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Chapter 59 : NEWTs
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I was very grateful that I didn’t do Astronomy, because that was the only exam held on the first day. Actually, to be precise, the theory exam was held on the first day, but the practical was that night at midnight. I didn’t appreciate Martha charging around the dorm on her way out when I was trying to get to sleep, but at least I wasn’t the one who had to go. If nothing else, I probably would have fallen asleep half way through, due to both the tediousness of the subject matter and the fact, even with my strength pretty much returning, that I was still getting tired more easily than I’d done previously. Not that I admitted this, mind: Sirius was overprotective enough as it was without me giving him further ammunition.
My first exam was held the next morning. Ancient Runes was one of the few NEWT subjects that only had a theory exam but no practical one – something I hadn’t realised when I chose it as a subject, but that I was revelling in now – and, unlike the previous year, I managed to get through without any mistranslations that necessitated an entire re-write of the exam paper.
“That wasn’t too bad,” I said to Remus as we left the Great Hall. “It wasn’t brilliant, but I reckon I passed.”
He laughed. “Yes, one down, ten to go.” Which was correct, if you counted each theory and practical session as a separate exam.
“Thanks for reminding me,” I said, pouting. “I was all ready to just enjoy the fact that this one’s over, and you had to bring up the rest of them.”
“Well, considering the next one is right after lunch, I thought you might need the reminder,” he pointed out. “Though it looks like we might have another distraction anyway ….”
I followed his gaze to the courtyard outside, which appeared to have been covered in streamers. It also featured the occasional puddle, which was surprising as it hadn’t been raining. A look at the sky above the courtyard, however, solved the mystery very quickly – Peeves, who was also clearly responsible for the streamers as, now I could see them better, they spelled out rather rude words, was having a lovely time dropping water balloons on people.
“Really?” I asked as we joined the throng on the edge of the courtyard, out of range of the balloons, watching the spectacle. “Second day of exams, and he’s doing this?”
“Be thankful it’s only water balloons,” came Sirius’ voice from behind us. “He was threatening to drop the bust of Falco Aesalon on a bunch of third-years the other day. Prongs said McGonagall had all sorts of trouble coaxing him out of it.” He put an arm around me. “How’d the exam go?”
“Fine,” I said with a smile. “No monumental stuff-ups this year, and I didn’t get tired halfway through. I thought that was a good start.”
“Yes, well, you’ve got Herbology this afternoon, so you’d better get some rest now,” he said sternly. And there I’d been, thinking that me saying I didn’t get tired would reassure him rather than give him cause for concern. I’d have to try something else if I wanted him to leave me alone on that score. “Come on, we’ll leave the Head Boy to try to deal with Peeves,” Sirius went on. “And if he can’t do it, well then we’ll just have to make sure he hears about it for the next month.”
After breakfast the following day, those of us who did Herbology waited patiently in an empty classroom on the ground floor while the Great Hall was set up for the practical exam. The room was filled with an eerie quiet, punctuated only by people muttering things under their breath, trying to remember every little bit of information they could.
Like the theory exam had been the previous afternoon, the test itself wasn’t particularly onerous. We were led into the room in pairs, me alongside Gertie Cresswell, and matched with an examiner who asked us to do things like prune a Devil’s Snare without raising its ire, attempt to breed a Venemous Tentacula, and identify the bulbs of a Bubotuber from those of a Mimbulus Mimbletonia.
Once Sirius and I had been let out, we waited as the others joined us one by one. Finally James, as a P the latest in the alphabet out of all of us, exited the Great Hall and, joined by Martha, Charlotte and Peter, we headed as a group down to the beech tree by the lake, where Lily and James had had their shouting match two years previously. The mood was rather different this time as James and Sirius weren’t in the middle of a hex battle with Snape, and we spread out in the shade, our bags sitting randomly on the grass, and chatted amongst ourselves.
“Well, I thought that was a piece of cake,” James said easily, his arms around Lily, who was sitting directly in front of him. “What about you, Lils?”
