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Chapter 50 : An offer too good to refuse
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I suspected, however, that Peter was pleased when Monday came around and we were all distracted by lessons, which were getting more and more difficult as NEWTS approached. Our Monday afternoon double Charms class, for example, had us practicing Disillusionment Charms, which needed a tidy bit of concentration to master. I was partnering Sirius again, and holding my own quite nicely.
“Nice one,” he smiled as I successfully Disillusioned him. You could tell when it had been done right as you felt a cold uncomfortable sensation down your back, rather like someone had cracked an egg on your head. When re-Illusioned, you had the same sensation but warm.
“Thanks,” I said, re-Illusioning him with a wave of my wand. I knew I was rather good at Charms but it was nice to have that confirmed by someone else. Especially someone I was pretty sure I was in love with. (Though that presented me with a bit of a quandary – should I tell him? Would he say it back or would it scare him away? I wasn’t really sure and I didn’t want to freak him out or anything.)
“Come back with me,” he said suddenly as he Disillusioned me.
“What?” I still hadn’t properly got used to his sudden change of subjects.
“At Easter. Come back to my place with me. Stay with me for the holidays.” He looked at me seriously, re-Illusioning me with a flick of his wand. “Think about it, no curfew, no teachers, no sneaking around, two weeks of just us!”
“I can’t,” I protested. “Mum and Dad are expecting me home, they’ve already made arrangements for a big family lunch on Easter Sunday and they’ll be really cut up if I’m not there.”
He was quiet for a spell as he considered that. “What about after?” he asked eventually. “That’s probably better anyway, there’s a full moon on Good Friday so I’ll go to Prongs’ place for that. And then it’s his birthday on the Monday. But you have to come,” he added plaintively. “I can’t go two weeks without seeing you. That time at Christmas was like torture.”
I thought about it. Frankly, I didn’t want to go two weeks without seeing him either. But actually staying at his flat? Tempting as that was (and believe me, it was incredibly tempting), my parents would have a fit.
“I might be able to manage a couple of nights,” I said slowly, Disillusioning him again as my brain worked at a million miles an hour. It was a bit of a job talking to him when I couldn’t see him properly, so I waved my wand and he was visible again. “I might be able to swing a night or two at Mary’s place. Assuming she goes along with it, of course,” I added. “Then it’s just a case of Apparating to you.”
His face lit up. “You think that will work? ’Cause I’m assuming your dad wouldn’t be too happy with his little girl cavorting with the likes of me.”
I laughed, feeling the tell-tale trickle down my back that indicated I’d been Disillusioned again. “No, he doesn’t want his little girl cavorting with anyone this year,” I said. “Even saying ‘I’m of age’ doesn’t work. If anything, it makes him stricter. That’s the trouble with being the youngest.”
“And the most beautiful,” he said, re-Illusioning me easily. “I can well understand why he’d be protective of you.”
“There’s still the first week, though,” I mused, smiling at the compliment. “Do you think you could drop by Bristol for a spell one day?”
He grinned. “And what will you tell them this time?”
I shrugged. “Probably shopping again. That’s what teenage girls normally do in their spare time, isn’t it? I don’t get much chance to look through Muggle shops because I’m here most of the time, it should be believable.”
“I’d say I can manage that,” he said, checking Flitwick wasn’t watching before sneaking a quick kiss onto my forehead. “Just let me know where and when and I’ll be there.”
I tackled Mary that night in the common room as we worked together on the Herbology essay Sprout had set us the previous week (‘Explain, with examples, some of the difficulties that can be encountered when breeding Venomous Tentacula and the best ways to avoid them’ – minimum two and a half feet).
“Mary,” I began as she flicked through Flesh-Eating Trees of the World, “are you going home over Easter?”
She looked surprised. “Aye, o’ course,” she said. “I always dae. An’ Ma made me promise this time, we’ve go’ Andrew’s wedding t’ organise.”
“Well,” I said, wondering how to word it, “can I stay with you without staying with you?”
