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Chapter 35 : Pubs, pranks and parties
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Hogsmeade itself was getting more and more depressing, just like Diagon Alley and anywhere else only wizards went. Heavy with memories of the Dementor attack less than six months earlier, we stayed together in a group and had our wands within easy reach at all times, keeping a safe distance from anyone who looked like they might possibly be Death Eaters out for a bit of arbitrary intimidation of the locals. (Not that the Death Eaters had been reported as being in Hogsmeade – if they had, then I doubted that Dumbledore would have allowed the visit to go ahead – but then again, they might have decided that was a good day to start, and we weren’t in the mood for taking any chances.) We also spent a lot of time trying to avoid the various amulet sellers and other stall-holders that had also increased since last year, though sometimes the temptation to hex them got to be too much, and more than one ended up with tusks, or wheels where their feet used to be. (Generally, the more they hassled us to buy their products, the more likely they were to be hexed by the end of the day.)
On our way to Gladrags we were almost bowled over by a rather thin and unkempt-looking wizard with ginger hair being physically ejected from the Hog’s Head, the other pub in the village which had a somewhat shady reputation, with what appeared to be considerable force and a Banishing Charm to boot. While there wasn’t much to see once we had all dusted ourselves off and the subject of the disturbance had wandered with a bandy-legged gait down the main street and out of sight, the event itself was more than a little thought-provoking.
“Wonder what that was about,” Martha said quietly. “Must have been pretty bad, whatever it was.” We and most of Hogwarts had been under the impression that there was nothing under the sun that would force someone to be kicked out of the Hog’s Head.
“Maybe he was casting Unforgivables,” Charlotte suggested, casting a nervous glance in the direction the man had last been seen.
“Didna look lik’ much o’ a Death Eater, though,” Mary pointed out. “An’ I canna imagine someone bein’ kicked oot fer cursin’ Death Eaters, either.”
“Good point,” I agreed. “If nothing else he didn’t really look like he’d be capable of casting anything as strong as an Unforgivable.”
Coming up with ideas and theories as to what the ginger-haired wizard could possibly have done to deserve such a punishment kept us occupied for a good half hour, extending even when we ducked past a few more stall-holders to get into Gladrags to see what their latest range of beautifying robes could do for someone like me. Overall, however, even Gladrags was rather unsatisfying in general and it was in a more sombre mood than we had hoped that we converged on the Three Broomsticks at about quarter to one for lunch.
The difference between the inside of the pub and the pallid atmosphere outside couldn’t have been more palpable. The place was bustling with light, music and chatter and we soon realised that we would have trouble finding a table, a problem that none of us had ever faced before. Clearly, the rest of the pub’s clientele felt the same about the mood outdoors as we did and had decided to stay inside for the long haul.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your view of it, we were spotted by Remus and called over to share the table he was at with Sirius and Peter. Four extra chairs were found so quickly I wondered if they had been Summoned and we all squeezed up, seven around a table better suited for four.
“Well,” said Martha, looking around after we’d all sat down, “this is cosy.”
“You’re not wrong,” agreed Sirius, who as the tallest and broadest was most probably the most cramped by the arrangements. “Anyone know how to do an Undetectable Extension Charm?”
Grinning at the idea, we all shook our heads – that one had yet to come up in our Charms class.
“Not to worry,” he said. “Though I think I’ll grab some drinks. Butterbeers all round, or would you prefer something stronger?”
We placed our orders and he took off towards the bar, where over my shoulder I watched him flirt unashamedly with Madam Rosmerta, the curvy landlady, as he ordered the drinks. When they were poured, however, he apparently realised the flaw in the plan.
“Oi, who wants to help me carry them?” he called over his shoulder, his voice just discernable over the din.
Mary looked at me and winked almost imperceptibly. “Laura, ye’re th’ closest,” she said, though it wasn’t strictly true – Peter next to me was probably closer. I took the hint, though.
“Okay, I’ll go,” I said with fake reluctance, not sure if spending time in close proximity to him was necessarily a good thing. It was, however, a bit of self-indulgence and he couldn’t possibly detect any ulterior motives as I was, as Mary had pointed out, one of the closest.
He looked almost pleased when I got up and pushed my way through the crowd to the bar. “Here you go, Laura, can you take those?” he asked, indicating three frothing mugs of butterbeer on the bar. Next to them were four glasses of Firewhisky on the rocks. “I can deal with these so we should be right.”
