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Chapter 16 : Patronuses
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Starting to get a little worried, I soon heard voices up ahead. Good, I thought, someone I could ask for directions. It’s a bit embarrassing having to ask where you are when you’ve been living in a building for the best part of five and a half years, but there’s times that it’s best to swallow your pride and just do it. Unfortunately, the closer I got, the more familiar one of the voices sounded, and if it was who I thought it was I was very reluctant to ask him for help. He’d humiliated me enough already for one lifetime.
Before I reached them I thought I’d better take a peek to see if my guess was right. Peering around a corner of the passageway, I saw two figures standing quietly in the shadows by an old tapestry, and they looked very much like they didn’t want to be disturbed. One of them was saying, “I wrote to Mum, but nothing doing.”
“Thought as much,” said the other one, the one who sounded familiar. That is, he sounded like Sirius, though he was speaking too low for me to be completely sure. And to think I’d been avoiding Elvira so I wouldn’t have to talk about him – the irony of the situation didn’t escape me.
“It’s okay,” said the first one reassuringly. “Did you get my parcel? I was running late at breakfast …”
“Yes, thanks,” replied the other, laughing. It was Sirius – no one else had that bark-like laugh that I had noticed earlier in the term. “I did appreciate that. I just thought …”
“I know,” said the first person. “I just wanted you to know that I did try.”
I peered around the corner again, wondering where exactly we were and when they might disappear so I could go on. The two were embracing awkwardly, then, without warning, the shorter and slighter of the two broke away and headed off down the corridor, away from me. I froze. The other person – Sirius – was bound to come in my direction. I racked my brain trying to think of an excuse for being there, listening to what was obviously a private conversation. “Lost,” despite being the truth, didn’t really seem to cut it.
I was let off, however, lucky this one time – Sirius turned around and slipped behind the tapestry, leaving no sign he’d ever been there. I breathed out. There must be a secret passage behind there. Idly I wondered where it went but, lost as I was, I wasn’t going to risk making matters even worse. Instead, undeniably curious, I made a mental note to tell Mary and check it out ourselves one day.
To be frank, someone like Sirius knowing where Hogwarts’ secret passages were could not have been less surprising. He needed all the nous he could get to successfully avoid the fan club which, though it had diminished the previous Christmas due to his disinheritance, had swelled rather significantly once term began as it became obvious he’d shot up a bit over the summer. Now at least two inches taller than James, he had grown into his already elegant and aristocratic looks even more than he had previously, so a few who had dropped out were re-joining and there were even some new faces in the mix. They had to be completely exasperating so I felt it would be cruel to deny him the small pleasure of being able to disappear whenever possible.
Anyway, once the coast was clear I continued down my mystery corridor, following its twists and turns and eventually finding myself outside the toilets that no one ever used, the ones with a ghost living in one of the cubicles. Her name was Myrtle and she was rather contrary and depressing, so had been nicknamed ‘Moaning Myrtle’. Which wasn’t very nice, I admit, but it was accurate. In any case, seeing Myrtle’s bathroom meant that I now knew where I was, and I was able to find the staircase that would lead me to the Great Hall in time for lunch without further difficulty.
That night we were treated to the sight of James Potter standing on a table in the middle of the common room, its spindly legs creaking ominously under his weight. After all, three and a bit years on the House Quidditch team had meant that he wasn’t exactly a pixie. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he boomed, failing to miss Peter snorting into his Firewhisky, probably at the term ‘gentlemen’. “Ladies and gentlemen,” James repeated, looking furiously at Peter, “you are now looking at the first Gryffindor sixth-year to officially come of age!!” He turned around dramatically to reveal Sirius Black who bowed extravagantly, beaming at the crowd and dressed ostentatiously in a Muggle tuxedo. To be wearing that, I guessed, he’d probably lost a bet again.
“Rubbish,” said Charlotte calmly from our table, where we had all turned to watch the proceedings. “I turned seventeen two months ago.”
Sirius’ face dropped as he turned towards us. “Can’t I be the first at anything?” he asked plaintively. “Aside from schoolwork, of course,” he added, grinning. “Oh, and getting girls …” He trailed off, looking sickeningly pleased with himself.
