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Chapter 17 : The best form of defence
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“That would have gone down well,” I laughed to Mary as I heaped bacon and tomatoes onto my plate. “Who do you think did it?”
Mary snorted derisively. “Ye really need t’ ask?” she asked, an incredulous look on her face. “Who dae ye think?”
“Yeah, okay, fair point.” Not far away from us were the boys from our year, laughing maniacally and high-fiving each other across the breakfast table. “I haven’t had my coffee yet, all right?”
She grinned. “Richt, I’d fergotten tha’,” she admitted, her eyes flicking more than once to James. “Ye’re fergiven.”
“How could they have got in there, though?” I asked rhetorically once I’d had some coffee and my brain started functioning properly. “Not only do you need to know where their common room is, but you’d have to know the password as well.”
“I think I can answer tha’,” said Mary, looking across the room to the Slytherin table, where the students’ hair was slowly returning to normal. “Regulus Black.”
Of course. Sirius’ little brother. He was in fifth year and was as unlike Sirius in character as he was like him in appearance. Probably the best way to describe him was like Sirius but less so – less handsome, less intelligent, less tall, less elegant, less popular, and definitely less common sense. Which, come to think of it, was probably saying something. Possibly Regulus had more sporting ability as he was on the Slytherin Quidditch team, but then again for all I knew Sirius was better at that as well and had just chosen not to do it. I knew they still spoke to each other despite the fact Sirius had been disinherited – after all, I’d seen them talking in the corridor a couple of weeks earlier when I’d got lost trying to avoid Elvira – so Regulus had most probably let the password slip at some stage and his brother had decided to make the most of it.
Lily was glaring down the table in James’ direction. “Is that more points you’ve just lost for Gryffindor, Potter?”
“Well, no,” said James, sounding like he couldn’t work out whether he should use his ‘Lily voice’ or not, though his hand still automatically went to his hair. “You see, Evans, we haven’t been punished for this one yet, so technically I haven’t lost any points for Gryffindor …”
Lily rolled her eyes. “I’m sick of us being at the bottom of the House points just because you got bored,” she snapped. “Can’t you use that brain of yours for something useful for once?” And with that she stood up and stormed out of the Great Hall.
Remus let out a low whistle. “You’re moving up, Prongs.”
James, who had been watching Lily’s departure, spun around to look at him. “You reckon? She hates me!”
Remus shook his head. “I think that might be the first time she’s admitted in public that you actually have a brain. That can only be a good sign.”
James looked so hopeful it was rather endearing. “Really?”
Sirius was looking at them both shrewdly. “You know, I think Moony might have a point,” he said slowly. “You may even be in with a shot.” He smirked suddenly. “About bloody time too, I might add, this has been going on so long it’s ridiculous.”
“But don’t ask her out just yet,” warned Remus. “Give her a bit of time. You don’t want to scare her off again.”
James nodded. “And I do that pretty well, generally. I think I could write a book on it.”
Sirius grinned. “Well done, mate! You’ve worked that out! Only took, what, five and a half years?” He clapped James on the shoulder.
Remus cut him off with a look. “Lay off him, Padfoot. He’s suffered enough already.”
“Yeah, I have,” said James miserably. “And she’s just perfect. I think I’ll die if she turns me down again.”
Mary, Charlotte, Martha and I were watching the whole conversation, dumbstruck, though by this point Martha had to turn her head away to hide the fact she was struggling not to laugh. If nothing else it was astonishing that the boys had said so much about the matter with us in full earshot, and I didn’t think I’d ever seen James looking quite so vulnerable. Both Mary and the James Potter fan club, if the latter were anywhere near, would have drooling fodder for weeks.
Martha had managed to calm herself down a little. “I think I have to go, girls,” she whispered as she stood up and walked out the hall, shaking slightly as she went. We quickly finished what we were eating and followed her.
She didn’t even make it as far as the marble staircase, instead ducking into a nearby classroom and dissolving into giggles. “Geez, did you hear that?” she spluttered as we joined her and closed the door.
Charlotte joined in. “We’ve got to tell her,” she said with a broad smile. “Can you imagine Lily’s face when she hears that one?”
