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Chapter 27 : Intrusions and epiphanies
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However, Bertram apparently had other ideas. He kept coming up to me when I arrived in the Great Hall at mealtimes and hovering outside my classrooms waiting for me to finish, all the time trying to get me to reconsider. I reflected somewhat bitterly that I was probably seeing more of him now we’d broken up than I had when we’d still been together.
Fortunately the other sixth-year Gryffindors had taken my side and provided a protective barrier between us. Never had I been so pleased that I had so many classes with James and Sirius – they were certainly the most intimidating boys in the year (save some of the scarier-looking Slytherins) and they were absolutely furious with Bertram, meaning that they moved in to protect me every time he appeared.
For the first few days after I dumped him, I was pretty upset with him and was keen to avoid seeing him at all. I sat with my back to the Hufflepuff table at mealtimes and Mary and Lily made a point of stationing themselves on either side of me, giving me occasional hugs and talking about anything but boys. I noticed James and Sirius were often sitting directly opposite and usually had their wands on the table in front of them, most probably as a deterrent to Bertram coming up behind me to try to talk to me (though my proximity to Lily was most probably an added bonus as far as James was concerned). Whether he did actually try to talk to me or not I couldn’t say with any certainty, however, as whenever the boys glared at someone over my head and fingered their wands viciously I made a point of not turning around. It was easier said than done, but I managed it.
However, one day almost a week after we broke up, Bertram managed to slip through the protective net and talk to me. I was leaving Ancient Runes with Remus – probably my most vulnerable time as he and I were the only Gryffindors in the class – and heading downstairs to lunch.
“Laura!” I recognised his voice but still stopped automatically, more out of habit than anything.
“What is it you want?” I asked coldly, noticing Remus had also stopped and had his wand hand inside his robes.
“I need to explain,” said Bertram, almost desperately. He had reached us by now and glanced nervously at Remus before turning back to me. “Can we talk? Alone?”
I glared at him. “You can’t have anything to say to me that Remus can’t hear,” I said. “But no. I don’t want to talk to you. Ever.”
“But it wasn’t what it looked like!” He sounded rather forlorn, and part of me started enjoying his discomfort.
Remus stepped in. He was the same height as Bertram but he did a good glare and Bertram seemed to shrink in comparison. “We all saw it, Aubrey,” he said. “And it’s not like you were rehearsing a play or anything. What else could it be?” Remus was slow to anger but when he did it could be terrifying, something Bertram was just discovering.
Bertram looked shaken. “Okay, it was. But it was a lapse! A one-off! I didn’t even enjoy it!” He looked searchingly at me. “It would never have happened again, Laura. Please believe me.”
Behind me I heard a sour laugh that sounded a bit like a bark. Only one person laughed like that: Sirius. I smiled to myself – there was safety in numbers and Sirius was a powerful friend to have. And, usually, where Sirius went, there went James as well. I turned around to see them both, and Peter, walking purposefully along the passage towards us with their wands out, and a feeling of comfort and security flooded through me.
“A one-off? Really? That’s not what I heard,” Sirius said coldly, a very ugly look on his face. He gave his wand a swish and Bertram was suddenly propelled backwards across the floor and into the stone wall on the other side of the corridor, hitting it with rather a loud thud. And there he stayed, apparently unable to move away, looking most uncomfortable and with his whole body shaking a little, Sirius’ wand still trained on him. Whatever spell he was being held with was obviously a powerful one.
James nodded. “Yeah, it happened at least twice that we know of,” he agreed, making a show of fingering his wand as well. “And Peter is our witness.”
Bertram, still trapped against the wall, was getting red-faced in his discomfort. “Witness? You can’t have a witness.” He composed himself as best he could behind the spell that was holding him back. “Because it didn’t happen.” He looked back at me, almost begging me to believe him.
I looked at Peter. “Tell him what you saw.”
Peter stood with his hands behind his back and started almost reciting. “You and Esther Davies were behind the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy on the seventh floor. There’s a small enclave behind it that will just fit two people, if they’re standing close together. It was nine o’clock at night on Tuesday the nineteenth of April, I was going past on my way back to Gryffindor Tower after a detention and heard a noise so I peeked behind the tapestry to investigate. You were so busy – erm – doing other things, that you didn’t notice me.”
I knew that at least part of that wasn’t true – Peter hadn’t been on his way back to the tower after detention – but the rest was most probably accurate. From the way the colour was draining from Bertram’s face, I decided that it was.
