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Chapter 8 : Putting out fires
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Occasionally, however, Kettleburn would call on the groundskeeper, Hagrid, to offer a helping hand, especially as Kettleburn had only one left of his own. Hagrid lived in a wooden cottage on the Hogwarts grounds, just by the forbidden forest, and appeared to have a keen interest in the more dangerous magical creatures. I’d never really spoken to him but it appeared that several people in my year knew him reasonably well. James, Sirius, Remus and Peter would regularly call out to him as they passed his cottage, and even Lily and Charlotte had been known to visit for a cup of tea or some rock cakes, though Lily confided to us that these last items had much more in common with rocks than with cakes.
Hagrid was a giant of a man, at least ten feet tall and probably three feet wide, which was most probably why I’d not had much to do with him. He was rather intimidating at first sight, though I had noticed a twinkle in his eyes that indicated he probably wasn’t as hostile as he appeared. However, I’d got through the best part of five years at the school without really getting to know him, so to start now felt a little pointless.
Anyway, Hagrid joined the class one day in mid-spring to help Professor Kettleburn teach us about fire crabs. While Kettleburn was perfectly capable of handling the creatures themselves despite his physical incapacities, he did appear to be worried that some of the class might set them upon each other when his back was turned – a worry that I at least thought was probably well founded. James and Sirius had clearly not forgiven Avery for his experimentation with the Cruciatus Curse back in September and made the most of every opportunity to remind him of that fact, and Charon was hardly more inclined to behave himself towards them.
Hagrid hovered around James and Sirius for the entire lesson, chatting easily with them and, if my ears weren’t deceiving me, giving them some additional tips on how to feed and clean out a fire crab without sustaining serious burns, which would apparently come up in our OWLs at the end of the year. They appeared to be enjoying themselves, perhaps in part due to the fact that the presence of such a huge and intimidating man in the class meant that Avery, or any of the Slytherins for that matter, couldn’t do anything to them without getting caught. (I was under the distinct impression that Kettleburn had in fact wanted Hagrid to shadow Avery instead but really, would you issue orders to a ten-foot man who regularly carried a giant crossbow?)
In any case Hagrid’s remarks, accompanied by Kettleburn’s excellent teaching, meant that we all had the technique down pat by the end of the lesson and the fire crabs were happily fed and cleaned. Only Elsie Baddock, the Slytherin prefect, had sustained any significant burns at all, and we were generally feeling pretty good about ourselves.
Just as the lesson was ending I noticed some wild daffodils growing just on the edge of the forbidden forest. I was rather fond of daffodils – ordinary ones, not the honking ones Professor Sprout grew in the school greenhouses – so Mary and I dropped back to pick a couple before heading back to the castle. Morning break was about to begin so we weren’t worried about being late for a class, and I took my time selecting two or three of the prettiest flowers before using a Severing Charm to cut the stems.
We weren’t the only ones hanging back, it appeared. The Gryffindor boys had all piled into Hagrid’s cottage to check something out – I didn’t know what – and emerged not far behind us on the lawn, heading back to the castle.
“That was amazing,” I heard Remus say. “I never thought I’d see one, they’re so rare.”
“Seen it loads of times,” Sirius said dismissively. “You go into Dumbledore’s office, you can’t exactly miss it.”
Peter’s voice piped up hesitantly. “But some of us don’t get into quite as much trouble as you do, Sirius.”
“Not my fault you’ve got no sense of adventure,” Sirius retorted rather scornfully.
“I didn’t realise they were so bright, though,” Remus went on, ignoring the brewing argument and probably hoping to cut it off. “I’d love to see it on a burning day.”
“Actually it’s not that interesting,” said James. “Just an ugly looking bird that bursts into flame and comes out looking even more ugly. A bit like Carrow, I guess.” Alecto Carrow was a short, squat and fairly ugly Slytherin girl in our year – comparing her appearance to any creature was by definition rather unflattering to the creature.
Their laughter masked the sound of me letting out a gasp of surprise – only one bird had a burning day that I was aware of. They must be talking about a phoenix. I hadn’t even realised there was one at the school. I looked at Mary.
“Dumbledore has a phoenix? Is that what they’re saying?” I kept my voice low so we wouldn’t be overheard.
“Aye, soonds lik’ it,” she agreed. “An’ Hagrid’s borrowed it fer some reason. Wonder wha’ tha’ is.”
“He can’t exactly be breeding it, can he?” I mused as we reached the Entrance Hall and started up the main staircase. I looked at Mary again and indicated the flowers. “I’m just going to run upstairs and put these in some water,” I said. “See you at Transfiguration.”
