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Chapter 10 : A task to perform
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It was in this atmosphere that Mary one Thursday had forgotten to pack her Charms homework in her bag, and rushed upstairs to Gryffindor Tower in her morning break to collect it. She came back rather later than expected, a couple of minutes into the class, and had a bit of a strange look in her eyes, acting somewhat distracted as she made her apologies to Professor Flitwick.
Charms was always a good time to have conversations, as there was so much going on that Professor Flitwick rarely noticed if you were talking more than usual. And so, while we were practising our Substantive Charms, I asked her what the matter was.
“Naethin’s wrong,” she said vaguely, practising the wand movement necessary to get the spell right. “I jus’ hae t’ dae summit a’ lunch time, okay?”
“Do something? Do what?” I asked, muttering the incantation Flitwick had taught us.
“Oh, naethin’,” she said dismissively, still with that glazed look in her eyes.
I was getting more than a little suspicious. “Mary, what are you on about?” I asked sharply.
“It’s th’ firs’-years,” she explained. “They need t’ see th’ ferbidden fores’. There’s some Acromantulas i’ there they need t’ meet.”
I stopped what I was doing, horrified. “What???”
“I need t’ take them,” she said, as if it was obvious. “T’ see th’ Acromantulas an’ all. I hae t’ dae it a’ lunch time.”
“Right,” I muttered. This was bizarre, and I was starting to wonder if Mary was quite with it. She hadn’t had any dodgy potions or anything that I knew about, so I wasn’t quite sure what could be wrong with her. Then something hit me like a ton of bricks, and I leaned over to the next table and asked Lily for help.
“Look at Mary,” I whispered, indicating where my friend was still muttering about the forbidden forest. “Look at her eyes. Do you think she’s all right?”
Lily took a long hard look at Mary, then gasped and grabbed Charlotte. “Quick, Charlotte, what do you know about the Imperius Curse?” she hissed.
Charlotte, no doubt indoctrinated by her uncle Quentin who had written one of our Defence textbooks, automatically rattled off the effects of the spell. Lily pointed at Mary, who was now looking at us with a vaguely curious expression, and Charlotte promptly dropped her wand mid-action, somehow making it launch half a dozen butterflies from its tip as it landed.
“Professor Flitwick,” she said loudly, summoning the teacher over while Martha set about Vanishing the butterflies. “I think Mary needs to go to the hospital wing.”
Flitwick bustled over, narrowly avoiding a collision with Peter Pettigrew, who had been hit by a Substantive Charm and was suffering the effects. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” he asked briskly.
I took Mary by the arm and explained to the Professor what she’d been saying and what our theory was. Mary obligingly backed me up, spouting the same nonsense that she’d said before about the first-years needing to be introduced to the giant, man-eating spiders that were rumoured to live in the forest. Professor Flitwick looked from her to me, stunned.
“Yes, of course, Miss Cauldwell, you must take her to the hospital wing,” he said quickly, rubbing his hands as though trying to clean them. “Perhaps someone else should accompany you as well, just for security … Mr Potter!” he called out, getting James’ attention. I let out half a giggle despite the gravity of the situation – Flitwick was so short that James initially seemed to have trouble locating where the summons was coming from.
“Mr Potter, will you kindly accompany these young ladies to the hospital wing?” asked Flitwick, phrasing it as a question but intoning it like an order. I couldn’t help but think he’d made a good choice. James was tall, reasonably broad (and so a little imposing), and one of the best in our year at Defence Against the Dark Arts, and so was most probably the student I would feel safest with under the circumstances. (Gerry Stebbins, who had been watching the proceedings with interest, looked rather disappointed he hadn’t been chosen instead but really, who would choose him over James Potter? For anything?)
James looked baffled at Flitwick’s request but nodded his agreement. As we left the classroom he looked at me and then at Mary, casting a shrewd look over her that reminded me forcefully of the one Lily had worn only moments earlier.
“What’s wrong with Macdonald?” he asked me quietly, noting her absent expression and distracted air.
“Suspected Imperius Curse,” I whispered back, my hand still on Mary’s arm to stop her getting away.
