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Chapter 49 : Another birthday
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“Hey there, birthday girl,” he said almost shyly as I came down the stairs to the common room before breakfast. “I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“Hey there yourself,” I said quietly as I reached him, allowing myself to be kissed. “What kind of surprise?”
“The best,” he grinned as he grabbed my hand and led me out through the portrait hole, me belatedly waving at our friends still inside.
We both had a free period first thing so he could have had just about anything planned. I knew there was a birthday present coming at some point, though – there had been nothing from him in the pile at the foot of my bed that morning and I couldn’t imagine he’d ignore it entirely.
“I’d thought of going into the forest for a picnic,” he said as we walked in the direction of the owlery, “but then I looked outside and decided that might not be such a good idea.” I looked towards the nearest window and laughed – it was pouring down outside, so hard that I thought that even if we tried we wouldn’t make it to the forest without getting flattened by the sheer force of the rain.
“Absolutely right,” he agreed to my unspoken summary of that idea. “So I had to resort to Plan B.”
I looked at him. “And what’s Plan B? Am I allowed to ask?”
He smiled. “Of course not. You’ll have to see.”
“Fine. But, most importantly, will there be food? I’m famished.”
He grinned even more broadly. “Yes, Laura, there will be food. I can’t have you starving on me, can I?”
I smiled back. “Just checking.”
We stopped abruptly by the statue of Wilfrid the Wistful, and Sirius tapped its shoulder with his wand and said, “Dissendium,” making it come away from the wall and revealing a relatively roomy cavern.
“It’s a secret passage for house elves,” he explained. “Roomy at this end, but past about five yards it’s only about three feet high. I don’t know if it actually is for house elves, but it makes a good story. Oh good,” he went on, “Wormtail’s been already.”
I looked around. The cavern had been made rather comfortable, with a rug on the floor, a plush-looking couch and a coffee table, and a couple of torches placed on the walls to illuminate it and also provide some warmth. On the coffee table was a large platter with a lid, a flagon of pumpkin juice and a jug of coffee, and I suspected that was what Sirius had meant by his comment about Peter – the food had arrived.
“Tell me,” I said as I took it all in, “why we have never been here before?” It struck me as a perfect rendezvous location, being so close to the common room and everything.
He chuckled. “To be honest, I’d forgotten about it,” he admitted. “And obviously it’s not usually this comfortable. This stuff is all conjured, aside from the food of course. Oh, and Filch knows about it so there’s always the possibility of getting caught.” I raised an eyebrow at him – he’d never exactly been one to shy from risky behaviour before. “Oh, all right,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes that does make things more interesting, the risk of getting caught. But I’m not sure that you and I need that extra buzz …”
His voice trailed off as he sat me down on the couch and lifted the lid of the platter, revealing a stack of pancakes with butter and maple syrup. “A special treat for a special day,” he grinned. “How many would you like?”
I let him wait on me as we shared a private breakfast. The platter, flagon and jug had obviously been charmed to refill whenever they were emptied – Sirius must have really sweet-talked the house-elves to get that organised, I thought – and we had a lovely meal cosied up together on the couch. Once we’d finished Sirius waved his wand a couple of times and they all disappeared, leaving us alone in the cavern accompanied by nothing but the lingering smell of fresh coffee.
“So, Laura,” he said, leaning back with his arms around me, “happy birthday.”
I looked up and kissed him. “Thank you. It’s been lovely.”
He looked at me with mock horror. “You don’t think that’s all, do you?”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said. “Is it?”
“Never,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. “It’s only just started.” And he pulled out his wand and waved it again, most probably doing a non-verbal Summoning Charm, and a parcel appeared from the back of the cavern and landed on the coffee table in front of me. “For you, birthday girl.”
I looked at it. “From the size of it, I’m guessing it’s not jewellery again,” I said with a smile.
He chuckled. “I did think of that, but it was probably getting a bit old. And besides, I wanted to get you something a little bit more personal this time.” He let go of me so I could open it.
