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Chapter 57 : Settling the score
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“Elvira Vablatsky,” I said without preamble as I went inside. “And Greta Catchlove. Possibly there are more, but those are the two I think were responsible.”
She looked confused. “Responsible for what, Miss Cauldwell?”
“Hexing my broom,” I explained. “I confronted Elvira and she didn’t deny it. And I want her to be punished.”
She looked at me wryly. “This doesn’t have anything to do with any notes that were confiscated by Professor Penrose this morning, does it?”
I faltered. She knew about that? News did travel fast at Hogwarts. “Well, yes,” I admitted. “I’ve had enough. She’s been making my life hell all year and that was the last straw.”
“And you’re sure about the broom?” she prodded.
“I think so,” I said. “I asked her what would happen if Professor Dumbledore got the Veritaserum out and she did look worried.”
McGonagall nodded. “Well, I will advise the Headmaster and also Professor Flitwick of your allegations. Should they prove accurate, it will naturally be up to Professor Flitwick to decide on the nature of the punishment, as he is their Head of House.” She paused, looking at me over her glasses. “Thank you, Miss Cauldwell.”
I nodded, feeling better already. It was amazing how cathartic telling on someone could be. “Thanks, Professor.”
Of course, news may travel fast at Hogwarts, but it also passed quickly into the ether as it was replaced by more interesting gossip. Before long most people seemed to have forgotten about the whole episode with Elvira and Carol and my alleged dalliance with Bernie Carmichael. The fact that not only had Sirius and I not broken up but had actually come through it potentially stronger than we were already appeared to have stymied the fan club for a while, who were conspicuous by their inaction. This of course was a welcome change, and we were able to spend the time previously spent fending off various insinuations and the like in a more productive manner – that is, actually studying. (And if you thought I meant something else … for shame on you!) After all, NEWTs were approaching at a rate of knots and I was very keen to keep on top of everything, which was much harder for me to achieve than it was for someone like Sirius.
Having said that, there were still the occasional side trips, usually inspired by Sirius who, even without the still-confiscated Marauder’s Map, still knew every nook and cranny of the castle and grounds and was slowly introducing me to them. Not only was I now on first name terms with the house elves in the kitchen, but I could dart down any one of over a dozen secret passageways when trying to avoid someone or when running late to class, head into Hogsmeade whenever I liked, or find secluded corners of the corridors or greenhouses that were almost invisible unless you knew exactly where to look. The boys had really gone to great lengths to find out as much about the castle and grounds as they possibly could and I felt honoured that they were sharing this considerable knowledge with me.
Naturally, I did most of these things in Sirius’ company. One such excursion happened one Tuesday morning as we were leaving Herbology, when he steered me not towards the castle but across the lawns, past the Whomping Willow.
“Come on,” he said, “I want to show you something.”
I was somewhat confused but allowed myself to be led, overriding any possible objections in my head by telling myself that we had no more classes until after lunch, more than two hours away.
“Where are we going?” I asked, not entirely sure I wanted to know the answer.
“The forest,” he said easily, ignoring my involuntary stumble at his words. I’d been inside the forest a few times, not very far and always as part of a Care of Magical Creatures lesson, but as I had no desire to meet hostile centaurs or Acromantulas I had never ventured in there on my own.
“Right.” I was a little unsure but he’d never taken me anywhere dangerous before, so I decided to go along with it. “Why?”
“Got something to show you,” he repeated with a smile. We had reached the edge of the forest and he grabbed my hand as he led me inside. We walked in silence for ten minutes or so, pausing occasionally while he tried to work out his route. Clearly he knew the forest well and was taking me to a particular spot.
Eventually we reached our destination. Even I, who had no idea where we were headed, knew it was the place – a lush green clearing, unusually open to the elements as though the trees had decided to leave it alone. The grass – what you could see of it – was soft and springy and was almost completely covered with wildflowers which had obviously decided that was a good place to bloom, making the air heavy with their perfume.