Lily considered. “It could have been worse,” she said. “At least I didn’t get attacked by the Devil’s Snare. Unlike Maggie Flint.”
Sirius laughed. “Is that what happened? I wondered why you all got held up.” He was leaning against the tree trunk, me lying down with my head in his lap as he stroked my hair absently.
“Devil’s Snare?” James asked incredulously. “But we learned how to deal with that in, what, first year? How thick does she have to be to get attacked by it now?”
“She tripped over it,” Lily explained, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a giggle. “It didn’t seem to like that much. And then a Screechsnap followed her as she tried to run out of the hall. It was hilarious.”
We all shared a laugh at the thought of Maggie Flint being chased through the Great Hall by a wayward plant, but sobered up remarkably quickly when Remus cleared his throat.
“So what’s next?” he asked, looking unusually distracted as he pulled some books out of his bag. “I should probably try to get some revision in.”
“Charms,” Charlotte said promptly. “Theory this afternoon, practical in the morning.”
“Do we know why they’ve done it that way?” Martha asked. “Every other year, it’s been theory in the morning, practical in the afternoon. Why spread it out over two days like this?”
Lily shrugged. “Not sure,” she admitted. “I think it had something to do with when the plants could be taken out of the greenhouses, that sort of thing. They had scheduling nightmares, apparently.”
“And at least they took some pity on us,” James said, smiling broadly. “Nothing on the first Monday morning or the last Friday afternoon, no matter what subjects you had. That has to count for something, doesn’t it?”
“And nothing on the morning after the Astronomy practical exam,” Peter added. “I for one thought that was fantastic scheduling.”
James chuckled. “You would, Wormtail. I’ve never met anyone who needs quite as much sleep as you seem to.”
“But Ancient Runes was on then,” I said, propping myself up on my good arm and looking confusedly at Peter. “Astronomy was Monday night, right? Well, we had Runes on Tuesday morning. So there was one organised for then.”
Lily shrugged again. “Probably there weren’t any crossovers,” she said. “You know, no one who does Runes did Astronomy as well, so it wasn’t an issue.”
“Yeah, okay, fair enough,” I acknowledged, lying back down again. “That makes sense.”
“They’ve only broken it up for the first week, too,” Martha added, looking at the exam timetable. “Next week it’s theory in the morning, practical in the afternoon, just like every other year.”
“And it’s Charms next,” Charlotte repeated, clearly noticing that Remus was still looking flummoxed.
“Right.” Smiling a little in thanks, Remus dug around his bag, found The Standard Book of Spells Grade Seven and his Charms notes and started flicking through them.
“Good idea,” I said, lifting my head to see where my bag had ended up. Finding it nearby, I pulled out my copy of the same book, wincing slightly as the muscles in my left arm twinged. “Sirius, would you test me please?”
“Of course,” he said easily, taking the book from me and scanning the index, holding it so I couldn’t see the pages. “Right, what’s the definition of a Disillusionment Charm?”
Like Herbology, Charms was fairly straightforward as far as the exams went, and even though I was still tiring a little I didn’t feel I exerted myself too much in either of them. I was grateful, however, for the afternoon off after the Charms practical exam – Muggle Studies was being held then, and I was happy to comply with Sirius’ not-so-subtle suggestion to escape to the dorm for a couple of hours and just relax.
“It’s not the same without you,” I told Mary’s wall, looking at a photo that was eye level with me as I sat on my bed. “There was a gap in Herbology where you should have been, and I wanted to show you my Impeturbable Charm.” I went over to the wall and picked up the everlasting candle. “We still miss you,” I whispered. “But at least they’ve caught the low-life scum who did this to you. They’ll be sent to Azkaban, I know it. And maybe then we’ll get some closure.”
I was interrupted by the dormitory door opening, and Charlotte coming into the room. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“Having a rest,” I said. “Sirius’ orders. Though you’ve got to love the irony, really – climbing seven flights of stairs in order to rest.”
She giggled, though quickly adopted a look of concern. “Are you still getting tired?”
