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Chapter 15 : And classes begin again
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She spent very little time speaking with James and Sirius, and I suspected that they had scored Os for all their subjects and could therefore take what they liked. She talked to Remus for a slightly longer time before nodding in a satisfied way and handing him a timetable, and then even longer with Peter, who was never up to the other three’s standard in terms of brains. Eventually she moved down the table to where we were.
“Miss Evans, your results were excellent,” she said, giving Lily a rare smile. “You may proceed with your chosen subjects.” And she tapped a blank piece of parchment with her wand and handed it to Lily, who beamed at her and consulted the paper eagerly.
“Miss Trimble,” she went on, “Professor Slughorn has agreed to take you as a NEWT student despite your Potions result, he seems to believe you show more aptitude for the subject than your marks indicate. So you may also proceed with your chosen subjects.” This was unusual, to say the least, but then again Charlotte was in the Slug Club and so we shouldn’t have been surprised. She looked gratified and took the new timetable.
“Miss Hornby, again very good results,” McGonagall said, turning to Martha. “However, Professor Babbling will not take NEWT students without an E or higher, so you will not be able to continue with Ancient Runes. Is there a subject you would prefer to take?” Martha looked a little disconcerted but suggested Arithmancy as a replacement – she had received an E on that at least. Professor McGonagall nodded her agreement and gave Martha her timetable.
“Miss Cauldwell,” she went on, turning to me, “you had excellent results. If I might say so, you picked up admirably towards the end of last year. You may continue in all subjects.” I grinned – I had elected to drop Care of Magical Creatures, History of Magic and Astronomy (which I’d failed anyway), but that meant that everything else I wanted to do, I could. I took my timetable from her eagerly.
“Miss Macdonald,” she said, finally looking at Mary, “I’m afraid I cannot take NEWT students in Transfiguration who did not achieve at least an E in their OWLs.” Mary nodded: she had been waiting for this. Her marks had been lower than she’d hoped due to her encounter with Mulciber just before the exams, which unsurprisingly had affected her revision, though she had surprised even herself by getting an O in Astronomy, which she therefore decided to keep studying. “Is there something else you would prefer to take instead?”
“Nae, thank ye, Professor,” Mary said, resigning herself to just the five subjects that year. She had made up her mind on the train that if she couldn’t continue with Transfiguration, she would just drop a subject entirely.
“Very well,” said Professor McGonagall. “Here is your timetable, then.” And she tapped the blank parchment with her wand and handed it to Mary.
I looked at my timetable enthusiastically. “Great, two free periods first up,” I grinned. “Nothing at all till after break – not bad for a Monday.”
Mary checked hers. “I’ve go’ a break in firs’ period bu’ then Muggle Studies i’ secon’ period,” she said. “Then naethin’ till after lunch, when I’ve go’ double Charms.”
“Lucky you,” said Lily from her spot two places down. “I’ve got Arithmancy first up – just the thing to get my brain working on a Monday morning.”
Martha groaned. “And I’ve got Arithmancy and then Care of Magical Creatures, then a break, then double Charms after lunch. Pretty full day, really.”
I was scanning my timetable. “Not as bad as Thursdays, though,” I said. “I’ve got double Transfiguration, then Charms, then double Herbology. Talk about full-on!”
Lily shot a look at her timetable. “Goodness, so do I,” she said despairingly. “Good thing I’ve got almost all of Fridays off, then – I’ll need that to recover!”
Charlotte shook her head sympathetically. “That’s pretty bad,” she agreed. “The worst I’ve got is today, which is Arithmancy, then a break, then Potions and double Charms, and Tuesdays where I’ve got Transfiguration, then a break, then Divination and double Defence. So I don’t have any full days at all.” She grinned, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Nice to be able to break it up a bit.”
I looked at Mary and smiled. “Library or gossip session?”
“Well,” she said, pretending to think about it, “considerin’ we dinna hae anythin’ t’ study, there’s nae much poin’ i’ goin’ t’ th’ library, is there?” She winked at me.
“My thoughts exactly,” I smiled. “Right then, common room or outside?”
She looked up at the ceiling of the Great Hall, which was bewitched to look like the sky outside. It was a beautiful clear blue with barely a cloud to be seen. “I think ootside looks lik’ a fair option.”
Lily threw us a filthy look. “That’s not fair, you two sitting outside in the sunshine while we’re stuck in Arithmancy.”
I grinned at her. “Nothing stopping you from joining me once you’re done, is there? I’ve got nothing till Potions after break.”
She grinned. “Right. Okay, Charlotte and I will be down as soon as the bell goes, what do you say, Charlotte?”