She nodded and just about walked straight into the boys, who had caught us and were on their own way to the next lesson. “Oops, sorra,” she muttered, but aside from an apologetic look from Remus they barely acknowledged her as they trampled up the stairs. So, really, much the same as usual. In any case Mary didn’t look at all perturbed as she gathered her things together and wandered off herself.
That night at supper I settled down to another excellent meal and a nice long gossip with Mary, both of which were pretty much par for the course after a long day of schoolwork, particularly when we’d had the final lesson of the day apart.
“How was Muggle Studies?” I asked her as I loaded up my plate with lamb chops, jacket potatoes and peas and gravy.
“Passable,” she said. “We started on Governance an’ Law Enforcemen’ – so ye shoul’ be able t’ help me oot fer th’ nex’ assignmen’.”
I grinned. “Yeah, I’d say I could do that,” I agreed, wondering just how the Muggle system of law enforcement would be taught. “Let me know if you want me to write to Mum about anything.” I took a bite of my lamb chop but spat out a large bit of gristle almost immediately. “They couldn’t spring for some decent cuts, could they?” I went on rhetorically. “I mean, how much dearer is Welsh lamb anyway?”
Mary was saved from answering by a sudden commotion coming from the Ravenclaw table, and I realised with a sinking heart that my sister was again at the heart of it. With her friends Sturgis and Cynthia, she had obviously tried out a spell they had invented and it had backfired, leaving the girl sitting opposite Bea with scorched hair and horns growing out of her ears.
Professor Flitwick, the head of Ravenclaw House, was shaking his head as he moved quickly from the staff table to the centre of the disruption – he’d probably had enough of putting out her fires over the years, and this time it looked like he might have to do so literally, as the poor girl’s head was still smoking.
I looked at Mary. “Maybe I should go over and offer to help,” I said, resigned to the fact that I would indeed be doing just that.
“Maybe ye’ shoul’,” she agreed. “Ye’re better a’ sortin’ her oot than anyone else.”
Abandoning the chops on my plate, I picked up a Cornish pasty to take with me and downed my pumpkin juice, then headed over to Professor Flitwick. “Want me to have a word to her?” I asked him.
He looked up at me, a surprised and gratified expression on his face as he finished dousing the hair of Bea’s unfortunate victim. “Thank you, Miss Cauldwell, I’d appreciate that,” he said. “No one can calm her down quite as well as you can.”
I smiled briefly, then walked around to the other side of the table and sat down next to Bea, smiling thankfully at the person next to her who shuffled down a bit so I could fit in. “What’s up?”
“Spell backfired,” she explained.
“What was it supposed to do?” I asked.
“Gubraithian fire on the head. I don’t know where those horns came from.” She looked genuinely mystified.
“And why were you trying to do that at the supper table?”
Bea shrugged. “Something to do.”
“And this girl did what?” I indicated the girl, now without horns but still with burned hair, deep in conversation with Professor Flitwick.
“Nothing. She was just in the way.”
I shook my head sternly. “That’s not good enough, Bea. You know better than to cast spells arbitrarily like that.”
She grinned at me. “I thought you were supposed to be calming me down, not telling me off. Now start calming, girl!”
“Right you are. And what would Madam like first, a back massage or a foot rub?”
Bea pretended to take me seriously and looked up at the ceiling, her finger in her mouth in a thinking pose. Sturgis, sitting next to the girl with the smoking hair, took the bait and looked at me enviously. “How come she gets a back massage? I did just as much as she did! I might even be able to work out where the horns came from!” He ran a hand through his hair and gave me a gap-toothed smile.
I laughed. “Don’t be daft, Sturgis, no one’s getting a back massage. Or a foot rub. I was just winding her up.” I had never been completely sure that Sturgis didn’t have a thing for me so I was very keen to nip any possible misinterpretations in the bud. I mean, I might be desperate but I would never be that desperate.
“Again,” Bea pointed out, “you’re supposed to be calming me down. Winding me up is not calming me down.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “How about we just get you back to your dorm where you’ll do less damage.”
Eventually she allowed me to escort her and Cynthia back to Ravenclaw Tower, Sturgis following behind us a little like an obedient dog. I stayed in the common room with them for much of the evening, hearing their conversation without paying much attention to it – my concern was whether Bea would get her wand out again and who she might use it on. Sturgis had all sorts of ideas as to where the horns had appeared from and was keen to try out different versions of their spell, but the smell of burned hair lingered with them and Bea finally put her foot down and refused to do any more testing until they had more of the bugs ironed out.