She raised an eyebrow. “An’ wha’s tha’ supposed t’ mean?”
“I want to see Sirius over the holidays without my folks finding out,” I explained. “He’s asked me to stay with him.” She looked at me sharply. “Obviously I can’t for the whole holidays,” I continued, blushing, “but I would like to try for a night or two.”
Mary digested what I’d said. “So this means ye’re sleepin’ t’gether,” she said matter-of-factly. “Ye coul’ hae tol’ me!”
“And how should I have done that?" I asked, blushing even more. “‘Oh, by the way, Mary, I’ve been de-flowered’?”
She laughed. “Tha’ woul’ hae done nicely,” she said. “So when di’ it start?”
“Um, Hogsmeade,” I said, wondering if it was physically possible for me to get any redder. “That day just before my birthday.”
She just nodded and grinned at me, most probably figuring I was embarrassed enough and she needn’t continue with that line of conversation. “Richt, t’ put it anither way, ye canna keep yer hands off each ither an’ ye’re wondering hoo ye’re going t’ ge’ through two weeks apar’. Tha’ aboot it?”
“Something like that,” I admitted.
“An’ ye canna stay i’ school?” she asked.
“No, my folks have this big Easter lunch planned, whole family and everything,” I said. “And he’s got an arrangement with his landlord that he has to go back during school holidays, so the flat isn’t vacant for too long.”
“Hoo aboot Apparating?” she asked. “Ye coul’ make day trips.”
“I thought of that. But it’s a tidy step from my place to London, and I’m not very confident doing it over long distances,” I said. It was true – Bristol to London was over a hundred miles and I was terrified of Splinching myself.
Mary laughed. “Remember th’ three Ds?” she asked. “Th’ secon’ one wa’ determination, he’d say tha’ ye needed t’ be sufficien’ly determined on yer destination, t’ yearn t’ be i’ tha’ spot.”
“And?” I asked.
“Well, th’ way ye look a’ each ither, if gettin’ t’ him doesna give ye enough determination, naethin’ will.”
I raised my eyebrows at her.
“Aye, okay,” she said, abandoning that idea. “Floo?”
“You want me to show up at my boyfriend’s house after going through the Floo network?” I said archly. “Covered in soot and ash and Merlin only knows what else? I’d look a mess!”
“Good poin’,” she conceded. “Though I’m nae sure tha’ woul’ bother him much. I think ye coul’ show up tarred an’ feathered an’ covered wi’ Dungbombs an’ he wouldna complain, he’d jus’ be happy ye were there."
“Yeah, whatever,” I said, sure she was exaggerating. “Besides, there’s always the tracking thing in the Floo network – Dad would be able to find out where I’d gone, and we can’t have that.”
She just looked at me and then paused, thinking. “An’ he canna go t’ ye?”
“We can try a day trip, as you called it,” I said. “But that’s about it. There’s the issue of him being at his flat, he’s already going to be away from it over the Easter weekend. And frankly, sneaking around the back streets of Bristol during the day isn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“Where’s he goin’ t’ be o’er Easter?” Mary asked, distracted.
“James’ birthday,” I explained, leaving out the full moon bit. That wasn’t my secret to tell. “All the guys are going to that, and it sounds like it’s a boys-only thing.”
“Richt,” she said. “So ye wan’ my hoose as a base, a cover story.”
“If we could,” I pleaded. “I can Apparate from your place easy, it’s only a few miles.”
Mary was quiet for a minute or two, which felt like forever as I waited for her answer. “I’ll hae t’ clear it wi’ Ma,” she said finally. “She’s unusually good wi’ tha’ sor’ o’ thing, she le’ me stay wi’ Marcus las’ summer. An’ she’d need t’ be i’ on it fer when yer pa checks up on ye, which if I know yer parents is boond t’ happen.”
