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What It Is To Burn by SnitchSnatcher

Format: Novel
Chapters: 36
Word Count: 202,129
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong Language, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Lupin, Snape, Sirius, A. Longbottom, Lily, James, Pettigrew, OC
Pairings: Sirius/OC, James/Lily, Remus/OC

First Published: 08/27/2007
Last Chapter: 07/25/2008
Last Updated: 07/25/2008

Summary:
beautiful banner by amanda.la from TDA!









As I opened the door, I turned to Slughorn. “Thank you, Professor.”

“Oh no,” Professor Slughorn replied as he rose from his chair and came to stand beside me, holding the door open for me. “Thank you, Miss Briggs. If it wasn’t for you, Mister Black would be without a Potions partner.” 


Chapter 1: The Light That Blinds
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When you are invisible, people fail to realize that you really are a person with perfectly good hearing - in most cases, that is - and have a fully functioning mind. Therefore, you can hear everything they are saying and commit it to memory.

Though I may not be one for gossip, I have become incredibly gifted in the art of dropping eaves, seeing as how they never seemed to notice that I’m just a few feet away from them with perfectly functioning ears and a sharp mind to boot. Whether I’m walking behind people in the corridors or I’m studying all by myself in the library or doing something that won’t draw unnecessary attention to myself, I’ve always heard things that I knew I wasn’t supposed to her. Over the past six years, I’ve heard things that little gossip-oholics like Rita Skeeter and Bertha Jorkins would simply die to hear.

But since I’m invisible - in the figurative sense, of course, not literally; a potion wasn’t spilled all over my infant body and my father wasn’t an Invisibility Cloak -, no one has ever approached me, asking if I had heard the latest rumor about so-and-so’s relationship going down the tubes for some unknown reason. It’s not because I don’t have any friends, I have a few, but they’re just not…well, close, I guess. They’re more of friendly acquaintances and most of them are just as quiet, if not more, than me. They are the sort of people who don’t want to draw attention to themselves, much like myself. In short, they’re the kind of people I associate with from time to time.

Anyway, getting back to the point. I never participated in those sort of conversations and I never had the desire to. Though I might not know all the dish on some person or another, I did pick up on some things that would answer everyone’s burning questions as to why Benjy Fenwick broke his girlfriend of two years, Addison McDonald’s, heart on the Sunday before last. Of course, I didn’t intentionally listen in to the conversation, but they had quite the row by the lake, where I was sitting underneath one of the great beech trees, reading a book by one of my favorite Muggle authors, William Faulkner. I’m sure if I was anyone else, they would’ve realized that I was present right away, but since I’m something of a nobody, they ripped each others heads off right in front of me. And I’ll be the first to tell you that she is vicious.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that people fail to acknowledge the fact that I’m an actual human being and, even though I might not invisible in the literal sense, I sure as hell feel like I am. It’s almost as though I’ve walked through life with an Invisibility Cloak thrown over my head and a Silencing Charm cast on me to make sure that, even when I did take the rare opportunity and spoke, no one would hear my voice.

Being invisible didn’t bother me - in fact, it was rather nice. I never got pulled into any unnecessary drama and, since I really didn’t have any best or close friends, aside from my twenty year old half brother, Kevin, I was never ‘known by association’. Instead, I was just an unknown and perfectly happy with it…for a while, anyway. Until I realized that maybe it wasn’t so bad having friends. Maybe it wasn’t so bad sticking out a little bit. And maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t kill me if I actually spoke up every once in a while during my classes. This sort of thinking started toward the end of my sixth year, when my half brother got married to his long-time girlfriend, Gwen. It was then, as I watched him plant a big one on her lips as they were pronounced man and wife, I suddenly wanted someone else other than my family members to give a shit about me, to actually notice me and know me for, well, me.

Surprisingly, I actually got my wish - my desire to finally be noticed. I only wish that it could’ve been a more positive situation instead of the one I was unceremoniously thrust into on the afternoon of October the second.

It was a rainy afternoon. The sky outside was a dark, foreboding gray and every so often, a flicker of lightening would flash across the sky and the window panes would shake as an almighty rumble of thunder followed. As the rain beat loudly against the foggy windowpanes, I sat at my customary table in the dusty, dank library, leaning over a book with a roll of parchment smoothed out in front of me and eagle feather quill at the ready: History of Magic was a dreadful subject.

I had been minding my own business, my eyes squinted as I adjusted the reading glasses perched on the bridge of my nose to see the faded, miniscule text on the yellowing page when a particularly loud clap of thunder cracked through the sky and scared the wits out of me. In my fright, I had knocked over my ink well and it splattered all over my nearly finished essay. I cursed under my breath as I hastily grabbed my wand out of my robe pocket and cleaned up the mess as best as I could.

Once I had finished cleaning up the mess with a simple charm, I reached for my quill, only to realize that it wasn’t on the table top where I thought I had left it. I searched the table to make sure it hadn’t rolled underneath any of my papers and, eventually, got down on my hands and knees in order to find it. It wasn’t under the table I was currently occupying, so I crawled across the floor, hoping to Merlin that no one would trip over me and, after a few seconds of searching, I saw the tip of my quill sticking out from underneath the lip of one of the bookcases.