“She’ll be horrified tha’ she e’en le’ slip tha’ much an’ all,” agreed Mary, who was doing a remarkable impersonation of someone who didn’t fancy James. I was quite proud of her. “He micht e’en work oot she likes him a’ this rate.”
“And they were so earnest about it all,” I added with a giggle. “Who knew they had that in them?”
Martha corrected me. “No, James and Remus were earnest,” she pointed out. “I don’t think Sirius has an earnest bone in his body.”
“I don’t know,” said Charlotte thoughtfully. “He did seem to actually consider Remus’ point about what Lils said about brains. So he might be developing earnestness.” She giggled again. “Is that even a word or did I just make it up?”
“I’m not sure, actually,” I grinned, “but I know what you mean.”
“Richt,” said Mary, smiling broadly, which I was still rather impressed by. “Where dae ye think Lily’s got t’? An’ who wants t’ tell her which bi’?”
Martha laughed. “Dibs on ‘I’ll die if she turns me down again’.”
Charlotte scowled. “Damn. I wanted that one. Okay, I’ll take ‘I could write a book on scaring her off.’” And once all parts of the conversation had been divvied up among us, we left the empty classroom and headed upstairs in search of where Lily might have ended up. If nothing else we knew she would turn up on the first floor at nine o’clock for Defence, which was our first (and her only) class for the day. However, talking during those classes was generally impossible, even with Muffliato, so if possible we were keen to fill her in before the bell rang.
In the end we caught up with her as she came back inside – she’d been out in the courtyard in an attempt to clear her head, especially as we had Defence first up – and told her what had eventuated at the breakfast table. Lily didn’t disappoint and was an entertaining mixture of horror, amusement and discomfort, unsure how she would be able to face James in class that morning.
As it turned out it didn’t really matter whether Lily could think of anything to say to James before we all went into Defence, as we had only just got to the classroom before our full attention was required by Professor Viridian. Really, our unexpectedly good Defence Against the Dark Arts lessons were progressing very well. Viridian’s speciality was curses and counter-curses, so we had spent a lot of time going through various dark curses, including Unforgivables, and the best methods of repelling them. Those that could be repelled, that is – for all the claims of the Diagon Alley stall-holders, Avada Kedavra still didn’t have any known defence.
Anyway, that morning he appeared convinced that we had learned enough about defensive charms, hex deflections and counter-curses to have a go at duelling each other. The desks were Banished to the walls and we were told to find a partner and a spare bit of floor and do our worst.
Mary and I automatically gravitated towards each other, our apprehension no doubt evident on our faces. I’d never duelled anyone before, not properly, and while I was pretty sure I could do okay in the first instance, I wasn’t so sure I could maintain it for any length of time. Mary, who didn’t have my background of fighting off various hexes from Beatrice during school holidays, was even less confident. Tentatively we cast an assortment of jinxes at each other and tried to shatter the other’s Shield Charms.
Very quickly, however, our attention, along with that of the rest of the class, was diverted by James and Sirius, who had partnered each other. I’d known that they were good at Defence (their Patronuses were a case in point) and had heard they could do a decent duel, but I had never fully realised before just how extraordinarily good they really were. Their wands were moving so fast they were just blurs of light, and they were dodging each other’s spells just as quickly and apparently effortlessly. Watching them, I had a sudden very clear understanding that these were not people I would want to cross, clearer even than it had been the previous year when Mary was Imperiused. Even Lily looked impressed.
After a five minute exhibition, Viridian called a halt to the spectacular duel – awarding the boys ten points each in the process – and asked them to partner other people so that the rest of us could get some practice in without them as a distraction. The change in their behaviour was palpable – without each other to duel against, they were much more tentative as they were less sure of their partners’ abilities. James ended up with Remus, who put up a much better fight that I had anticipated, but it was nowhere near the earlier demonstration. Sirius, on the other hand, was snatched up by Clio Zeller, which I suspected was to his detriment as, because they were going out, he seemed hesitant to curse or jinx her at all, instead deflecting anything she cast at him with apparent ease and even boredom.