Obviously a Levitation Charm would on the surface have been an easier option, but if you’ve ever tried to control something via a Levitation Charm when you’re in the middle of a crowd you’d know it’s generally not a good idea. Especially when it’s something that can spill without too much assistance. Fortunately Sirius was tall enough to part the waters for me, so to speak, and we made it back to the table with all drinks intact. When we tried to pay him for the drinks, though, he insisted on footing the bill, saying almost ridiculously that if he couldn’t buy drinks for some friends then he had no business having friends in the first place, and I had the feeling this was part of the strict code of honour the boys seemed to share.
We all ended up staying in the Three Broomsticks for a good couple of hours afterwards, both enjoying the company and atmosphere and not really wanting to face the stall-holders outside, even if they did have antlers. Eventually, as different people got up to do different things (order lunch, visit the toilets, get another round of drinks), and people shifted to talk to someone else, we all ended up in completely different seats to those we had started in, and I was thrilled to find myself next to Sirius again for much of the afternoon. Which, I hasten to add, was through no design of my own, just the luck of the draw, but it certainly beat my original spot next to Peter. Charlotte was probably just as pleased with the arrangements, which had put her at Remus’ side for a similar length of time.
Halfway through the afternoon we lost Martha, who disappeared on her way to the bar – and by this I mean a completely innocuous disappearance rather than anything even vaguely sinister. The only thing was that she had been going to get our drinks order so we were starting to get a little miffed at her non-return.
“I did see Davey Gudgeon stop her on the way,” Charlotte said as we looked through the crowds for her. “Maybe she’s gone over to where the Hufflepuffs are.”
Peter suddenly sniggered, and Remus and Sirius turned to him sharply. “Something you’re not telling us, Wormtail?”
“Not really,” Peter explained. “But I’ve found Martha now and I don’t think she’s with the Hufflepuffs. Or, not with more than one of the Hufflepuffs,” he went on, his eyes glinting.
We followed his gaze to a spot by the far wall, slightly obscured by a large pot plant, where Martha and Davey were cloistered up together having one heck of a snog. Ah well, good luck to them, I thought. Davey was a nice enough boy, even if his sister (who’d been in Bea’s year) had to have been one of the ditziest girls I had ever come across. But then again, I couldn’t exactly judge someone on what their sister was like, could I?
“Well, that would explain it,” Remus said with a grin. “Though it looks like we’re going to have to get our own drinks. What did you want again?”
As we all gave our orders again and fished around for some gold to pay for it, I noticed that Peter was still watching Martha and Davey by the back wall, as though that was the most interesting thing he’d ever seen. Maybe he was something of a voyeur, I thought, reasoning that it might be his only option considering most of the girls in our year wouldn’t have touched him with a ten foot pole. Remus, coming back to the table with the drinks, caught my eye and just grinned, his eyes flicking towards Peter. Right, I thought, that pretty much confirmed it – this was his usual behaviour.
Martha’s departure meant there was a bit more room at our table which was both a curse and a blessing, as while it gave us some breathing space it meant that I had no excuse to rub my arms and legs up against Sirius any more. It had been nice, being able to pretend for a bit that we actually were a couple and he wouldn’t be horrified if he knew that I was doing it deliberately, so I did feel a little disappointed when it had to end.
To my horror this coincided with me starting to feel more self-conscious from his proximity, though why this hadn’t happened before was slightly beyond me. Maybe the claustrophobic conditions had made me immune or something. Anyway, before long the requisite tension in my shoulders began and I started clamming up, only speaking when spoken to and then using monosyllabic responses. Why did I let myself get so intimidated by him? He was only human, flesh and blood and two arms and two legs like the rest of us, and he was supposed to be my friend, so there was no logical reason why I should have been reacting that way. However, he was also as close to my dream man as I was ever going to meet, and seeing him every day, usually for hours on end, definitely didn’t help me stop thinking about him.
I’m afraid I wasn’t the best company for the rest of the afternoon, only coming out of my stupor when the six of us started heading back towards the castle at about half three, and that was due to a sharp nudge in the ribs from Mary. “Ye okay?” she whispered to me as we left the Hogsmeade main street. “Ye’ve nae bin yerself.”
“I know,” I said miserably, still in a whisper as the cause of my agitation wasn’t far away, walking just ahead with Remus and Peter. “All of a sudden I got all intimidated and I couldn’t shake it off.” This had to be a try for Quivering Wreck at the very least, and probably a conversion as well. How about, Quivering Wreck 72; Laura 1. That was probably fairly close to the mark. I really had to work on this.
“Ye’re gettin’ worse,” she said in a tone that was both warning and sympathetic. “Do ye want me t’ line up a snog fer ye t’ try t’ ge’ him oot o’ yer system?”