James’ face was stony as he walked towards Bertram and stared down at him. At about six foot he was only a couple of inches taller but he made that seem significant. “Care to explain your way out of that, Aubrey?”
Bertram mumbled something incomprehensible to the floor, then looked back at me. “Laura, I can make it up to you. I promise. Please? I … I love you!”
I blinked. The first time he’d said it, the first time anyone other than my family had ever told me that, and I didn’t believe a word of it. Could my choice of boyfriends be any worse?
“No you don’t,” I said coldly, hoping the tears I could feel coming stayed put. “You barely know me, really. If you love anyone, it’s the person you think I am, because you never bothered to find out if she and I actually had anything in common.”
He looked gobsmacked and I felt rather pleased with myself. I thought I might even be able to get out of this without crying.
“Of course I know you,” he protested, rather feebly I thought. “You’re wonderful. I’m crazy about you.”
I shook my head again. “You can’t be. Because if you were, you’d never have run around with someone else behind my back.” James and Sirius made noises of agreement behind me and I felt buoyed by their support. Looking coldly at Bertram, who seemed speechless, I gave him what I hoped was my most disdainful look. “Anyway, Bertram, what part of ‘I never want to see you again’ did you not understand? Because I meant it. I’ll even say it again if you’re not convinced.” I paused for dramatic effect. “I never want to see you again.” And I walked past him towards the stairs that would take me down to the Great Hall.
Remus soon caught up with me and put a comforting arm around my shoulders, which were threatening to start shaking. “Well done,” he said in that wonderful measured voice of his. Remus was always a lovely calming influence and could diffuse almost any situation when he chose to – in this case, me looking like I was about to burst into tears.
“I just hope it worked,” I said quietly, my eyes still welling up a little. “So he stops bugging me. I don’t need a constant reminder of how stupid I was.”
“You weren’t stupid,” he said. “Things like that have been happening for time immemorial and it’s got nothing to do with being stupid. If anything, you were smart enough to get out once you found out.”
I smiled at him, though I felt rather drained. “Thanks. But where are the others?” I had just realised we were alone.
“Probably making sure he knows not to bother you again,” Remus said mildly. “I suspect we don’t want to know exactly what they’re up to. Remember, if we don’t know then we can’t testify against them.” We arrived in the Entrance Hall and he gave me a quick squeeze before dropping his arm from my shoulder as we made our way into the Great Hall for lunch, probably not wanting to start any rumours or give Dione any ammunition for one of her stories.
I was rather surprised when a minute or two later I saw Bertram enter the Great Hall, obviously freed from whatever holding spell Sirius had used on him and seemingly unhexed and unscathed. Remus and I looked up at James, Sirius and Peter, who had also just arrived and sat down opposite us.
“What, no feathers?” I asked them. “I’m almost disappointed.”
James shook his head. “We just had a bit of a talk with him,” he said carelessly. “Pointed out that if he’s going to do such a dumb thing then he’s got to be prepared for the consequences.”
Remus raised his eyebrows. “And those consequences don’t involve you cursing him into next week?”
Sirius grinned. “Tempting, but no. But don’t worry, if he tries to talk to Laura again we will. Call it a warning.”
I wasn’t convinced. “What did you say to him?”
“What Prongs said,” said Sirius, fixing his eyes on me. “I think it’s a case of not knowing what you’ve got till you lose it. And he’s just realising that.” He almost made it sound like I was someone worth having and I appreciated the show of support.
James nodded, heaping sausages and jacket potatoes onto his plate. “He’ll beat himself up about it just as much as we could,” he added. I raised my eyebrows incredulously but if James noticed he ignored it. “Makes it much easier for us, too,” he went on. “He suffers and we get to watch it and don’t even get detention for it. It’s a win-win situation.” He grinned at us.
Remus was nodding. “I can’t argue with that,” he said, looking over his shoulder towards the Hufflepuff table. “He looks pretty miserable.”
“Serves him right,” I said bitterly. “I hope he’s so cut up that he fails all his NEWTs because of it.”
Sirius laughed. “Are you sure? That might mean he’s back again next year.”
I shook my head. “Nah, he wouldn’t have the guts to front up. Not with you lot around. I don’t know if you’ve noticed but he finds you a bit intimidating.”
James grinned. “We’d figured as much. Which is why we came to meet you after class today. And I’m sorry we were late, we got held up.”
Peter smiled reminiscently. “Poor Snivellus. He never should have tried to stop us.”