Turning to Mary again, I smiled apologetically at her as we resumed our own duel. After what we had just witnessed, anything we could do felt paltry and juvenile. I’d thought I was pretty good at Defence, even scoring an E for it in my OWLs, but there was no way known I was anywhere near a patch on that. Inwardly I resolved to try to improve my ability somehow, and it was with renewed vigour that I cast one of Beatrice’s favourite hexes at Mary, shattering her Shield Charm and causing her to bark like a dog for half a minute or so. Giggling, I had just cast the counter-jinx when she was hit by a falling Peter Pettigrew, who was partnered with Carol Jones from Hufflepuff and appeared to have been flattened within the first minute of active duelling.
Looking around the room, everyone seemed to have a new determination to improve their duelling skills. Even Martha and Al Jorkins from Hufflepuff, who had got together just a couple of weeks previously and were therefore still joined at the hip, were throwing actual hexes at each other rather than just going through the motions, as Sirius was doing with Clio.
Mary was also intent on bettering herself, and once she had stopped barking and extricated herself from Peter we put on a much better display than we had at the start of the class. Who would have thought that people like James Potter and Sirius Black could actually be inspiring? Whatever I thought of that concept, inspiring they undeniably were, and the whole class was trying extra hard in the second half of the lesson. Professor Viridian appeared very pleased with everyone’s progress and awarded several bonus points to both Houses at the end of the class.
Heading back upstairs for our free period afterwards, Mary pulled me aside. “Ye know, I think I’ve come t’ my senses a’ las’,” she said as we settled ourselves in an empty classroom.
“In what way?” I asked lightly. “I’d thought you lost most of those years ago.”
“Aye, I ken,” she agreed with a grin. “Bu’ this is differen’. I go’ through tha’ whole Defence lesson wi’oot once droolin’ o’er James.”
I stared at her. “Really?”
She nodded. “Aye. I’m as surprised as ye are.”
I got up and gave her a hug. “Mary! You’ve done it! You cracked it!”
She wriggled away from me. “Aye. An’ aboot time, too, I think.”
“So what brought it on?” I asked.
She scrunched up her face a bit as she considered. “I think it wa’ a combination o’ wha’ he said this morn an’ hoo he fough’ i’ Defence jus’ then,” she said eventually.
I thought about that. “Yeah, that’s probably fair enough,” I conceded. If nothing else, during that Defence class he’d probably been too intimidating to drool over.
“It wa’ nice while it lasted,” Mary went on, a bit of a reminiscent smile on her face. “He’s a goo’ lad t’ daydream aboot. Bu’ I always knew it woul’ never happen so there wa’ always tha’ i’ th’ back o’ my min’. Ye jus’ hae t’ see him looking a’ Lily t’ know tha’.”
I nodded. “Well, Mary, I’m proud of you,” I said, giving her another hug. “Now we just need to find another boy to take your mind off him entirely – Gerry Stebbins, perhaps?”
She wrested herself away from me and pretended to aim her Defence textbook at my head. “Nae funny, Laura Caul’well.”
I pretended to be chastened. “Right, not him. Okay, how about … well, there’s always Sirius, that thing with Clio probably won’t last forever …” This time she did let go of the book, though I had plenty of time to duck before it hit a desk several feet behind me. “Okay, not Sirius either,” I conceded. “Gee you’re particular! Ummm – Severus Snape?”
Walking over to pick up her textbook, Mary burst out laughing. “Ah, Laura, ye’re nae goin’ t’ give up on this, are ye? Hoo aboot we leave it fer nou an’ when I find a lad I dinna min’, I’ll le’ ye know.”
I grinned. “You’ve got yourself a deal.” And we headed back to Gryffindor Tower to get our books for our next classes, throwing names at each other all the way up to the seventh floor.
The following Monday night the five Gryffindor girls were gathered around a table in the common room, finishing off stray bits of homework. The room was unusually quiet; the boys in our year weren’t around, probably serving detentions for their stunt in the Slytherin common room the previous week. I was working on my Transfiguration essay, Mary was flicking through her notes on carnivorous trees for Herbology, and Martha was doing some extra reading for Arithmancy. Lily and Charlotte had their Potions paper spread out in front of them but they weren’t really doing anything about it – in fact Charlotte was doodling idly on her parchment, and Lily seemed to be staring vacantly out the window, where in a cloudless sky a full moon was giving the grounds an eerie glow.