Sirius took in my smile as I looked around. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” he said quietly. “We found it last full moon – why we’d never spotted it before I have no idea, but then again the centaurs hang around this area a bit so we often stay clear of them.”
“Full moon?” I looked at him sharply. “I thought you went to the Shack for that.” I put my school bag down on a patch of grass and sat down nearby, trying to avoid damaging any of the flowers.
“We do,” he explained, sitting so close to me that our hips were touching. “But really, can you see a werewolf and a stag staying in there all night? No, we come back through the tunnel and wander around in here. Or sometimes around Hogsmeade. Either way, much more room.”
I stared at him, a feeling of horror flooding through me. “But what if you came across someone?”
He shrugged. “We’ve seen people around a few times but that’s what Prongs and I are there for, to stop Moony from attacking anyone,” he said. “No one’s been in any real danger.”
He seemed to be either unaware of or blasé about the risks involved, but I realised that if he didn’t take it seriously now then nothing I said would make a difference. He was a bit stubborn like that. I decided to change the subject.
“Are we likely to run into any centaurs here today?”
He shrugged again. “It’s possible. You can never rule things like that out. But I don’t think we will, I saw some of them this morning on the other side of the forest so hopefully they’ll be hanging around there today. And I can’t smell any sage or mallowsweet burning so that’s a good sign.”
I nodded, having heard about the centaurs’ habit of burning herbs to divine the future. “And what other creatures might we see?”
He was quiet for a bit. “Various birds, of course,” he said eventually. “Thestrals – though neither of us can see those. You know they’re in here though ’cause you see them eating sometimes. Looks a bit freaky, let me tell you. Unicorns, which are more likely to come near if you’re here – they tend to keep well clear of us. A few Hippogriffs, maybe, but they don’t generally come into this area so it’s not very likely. Little things like Bowtruckles and Knarls, of course. We’re not far enough in to disturb the Acromantulas or the forest trolls so don’t worry about them. We might see some Porlocks, they like the grassy spots, but they’re usually scared of people so they’ll probably hightail it out pretty quickly.”
I laughed. “Quite a menagerie then.”
He nodded, smiling. “Yep. Though like I said, most of them are a bit wary of people, so we’re not likely to see much. Oh, and Hagrid might stumble through, I suppose, but you can generally hear him coming from a mile off so I wouldn’t be too worried about that.”
I turned a smiling face to him and he took the opportunity to kiss me, just a brief, gentle kiss that we might exchange in the Great Hall at lunch time, for example. I responded in kind, bringing my hands up to his face, and before long the quick pecks had segued into something deeper, more passionate, and we had fallen backwards and were lying together on the soft grass surrounded by crocuses, our arms around each other.
We didn’t usually succumb to temptation like this in the middle of a school day, but then again we weren’t usually somewhere quite as private as the clearing in the forest was. Sirius clearly intended to make the most of it as after a couple of minutes he started to unfasten the front of my robes. I put my hand on his, shaking my head.
“We don’t always need to do that,” I pointed out, just enjoying the snog without moving on to anything further.
He looked chastened. “No, of course not. I’m sorry.” And to his credit he moved his hand back to my face and smoothed my hair away from my eyes, kissing me again without missing a beat.
Within five minutes I was forced to eat my words, however, as he got me to a point where I was barely able to hold on myself. I pushed his face from mine and looked him in the eye. “I’ve changed my mind.” And I grabbed his hand again and put it on my thigh, underneath my robes, and then reached for his belt.
He grinned mischievously. “You are magnificent,” he whispered, his face two inches from mine, his eyes sparkling.
I smiled back. “I know.”
We headed back to the castle, hoping to get to the Great Hall before lunch break was over so we could get something to eat, as there was no way we would get through double Defence that afternoon without some sustenance first. Fortunately we made it on time, after a quick stop on the lawns not far from the Whomping Willow ensured that neither of us had any grass or petals in our hair or anywhere else that might indicate what we had been doing.
It was a good thing that we managed to eat, we discovered shortly, as Professor Perkins had decided that it was a good time to try duelling again, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying that on an empty stomach.