The package contained – well, I won’t call it lingerie, because that’s probably misleading, but that’s what it was. A magnificent ivory silk slip that fell to mid-thigh, the softest silk I had ever felt in my life. It felt like liquid against my hands as I held it up. “Oh, Sirius. It’s beautiful!” I folded it back into its box and launched myself onto him so I could kiss him properly. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” he said once we had finished. “I thought that with skin as soft as yours is, you shouldn’t be subjecting it to those school robes we have to wear. Far too rough. So I decided that some decent quality silk would probably solve the problem.” He grinned. “With the added benefit being the way good silk just clings to every curve.”
“You’re despicable,” I laughed. “Do I take it you’d like me to model it for you?”
His face lit up. “Well, I wouldn’t say no …”
We stood up and he helped me strip down to my underwear before sliding the slip over my head. It felt just as exquisite on as it did in my hands and I felt like a princess or something, not quite believing that anyone short of royalty would have access to fabric this soft. This was turning into my best birthday ever.
“So?” I asked, pirouetting for him. “What do you think?”
He just stared at me, apparently unable to speak. “I think,” he said finally, “that I’m a very good chance of missing Muggle Studies this morning.” He paused. “I knew you’d be beautiful in it – you look beautiful in everything – but I wasn’t prepared for this. You look … words can’t describe the way you look.”
“Well don’t get any ideas,” I said sternly, though I was smiling. “Now I’ve got this on, I don’t plan on taking it off anytime soon.”
He smiled. “I can’t exactly argue with that, can I?”
And he was indeed on his best behaviour, keeping his hands on the outside of the slip at all times, though they did linger more in some places than others: he was only human, after all. We sat together on the couch for a while, me reluctant to put my school robes back on before it was absolutely necessary as then I’d only be able to feel the silk from the inside, and it felt rather indulgent to be wearing just that.
“I guess we can’t get away with staying here all day,” I said after a while.
He laughed. “Unfortunately not,” he agreed. “If nothing else, this stuff will disappear in another hour or so.” He indicated the furniture, rug and torches. “I thought we might need a prompt to get out of here to go to Potions.”
“And what about Muggle Studies?” I asked with a grin.
He shrugged, looking completely unconcerned. “It’s a piece of cake anyway. I only took it in the first place to annoy my parents, and then kept it up because Prongs wanted to learn about Lily and asked me to keep him company. Missing one class definitely won’t kill me.”
“Right you are then,” I said, giving him a squeeze. “So we have how much time left now?”
He looked at his watch and then pulled me onto his lap so that I was facing him. “Just enough time, I think, for one more of these …” And he pulled my face towards his as we kissed once again.
The following Saturday, I looked wistfully at the ceiling of the Great Hall as we filed in for breakfast. The sky was periwinkle blue and the wind seemed to have died down, leaving, for March, what seemed to be perfect weather. I sighed to myself as I sat at the Gryffindor table.
“What’s up?” Sirius asked, as always attuned to my moods.
“Nothing much,” I said. “It just looks like a beautiful day, and I haven’t taken my broom out in ages. So I was thinking how nice it would be to take a spin.”
“Well, why don’t you?” he asked.
I shook my head. “I’d rather be with you,” I said honestly. “I can ride a broom any old time.”
“Tell you what,” Sirius said, “how about we both head out for a ride? I’ll race you, twice around the Quidditch pitch.”
“On what broom?” I asked, thinking of the old Nimbus One Thousand I’d seen in his dorm. “Yours? You’ll never beat me, you don’t fly well enough.”
“I’ll borrow James’,” he said. “That should give me a chance.”
“Okay,” I said, accepting the challenge, “you’re on. What are we racing for, by the way? What does the winner get?”
“How about,” he said very quietly in my ear, “if I win, then I get to do whatever I like to you.”
“As opposed to … what?” I asked. “Last weekend? I thought we’d already done all that.”
He held my gaze. “Again,” he said.
I looked back at him, smiling mischievously, my fingers tracing his spine. “Then what’s the incentive for me to win?”
“Well, then, if you win,” he began.
I cut him off. “Then I get to do whatever I like to you?”
He grinned. “That sounds like a plan.”
We wandered down to the pitch not long after breakfast, taking care to avoid the large puddles that had formed during the week’s rainstorms. Sirius was carrying James’ broom, which he’d talked James into lending him on the strict proviso that it was returned in precisely the same condition that it came out in – him loaning it out in the first place was actually a tidy step for him, as we all knew that he was protective enough of the broom to keep it hidden beneath his bed, lest anyone get hold of it.