At length I took my leave of them and opened the door leading to the rest of the castle, quickly jumping to one side as Dione Turpin pretty much fell inside, completely immersed in a snog with Sirius. Lucky for them I’d opened the door, really: it didn’t look like they could part lips for long enough for her to answer whatever question the door-knocker came up with. In any case I’d forgotten they were going out and looked at them with mild distaste – she was the closest thing Hogwarts fifth year had to a proper bitch, and he was an arrogant prat, so they probably deserved each other. They were oblivious to everyone and everything around them and almost fell into me more than once as I tried to get out of their way, but eventually they found a spot in a corner somewhere and I was free to finally exit the room and head back to Gryffindor Tower.
Whether it was because I was so used to dealing with Bea or for some other reason I didn’t know, but I was finding more and more people that I barely knew were coming to see me to work out their problems. Why me, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I’d been described before as a good listener so it might have had something to do with that. In any case, the older I got the more it was happening, as I found later that week when I left the library on my way back to Gryffindor Tower after supper.
“Hi, Laura,” came a voice behind me, and I turned to see Veronica Smethley, fifth-year Hufflepuff, hurrying to catch up with me. I didn’t know Veronica very well but what I did know I liked, as she was someone who was easy to talk to and hardly had a bad word to say about anyone.
“Hi Veronica,” I replied, slowing down so she could catch up. “What’s up?”
She just shook her head and groaned. “Dione Turpin’s what’s up,” she said ominously. Ah, yes, Dione was one person she did have a bad word to say about.
I laughed. “What’s she been saying this time?”
She fell into step with me. “You mean, aside from shouting to the world that she’s bagged Sirius Black?”
I laughed again. “That’s right, how could I forget? Apparently this time it’s true love, if you credit her side of it.”
Veronica snorted derisively. “Yeah, right, true love for a couple of sixteen year olds who’ve been together all of a week or two. Let me guess – he’s not saying the same thing?”
I shrugged. “I barely know the bloke. But no, I don’t think he is. But that’s not why you wanted to talk, is it?”
She grinned. “You’re right, gossiping about who Dione is shagging at the moment isn’t high on my list of priorities. But she’s had a go at me and Clio now so we need to go into damage control.”
We wandered into an empty classroom. “What’s the story?”
She giggled suddenly. “Lesbian love affair.”
I nodded. “Right. And are you?”
“What, having an affair? I don’t think so.”
I grinned broadly. “Just checking. It’s much harder to deny something if it’s true.”
She sat down on a dusty table. “So what do we do about it?”
“You want my advice?” That was unusual, people normally just liked to talk and needed a sympathetic ear. Advice wasn’t exactly my forte – and let’s face it, I’d never been threatening enough to be the subject of one of Dione’s rumours so I couldn’t provide it from experience – though the request for it was starting to become more and more frequent.
She looked surprised. “Of course. Why else would I be here?”
I let it slide and changed the subject. “Out of curiosity, when did the rumour start?”
She considered. “Yesterday, I think. Or maybe the day before. Why?”
“It’s just unusual that she’d be feeling so threatened by you if she’s found true love with the catch of the school.” I frowned – this didn’t feel right at all. “What have you done that would have brought it on?”
She coloured slightly. “Well, if it’s not true love, as we suspect, and she’s worried she won’t be able to hang onto him, then I think it’s aimed at Clio to get her off the radar as a potential rival.” Veronica’s best friend, Clio Zeller, was a pretty black-haired Hufflepuff who was probably striking enough to catch the eye of someone like Sirius, so there could be something in that theory.
From the look on Veronica’s face she obviously considered that she might be seen as a rival too, but I decided not to mention that. Quite possibly, like half the school, she had a latent crush on the guy as well, and I suspected that there may well have been some flirting involved (and perhaps even reciprocated) before the rumour started. Which would explain things quite nicely, I decided.
“Fair enough,” was what I actually said out loud, deciding that if Veronica wanted advice then I’d just suggest she do what I did when confronted with Bea-inspired assumptions about me. “Well, if it was me, I’d just ignore it. Most people will recognise it as a Turpin Tale and not believe it anyway.”
She coloured even more. “But what if some people do believe it?” I was getting surer by the minute that my hunch was right, and this was more to do with Sirius than Dione.
“Let them,” I said. “If they want to believe it, then anything you say will just be taken as evidence that it’s true. And let’s face it,” I went on with a smile, deliberately riling her up a bit, “for some of the boys, it’s more likely to be a turn-on than anything else. You could always run with it and see where it takes you.”
