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Chapter 13 : After the exam
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Mary and I were joined again by Lily, Martha and Charlotte after the exam finished. We filed out of the castle and into the sunshine, Charlotte chattering away about what the exam had contained.
“I got the werewolf stuff okay,” she was saying, “but I think I might have stuffed up on vampires. They’re not all bats, are they?”
“Sorra, nae,” smiled Mary as we made our way down to the black lake. The sunlight was reflecting off its surface and we sat down on the bank and took of our socks and shoes, bathing our feet in the water. “I was havin’ trouble takin’ th’ Boggart question seriously,” Mary went on.
We all started laughing. We’d had a memorable lesson during fourth year where we had learned to fight off a Boggart, which was a shape shifting entity that turned itself into what the beholder feared most. Unfortunately for our Boggart it had seen me and Charlotte simultaneously, and therefore had two images to choose from. My greatest fear was a headless corpse while Charlotte’s apparently was a flesh-eating slug, and the Boggart, unable to select one, had decided instead to go for a combination of the two. The result was it became half a slug, which was definitely more amusing than frightening, and the laughter from the class had nearly been too much for it.
“Oh, look at that,” Lily said suddenly, her eyes just past us to the lake’s edge. Turning around, we could see James Potter and his friends lounging underneath the beech tree, James playing with a Snitch, letting it go and then catching it easily. “That was stolen from Madam Hooch’s supplies. Remus is a prefect, he should be saying something.” She shook her head in frustration.
Martha looked at her sharply. “Sure that’s the only reason you’re watching him, Lils?” she asked.
Lily blushed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, sounding like she was trying to convince herself more than she was Martha. She was now resolutely looking anywhere but underneath the beech tree.
“’Course you do,” Charlotte said easily. “You’ve liked him for yonks.”
“No I haven’t!” Lily insisted. “He’s arrogant, and juvenile, and a show-off, and a bully, and egotistical, and …”
“The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” I said, quoting Hamlet and hoping that Lily as a Muggle-born would get the reference. Sure enough, she threw me a dirty look.
“Not you too,” she said, pouting. “I was sure you’d be on my side.”
Even Mary was laughing now. “Wha’ makes ye think we dinna hae eyes an’ ears, Lily?” she asked, grinning broadly.
“Yeah,” Charlotte agreed. “Just because they’re quiet doesn’t mean they don’t notice things. And you are pretty obvious sometimes, Lils.”
Martha suddenly stopped mid-giggle and watched, thunderstruck, over our shoulders at something on the lawn. We all turned to look.
James and Sirius had left their spot by the beech tree and had their wands trained on Severus Snape, who looked like he’d been hit by an Impediment Jinx. Like most of the students on the lawn, we watched silently, somewhat apprehensive.
If looks could kill, James would have been dead several times over from the glare Snape was giving him. It seemed he’d been Disarmed already, as we heard him let out a barrage of swear words and hexes without effect, which surely would not have been possible if he’d still had his wand on him.
“What are they doing?” asked Lily, addressing no one in particular. She looked horrified. “That’s four on one!” Which wasn’t strictly true, as Remus and Peter weren’t taking part, but we knew what she meant.
James appeared unimpressed by the foul language Severus was spouting, and cast a Cleaning Charm on him to wash out his mouth. Sure enough, on cue a wad of pink soap bubbles started coming out from between Snape’s pallid lips, and several bystanders started laughing.
Lily, who had moved from horrified to furious, stood up and stormed over to them, shouting heatedly across the lawn at James to leave Snape alone. I could understand why she was angry – here was the boy she had a secret crush on, turning someone she had been friends with for years into a laughing stock.
“You know,” I said quietly, “after this morning, I suspected that might have been me they were having a go at. Good thing Snivellus is around instead!”
Martha giggled. “Nah, they won’t come after you, you’re with us,” she said. I acknowledged her point. “Besides,” she went on, “I think Remus agreed with you.”