With a heavy sigh, I crawled over to where my quill was to retrieved it. I would’ve gone back to my desk almost immediately, but I heard low and hushed voices and couldn’t resist the temptation. Really, after several years of picking up on things I wasn’t supposed to hear, it became a habit to stop whatever I was doing and eavesdrop. So, still supported on all fours, I listened to the conversation on the other side of the bookshelf.

“We can’t keep this up,” the first voice - female - said.

“Why not?” the second voice asked. This voice belonged to a male.

“Because, we just can’t, all right?” The female replied, her voice burning with desperation. The girl sighed heavily. “It’s not because I don’t want to, it’s just that…well, he’s becoming suspicious. Incredibly suspicious, actually. Always giving me weird looks when I come traipsing through the portrait hole with my hair askew.”

“Who’s suspicious? Sir-?”

“Shhhh!” The female hissed through clenched teeth. “D’you want the whole world to hear you? Merlin, learn to shut your trap for once in your life.”

“Sorry,” the male muttered.

There was a moment of tense silence before the girl spoke again. “Of course I’m talking about him. He’s not as daft as people make him out to be, Amos.”

“So…what are we going to do?” The boy, Amos, asked.

“We’re not going to do anything,” the girl responded in a defiant tone. “If anyone is going to do something, it’s me. I refuse to drag you into this mess.”

“Can’t you just break up with him, Lucy?” Amos inquired.

“No, I can’t,” the girl, Lucy, snapped angrily. “Not now, anyway. Then he’ll know for sure and tell everyone what a horrible girlfriend I am; I’d be ruined!”

“So that’s it then? We’re just going to continue sneaking around all because you are scared that if something like this got out, it would taint your reputation?”

“Yes! That’s precisely why we have to wait until he slips up, Amos," she growled fiercely. “That way, I’ll have an excuse to break up with him, but we have to wait until that happens. It almost sounds like you don’t think the risk is worth it.”

“It’s not that, Lucy," Amos whispered. “I just don’t want to hide the fact that I love you.”

There was a shuffling sound and the girl, Lucy, sighed softly. If I wasn’t mistaken, it sounded as though he had pulled her into a tight embrace.

“I love you, too, Amos, but it’s too risky for me to break up with him now,” Lucy said. “He already doesn’t like you as it is, I don’t want to make things worse for you. And, if he finds out that we’ve been sneaking around for months now, he’ll have both of our heads on a silver platter. Especially if he alerts Potter of the matter and I need Potter on my side as well.”

“D’you really think he’d do something like that?” Amos asked.

“I don’t know, Amos, but I’d rather play it safe.” Lucy heaved a heavy sigh again. “You don’t mind this…do you?”

“’Course not. As long as I get to have you in the end.”

I resisted the urge to gag as I heard Lucy’s lips pull back into a smile. “You will.” She kissed him soundly on the cheek. “I promise.”

Seeing as how that appeared to be the end their conversation, I quickly scrambled to my feet, all but flying back to my table. In my haste, however, I tripped over my own feet and fell flat on my face. My chin hit the cobblestone and my jaw rattled, nearly knocking out several of my teeth. Groaning as white hot pains shot up my jaw, I moved to push myself off the floor when the pair of them came round the bookcase to see what had caused such a loud ruckus.

Both of them gasped as I hurriedly pushed myself to my feet, one of my trainers getting caught in the hem of my robe. I could feel my cheeks glowing red as I attempted to ignore the pain surging through my jaw and kept my eyes focused on the ground.

Caught. I had been bloody caught in the act of eavesdropping.

“How much of that did you hear?” Lucy questioned, her golden eyes blazing with a mixture of fury and fright.

I licked my lips and glanced at Amos, who had taken his spot next to Lucy. Wringing my hands nervously, I chewed the inside of my cheek before answering quietly, wincing as I spoke. “All of it?”

“All of it?” squeaked Amos as Lucy let out a menacing growl, “Did he send you to spy on me?!”

“I didn’t mean anything by it!” I said quickly, shooting a glance at the librarian’s desk. She didn’t seem to have notice. Hm, not entirely shocking. I opened my mouth to say something else when Lucy’s words hit me like a load of bricks. “Wait…what?”

“Did. He. Send. You. To. Spy. On. Me?” Lucy asked through clenched teeth.

“N-no.” I replied, swallowing and fidgeting worse than ever. She stared at me down her long, aristocratic nose as I shook my head frantically. “Honestly! I was just finishing up my Potions essay and the thunder scared me. I knocked over my ink well and lost my quill, which you’re standing on, by the way.” Both Amos and Lucy glanced down at their feet and, underneath Amos’s black shoes was my brand new eagle quill, crushed and rendered useless; damn, that had cost 16 Sickles and 7 Knuts. He quickly picked up his foot and handed the quill back to me, shrugging his broad shoulders in apology; he really was a handsome boy.

“So he didn’t send you?” Lucy asked again.

“I don’t even know who you’re talking about,” I said truthfully.

“Sirius.”

“As in Sirius Black?” I questioned dubiously - I had forgotten that she was dating Black.

“Yes! Who else would I be talking about?” She ground out angrily, looking murderous. “Did he send you?” she added shortly.