She was so red she looked rather like a Quaffle with blonde curls by now, but pretended to shake it off. “You’re probably right,” she said eventually. “If I challenge it then people will just say, ‘the truth hurts’ or something like that, won’t they?”
I nodded. “If they think of it.”
She nodded too. “Right. So we ignore it and see where things go. And with any luck. Queen Dione will be the one who suffers from it.”
“Right you are,” I agreed. “Good luck.”
“Thanks, Laura,” she said briefly and, picking up her bag in one swift movement, was gone.
The avalanche of homework we were now getting succeeded in pushing all thoughts of Veronica and Dione from my mind, and I threw myself into study in preparation for our upcoming exams. Everyone hoped to make the most of our Potions lesson a couple of days later when we started work on Memory Potions, as we all intended to sample the finished product so we could have a head start on studying for our OWLs. Unfortunately the class ended up being a bit of a shambles, which started when Scylla Pritchard from Slytherin mishandled her dragon liver and it ended up flying across the room and hitting Charlotte square in the face. This led to a dragon liver fight with people hurling them around the dungeon every time Professor Slughorn’s attention was somewhere else, and before long most of us had green stains on our faces and robes from the dragon blood.
Things were going along swimmingly (except the potions we were supposed to be making, oddly enough) when Lily decided to up the ante by hurling her liver directly at Slughorn, who looked up just as she let go and watched with surprise as it landed on his desk. He picked it up and held it out in front of him, roaring with laughter. “Excellent throw, Lily,” he chortled, his eyes twinkling as he handed the liver back to her. “But you must be careful, you know, as if it’s too bruised it won’t work in the potion.”
Of course he’d behave like that to Lily, and she made the most of it by looking mildly contrite even though her eyes danced merrily. She had always been his particular favourite and he indulged her at every opportunity, and she played this fact for all it was worth. Of course, being Lily, no one resented her for this (except perhaps Dione, who seemed to resent her for everything else) and she could just about get away with murder.
Needless to say, as soon as Slughorn’s back was turned the fight was back on again in earnest, and enough noise was made for him to even notice people who weren’t in the Slug Club. Mary and I, who hadn’t participated any more (or less) than anyone else, were chosen rather arbitrarily for detentions for our involvement in the skirmish, to be held the following evening in Dungeon Four.
We fronted obediently at the required time and giggled to ourselves when Professor Slughorn got our names wrong once again. (Lisa Coyle, anyone?) The detention itself was a breeze, with our task being to each take a ten-gallon bottle of armadillo bile and measure it into small one fluid ounce flasks for use in Potions class. Slughorn explained that the school preferred to purchase it in bulk despite his frequent protests that decanting it into smaller flasks was a waste of his time – time which he thought could be better spent, I was sure, indulging in his weaknesses for crystallised pineapple and mulled mead. At least, that was if Lily and Charlotte’s descriptions of his Slug Club meetings were accurate. Because it was a detention we had to complete the task without using magic, but it was the sort of thing you can do on automatic once you get started, so we had a good time having a gossip while we were doing it. After a couple of hours, we’d finished and were given permission to leave.
We bade farewell to Slughorn and headed upstairs towards Gryffindor Tower. “Tha’ wasna too ba’,” Mary acknowledged. “Nou, did ye coont hoo many differen’ names he called ye?” This was a regular game we played, based on Slughorn’s ignorance of anyone not in the Slug Club.
I laughed. “Three, from memory: Coyle, Cavanagh, Connell. All Irish. I mean, I knew I still had an accent, but oddly enough I thought it was Welsh. How about you?”
“Four,” she said, furrowing her brow as she listed them off. “Macdermott, Macdougal, McDaniel, O’Donnell. Bi’ o’ a mixture there, Scottish an’ Irish. Maybe he has a thing fer th’ Emerald Isle?”
“That could be why Fin Quigley is in the Slug Club,” I said with a giggle. “Old Slughorn just lurves that accent.” Quigley, a Gryffindor in the year below us and Beater on the Quidditch team, was from Galway and had one of the thickest Irish brogues I’d ever heard.
We were on ground level and heading towards the marble staircase when suddenly, seemingly from nowhere, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter appeared just around a corner, apparently oblivious to us. Before long they saw us looking at them and all put a finger to their mouths in an attempt to keep us quiet. Eyebrows raised, we looked at each other and then at the direction the boys were gesticulating in and noticed Severus Snape, sneaking around as though looking for something. We were stationed as to see Snape and the Gryffindors, but they couldn’t see each other, so we were perfectly positioned.
