and smiled, aware that next to me Mary was doing her very best fish impersonation, her mouth opening and closing silently. “Certainly, Mr Black, I would be honoured,” I said, imitating his formal manner.
As he led me away, I looked back at Mary and mouthed, “What the – ?” She shrugged, a confused expression on her face, until she caught my eye and dissolved into giggles. Scowling at her, I steadied myself, hoped my face wasn’t didn’t resemble a Quaffle too much, and walked onto the dance floor.
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