I thought about that, but the very idea of kissing someone who wasn’t Sirius just left me cold. Merlin’s beard, I did have it badly. Come on, Laura, snap out of it, I thought, you’re not doing yourself any favours here. I looked at Mary. “We could try,” I said doubtfully, “but I’m not convinced it would work.”
She gave me a comforting hug as we made our way through the school gates. “I’ll say one thin’, Laura,” she said cheerfully, “yer pa’s rule aboot nae seein’ anyone this year is plain daft. No relationship coul’ ge’ ye more distracted or preoccupied than nae bein’ wi’ him is.”
I gripped her arm fiercely. “For goodness sake keep your voice down,” I hissed, having noticed Remus in front of us pause ever so slightly and turn his head at her remark. “Or at least Muffliato people first.” Damn. Hopefully he wouldn’t work out what she was on about, though I wasn’t convinced he wouldn’t: Remus could be pretty sharp. And hopefully no one else – specifically, Sirius – heard it either.
Mary just looked at me. “An’ ye’re miserable an’ all, too,” she went on as if I’d never interrupted her. “I hate seein’ ye lik’ this.”
I flashed her a quick smile. “I’ll be okay. I promise.”
She frowned slightly. "Sometimes, Laura, I'm nae so sure."
The following week was a frenzy of activity, including the annual Hallowe’en feast and the announcement of the biennial Yule Ball, which was to take place on the Saturday a week before Christmas. I wasn’t sure if I was looking forward to the ball or not this year – the events of the last one kept flashing through my mind, and I certainly didn’t relish the idea of having to watch Sirius getting cosy with someone else all night. Having said that, however, it was bound to be a good night if I could just get over my hang-ups, and was an excuse to let our hair down a bit before the holidays.
The ball set off the same sort of enthusiasm in our dorm as it had done two years previously, with hours of discussion about whether magical adjustments of dress robes were necessary, how to accessorise, and, in the case of Charlotte, Mary and me, who to go with. Naturally, Lily would be attending with James, who was going around looking like Christmas had come early in his anticipation, and Martha would be going with Davey, who she had continued seeing since the Hogsmeade visit.
There were some harsh words said in Lily and James’ direction, however, due to the timing of the announcement – there were several students who were dirty with them for not saying anything before the Hogsmeade weekend so they could have done some shopping.
“They’ll live,” Lily shrugged after a fifth-year accosted her in the Great Hall after lunch. “It’s not like they didn’t know it was coming.”
James put a protective arm around her. “And if they hassle you any more they’ll have me to deal with,” he added. Lily, while seeming a little embarrassed, looked up at him affectionately.
“Anyway,” she went on, “if we get ourselves organised we might be able to swing another Hogsmeade visit before Christmas.”
Martha giggled. “Does that mean, if you can keep your hands off each other for long enough to actually do something?”
Lily blushed but James just shrugged it off. “Ah, Martha, you’re just jealous. Or did you need some new dress robes, too?”
Martha just grinned and shook her head. Like the rest of us, she had taken some time over the summer to find some nice dress robes for the ball, and was therefore just making the most of the opportunity to stir them up a bit.
In fact even I – someone with very limited interest in clothes, even with the influence of people like Lily, Martha and Charlotte – had brought some decent dress robes from home in preparation for the ball. I took some pride in my success in overruling Dad’s idea that I just wear my bridesmaid’s dress from Gwendolyn’s wedding or some of Bea’s old robes: this was my final year and I was determined to look my best.
However, the palaver over the Yule Ball was gradually overtaken by the ever increasing mountain of homework we were being given. Four or five three-foot essays a week were becoming commonplace, as well as other things like extra rune translations and practicing different Charms and Transfiguration spells. It was soon the norm for the seventh-years to be up till past midnight trying to get everything finished, and even James and Sirius had been spotted more than once going over their notes when writing their assignments, something never before seen in over six years of school. For those of us not gifted with brilliant minds it became a never-ending grind, and we looked forward to the weekends when not only did we have a bit of spare time, but we could actually spend some of it outside before winter decided to set in in earnest.
There were also the occasional pranks and other jokes initiated by the boys that served as ways to take our minds off study, as was exemplified one Friday. Having been in classes at opposite ends of the castle in the period just before lunch, the girls (minus Lily, of course, who spent most of her time with James these days) and I congregated in the Entrance Hall before all going into the Great Hall as a group, only to see Charon Avery shuffling past with difficulty, having clearly been hit with what looked like a Sponge-Knees Curse. However, we’d not had time to do more than raise our eyebrows and look quizzically at each other before we noticed Sirius leaning lazily on the wall behind the marble staircase, throwing his wand in the air and catching it with a satisfied smirk on his face. Peter, not far away, was looking at him with what could almost be described as reverence, though Remus looked more annoyed than anything else.
