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Chapter 23 : Making new friends
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I looked quickly at Professor Slughorn, who appeared to have not noticed anything untoward. Surreptitiously I leaned over and picked up the parchment.
It was a note in what I assumed was Sirius’ handwriting. What’s that spell your sister did that made Nigel Ackerley breathe purple bubbles?
Lily looked at me quizzically and I showed her the note. She glanced over her shoulder at the boys and I smiled to myself: it looked like the girls were right when they speculated that he’d want me to teach him Bea’s hexes. Well, whether I chose to or not would depend …
Depends who you want to use it on, I scrawled back, throwing it over my shoulder and hearing it land on the table he was sharing with James, Remus and Charlotte. Another swift look at Professor Slughorn showed he still hadn’t noticed anything – he was leaning over Snape’s cauldron with an appreciative look on his face.
Snivellus, of course, was the response, which came back after just a few seconds, this time flying over my shoulder and landing on the table in front of me. Either his aim was getting better, or James had thrown it.
I considered it while I cast an eye over Severus. While I hadn’t noticed him doing anything in particular lately, even Lily had admitted to his general creepiness and he’d probably look better with the bubbles coming out of his nose and mouth. They might even help clean the grease from his hair off his face, because Merlin only knew he needed that. I mean, I knew he didn’t have much in the way of gold, but surely he could spring for some shampoo just once in a while?
Lily, reading the note, looked at me and nodded firmly, indicating her approval for the use of such a hex on the person who had once been her friend. That was the clincher: if Lily approved then I should feel no guilt about it whatsoever. Ignoring Leda Madley who was trying to read the note upside down (undoubtedly just because Sirius had written it), I decided to share the spell.
Puniceus ebullio, I wrote. Similar wand movement to the Levitation Charm – can show you later if you like. I scrunched up the parchment and flicked it back to him, looking over my shoulder as I did so.
He read the note, saw me watching and gave me the thumbs up, smiling broadly. Great, I thought, in two days the whole school will know that spell and it will all be my fault.
Sirius caught up with me after class as we trudged upstairs out of the dungeon, followed by Leda and Greta Catchlove who I had the impression thought they were being subtle. “So, Laura, when are you going to teach me that hex?”
“Whenever’s easiest,” I said unconcernedly.
“Actually,” he went on, watching my face, “the guys were wondering if you wouldn’t mind teaching us a few of those jinxes you know.”
“Who are you planning on using them on?” I asked, though I thought I already knew the answer.
“Just Slytherins,” he grinned, confirming my theory. “And anyone else who really gets our goat. Filch, for example. And maybe a giggler or two.” His eyes flicked to where Greta and Leda were still trying to eavesdrop on our conversation and he winked at me.
“All right,” I said, suspecting it was a lost cause. With that smile of his, I had the feeling that I’d have trouble refusing Sirius anything for very long. I understood now just how he got away with so much – it was easy to stay immune to his charm when he wasn’t using it on you, but when he did it was a completely different story. To tell the truth, I was almost ashamed of myself for turning out to be just like everyone else, recognising much too late for it to be of any use that he really was a first-class flirt. “When did you have in mind?”
“Night would be good,” he said, considering, the flirty smile thankfully disappearing which meant that I could breathe properly again. “After supper. That way it doesn’t matter how long it takes us to learn them. If we used a free period we might run out of time, especially if Peter’s there too. That’s if we could even find a free period when we are all free, of course.”
“Sirius, just how many jinxes do you think I’m willing to teach you?” I asked with mock indignation as we reached the ground floor. “Oh, okay,” I went on, smiling at the slightly panicked look on his face. “Let me know a night when all four of you aren’t in detention and we’ll work it from there.”
“Thanks, Laura,” he said, smiling that brilliant smile, and took off in another direction. And, as though to compound my feeling of shame, I actually had to stop myself from watching him go. Yep, his years of practice in putting on the charm had certainly made him very good at it, and I was finding myself to be far more susceptible than I’d ever realised. No, Laura, focus, I thought. You’re being ridiculous. Besides, you already have a boyfriend, remember? And, shaking my head a little at my own behaviour, I took off upstairs towards the library, which had been my original destination.