Remus and I looked at each other and shook our heads, though we were both smiling. “Now we definitely don’t want to know,” said Remus, and we focused on finishing our lunch.
I wasn’t the only one with boyfriend troubles. Charlotte and Hector Bole had also broken up, though in less sensational circumstances – it was more of an understanding that it wasn’t going anywhere and they weren’t actually all that interested in each other. While she wasn’t quite as upset as I had been she was still down in the dumps, convinced that no one would ever find her attractive, and it was a good distraction for me to help her get through it as she had helped me. It was probably also a good thing that Mary, Lily and Martha were around to ensure we didn’t just feed off each other’s misery and end up wallowing in self-pity.
Fortunately for us our teachers seemed to have a similar idea and were piling on the homework even harder than they had been previously. Our exams were coming up in less than two months and every class seemed to emphasise this point, which managed to succeed in taking our minds off any personal problems we might be having.
We were further distracted one evening a week or two later when we went back into the dorm after supper, only to find that someone else had been in there. Not that it was ransacked or anything, but it had certainly been, well, looked at, for want of a better term. This was confirmed by the odd behaviour of Mary’s cat, Circe, who pounced on us as soon as the door was opened, her claws sticking into Mary’s arm where she had lodged herself.
“Something’s not right,” said Martha, screwing up her face as she looked around the dorm.
“No,” agreed Lily. “It’s almost like someone else has been in here.”
I looked at my bedside cabinet. The clock and book I kept there were definitely not in the same place they’d been that morning, and when I opened the cupboard below the books were stacked in there in a much neater pile than I had left them in. “Yeah, like they’ve searched it or something.”
“Hoo strange,” Mary muttered, trying in vain to extricate her sleeve from the cat’s claws. “An’ whoe’er it was, they’ve freaked Circe oot badly.” She started trying to calm her down, stroking her back and making soothing noises.
Martha looked around critically. “Anything missing?”
We all had a quick look through our things but no one could think of anything that should have been there but wasn’t. The whole thing was, to tell the truth, decidedly baffling.
That is, it was baffling until Lily opened the door to the bathroom and groaned loudly. “I think I’ve worked it out,” she said over her shoulder.
“Who?” Charlotte went to her eagerly, and Lily pulled a note off the bathroom mirror and handed it to her. Charlotte read it and groaned as well.
“What?” My curiosity was getting the better of me.
“This is what it says,” said Charlotte, sitting on Martha’s bed, which was nearest. “Dear Lily, Laura, Charlotte, Mary, and Martha. Thanks so much for allowing us to have a look at your dorm. We found it so much more interesting than ours is! Sincerely, James, Sirius, Remus and Peter.” She looked up. “And they’ve all signed it individually, so they were all here.”
“Ye’re kiddin’,” gasped Mary, who had by now settled her cat, who was lying purring on her lap. “They were i’ here? Bu’ hoo?”
“I have no idea,” said Lily, shaking her head as she sat down on her own bed. “The stairs should have changed for them, they shouldn’t have been able to get up this far. Even if they climbed the slide, you can’t get past the second-year dorm unless you’re really good at climbing, and if nothing else I wouldn’t have thought Peter could have done it.”
“And the stairs are too wide to go up with a foot on each wall, even for someone as tall as Sirius, let alone Peter,” agreed Martha, who had joined Charlotte on her bed so she could have a look at the note. “Yep, the handwriting matches,” she went on, scrutinising the signatures. “They all wrote on it.”
Mary giggled, though it sounded a little hollow. “Nae wonder Circe was so upse’. Havin’ those lads i’ here woul’ be enough t’ try anyone’s patience.”
I sat on my bed in a mild state of shock. “You do realise what this means, though,” I said, trying to put my thoughts into words.
“What?” asked Charlotte.
“We have no secrets from them any more,” I said. “If they can get in here, then they can find out almost anything about us. We have no more privacy from them.”
Lily was sitting stock still as she took in what I said. “You’re right,” she said eventually. “Goodness, what are we going to do?”
Mary looked around. “None o’ ye keep a diary, dae ye?” I too looked at Charlotte, Lily and Martha, who were all shaking their heads. “Well, tha’s one goo’ thing a’ least,” she went on. “We canna hae had too many secrets let oot.”
Martha nodded. “Good thinking, Mary. From now on, no diaries, no compromising notes or letters, anything like that either has to be charmed so that you can’t see what it really is, or destroyed.” She paused. “Any of you have anything really embarrassing like a picture of someone underneath your pillow?” Again, we all shook our heads. “Good,” she went on. “And might I suggest that now would not be a good time to start doing that.”