“What do you think he did this time?” Martha asked wryly.
I shrugged. “Turn up at the wrong place at the wrong time?”
“Prob’ly,” Mary agreed. “Le’s face it, he’s a Death Eater wannabe so I wouldna be surprised if they jus’ use him fer practice.”
“I don’t know, though,” Charlotte said thoughtfully as we settled ourselves at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall. “I know Sirius has taken over official pranking duties now James isn’t doing it, but does anyone else get the feeling his heart’s not really in it?”
I thought about that, casting a look down the table at the boys’ arrival as the table started heaving under the weight of the lunchtime feast. “You know, Charlotte, I think you might have something there,” I said. “They’re not nearly as elaborate as they used to be, are they?”
“Or as often,” Martha agreed. “Aside from Avery just then, and Snivellus honking like a goose after Charms on Monday, I don’t think I can name anything they’ve done all week.”
“Wa’ tha’ e’en them, though?” asked Mary, a broad grin on her face. “Snivellus, I mean. I though’ Lily micht hae done tha’ one.”
“Yes, good point,” Martha said with a giggle. “But you know what I mean.”
“It’s something I’ve noticed,” Charlotte went on. “Because those pranks used to annoy the hell out of me, especially the really big ones. Yes they were funny, but half the time all they did was distract me and I was having enough trouble keeping up with schoolwork as it was. But since James and Lily got together, it’s really dropped – both the standard and the frequency. It’s almost like Sirius’ mind is on something else.”
“You mean something other than running amok or hexing Snivellus?” Martha said archly. “What, isn’t he well?”
Charlotte shrugged. “No idea. Though I will say that Remus seems to have had the same reaction I have,” she went on with a grin.
Suppressing a smile – of course Charlotte would notice something like that – I looked at Remus. She did have a point: while Peter generally seemed disappointed in the lack of practical jokes, Remus was just as obviously relieved by it, quite possibly, like the rest of us, needing to spend as much time on homework and the like as possible.
“Well, I canna say I miss it,” Mary said with a smile. “Ye’re richt, Charlotte, it’s much better t’ be able t’ concentrate on schoolwork an’ all.”
“Hear hear,” I said with feeling. After all, Sirius distracted me enough just by being there – the last thing I needed was to have my attention diverted even more by any pranks or other shenanigans he might have been getting up to. At least, that was if I wanted to have any chance whatsoever of passing my NEWTs.
Speaking of distractions and Sirius (because, let’s face it, the two always seemed to be connected for me these days), another one came in the second week of November in the form of his eighteenth birthday, which as always was marked by a party in the Gryffindor common room. For the first time Mary and I were personally invited, as opposed to invited by default by being in Gryffindor, and I wasn’t sure if it was a curse or a blessing. It was nice to be in the inner circle, so to speak, but the chances of me becoming a nervous wreck on the night were increasing by the hour.
On the night in question James offered to take up the bartending duties and let Sirius be host, as it was his birthday, but it seemed he preferred being responsible for the drinks to any other role. And, as he pointed out, it did guarantee he would be able to talk to everyone. As the night progressed I suspected it also meant he could get as drunk as he wanted, as the Firewhisky certainly seemed to be flowing faster than usual.
By midnight he was very definitely under the influence and had taken to spouting outlandish theories and saying ridiculous things, almost rivalling Hambledon Quince in their absurdity. Lily, away from James for maybe half an hour, had remarked to us that she thought it was about getting some Dutch courage, but there didn’t seem to be anything he needed courage for aside from singing along to the latest Hobgoblins record at the top of his lungs, looking even more than usual like their singer, Stubby Boardman, in the process. (And yes, even that drunken singing was in tune. Sometimes he just made me sick.) By one o’clock he had progressed to doing things like asking for a birthday kiss, though by that time I wasn’t convinced he could pull even that off.
“Ah, Laura, where’s my kiss?” he slurred, lunging at me as I went to get myself another butterbeer. “Just the one, I promise I won’t try anything.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said with a forced smile as I determinedly found my way back to the fireside. While I would have died for a proper kiss from him, this definitely wasn’t the time to indulge my little fantasies.
Mary grinned at me as I sat down. “Wha’, ye’re nae going t’ tak’ th’ opportunity?” she whispered in my ear. “Ye may nae ge’ a better chance.”