Charlotte grinned as well. “Sounds good to me. Oh, don’t worry, Martha,” she went on, looking at the blonde who was probably about to protest that she couldn’t come too, “we’ll wave at you as you go past with Kettleburn.”
“We can even blow kisses if you like,” I suggested, winking at her.
Martha scowled. “I guess I can’t really complain, I’ll be outside as well anyway. Right, then, I’m off to Arithmancy. Lily, Charlotte?” And the three of them got up to make their way to their first class of the year.
The first Potions lesson of the new term was an interesting affair. Six Gryffindors had scored the required E to study it at NEWT level, and we made our way down to the dungeons along with five Ravenclaws, two Hufflepuffs and three Slytherins, Gerry Stebbins looking rather disappointed once he realised Mary wasn’t there. I knew that Charlotte had only just scraped into the class, but she was clearly thrilled to notice Remus had also made the grade.
Severus Snape made a beeline for Lily while we were waiting for Slughorn to open the doors, and tried to pull her away from the rest of the students. She stared up at him with disdain and then looked away.
“I told you, I’m not interested,” she said, her tone acidic.
“But please,” he begged, “I’m sorry. It was the wrong thing to say.” From what I could see of his face through his curtain of greasy black hair he looked desperate, which I must say didn’t suit him at all.
“Save it,” she said sharply. “I’ve made my choice.”
James had made his way over to them, his wand out. “Is he bothering you, Evans?” he asked lightly, though we could see the anger in his face as he looked down at them, standing so as to make the most of every inch of height (both of them!) he had over Severus.
“Thanks, Potter, but I’m fine,” she responded, making a point of looking James full in the face and smiling at him, knowing how Snape would take it. If she’d had the guts and knew there would be no repercussions, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she’d snogged him, just to see Severus’ reaction. “Snivellus was just leaving.” And she pushed past Snape without looking at him and made her way over to where Charlotte and I were standing. James looked mildly surprised and a little pleased as he walked back to Sirius and Remus.
Severus was watching her with a horrified look on his face. He looked from her to James, then back again, and we could see the conclusions forming in his mind as he started getting more and more worked up. Fury and resentment were leaching out of him in floods and I was expecting him to get his wand out at any moment.
The ensuing silence was interrupted by Professor Slughorn opening the door of the Potions classroom. “NEWT students, welcome,” he said, grinning benignly at us as we made our way inside and seemingly oblivious to the increasingly angry Snape.
There were four tables inside each set up for four students, and we tried to work out the best seating arrangements. Eventually Charlotte settled at a table with James, Sirius and Remus, and Lily and I set ourselves up in front of them with Leda Madley and Al Jorkins from Hufflepuff. James looked distinctly unimpressed by the way it had turned out, as did Leda as a member of the Sirius Black fan club, but there wasn’t much either of them could do about it without being obvious. I did feel sorry for Hector Bole, though, who was the Ravenclaw who had to share with the Slytherins, particularly as Snape was still looking daggers at James and had pulled out his wand.
Slughorn had started talking without me really noticing, and was indicating four shimmering cauldrons in front of his desk. It seemed he was trying to get us to name each potion based on its appearance and scent, and he was indicating the one closest to our table.
Lily had her hand up immediately. I noticed that Hector did as well, but he wasn’t one of Slughorn’s favourites so he was ignored as the Professor looked at our table expectantly. “That’s amortentia,” Lily said, going a little pink.
Slughorn beamed at her. “And what is amortentia, Lily?”
“It’s a love potion,” she recited, sounding as usual as though she had swallowed the textbook. “The most powerful love potion in the world. It smells different to everyone, depending on what they find most attractive.”
I leaned over and smelled the potion, which did indeed have the most seductive aroma coming from it – a combination of a bacon and onion fry-up, cinnamon, something rather musky and attractive that I couldn’t identify, freshly ground coffee and – hang on, was that wet dog I could smell? That didn’t seem right at all. Baffled, I shook my head and sank back onto my stool.
“Right you are, Lily,” Slughorn beamed again. “Ten points to Gryffindor. And while it is a love potion, let me remind you that it cannot actually create love, just an infatuation. I believe this to be of the most dangerous potions it is possible to make.” He looked at us and focused on some of the Ravenclaw boys, who were sniggering into their hands. “I am quite serious, Mr Stanley,” he went on, getting Gerry Stebbins’ name wrong – he obviously wasn’t a member of the Slug Club. “Never underestimate the power of obsessive love.” And it seemed to me that he glanced at Severus Snape before he went to stand by the next cauldron, which had a perfectly clear liquid bubbling away inside.