Suddenly, without warning and seemingly to nobody in particular, Charlotte spoke. “Maybe he actually will, though,” she mused, as though continuing a conversation she had been having earlier with someone.
“What?” asked Lily, confused.
“James. Die if you say no to him again,” Charlotte explained.
Lily laughed. “We can but dream.”
I grinned at her. “Back to denial, are we, Lily?”
She shook her head furiously. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said stubbornly. “But it’s nice to have a bit of a break every now and then.”
“If he did die, he’d prob’ly turn int’ a ghos’ an’ haunt ye ferever though,” said Mary, giggling at the thought.
Martha looked at them from over the top of New Theory of Numerology. “He can’t,” she said flatly, licking her finger and turning the page.
“Why not?” asked Lily, looking surprised. “I wouldn’t put it past him.”
“It happened to an aunt of mine,” Martha said matter-of-factly, putting the book down and losing her page in the process. Unperturbed, she went on. “She got haunted by this girl she used to know at school who’d died, so she went to the Ministry about it and they put an order or something on the ghost, so she couldn’t go near my aunt any more.” She picked up the book again and began thumbing through it, looking for the page she had been on.
“Now there’s a thought,” mused Lily, feigning a groan though her eyes were dancing. “Do you think they could put an order on James while he’s still alive?”
The rest of us burst into uncontrollable giggles.
That Friday, I was heading to the Great Hall for lunch after a particularly dull Ancient Runes lesson when someone, most probably Elvira, tried to hex Clio Zeller and missed, hitting me instead. Unsure exactly what the damage was, I slipped into the nearest toilets to check my reflection in the mirror and do whatever was necessary to fix it.
“Imaginative, Elvira,” I muttered to myself, looking at the boils on my face. The Furnunculus Curse wasn’t going to break Sirius and Clio up. I pulled out my wand and muttered the counter-curse, watching with satisfaction as the boils disappeared one by one. Who needed Madam Pomfrey when I had Beatrice?
I was distracted by Veronica Smethley, friend of Clio’s and also in Ancient Runes, coming out of a cubicle and fussing with soap and water to wash her hands. She looked up at me. “Got rid of the boils, then?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Not exactly inventive, was it?”
“Not really,” she agreed. “Though Clio was pretty pleased it missed her – she and Sirius have something planned after lunch, apparently.” I wondered vaguely whether Veronica still had a dormant crush on the guy, as I had suspected the previous year, but decided that even if she did she wasn’t going to ruin things for her best friend.
“Good thing then,” I grinned. “I’m just going to meet Mary. Doesn’t really compare, does it?”
“It’s about as good as I’ve got,” she said with a smile as she reached for the hand towel. “Thalia’s keeping a spot for me,” she went on by way of explanation, referring to another of her Hufflepuff dorm-mates.
We were interrupted by the entrance of Maggie Flint, Slytherin and all-round vicious piece of work, who generally looked like she was ready to lord it over anyone she saw. Her face twisted into an evil grin when she saw Veronica who, I suddenly remembered, was Muggle-born.
“Oh, look, it’s Smethley,” she breathed fiercely. “A filthy Mudblood polluting our hallowed halls.”
Veronica, a good six inches shorter than Maggie, looked intimidated but tried to stand her ground. “Mudblood or not, I’ve got as much right as anyone else to be here,” she said, sounding somewhat feeble but clearly steeling herself.
“No you haven’t,” said Flint, now sounding a little bored. “Mudbloods have no right to be anywhere near here. Why don’t you go back to Muggleland where you belong?”
“I belong here,” Veronica whispered. Her wand was still in her bag and she was casting furtive glances to where it lay on the ground, obviously wondering whether she should risk searching for it.
Maggie, on the other hand, had her wand out. “Listen, Mudblood,” she drawled, “you don’t say who belongs here and who doesn’t. That’s the job of the elite. The pure-bloods. Who, I’m afraid to say, you will never have the honour of even cleaning their shoes.” (Who needed correct grammar when they were picking a fight?) Her wand was poised at Veronica’s nose and I was sure she was about to utter a nasty curse.