Anyway, so it happened that one cold March evening I was sitting with the boys in front of the fire in the common room, teaching them a selection of Beatrice’s hexes and the appropriate counter-jinxes. It took several hours in total as they practiced on each other, but finally even Peter had mastered the final spell and was sitting back, admiring the daisies he had caused to grow on Remus’ arms.
“Well,” I said, “that’s enough for tonight. Time for bed, I think.” I tried to get up from my chair and failed miserably, while James lazily Vanished Remus’ bouquet.
“What’s wrong?” asked Remus, watching my discomfort as his arms returned to view.
“I’ve been sitting still too long,” I explained, collapsing back down into the chair. “My legs have gone to sleep.”
James looked at me with mock concern. “Well, you’d better wake them up,” he deadpanned, “’cause otherwise they’ll be up all night and you’ll never get to sleep.”
Sirius and Peter guffawed with laughter and even Remus smiled indulgently. I managed a wry grin as I tried again to put some weight onto my legs.
Sirius instantly transformed into his helpful mode, which I was learning could show its face occasionally. “Here, let me give you a hand,” he said sincerely and without a trace of humour. You could always tell when he was being genuine – the haughty and arrogant look that usually adorned his face disappeared entirely, leaving it looking friendly and even a little vulnerable. He hoisted my arm around his shoulder and took on most of my weight as we made our way to the bottom of the girls’ stairs.
“You okay?” he asked as we paused just before the first step. “I can’t go any further than this.”
I looked up at him gratefully, testing my weight on my still-tingling legs, and noticing that the rest of me was tingling a bit too, though I had a rather nasty suspicion that that had nothing to do with sitting on my legs all night. Definitely way too susceptible, I decided, especially seeing that now they all knew Bea’s spells he wasn’t likely to seek my company any more. “Yeah, I should be fine,” was what I said out loud. “Thanks.” And, reminding myself fiercely that I had a boyfriend and therefore shouldn’t be reacting this way, I grabbed the handrail and used it to pull myself up to the dormitory.
I wasn’t neglecting Bertram, however, no matter how much time I spent chatting to the boys or teaching them spells. In fact, our relationship was progressing rather well and one Saturday, sick of being caught in broom cupboards or abandoned classrooms by teachers, other students, or Filch, I agreed to his suggestion that we head to his dormitory for a bit of time alone.
He took me downstairs from the Great Hall after lunch and along a lengthy corridor before we stopped at a still-life, to which he gave the password. The picture morphed into a round door and he led me inside to what would have been my common room if I’d followed the family tradition and been Sorted into Hufflepuff. This was the first time I’d been in there, as my relationship with Cadmus in fourth year hadn’t been serious enough to warrant anything more than a few snogs and the odd grope in a broom cupboard.
It was an eye-opener, to say the least. My mother, like all good Muggles, had a copy of The Lord of the Rings on her bookshelf which I’d read in its entirety in the summer between fourth and fifth years, and I must say that my first impression was that I’d walked into a person-sized hobbit hole. Although we were obviously underground (the no-windows thing was a bit of a giveaway) the room was round and bright and cheerful, probably due in no small part to the several yellow wall hangings which gave the whole place a warm, welcoming glow. There were a couple of round yellow doors with handles in the middle of them which I supposed led off to the dormitories, and a lot of large squashy armchairs that looked much more comfortable than anything we had in Gryffindor Tower.
After I’d looked around a bit and got my bearings, and greeted some of Bertram’s friends who grinned rather knowingly at me, Bertram led me through one of the round yellow doors and along a winding stone passageway towards the seventh-year boys’ dorm. Again, it was rather different from what we had in Gryffindor. While I’d never been in the boys’ dorms in Gryffindor Tower I assumed they were set up much like ours were, and I knew the girls’ dorm in Ravenclaw Tower was almost identical to ours, but this was different again. It was still a circular room with five beds spaced evenly around it, but the lack of windows made much more of an impact than I would have thought. The bed hangings were all yellow and there were a lot of torches to provide light, and it felt rather warmer than our dorm did, but I just felt that there was something missing. (Or maybe that was just the array of fragrant soaps and potions that Martha kept in our bathroom that permeated the whole room.)