Again, I shook my head vigorously. “N-no. He didn’t. I don’t even talk to him; in fact, I’ve never talked to him before. I didn’t even know you two were an…had a thing…well, you know.” My shoulders sagged in defeat.

Lucy raked her eyes over me, as though my appearance would let her know if I was lying or not. Unless she was a skilled Legimens, which was highly unlikely, then she wouldn’t know by simply staring at me. I would’ve pointed this out, but I doubted that she would appreciate it.

I shifted uncomfortably under her intense scrutiny as the storm outside raged, the windows rattling into their panes as rain drops splattered loudly against the foggy panes. The silence between the three of us only intensified as Lucy continued to look me over.

“Who are you?” she asked after a few more minutes of incredibly thick silence.

“W-what?”

“Who the hell are you?” Lucy questioned irritably. “I’ve been trying to figure out what your name is, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you before.”

Ouch, that one hurt. I had only been attending this school for the past six years. But I guess it was my own fault that she couldn’t pin point exactly who I was after a few minutes of concentrated staring.

“Eleanor Briggs.” I answered, shaking my brown hair out of my eyes.

Her eyes flashed down to the breast pocket of my robes, where the crest of my house was located. “Of Gryffindor?”

“The very same.”

“Hmm, never heard of you before.” She shrugged her perfectly round shoulders.

“Well, I’m sure you already know who I am.”

I did, in fact, know who she was. She was Lucinda Matthews, only the most beautiful and popular thing to waltz through the doors of Hogwarts and be sorted into Ravenclaw since…well, ever, I suppose. She was known for being undeniably charming, her family was filthy rich, and it was rumored that she was part veela, seeing as how she was incredibly gorgeous, what with her silky mane of silver- hair, piercing, but glacial blue eyes, and meter-long legs. And there was the small factor that everywhere she went, males seemed to fall head over heels in love with her as she walked by them, her head held high and aristocratic nose in the air. Of course, she knew that she was beautiful beyond all words and, because of that, it made her extremely arrogant and proud - but personally, I think her French heritage might’ve contributed to her haughtiness. She wasn’t exactly the friendliest person to ever walk the planet either.

However, unlike little Miss Matthews, Amos didn’t introduce himself, even though he was known for his manners and politeness. In fact, he hadn’t spoken since he asked me how much of the conversation I had heard. But I already knew who he was, so it didn’t seem all too important from him to make himself known, although it would’ve been polite.

“And,” Lucinda said, her sharp voice catching my attention. “I’m sure you know how much I hate snitches, too. That being said, if I ever find out that you breathed a word of this to-.”

“Don’t worry,” I interjected. She shut her mouth tightly, pursing her full lips and stared at me, her eyes blazing. “I won’t tell Sirius. Or anyone, for that matter.” I tacked on, hoping that would make her happy and she’d let me go.

“You swear it?” Lucinda said.

I nodded. “I promise.”

“You really mean it? We don’t have to do anything for you?” Amos questioned, almost as though he didn’t believe what he was hearing. Lucinda elbowed him in the ribs.

“Not a single thing.”

He seemed to mull this over for a few moments. “If you’re sure…”

“I’m positive.”

Lucinda scoffed and folded her arms over her busty chest, apparently not willing to believe me so easily. I had never lied in my life - well, except for when my aunt caught me with my hand in the cookie jar before dinner and I told her our house elf, Gingy, put me under the Imperius Curse and made me get it for her and on other occasions when I tried to get myself out of particularly sticky situations. I had gotten in quite the load of trouble for that little lie, but honestly, I was nine!

“Don’t think I won’t be keeping an eye on you, Bronze.”

“It’s Briggs. Eleanor Briggs.”

“What makes you think I care?” she snapped impatiently, “If I so much as see you talking to Sirius, or any of his other friends for that matter, you’re going to have me to answer to, you got that?”

“Yes,” I muttered.

Lucy flung her platinum locks over her shoulder. “Remember, Brockner-.”

“It’s Briggs.”

“I don’t care!” she exclaimed, expelling a breath of annoyance. “Just remember that I’m practically royalty in this school and if you so much as think about going against your word, I’ll make you wish that you were never born.”

With that, she turned on her heel and marched out of the library, her long hair billowing behind her gracefully, slamming the door as she exited. I glanced at Amos and he smiled back at me awkwardly. He was a nice guy, Amos Diggory, so how he had managed to get himself involved with someone like Lucinda Matthews was beyond me. I almost felt sorry for him as he gave a small wave and fled the library.

A flash of lightening dashed across the sky, momentarily illuminating the grounds before a deafening clash of thunder followed. I jumped again and quickly returned to my table, gathering up all my belongings. As I rolled up my nearly complete essay and stuffed it into my bag, I marveled at my own intelligence - or lack thereof. Slinging my bag over my shoulders, I made for the exit, sincerely hoping that the old proverb wasn’t true and my curiosity wouldn’t be the end of me, unlike that unfortunate little cat.

Chapter 2: Pretty Handsome Awkward
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The feeling of dread sank like a lead bullet into the pit of my stomach as I made my way toward the Gryffindor common room. Colors swirled before my eyes as I tried in vain to sort out of my chaotic thoughts. I was starting to feel physically sick. Halfway up the third flight of stairs, the bile in my stomach began to burn and I felt sickness coming on. I darted up the remaining steps, careful not to trip myself and flew around the corner.