He blanched. “You’re not serious,” he said, looking aghast. “Hey, Macdonald,” he said, more loudly this time. Mary looked at him blankly. “Do you feel a need to do anything particular today?”
“Aye, aye,” said Mary hurriedly. “I need t’ ge’ th’ firs’-years a’ lunch time an’ all. It’s really importan’.”
“What do you need to do with the first-years?” asked James, his hazel eyes narrowing behind his glasses.
“There’re some Acromantulas i’ th’ fores’,” said Mary, as though it was self explanatory. “They need t’ mee’ th’ Acromantulas. It’s really importan’.”
James got a very ugly expression on his face, as though he was in the presence of something he found particularly abhorrent, and he got onto Mary’s other side and grabbed her arm forcefully. “We’ll take you to get the first-years,” he said as though placating a child, “we just need to get you looked at first.”
“I dinna need t’ be looked a’,” said Mary, getting slightly hysterical. “I need t’ get th’ firs’-years, we need t’ go t’ th’ fores’!”
“But you’ve got a horrible growth on your face,” he said, still in that placating tone, casting me a quick warning look over her head to ensure I didn’t contradict him. “You’ll scare them all off if they see you like this. We’ll take you to Madam Pomfrey, and she’ll take the growth off your face so you don’t scare them.”
Mary hesitated, then nodded. James was still steering her quickly through the castle, though I noticed that the route he chose was longer than usual, which I belatedly realised was so we wouldn’t go past any mirrors. Finally we made it to the hospital wing.
I was surprised to see the Headmaster waiting for us, along with an agitated Madam Pomfrey. Professor Dumbledore acted swiftly when we arrived, pushing us all into the Matron’s office and directing us to the chairs inside.
“Miss Macdonald,” he began gravely, “I understand you have a task to perform?”
Mary nodded enthusiastically. “Aye, Professor, I hae t’ take th’ firs’-years oot int’ th’ fores’ a’ lunch time,” she said.
“And what will you do once you get there?” he asked, his tone even.
“They need t’ mee’ th’ Acromantulas, Professor,” she said obediently. “It’s verra importan’ tha’ they mee’ th’ Acromantulas.”
“I see,” said Dumbledore gravely. He then turned to me. “Miss Cauldwell, I understand you noticed this first. When did it start?”
“We’ve just left Charms,” I said, unused to being addressed by the Headmaster. In fact I was mildly unnerved by the fact that he knew who I was. It wasn’t like our paths had crossed much in the five years I’d been at Hogwarts, but then again maybe this too was a ‘Beatrice’s sister’ thing. “She was late getting there, she had to run back up to the tower to get her homework.”
“And before then?” he asked. “How was she before that time?”
“We had double Transfiguration,” I said, trying to recall the morning’s lesson. “She seemed fine then.”
“Very well,” said Professor Dumbledore. “I will check with Professor McGonagall, but it appears that the time in between classes is what we will be interested in. Kindly fetch her for me, Poppy,” he said, directing this at Madam Pomfrey, who obediently left the room.
“And Mr Potter, what is your involvement in this matter?” he asked James when she had left.
“None at all, sir,” said James; he appeared to be comfortable with the Headmaster, and I supposed that with his litany of detentions they were bound to have made each other’s acquaintance at one point or other. “Professor Flitwick asked me to escort the girls here, to make sure nothing else happened to Macdonald.”
“Ah yes,” said Dumbledore, “a wise move, I think, under the circumstances.”
Mary was looking agitated again. “Please, sir,” she said, “if tha’s all, I need t’ ge’ th’ firs’-years, it’s almos’ lunch time an’ all.”
Dumbledore looked at her, and his face was a mixture of pity and fear. “I think not, Miss Macdonald,” he said sadly, waving his wand at her. Suddenly ropes appeared from the chair she was sitting on, and within seconds she was bound to her chair, unable to move and mute as a gag appeared in her mouth. “My deepest apologies,” continued the Headmaster, looking at her gravely, “but we cannot allow you to do so.”
Mary started writhing in her chair, and James and I looked at each other in horror. This was awful, why couldn’t someone take the curse off her?