“Definitely not,” Charlotte agreed somewhat nervously.
“Hang on,” Mary said suddenly, a broad smile on her face. “James was i’ here? Lily, hae ye checked t’ make sure ye’ve still go’ all yer underwear?”
Lily went a rather fetching shade of scarlet and hurriedly opened up her trunk and went through it. Eventually she resurfaced, still her cheeks still glowing. “I think it’s all in here,” she said. “Though I can’t guarantee he hasn’t looked at it. How can I ever look him in the eye again?”
“More to the point,” I told her, “if that’s what he’s done, how can he ever look you in the eye again. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. That is, unless you’ve got some knickers that have ‘I love James’ embroidered on them.”
Lily, still crimson, hurled her pillow at me. “Very funny.”
Martha grinned. “Not denying it, I notice.”
“I shouldn’t have to.” Lily was steadfastly trying to hold on to as much dignity as she could. “Innocent until proven guilty, remember?”
“Right,” said Charlotte, who was looking more comfortable now and had a bit of a wicked smile on her face. “And we’ll remind you of that next time you accuse James of anything.”
The next morning before breakfast I had a sudden epiphany in the dormitory. “You know,” I said, pulling on a shoe, “Bertram and I could never have worked out long-term anyway.”
“Why not?” asked Lily, sounding surprised.
“The name’s all wrong,” I explained. “Laura Aubrey. It just sounds stupid.”
Mary giggled. “Aye, tha’ it does,” she agreed with a grin. “Hoo does Mary Ogden soond?”
“That’s all right,” said Martha, who was doing up her schoolbag. “What about Lily Potter?”
Lily threw a book at her. “Not funny, Miss Hornby.”
“It wasn’t supposed to be funny, I was being serious,” said Martha, grinning. “And I thought it sounded fine. But you’ve hit on another reason I need to find myself a boyfriend. We need to get me a new surname.”
“Well, why don’t we find the name you like best and pick the boy to suit?” I suggested. “How about Martha Mulciber? If nothing else it’s alliterative.” I ducked as Martha threw Lily’s book at me.
“Martha Hopkirk’s okay,” suggested Charlotte, coming out of the bathroom. “Or Martha Carmichael.”
“Martha Toots?” Lily offered, referring to Tilden Toots of Ravenclaw.
Martha shuddered. “Toots is a nice enough bloke - when he's clean, of course - but you’ve got to admit that’s a dreadful name. Like Dearborn, that’s another shocker.”
“Anither reason fer ye t’ hae dumped Hector, too, Charlotte,” said Mary, who was drying her hair with a hot air charm. “Bole’s a terrible name. Makes ye soond lik’ a bi’ o’ crockery.”
“Charlotte Lupin works,” Lily said quietly, looking at Charlotte, who went a rather fetching shade of crimson.
“Yeah, you know I could never go for Remus,” I said, handing Lily her book back. “Laura Lupin. Ugh.”
“Or Lily Lupin,” agreed Lily, putting the book back on the pile next to her bed. “That’s just as bad.”
“I thought you liked alliteration?” Martha asked, grinning and winking at me.
I smiled back. “Not when it’s me. Anyway, my cousin is about to become Gwendolyn Llewellyn,” I went on. “That’s a pretty unfortunate combination.”
Martha made a face. “I can’t argue with that. Now I’ve got one. Elvira Black!”
Charlotte laughed. “In her dreams! But why not go for the lot of them? Greta Black!”
“Tha’ woul’ be a scream,” Mary said, grinning. “Tall, dark an’ han’some matched wi’ shor’, blonde an’ dumpy.” Harsh as it sounded, it was a fair description of Greta Catchlove, the top of whose head was maybe level with Sirius’ chest. And that was in platform shoes, too. Chubby was another word Mary could have chosen, I reflected.
Lily was continuing Charlotte’s theme. “How about Carol Black? Or Primrose Black?” She was obviously having fun trying to remember who else was in the fan club. For some reason these suggestions made me feel rather uncomfortable and I wasn’t quite sure why, but I giggled along with the other girls.
“Well then, changin’ tack sligh’ly, Alecto Gibbon?” suggested Mary, an evil grin on her face. “Tha’ woul’ be perfec’, she e’en looks lik’ one!”
Still feeling a little disquieted, I was smiling about the concept of Alecto becoming a Gibbon when unbidden, and unnerving me somewhat, a new name came into my head. Laura Black. And it sounded good.