Bertram led me to one of the beds and parted the hangings so I could get inside. Fortunately the room was empty aside from us – I hadn’t been sure that would be the case, as Bertram didn’t seem to feel the same need for privacy as I did with some things. Anyway once we were both safely ensconced behind the yellow hangings he turned to me and, hand on the back of my head underneath my hair, pulled me towards him and kissed me gently, passionately.
This was lovely. I didn’t even mind when my t-shirt ended up on the pillow and my bra soon followed it, because he was making a show of letting things go at a pace I was happy with. However, eventually this fell by the wayside and when I felt him unbuttoning my jeans and trying to pull them down over my hips I was less than impressed.
He stopped, but only briefly. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. No.”
“But isn’t that why you came in here in the first place?” he asked, a confused look on his face.
“No, it’s not,” I said irritably. “I was just sick of being walked in on all the time.”
“But it’s not that much more of a step,” he insisted. “Come on, you’ll love it.”
“No. I’m not ready for that.”
He only then stopped his attempt and indicated his bulging pants. “Well, what am I supposed to do with this then?”
I just looked at him. How was I supposed to know? It wasn’t like I had any experience with this sort of thing. “Whatever you like. Just don’t expect me to help.”
“Oh, Laura, you don’t mean that,” he whispered into my ear in what I’m sure he hoped was a seductive manner. “Come on, just try it …”
I pushed him away and sat up, reaching for my abandoned clothes. “I said, no. What part of that do you not get?”
Finally he cottoned on. “You really mean that, don’t you?” he said with obvious disappointment. “I thought …”
I cut him off, fixing him with a stern look as I dressed myself. “You thought what, exactly?”
“Well, most girls say no but they really mean yes, they just want you to beg a bit more,” he explained.
I raised my eyebrows. “Well then, they must have different meanings of words in Nottingham,” I said icily. “Where I come from, no always means no. And I’m leaving now.”
As I walked quickly back towards the round yellow common room and then into the castle proper, ignoring the surprised looks Bertram’s friends wore as they saw me storming out of their hobbit hole, I wondered what I’d just done. Were we going to break up? If we were that would disappoint me, but I wasn’t about to turn back and agree to what he’d wanted just on that basis. I was sure I was in the right there – no should definitely mean no. Fortunately my musings were interrupted by the boy himself, who had also hurried to get dressed and followed me.
“Laura!” I turned when I heard his voice, just as I was about to head up the marble staircase that led from the Entrance Hall to the upper floors.
“Bertram.” I probably said it more coolly than I meant to, but I was still annoyed with him.
“Look, I’m sorry,” he said. “That was completely out of line, what I did. I should have listened to you.”
“Yes, you should have,” I said unnecessarily.
“And I never meant to pressure you,” he went on.
That almost made me laugh. He pressured me regularly about that. But maybe, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he didn’t realise he was doing it. “I’m sure you didn’t,” was what I said, rather charitably I thought.
“Will you forgive me? Please?” He was rather close now and looked at me in his most endearing way, his brown eyes fixing me with a very hopeful expression.
“Not right now, no.” I still had some cooling down to do, he had me pretty aggravated.
“Oh, come on, Laura,” he said in his most persuasive voice, putting an arm around me. “I know you don’t want to cause a scene in the middle of the Entrance Hall …”
I pulled away. Did he really think it was as simple as that? After making those sorts of assumptions? “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, Bertram,” I said coldly, “but I’m not all that happy with you right at the moment. And I’d appreciate it if you left me alone for a little while.” And I turned away from him and walked purposefully up the marble staircase towards Gryffindor Tower.
As I reached the top of the stairs I was joined unexpectedly by Sirius, who had apparently seen our little display in the Entrance Hall. “Boyfriend troubles?” he asked easily. I was glad of the company – not necessarily because I wanted to talk to anyone, but because Bertram disliked Sirius so much it meant he was unlikely to follow me.
