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Chapter 9 : Good reasons to ditch Astronomy
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This all meant, of course, that my own revision fell behind somewhat, as the homework I’d been assigned over the holidays fell by the wayside as I helped Bea through her tempests. In the end I had to cram as much into the last couple of days of the holidays as I could, trying to finish some rather hefty assignments for Potions, Charms and Transfiguration.
I got back to school, my rather shoddy essays in tow, to find the common room full of pamphlets detailing different employment options for our perusal. This indicated that we would shortly need to start thinking about what we would do with our lives, and we spent countless hours poring over them in a vain attempt to decide what we might possibly want to do once our schooling was over. Shortly afterwards notices went up on the notice board in the common room saying that we were to meet with our Head of House to discuss our future careers prospects.
My appointment with Professor McGonagall was set for ten o’clock in the morning on Wednesday, meaning I would miss out on part of Herbology. I suspected that the early time was due to my surname beginning with a C, which was confirmed when I bumped into Sirius, the only Gryffindor before me in the alphabet, who was coming back from her office when I was on my way. True to expectations, he looked at me and then looked away as though I didn’t exist. In other words, much the same as usual.
“Good morning, Miss Cauldwell,” McGonagall said cheerfully when I knocked on the open door. “Come in, come in. Have a biscuit.”
I sat down on the only available chair and watched with surprise as she took the lid off a tartan tin and offered me a ginger newt. I’d never thought of McGonagall as the type to offer biscuits to visitors to her office, but she did appear insistent and I felt it would be rude to say no. I sat there in silence, munching on the biscuit as she launched into her spiel.
“Choosing your career is a very important decision,” she was saying. “You need to ensure that your choice is something you can realistically achieve while still being challenging enough for you to enjoy it. Have you had a chance to think about it yet, Miss Cauldwell?”
I blinked. That was quicker than I’d anticipated and I was now expected to spout off my preferred career choices. I’d looked through all the pamphlets and hadn’t come to any firm decision as yet. Some of the more glamorous occupations, like Healer or Auror, appealed to me as they did to everyone, but I hadn’t ruled out the more mundane things like working in the more boring Ministry departments. Really, with my subject choice, the only things that were entirely ruled out were things like Muggle relations (which was probably just as well in the current climate), curse breaking and soothsaying.
“I’ve had a look, Professor, but I haven’t decided yet,” I said honestly, deciding then and there to call on her insight. “What do you think I’d be good at?”
She gave me a rare smile. “I must say, Miss Cauldwell, it is rather refreshing to not have a student come straight in and say they want to be an Auror. At the moment that is becoming increasingly common, and unfortunately not everyone has the temperament for it.” Thinking about it briefly, she was right, I would probably make a shocking Auror – not ambitious enough, and not the type to seek a fight – and from the look on her face it seemed to me rather likely that her previous interviewee had automatically nominated that very job as his preferred career choice. Though, thinking about that, from what I knew of him he’d probably be good at it.
She paused, flicking through the pile of parchment on her desk to find the page that dealt with me. “Your grades are generally good in the core subjects,” she said, having located it, “though you might want to try a little harder with Transfiguration and Potions if you are to progress to NEWT level. If you are able to keep those subjects you will find you have significantly more options available to you at the end of your schooling.” She paused. “Unless you particularly want to, I see no reason for you to continue with History of Magic or Astronomy. Your grades are comparatively poor and they would probably not assist very well in your employment prospects.”
She paused again, looking at me over her glasses. “You’re good at listening, Miss Cauldwell, you are logical and you have good powers of deduction. If you keep Transfiguration and Potions to NEWT level you will probably make a fine diagnostic Healer. Alternatively you could work in Magical Law Enforcement or, in fact, almost any Department in the Ministry.” She gave me a sharp look. “Do you think you could get your marks up for those two subjects?”
I nodded. “I think I could, Professor,” I said. “Are there any of the elective subjects you think I need to continue, or are those more optional?”
“Hmm, you are taking Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures. Unless you are to try for a more specialised occupation like archaeology or dragon handling, I don’t think it matters from the careers perspective if you keep those up. However, like I said, the core subjects of Charms, Potions, Herbology and Transfiguration will do you well. You may also wish to continue in Defence Against the Dark Arts.” She looked up as I nodded vigorously. “Do I take it you intend to continue in that subject?” she asked.