Peter piped up. “You said you didn’t want the girls!” He looked almost accusingly at his friend.
Sirius looked confused, then his expression cleared. “Not those girls,” he clarified, and we knew he was referring to the fan club. “But normal ones, yes.” He cast an appraising eye around the common room at the gathered students, his eyes lingering on a few different girls who were watching him, and grinned triumphantly.
“You can be the first of us to seventeen, mate,” said James, who was now back on the floor, leaving the limelight to his tuxedo-clad friend. “Just ’cause I’m being generous, mind.”
Peter scoffed, his uncharacteristic boldness probably due to the Firewhisky he’d been drinking. “Blimey, Prongs, like you can talk. Even Moony and I will get there before you do!”
“True,” agreed Remus. “He has you there.”
Lily lifted an eyebrow. “You’ve got to love the irony,” she said quietly to Charlotte.
James, however, had heard her. “What irony?” I could tell he was bursting for an insight into the way Lily Evans’ mind worked.
“The leader of the pack, and he’s the youngest of them all,” she explained, trying unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. Everyone started laughing.
“Yeah, but I’m not the youngest in the year,” he countered. Lily raised the other eyebrow. “Surely not?” he added, now looking worried. “When’s your birthday, Trimble?”
“September, you dolt, remember, I just said,” Charlotte said acidly.
“Oh yeah.” He had the grace to look somewhat abashed. “Hornby?”
“Week before Christmas,” said Martha.
“Oh.” He did look worried now. “Cauldwell?”
“March,” I said.
His face lit up. “When in March?”
“The sixth,” I told him.
His face fell again. “Damn! I’m the twenty-seventh.”
Remus was looking at me curiously. “You’re the sixth of March?” I nodded. “I’m the tenth!” he grinned.
“Well there you are, then,” I said, smiling. “Almost twins!”
James came over to physically stand between us, breaking off the conversation. “Only one left,” he said, looking at Mary.
“An’ ye’re in luck,” said Mary calmly, though she was probably bursting inside – James hardly ever spoke to her. “My birthday’s nae till June.”
James grinned maniacally and began high-fiving his friends, chanting, “I’m not the youngest, I’m not the youngest.” He hadn’t asked Lily when her birthday was – which was late January – but I suspected he already knew it: he seemed to know just about everything else about her.
Sirius stopped him mid-chant. “You finished, Prongs? ’Cause it’s my birthday, now, remember?”
“Oh yeah,” James said sheepishly. “Sorry. I did hear something about that. And I’m sure I heard a rumour of a party of some sort, too …” His voice picked up significantly as he looked around the room. “This Saturday night, folks! In here, eight o’clock. There's no excuse not to come!”
The boys from our year were getting justifiably famous for their parties. I was never sure how they did it but they always managed to provide copious supplies from not only the Hogwarts kitchens but also from Hogsmeade, both the sweet shop and the pub. And at least one of them must have had a substantial music collection because the gramophone generally went all night, thankfully without a bar of Celestina Warbeck’s grating ballads to be heard. The parties were held in the common room so everyone in Gryffindor House was invited, and if one of the boys was going out with someone from another House they were welcome too, though obviously they had to be physically let through the portrait hole as they didn’t know our password.
Having said that, however, Sirius was the only one of the four who seemed to do much dating. He was very sought-after, of course, so that all he had to do to get a girlfriend was pretty much snap his fingers, but even he didn’t do that as much as he could have. I didn’t think he’d gone out with anyone since Dione Turpin, and they’d broken up the previous May – though there were occasional rumours, usually spread by the girl concerned and so of doubtful legitimacy, of the odd snog here and there. Maybe he enjoyed seeing Elvira and the others thinking they might have a chance, maybe the girls at Hogwarts weren’t up to his lofty standards, or maybe he just wasn’t much inclined, I really didn’t know (or care, for that matter).