“You could say that,” I muttered crossly. “We had a minor disagreement over a definition.”
“Ah,” he said with a knowing smile, “those ones can get tricky. What’s the word? ‘Relationship’? Or ‘truth’, that was always a sticking point.”
“Neither,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s ‘no’.” I wasn’t sure exactly why I was telling him this, but then again I reasoned that he’d probably had his fair share of similar discussions over the years. On the other side, of course.
“Oh. That one.” A flash of what looked almost like anger crossed his face, and part of me wondered what memory had sparked that. Or, more specifically, whose memory.
“Yes, that one,” I said. “So I thought I’d just let him stew a bit while I calm down. You know, remind him that if he does get the dictionary out it’ll support my version of what it means and not his.”
“Right.” He flashed me a smile, which I thought was almost inappropriate given what we were talking about. “Then I guess it’s a bad time to ask you how to reverse that jinx that gives you a flamingo neck.”
I laughed despite myself: I was discovering that Sirius had a remarkable talent for taking my mind off things. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten that one already,” I said. “I only taught you last week.”
“Ah, well, yes,” he admitted, looking somewhat uncomfortable as we stepped over the trick stair on the short-cut staircase, “but we must be getting the pronunciation wrong or something. It’s not working.”
“Okay, who’s been jinxed?” I asked.
“Pron- James,” he said, making me smile a little at the assumption that I wouldn’t know who ‘Prongs’ was. I thought the whole school probably knew that by now. “Snivellus got him again.”
I looked at him sympathetically. “Again? What is it between those two?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “You actually have to ask that?”
“Yes, I believe so,” he agreed. “I have no idea why, of course, it’s not like she even talks to either of them.”
“Well you’d know better than I would the way a boy’s mind works,” I pointed out with a grin. “Okay, I’ll fix it. Where is he?”
“Common room,” he said, which would explain why he hadn’t tried to make me take a detour on the way upstairs. Sure enough, once we got into Gryffindor Tower James was rather conspicuous by his extended neck, which had a rather attractive curve to it and a covering of pink feathers.
“Pluma gutter subsisto,” I murmured, giving my wand a flick in James’ direction. Almost immediately he started looking more like a human being and less like a cross-breed gone horribly wrong, and within a minute he was back to his usual self.
“Thanks, Cauldwell,” he said gratefully. “I couldn’t talk properly with that neck, and the guys couldn’t get the counter-jinx right.”
“What were you doing?” I asked, looking at Sirius, Remus and Peter. After they showed me, I immediately realised their error. “You’ve got the word wrong,” I told them. “It’s pluma, not plumo. You were trying to take away his quill.”
“That would explain this,” Peter said ruefully, holding up what obviously used to be a long-feathered quill but now had only the skeleton remaining. “Brand new, too. I’m going to have to write to Mum for another one now.”
I looked at him sympathetically. “Ugh. Sorry about that, Peter, if I’d known this could happen I’d have warned you last week.”
“No worries,” said Remus, trying again. “So it’s Pluma gutter subsisto. We should be able to remember that.”
I looked at them, practicing so earnestly. It was almost funny. “How did Snivellus find out that jinx anyway?” I asked.
James looked somewhat embarrassed. “We, er, might have used it on Regulus …”
“And then taught it to him afterwards,” Sirius admitted a little shamefacedly.
I groaned. “Say no more.” Merlin only knew what was going to happen now, if people like Snape knew Bea’s spells. Maybe teaching them to the boys in the first place had been a significant mistake.
Anyway, whether it was because I’d helped James out of his fix or what it was, I didn’t know, but the boys surprised me by continuing to talk to us even after they’d raided my version of Beatrice’s spell-book. In fact, it was a gradual thing, but by the end of the month the rest of the girls and I felt we could almost call them our friends. Except Lily with James, of course, where the girl-of-his-dreams thing got in the way a few times, though even then he was remarkably restrained. For James, that is. But they started including us in on some of their jokes, would chat with us occasionally over meals, and even swap notes with us for homework assignments and the like. Which was rather useful, really, considering how smart James and Sirius were, and how conscientious Remus was – the former would offer brilliant insights into various things, while the latter could produce copious notes and take us through things step by step. Things which to James and Sirius were so obvious they didn’t see the need to identify any steps at all. With all this to draw on, I could almost feel my grades improving on the spot.