“With your NEWTs coming up,” she pointed out, “you will be required to demonstrate your duelling ability in the practical component of the exam. It would be useful if we spent a couple of lessons fine-tuning your skills so you can get through that section with a minimum of pressure. Now, if you could please find a partner and some space on the floor, and we will begin on my whistle.” The desks and chairs were again Banished to the walls and we all looked for a willing adversary.
I automatically sought out James, expecting him to partner me as we did in our weekly duelling classes, but when I turned to him he grinned and said, “You and Lily can probably do this yourselves now.” Smiling, I nodded and looked at Lily, who also had the beginnings of a broad smile on her face. This would be our first proper duel since Sirius and James had begun teaching us, and she had clearly been looking forward to it.
Before Perkins had even blown her whistle for us to begin, however, Sirius and James had already provided another distraction. Aware that the duels hadn’t started yet, they began tossing spells at each other almost randomly in what I was sure they would describe as a warm-up. The rest of the class, however, saw it as a proper duel and had stopped to watch, so the boys upped the ante and, grinning broadly and clearly enjoying themselves, treated us to what could only be described as a demonstration event.
“You can’t even see what they’re doing, it’s so fast,” I heard Thalia Strout murmuring in astonishment. “How could you stop them?”
I suppressed a grin. I knew exactly how to stop them, or Sirius in any case. Parts of him were so ticklish that a well placed Rictusempra was pretty much guaranteed to stop him in his tracks, no matter what he was doing. I wasn’t about to mention that, however – like I’d already noted, gossip travelled fast at Hogwarts and if there really were budding Death Eaters in our year, I wasn’t about to give them any ammunition against him.
They fought for a few minutes and Professor Perkins, clearly impressed, began to use them as examples of how everything that should be done in a duel, pointing out different moves so long after they had been finished that we had trouble keeping up with them. Needless to say, James and Sirius soon became the poster boys for duelling and I was sure they would be called on to demonstrate various actions to the rest of us once the class got underway properly. They earned ten points each for Gryffindor just for being brilliant.
Eventually Perkins asked them to stop so we lesser mortals could have a go without distractions, and Lily and I bowed to each other and set to work. I must admit I was pleased with our efforts, and in the corner Sirius and James looked equally impressed. While we still weren’t anywhere near their level we had both certainly progressed, and were able to put on a good enough display for Perkins to award us each ten points for most improved.
“Well done, ladies, you have obviously been practicing since our last duelling lesson,” she gushed. Lily and I just looked at each other and suppressed giggles. If you could call three or four hours a week of intense training ‘practicing’, then yes, that was certainly what we had been doing.
James and Sirius clearly agreed. “Much better,” James said with a grin after we had finished. “Still not perfect, but you’re good enough not to make any stupid mistakes.”
Sirius nodded. “Yep, we might almost let you out in public, where you might need to do it, before too long.”
Lily and I looked at each other again and smiled. If the boys were that happy with our progress, we were probably looking at an O for our Defence practical exam. With Sirius and James as our instructors, we knew that nothing less than that standard would have been good enough.
I noticed Remus and Charlotte had partnered each other and wondered if there had been any progress on that front, or if they were still dancing around each other without really communicating at all. Not seeing any evidence that Remus had actually come clean, I asked Charlotte that night in the dorm.
“He’s been trying to tell me something,” she acknowledged, her head framed from the light of the Gubraithian flame by Mary’s wall. “Every few days he comes over and sits with me and says something like, ‘please don’t hate me,’ but then he can’t go any further. Do you know what it’s about?”
I hesitated. While I knew exactly what was going on, I thought that admitting that probably wouldn’t go down very well. “Not really,” was what I said. “He’s got something on his mind. I’m sure it’s not too bad.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “If it wasn’t bad, then why would I hate him if he told me?”
Martha, who’d been listening to the conversation, laughed. “Come on,” she said. “Do you really think Remus would have any deep, dark secrets? James, Sirius, even Peter I could believe, but Remus?”