I nodded, breathing a sigh of relief. This might actually work. “Yep,” I agreed. “Mum would too if she was confident about sticking her head in the fire. Twenty-five years they’ve been married, you’d think she’d be used to it by now.”
“So, le’s ge’ this straigh’,” she said. “Yer parents dinna wan’ ye havin’ a boyfrien’, or doin’ anything else tha’s fun, during yer final year because it will put ye off yer NEWTs. Which is all well an’ good, except alon’ comes Sirius t’ spoil their plans, and ye’re jumpin’ up an’ doon sayin’ ‘Aye’ afore he can ge’ th’ words oot. Oot o’ curiosity,” she added, “wha’ woul’ they hae said if he’d go’ his act together an’ asked ye oot las’ year? Woul’ they hae made ye break it off o’er summer?”
“Probably,” I said gloomily. “Dad’s pretty strict on schoolwork being top priority during NEWTs. And with Bea it wasn’t exactly an issue, not unless she was shagging Sturgis behind everyone’s backs.”
“No, it wouldna hae bin,” she agreed with a giggle, probably at the thought of Beatrice and Sturgis having it off. (Which, if I thought about it, was rather an amusing mental image.) “She’d even bin kicked oot o’ th’ Gobstones Club by then, hadna she? Richt, back to it. So ye dinna wan’ them t’ know aboot Sirius but ye’re gaggin’ fer it –” she grinned as I blushed yet again while rolling my eyes at her – “so ye need an excuse t’ come t’ London so ye can see him.” She eyed me critically. “Ye dinna hae any experience i’ wedding plannin’, dae ye?”
I smiled. “Actually I do. Cousin Gwendolyn, last summer. I was a bridesmaid, remember?”
She held up her hand for me to high-five her. “Brilliant! There’s yer excuse. I’ll write t’ yer folks an’ say Ma and I are plannin’ Andrew’s wedding an’ I remembered ye had some grea’ tips from Gwendolyn’s shindig, so can ye come o’er fer a couple o’ days an’ run us through them. When woul’ ye lik’ th’ letter? Wednesday o’ the firs’ week?”
“Sounds good,” I grinned, relieved.
“Then,” she continued, “I’ll invite ye o’er fer, say, Tuesday, Wednesday an’ Thursday o’ th’ secon’ week, jus’ after th’ long weekend. Ye can give us yer wedding tips i’ half an hour, an’ then off ye go t’ Sirius’. I shoul’ warn ye, though,” she went on, “tha’ Ma’s gettin’ in some security fer th’ weddin’, ye know, because th’ bride’s Muggle-born, so anythin’ ye can suggest micht be impossible anyway.” She groaned. “T’ be hones’, the whole thing is gettin’ t’ be a nichtmare.”
“I can guess,” I said. “We were lucky with Gwendolyn and Morgan because they were both pure-bloods, but with all the attacks on Muggle-borns you can’t be too careful, can you?”
“Ye’re soonding lik’ Ma,” she said, making a face. “Hones’ly, it’s awful. There’s talk aboot Aurors bein’ stationed a’ th’ reception an’ guests bein’ scanned wi’ Probity Probes afore th’ ceremony. Apparently this sor’ o’ weddin’ is bein’ targeted a’ th’ moment, the Death Eaters dinna want pure-bloods marryin’ doon, so t’ speak.”
“Sounds like what Sirius used to have to put up with,” I said a little ruefully. “You’d think they’d just let people marry who they want, it would be so much easier.”
She smiled grimly. “Aye, ye’re nae wrong there.” She shook her head in frustration before looking back at me. “Richt, back t’ yer problem. If ye dae get t’ come, I think you’d better ge’ back hame fer th’ las’ weekend an’ all, so they can see ye afore puttin’ ye back on th’ train on Sunday.”
I could have kissed her. “Mary Macdonald, you are brilliant,” I said. “Whatever would I do without you?”
