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Chapter 7 : The fan club diminished
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All we could tell them, all that we actually knew first hand, was that Sirius was being rather quieter than usual and was more prone to losing his temper at people, often James, Remus and Peter, and often over what appeared from our distance to be relatively minor things. His face had a closed look to it and he seemed rather withdrawn. The boys in turn closed ranks around him and didn’t let anyone else get near him, much to the disappointment of Elvira and the fan club, some of whom had plainly felt that all Sirius needed to get through this difficult time was for them to be tending to his every need.
The other consequence of the rumour was to do with the fan club itself. Sirius running away from home was taken to also mean Sirius had been disinherited, and on the news he was no longer the rich playboy, just the playboy now living on someone else’s goodwill, several of the girls dropped out, transferring their attentions to other boys in the school. Some gravitated onto James, but he blocked them out as effortlessly as Sirius had done, and others found entirely new objects of desire, many of whom couldn’t believe their luck. Mary and I concluded after a week or so that for at least half a dozen boys, Sirius being disinherited was the best thing that had happened to them in years.
“Look a’ tha’,” Mary said, watching Bernie Carmichael, the Ravenclaw prefect, escorting not one but two girls to supper one evening. “He’s doin’ well oot o’ all this.” Both the girls, one in our year and one fourth-year, had the previous term been members of the fan club but had dropped out since Christmas.
“He must have a tidy bit of gold,” I said cynically. Though I quite liked Bernie as a person, and though I didn’t want to cast aspersions on his attractiveness (though his red hair and freckles did work against him there), it was the only reasonable conclusion if those girls had abandoned Sirius because he was broke.
“Maybe,” said Mary. “He’s Muggle-born so I canna tell ye anythin’ aboot his family, bu’ it wouldna surprise me.” Whatever the reason, Bernie was clearly enjoying his new-found popularity and was allowing the girls to take it in turns to spoon feed him steak and kidney pie.
Sirius was still being shielded from the world at large by his dorm-mates, who formed a protective cordon around him whenever he was outside Gryffindor Tower, though that apparently became more of a job a couple of weeks into term when Remus disappeared for the weekend to deal with the rabbit from hell he had at home. In any case, Sirius barely attended meals in the Great Hall all month, instead choosing (we believed) to raid the kitchens between classes, and I wasn’t sure he’d uttered a word outside of the confines of the tower since term had started. The remaining members of the fan club tried in vain to get close enough to offer their condolences, or whatever else they wanted to offer him, but they were very effectively blocked by James and co.
“I’m worried about him,” we heard a Ravenclaw girl, who didn’t look any older than third year, fretting at lunch time one day as she hovered around the Gryffindor table. “He’s not eating, he’s looking so pale, he might be making himself ill!”
“And it’s so hard to get close enough to get a good look at him,” agreed her friend. “If only we could do something! But those stupid friends of his won’t let us within spitting distance.”
Mary and I looked at each other, stifling a giggle. It was so predictable, so absurd.
“Dae ye thin’ they’ve go’ any idea hoo ridiculous they look?” whispered Mary.
“Probably not,” I responded. “The way things are going, I’m expecting warm towels and hot chicken soup to be delivered to his dorm any day now.”
As it turned out, neither the warm towels nor the chicken soup were needed. By the end of January Sirius had come out of his funk and was his old aggravating, arrogant self again, to the extent that we almost preferred the withdrawn, surly version, even if it did come with a side order of anxious groupies. At least it was easier to concentrate in classes when he and James weren’t causing a ruckus from their seats at the back of the room. However, like all good things it had to come to an end, so we just shrugged and got on with things much as we had for the previous five or so years.
James’ protective stance around Sirius had almost caused him not to notice that Lily was still seeing Lance Savage, who she had met at the Yule Ball. Almost. His preoccupation with his friend, however, meant that he didn’t do anything aggressive to Lance until Sirius was back on track, by which time Lily was clearly so happy with her life that it was almost like he didn’t have the heart to upset her. Mary, Martha and I had a discussion about it one night when Lily and Charlotte were out at one of Professor Slughorn’s gatherings.
“Ye know, I’m amazed Lance ha’ made it this far wi’oot growing tusks an’ all,” Mary said honestly. “James mus’ be really distracted.”
“I don’t know,” said Martha, thinking it over. “Just after the holidays, I would have agreed with you. But things are back to normal now, and he still hasn’t had a go at him.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it back to normal, then,” I said wryly.
Martha conceded the point. “Yeah, okay, I’ll pay that. But still, he’s definitely holding back. And he can’t not have noticed, Lily’s been glowing for weeks.”
Mary snorted. “Since when ha’ James Potter failed t’ notice any wee thing aboot Lily?” she asked.
“Since never,” I said resolutely. “The boy’s obsessed.”