James, totally hung up on Lily, had had a couple of girlfriends since about third year but no one for more than a few weeks as they got more and more fed up with him gushing about another girl. Remus to my knowledge had never had a girlfriend in the whole time he’d been at Hogwarts, though that wasn’t from lack of offers. Maybe he just didn’t want to, maybe he was even gay – though I had never mentioned that possibility in Charlotte’s hearing. And Peter, who would take anything he could get, was sadly lacking in opportunity, and I got the feeling he would happily have accepted the castoffs of any of the other three boys just to get a bit of experience and maybe even some credibility among his friends.
Meanwhile, lessons were going on much as they always did, and in between them we had to deal with Peeves, Dione, Elvira and various Slytherins, all of whom made life difficult in their own little ways. This was exemplified one Tuesday as I reached Viridian’s classroom for double Defence Against the Dark Arts, along with the rest of the class who like me had just come from lunch in the Great Hall, when I was cleaned up by Severus Snape, who had come in from another corridor without watching and barrelled into me.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he spat through his curtain of greasy black hair, pulling his robes tighter around him as he saw James and Sirius eyeing him slyly.
“I’m sorry, Snivellus,” I said coldly, having regained my balance. “I didn’t realise that you not looking where you were going was suddenly my fault.”
He started to reach for his wand but obviously thought better of it, with pretty much half of sixth-year Defence Against the Dark Arts watching. Scowling, he slipped off down a nearby passageway.
Remus, standing opposite, grinned at me. “You know, Laura, you’ve really come out of your shell this year.”
“Probably,” I shrugged. “There’s a theory that it may have coincided with my sister’s graduation.”
He was quiet for a spell, apparently thinking. “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said eventually. “Was she really that much of an influence?”
I was looking at my robes where Snape had hit me, searching for any grease marks I might have to clean off, and his question took me by surprise.
“There were times that it felt like it,” I said, lifting my head. “Can you see any stains on here?” Okay, Remus probably wasn’t the person to ask a question like that, but he was the easiest as we were already talking. I n any case it didn’t matter because I quickly answered my own question. “Ah, there’s one. Tergeo.” I siphoned off the mark with my wand.
“He really needs t’ dae summit aboot tha’ hair,” Mary commented.
“Definitely,” I agreed. “I feel like hexing him so that the grease glows in the dark, that way you’d always be able to find where it’s got to.”
Apparently this was a rather humorous idea as half the class started laughing, only to be disrupted by Professor Viridian opening the classroom door to let us in. Settling down with remarkable speed, we all wandered in and found our usual desks.
Viridian as usual silenced the class with no apparent effort, and announced that he was going to teach us the Patronus Charm. While you might think this was something that was more likely to come up in Charms, it was in fact the spell used to repel Dementors, and so definitely came under the definition of Defence against the Dark Arts. In fact, Viridian explained that while this was something that was usually taught in seventh year if at all, the recent spate of Dementor attacks – including the one we had witnessed in Diagon Alley back in August – meant he and Dumbledore had agreed to teach it to us now.
The charm itself was easy enough to remember – Expecto patronum – but it wasn’t just a matter of saying the words and flicking your wand with this one, apparently. The trick was that you had to think of something that made you happy. The happier the thought, the stronger the effect of the spell, known as a Patronus, would be.
A Patronus was a silvery being, generally an animal, that would erupt from your wand and, if strong enough, charge down and scatter the Dementor it was aimed at, as we had seen in Diagon Alley the previous summer. Which was all well and good in theory, but it was much harder to do than it sounded. Apparently, none of my thoughts or memories were happy enough.
By halfway through the double period all most of the class had been able to achieve was a thin silvery whisp of smoke from the end of their wands. Most of the class, that is. I probably don’t need to mention that James and Sirius had well and truly mastered the charm by that point and were treating us to their Patronuses, which if they stayed still for long enough looked like a deer of some sort and a large dog, doing laps of the classroom. That galvanised the rest of us into trying harder and, half an hour later, I was thrilled to see something that almost had a definite shape appearing from my wand tip.
“Mary, did you see that?” I asked excitedly. “That was definitely something!”
“Aye,” she agreed. “Almos’ had a shape an’ all.”