“Sometimes,” I admitted. “It’s much better than it was, but it’s still there. I don’t really want to tell him, though, because he fusses about me enough as it is.”
“You’ve got a point there,” she said, smiling broadly. “Okay, I won’t say a word. You have my promise.” She paused, looking around the dorm and glancing through the open bathroom door before speaking again. “Isn’t anyone else in here, though? I thought I heard voices.”
“Oh, that was me,” I said a little shyly. “I was talking to Mary. I do that sometimes.”
She nodded. “I do too,” she said. “I think we all do. Only when we’re alone, but we do it.”
“It just feels weird, not having her doing the exams too,” I said. “It’s like there’s this big hole that shouldn’t there.” I put the candle back in its place, feeling a little embarrassed to be talking like this. Fortunately Charlotte understood.
“And she should be downstairs right now doing the Muggle Studies exam,” she went on. “Yes, I know.”
I giggled suddenly, lying on my stomach and looking at her. “Not that she’d mind missing that,” I said. “She hated Muggle Studies. She thought it was fun at first, but she didn’t like the last year or so. Said it was getting too overwhelming. If Sirius and James weren’t in the class to lighten it up a bit, I think she might have dropped out entirely.”
Charlotte looked surprised. “I never knew that!”
I shrugged. “She didn’t tell many people. I dare say Sebastian knew, and Sirius and James certainly did because I think they bore the brunt of her complaints about it, but she could be a bit, well, secretive, for want of a better word.” I sighed, rolling onto my back. “Her mum did SO well here that Mary didn’t like people to know when she was struggling. She felt like she wasn’t living up to expectations.”
Sitting on her own bed, Charlotte shook her head in astonishment. “You live with someone in the same room for seven years, and you find out you barely know them,” she murmured. “I had no idea.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said reassuringly, propping myself up again. “She was happier that way. And it wasn’t a huge thing with her, just one of those family things that we all have. You know, like me not being allowed to have a boyfriend this year.” I giggled. “Because that’s worked so well as a rule.”
She looked at me. “When are you going to tell them?”
I shrugged again. “Graduation? Once I get home? Haven’t really decided, to tell the truth.”
“And what do you think will happen to you?”
“I have no idea,” I admitted. “The main thing is getting through these exams and doing as well as I can. Because if I pass, and pass well, then their argument becomes irrelevant. If it doesn’t affect my grades, then they’ve got no grounds to complain.”
“You sound pretty sure of yourself,” she said with a grin.
“I think I have to be,” I said. “It’s got to come out eventually, so I need to have an argument ready as to why it doesn’t matter.”
“At least you’ve got that to worry about,” she said dryly. “I’d love to be in that situation.”
My heart sank. He still hadn’t told her. After everything that had happened this year, he still hadn’t found the courage to say it. “I’ve tried, Charlotte,” I said sadly. “I’ve done what I can.”
“I know,” she said. “I just wish I knew what it was all about.”
I grinned suddenly, propping myself up on my right elbow. “Well, how about we put that exasperation to good use?” She looked at me, clearly confused. “We’ve got Defence on tomorrow,” I explained. “Practical Defence exam. If that’s not a good place to get some frustration out of your system, I don’t know what is.”
Understanding danced across her face and her eyes sparkled behind her glasses. “Want to practice?”
“Better not,” I admitted. “I’m supposed to be resting and all, remember? But I’m sure we can rope Martha in. Let’s go find her, shall we?”
I’d been looking forward to the Defence exams, particularly the practical one. The training Lily and I had been doing for the past few months had given me a real boost of confidence, despite how easily fatigued I was at the moment, and I was sure I would be able to deal with anything the examiner sent my way.
First, though, we had the theory exam, which was held right after breakfast. Sirius had been keen to get me eating as much protein as possible to give me energy for what was ahead, and so filled my plate with eggs, bacon, sausage and kippers, ignoring my protests that I would have preferred toast.