James had jumped at the sound of Lily’s voice and his hand automatically went to his hair, checking it was messy enough and putting on his ‘Lily voice’ as he asked if she was all right.
Lily was unimpressed as she asked him again to leave Snape alone, wondering out loud what the unfortunate victim had done this time.
James pretended to think about that. “Well,” he said, “it’s more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean …”
We of course knew it was more than that – James, like the rest of us, was convinced that Snape fancied Lily, and therefore lost no opportunity to put him down so Lily would never seriously consider him. And we couldn’t ignore the fact that Snape would never miss an opportunity to hex James, either. However, he couldn’t exactly say that to Lily’s face and, judging from the laughter from surrounding students, as well as from Sirius and Peter, what he came up with was reason enough.
“We shouldn’t be listening in,” Charlotte said nervously. “This has nothing to do with us.”
Martha shook her head. “Nah, Lily will want to talk about this once it’s over, so we need to be informed.” She grinned as we turned our attention back to the ever-increasing spectacle in front of us.
While Lily had her back to us, we could feel the glare emanating from her from our spot by the lake. “You think you’re funny,” she said coldly, “but you’re just an arrogant, bullying toerag, Potter.” The implication was clear - if James didn't stop picking on Snape, she didn't watn anything to do with him.
Severus had stopped gagging on the pink soap bubbles and the movement was starting to come back to his legs – the Impediment Jinx, if that was what it was, seemed to be wearing off.
James, looking like he’d had a brainwave, suggested hopefully (still in his ‘Lily voice’) that he could be induced to lay off Severus if Lily agreed to go out with him. Back at the lake, we all groaned. He really liked her, but his timing was absolutely atrocious. She’d never end up with him at this rate.
Lily obviously agreed, saying in a clear voice that carried across the lawn that she wouldn’t go out with James if it was a choice between him and the giant squid. James looked like he physically deflated as he turned his face, looking halfway between Lily and Snape, apparently not seeing anything.
Sirius was saying something in the background, looking quite unconcerned at his friend’s evident trauma. Suddenly his voice got significantly louder as he shouted something at Snape, who was now free.
Severus had managed to get his wand back and had aimed it at James’ back. James whirled around, and when we could see the other side of him we realised Snape had hit him with a curse of some sort, as a gash had appeared on his cheek and blood from it was dripping onto his robes.
“He shouldn’t have attacked him when his back was turned,” Charlotte said angrily. “That was low.” We all nodded our heads in agreement.
Next thing we knew, Severus had been Levicorpused and was dangling upside down, as we had all done at some point or other, as though an invisible rope had him by the ankle, revealing skinny, pallid legs and a pair of mangy grey pants. I was somewhat surprised that Snape hadn’t started wearing shorts or trousers under his robes like the rest of us had – surely he hadn’t seriously thought no one would use the spell on him? In any case Lily’s voice cracked somewhat as she ordered James to let him down. We still couldn’t see her face, but we were guessing she was trying not to smile.
James obliged, but as soon as Snape landed Sirius put a full body bind on him, presumably to stop him doing the cutting curse again. This was too much for Lily, who got her own wand out at this point and yelled at them both once more to leave Severus alone. James and Sirius, for their part, eyed her warily, having both been on the receiving end of her jinxes more than once, James muttering out loud that he didn’t want Lily to push him far enough to make him hex her.
I was sure Lily was smiling as she directed James to remove the curse Snape was suffering from. She had to be having fun with him, as we all knew that she could take it off as well as he could. Petrificus totalus wasn’t a spell that needed to be removed by the caster – who had been Sirius, in any case. This was one thing that James hadn’t really had anything to do with.
In any case, James finally relented. Only for Lily would he stop having a go at Snape mid-hex. And he made sure Severus knew it, too, telling him in no uncertain terms that it was only because Lily was there that he’d done it.