I figured that Snape thought he hadn’t been detected, whatever he was doing, and so decided to make sure he knew he’d been sprung. “Oh, look Mary,” I drawled, stopping so we would stay in our brilliant spot. “Snivellus.” I pulled my wand out lazily.
Severus almost jumped out of his skin with surprise. “What are you doing out of Gryffindor Tower so late?” he snarled, his own wand already out.
“Detention,” Mary said staunchly. “Wha’ are ye doin’ oot?” We didn’t know where the Slytherin common room was so she couldn’t be as specific as he had been.
He ignored the question and eyed us shrewdly. Eventually he spoke again. “Where’s Potter?”
We feigned surprise. “Potter?” I asked.
“I know he’s here somewhere,” Snape went on almost viciously. “Him and Black and those other two that keep hanging off them like handbags.”
“Sorry,” Mary said evenly, her eyes staying on Severus though I was sure she was very conscious of the boys snickering silently around the corner. “Havna seen them. They weren’t i’ our detention, if tha’s wha’ ye’re asking. Though, wi’ their track recor’, I can understan’ why ye’d thin’ they were.”
Snape just glared at us, most probably guessing we weren’t telling the whole truth. “I’ll find out what they’re up to,” he spat. “Then they’ll pay.”
This sounded a bit ominous but as we didn’t have a clue what he was on about we had to let it slide. “Well, Snivellus,” Mary said archly, “if tha’s all we’ve go’ t’ ge’ back. As should ye – I’d hate fer ye t’ be caugh’ oot o’ boonds after curfew.” It was a veiled threat that we would go to the first staff member we saw and advise them of Snape’s antics. He blanched at the implication.
“But you won’t tell anyone about Potter and Black being out,” he snarled.
“We can’t,” I lied smoothly, “seeing as we haven’t seen them. We’ve only seen you. But I’m sure Professor McGonagall would be very interested to hear that you’ve been trying to blame them for your own indiscretions.” I looked at him pointedly and headed towards the main staircase, indicating that the conversation was over. Behind us, I could hear Snape scuttling off in the direction of the dungeon we’d just come from.
Once we could no longer hear him, James Potter appeared suddenly from thin air, grinning broadly. “Thanks, girls, that was a scream.”
“Wha’ was it all aboot?” Mary asked, obviously choosing not to mention his rather unorthodox way of showing himself.
“We were just heading for the kitchens,” he explained, “for a late night snack. Nothing out of the ordinary. Snivellus was just trying to get us expelled again.”
“Again?” My eyebrows rose. “Then this sort of thing happens often?”
“You could say that,” he said carelessly. “Anyway, we had it covered, but you two were the icing on the cake. Last thing he was expecting. It was most entertaining.” He grinned at us, his hazel eyes sparkling behind his glasses.
“I’m a wee bi’ surprised we go’ oot o’ it wi’oot growing tentacles or summit,” Mary admitted. “He di’ hae his wand oot an’ all.”
James shook his head. “Nah, that was for us. He wouldn’t hex you.”
“Why nae?” Mary looked surprised.
“You room with Lily,” he explained, and I noticed that he referred to her by her first name, even though he always addressed her as Evans. Probably it was much like we did with them. “Old Snivelly wouldn’t want anything like that getting back to her.”
We nodded: this did explain it. As long as Snape thought he had a chance with Lily, he wouldn’t jinx any of her friends. Or dorm-mates, for that matter. At least, not so she might find out about it.
Of course, once something is pointed out to you, you find it almost impossible not to notice it, and this soon became the case with Snape and James and his friends. After James told Mary and me that it was a frequent occurrence for Severus to follow them around and try to get them expelled, we found we noticed it happening all the time. They’d wander into class late and we’d see Snape skulking past the door a minute or so later, or he’d be watching them intently during lunch break, fingering his wand, or he’d follow them to Hagrid’s house after Care of Magical Creatures to try to catch them breaking the rules. It seemed that the resentment Severus apparently felt for James went further than the usual jealous rivalry over a girl we had always thought it was. We were still none the wiser as to the cause of their mutual loathing, but it was certainly stronger than we had previously taken it to be.
The other outcome of that night was that I had been struck again by how someone like James Potter, who we all considered an arrogant toerag, could be perfectly nice and almost rational when you actually talked to him. Maybe they were all like that and we hadn’t been fair to them. Or maybe this was a one-off, an aberration. Whichever it was, however, chances were we weren’t going to find out without further conversation with them which wasn’t likely to happen anytime soon, so it looked like we would remain in the dark for the foreseeable future at least.
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