Professor Dumbledore seemed to have read my mind. “The Imperius Curse, Miss Cauldwell, is a difficult one to undo,” he said solemnly. “We can, of course, wait until it wears off, which is an indeterminate amount of time depending on the strength of the caster. However, as we do not know who cast the curse, that could take quite a while. Very accomplished dark wizards have been known to cast Imperius Curses that have lasted for years.” He paused, watching Mary as she struggled in vain against her restraints. “It is best, therefore, to try to undo the Curse,” he went on. “Fortunately I have the knowledge necessary to perform this task, although I warn you it may cause Miss Macdonald some physical pain.”
I nodded mutely, aware that any physical pain Mary suffered in the short term was preferable to what she may have had to endure in the long term if the curse held.
Madam Pomfrey returned at this time, with Professor McGonagall in tow. Dumbledore looked up at them and smiled.
“Ah, Minerva, please take a seat,” he said, conjuring up a very comfortable-looking plush armchair for her to sit on as we had taken all the existing seating.
McGonagall looked at the three of us students in turn, her eyes resting for the longest time on Mary, who was still bound and gagged in her chair. “May I ask, Albus, why you have restrained one of my students?” she asked acidly, her lips so thin they were almost invisible.
“We suspect Miss Macdonald is a victim of the Imperius Curse,” Dumbledore said gravely.
Professor McGonagall’s demeanour changed at once. “Macdonald? The Imperius Curse? Impossible!” she declared. “Who could have done such a thing? She hasn’t left the school grounds!”
“That,” said the Headmaster, “is exactly what I intend to find out. Minerva, can you advise if Miss Macdonald was her usual self during Transfiguration this morning?”
McGonagall thought about it. “I believe so,” she said eventually, “but I couldn’t swear to it.”
“Miss Cauldwell also believes she was fine at that time,” said Dumbledore. “And apparently Miss Macdonald made a speedy trip up to Gryffindor Tower at the conclusion of that class to fetch her Charms homework, and was not the same when she returned. And now,” he went on, “to find out what happened.”
He turned to Mary and performed what looked like an incredibly complicated bit of wandwork, after which she writhed and screamed with pain and fear. However, when she stopped, she looked calm, and the glazed look had left her eyes. She did not, however, appear to be completely herself yet as she relaxed in her chair and did not seem to wonder why she was tied up.
Dumbledore turned to look at us again. “She is no longer Imperiused,” he said, “but I have cast a charm to help her remember what happened. If I completely remove the curse at this point, she will fall into shock and will not be able to tell us who is responsible. I will ask for your patience for just a little longer.” Madam Pomfrey sniffed: it was obvious she just wanted to have Mary in bed and taking a course of potions for the shock, but she couldn’t overrule the Headmaster. Dumbledore swished his wand again and the ropes and gag fell away from Mary, leaving her unrestrained, but she didn’t move. She must still be under the charm, as he had said.
“Miss Macdonald,” said Dumbledore in a clear voice. “Miss Macdonald, can you hear me?”
“Aye, Professor,” said Mary, sounding somewhat distant.
“Miss Macdonald, I would ask you to kindly cast your mind back to this morning, when you were studying Transfiguration. Do you remember this morning?”
“Aye, Professor,” said Mary, still distantly.
“Remember the end of the class?” said Dumbledore, prompting her. “What did you do at the end of the class?”
“I handed in my homework t’ Professor McGonagall,” said Mary. “I lef’ th’ class. I had t’ ge’ my Charms homework.”
“And where was your Charms homework?” asked Dumbledore.
“I’ my dorm, sir,” replied Mary, sounding like she was reciting the answer. “I lef’ it there accidentally, an’ I didna wan’ t’ go t’ class wi’oot it.”
“So you were going to Gryffindor Tower,” Dumbledore prompted. “What happened then?”
“I got t’ th’ tower, an’ go’ my homework an’ all,” she said. “There wa’ nae one in th’ common room, they must hae all bin a’ classes still.”
“And on the way back to your Charms class?”
“I met Mulciber on th’ way,” said Mary. “He wanted t’ talk t’ me.”
“This is Mr Irving Mulciber, from Slytherin House?” asked Dumbledore, obviously making sure there would be no mistake in identifying the person responsible.
“Aye, sir,” Mary said obediently.