“Sit a’ hame, lonely an’ increasingly frustrated,” she quipped. “Richt, I’ll hae a chat t’ Ma once I ge’ hame. Ye’ll get yer letter on th’ Wednesday, either inviting ye o’er or sayin’ she’s nae goin’ along wi’ it. Incidentally,” she added, “hoo were ye planning on gettin’ through th’ firs’ week?”
“A day trip,” I smiled. “He came over at Christmas and no one found out, so we can most probably pull that off again.” I paused, looking at her archly. “I’m getting the impression you’ve done this before,” I added. “These ideas are coming a bit sharpish for someone as sweet and innocent as you make out to be.”
Her smile widened. “Modern an’ permissive my mither may be,” she said, “bu’ e’en she draws th’ line somewhere, an’ unfortunately plannin’ Andrew’s weddin’ is t’ her more importan’ than my love life. I wan’ t’ catch up wi’ Sebastian some time o’er th’ holidays, I’m jus’ givin’ ye our ideas.”
“And I love you for it,” I said with feeling. “Thanks, Mary, you’re a life saver.”
“Dinna coun’ yer Diricawls,” she warned as I got up, itching to tell Sirius the good news. "It may nae happen. Ye’d better ge’ tha’ day trip in jus’ in case.”
I raised my hand in a mock salute. “Yes, ma’am,” I said formally, grinning as I crossed the common room and detoured around what looked like several first-years swapping chocolate frog cards in the middle of the floor. “Sirius! Can I have a word?”
The weather was fining up and I was itching for another lap of the Quidditch pitch on my broom, but Professor McGonagall hadn’t returned it to me yet. And, if she and the other teachers were checking it for jinxes, that might have been just as well, because I soon learned that it was likely that a hex or two had been placed on it. This came about the following Friday, when Bernie Carmichael came up to me at the end of Ancient Runes.
“Um, Laura, would you mind if I talked to you for a minute?”
I looked at him, surprised. “Yeah, I guess so,” I admitted. “What’s up?”
Bernie looked pointedly at Remus. “In private, if that’s okay.”
I turned to Remus and shrugged. “I suppose so,” I said doubtfully, wondering what on earth Bernie could have to say that Remus couldn’t hear. It wasn’t like I really had any secrets from him. But, Bernie seemed to think it was important so Remus just smiled.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll save you a spot at lunch, okay Laura?”
Bernie led me to an empty classroom, looking nervously over his shoulder as he did so. “I just don’t want …”
My curiosity was getting the better of me. “Bernie, what’s all this about?” I asked.
He looked nervously down the corridor before closing the door. “It’s Elvira Vablatsky,” he said once he was sure we were alone. “She’s … I don’t know, Laura, she’s got really nasty lately.”
I smiled – was that all this was? “Is this something to do with Sirius?” I asked.
He nodded seriously. “She … she must have heard me in the common room,” he said, his voice apologetic. “I was having a whinge about how he’d stolen you again …” He trailed off, his face as red as his hair, and he was looking out the window rather than at me. “I know, I know,” he went on suddenly, “it’s not exactly mature of me but I was disappointed. And this was ages ago, just after you got back together.” He sighed. “It sounds like I’ve been obsessing over you. And I haven’t, honest, but like I said it was disappointing.”
“Right.” I wasn’t really sure how to take this.
“And it’s not like I want you and Black to split up,” he said, his words so rushed that they almost ran into each other. “You’re more alive when you’re with him. I could never have that effect on you.” He paused. “There are some people you just can’t compete with, you know?”
“I never thought you did,” I said carefully. “Want us to break up, I mean.” I fiddled with the bracelet on my wrist, wondering exactly where he was going with this. “Anyway, didn’t I see you going to Madam Puddifoot’s with a girl the other week?”
He nodded. “Yeah, that was Cecily Wright. It was a nice day, but we don’t have much in common. But that’s by the by. This happened before then, anyway. Elvira must have got it into her head that, um, that she and I wanted the same thing. That is, you two not together. So she came to me for help.”
I stared at him. “Help?”