Snape, clearly both fuming and humiliated, cut him off mid-sentence. “I don’t need help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!” he snapped.
Lily stopped dead as the watching student body held their collective breath. Surely he hadn’t just said that? In front of everyone? And, thought those of us who knew her well, not to Lily, of all people?
It took her a while to find her voice, but eventually she told him coldly that she just wouldn't bother in future. And then, the death knell for their friendship came from her lips. "And I’d wash your pants if I were you, Snivellus.”
That, if nothing else, told us just how upset Lily was. In all the five years we’d been at school, not once had she referred to him as Snivellus, and she’d chastised us repeatedly when we’d done it. They were friends. Well, they were friends. Not any more, apparently.
James was furious on Lily’s behalf, training his wand on Snape as he bellowed at him to apologise to Lily for what he’d just said.
Lily, for her part, was obviously upset enough to take it out on the first person she saw, which was made evident when she turned on James and shouted that he was just as bad as Severus was. And then, just in case that wasn’t enough, she went on a loud rant about everything about him that aggravated her. When she finally finished her tirade and stormed off, hurling a filthy look at James in the process, James looked rather like he’d just been through a duel with Voldemort himself.
Lily was still fuming as she made her way back to us by the lake’s edge, stomping her bare feet as hard as she could on the lawn as she came. Charlotte jumped to her feet and went to meet her.
“It’s okay, Lils,” she said quietly, putting an arm around her shoulders. “They’re not worth getting worked up over. None of them.” From close up we could see that Lily had started to cry, most probably from a combination of frustration, anger and betrayal.
Martha joined them. “Besides, I think you might wake up the giant squid if you make the ground shake any more, and then you might have to go out with it. Rather than James, I mean.” She grinned, and Lily smiled through her tears.
“Why do I let him do it to me?” she asked, sitting down again and thrusting her feet rather violently back into the water, as though that would make it all go away. “Why do I let him get to me so much?”
“Because you know that, deep down, he’s a good person,” Charlotte said evenly. “He just hasn’t got to that yet.”
“And it was a bit of a unique situation,” added Martha. “The boy you like is hexing your friend, and doesn’t listen to you when you ask him to stop. And then your friend, or should I say ex-friend, calls you the worst name anyone can call you. So you’re upset by that, and you take it out on James.”
“I did a bit, didn’t I?” she said quietly, for the first time not denying she fancied James. “But Sev – how could he have said that?”
“He says it aboot every ither Muggle-born i’ th’ school,” Mary said dryly. “It’s only ye he’s ne’er called tha’. An’ tha’s because he’s go’ th’ world’s bigges’ crush on ye.”
“No he doesn’t,” insisted Lily, shaking her head and still refusing to see it for what it was. “He can’t have. You wouldn’t call someone you fancied that word, would you?”
“I don’t know,” I said, trying to look at it from Snape’s point of view. “He was under a fair amount of stress and was being humiliated by his arch rival, in front of you no less. He could have said it as a defence mechanism.”
“I suppose,” Lily conceded, thinking about it. Her eyes were drying out but she still looked a little blotchy. “Doesn’t matter now, does it, whether he fancies me or not? ’Cause I’ve had it. I’m not speaking to him again.”
“Do you mean Snivellus or James?” asked Charlotte, looking a little worried she might be talking about James.
“Sev, of course,” said Lily, doing another first in ignoring Charlotte’s use of Snape’s nickname. “I’m sick of making excuses for him, I’m sick of defending him all the time. But I’m sure I’ll speak to James again. Oh no,” she gasped, something hitting her suddenly. “Did I really say his head was too big to fit on his broomstick?”
Martha laughed. “Yep, and more,” she said airily. “All true, of course, but that doesn’t make it any easier for him to hear.”
“But he’ll be horrified!” she said, her green eyes widening. “He’ll think I’m awful!”