“Yeah, he is,” agreed Martha, “but I think that this time he might just have put her happiness first.”
“Martha!” Mary protested in mock horror. “Are ye sayin’ tha’ James Potter is growing up a’ las’?”
Martha laughed. “That might be pushing it,” she said. “But seriously, I do think he’s laying off because she’s so happy. Maybe he figures that if she won’t be happy with him, at least she can be happy with someone else.”
I shook my head. “That still sounds suspiciously like growing up,” I said. “Just about anyone else, I might credit it. But James?”
“Yeah, fair point,” Martha conceded. “But do you have a better explanation?”
I thought about it, and from the look on Mary’s face she was thinking too. “No, I don’t,” I said eventually. Mary shook her head in agreement.
James’ inexplicable behaviour continued for the best part of two months. While he was unmistakeably in a bad mood, glowered at Lance whenever they were in each other’s presence, and spent a lot of time fingering his wand and whispering to his friends, probably about what he wanted to do to Lance, he restrained himself from actually attacking him, whether blatantly or otherwise.
As the relationship wore on and it appeared Lily wouldn’t be becoming single anytime soon, however, James reverted to type and occasional mishaps would befall the other boy, such as his robes featuring a most attractive floral design in purple and green, his school bag being split in half on his way to class, or his nose suddenly becoming banjo-shaped. You could never actually link James to any of these events as he was nowhere to be seen at the time, but no one seriously thought that he didn’t have anything to do with them. Lance, for his part, steadfastly ignored it as much as he could, focusing on the fact that he was having the last laugh as he was going out with Lily and James wasn’t.
And at least Lily had some good memories from the Yule Ball the previous Christmas. Mine were far less pleasant. In fact, the more I thought about what had happened at the ball, the more humiliated I felt – after all, no one likes to be told they are someone’s total and utter last choice. Particularly not by the school pin-up, no matter what else I thought of him. However, there wasn’t much I could do about it now, so obviously the thing to do was push it to the back of my mind where it would do the least amount of damage.
My sister, of course, provided regular distractions from my own problems, almost as though she was aware of them and trying to make me think about other things. (I didn’t kid myself about that though – Bea would never actually be that considerate towards someone else, not even me. Not that she didn’t care, more that it just wouldn’t occur to her.) As term progressed it seemed that every week provided a new story about Bea and what she’d been up to. One week talk was she had Transfigured her dorm-mate Julie Peasegood into a stoat after they argued over who owned the empty bottle of shampoo that had been left in their bathroom. Another time she lost her temper after a quarrel with Gladys Gudgeon – elder sister of Davey – and managed to shrink the poor girl so that she was only fourteen inches tall. Each story pushed her already shonky reputation further down the social scale and people started whispering around me: “Look, there’s another Cauldwell, be careful what you say,” or “Ooh, Cauldwell’s got her wand out, anything could happen here”.
Suffice to say that I was used to this sort of thing as it had been happening for the best part of five years – pretty much from the moment I got off the Hogwarts Express back in first year – but it was still rather draining. I knew that I wasn’t about to lose control and hex someone just because I was angry with them. (If they were about to curse someone, perhaps, but not as a way of ending an argument. I liked to think I was a little more diplomatic than that.) However, it seemed that Bea’s reputation took precedence over any actual evidence of my character and I was inevitably tarred with the same brush. It probably didn’t help that much of my time that wasn’t spent studying was filled with attempting damage control on whatever it was she had done most recently.
Breathe in, breathe out. Bea’s leaving at the end of this year and you’ll be able to concentrate on your own problems for once. By repeating this mantra to myself at least once a day (often several times), and occasionally taking my broom out for a spin whenever it got to be too much, I was able to ignore any whispers about myself and focus on the tasks at hand.
The teachers were also coming to the party by giving me enough homework to push just about everything to the back of my mind. Every week seemed to result in yet another eighteen-inch essay or practical assignment, and this side of Christmas the staff were even more determined to remind us that our OWL exams were approaching more rapidly than perhaps we realised. And I had to admit that now the calendar had turned over to 1976 it did feel closer than it had previously, and more than one student was taken to the hospital wing suffering from stress or some other related issue.
In this atmosphere it was a relief to have just about any diversion, even when it came in the guise of a prank by James and his friends, possibly carried out as a means of taking his mind off Lily’s continuing relationship with Lance. It took place in late February when the castle was being buffeted by gale-force winds and students were all forced inside during break periods.
On the day in question I was with Mary in a disused classroom on the first floor, which was serving as a venue for the purposes of both escaping the hopeful advances of Gerry Stebbins (who had cornered Mary after we left Potions), and attempting to get some extra study in before we headed to Defence Against the Dark Arts after lunch. Our quiet revision was suddenly disrupted by what sounded like a cat being tortured, the noise magnified and broadcast throughout the castle, and we rushed out into the corridor to find out what the matter was.