The added bonus we got with being friendly with the boys was that they started looking out for us. They began doing things like stepping in when they felt we might be uncomfortable, and forming a protective barrier between us and, say, some of the nastier Slytherins. I couldn’t help but think it was a shame we hadn’t cultivated this relationship earlier, at least to before Mary’s unfortunate encounter with Mulciber, though I did recognise that in the nine or so months that had passed since then we had all grown up a little and probably wouldn’t have got along nearly so well then as we did now. In any case we had begun to realise they could be powerful friends and, conversely, dangerous enemies.
Bertram, on the other hand, was less than pleased I was getting closer to James, Sirius, Remus and Peter. I had of course forgiven him his little indiscretion after I’d calmed down a bit – after all, he was only human and had all sorts of hormones running wild, so I supposed I couldn’t blame him for trying. And at least he’d stopped when I asked him to, eventually if not immediately. Anyway, he still didn’t trust the boys for whatever reason and insisted on trying to keep me away from them, a bit of a lost cause considering I had all of my classes with at least one of them. In fact, Remus was in every single one of my classes, and James and Sirius all but Ancient Runes. (Peter had quite a different timetable and only shared Transfiguration and Defence with the rest of us.) Combine that with the fact that we shared a common room and therefore a homework space, and I couldn’t have avoided them even if I wanted to. And like I said, I was beginning to be rather pleased with that fact, instead of dismayed as Bertram seemed to be.
Bertram’s attitude made me a little disquieted as I couldn’t see any reason not to spend time with the boys, and in fact the more I got to know them the better I liked them, so his dislike and mistrust seemed more and more unreasonable. And it wasn’t as though I was about to leave him for any of them – as if any of them would have been interested in me anyway – so it couldn’t have been jealousy. So I was walking a fine line, on the one hand trying to keep my boyfriend happy, and on the other forging a friendship with people I had a lot of time for and would be continuing school with after Bertram had left.
Having said that, Bertram was still making me feel cherished and appreciated. He kept telling me how beautiful I was and how lucky he was to have me, and insisted on doing everything for me. However, despite all that, if I was honest with myself I had to admit that there were all sorts of cracks appearing in the relationship, no matter how hard I tried to ignore them.
The main one seemed to be that during the time he had fancied me before we actually got together (however long that had been – he’d never actually said) he seemed to have built up an idea of what I was like, and was treating me according to that. Really, after the best part of two months, I would have hoped he might have looked past any image he’d created of me and got to know the person I actually was, but he didn’t seem to have realised that there was rather a significant difference. Let’s face it, his imaginary Laura actually liked places like Madam Puddifoot’s.
And, well, there was the sex thing. He kept trying for it and I kept pushing him away, not feeling ready to take that next step just yet, but no matter how many times I said “No” he still didn’t seem to get it. Maybe that was connected with what I said earlier, about him having an idea of what I was like and treating me according to that – imaginary Laura was probably jumping at the idea. But the real Laura wasn’t, and I was getting more and more uncomfortable every time he pushed it. Of course, he was also making an art form of not understanding that I was the sort of person who was more likely to dig my heels in the more I was pressured, so he’d be better off dropping the subject entirely until I was ready for it.
Was all this worth putting up with just to have a boyfriend? To be frank, most of the time, yes. I had always considered myself very ordinary in just about every way so it was nice to have that contradicted for once, and when he was showering me with affection I loved the way he made me feel. So I weighed it up and made my decision. Overall, he made me happy more than he made me uncomfortable, so I concluded that the relationship was definitely worth continuing.
Author's note: It probably goes without saying, but I do not own The Lord of the Rings or anything related to it (hobbits, their dwellings etc). These are of course the property of JRR Tolkien and I claim them in no way whatsoever. Thanks!
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