“Absolutely, Professor,” I said with feeling. “In this day and age, I think it’s essential.”
“Very wise,” she agreed. “You will need an Exceeds Expectations to continue with that into NEWT level studies, but you are averaging a low E at the moment so if you persist with your current efforts you should have no problems.”
“Thank you,” I said, smiling. “So the message is, work hard in Potions and Transfiguration and I should have quite a few options at the end of NEWTs.”
“That’s right,” she said. “Thank you, Miss Cauldwell, you may go.”
The interview was over, and it had been less traumatic than I’d thought. I had always thought that having Professor McGonagall as my Head of House was a bit of a curse rather than a blessing – I’d expected to be put in Hufflepuff, where my father and cousins had been, and their Head of House was Professor Sprout, who was much warmer and more maternal. However, I had the feeling she may not have scared me enough to get my marks up for Potions and Transfiguration the way McGonagall had, and that was with McGonagall at her most gentle. Really, for my future prospects, Gryffindor probably was a better bet for me.
That night we had Astronomy at midnight, so at quarter to we all left the common room and traipsed across the castle to the Astronomy Tower. I had always found Astronomy a bit of a bore, but conscientious as ever Mary and I had still completed our star charts and were ready to spend an hour in the cold night air looking through telescopes.
Unfortunately, this was one of the nights that the Canis Major constellation was visible and Professor Dobbs spent a fair amount of the class discussing it. The trouble with this constellation was that its principal star was known as Sirius, which the boys thought was hilarious and shamelessly disrupted the lesson with their patently immature puns and giggles.
The lesson was worse than even we had expected, and seemed to be connected with the fact that the boys had come back from the Easter holidays addressing each other using strange nicknames, most of which seemed to have an animal bent to them. It appeared to be their own secret code, an in-joke to which the rest of us weren’t privy, and it made life a little more difficult as we were never entirely sure who they were talking about. The trouble was that the nicknames also appeared to have a relevance to the constellation in question, and that was apparently reason enough for even more laughter and hilarity than usual.
“Canis Majoris, or Sirius,” said Dobbs, making a point of trying to ignore James and his friends, “is known as the dog star.” The boys immediately began high-fiving each other amid raucous laughter, and it was at least a couple of minutes before it subsided enough for the class to continue. None of us could work out why it was so funny, though – we’d been told months earlier that Canis Majoris was known as both Sirius and the dog star, and this was just a recap.
Professor Dobbs went on once the boys had settled down a bit. “It is visible during summer and has been said to be prominent during extremely hot weather, which is why very hot days are referred to as dog days. Now, if you look though your telescope to these co-ordinates” – and she gave them – “you will notice that it is very bright at the moment, despite the weather being rather mild.” She paused, casting a weary eye at Sirius, who was grinning broadly and had clearly enjoyed being referred to, however obliquely, as both bright and hot.
“Canis Majoris,” Professor Dobbs continued warily, obviously determined not to mention the star’s alternative name again, “due to its brightness, was an object of wonder and veneration to many ancient civilisations throughout human history.” All attempts we might have made at ignoring the boys were abandoned as they collapsed into uncontrollable laughter. Apparently the description of Sirius as an object of wonder and veneration was too close to the mark for them to ignore.
“Tha’ was a nichtmare,” said Mary as we wandered back to Gryffindor Tower after class finally finished. “If she’d mentioned tha’ ruddy star one more time, I’d hae thumped her myself.”
“Probably safer than thumping him,” I agreed.
“Ye’re nae wrong there,” she said. “Bu’ honestly, hoo much longer ca’ they go on lik’ tha’?”
“It wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t true,” I said quietly, hoping that no one was close enough to overhear. “But he is bright, he is hot, and he is an object of wonder and veneration. Well, to Elvira he is, anyway.”
Mary groaned. “Ye’re richt, o’ course,” she said. “An’ it’s a goo’ reason fer droppin’ Astronomy nex’ year. Ye’re nae keepin’ it up, are ye?”
I shook my head. “No, and partly for that very reason. That and it’s boring as all hell. McGonagall just told me to focus on Potions and Transfiguration, so I’ll be doing that.”