I cast the charm again eagerly, trying my hardest to think of the happiest memory I could. First kiss? No, that was a bit of a dud, really (sorry Cadmus!). Beating Bea in Charms? Good memory but compromised by the jinxes she sent my way as a result. Finding out I was in Gryffindor rather than Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff? No, I was more confused by that than anything else. Getting an O for Herbology in my OWLs? Possibly, but it didn’t really feel like what I was looking for. In the end I decided on a particularly memorable stay at Mary’s in between fourth and fifth years – most probably not the type of memory the charm inventor had in mind, but my life had been uninteresting enough to not provide me with much else.
However, try as I might, I couldn’t get past the vague wispy shape that I’d already achieved, and even then I couldn’t work out what animal it was. Something medium-sized with four legs, but beyond that I wasn’t sure. Mary didn’t even get that, having to be satisfied with the silvery whisp that was the first step to a real Patronus.
“A good start, people,” Viridian said as he closed the class. “Mr Potter, Mr Black, take twenty points each – those were excellent Patronuses for a first try. The rest of you, keep practicing, and we’ll try again on Friday.”
Mary, still hung up on James, was awestruck by his ability in Defence. “Did ye see tha’?” she breathed as we headed up to Gryffindor Tower to drop our bags off before supper. “Mastered it i’ half an hour. An’ such a bonny animal, too …”
I looked at her, using all my self-control not to laugh at the dreamy look on her face. Love does do silly things to us. “Which one was his? I couldn’t tell.”
“He ha’ th’ stag,” she said softly. “So bonny …”
I laughed despite my best intentions not to. “Mary, you’re impossible,” I said. “Yes, he’s bloody good at Defence. And he can do a good Patronus. But seriously,” I went on, remembering something, “don’t get your hopes up, okay? It was a lovely stag but it went straight to Lily before it started doing laps. And I don’t want you to get hurt because of this.”
She sighed. “I ken,” she admitted. “An ye’re richt t’ stop me gettin’ too carried away. Bu’ he’s jus’ so … so …”
“So James,” I finished for her. “I know. But if nothing else, remember, Lily saw him first. And he saw Lily. I’m sorry, Mary, but some things are just meant to be.” And I gave her a quick comforting hug as we climbed the last staircase towards the tower.
We did practice before the next Defence class, as often as we could, and by the time we got back to Viridian’s classroom on Friday morning Mary had progressed to the almost-solid-looking shape that I had. They were still hard to recognise as particular animals, though Mary was convinced hers was a golden eagle, which was one of Scotland’s national icons. Which set me off a bit as the Welsh equivalent was the dragon, and that my Patronus very definitely was not.
Fortunately, under the tutelage of Professor Viridian we both managed to produce a proper Patronus by the end of Friday’s lesson. Not as strong or forceful as the ones James and Sirius had created earlier that week, but certainly enough to make us feel like we’d achieved something. Mary was right, hers was a golden eagle, which she was thrilled with as it proclaimed her as a true Scot. Like her accent didn’t do that anyway, I thought, but she had never really been particularly pleased with moving to England so it was to her a validation of her Scottishness. My Patronus, on the other hand, wasn’t anywhere near as exciting – a medium to large dog, maybe a Labrador, though it wouldn’t stay still for long enough for me to be absolutely sure. In any case we were both feeling pretty pleased with ourselves and didn’t even mind the two-foot essay Viridian set us at the end of class – which I suppose has to be saying something. Like I said, his lessons really were surprisingly good, and I had absolutely no objection to getting better at something like Defence.
Elvira came and sat next to me in Ancient Runes later that day. “Laura, I’ve got a problem,” she said as she sat down, putting her books on the desk.
“Sure,” I said. “What’s up?” Although pretty sure I knew, I thought I’d give her the opportunity to surprise me. After all, you never know your luck.
“Sirius,” she said, confirming my theory and going into broken record mode again. “You’re in Gryffindor. You know him.”
“Being in Gryffindor doesn’t mean I know him.” I’d said that before but it never seemed to sink in. She didn’t look convinced so I gave up, taking the path of least resistance. “All right, what’s he done now?”