“What did you say to him?” Dumbledore asked gently.
“I didna want t’ talk t’ him. I dinna like him verra much,” said Mary, sounding for all the world like a six year old talking about a playground fight. “Bu’ he insisted.”
“And what did he say?”
“He said I needed t’ mee’ some firs’-years,” Mary recited. “He ha’ his wand oot. He did a spell. I wa’ scared, an’ then suddenly I wa’ peaceful.”
“What did he say about the first-years?” asked Dumbledore, his face very grave.
“He tol’ me there are Acromantulas i’ th’ ferbidden fores’,” she said. “The firs’-years need t’ study th’ Acromantulas. I was t’ tak’ them int’ th’ fores’.”
“Was he particular about which first-years?” asked Dumbledore.
“The Gryffindor firs’-years,” said Mary. “An’ th’ Ravenclaws. Particularly th’ Muggle-borns an’ th’ half-bloods. Those were th’ ones he mentioned.”
Dumbledore looked at me sharply. “Is this what she was saying?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. James, next to me, nodded his agreement.
“It looks like we have our culprit,” muttered the Headmaster. “Minerva, can you kindly summon Mr Mulciber to my office, please? And Horace,” he added, “it’s best to have the Head of House present on such occasions.” Professor Slughorn was Head of Slytherin House.
“Certainly, Albus,” said McGonagall, and she stood up and left the room.
“Excellent,” said Dumbledore. And he got his wand out again and tapped Mary on the head three times. She looked like she had just woken up and looked around at us, obviously confused as to where she was and what had happened.
“Miss Macdonald,” said Dumbledore gravely, “you have been cursed by a fellow student. There shouldn’t be any lasting effects, but we will need to keep you in the hospital wing to make sure. You will remain here until Madam Pomfrey allows you to leave.”
Madam Pomfrey took this as permission for her to get on with what she did best. “All right, Miss Macdonald, bed!” she said briskly. “You’ll be in shock, you must stay until the course of potions is complete.”
Mary followed her vaguely into the main hospital area, where Madam Pomfrey had already prepared a bed for her.
“Oh, and Mr Potter?” came Dumbledore’s voice, as we got up to follow Mary. We both paused.
“Yes, sir?” asked James.
“I appreciate the gravity of what Mr Mulciber appears to have done, so please be reassured that I will deal with it appropriately. I do not want to hear that you have taken matters into your own hands,” said Dumbledore, and I suspected he was referring to the incident earlier in the year with Charon Avery.
“Of course not, Professor,” said James, though it appeared even to me that he was trying to think of a way around this promise.
“Thank you,” said Professor Dumbledore. “And now, Mr Potter, Miss Cauldwell, if you will excuse me, I have an appointment in my office for which I must not be late.” And he swept out of Madam Pomfrey’s office and out of sight.
James and I also left the Matron’s office and entered the hospital wing treatment room. Madam Pomfrey was bustling around Mary’s bed, measuring out some potions into a goblet, which was steaming ominously.
“Can I stay with her for a bit?” I asked, hesitating a little as I knew the Matron’s possessiveness when it came to her patients.
“Certainly not!” she exclaimed, looking horrified. “This girl needs rest! Out! OUT!”
James looked at me and shrugged. Then, casting a furtive look towards a bed towards the end of the room which was surrounded by privacy screens, he led me out.
“You’ll be able to go back and see her tomorrow,” he said reassuringly as we made our way downstairs to the Great Hall – lunch would have started by now.
“What do you think will happen to Mulciber?” I asked in a small voice. I was still in shock over what had happened – maybe I should have been in the hospital wing too, taking the same course of potions as Mary was.
James hesitated. “At the start of the year, I’d have said he’d be expelled,” he said after a while. “But after what happened with Avery, I don’t know. He might be able to stay. But if he does, you can be sure he’ll be shadowed by the teachers for the rest of the school year and probably into next year, too. It depends on what he says to Dumbledore, I guess.”
I didn’t feel particularly reassured by that, but at least he was being straight with me. I hated it when people tried to shield me from the truth, feeling for some reason that I wouldn’t be able to take it.