This was something I should probably have been doing, too – keeping my broom in the dorm. After less than a full lap of the pitch, I took one hand off the handle to brush a stray strand of hair out of my face, and my broom decided at that moment to lurch unpredictably in the air.
Alarmed, I quickly put both hands back on the handle: I hadn’t been kidding when I told James that my balance deserted me when they weren’t both there. The broom lurched again, quickly up and then down, like it was a wild horse trying to buck me off. I had barely regained my balance when it did it again, this time swinging sideways rather violently, and it was all I could do to hold on. Ahead of me I could see Sirius streaming around the pitch, oblivious to my predicament – I’d have to wait until I was in his path, when he’d almost lapped me, before he’d see what was happening.
“Sirius!” I yelled, trying to get him to turn around. “Sirius!”
The broom lurched again, this time upwards and to one side, and this time I did let go – it had defeated me, and I was no longer able to keep my grip. Whatever had possessed it to try to buck me off had done the trick. The trouble was, I was a good hundred feet off the ground, and I didn’t like how quickly it was coming up to meet me. Closing my eyes, I braced myself for the blow.
Fortunately Sirius had heard my screams and doubled back to me, and while he didn’t manage to deftly catch me while flying James’ broom he did get there in time to break my fall, and when I hit the ground it was at a much lesser speed than I’d feared.
“Are you okay?” Sirius asked, and I blinked to get him into focus. “What happened?”
“Broom bucked me off,” I explained, trying to sit up and wincing a bit from the pain in my right arm and shoulder – I’d landed awkwardly and was feeling the effects. “It was so strange, like it wasn’t even my broom.”
He helped me to sit and then walked over to where my broom was lying on the grass, about twenty feet from me. “Well, it’s definitely yours,” he said, inspecting it closely. “Unless there’s another broom called ‘Cauldwell’ that lives in the broom shed.” He sat down next to me, his face full of concern. “Do you think someone might have jinxed it?”
I thought about that, pleased to have something to take my mind off my throbbing arm. “I suppose it’s possible,” I said slowly. “You know, Elvira or someone. Mary did say they were plotting against me.”
“If they did this, then they’ll have me to answer to,” he snarled. “You could have been killed. I’m not going to stand for it.”
“How about,” I said, letting him help me to stand, “we find out exactly what was wrong with it before we jump to any conclusions. Maybe it just needed a service or something.”
“How likely is that?” he asked. “Not with you, you know when it needs servicing.” He paused as I tried to walk. “Both legs okay?” he went on, changing the subject. “I’m taking you to see Madam Pomfrey, she’ll get you fixed up in no time. That arm looks nasty.”
Surprised, I looked down at it – I knew it was aching but I hadn’t expected anything too major to be wrong with it. But he was right, it was hanging at what even I could see was the wrong angle. Wincing a little, I allowed myself to be taken back to the castle.
The school Matron peered into my eyes. “I think you are fine to leave,” she admitted. “But if you feel any headaches whatsoever, you come straight back here,” she went on sternly. “While I don’t think you have a concussion, we can’t take any chances.”
“Thanks, Madam Pomfrey,” I said, feeling my right arm gingerly. It had been broken, and my shoulder dislocated, but they had been fixed within minutes of my arrival in the hospital wing, and now there were hardly any signs it had been hurt at all. Grinning, I thought of how long the recovery process would have been if I’d been a Muggle – sometimes, it almost felt like it was worth potentially facing the Death Eaters if it meant that we could still use magic.
“I took the broom to McGonagall while you were being patched up,” Sirius said as he walked me back upstairs to the common room. He’d wanted to stay with me but Madam Pomfrey, so protective of her patients, hadn’t allowed it. “She said it sounded like there might have been a Hurling Hex on it, so she and Flitwick are going to check it out. They might give it to Perkins too, to look for any Dark Magic.” He paused, letting that possibility sink in. “I wouldn’t be keeping it in the broomshed any more, either, once you get it back,” he went on. “If you have been targeted then that’s a really easy way for them to get to you.” He shook his head. “I should have thought of that before,” he muttered to himself.