She nodded. “Aye, I’m droppin’ it too. Anything t’ stop hearin’ aboot tha’ ruddy dug star again.” She paused, grimacing slightly. “Le’s face it, it’s nae exac’ly good fer gettin’ his ego back t’ a more manageable size, is it?”
I laughed. “But that’s a lost cause anyway,” I said. “I doubt it ever was a manageable size, and it just gets bigger every year.”
I stopped laughing as Mary’s elbow dug into my ribs and the person in question, along with James, Remus and Peter, came striding through the other students, clearly in a bit of a hurry to get back to the tower. Or maybe they were going somewhere else. It didn’t matter anyway. They were still talking about the class too, finding Dobbs’ descriptions of the star particularly relevant and the cause of much hilarity. I could just tell that this was going to be one of those things that they’d harp on about for ages and for the rest of us would get old very quickly.
Soon enough we had made it through to mid May without killing anyone or keeling over with OWLs-related anxiety, but with everything else going on it seemed to be a bad time for relationships. Whether it was because of the stress of upcoming exams, or whether everyone had sampled some Hate Potions or what it might have been we weren’t sure, but everyone seemed to be breaking up.
The first casualty was Lily and Lance Savage, who had been together since the Yule Ball and seemed to be going great guns, despite frequent attempts by James Potter and Dione Turpin to sabotage the relationship. In fact, we thought that Lance most probably deserved a medal for getting through the number of jinxes and hexes he had been subjected to since the end of February when James had gotten himself organised.
“Yes, I am a bit upset,” Lily admitted in the dorm that night as Charlotte deposited a pile of chocolate on the bed in front of her. “But there’s just too much going on, we never see each other. What with OWLs coming up for me, and full-on study for him, as well as my prefect duties and everything else that’s happening, it’s probably better all round if we don’t have this distraction. And getting to see each other was just becoming too difficult.”
Charlotte gave her a hug while Martha just looked at her thoughtfully. “Is there any truth to the rumour that he was sick to death of being hassled by James?”
Lily shook her head. “Of course not. We can’t have James Potter thinking he’s got that sort of power.”
“Not what I asked, Lils,” Martha pointed out with a sly grin. “I didn’t ask whether you wanted James thinking he has that sort of power, I asked whether he actually does.”
Lily didn’t answer for a while, which suggested to me that Martha had it spot on. Eventually, when she did speak, she confirmed it.
“Yes, it was a bit like that,” she admitted. “Every time Lance turned around something else had been done to him. It wore him down a bit after a while.”
Martha nodded sympathetically. “I can imagine what it would be like. Kind of like what I had when I was going out with Sirius, but worse. It’d drive you batty.”
Lily nodded and Charlotte tightened her hold on her. “You can’t let James know, though,” Lily said very seriously, breaking off a bit of chocolate and nibbling at it. “Ever. I don’t want him knowing that it had anything to do with him at all.”
“We promise,” said Martha equally seriously. “Don’t we, girls?” And she looked around at Charlotte, and then at Mary and me, and we all nodded our agreement.
We found out about another relationship that had taken a dive only a couple of days later. We had Charms with the Ravenclaws, and Mary and I turned up before class to see Dione Turpin sitting alone at her desk, her eyes wet and her face red and blotchy. Gertie Cresswell was hovering around offering her sweets and the like, but she paid no attention to her. After one such effort I called Gertie over.
“What’s wrong with Dione?” I asked in a whisper. I didn’t like Dione but I still didn’t want her to be this upset, so much so that it was affecting her public face.
“I’d have thought you’d know,” Gertie said quietly. “Sirius dumped her this morning.”
“Oh.” Was that all? Sometimes it seemed like half the girls in our year had been dumped by him at some point. “But why would we know?”
Gertie gave us a very disdainful look. “You’re in Gryffindor, aren’t you?” And without another word she went back to trying to put a cushion on the seat of Dione’s chair.
“Muffliato,” said Mary, pointing her wand at Dione and Gertie. This was a useful little spell that Lily had taught us, which put white noise in the ears of the people it was directed at so they couldn’t hear what you were saying. Very useful for having conversations during class. “Well,” she went on. “An’ t’ think we thought it wa’ true love?” She didn’t even try to hide her smirk.
I nodded. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl, I must admit. Though she’s more upset than I would have thought. How long were they together, two months or something?”