I joined in the general laughter. “Lily,” I told her, “I wouldn’t get too worried if I were you. I suspect you could compare him to You-Know-Who himself, and James wouldn’t take offence.”
Lily acknowledged the point. “Yes, I suppose,” she said wearily.
There was another palaver behind us, and we turned to see that Snape had again been Levicorpused, and James’ loud voice was threatening to remove his mangy grey pants. Lily looked too exhausted to care, so we made a point of turning our backs on the noise and trying to ignore the cheers that came a moment later.
That evening Mary and I made a point of heading to the library to get some more revision done. While we preferred studying in the common room, sometimes the noise and bustle in there made it almost impossible and our last exam, Transfiguration, was the next day. Finally, after about four hours, complete with Madam Pince, the librarian, chasing us out and locking the door behind us, we made our way back to Gryffindor Tower.
We were chatting amiably and idly Transfiguring our textbooks into parrots and back again when we reached the portrait hole. I was just about to say the password when a dark figure stepped from the shadows and we instinctively gripped our wands tightly, not releasing this grip when we saw it was Severus Snape. Mary in particular was on her guard, this being unnervingly similar to her earlier encounter with Irving Mulciber.
Snape, however, appeared to be unarmed. Not only that, he looked almost forlorn, as he moved to stand between us and the Fat Lady.
“Cauldwell. Macdonald. You have to help me.” He sounded as bereft as he looked.
Mary eyed him with a mix of dread and revulsion. “We dinna hae t’ do anythin’, Snivellus,” she scowled.
“Please, I’ll do anything …”
“What is it you want, Snape?” I cut in. “Why are you hanging around Gryffindor Tower anyway?” I wasn’t particularly happy that he even knew where the entrance to the Gryffindor common room was – I certainly couldn’t have found the Slytherin equivalent if you’d paid me.
“I need … to see … Lily … to explain …” he mumbled. “She needs to understand! Please!”
I looked at him scornfully. “Didn’t you call her a Mudblood today?”
He went even paler than usual, if that was possible.
“Well then,” I went on, “what makes you think she’d want to see you?”
“She has to! Please!” He was begging now, looking rather pathetic, and part of me started wondering how much James and Sirius would pay to see him like this. Probably quite a lot, come to think of it. “If she doesn’t come out tonight, I’ll - I’ll sleep in the corridor, I’ll catch her when she comes out in the morning!”
Mary and I looked at each other. Clearly the boy was desperate.
“We’ll see,” said Mary. “I’ll a’ leas’ tell her ye’re here an’ all. It’s up t’ her if she wants t’ defile herself by associating wi’ th’ likes o’ ye.”
You could see the relief flooding through his body as he stood aside and let us get to the Fat Lady. She had been watching the whole encounter and had an astute look in her eye.
“Girls,” she said before we could give the password, “I don’t think you should say the password out loud tonight. Not in present company.” And she swung open in front of our gobsmacked faces.
Carefully shutting the portrait hole behind us, Mary and I looked at each other again. “Are you actually going to tell her?” I asked.
“Prob’ly shoul’, otherwise he micht stay there all nicht, an’ who wants t’ see tha’ firs’ thing i’ th’ morn?” she replied. I nodded: she certainly had a point.
“Oi! Lily!” she called out, searching out the redhead among all the students studying at the rickety tables. She wasn’t anywhere to be seen, so we made our way up to the dorm where we found her getting ready for bed.
Mary told her briefly what had happened. Lily stood stock still, clearly taking it all in, and then shook her head furiously. “I told him, that’s it, I’m not speaking to him again!” she fumed.
“He di’ threaten t’ stay there all nicht’,” Mary repeated.
Lily hesitated. “Oh, if it will just get rid of him, once and for all,” she muttered crossly and, putting her dressing gown on, she stormed down the stairs and out the portrait hole to confront Snape.