Well, that just proved how good he was at hiding things, I thought. Hoping my face didn’t give anything away, I decided to back her up. “It’s Remus,” I said simply. “We know him. It’s like Martha said, he wouldn’t do anything bad.”
Charlotte smiled. “You sound like Lily,” she told me. “She’s been saying the same thing.”
Good, I thought. Weight of numbers. “Well, then,” I said, “we can’t both be wrong, can we?”
“No, probably not,” she admitted. “And you spend much more time with him than I do. It’s just – it’s frustrating,” she said. “I’m getting the feeling that whatever he’s trying to tell me is keeping us apart, but I can’t help if I don’t know what it is.”
“It’s Remus,” Martha repeated. “Like I said, if anyone’s going to be above board, it’s him.”
“That’s right,” I said. “I think you can trust him, Charlotte. Just give him some time.”
A couple of days later, Professor McGonagall came to see me at the Gryffindor table at lunch time. “Miss Cauldwell,” she said, “can you come with me, please?”
I got up to follow her and noticed Sirius had come with me. “What’s wrong, Professor?” I asked.
She looked grim. “Please come to the Headmaster’s office,” she instructed. “Yes, Black, perhaps you should come too.” She walked swiftly up the marble staircase and I hurried after her, completely confused. The Headmaster’s office? What had I done wrong?
McGonagall didn’t elaborate as she led Sirius and me up yet more stairs and finally stopped outside a statue of a gargoyle. “Cockroach Cluster,” she intoned, and the gargoyle moved away from the wall and revealed a winding staircase.
I looked at Sirius and mouthed, “Cockroach cluster?” It seemed to me to be an unusual password for somewhere as austere as the Headmaster’s office. He, however, looked completely unsurprised so I gathered it couldn’t have been that strange a choice. Then again, I reasoned, Dumbledore was in some ways an unusual man, so perhaps it was just one of his quirks.
When we reached the top of the staircase – which moved by itself, rather like a Muggle escalator – Professor McGonagall knocked on the door, then opened it without waiting for an answer. “I have Miss Cauldwell, Professor,” she said tersely. “And Black, who I believe was a witness to the event.”
Already inside and apparently waiting for us were Professors Dumbledore and Flitwick, and Elvira and Greta. With a sudden rush of understanding it was immediately clear to me what this was about – the broom-tampering incident. This would be, for want of a better word, the trial.
“Ah, you are here,” said Dumbledore lightly, as though this was nothing more serious than afternoon tea. “Please take a seat, both of you.”
We obediently sat down on adjacent chairs, and McGonagall took the last remaining seat on Dumbledore’s right.
“You have been called here,” the Headmaster explained, “due to a very serious allegation which was made against Miss Vablatsky and Miss Catchlove. Professor Flitwick has accompanied them as Head of Ravenclaw House.” I nodded – it didn’t seem like I needed to say anything yet. Dumbledore was continuing. “I ask everyone here to think back to Saturday the eleventh of March, and the days leading up to it. Miss Cauldwell, can you please tell me, in your own words, what happened that day?”
“Well,” I said to Sirius on the way back downstairs, “that was painless.”
“More painless than being bucked off your broom, in any case,” he agreed.
“I must admit, though,” I went on, “they surprised me with how quickly they capitulated. I thought they’d deny it or something.”
He laughed. “Really? I didn’t think that was surprising at all.”
I looked at him, confused. “Why not? Didn’t you think they’d try to hedge for a while to get out of it?”
He reached over and gave me a squeeze. “Dumbledore’s a Legilimens, Laura,” he said as though he was explaining something to a three year old.
I was confused again. “A what?”
“A Legilimens,” he repeated, looking at me in surprise. “What, don’t you know what a Legilimens is?”
“No,” I admitted, shaking my head. “I’ve never even heard the word before.”
He paused. “Legilimency is the ability to look into someone’s thoughts,” he said.
“Like reading minds?” I asked, trying to work out what he was trying to say.