“I suppose it depends on hoo keen on him she was t’ star’ wi’ an’ all,” said Mary wisely, though she was still smirking. “Bu’ I will say tha’ she’s nae set herself up fer much i’ th’ way o’ sympathy, th’ way she treats everyone else.”
Sirius, when he eventually made it into class (with James, late, and giving Flitwick his most winning smile to try to avoid a detention), didn’t look at all cut up about the end of the relationship. In fact, you’d have been hard pressed to know that he’d been in one to start with. He didn’t even pay Dione the compliment of ignoring her, as people usually do at the end of such liaisons, but rather just treated her as he treated everyone else, like she wasn’t worth any special treatment.
Despite all this, I did notice that my sympathy for her was extremely limited. After all, as I’d said earlier to Mary, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl.
Although Lily said she was generally okay about the end of her relationship with Lance, she definitely harboured some resentment towards James Potter for his role in its demise. So one day when we noticed James and Sirius pushing people out of their way as they went down the corridors, the unlucky victims ending up, for example, mooing like a cow or suffering the effects of a Jelly-Legs or Trip Jinx, Lily decided to take action. She clearly agreed with Mary and me in that it was a bit much to hex people just for being in their way, and after a third-year Hufflepuff ended up covered in warts for daring to step in James’ path outside the Transfiguration classroom, she stepped in.
“That’s enough, Potter,” she warned, her wand out threateningly.
James looked surprised, and the next time he spoke his voice was deeper, more mature than usual – something we had noticed happened whenever he was addressing Lily. “What’s enough, Evans?”
“Act your age, not your shoe size,” Lily spat, glaring at him. “He was just crossing the hall to pick up his bag. You didn’t have to jinx him,” she went on viciously. “Do that one more time and I’ll –”
“You’ll what?” asked James, still in the deeper voice, his hand running through his hair. He didn’t seem overly concerned at her threat and was smiling at her.
Lily smiled back, and James looked like all his Christmases had come at once. That is, until he found himself hoisted up into the air, upside down, as though suspended by his ankle. He flapped around madly trying to make sure his robes didn’t fall down too far, though we saw enough to make some passing fourth-years wolf-whistle appreciatively.
Lily had obviously cast a non-verbal spell, and she was watching his discomfort with increasing amusement. Eventually she flicked her wand and he crumpled to the floor, looking rather embarrassed.
“What did you do that for?” asked James as he got up and brushed himself off, his ‘Lily’ voice gone in his humiliation.
“Well, Potter,” she said, her voice sounding sickly sweet, “it was either that or taking points from you, and to be honest I’d rather Gryffindor didn’t lose any more points. Thanks to you we’re almost in the negative as it is.”
Sirius, Remus and Peter were all laughing, their friendship clearly taking a back seat to James’ exhibition. “Sorry, Prongs, I think she’s got you there,” said Sirius easily. “And to think I said she wasn’t a good choice! I take it all back.” There was that nickname again. I glanced at Mary, eyebrows raised, curious about where it came from.
“Yeah, anyone who can get away with that has to be a good catch,” echoed Peter. James glared at them as he gathered his books up again.
Martha and Charlotte were casting approving looks at Lily. “Where’d you learn that one, Lils?” asked Martha quietly, obviously trying to remain out of James’ hearing.
Lily just smiled and shook her head. “I’ll tell you tonight,” she promised.
Shortly afterwards McGonagall opened the door to let us into class, which that day proved to be somewhat more entertaining than it usually was. The subject matter wasn’t too much of an issue – we were trying to turn an owl into a pair of opera glasses, which required a bit of concentration but no more than was normally required – but some of our classmates seemed to think that a diversion was just what everyone was looking for.
What happened was that halfway through the double lesson James and Sirius, who had already successfully transformed their owls into opera glasses and back again several times and were therefore most probably bored, started Transfiguring other items in the classroom as something to do. Very likely, as well as being bored, James was trying to win back some respect from his fellow students after the hoisting-upside-down thing Lily had done to him earlier, which had without doubt embarrassed him more than he wanted to admit.
Whatever the reason, people were generally used to distractions during Transfiguration, and no one paid that much attention when the bookcase at the back of the room suddenly became a mahogany Edwardian dining suite, complete with elaborate place settings for twelve people. However, when Peter was turned into a rat before our eyes and several people’s school bags became billy goats which then proceeded to ransack the room, Professor McGonagall stepped in.