He nodded, looking nervous again. “She wanted me to … I don’t know, Laura, she’s gotten together with Greta and they’ve made these plans. They want to do some horrible things to you. And they came to me to try to work out how they could carry some of it off.”
“What did they want to do?” I asked.
He shook his head. “I don’t even want to tell you,” he said, “it’s really spiteful. And I couldn’t work out why they wanted me to help them, because it wasn’t nice to you and if I liked you, why would I do that?”
“I was bucked off my broomstick last weekend,” I said, trying to make it sound careless. “Wasn’t really hurt, but it could have been nasty if Sirius wasn’t there to catch me. Was that them?”
“It would have been,” he said, nodding again. “I’m sure I heard them saying something about tampering with your broom. And you might want to watch out in classes, too – they were talking about switching Potions ingredients around on you so your cauldron would blow up in your face.”
“Lovely,” I said, making a face. “I’ll remember that.”
“And there was something else about Bubotuber pus,” Bernie went on, “though I don’t really know what they were planning there.”
“So I should keep an eye out in Herbology as well, is what you’re saying,” I said wryly.
He nodded again. “Yeah, you should.”
“So why all the secrecy?” I asked.
He looked nervous. “I don’t want them knowing I’m talking to you,” he said. “If things go wrong they might take it out on me, you know? And like I said, they’re getting vicious. But I did want to warn you that they’re up to something, to put you on your guard.” He paused. “And that’s why I didn’t want Lupin in on it,” he explained. “The less people who know that I’ve told you, the less likely it is that I’ll get targeted.”
“But if they know I know,” I reasoned, “won’t that stop them in whatever it is they’re planning?”
“I doubt it,” he said darkly. “Look, if I hear anything concrete I’ll let you know, but it’s probably better if you don’t go trumpeting that we’ve had this talk.”
“If you don’t think Remus Lupin can keep a secret, you’re barking up the wrong tree,” I told him. Merlin only knew that the boy had enough experience in the matter. “But don’t worry. I’ll be very discreet.” I looked at him. “I’ll have to tell Sirius, though.”
He looked disappointed. “Do you have to?”
“He has a right to know,” I said. “At the very least, why you would be taking me into empty classrooms, don’t you think?”
“I suppose,” Bernie agreed reluctantly. “Tell him if you think you have to. But no one else, okay?”
Sirius was all questions when I finally made it to the Gryffindor table for lunch. “What did Carmichael want? What took so long?”
I looked at Lily, James, Remus and Peter. “I’m really sorry,” I said, “but would you mind if I Muffliato’d you for a minute or two?”
They looked surprised but nodded, and a moment later they all had white noise in their ears. I turned to Sirius.
“Bernie wanted to warn me about Elvira,” I said quietly. “But he didn’t want me telling anyone because, if what she’s planning doesn’t work because he told me, she might take it out on him.”
“But you’re telling me?” he asked, his eyebrows raised.
“Yes,” I said. “I told him I would. If he’s going to be whispering in my ear then it’s only fair that you know what it’s about. And it’s not like you haven’t trusted me with your secrets. But yeah, he’s a bit worried about being targeted, apparently the gigglers are getting vicious.”
“What are they planning?” he asked.
I shrugged. “He was pretty vague. Something about switching Potions ingredients around so my potion explodes, or hitting me with Bubotober pus. And, well, there have been other things.”
“Like tampering with your broom, you mean,” he said darkly.
I nodded. “Yeah, he thinks that was probably them,” I admitted. “But he’s going to keep an ear to the ground and tell me if he hears anything concrete.”
“And that’s it?” he asked. “That’s all he wanted you for?”
“Why, what else would he want?” I asked.
He looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, we all know he fancies you …”
I looked at him in surprise. “Sirius Black, are you jealous?” This was almost beyond belief.
“Not at all,” he said quickly, almost too quickly. “But I haven’t forgotten that he was very quick to try to claim you back in January.” He put a protective arm around me.