“You need to have your strength up for today,” he pointed out, taking away my pumpkin juice and pouring me a coffee instead. “We don’t want you collapsing half way through the exam. So eat, okay?”
Figuring it was easier than arguing with him, I set to work on my over-large breakfast and managed to eat far more than I’d anticipated. Finally I pushed my plate away, finished the dregs of my coffee, and turned to Sirius.
We all headed off to the classrooms that doubled as waiting rooms – needing more than one due to the extremely high numbers of students taking the subject that year – and talking quietly among ourselves as the Great Hall was put into its exam configuration. I was more confident for this exam than I had been for any of the others, even Herbology, simply because of the time I’d spent with Sirius and James, and their vast knowledge and experience of the subject matter. Injuries and fatigue notwithstanding, I felt that there was nothing that could be asked of me that day that I wouldn’t be able to fulfil.
As I’d thought, the theory component wasn’t easy, but I didn’t have any particular difficulties getting through it. I knew enough about things like Patronuses and the like to rattle off the theory without even thinking, and my knowledge of Unforgiveables and other Dark spells had increased a hundredfold since what had happened to Mary.
The practical exam was even better. I’d really been looking forward to this one because, if I thought I got through it all right, then I knew I would be more confident about fighting when I got out into the real world. Fortunately, the duelling lessons and other time spent with James and Sirius paid off – not only did the half hour with the examiner feel closer to five minutes, but I pulled off each and every spell and defensive move that was asked of me, first time every time. It was exhilarating, made even the more so when I was able to look at Greta, at the next table, when casting some of the nastier hexes on the spiders provided for the purpose. If nothing else, it was wonderful to be told to put a Shield Charm between us. It looked like having our surnames so close together alphabetically could be a blessing as well as a curse after all.
“How did you go?” Sirius asked as I came out of the Great Hall that afternoon, glowing.
“Fantastic,” I said, sitting down next to him in the room set aside for those people who had completed their exams. “It was brilliant. Didn’t miss a trick. Even with only one arm, effectively.” As a lingering effect of the attack on me a couple of weeks previously, my left arm was still sore and couldn’t really be used in any useful way. Fortunately, once I explained this to my examiner (on the advice of Professor McGonagall) she agreed to take it into account in the marking process. I grinned. “And I had a lovely time looking at Greta over the examiner’s shoulder when I was casting Stunners and the like on those poor spiders. It was very therapeutic.”
“Good on you,” he said, laughing a little. “I knew you could do it.”
“Well, what it means is, I’ll be able to hold my own out there,” I said. “I might even be able to make a difference if I can fight properly.”
His face fell again. “You’re not back on that, are you?” he said, clearly disappointed. “I thought that with Mary’s killers arrested, you might not be so keen.”
“Mary died,” I said defiantly. “Absolutely needlessly, too. I want to help make sure that that doesn’t happen to anyone else.”
He sighed. “Can we talk about this later?”
“There’s not much ‘later’ left,” I pointed out. “In another fortnight we’ll be just about ready to board the train home again, and then it IS the real world that we’ll be living in. And I’ve told you I want to fight. Why should that change just because an arrest or two were made?”
“But I want you to live,” he said quietly. “Is that too much to ask?”
“Same goes for you,” I pointed out, “and you’re going to fight. What makes me so different?”
“Because if something happens to me, it doesn’t matter,” he said, like he was explaining something obvious to a three year old.
I stared at him. “What do you mean, it doesn’t matter?” I asked incredulously. “Of course it matters! That would kill me, if anything happened to you.” I paused. “Never think that you don’t matter,” I went on quietly. “You matter more than anything. You should know that.”
He just shrugged, and I knew that this was a fallback from being rejected by his family. I wondered if he would ever get over that, if he would ever understand that he was in fact worthy in his own right. Some wounds take a long time to heal.