I’d been standing there the whole time, completely ignored by Flint and probably forgotten by Veronica. However, I’d not forgotten that I had my wand out and ready, as opposed to Veronica’s which was still in her bag. So before Maggie could say anything else, I gave it a flick and muttered a few choice words that Bea had taught me, and in less than a second Maggie’s nose began growing. It became longer and longer, and greyer and greyer, until it obscured her face and was reaching close to her knees. Veronica soon recovered her composure and looked at me.
“How did you do that? It’s an elephant’s trunk, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” I said, smiling broadly. “There’s times that that sister of mine can be very useful.”
My hex had distracted Flint enough to stop her from cursing Veronica, but she was still making an inordinate amount of noise as she tried in vain to stop its effects. Veronica and I were preparing to leave and make our way down to lunch when the door opened once again and Professor McGonagall entered the room.
Uh oh, I thought. This can only end in tears. McGonagall, who was strict but fair, looked from Flint to me, still with my wand out, to Veronica, whose hands were empty. “Miss Cauldwell,” she began, “what is the meaning of this?”
Veronica tried to make excuses for me. “Flint was about to curse me, Professor,” she said hurriedly, “and Laura just got in first to stop her.”
“Is this true?” she asked me, her eyebrows raised.
“Yes, Professor,” I agreed. “Flint was threatening Veronica and being quite rude to her, frankly, so I tried to stop her.”
“And a Shield Charm wouldn’t have sufficed?” she asked icily.
“I didn’t think of that,” I admitted. “This was the first thing I thought of. And I didn’t have much time, she was going to curse Veronica any second.”
“Miss Flint?” McGonagall looked at Maggie. “What is your version of events?”
Flint gave what was probably her most winning smile, though we couldn’t see it very well, what with the elephant’s trunk protruding from the middle of her face. “It’s all lies, Professor. I just came in to use the loo and suddenly Cauldwell hexed me for no reason.”
Professor McGonagall looked at her shrewdly. “Then why do you have your wand out, Miss Flint? I take it you don’t usually need that for your ablutions?”
Maggie went a little pink, which I must say almost suited her. Behind the trunk, of course. “Self defence, Professor,” she lied. “I’d only just got it out when you arrived.”
McGonagall’s lips went very thin and I could tell she was sceptical of Flint’s tale. However, in the absence of any proof either way she did the only thing she really could do.
“I think a detention will be in order, Miss Cauldwell,” she said. “And ten points from Gryffindor. Next time something like this happens, kindly notify a teacher before taking matters into your own hands. You will be informed later as to the nature of your punishment.”
“Yes, Professor,” I said obediently, putting my wand away.
“Miss Flint, you will need to go to the hospital wing to have your trunk removed,” McGonagall continued, looking at Maggie.
Her voice sounded slightly muffled due to the trunk that covered the bottom part of her face. “But, Professor, my bag’s still in the Great Hall, I’ll need someone to get it for me.”
McGonagall smiled the smallest smile I’d ever seen. “No, Miss Flint, if you need your bag you can fetch it yourself. I will be happy to escort you to the Hall.” And she and Maggie exited the toilets and headed off downstairs.
Veronica and I grinned at each other. The whole school was going to see my handiwork, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer girl.
The following night Slughorn held his Christmas party once again, and Charlotte and Lily were as usual expected to attend. There were usually some good stories from these parties so Mary, Martha and I decided to stay up until they got back so we could hear all about it.
Unfortunately this party appeared to have been less colourful than the one the previous year, most probably because none of the guests were quite as outrageous as Hambledon Quince had been. This year’s assortment had included Ambrosius Flume, best known for starting up Honeydukes, author Blenheim Stalk, and Devlin Whitehorn, founder of the Quidditch Racing Broom Company, who, while they were doubtlessly interesting enough in their own right, were never going to provide entertainment of the sort Quince had.
“It was almost dull, really,” Lily said as she fished in her trunk for some clean pyjamas. “You had the usual Quidditch crowd fawning over Whitehorn, and Ambrosius Flume brought some of the new fudges they’ve been developing, but it really wasn’t up to the standard of the usual Christmas do.”
“Which reminds me,” put in Charlotte, “we brought you back some of that fudge. Try the cherry one, here –” she handed Martha, Mary and me some samples – “it’s really good.”