“I hope he’s kicked out,” I said, with a sudden vehemence that I hadn’t realised I felt. “No one should be able to get away with what he did. And what he tried to do. Can you imagine how Mary would have felt if she’d actually followed through with that?”
James nodded, that ugly look back on his face. “They need to do something about it,” he said savagely. “There are too many students practicing Dark Magic at this school, it has to be stopped. I bet they’re all Death Eater wannabes, too.” The hatred on his face was palpable, and it suddenly hit me just how dangerous an enemy James Potter would be. I had never seen him this angry before and it frightened me. If he was moved to anger to this extent, Merlin only knew what he would do if given free rein with his wand.
He must have realised I was slightly spooked by his behaviour because just as quickly as it had come, the anger dissipated, and he gave me a pleasant smile. “Sorry about that, Cauldwell,” he said, much more gently. “It just gets me so angry, that some people think they can use others as their house elves, just to try things out, or do get them to do their dirty work. It’s weak, it’s cowardly, and it’s improper use of magic.” He paused, looking down at me. “We’ve been given a gift and we need to think of it like that, not a right. We have no right to think we’re better than anyone else.”
I smiled back, a small smile but one that I hoped indicated that I accepted his apology. “Thanks, Potter,” I said. “Let’s just hope that nothing like this happens again, shall we.”
He nodded in agreement, his hand still clutched around his wand as it had been since we left the hospital wing. “Looks like we made it intact,” he said, indicating the Great Hall in front of us. “Lunch isn’t over yet – want to grab a bite?”
By supper that night the whole school seemed to know what had happened with Mary and Mulciber, which was fast even for Hogwarts standards. I made it quite clear I didn’t want to talk about it so most people started bothering James for information, which he only gave out in small snippets. I wasn’t sure if that was because he was protecting Mary’s privacy or because he had a flair for the dramatic and wanted to keep the suspense going for as long as possible, but I appreciated it all the same.
James, most probably sensing I was feeling a bit fragile, babysat me for the rest of the afternoon, making sure that no one got too close and that I was coping okay. I’d never seen this tender, concerned side of him before, and I wondered again just why Lily kept refusing him. However, his friends gave us a relatively wide berth, whether because they didn’t trust me or because James had warned them off, understanding somehow that I wasn’t really up to their brand of humour, I couldn’t be certain.
I was sitting with him at supper that evening, watching vaguely as he fended off yet another student wanting more details of the juiciest story of the term, when my attention was caught by some activity at the Slytherin table by the far wall. Focusing my eyes I saw Severus Snape, the boy supposed to be Lily’s friend, walking around with his arms outstretched in front of him, as though sleepwalking or hypnotised. A group of fellow Slytherins, Charon Avery among them, were laughing loudly in appreciation: apparently someone being Imperiused was funny. I glanced sharply at Lily to see if she had noticed this, but her back was to the rest of the room and she was busy in conversation with Charlotte, so I decided not to enlighten her.
Sirius, on the other hand, had noticed. I heard the sharp intake of breath on my right hand side and, looking over to where he was sitting, saw his eyes narrow with disgust and revulsion and he was clearly fingering his wand. “The prat,” I heard him mutter furiously. “Keeps trying to get us expelled for trivial stuff, and now look what he’s doing about this. Celebrating it!” If steam actually did come out of people’s ears when they were angry, then he would have looked like a boiling kettle. Peter, sitting opposite him, looked more than a little intimidated, and I guessed that an angry Sirius Black was probably just as frightening as an angry James Potter was.
James had seen Sirius’ reaction to Snape’s little performance too, and gave him a warning look before glancing at me to see how much I had noticed.
“It’s okay,” I muttered to him, feeling guilty that I was keeping him from his friends. “I can handle it.”
James looked at me doubtfully and piled some chocolate pudding onto my plate. “Eat up. You’ll feel better,” he promised. “Don’t worry, we won’t let anything like that happen to you, or to anyone else.”
I spooned some pudding into my mouth absently, then stopped in amazement as I swallowed. He was right. James Potter was right, I did feel better. I’d heard about the healing power of chocolate when we had studied Dementors earlier in the year, but I hadn’t paid it much attention. Oh well, James was pretty much the best in our year at Defence Against the Dark Arts (it was a close call with Sirius), so I supposed if he didn’t know what he was doing, no one would.