The second week of exams was much less stressful, for me at least. I’d got most of my subjects out of the way in the first week, leaving only Transfiguration and Potions. Admittedly these were probably the two most difficult subjects to master (unless you were James and Sirius for the former, or Lily for the latter), but at least it meant that I could focus all my revision time on just those two. This made my week much easier than Martha’s, for example, who had Care of Magical Creatures, Transfiguration, and Arithmancy, or Charlotte’s, whose timetable didn’t feature Care of Magical Creatures but included Divination and Potions. Given the choice, I much preferred my schedule over theirs.
The Transfiguration exam wasn’t till Wednesday, so I had all weekend and Monday and Tuesday to prepare for it. Unfortunately, for this one Sirius wasn’t as much help as you might have thought, because he knew it all so well that he sometimes had trouble explaining exactly how it worked.
“But isn’t it obvious?” he asked one day as I was trying to work out how he applied the theory of human Transfiguration to doing it in practice. “Look, any of this stuff has to be done by instinct, otherwise it’s not going to work.”
“But how does that work?” I asked. “What if you don’t have the right instinct? Does that mean I’m going to fail if I can’t just sense it?”
“Well, I guess instinct can be taught,” he said doubtfully, frowning slightly. “Wormtail didn’t seem to have much to start with. But those theory books, they don’t really teach Transfiguration the way I learned it.”
Well, that was a useless conversation. I would never be fully confident about any aspect of human Transfiguration (even those things I had done well enough on in my OWLs to pass) with that sort of vague advice. Frustrated, I approached Peter.
“I don’t really know,” he said vaguely when I asked how to get what Sirius called the instinct. “It was so long ago now that I don’t really remember. Laura, that was fifth year. I’ve done it so many times now that it’s second nature.”
“No hints?” I prodded. “No little things that you can remember? No tips or tricks?”
He shook his head. “Sorry. Like I said, it’s kind of second nature by now. I honestly don’t remember how I learned it.”
Again, not much help. With nothing else to fall back on, I reverted to Charlotte’s advice back in fifth year: approach it like Bea was teaching me. I’d not really spoken to Bea much in the past year – obviously she wasn’t at Hogwarts any more, and her job at the Ministry meant that she wasn’t home all that much in the holidays, either – but my years of being the beneficiary of her boredom had to pay off somehow, didn’t they?
Sending Sirius off somewhere with Remus while Peter was doing his Divination exam (and James was, of course, with Lily), I settled down in a quiet corner of the common room to attempt to do some proper revision, safe from any major distractions. Fortunately, the rest of the students were also busy revising for exams, so much so that even Wendy Savage decided she had better things to do than bother me, and I was able to get it done in peace. And, at the end of three or four hours, I thought I had it.
“Get it worked out?” Sirius asked as I joined him at the Gryffindor table at supper time.
I nodded, smiling. “Thanks to Charlotte.”
Charlotte turned to face me, clearly confused. “What did I do?”
I grinned at her. “You helped me out two years ago, and the advice was still good. I think I’m ready for Transfiguration tomorrow now.”
“Oh.” Charlotte still looked confused, but was obviously happy to take the credit. “If it helped, then I’m glad I said it.” She paused. “Whatever it was.”
“Well, it definitely worked,” I told her. “I’m ready to take on the world now. But first, food. I’m starving.”
I admit to having some difficulty getting through the Transfiguration exams the next day, even with the renewed vigour I had from using Charlotte’s advice from OWLs, but then again it was the subject I had the most trouble with in general so that perhaps wasn’t all that surprising. My second hardest subject, Potions, was the next day and I was looking forward to that even less, though fortunately Lily was a much better tutor than Sirius had been.
“Base ingredients first, then auxiliary,” she said like it was a mantra. “Make sure you follow the instructions – read every line twice or three times before you move onto the next one. You don’t want to forget to add the powdered Graphorn to your Mandrake Restorative Draught, do you?”
I shuddered. Larry Gibbon had done just that in class one day, and his potion had ended up smoking rather horribly and leaving a smell rather like burnt cheese. It was distinctly unpleasant and, of course, had ruined his work for that day. The thought of getting a zero for my practical exam did not appeal to me one little bit.