He hesitated. “Sort of. Unless you know how to block it, a Legilimens can look inside your head, so to speak, and see what’s foremost in your mind. That’s why no one can ever get away with lying to him, because he can always tell.”
“Oh.” This was a reasonable amount to take in, and I really wasn’t sure that I liked the idea of the Headmaster probing my thoughts like that. “Is that what he’s doing when he gives you that really intense, penetrating stare? He’s looking inside your head?”
Sirius nodded. “Something like that. And I think those two gigglers worked that out pretty quickly, that there wasn’t any point in lying to him.”
“Well, they are in Ravenclaw,” I acknowledged. “What do you think will happen to them?”
He shrugged. “Search me. I doubt they’ll be expelled, because Mulciber wasn’t, and neither was Avery. And neither was I, for that matter. A prank that could result in death isn’t the same, in Dumbledore’s eyes, as a prank that does. But really it’s up to Flitwick.”
I giggled suddenly. “They had a rather nasty time in there, though, didn’t they? When they tried to convince Dumbledore that we’d been going outside the rules?”
He laughed. “But we have,” he said. “Oh, did you mean anything they’d know about? Yes, that was good. I doubt they’ll forget that in a hurry. What did Dumbledore say again? ‘Sorry, Miss Vablatsky, but it is not the policy of Hogwarts School to punish people for falling in love,’” he quoted, doing a surprisingly good impersonation of the Headmaster in the process. “At least now the staff know this whole thing was just jealousy on their part. With any luck, it’ll blow over in no time.”
The following week found me in the common room, knee deep in homework. It was getting towards the end of May and with everything that was going on, from the loss of Mary to Sirius to the fan club shenanigans, I was having some difficulty keeping up with it all. Sirius had agreed to leave me alone for a while so I could get some assignments finished so I was surprised when, about three quarters of the way through my essay, he joined me at my table in the common room, taking the seat opposite.
“Homework,” I said, scribbling down another sentence before I lost my train of thought. “Remember? I told you I had to finish this.”
“That’s right,” he said, leaning back on two legs of his chair and looking like he was going to settle in for the long haul. “Well, don’t mind me then.” He pulled a rather tattered-looking motorcycle magazine out of his bag and started flicking through it.
Before long, however, he’d given up on that and was alternately playing footsies with me underneath the table, or reaching across it to push my hair out of the way. It was distinctly annoying and after a while I gave up trying to ignore it and glared at him instead.
“Stop that, would you?” I asked, trying to reach past him so I could get my Rune Dictionary. “I need to get this finished.”
He pouted at me. “I’m bored.”
“I gathered that,” I said dryly. “How about you go find James and bug him instead?”
“He’s with Lily,” he said.
“All right, Remus then.”
“Hospital wing,” he said. “He’s still a bit beat up from last night.”
Of course. I’d forgotten it had been a full moon. I was a bit annoyed with myself for being so insensitive but then again my essay wasn’t writing itself and it was getting late.
“Peter?” I asked.
“Extra Astronomy lesson,” Sirius responded. He jerked his thumb at my essay. “Come on, that can wait, can’t it?”
“No, it can’t,” I said rather irritably. “It’s due tomorrow, and I don’t want to have to rely on that free period beforehand. Because knowing you you’ll want to do something and if I say no you’ll keep on bugging me like you’re doing now.”
He paused, obviously thinking, before his face cleared and he beamed across the table. “Well, let me help then,” he said brightly, as though that was the most brilliant idea he’d ever had. “Which one is it?”
“Ancient Runes,” I said. “Remember? That subject you don’t do?”
His face fell again. “That’d be right,” he complained. “How much more do you have to write?”
I looked at my parchment. “About six inches,” I said. “And the more you distract me, the longer it will take me to write it.”
“So why didn’t you do that last night?” he asked.
“Because I was finishing my essays for Charms, Transfiguration and Herbology last night,” I pointed out, more tetchily than I’d meant. “Besides, I’ve got that much to do that if I’d tried to finish it all last night, I think I would have been up even later than you were.”