I grabbed Mary after supper and dragged her to an empty classroom. “I’ve got to talk to you,” I muttered. “Somewhere private.”
She obediently sat down on an old desk and looked at me. “Wha’s up?”
“I have done the most incredibly stupid thing any girl could possibly do,” I said, plonking myself down on a table facing her.
“An’ tha’ is?” she prompted, her eyes narrowing as she looked me over.
I got back up and went to the door, looking up and down the corridor to make sure no one was there, and then closed the door for good measure. After all, I hadn’t forgotten that James had an Invisibility Cloak, and I didn’t want to take a chance on anyone overhearing what I was about to say. Finally, once I was satisfied that we were quite alone, I put the words in order for the first time, even to myself. “I think I’ve got a crush on Sirius.”
It had been bugging me all day, compounded every time I saw him, and I needed someone to slap some sense into me. Someone who wouldn’t laugh at me but also wouldn’t plant false hope in my head.
Mary, to her credit, didn’t look horrified, or suppress a snigger, or look at me sympathetically, or do anything else I’d been worried she might do. What she did look was confused. “Ye think?” she asked. “Ye mean ye dinna know?”
“Hard to say,” I said, trying to explain myself. “It’s been coming on so gradually that it’s taken me by surprise a bit. But I’m pretty sure it’s there. He makes me laugh, you know? And there’s times that I get that telltale tingling you get when they touch you, that sort of thing.” I paused for a second, my cheeks burning. “And ‘Laura Black’ came to me this morning when we were going through names.”
“Hmmmm.” She frowned slightly at me. “Soonds lik’ ye’re keen on him, all richt. Aye, it’s a dumb thing t’ dae. Tha' is, ye’re in a better position than ye were say a year ago, he a’ leas’ talks t’ ye an’ all, bu’ I woul’ still say yer chances are nae grea’. I’m sorry, Laura, but tha’s th’ way it is.”
“That’s the problem,” I said. “I mean, when I didn’t know him, I didn’t like him. You know, the arrogant berk thing. But since I’ve got to know him better he’s grown on me, and I can’t seem to shake it off.”
“Ye shoul’ prob’ly ge’ tha’ looked a’,” she said seriously. “Large growths lik’ tha’ are generally nae a good thing. Hae ye seen Madam Pomfrey aboot it?”
“Very funny,” I groaned, though I was having trouble stopping myself from giggling. “Can we get back to my problem?”
“Richt,” said Mary, a grin crossing her face. “Shall I aler’ Elvira tha’ th’ fan club’s aboot t’ ge’ a new member an’ all?”
“That’s the other problem,” I said, my giggles stopping abruptly. “We know what he thinks of people like that. If he ever found out he’d probably never speak to me again.”
She nodded, now looking much more serious. “Aye, ye hae a poin’ there, so I’ll keep this quiet. T’ recap, ye fancy him and ye’re thinkin’ it’s prob’ly a lost cause. I’m guessing it doesna help when he looks tha’ good, either,” she commented dryly. “Though unlike James he doesna hae his dream girl richt i’ fron’ o’ us, so there may still be a chance fer ye.”
I just looked at her. Yeah, right, like he would ever look at me in that way. He could have anyone he wanted, he wouldn’t bother wasting his time with the likes of me. “Come on, Mary, be logical here,” I said miserably. “If I’m that awful that Bertram had to cheat on me, then what chance would I have with someone like Sirius?”
Mary rolled her eyes. “Stop bein’ daft,” she scolded. “Tha’ wasna yer fault. Ye were way too goo’ fer him. He jus’ couldna keep it i’ his pants so when ye said nae he wa’ dumb enough t’ look elsewhere.” She paused, ignoring the sceptical look on my face. “Richt, so wha’ dae ye want me t’ dae? Support ye through it jus’ i’ case, or try t’ ge’ ye o’er it?”
“I’m not sure,” I admitted. “I might get back to you on that one. Can we leave it for now that you won’t give me crap about it? It’s embarrassing enough without that to cap it all.”
“Ye drive a har’ bargain,” she grinned. “Bu’ okay. After all, ye didna tease me aboot my James thing, so it’s onla fair.”
“Thanks,” I said with a smile. “And with any luck I’ll just snap out of it like you did with James. It shouldn’t take me too long to come to my senses, should it?”
Author’s note: Yep, she’s finally worked it out. Frankly Laura can be a bit clueless with regard to this sort of thing, but then again Bertram did distract her for a while. Anyway, roll on the rest of the story …
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