“Soonds lik’ a Caterwauling Charm,” muttered Mary as we hurried towards the marble staircase that went down to the Entrance Hall, which seemed to be where the noise was coming from. When we arrived there we just stood at the top of the stairs, transfixed.
I should say we stood at the top of what used to be the stairs. The magnificent marble staircase had been transformed into a marble slide, rather like the stairs leading to the girls’ dormitories in Gryffindor Tower would if a boy tried to go up them. But not only was it a marble slide, but it was a marble slide that flashed a different colour every second, and anyone who tried to go down it suddenly found themselves with a red, hooked nose, curly green hair and draped in a Gryffindor Quidditch banner.
This last item of course wouldn’t exactly count as punishment to us, but it seemed that a couple of sixth-year Slytherins had unwittingly been the first subjects of this particular charm, and they looked less than impressed with their new outfits which they couldn’t remove no matter how they tried. Frankly it was hilarious, though we did appreciate that we wouldn’t have liked it much if the tables had been turned and we’d been forced into Slytherin garb.
Before long it seemed like most of the school were gathered either at the top or bottom of the slide, Mary noting with satisfaction that Gerry was stuck at the bottom. Professor McGonagall appeared shortly after Mary and I did, her eyebrows very close together and her lips as thin as I had seen them. Her appearance was duly noted by James and Sirius, who were standing together at the bottom of the slide with a large stopwatch each.
“Twenty-one seconds for McGonagall or Dumbledore,” said Sirius, a broad smile on his face. “That’s one of our best results yet.”
James looked around and clicked his watch to stop too. “And just about the whole school here by thirty-seven seconds,” he added. “Nice.”
Sirius shook his head. “Still not as good as that time we Vanished the Slytherin table just before supper,” he said. “That time we had the whole school in eighteen seconds.”
“To be fair, though,” said James, ignoring McGonagall who had rather quickly turned the slide back into the elegant staircase it really was, “it was almost a mealtime, so those times shouldn’t really count.”
“You’re the boss,” said Sirius, shrugging. He then looked up and pretended he had only just realised McGonagall had reached them. “Why, Professor McGonagall! What a pleasant surprise!”
They were successful in distracting us from OWLs for a couple of hours, but they also got themselves detentions and lost about fifty points for Gryffindor, which pushed us down to the bottom of the race for the House Cup again. Appropriately chastened, they announced in the common room that night that they were swearing off pranking for a while, or at least any major pranking, in the hope that Gryffindor could get the points back more quickly. We were all a bit sceptical as to how long this resolution would last, but I think I can speak for just about all of Gryffindor House when I say that it was a welcome one.
Just as I thought I’d heard the last of James Potter and Sirius Black for a while, Elvira Vablatsky decided she had other ideas. She caught up with me when I was on my way to the library after double Potions one morning. “Laura, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” I said. “What’s up?” I thought I might know, but it was always good manners to appear interested.
“Sirius,” she said, confirming my theory. “You’re in Gryffindor. You know him.”
“I’m in Gryffindor,” I agreed, “but I wouldn’t exactly say I know him. Until the Yule Ball I think we’d only exchanged about five words in five years.” I’d told her that before but it never seemed to sink in. Plus, I thought he was a bit of a berk and I wasn’t all that keen on knowing him any better, so our intimacy levels weren’t likely to improve in the immediate future.
“But you’re in Gryffindor,” she repeated, sounding a bit like a broken record. “So you’re in the same common room as him.”
I couldn’t argue with that. “Well, yes, we do share a common room.” Rather unfortunately, I added in my head, having just that morning been forced to make a rapid escape after he and James had let loose a couple of Cornish pixies, “just to see what happens”. (Why couldn’t they do things like that in the Slytherin common room like normal people would? If anyone knew where it was it would be them, and it would have been so much funnier.)
“And you’re in most of his classes,” she went on. We’d reached the library by now and I made my way to my favourite corner to find an empty table. Elvira followed me, putting her own books down next to mine. It looked like she was in for the long haul.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” I conceded. Thinking about it, Ancient Runes was the only subject I had that he wasn’t in (and, oddly enough, it was the quietest. I wonder if there was a correlation there?). Elvira, if she realised that, would be especially jealous.
“So you know him,” she repeated, lowering her voice only marginally in deference to our location. “And you might know what his taste in girls is. I want to know what I can do to improve my chances.”
I looked at her, considering. I had a fair idea what she was doing wrong but I wasn’t sure she would want to hear it. “He doesn’t exactly share these sorts of things with me,” I said. “I doubt I’d have any more idea than you would.”
“But I’m sure you know,” she said insistently. “Think about it.”
I hesitated, having never been overly keen to dispense advice, particularly on matters I knew little about. “Are you sure you want to hear it? What if you don’t like it?”