“Don’t you dare think this is your fault,” I told him sternly. “I’m a big girl and I can look after myself. Where I keep my broom isn’t your responsibility.”
“Still,” he said, “if I ever find out who did this …”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said bracingly. “The main thing is, nothing too serious happened. I’m okay and the party can go ahead tonight.”
That had been my main concern – the party I was sharing with Remus that night. Sirius had been making noises that suggested they might cancel it if I wasn’t able to take part, and so much work had gone into it already that I didn’t want that going to waste.
The boys all took their usual party roles and with well-practiced actions were able to ensure that everything went according to plan. Music, food and drink were all endless and everyone was getting along famously.
Sirius was standing at a table measuring out shots of Firewhisky for some eager sixth-years when I came up behind him, put my arms around his waist and, thankful I had heels on so I could reach comfortably, started kissing his neck. He tensed ever so slightly. “I hope that’s you, Laura,” he said warily, pouring out another measure of the drink. It was probably fair enough, as Wendy Savage and her fifth-year friends had been eyeing him off a bit blatantly.
“So do I,” I said, holding up my wrist so he could see the bracelet that I always wore. “Otherwise someone else has stolen this.”
He put the bottle down and turned around, smiling at me. “Right, then, birthday girl, what can I get you?”
I considered. “Some chocolate éclairs would be nice. A glass of elderflower wine. And you, once you’ve finished playing barman.”
He smiled. “I think I can just about manage that,” he said. “And where would Madam like her food delivered?”
“I’ve been ensconced by the fire,” I said. “Though if you have any better ideas …” My eyes flicked towards the staircase to the boys’ dorms.
He laughed. “Maybe later,” he said with a grin. “If I can get someone to cover for me here. We’ll have to get permission from Moony, though, it’s his birthday too. We can’t lock him out of his own dorm.”
“And it’s not like we can rely on him to pull, either,” I conceded. “The fire it is, then.”
“I’ll be with you in two secs,” he promised, kissing my forehead. I smiled and went back to where Mary, Sebastian, Lily and James were sitting.
“Odd one out no longer,” I said, acknowledging the couples around me. “He’ll be over in a minute.”
“I’m guessing it didn’t take much convincing,” James said with a grin. “I can just about see the thumbprint on his forehead from here.”
Lily pretended to throw her goblet at him. “And you’re less under the thumb than he is? Shall we ask him?” She smiled. “Or Remus, now he’s an impartial observer.” And she called him over cheerfully.
“What’s up?” he asked pleasantly, sitting down on a spare armchair.
Mary smiled. “We need an independen’ judge. Who’s more under th’ thumb, James or Sirius?”
Remus laughed. “Easy. Prongs is. Lily’s had a lot longer to exert her influence than Laura has.” Lily beamed at him and high-fived Mary on the next couch.
James scowled. “You were supposed to be on my side!”
“And that is why, exactly?” Remus was clearly enjoying himself.
“’Cause Padfoot’s not here to argue,” James pointed out.
Sirius sat down with my wine and éclairs and obviously had just caught that last comment. “What aren’t I going to argue about?” he asked.
“We were discussing who’s more under the thumb of their respective girlfriends, you or James,” Sebastian explained. “And Remus decided it was James.”
Sirius laughed. “Nope, I’m definitely not going to argue with that,” he said without a trace of irony. “Lily’s got you good, Prongs. But then again, she had you good long before you two even got together. She’s just been perfecting it ever since.”
James snorted. “Like you can talk. Mr If-I-do-whatever-she-says-then-maybe-she’ll-like-me.”
Sirius had the grace to look embarrassed, then he grinned. “Worked, though, didn’t it?” And he made a show of feeding me a chocolate éclair.
Remus smiled. “Looks like you don’t need me as adjudicator any more,” he said. “These two are busy digging their own graves.” And, waving, he wandered over to where Charlotte, Martha and Peter were doing some fancy wand tricks for a bunch of earnest-looking fifth-years.
Later in the night Mary and Sebastian disappeared in search of a little privacy, so I went over to what was serving as the bar to join Sirius. He and James were staring gobsmacked at a couple by the far wall, trying unsuccessfully not to laugh. Following their gaze, I saw the couple in question were Louisa Philpott, who was in sixth year, and Peter, snogging as though their lives depended on it.