I grimaced. “If he doesn’t throw up on me in the process,” I said, trying to ignore the loud display of disappointment Sirius was engaging in by the bar. “I don’t think he’s exactly in a fit state to be asking for anything like that. Look at him, he can barely even stand up!”
Remus had apparently overheard the last part of what I’d said. “Come on, Laura, give him a chance,” he said evenly. “It is his birthday, after all.”
I shot him a look. “Remus, you’re supposed to be one of his best friends, you should be the one doing damage control,” I said sharply. “Okay, James is out of business thanks to Lily, but you can still step in. Stop him doing that sort of crap.”
“What sort of crap?” He looked genuinely confused.
“Stuff that he’s going to regret doing in the morning once he’s sobered up,” I explained. “If he’s propositioning the likes of me he definitely needs your help.”
Remus looked at me seriously. “With all due respect, I’ve known him for longer than you have and I think that I have a better idea of what he’s going to regret in the morning than you do,” he said, and his voice was measured but his eyes were flashing. “Believe me, if I think he’s going too far then I definitely will step in.”
I shrugged. “Fine. It’s your funeral. Or, if he keeps drinking like that, it’s his.” Despite my flippant manner I was in fact a little worried about Sirius, but the boys had apparently seen this sort of behaviour a tidy few times before and weren’t fussed about it in the least.
“Relax,” he said, appearing to have calmed down a little. At least, his eyes weren’t flashing any more, and he had probably guessed that I was in fact rather concerned about his friend. “Padfoot can look after himself. And if you’re still not convinced, Prongs has gone over there now to prop him up a bit. Even if we can’t lay our hands on any Sobering Solution, he’ll have a headache in the morning but otherwise he’ll be fine.” He smiled suddenly. “And with no regrets, at least not the sort you’re thinking of.” And he got up and went over to the bar where Sirius was now drinking straight from a bottle of Firewhisky, his arm around James’ shoulders as they relived some prank or other.
Maybe I should have taken my opportunity at his birthday party. At least then I would have had some experience of being held by him and kissed by him, even if it would have just been a drunken peck. It would have been better than what I currently had, which was – nothing.
These thoughts consumed me in the following days. Was it stupid to say no, even in a situation like that? Should I have made the most of what would most probably have been the only opportunity I would ever get? Would a memory of what would in all likelihood in his view have been substandard (I refer here to his state at the time, rather than any comment on my own abilities or lack thereof) have been better than what my imagination could produce?
I spent half my time kicking myself for saying no, and the other half congratulating myself on escaping something which could well have been disappointing, especially considering his condition on the night and how much I had built it up in my head as to what it might be like. I was doubly pleased with myself when I thought about how he might have reacted to me the following day once he’d sobered up a bit: I couldn’t stomach the thought of him avoiding me because he was embarrassed about what he’d done. I was just thinking about the implications of this – and shuddering – as I wandered towards the library after Ancient Runes that Wednesday, lost in my own thoughts and paying little attention to what was going on around me.
Unfortunately, my blissful contemplative state wasn’t to last. As I rounded a corner on the second floor I almost walked right into the subject of these musings, who seemed to be entwined with a girl I didn’t know.
I stopped dead. While they weren’t in the middle of a snog, it did look like they had recently finished one, and I could feel the colour draining from my face. I’d thought I was getting better with this whole Sirius thing, I could almost control myself when I was around him (usually), I’d even found myself another point that week against Quivering Wreck, and then something like this had to happen. I shouldn’t have been surprised, really, he’d not had a girlfriend since he and Clio had broken up back in February and it was now November, but it still tore through me. I had been hoping against hope that I might have had a chance with him. Unfortunately, though, the reality was that Hogwarts was full of girls far prettier than I was, and this girl must have caught his eye in one way or another. In any case, it was a reality that I really wasn’t sure I would be able to face.
He had another girlfriend. And it wasn’t me.
Author’s note: Yep, a cliffy! Sorry about that, and please don’t hurl the nearest heavy object at me. Or at Sirius, for that matter (though he’d probably just cast a Reductor Curse on it anyway). All will be explained, I promise. :)
I will also apologise if I confused anyone with the rugby reference in the Hogsmeade scene, but with Laura’s upbringing, from her mother at least, I thought it was pertinent. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, a try is what rugby calls the grounding of the ball over the goal line whilst retaining control. It’s worth five points, but if you convert the accompanying goal kick then you get seven points all told. Well worth it, especially considering a penalty or field goal is only worth three. (I understand that the scoring is similar to a touchdown in American football, and the conversion the point after touchdown.) Nothing ignites the crowd quite like a well-run try …
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