I stopped, my breath coming in pants as I leaned against the wall. I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the stones supporting me. The cool surface felt remarkably fresh against my hot and clammy skin. The overwhelming urge to toss my cookies was slowly abating as I drew in a few deep and steady breaths.

In the time I had allowed myself to stop running back to the common room, brief flickers of what had just happened flashed before my eyes and I groaned. This couldn’t be happening, not to me anyway. Why did it have to happen to me? That’s what I wanted to know. I had been minding my own business…well, for the most part anyway, but you get the picture, don’t you?

Of course, they had to be conversing about their secret, torrent love affair. Why couldn’t they be talking about the weather and how frightening the storm was? Or something along the lines of…of Quidditch! Yes, that’s it! Why couldn’t they have been discussing the most recent and magnificent plays made by the best players in the league? I’ll tell you why: because I was listening. If it had been anyone else, someone who would kill to have a piece of information like that in their deck of cards, they most likely would’ve been talking about the weather or the difficulty level of their next Charms exam. But of course, since I had decided to ignore my instincts and actually eavesdrop, I just HAD to pick up on something like that.

All I knew was that this whole situation had dragged the one and only thing I had been trying to avoid into the picture. What could that be, you ask? Well, I’ll be kind enough to tell you: Drama. That’s what it brought. If there was one thing above all others I despised, it was drama and I just got myself into a massive pile of it.

Merlin, I was in deep shit. Why couldn’t it have been anyone else? Why did it have to be the residential bitch, Lucinda Matthews? It wouldn’t have been so horrible if it had been anyone else, but I’m actually scared of Lucinda. You think I’m pulling your leg, but I’m really frightened of her. Well, not frightened that’s a bit too extreme, but I am intimidated by her. And who wouldn’t be? She’s beautiful, rich, and incredibly smart. Not to mention insanely popular and a massive bitch.

So there you have it. My honest opinion about Lucinda Matthews. I normally try not to be judgmental, but in her case, I just can’t help it. She glares at you if she doesn’t think you are worthy of her time. I’m sorry, but she’s not the kind of person I would like to associate with, yet here I find myself, stuck in an incredibly sticky situation where I’m the puppet at the end of her manipulative string. And trust me when I tell you that is not a place you want to be.

I may be invisible, but I’m not stupid.

Except for today. I displayed a rather foolish side of myself in the library.

Heaving a small sigh, I pushed myself off of the wall with my fingertips and started to walk back down the empty corridors. Before I could contemplate why the halls would be empty, my stomach gave an uncomfortable flip and I was suddenly remembered why. While everyone else was down in the Great Hall, enjoying their plates of steaming and delicious food, I was wandering the dank corridors, trying to clear my head of all my hectic thoughts, which wasn’t going very well at all.

Sometimes, I wondered why I didn’t listen to my instincts in the library. I mean, you’d think that you would listen to your instincts, since they’re there to guide you in the first place, but I was still trying to decipher the reason why I had blatantly ignored mine as I walked down the length of the dark corridor. My father always told me to never ignore my instincts, even if a part of my mind was telling me to do something. He never clarified if there would be situations in life where I should just throw caution to the wind, but something told me that my decision to “throw caution to the wind” wasn’t exactly the wisest choice I could’ve made and was probably what had gotten me caught.

I shook my head to myself and ran my fingertips over the bumpy surface of the walls for lack of anything better to do. Now that I had gotten over my nauseas, I wasn’t so keen on getting back to the common room just yet. Even though the corridors weren’t the most idyllic place to be, they offered the silence that I needed and, while most people would enjoying their dinner in the Great Hall, there was a chance that someone or maybe a few people might be up in the common room. And I didn’t want to face them. Not now, anyway. Because then, it’d prove that this wasn’t one of my strange dreams that I had from time to time, but was actually happening and I didn’t want to face that just yet.

As I rounded the corner, I collided with a large, warm mass and let out an unattractive squeal/scream as I plummeted toward the ground. And unlike in countless Muggle movies I had seen, no pair of strong arms caught me right before I hit the ground. A pair of incredibly soft lips didn’t brush against mine in an accidental, feather light kiss. Oh no, nothing of that sort happened. Although one thing did happen and that was gravity. I fell to the ground with a dull thud, my tailbone hitting the stone floor seconds before my head. White hot sparks shot before my eyes as pain racked up my spine and a moan escaped my mouth before I was able to stop it.

“Sorry,” I said sheepishly, purposely shaking my dark brown fringe into my eyes. I boosted myself up to my elbows, the back of my head throbbing painfully, and prepared to peal myself off of the floor when a pale hand was thrust into my vision. Deciding that it couldn’t help, I took the proffered hand and allowed them to help me up.

“Thanks,” I muttered, staring at my scoffed shoes as though they were something to look at, even though they really weren’t.

“Not a problem,” a warm, friendly voice said. “It’s my fault I ran into you, actually; I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.”

I chuckled and shook my fringe out of my eyes, which widened at the sight of who was standing before me. My mouth open and closed a few times as I tried to form an intelligent sentence, but I found that I couldn’t. It wasn’t every day that someone like Si-.