“And who can identify this?” he asked, looking around. Lily’s hand again shot into the air, as did Severus’ and James’. All members of the Slug Club – he’d have trouble showing favouritism with this lot to choose from.
“James?” Snape looked furious and was still fingering his wand.
“That’s veritaserum, Professor,” said James confidently. “Liquid truth. If you feed it to someone they are forced to tell the truth.” His explanation wasn’t quite as eloquent as Lily’s would have been, but we all got the message fairly easily anyway.
“Very good, James,” agreed Slughorn with a smile. “Another ten points to Gryffindor.” He moved to the next cauldron, the contents of which were a little syrupy and had a greenish tinge. It looked like something that no one in their right mind would ever knowingly drink.
Again, Lily’s and Snape’s hands were in the air, and this time Slughorn chose Severus.
“Draught of the Living Death,” said Severus. He was still casting malevolent sideways glances at James and I wondered if he was planning to slip some of the potion into his morning coffee or something. “It causes the drinker to fall into a deep sleep, so deep that it resembles death, and from which it is almost impossible to awaken.” Actually, if that’s what it did, he was most probably almost certainly planning to feed some to James somehow. If I was him I would certainly have been on my guard.
“Excellent, Severus,” beamed Slughorn again. “Ten points to Slytherin. And the final potion?” he continued, indicating the fourth and last mixture, which was dark and gluggy and had a most unpleasant smell coming from it.
Again, Lily and Severus had their hands in the air, but also this time did Sirius, and to keep things fair Slughorn turned to him. “Sirius?”
“That’s polyjuice potion,” he said, looking at the cauldron appreciatively. “When you mix it with a part of someone, say a hair or a fingernail, if you drink it you’ll turn into that person for an hour.” Now I understood why he looked interested in that potion – it would be invaluable for one of their pranks.
“Thank you, Sirius, that is exactly right,” agreed Slughorn. “Take another ten points. I have shown you these potions,” he went on, addressing the class as a whole, “as they are the sort of potions that come up in NEWT classes. You will be required to prepare potions of this sort of complexity for your exams.” We all looked around worriedly, and I wondered if I was quite cut out for this class. I mean, Draught of the Living Death? There was no way known I could make that.
As it turned out, that was exactly our task that day. Professor Slughorn didn’t expect anyone to actually complete the potion, but he was clearly testing us to see how we would go with something as complicated as that. Fortunately I was sharing a table with Lily, Potions expert, and she kept an eye on me as I cut up the ingredients and tried to put them in the cauldron in the correct order. The end result was that my attempt wasn’t any worse than many of those I saw being submitted at the end of the lesson, and I started feeling rather more confident about the class.
As everyone went up to Slughorn’s desk to hand in their potion samples, I noticed every single one of them stop at the amortentia and inhale deeply. I wondered idly what each of them were smelling, and whether anyone else had discovered an aroma similar to the one I had. I mean, really, wet dog? I had another long sniff myself to make sure I hadn’t been imagining things but, sure enough, there it was again. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to share that little titbit with anyone, not entirely certain what it said about me.
Once the class was over and we filed into the Great Hall for lunch, Charlotte came and sat down next to me. “How did you go?” she asked.
“Passable,” I said, “but it would have been much worse if Lily wasn’t helping me out.”
“Tell me about it,” she agreed. “You know how I only just scraped into NEWT Potions. Well, it seems Remus had a similar mark to mine and only just made it as well, so between the two of us we’re not particularly confident, especially with something as complicated as we did this morning. Thank goodness James and Sirius were at our table, let me tell you.”
“I did feel sorry for Hector,” I said. “Having to sit with Snape, Pritchard and Gibbon. That can’t have been pleasant.”
“Do you think he got Slytherin germs?” she asked with a grin. “Though with Gibbon on that table, I’m surprised there was room for Hector.” Gibbon, the Slytherin prefect, was a great lump of a boy. Really, he had the most appropriate name out of anyone I’d ever come across.
Other classes were generally just as amusing, and before the week was out we discovered that there were two NEWT-level Defence Against the Dark Arts classes. This was unusual, but due to the current climate interest was at unprecedented levels, and a large number of students had worked very hard to ensure they got the E required to study it at a higher level, doubtless hoping to learn enough to survive once school was over. Everyone in Gryffindor had the grades to continue studying it, rather unusually I must admit, and we found our class shared with half a dozen Hufflepuffs. Apparently Ravenclaw and Slytherin, both of which had similar levels of interest, were taking the same course at a different time.