“And that was over two months ago,” I pointed out. “I think he’s over it by now. Anyway,” I went on, changing the subject, “I’m not going to say that you can’t tell this lot what’s going on. I think that it’s reasonable that they know. I’ve kept my side of it by only telling you – if you choose to share this information, though, then I can’t help that.”
He nodded as I waved my wand at the others, reversing the spell. “Thanks for that,” I told them. “Now, what’s food is left? I’m starving.”
I got through the remaining week or so of term without getting jinxed, or at least jinxed in any significant way. The Easter holidays, however, came up almost before I was ready for them, and were much more of a job to get through than I had anticipated. Trouble was, I wasn’t used to being alone anymore. I was far too used to having Sirius around all the time, every day, and not having him there was a trial I would have preferred going without. After I’d been home only a couple of days I was already lying to my parents again, which I was getting unnervingly comfortable doing, when I told them I was off to town for the day to have a bit of a wander through Muggle shops.
Like what had happened at Christmas time, I was really spending the day with Sirius, who was perfectly confident Apparating the hundred-plus miles from London to Bristol, and we found a quiet spot overlooking the harbour, hidden when necessary by Disillusionment Charms and enjoying each other’s company in the March sunshine. Like what had happened at Christmas, too, the day felt like it was over before it had begun, and it was far too soon that we were saying goodbye and hoping that I would be able to make it to London the following week, as getting away from my family for even half a day over the long weekend would be almost impossible.
The problem was, I found, that even though my presence was required at home I was having awful difficulties concentrating on what was going on around me. By Good Friday I missed Sirius so much that it hurt – it was like I was an addict who had been forced to go cold turkey, and it was incredibly difficult. Especially since I couldn’t talk to anyone about it, save the odd letter to and from Mary and the other girls – and, of course, to Sirius. I hadn’t realised just how much I’d relied on seeing him every day, how I’d depended on those hours we spent together to get me through the week, until it was taken away from me by the new horror that was school holidays, stretching out unendingly before me.
Mary, fortunately, was as good as her word and the day after Sirius’ visit the following letter arrived from her.
I hate to bother you like this, especially since you see so little of your mum and dad, but Ma and I are in a fix and were wondering if you might be able to help out? It’s just that we’re trying to get some things sorted for Andrew’s wedding this July and I can’t help but remember that you had some great comments and ideas from Gwendolyn’s wedding last summer. So, if it’s not too much trouble, do you think it would be possible to come and visit us for a couple of days? Just while we get all this sorted out, of course, no longer.
Ma and I were thinking that maybe two-three days, say next Tuesday to Thursday, would probably do us the world of good and would really help us out in a big way. I’m happy to get Ma to write directly to your parents if that would be more likely to make them let you come, but hopefully this wee note will be enough. Pretty please? With a cherry on top?
Write back as soon as you can with an answer, and hopefully we’ll be able to see you on Tuesday next week.
Smiling to myself at how good Mary was at wording things, I immediately organised permission to go – though my parents, particularly Mum, were obviously a little disappointed I would be leaving them during the holidays as they saw so little of me to start with. I even sent Cerridwyn off to Sirius with the good news before I’d confirmed with Mary that I was coming, that's how excited (and preoccupied) I was. The knowledge that I would be able to see him again before school went back, even if it wasn’t for another week, kept me going throughout the long weekend. While I rued this need for deception, I realised that even if Mum and Dad knew about Sirius, there's no way I would have been allowed to stay with him, so it would have been happening anyway. Sometimes, you just have do make your own decisions in life.
Author’s note: I’m well aware that this story is dipping a little at the moment and it probably doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere any more. And maybe that’s right – I’m the last person who should be judging the quality of my storytelling. I would like to say though that I do have a couple of things up my sleeve which are coming up shortly so hopefully you will bear with me … there are just over 10 chapters to go before the end and there’s a fair bit to cover in that time so I am hopeful that these last few, which I know are a bit filler-ish, haven’t put you off too much.
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