Wait a tick…

Oh fuck!

My mouth went dry as I silently cursed all my relatives. Somewhere along the line, one of them had be cursed with the worst luck and passed it down through the generations down to me! This just wasn’t normal! People didn’t experience this sort of bad luck all within twenty minutes! Merlin, Circe, Houdini! Anyone - Dumbledore even! Please tell me that I did not just collide with the very person I was supposed to be avoiding like the Bubonic Plague!

I mean, had life dealt me some cruel hand today or something? Had I done something that pissed off the Fates? Or were the negative remarks I had made against the Divination professor finally catching up with me and nipping me in the ass? Oh bloody hell, why couldn’t I have bumped into one of his dumbass friends? Well, his mates weren’t dumbasses at any rate; on the contrary, they were quite brilliant, save for that Pettigrew bloke; he was a bit lofty…

Focus, Ellen! You can’t keep going off into your own little world whenever you damn well please! You have to pay attention otherwise you will get caught. Damn!

I could feel his eyes upon me, studying my every move. He was waiting for me to say something, obviously, but I was keeping my lips sealed tightly shut. Oh no, I wasn’t going to risk spilling the beans about his cheating girlfriend when I had just sworn to her that I wouldn’t tell a single soul, let alone be caught around her boyfriend. Yet, here I stood, in the middle of a corridor, with Sirius Black staring at me as though his life depended on it.

Like I said earlier; oh fuck.

“Do I know you?” Black asked, not bothering to mask the apparent curiosity in his voice.

“I-I, uh…er,” I trailed off, pushing a hand through my locks out of pure, nervous habit.

A somewhat sarcastic smile pulled at his lips as he raked his eyes over me. What was it with people and their constant stares? And why the hell did everyone think that they were suddenly blessed with the talent of Legimens? Merlin, this was getting annoying.

“I didn’t think so," he said, chuckling softly.

Was he laughing at me? Oh, the nerve of him! Black shook his head casually, his dark locks falling away from his eyes as I stood there, struck dumb not because his hair was incredibly silky, but because he had been laughing at me! “Well, I’m-.”

“I know who you are,” I cut in, not caring to be introduced to him.

“Oh,” Black muttered, briefly dumbfounded. Something in his gray eyes snapped and, oddly enough, something that resembled a frown quirked the corner of his lips downward. “Well, in any case, I don’t know who you are.”

I opened my mouth to introduce myself, even though my gut was telling me not to. It was telling me to turn around and make a run for it. Just take the next corner and fly up the staircases and don’t stop until I reached Gryffindor Tower. But before I could get so much as a breath of air out, Black held up his hand for silence. I furrowed my brow in curiosity.

“Wait!” he said hurriedly. “Don’t tell me!”

“Er…why not?” I questioned, averting my eyes so that I was staring at my uninteresting, completely scoffed shoes. What can I say; it was a nervous habit!

“Because it’s on the tip of my tongue, that’s why," he replied, as though he was trying to recall the name of a particularly nasty flavor of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans he had eaten.

“Um, all right.”

A smile of triumph briefly flashed across his lips before he tapped his index finger against his chin. Wow, I didn’t think that he would put that much thought in it. Most people just didn’t care about me, seeing as how I was nothing of interest. And it wasn’t like I was connected to people who worth knowing and I didn’t possess any spectacular talents - although, I’m extremely talented in Transfiguration and Ancient Runes…not to brag or anything. There was also the fact that I had been extremely anti-social in my first year at Hogwarts, the pivotal year where friendships are formed and your future at the wizarding academy was, seemingly, determined. But it wasn’t like I didn’t have a good excuse for being that way, because I did.

“Aha! I’ve got it!”

The sudden sound of his voice scared the wits out of me and my eyes snapped to his face unwillingly. My heart thrummed wildly in my chest as I waited for him to speak. Maybe he would get it right…oh, who am I kidding?

“Janine Phillips!” Black exclaimed proudly, puffing his chest out a bit.

I knew it; I had to stop putting so much faith in people. “Er…no.”

“No?” he parroted in disbelief.

Slowly, I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Damn, I could’ve sworn that was your name,” Black murmured to himself, looking mildly disappointed in himself. When I opened my mouth to speak again, he held up his hand once more. “Wait! I’m going to figure it out.”

I closed the gaping hole that was my mouth and nodded my head. If he wanted to waste his precious time trying to figure out what my name was, he could do just that. But now that he was distracted, this was my chance to get away. I wasn’t going to stand here much longer and run the risk of being caught by Lucinda, as she never seemed too far away from her ‘precious’ boyfriend, even though she was a cheating little slag…

“Hyacinthine Hubert!” Black said loudly, before shaking his head to himself. Hmm, maybe he was catching on that he wouldn’t be able to figure it out.

What are you doing, Ellen! This is your chance to get lost! To get out of his sight before his commits your forgetful face to memory! Get a move on, you lazy arse before he comes to his senses and asks you for your name.

It seemed as though my conscious was right and, as I shuffled backward slightly, I found that after a few, small steps, my feet refused to move. It was almost as though they had been glued to the spot. Either that or my brain just refused to cooperate. Maybe it was the tumble to the ground that messed up the nerves in my legs. I mean, I had landed on my tailbone pretty hard.