“An’ hoo was Slughorn?” asked Mary through a mouthful of cherry fudge. “Ye’re richt, Charlotte, this really is verra goo’,” she added, grinning across the room.
Lily shrugged. “Much the same as usual,” she said. “Overindulging in the mulled mead and crystallised pineapple – what a surprise. Raving on about Marcus Ogden, who must be the current Student of the Week. And he told me again that I should have been in Slytherin,” she added almost as an afterthought. This was a regular comment of Slughorn’s, who was a little peeved that his favourite student hadn’t been Sorted into his House. Lily being Lily generally came up with rather amusing responses.
Martha grinned. “And what did you say this time?”
Lily shrugged again but Charlotte was smiling broadly. “That she was flattered he’d think so but that sharing a dorm with Alecto Carrow would be enough to drive anyone to jump off the Astronomy Tower.”
“No one can argue with that,” I said, shuddering as I imagined what it would be like to have to live in the same dorm as Alecto. “Imagine walking in on her in the shower.”
Martha made a face. “If she ever took one, that is.”
Mary laughed. “Ye know, I dinna e’en think any o’ the lads woul’ want t’ see tha’,” she agreed, reaching for some more fudge. “Some things are much better lef’ covered up.”
“Oh, and you’ll be pleased with this, Laura,” Charlotte went on. “Someone actually did hex old Snivellus so that the grease in his hair glows in the dark. That was your idea, wasn’t it?”
I nodded, a grin starting to form on my face. “Wasn’t me who did it though.”
Lily smiled. “Well, no, we didn’t think you did, but you did announce the idea in front of the whole Defence class, so there are two Houses who could have got to him to do it. It was a good idea, after all.”
Mary laughed. “Sure it wasna ye, Lily?”
Lily shook her head, an expression of distaste coming on to her face. “No, but don’t think it didn’t occur to me. He came up to me again tonight trying to apologise and I had to use a Repelling Charm to shake him off.” Really, since she’d made the decision six months earlier to abandon her long friendship with Snape, she had developed a surprisingly strong dislike for him, though that probably wasn’t helped by the fact that he appeared unable to take ‘no’ for an answer. “If he’d hassled me one more time I might well have done it,” she went on, smiling mischievously.
“So how does it look?” I asked.
Charlotte giggled. “Much as you’d expect, though I did hope Slughorn would turn off the lamps so we could tell for sure. Poor Snivellus didn’t look too impressed though.”
“Mmm, poor diddums,” Martha said lightly. “My heart breaks for him. So aside from that little diversion, what you girls are saying is, no talent there this year. I’m disappointed.”
Charlotte winked. “Except James, of course.”
Lily rolled her eyes. “Yes, look-at-me-I’m-brilliant-James-Potter-who-won-the-Quidditch-Cup-single-handedly. The one who followed Devlin Whitehorn around all night like a lovesick puppy and barely even looked at me.”
I grinned. “You sound disappointed. Something you’re not telling us, Lily?”
She went a little pink around the cheeks, which I was sure had nothing to do with any alcohol she may have consumed. “Not at all. Just an observation, that’s all.”
Charlotte smiled maliciously. “No, she’s not put out in the slightest. Though I will admit it was unusual behaviour from him.”
Mary looked at Lily, who had her head in her trunk pretending to look for something. “I’m guessin’ tha’ ye’ve go’ used t’ him behavin’ i’ a certain way, so when he doesna dae tha’ then ye miss it.”
Lily looked up. “You know, Mary, that’s probably it. I don’t like him drooling over me all the time like that, but when it went away I did miss it. Maybe he’s growing on me.”
Martha grinned. “Maybe? I thought we confirmed that months ago.”
Lily’s face was now very definitely red. “Oh, all right. I was looking for the ego trip and I didn’t get it. Happy now?”
Martha and Charlotte high-fived each other triumphantly. “Oh, yes, Lils,” Martha said merrily, “we’re very happy.”
Author’s note: Sorry there isn’t much of the boys in this chapter. Next one is a biggie though – I can promise lots more interaction in that chapter so please bear with me. You may also have noticed that I’m starting to give my heroine more action now so it will soon be more a Laura story (dare I say even showing potential to become a Sirius/Laura story) and less a James/Lily story – though of course the J/L thing will continue as a subplot.
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