All through the week Snape was still trying to talk to Lily, attempting to win her forgiveness for the Mudblood comment during OWLs. She was getting more and more aggravated with him and on one occasion even resorted to using a Revulsion Jinx to get him away from her, though even that didn’t seem to hammer home the message that she no longer wanted to have anything to do with him. While I had to give him credit for his persistence, I couldn’t help but feel that if he actually listened to her and did what she asked once in a while, he might actually stand a chance of being forgiven.
Once the weekend rolled around I finally had time for the important things that needed doing at the start of the school year. A Caerphilly Catapults poster found its way onto the wall next to my bed via a Fixing Charm, as did some family photos, a Welsh rugby flag and a Gryffindor banner. The books I’d brought from home were put into my bedside cabinet, and I found my Nimbus One Thousand and One, in parts, at the bottom of my trunk waiting to be reassembled.
I enjoyed this task and always allowed a good couple of hours to do it properly. The twigs were all perfectly shaped and didn’t need trimming or adjusting (though half a dozen or so had broken in the trunk and needed to be binned), so I took my time and reattached them to the handle individually with delicate care. Eventually they were all in place and I was happy with the result, though the dorm wasn’t really the place to test it. Nowhere near enough room. So I adjusted the Cushioning and Flying Charms and headed outside to the Quidditch pitch where I could give it a good workout.
Fortunately it was too early in the year for any Quidditch training to be going on, though there were a few stragglers about who were obviously trying to get some practice in before team trials were held the following week. I had no intention of trying out for the Gryffindor team but this was the perfect place to test my broom and I took off with gusto, performing all sorts of little moves to ensure my charms were holding as they should be, and the broom was handling as expected.
It was as always exhilarating, streaming above the school grounds at a hundred miles an hour, which I was perfectly comfortable with so long as both hands stayed on the broom handle. Part of me wished my balance was a bit better one-handed, as I would have enjoyed playing Quidditch and getting out for training every week. However, I had fallen off my broom enough times over the years to know my own limits, and after zooming around for about half an hour I headed back down, happy with my handiwork. My broom, the name ‘Cauldwell’ carved into the timber and an Anti-Theft Jinx placed on it, I left in the broom shed, ready for whenever my next excursion would be.
When I got back to Gryffindor Tower I discovered Mary had been looking for me. “Laura! Where were ye?”
“Quidditch pitch,” I replied. “I put my broom back together so I had to test it out to make sure I’d done it properly.” We headed back downstairs towards the library, where she wanted to check out a couple of books for Muggle Studies.
“Anyone else there?” she asked in that careless kind of way that you just know they’re dying for the answer. I looked at her sharply.
“A few people practicing for House tryouts,” I said. “No one interesting though.”
She was quiet for a bit. “Jus’ new ones, though, nae one who’s already on th’ team? Nae, they wouldna be there,” she went on, answering her own question, “they prob’ly dinna need t’ practice, dae they?”
Mary was obviously interested in someone on one of the Quidditch teams. Hopefully the Gryffindor one, I thought, not wanting her to start supporting another House. I decided to test her.
“Did you want to go and watch tryouts next week?”
She started. “When are they?”
I thought about it – I’d heard the announcement and seen the notice on the common room board, but I hadn’t paid much attention. “Thursday after school, I think. For Gryffindor, that is.”
She nodded. “Thursday’s all richt, an’ all. If ye dinna min’?”
I laughed. “Who is it you’re so keen on seeing?”
Immediately she clammed up. “Nae one.”
I thought my way through the previous year’s team. Keeper – Marcus Ogden, now seventh-year. Possible, but I wasn’t convinced. Seeker – spot left vacant by Amelia Towler. Not that, obviously. Beaters – Fin Quigley and Barnaby Marchbanks, both fifth-years. Unlikely. Chasers – Anna Vector, seventh-year. I hoped not. Spot left vacant by Eileen Sloper. See seeker description. James Potter. OH.
“Mary!” I exclaimed. “You’ve got a crush on James Potter!”
She went beet red and tried to hide her face in her hair. “Nae I dinna!”
“Then why are you blushing?” I asked gently.
Her face fell. “Okay, aye, I dae. Jus’ a wee one. I thin’ it started whe’ he looked after me wi’ tha’ whole thing wi’ Mulciber. Ye ken he came t’ visit me a few times? T’ mak’ sure I was gettin’ better an’ all. An’ I know, it’s stupid,” she went on quietly. “It’s nae like I’ve go’ a chance agains’ Lily, dae I?” She looked thoroughly miserable.
“I’m sorry, Mary,” I said, giving her a hug. “But I don’t think Guinevere herself would have a chance against Lily.”