He looked slyly at me. “How do you know how late we were?”
“I don’t,” I said with some frustration. “I’m guessing. Now will you please be quiet so I can finish this?”
He pouted again. “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Go find Snape or someone.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Snape?”
“Yeah. Give him a flamingo neck or something. That should take up some time.”
“I thought you were trying to stop us from hexing him too much,” he said with a sly grin.
“Yes, well, when I need to get this finished and you’re not letting me, I’m prepared to make that sacrifice,” I said pointedly. “Besides, Lily’s so sick of him trying to talk to her all the time I thought it might distract him.”
“Okay, okay, I get the hint,” he grumbled. “I know when I’m not wanted. I’ll go.” And he stood up and started to walk towards the portrait hole, only to pause half way across the common room, turn around and come back.
I looked up at him wryly. “That was quick.”
“I didn’t want to leave you,” he said, taking the seat opposite again and reaching for my hand so he could kiss it. "So I’ve come back to beg your forgiveness and ask if I can stay.” He gave me his most winning look. “Please?”
I gave up. Let’s face it, I could never hold out against him for too long, particularly not when he was saying things like that and looking at me so hopefully. “You can stay,” I said, “but you just need to stop touching me for a spell so I can finish up.”
He raised his eyebrow again. “And how am I supposed to be near you and not touch you? That’s asking the impossible.”
Smiling at the compliment, I thought about that. “Full body bind?”
“It’d work, though,” I pointed out. “Come on, I’ve only got six inches to go, it shouldn’t take too long – if you’d just let me do it. Please? I really want to get something better than a T for this.”
He accepted defeat. “All right. I’ll try to behave. So now I can stay?” He looked at me expectantly.
“Yes, you can stay,” I said wearily. “But if you’re going to be here you can at least make yourself useful. Hand me that book on the top there, please, would you?”
Even with these little separations so I could catch up with my schoolwork, however, everything went haywire for me the following day after a nasty altercation in the dungeon. We had just finished a rather gruelling double Potions class in which we had attempted to make a Mandrake Restorative Draught (which was rather more difficult than any of us had anticipated), and I headed out of the room with Sirius, James, Lily, Remus and Charlotte. The boys were going to see Lily, Charlotte and me off at the library so we could get some revision done, but on the way out James just couldn’t resist sending a passing shot at Snape, who had looked hopefully at Lily once again as she passed him.
“Ah, Snivellus,” he said with mock politeness as Snape, alone at the Slytherin table, packed up his cauldron and school bag with his eyes still pleadingly on Lily, “I thought you were asked to stay away from the Head Girl?” He paused, a broad grin on his face. “By the Head Girl, if I’m not mistaken.”
Lily, who had been glaring at Snape, turned her attention to James and looked just as annoyed with him. “Why do you always need to push him?”
James pretended to think about that. “It’s just the fact that he exists, I think …”
We all laughed, remembering the argument by the lake back in fifth year. So much had changed since then, and Lily’s expression softened as she looked at James.
“Not much of an existence, though,” I pointed out as we followed Lily to the door, not thinking that he could probably hear me. “In Slytherin, ugly, greasy hair, no friends, Death Eater wannabe …”
Our laughter was interrupted by Severus, who made an angry hissing noise that echoed through the dungeon before uttering a curse I’d not heard before. I felt a burning sensation around my ribcage and blood was gushing from fresh wounds in my left arm and side. Before I could articulate anything, however, I felt myself go dizzy and collapsed on to the floor of the dungeon, knowing no more.
Author’s note: I hate this chapter. There are bits in it that I like, and bits which are important, but overall it reads horribly – the segues are stilted, the narrative feels forced, and the flow is terrible. However, a week ago it read MUCH worse than it does now, and I don’t think I’ll be able to improve on it any more in the short term, so I’ve posted it.
Oh, and Laura’s not dead, just in case you were wondering. She got hit with Sectumsempra and quite frankly she’s felt better, but no, this isn’t my way of ending the story. There’s still a little bit to go.
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