BRIGGS! MOVE YOUR SCRAWNY ASS, NOW!

Right. I had to keep myself focused. I couldn’t keep trailing off, not unless I wanted to get myself caught…again…for the second time today. And I sure as hell didn’t want that. With a small huff of annoyance at the fact that my feet weren’t listening to the frantic messages my brain was sending them, I looked around for a way to escape.

Black was standing in the way of the quickest escape route, so I couldn’t very well go that way. So where else was there to go? I suppose I could take the passage behind the tapestry that leads to the seventh floor….YES! That’s the way I could go. I just had to get myself around the corner without Black seeing, or being suspicious as to where I went, not that he would care or anything, and then run at break neck speed and slip behind the tapestry unnoticed. Oh yes, this was going to be impossible.

But lucky for me, Black was distracted with trying to figure out who the hell I was. I all but forced my feet to shuffle backward until my back hit the wall lightly. Pressing my back against the stone, I slowly shifted toward the edge of the wall, which wasn’t very far away at all. In fact, all I had to do was swing my leg in a rather difficult matter and then I was home free.

Come on, Briggs; you can do it. It’s not that hard. All you have to do is give your leg a little kick! Just a small kick and then you can propel yourself down the corridor at whatever speed you please.

Right, easier said than done. Casting a quick glance to Black to make sure he was still distracted - and he was -, I bit the inside of my cheek as I swung my left leg around the corner, feeling triumphant for a grand total of two seconds for actually achieving something that I normally wouldn’t have been able to do.

But who was I supposed to know that someone was coming around the corner the exact moment I had decided to stick my foot out into the hallway and kick them in the shins! I WASN’T A SKILLED LEGIMENS, FOR MERLIN’S SAKE!

A brief exclamation of “bloody hell” was followed by the loud crash of what could only be described as someone falling into a suit of armor, trying to latch onto it to prevent themselves from falling, and then bringing the suit down with them in their failed attempt to save their butts from meeting the hard cobblestone.

Black met my eyes, but instead of wearing an expression of shock, much like I was, he was wearing a smirk and his gray eyes were glittering. Why they were glittering, I have absolutely no idea, but they were. So we’ll just leave it that. But instead of standing stoic still like I was, Black actually walked around the corner to see who had fallen because of my damn foot.

I heard Black laugh in his bark like way and vaguely wondered who I tripped. Once again, my curiosity won over and I poked my head around the corner. My stomach plummeted.

For the love of Circe, of all people, I just had to trip Black’s best mate, James freakin’ Potter! Brilliant, this is just what I needed. While Potter may not be as serious as the Bubonic Plague, he was like the stomach flu - something you wanted to avoid at all cost. The only thing about the stomach flu is that it seemed to follow you everywhere and if that was foreshadowing future events, then I was changing him to malaria or something.

“Blimey, Prongs,” Black said as he extended a hand to Potter, much like he had to me when I had fallen flat on my back. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Potter replied as he straightened his wire-rimmed glasses on the bridge of his nose and smoothed out the wrinkles in his robe. “I’m fine.”

“What happened?” Black inquired.

“I tripped over a foot.”

“Prongs, are you sure you didn’t hit your head anything when you fell, because it sounds like you’re imagining things,” Black said with a small laugh. “There wasn’t a good in the middle of the corridor. Couldn’t be, unless I randomly sprouted another limb that I didn’t know about and you tripped over.”

“Could happen, you know,” Potter pointed out. “A slimy Slytherin git could’ve hit you from behind with a hex or something.”

“True,” Black muttered under his breath before shaking his head, “but everyone’s at dinner.“ He threw a look over his shoulder. “Besides, I don’t see Snivellus anywhere.”

Potter laughed appreciatively and the pair of them started walking toward me. I backed away from the wall and started walking backward toward the end of the corridor. They rounded the corner.

I stared at them.

They stared at me.

“I, er…I’ve got to go finish my Herbology of Magic -- uh, I mean, er, my History of Magic essay.” I stuttered, heat rushing to my cheeks. Oh Merlin, please not now! “So…yeah…bye.”

And with that, I turned around and took off running toward the end of the corridor, dashing up four flights of stairs in record time.

By the time I reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, I was out of breath and shouted the password at her. She shook her head at me in disapproval and muttered under her breath about the insolence and disrespect of today’s youth. I was relieved to find that the common room was empty and ran across the carpet, nearly tripping as the toe of my shoe caught on one of the rugs. I stumbled up the stairs that led to the seventh year girl’s dormitory.

Using my shoulder, I pushed the door open and took off my bag, throwing it on the trunk that sat at the foot of my bed, which was located nearest to the door, seeing as how no one wanted that particular bed in case there was an attack. Well, if there was a fire and no one was capable of finding their wands, we all knew who would be escaping with their lives and who wouldn’t. Shaking my head, I took off my robe, tossed it to the floor, and loosened my tie. I kicked the door shut with my foot and, heaving a heavy sigh, I flung myself onto my unmade bed.