She was out there for a good ten minutes, but the thick castle walls insulated us from the sound of their conversation. Not from lack of trying on our part, but not even Lily’s enraged yells (we were assuming that was what she was doing) could get through the stone. Eventually she climbed back through the portrait hole, looking surprisingly calm, and came over to where we had settled at an empty table with some Transfiguration revision.
“He’s gone,” she said simply, and went back up to the dorm.
Just as we were trying to work out whether we should be thrilled or astonished that Lily had finally abandoned her long friendship with Severus Snape, we were interrupted by Sirius Black who was hovering by our table, his hands deep in his pockets, looking rather sheepish. Standing a little way behind him, obviously encouraging him, was Remus.
Sirius indicated an empty chair. “Is it okay if I sit down?”
“It’s a free country,” said Mary shortly. “Dae wha’ ye like.”
He sat down uncomfortably. “Uh, Cauldwell, I’ve, er, come to apologise,” he mumbled, looking at the surface of the table in front of him.
I looked at him in surprise. “Apologise? What for?”
“For this morning,” he said, raising his head and looking at me. “Before the exam,” he clarified, seeing the blank look on my face.
“Oh, that,” I said, remembering our little row that morning. “I thought you’d already apologised.”
“That was for what I said,” he said, evidently warming to the task. “This is for what I didn’t say.”
Mary was looking at him with interest. “Wha’ are ye talkin’ aboot, Black?” she asked.
“You said … you said that I’d succeeded, that there weren’t three people in the school who still cared that I’m a Black,” he said, addressing me.
“Yeah, that sounds about right,” I agreed, trying to remember the conversation.
“And by extension, I think,” he went on, “you meant that there are a lot of people who still care that you’re a Cauldwell. That is, they treat you like they’d treat your sister.”
“Well, yes,” I said, rather impressed that he’d recognised that. I hadn’t expected him to think past what I had actually said. In fact, I hadn’t expected him to even remember what I’d said after five minutes had passed.
“And we do that, don’t we,” he said quietly. “We treat you like ‘her sister’, rather than like you.”
I just looked at him, stunned. He’d worked that out? Mary was looking sharply from his face to mine, trying to read what would happen next.
“Yeah. You do,” I said, just as quietly. “But then so do a ton of other people. I didn’t mean to have a go at you for that.”
He sighed. “But that’s not fair. Particularly from me. I’ve been a total hypocrite for the past five years, and you’ve just taken it without ever saying anything.”
“I ‘just take’ a lot of things, Black,” I said. “Life’s all about ‘just taking’ things. I just wanted you to realise that it’s not all about you, that other people have problems a lot like yours and they deal with them. So hopefully you would stop making such a fuss about it, because I know what it’s like and it’s not that important.”
He nodded. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “We’ll make more of an effort to treat you like Laura from now on, not like Beatrice’s sister.”
“Thank you,” I said, smiling. “I appreciate that.”
He nodded again and rose from the table, going back to Remus, who grinned broadly and slapped him on the back as they made their way up the boys’ stairs.
I looked at Mary. “Who would have thought he was that perceptive?” I said quietly.
“Or Remus is tha’ perceptive,” she corrected me. “He wa’ hoverin’ i’ th’ background fer th’ whole conversation, it looked lik’ th’ whole thing wa’ his idea.”
“Good point,” I said. “Makes more sense too. I wouldn’t have thought Sirius Black paid that much attention to anyone other than himself.”
“Me neither,” she agreed. “Maybe we shoul’ be makin’ tracks, too,” she added. “Anither exam on th’ morn, we dinna wan’ t’ be too tired fer it.”
I nodded and, packing up my books, followed her up the stairs.