She laughed despite herself. “Ye’re prob’ly richt there. Oh well. Guess I jus’ hae t’ live wi’ it then.”
“Come on, now, it’s not all bad,” I said, trying to reassure her. “There’s always Gerry Stebbins, he’s – uh – inoffensive,” – that was the best thing about him that I could come up with – “and he’s certainly rather keen on you.”
“Nae James, though, is he?” she said shortly, shuddering.
“Well, no, but you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who’s a patch on James Potter. And Gerry’s not nearly so arrogant, that has to be a plus.” There, I thought, something else he had going for him. If I thought about it enough I might even come up with a tidy few things about him that were halfway decent, though if he really did still read Martin Miggs comics then he was probably beyond saving.
“Aye, bu’ I’d be settling,” she mumbled. “I dinna wan’ t’ hae t’ settle fer someone, and definitely nae him. I wan’ t’ be swept off my fee’ by a knicht i’ shining armour – or, failing tha’, a Chaser on th’ Quidditch team …” She smiled grimly, then looked sharply at me. “But ye hae t’ promise t’ ne’er mention this t’ anyone. Can ye imagine if it go’ oot?”
I gave her another hug. “Don’t worry, I won’t breathe a word. You have my promise. I know exactly what you mean.”
The school term was progressing and to my relief it wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d anticipated. Then again, I had helped things along a little in that regard. For example, I’d discovered that sitting with Lily during Potions was definitely one of my smarter moves. She had a proper understanding of the way potion ingredients worked together and was able to tell you the effects of different combinations, even when they were things we hadn’t put together before. This was exemplified when we started studying Everlasting Elixirs in mid-October, which Slughorn pointed out were some of the trickiest potions to be attempted in sixth year.
“You can’t put the ginger roots in before the Romanian Longhorn powder,” she said sharply, putting her hand over mine to stop me adding the wrong ingredient. “Romanian Longhorn powder is a base ingredient and needs to settle before you add anything ancillary like ginger, otherwise it’ll just disintegrate and won’t have any effects.” While she sometimes sounded like she had swallowed the textbook, I appreciated her efforts to help me pass.
I looked at her admiringly. “What don’t you know, Lily Evans?”
She blushed. “Sorry, I just didn’t want you to get it wrong,” she said, not being the world’s best at taking compliments. “You need to separate the base ingredients from the ancillaries and make sure you don’t muck up the order.”
“And I appreciate it,” I said with feeling. “Now, what category do the Jobberknoll feathers fit into, base or ancillary?”
She grinned. “Animal parts are always base,” she explained. “Even Flobberworm – though I’d understand it if you didn’t count them as animals.”
Through Lily’s careful coaching I managed to do a decent job on my first attempt at an Everlasting Elixir, and it occurred to me that I might even have the hang of Potions by the end of the year if I stayed near her during class.
Defence Against the Dark Arts was similarly promising. Despite the unfortunate appearance of the teacher and the derogatory remarks he had inspired at the welcome feast, the lessons were surprisingly good. Professor Viridian knew a lot more than his looks made out, especially about curses and counter-curses, and by the time we’d been back at school a month and a half I felt like I’d already learned more than I did all through the previous year.
My opinion wasn’t shared by the whole class, however. James and Sirius were openly derisive about Viridian and often made jokes at his expense and even people like Caradoc Dearborn, the Hufflepuff prefect and a perfectly nice person most of the time, were less than enthusiastic about his lessons.
I paid them little attention. I was feeling much more confident about sixth year than I had about fifth year, and each class was like a new challenge for me to complete. To be frank, the whole feel of school was different. I felt free, as though a weight had been lifted from me and something had unlocked in my brain that unchained my thoughts in the process. The upshot of this was that I became more conspicuous, putting my hand up in class to answer questions, being more vocal about what I thought, and in general feeling more confident in my own abilities.
It was a few weeks before I realised why this was so, and I had Martha to thank for it. “You don’t miss her, do you?” she asked at the Hallowe’en feast, helping herself to some pumpkin pasties.
“Who?” I asked, baffled.
“That sister of yours,” she explained. “You don’t have to keep an eye on the Ravenclaw table to make sure she’s behaving herself any more.”
I thought about that. It was true – my new sense of self-assurance most likely had an awful lot to do with Bea’s absence. I had no responsibility for her anymore, no more putting out her fires (sometimes literally) or making excuses for her strange behaviour. No more judgemental looks from other students after a Bea-inspired fracas, all muttering that if I’m around it’s only a matter of time before something else happens like it. No more having to defend my own reputation because of something she’d done.
Well, when I looked at it like that, no wonder I felt free.
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