“Merlin’s beard,” Sirius was saying, “how pissed must she be?”
“You should know,” James responded with a grin. “You’ve been pouring her drinks all night.”
“Well, yes, but I didn’t think I’d put that much booze in them,” said Sirius, frowning slightly. “She must be a really cheap drunk.” He paused, thinking. “Either that or she snuck some down when I was with you.” He smiled at me.
I looked at them. “Has she shown any interest in him before now?”
James shook his head. “We’d have known about it if she had,” he pointed out. “Wormtail’s hardly the type to keep quiet about that sort of thing.”
Sirius laughed. “Yep, he’ll find fault with anyone,” he agreed, putting an arm around me, “but he’ll still snog them if they’ll let him. Remember that kerfuffle with Doris, or whatever her name was?” He grinned. “And look, she’s got to be at least three or four inches taller than him.” That wasn’t saying much, Peter was a good half a head shorter than me at least. If I had to guess I’d have said he’d stopped growing in third year.
“There’s no accounting for some people’s taste,” said James, smiling broadly. “And I’m talking about both of them.”
They had always treated Peter like this, in a kind of derisive, condescending way, but it never appeared to bother him. And you couldn’t deny that they were fond of him in their own way. I was a little uncomfortable with laughing at their friend like this, but then again I happened to agree with them. If Louisa really was interested in Peter, then I didn’t think much of her taste.
I was also conscious of the fact that if Peter did get a girlfriend it would make things rather awkward for Remus, and this was supposed to be a party to celebrate his birthday as well as mine. While it would be fine if Peter’s liaison finished that night, anything extended would make Remus the odd one out, the third wheel, and he’d be hard pressed to explain why he wasn’t hooking up with anyone himself. Having said that, however, he didn’t appear too concerned a minute or so later when he appeared at James’ shoulder.
“You’ve noticed Wormtail, then,” he said wryly, looking at our faces.
“It’d be tricky not to,” James conceded with a grin. “They’re making a bit of a spectacle of themselves.”
“That’s right,” Sirius agreed. “I feel like telling them to get a room. Not ours, though,” he added quickly, grinning as he gave me a bear hug, “we might be needing that later.”
Remus laughed. “Did you want me to create a diversion so you two can go upstairs?”
Sirius pretended to be shocked by the very suggestion. “Moony, you’re a prefect,” he said with mock horror, his arms still around me. “You can’t go around doing things like that!”
Remus smiled again, his brown eyes dancing. “Only for good friends,” he said. “Prongs and I won’t say a word, will we?”
“Not us,” James agreed, a sly grin on his face. “Otherwise you might let slip what Lils and I get up to. And the Head Boy and Girl have a reputation to maintain.”
I wasn’t sure I liked this being the topic of conversation, but the boys seemed completely unconcerned about it all and I supposed that they had no secrets from each other. Idly I thought of what Sirius had said back in January – if the guys thought we were shagging, you would have known about it. Well, if this was the sort of thing they said, I had to admit he was right.
Sirius was laughing. “Ah, Prongs, the stories we could tell,” he said airily. “I’m sure Dumbledore would be thrilled to find out what his Head students are actually doing when they’re supposed to be planning events or patrolling the corridors.”
James picked up an empty Firewhisky bottle and pretended to swipe it at Sirius’ head. “Just as I should let him know what you really use the Shrieking Shack for?”
“Right, because you never do that,” Sirius grinned back, ducking the blow. “Sneaking down to the tunnel under your Cloak when you say you’re going to the library.”
James held up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay, you win,” he said. “But don’t think I’m not keeping an eye on you two. I need ammunition!”
“Speaking of which, Padfoot,” Remus said evenly, though his eyes were sparkling, “you never gave me an answer. Diversion, yes or no? And shut it, Prongs, they get first dibs because it’s Laura’s birthday.”
Sirius looked at me, and I smiled. “I think that’s a yes,” he said, grinning as he kissed my forehead.
“Right,” Remus was saying. “Give me a couple of minutes.” And, true to his word, a minute or two later some fireworks went off by the girls’ stairs on the opposite side of the common room, and Sirius and I used the resulting palaver to slip up the boys’ stairs unnoticed.
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