It’s probably unnecessary to mention that we were all incredibly relieved the next day once our Transfiguration exam was over (except Charlotte, who still had Divination). The theory paper had been simple enough, even if I did temporarily forget the definition of a Switching Spell, but the practical had been more of a trial. I managed to get through it reasonably well, I thought, and probably scraped a good enough mark to be able to continue the subject during NEWTs, but others seemingly didn’t do so well. Apparently Leda Madley from Hufflepuff managed to accidentally Transfigure her cricket into a camel, and Peter Pettigrew succumbed to a fit of nerves and somehow Vanished his examiner. Fortunately Professor Dumbledore was on hand and according to those who were in there did some rather quick spell casting to successfully recover the poor woman, but it was still sufficiently interesting to spread around the Great Hall like wildfire that evening at supper.
The last exam, Divination, took place the following day, and then even Charlotte had finished. Finally, we could breathe easily again. It was all over. All I had left for the remainder of the school year, aside from lounging around in the sun with the other fifth-years, was attending Bea’s graduation ceremony, which was to take place on the last day before we left to go home for the summer. Mum and Dad were making the trip north to watch her graduate and had expressly written to me asking that I join them in the audience so I felt rather honour-bound to go, even if I wasn’t much inclined.
Not that I disliked Bea specifically, or that I didn’t want to see her graduate. It was just, well, I’d been ‘Beatrice’s little sister’ all my life and as far as I could tell this was really just an extension of that. Everyone meant well and it would be nice to have proof that Bea was actually leaving Hogwarts (oops! Did I just say that out loud?), but let’s just say that I would be very surprised if she bothered to come to my graduation ceremony in two years’ time. I was expected to go because she was my sister and it was convenient for me to attend, but I was hazarding a guess that in a couple of years it wouldn’t be nearly so convenient for Bea to come to mine.
Sour grapes? Possibly. Resentment? I won’t rule it out. But a recognition, however dull, that I would in fact be doing just what my parents had asked of me and attending anyway? Definitely.
Anyway, the day came and like a good daughter I went down to the Great Hall at two o’clock to meet Mum and Dad and take my place with them in the graduation audience. I watched dutifully as Bea went up and collected her scroll from Professor Dumbledore, listened to the speeches from Dumbledore as well as the Head Boy and Girl, and then clapped like everyone else when those students who had topped the school in each subject went up one by one to receive another certificate.
Oddly enough, Bea wasn’t one of them. Yes she was brilliant, but as I had noted during the Easter holidays she had never really learned how to study, having had it all come to her so easily in the first six years of her magical education that when it got a bit much for her in seventh year she didn’t know how to cope. So we watched Damocles Belby get the prize for Potions, and Stamford Jorkins for Charms, and Julie Peasegood for Transfiguration, but not Bea. Not for anything, not even a nod for being runner-up. It was both fascinating and disappointing (from a family perspective) to see the great Beatrice Cauldwell, brilliant witch, sinking to become one of the rest, the also-rans, those who didn’t stand out in any real way.
I think Mum and Dad were rather disappointed in Bea’s non-appearance on stage, but I wasn’t really all that surprised. Her lack of actual study meant that she was always going to be overtaken by those who did really put the work in and diligently applied themselves to the subject. And it was a stern lesson to me, that no matter how brilliant you are you can never just rest on your laurels and expect things to fall your way. I’m not sure that I would have been one to rest on my laurels anyway – being Bea’s little sister meant that no matter how well I did, it was only to be expected because she’d done it first – but it was still a valuable lesson, even if the reward was partly the petty hope of getting one up on her in two years time when it was my turn. (Yes, I know, not exactly mature, but then what do you expect for a sixteen year old who’s spent her life being overshadowed?)
Anyway, finally it ended. Bea had her scroll that said she’d finished her seven years of schooling at Hogwarts, Mum and Dad had been there to see her receive it, and we all gathered together as a group in the Great Hall and chatted about what Bea might do with the rest of her life. As soon as I could I made a subtle exit and joined the rest of the girls on the lawns by the lake, where they’d been enjoying the June sunshine and trying to get pebbles to skip across the water in the direction of the giant squid. It was all over, we’d finished the dreaded OWL year, and tomorrow we would be going home. Life was good.
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