“Good point,” I said. “Right. Base first – and that ALWAYS includes animal parts – and then the auxiliaries, and make sure I read every line three times. I think I can do that.” I smiled at her. “And thanks for not saying it’s all down to instinct. That really doesn’t help.”
She giggled. “James was the same with Transfiguration, unfortunately,” she admitted, launching into a rather good impersonation of her boyfriend. “‘But you just know!’ Completely useless,” she went on in her normal voice. “But we got through okay, didn’t we?”
I grinned. “Yep. And now, just Potions to go, and we’re qualified!!”
She glared at me. “For you, perhaps. I’ve still got Arithmancy on Friday. So no celebrating till after we’ve done that one, okay?”
Somewhat sobered, I nodded. “Of course not. Sorry, Lils.”
Theory of Potions was something I had never really gotten my head around, aside from Lily’s snippets of advice like adding base ingredients first. But the properties of moonstone or how hellebore will react when combined with aconite were things that I had never really understood. As a result, I was less than happy with my exam the following morning.
“How’d you go?” Martha asked as we traipsed out of the Great Hall just before lunch and headed out into the June sunshine.
James grinned. “Brilliant, as always.”
Sirius clearly agreed. “It wasn’t all that hard, I didn’t think. I’ll be surprised if I don’t get at least an E for it. And probably an O.”
Martha groaned. “And now I’ll ask some REAL people,” she said. “You know, ones who don’t get Os in everything no matter how little they study.” She turned to me. “Laura?”
I shrugged. “Not great. But not too horribly, either. I had some trouble with how sneezewort reacts to powdered Erumpet horn, but overall I think I passed.”
“That sounds more normal,” she grinned as we all sat down on the banks of the black lake. “How about you, Charlotte?”
Charlotte blushed a little, and I wondered if that had more to do with the fact that Remus was sitting rather close to her than anything else. “I struggled a bit,” she admitted. “I always confuse Boomslang parts with those from regular snakes, and I think I muddled up Roonspoor and Ashwinder eggs.”
Remus laughed. “You know, I think I made that exact same mistake.”
Charlotte grinned, pushing her glasses up her nose and blushing even more. “But that’s only a small bit, right?” she went on. “Hopefully I did well enough with the rest of the paper.”
The practical exam that afternoon was much easier. Yes, the potion itself was incredibly difficult, but as Lily had pointed out, it was only a matter of going through the instructions very carefully and it was hard to completely muck it up. Having said that, however, there was a bit of a commotion when Leda Madley from Hufflepuff managed to melt her cauldron halfway through, so clearly not everyone was as calm as I was.
And then, finally, it was over. Yes, the other girls still had Arithmancy, but for me, school had officially finished. It was the strangest feeling, because it had been my whole life, particularly considering I’d been living at the school for the past seven years, but this was it.
“I can’t really get my head around it,” I admitted to Sirius as we relaxed in the common room after supper that night, free of cares and responsibilities for the first time. “Not having to do anything. It’s weird.”
“That it is,” he agreed. “But I think I could get used to it, don’t you?”
I grinned at him. “It sounds like you’ve got something in mind. Do I want to know?”
He smiled back. “Well,” he began, drawing the word out to be as long as possible, “it did occur to me, that since you’re finished, and Lily’s not, then the Shack might be free tonight …”
I laughed. “Is the Cloak included in this package? Does James know?”
He nodded, his grin widening. “Yep, Cloak and all. So, what do you say?”
I pretended to think about it. “Well, I’m an adult, I’m qualified – assuming I didn’t fail, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t – and I am now entitled to make my own decisions.” I smiled again. “In other words, when do we leave?”
Author’s note: Yes, a bit of an uneventful chapter, but then again it WAS about exams, and don’t you think Laura’s had enough drama in her life lately? Besides, I also had to write it almost from scratch over the past week with the word “NEWTs” my only prompt. If you’re on the forums or on Twitter you may have noticed my progress as I went along. It was quite interesting, actually, because I think that, aside from the one-scene chapters, this is the first one I actually wrote in the same order that it came out in.
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