“Hit me,” she said. “I can take it.”
“Okay then,” I said slowly. “I think your best bet would be if you stopped throwing yourself at him. Drop it off a bit. He already knows you’re interested, he doesn’t need that fact shoved down his throat at every given opportunity.” I took a breath, watching her. Her eyes had narrowed and she didn’t exactly look appreciative. “Just try to be yourself around him. You’re a nice person. Let him see that, be someone that people like, and maybe he’ll like you. It might just work.”
She raised her eyebrows. “That’s your advice?”
“Yes, it is. Like it or lump it.”
“Well, yes, of course, because that strategy is working so well for you right now, isn’t it?” she said snidely. “You’re just inundated with offers of dates. I can see them lining up outside the library as we speak.”
I blinked. If she’d meant to hurt me, it had worked – the barb stung because it was true. It had taken me forever to get a date for the Yule Ball, and at the ball itself I was humiliated by someone who danced with me on a dare, because there was no other way anyone would ever ask me.
“Well, if that’s what you think,” I said sharply, “why did you ask me for advice in the first place?”
“Because you always seem to notice everything,” she said. “I thought you might actually have some insight.” And without another word, she picked up her books and walked out of the library.
Well. That would be the last time I flattered her with rational thought.
I sat there in stunned silence, watching her go, my mind going over my entire romantic history. Which, for someone who had just turned sixteen, was very poor by anyone’s standards. I’d gone out with Cadmus Branstone for about four months early in fourth year, which had been entirely unremarkable. And that was it. Not even a holiday fling over summer. Hector hadn’t shown any real interest in me at the Yule Ball and had barely spoken to me since. Sharing classes with Lily, Martha and Charlotte generally meant that no one gave me – or Mary, for that matter – a second glance. And having that pointed out so harshly by someone like Elvira wasn’t exactly pleasant.
My brood was interrupted when Remus Lupin crossed my line of vision. Without a word he sat down in the chair Elvira had vacated a minute or so previously.
“Hi Laura,” he said with a small smile. I looked at him but didn’t return it. “Look, I heard what she said,” he said, indicating the direction in which Elvira had last been seen.
“Come to tell me she’s right?” I asked bitterly. I didn’t mean to snap – Remus had always been remarkably nice considering who his best friends were – but it just came out, an indication of how I was feeling.
“Actually, I came to tell you she’s wrong,” he said quietly. “I heard what you said to her and you were spot on. And I think she knows that, too, but doesn’t want to admit it. Which is why she had a go at you like that.”
“But it’s not working for me,” I pointed out rather sourly. “She was right.”
“She was being especially harsh,” he said. “Don’t take it personally. You might notice that her method isn’t particularly successful either. And you’re not the subject of general ridicule from the rest of the school.”
I paused, thinking about it. What he said made sense. I looked at him. “Why are you saying this?”
“Because you’re the last one who should be getting an inferiority complex from someone like Elvira Vablatsky,” he said evenly. “You’re too nice a person and she’s not worth getting worked up over. She’s caused enough trouble at this school already.”
Finally I smiled. “Thanks. I do feel better. Still unattractive, but better.”
He grinned back. “Don’t feel unattractive. Anyone who thinks that just doesn’t know you yet.” And before I could think about what that could possibly mean, he stood up and walked away.
I wasn’t quite sure how to take Remus’ last comment. Did he mean that he found me attractive? Or was it just his way of trying to make me feel better? I didn’t want to raise it in the dorm for fear of upsetting Charlotte, and for the time being I chose not to mention anything to Mary in case I sounded like I was getting a big head. As a result of all this, for want of any more information I found myself watching him surreptitiously over the next couple of weeks to see if he paid me any attention whatsoever.
Frankly I wasn’t entirely clear in my mind how I wanted this to turn out. Remus was a nice boy, and one I could maybe even go out with, but his choice of friends was a little intimidating to say the least. Particularly after what had happened at the Yule Ball, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend any more time with them than I absolutely had to. Besides, Charlotte would be devastated. She and I weren’t close but I had no wish to hurt her in any way, shape or form, and if I started anything with Remus it would definitely hurt her.
With my mind full of these conflicting ideas, I soon decided that the best way of clearing my head was to take my broom out for a spin, so after supper on Thursday I went out to do just that. As always, things seemed much clearer once I’d done a dozen or so laps of the Quidditch pitch, and I landed with a fresh resolve to not do anything but just deal with things as they panned out.
As it turned out, I had all this inner turmoil for nothing. Remus appeared to pay me no more attention than he paid anyone else, and if anything it was a little less. He wasn’t nervous around me, or over-confident, or anything that wasn’t how he had always been. Inwardly I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t said anything to anyone about it, as I would have just looked silly. However, I had to admit he had been right after all – despite him clearly not finding me attractive himself, I did feel better for what he had said.
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