“He still doesn’t know me from a bottle of Doxycide,” she muttered. “But that’s not the problem. The problem is HER.” She pointed rather viciously at Clio Zeller, a pretty black-haired Hufflepuff who also took Ancient Runes.
“Muffliato,” I muttered, pointing my wand in Clio’s direction. “All right, Elvira, what’s Clio got to do with Sirius?”
“They’re going out,” she hissed, glaring across the room. “I saw them snogging in the Transfiguration corridor during break.”
I looked at Clio, somewhat surprised that Elvira hadn’t hexed her then and there. “They may not be going out,” I pointed out, I must say doing a remarkably good impersonation of someone who actually did give a toss. “It might have just been a snog. And anyway, he’s a grown man. Legally of age and everything. He’s entitled to snog her if he wants to.”
“He’s of age?” she asked, distracted. “When did that happen?”
I shrugged. “Week or two ago, I think. There was a party in the common room, but I don’t really remember when it was.”
Elvira smiled to herself, but then caught sight of Clio again and remembered why she was talking to me in the first place. “But why her?” she asked petulantly. “I’m prettier than she is! I’m smarter! What’s she got that I haven’t?”
The obvious answer to that was “Sirius”, but I thought it would be more tactful not to say that. And of course Clio hadn’t been throwing herself at him every week for the past two or three years, but while that very likely had something to do with his decision I decided not to mention that either – I still hadn’t forgotten Elvira’s reaction the last time I’d said something along those lines. Instead I took the diplomatic route. “I’m sure he’s got his reasons, but he’s not been very forthcoming with that sort of thing with me of late.” Or ever, for that matter. “So I’m sorry, Elvira, but I don’t really have any more idea than you do.”
“You’re in Gryffindor,” she pouted. “You can find out all sorts of things.”
“Can, but don’t,” I said sternly. “It’s none of my business. And I hate to be the one to point it out, but it’s none of yours, either.”
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Remus had been listening in on the conversation, half a smile on his face. Oops, perhaps I should have Muffliato’d him as well. Though, thinking about it, I hadn’t said anything I regretted so it probably wasn’t too much of a disaster.
Elvira was saved from responding to my edict by Professor Babbling, who started the class. Afterwards, she hung back a little watching Clio, and Remus took the opportunity to catch up with me.
“Nice dealing with Elvira,” he said quietly, making sure the subject of our conversation wasn’t anywhere within hearing.
“Thanks,” I said. “I was right, wasn’t I? It really is none of her business.”
“It’s not,” he agreed, “but she wants it to be. I’ve never come across anyone quite so persistent.”
“Clio will need to watch her back,” I said. “Assuming they are going out, that is. Merlin only knows what they’ll do to her for daring to go out with him.”
Remus shrugged. “I’m sure she can look after herself,” he said unconcernedly. “She knows what she’s getting into.”
“But still,” I said, thinking of Elvira. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, after all. “How’s her Patronus?”
Remus laughed. “I can’t say I know, but I’m sure it’s fine. But I don’t think Elvira is quite as dangerous as a Dementor, do you?”
I giggled a little. “I don’t know. I’d say being kissed by her would be just as dangerous as being kissed by a Dementor. But maybe I’m reading too much into it.”
He laughed again. “You know, you might just have a point there.”
The conversation ended abruptly as we reached the Great Hall for lunch and Remus headed to where James, Sirius and Peter were already sitting, and I found the girls. At the Hufflepuff table not long afterwards, Clio’s ordinarily silky black hair suddenly became bright green and rather slimy-looking, and I drew the girls’ attention to it, explaining Elvira’s ‘problem’ as the likely cause. And then, after the requisite rolling of eyes and groans, we promptly forgot all about it and got on with having our lunch.
Author’s note: I was pretty pleased when I wrote the scene in the common room, which was one of the first I wrote for this story – originally I had Laura’s birthday as the sixth of March and Remus’ as the eighth (just because that seemed about right for him), and then I looked it up and realised the date I had picked almost arbitrarily was only two days off the birthday JKR had given him. You have to love it when fate hands you a coincidence like that.
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