“Thanks,” I said, truly grateful to him as I devoured the rest of the pudding. In the background I heard a cheer and noticed vaguely that yet another student had been Levicorpused, the perpetrators clearly having had enough of the Mary/Mulciber story for now, and I hoped for Mary’s sake that the rest of Hogwarts would get sick of it as soon as possible as well. Finishing my pudding, I saw that Lily, Martha and Charlotte had finished their meals as well, so I told James I’d go back up to the dorm with them. He was hesitant to let me go, but obviously decided in the end that in a group of four I would probably be safe enough, and I was sure he had faith in Lily’s ability to keep me calm.
I was feeling much more comfortable after supper and so I did tell the girls everything that had happened, back in the dorm that night. No one really felt up for a long stay in the common room, even with the mounting pile of homework we’d been set, and we retired relatively early. Lily in particular was very good at coaxing the information from me, using just the right mixture of sympathy and prompting, and before long the whole story was out.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Charlotte after listening to the day’s events. “He should have been kicked out for this.” Mulciber had received the same punishment as Avery had earlier in the year – detentions for the rest of the year and doomed to be tailed by a teacher wherever he went.
“I know,” Martha agreed. “Seriously, I know Dumbledore likes to trust people, but this is getting to be beyond a joke.”
“He warned James off doing anything himself,” I said suddenly – that detail had escaped me during the re-telling.
“Really?” asked Lily, her interest piqued.
“Yeah, it sounded like he was pretty much saying, ‘don’t do what you did to Avery’,” I explained. “Which is most probably a good thing, we don’t need Gryffindor losing any more points because James has blown his top again.”
“That’s one thing you have to admit about him, whatever else you might think,” said Charlotte, pulling out her pyjamas. “He really does hate the Dark Arts.”
“Yeah,” agreed Martha, “he might do weird things to people, but it’s never Dark Magic. It never actually hurts them.”
I knew this was all directed at Lily, and she gratified her friends by agreeing. “You’re right,” she said eventually. “He’s an arrogant toerag, yes, but he’d never do anything like this.”
“I’ve never seen him so angry,” I added. “Seriously, he scared me. But when he calmed down he was really nice to me, he looked after me all day, making sure I was okay and felt protected.”
“I noticed that,” Lily said. “I thought that was so nice of him, doing that. After all, he hardly knows you.”
I smiled, and Martha and Charlotte winked at each other, as if this was one more step completed on their campaign to get Lily to admit she fancied James.
“It did look funny, though,” said Martha absently. “Not you and James,” she clarified hurriedly, looking at me. “Sirius and Peter. Because James was with you all afternoon, it was just them hanging out. Talk about the prince and the pauper!” She giggled, and thinking of how they would have looked I laughed too. The tall, dashing, aristocratic, handsome Sirius, paired with Peter, more than a head shorter, plump, pudgy, with his colourless hair, small watery eyes and long nose, his features all weak rather than strong. It would have been an interesting combination. There was, however, someone missing.
“Where was Remus?” I asked. I hadn’t noticed him not being there, but then again after what had happened to Mary I hadn’t noticed much at all.
“Ill,” said Charlotte. “Apparently he took a dodgy potion or something, he hasn’t been around all day.” Well, if anyone knew where Remus was, it would have been Charlotte. I suddenly realised who must have been behind the privacy screens in that bed in the hospital wing, the one James had looked at.
Author’s note: There are two Death Eaters named Mulciber in Potterverse, of different generations, and while one of them apparently specialised in the Imperius Curse it’s not clear from canon which one. For the purposes of this story I’ve decided it’s Mulciber the younger as it was a really good example of “what he tried to do to Mary Macdonald the other day” (quote Lily, ‘The Prince’s Tale’, Deathly Hallows.) Fortunately for Mary it was very inexpertly cast, though to be fair he was still in fifth year and had many years to perfect it between then and when he was a fully-fledged Death Eater. As for the rest of the chapter, I’m quite pleased with James’ little outburst on the way back to lunch there – I didn’t plan it but my fingers started typing and that’s what came out, and I think it fits what we know of James rather well.
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