One would think that with so much on their mind, they wouldn’t be able to sleep. But it was quite the opposite for me. I grabbed my pillow, fluffed it up a bit, and stuck my arms under it for support. My eyes were already heavy with sleep and, by the time I had managed to wiggle my feet out of my shoes, I was already halfway asleep. And, within two minutes of laying my head down on my pillow, I was being carried away into the realm of dreams, where a giant milkshake that looked like Professor Slughorn was chasing me around with a fork.

Chapter 3: Glass Ceiling
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I was the first one in my dormitory to wake up the following morning. Pushing the covers off of my face so I could actually breathe, I rolled onto my back and stared up at the ceiling for Merlin only knows how long. The cloud of sleep was still looming over me, but it always took me a long time to wake up in the mornings. With a groan, I untangled my limbs from the sheets and kicked them off of my legs. Sitting up, I tossed my legs over the side of the bed and rubbed the sleep from the corners of my eyes with the back of my palms.

With a sigh, I pushed myself off of my mattress and ambled over to the bathroom, which was on the opposite side of the room. Though I would be the first to escape should there be a fire or something else would happen, if I had to go to take a piss or my lunch was threatening to come up, then I would probably end up making a mess of my roommates belongings and I’m sure they wouldn’t like that at all. I tiptoed across the floor, hoping that the floorboards wouldn’t squeak obnoxiously and wake up my dormmates. But alas, since I had an never ending supply of bad luck these days, the floor creaked ominously beneath my foot and I cringed, squeezing my eyes shut tightly.

Amazingly, it seemed that none of them had moved an inch in their beds. Marlene McKinnon was snoring in her obnoxious way; Leanne Mason was nuzzled deep in her wool duvet; Alice Harper was, well, honestly, I couldn’t see much of her, since she was such a tiny little thing; and Lily Evans was lying in her bed, which was next to mine, looking incredibly peaceful. Oh how I envied them all with their capabilities of sleeping more than eight hours a night. With a glare around the room, I walked into the bathroom and shut the door behind me as quietly as I could.

The frigid air of the bathroom made goosebumps appear on my arms and legs as I turned on the shower and let the water warm up until it was a bearable temperature. I looked at myself in the mirror and grimaced; a white outline of what I presumed to be dried drool was caked on my cheek. It wasn’t exactly surprising, seeing as how I had always been a drooler more than a snorer. I tested the water and, once I was satisfied, I pealed off my wrinkled uniform and tossed it to the floor, stepping into the hot, steaming shower.

As the scalding water skittered across the surface of my skin, seeping into my muscles and relaxing the coils of tension held in my shoulders, I rolled my neck to side to side, enjoying the sensation. Though I had slept for nearly ten hours, it hadn’t been a very restful sleep at all. I had woken up several times in the night, my forehead drenched with sweat and my chest heaving. I couldn’t remember if I had any nightmares, but I highly doubted that any of them would cause me to wake suddenly like that; I very rarely woke up from “bad dreams”, at least not in the recent years of my life. But somehow, I had managed to get back to sleep within seconds of jolting myself awake. Although, it was only a matter of time before I would wake up again. It was strange, really, and I knew that it couldn’t be a good sign.

Then, like a load of bricks, I became painfully aware of the reason why every muscle in my body was so tense, why I could hardly sleep last night, and why I kept waking up at random. It was because of everything that had unfolded the day before. No matter how much I wanted to deny it, I couldn’t. Yesterday had happened. I had eavesdropped on Lucinda Matthews and overheard a conversation that wasn’t supposed to be overheard.

I leaned against the tiled wall, my eyes trained the slippery floor, watching the soapy water swirl down the drain. With a small sigh, I shut off the water and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel and securing it around my body. I nearly slipped on the floor, but managed to catch myself on the corner of the sink. I cursed under my breath, wondering when this horrible luck was going to leave me alone. I dried off as quickly as I could, seeing as how, despite the steam swirling around, the bathroom was still freezing cold. Once I was dry, I pulled a new, clean uniform on and lean over the sink to wring the water out of my hair.

Merlin’s beard, what had I gotten myself into? I shook my head to myself as I wiped off the steam covered mirror and stared at my reflection. Though the line of dried drool may have vanished, the purple bags under my eyes were still very visible and not very attractive, to say the very least. I leaned toward the mirror, examining my eye when someone banged on the door with their fist.

“Ouch!” I cried, seeing as how I had poked myself in the eye in my surprise.

“Are you almost done in there?” Marlene McKinnon’s husky voice shouted from the other side of the door. She banged her fist against the wood again in annoyance. “It’s nearly seven thirty and you’re not the only one who needs hot water for a shower.”

I opened the door, my left eye streaming, and squeezed past Marlene, who was muttering darkly under her breath. How was I suppose to know that I had been in the shower for nearly forty-five minutes? It certainly didn’t seem that long when I was standing under the water. Geez, some people just need to relax a little bit. Everyone was always so high strung around here.

You’re one to talk, Briggs.

I ignored that annoying little voice in my head that seemed to point out everything that I didn’t want to acknowledge and walked toward my bed. My roommates were all in various stages of getting ready: Leanne was balancing a mirror on her knee while she applied a light coat of eye shadow onto her eyelids; Alice was braiding her long, caramel locks into pigtails that hung on either side of her head; and when I glanced at Lily’s bed, not only was she nowhere to be found, but her bed was freshly made, like she hadn’t slept there at all. The only one who even acknowledged my presence was Alice, who was a very friendly girl, and smiled at me as I passed her on my way to my bed.