“Potter, Black, that is enough,” she said tersely, her lips as thin as I had ever seen them. “You will return Mr Pettigrew to his original form immediately.” Even though she was clearly annoyed, I could tell there was some latent admiration in there somewhere as we weren’t due to start human Transfiguration until at least the following year.
Peter was at once returned to his human form, though part of me thought he almost looked better as a rat. However, the billy goats were proving harder to catch.
This wasn’t helped by the fact that Peter and Remus seemed keen to join in the mayhem. While the billy goats remained they treated us to a rare display of colour change, going from red to green to polka dot to stripy, and some of them emitted different coloured sparks or bubbles from their horns as they set about destroying the classroom. Finally they were all hit with the correct Switching Spell, mostly from McGonagall, and the bags returned to their original owners in mostly the same condition they’d been in when it started.
“Right,” said Professor McGonagall with increasing frustration as she turned her glare to the perpetrators, “ten points will be taken from Gryffindor. Each. And the four of you will serve detentions with me tomorrow night.”
“Even me?” asked Sirius with mock indignation. “But I’m an object of wonder and veneration!” He sat forward in his chair so that all four legs were on the ground – unusual for him when he wasn’t actually writing something – and gave her his most winning smile, as though the joke from Astronomy class would be able to transfer to something like Transfiguration.
“You are many things, Black,” McGonagall said icily, “but I would not have said that was one of them. Now if you have finished trying to get out of your detention, I will see you in my office tomorrow evening at eight.” And my admiration for Professor McGonagall increased dramatically.
Lily was as good as her word. That night in the dorm, after we had all gotten ready for bed, she turned to Martha and grinned.
“Right, that spell,” she said, her green eyes sparkling.
“That was a good one,” said Charlotte.
“Well, Sev taught it to me,” Lily continued, pretending not to notice the look of disappointment that must have crossed all our faces. That was a Snape spell? And we’d thought it was funny! “Yes, Sev,” she went on, not able to ignore us any longer. “He invented it. It’s a non-verbal, and the counter-jinx is also non-verbal, so no one knows what you’re casting.” She was smiling from ear to ear.
“What’s the spell, then?” asked Martha.
“Levicorpus,” said Lily. “And you just flick your wand a bit. Like this – Charlotte, do you mind?”
Charlotte shook her head, and Lily flicked her wand and immediately Charlotte too was dangling from her ankle, upside down. In another second she was back on the bed, laughing.
“The counter-spell is Liberacorpus,” Lily went on. “So you just think Levicorpus to get them up there, and Liberacorpus to get them down again.”
“Levicorpus, Liberacorpus,” Charlotte chanted, getting the words right in her head.
“Did you want to try it?” asked Lily, looking at Mary and me who were watching the proceedings with great interest. Nodding, glad to be included, we joined in enthusiastically with Martha and Charlotte who were practicing the spell on each other.
“You’ve got to admit,” said Martha after a while, after she had been once again hoisted into the air and released, “Snape has come up with a good one for once.” Lily beamed at her, pleased that her friend was getting some of the recognition she doubtlessly felt he deserved.
Lily gave us all permission to teach the spell to one other person, on the proviso we didn’t say who had invented it, and that the one other person wasn’t James or one of his friends. I didn’t really have anyone to teach it to other than Bea and I wasn’t sure that I wanted her knowing it, so I declined the offer. Mary didn’t really have anyone to teach it to either, so we settled for practicing it on each other.
Who Martha and Charlotte taught it to I never learned, but within a fortnight it seemed the whole school knew the spell. True to Lily’s request no one knew where it had come from, but for the rest of the school year it was a job to go anywhere without being hoisted up into the air by your ankle. People started wearing shorts or trousers underneath their robes as a precautionary measure – James and Sirius suddenly finding some rather stylish black trousers for that very reason – and the girls all wore belts to ensure that nothing above the waist would end up on display. I noticed Severus Snape going around looking daggers at anyone who cast the spell, but once it was out there was nothing he or anyone else could do to stop it spreading. As Martha had pointed out, it was a great spell.
Author’s note: I have to thank Wikipedia for the description of Canis Majoris as being “an object of wonder and veneration to many ancient civilisations throughout human history” – I looked it up to get some info and the wording was just too good not to use.
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