I dropped down onto my knees at the foot of my bed and opened my trunk, rummaging around for my hairbrush so I could get the knots out of my hair. Once I found it, I quickly tugged it through my wet hair, wincing as I pulled through several knots. I tossed the brush back into my trunk and slammed it shut once I had finished brushing my hair and placed my hands on the floor to look for my trainers. One was underneath my bed and the other one was laying next to my trunk. I snatched them up and, after I put on a pair of day-old socks, I stuffed my feet into my trainers and grabbed my school bag. I double checked to make sure I had everything before opening my bedside drawer and taking out a Chocolate Frog, shoving it into my school bag; I was saving it for my History of Magic lesson, a class in which my stomach always gave loud groans of hunger.

I left the dormitory as quickly as possible, seeing as how Marlene had just gotten out of the shower and would most likely be a total cow. Shutting the door behind me, I traipsed down the steps, nearly tripping yet again at the foot of the stairs, but I grabbed a first year by their robes and saved myself from the fall. It’s not like the first year noticed anyway. I rolled my eyes and walked toward the portrait hole. But as I was walking, I felt a pair of eyes on me and, when I glanced over my shoulder to see who was looking at me, I couldn’t find anyone. With a shrug of my shoulders, I climbed through the hole and made my way toward the Great Hall, where a nice heaping pile of scramble eggs, kippers, and bacon was calling my name.

Like always, I sat alone at the Gryffindor table. There were groups of friends on either side of me, yet I sat, completely isolated, in the middle of the table, surrounded by platters of food. The only time people ever talked to me during meals was when they needed something that I had and they had run out of. One of the fifth years asked if they could steal my pitcher of pumpkin juice for a few moments, since they had run out. Before I could give the go ahead, the girl snatched it up and walked back toward her gaggle of giggling, gossiping girlfriends. I know, I’m a mastermind at alliterations. She never came back with it.

I was eating a piece of toast, seeing as how they weren’t serving kippers this morning, much to my dismay, when the post arrived. A tawny owl came to a halt in front of me, an issue of the Daily Prophet in its beak. I took the paper from it and reached into my pocket in search of the seven Knuts I owe the bird. It held out the money pouch toward me, staring at me threateningly with its eerie, amber eyes. I only managed to grab five Knuts the first time and, as I dropped them in to the bag, the owl hopped onto my breakfast plate and lowered its head toward me. I was eye to eye with the beast and squirmed uncomfortably in my seat. You see, this was exactly why I didn’t own an owl and didn’t send many messages to anyone: I was, more or less, terrified of an owl biting my thumbs off, or any of my fingers for that matter, if it got irritated, but like this owl was now.

“Okay, okay!” I said to the bird as it started to peck at my fingers, squeaking at the thought of my worst fear actually coming true. I squealed and ducked my head under the table while I turned my pockets inside out, searching for those damn Knuts. Then suddenly, something cold and wet was seeping into the back of my robe. I hit my head on the table as I resurfaced and saw that the impatient owl had knocked over my goblet of pumpkin juice. Thankfully, however, there hadn’t been much in it, so my robes couldn’t be that big of a mess.

I could feel several pairs of eyes on me as I gave the rest of my money over to the owl. It hooted indignantly at me, snapped its beak twice, and flew off. I glared after the bird and muttered under my breath as people went back to their breakfasts as though nothing had happened. Good, I didn’t want them looking at me anyway. I wanted to be invisible; I didn’t want people to start acknowledging my presence. I only had nine more months left of schooling, then I would be free to do whatever I wanted. And who knows, maybe I would shed my Invisibility Cloak.

I pushed back the sleeve of my robe and looked at my wrist watch. There was only fifteen minutes before the start of my first lesson, which was Ancient Runes, and was located on the complete opposite side of the castle. It would take me at least ten minutes to get there and that wasn’t including the possibility that the staircase might shift on me halfway up the flight.

With a sigh, I finished the rest of my toast, rolled up my copy of the Prophet and shoved it into my school bag. I would read it later, perhaps during History of Magic. I didn’t need that class anyway, but it was a requirement, so why not use the time to read the newspaper? Without so much as backward glance, I left the Great Hall.

X - X - X

Before I knew it, all my morning classes were over and it was lunch time. Once again, I sat by myself while I ate. You’d think that I would be bothered by it, but after six year of dining by oneself, you usually got used to keeping your own company. I wasn’t able to finish all of the morning paper in my History of Magic lesson, seeing as how we had a pop quiz, which I probably failed miserably. So, as I stuffed a sandwich into my mouth, I skimmed the paper, my eyes searching for any news on Voldemort or if anyone had been killed in the last twenty four hours. Thankfully, no one had been killed and, as I washed down the remainders of my sandwich, I headed toward my last class of the day: Double Potions.

When I reached the dungeons, I wasn’t surprised to find Severus Snape standing in front of the door with his books in his arms. He stared at me as I approached, but didn’t say anything. There was just a blank look on his face and I couldn’t help noticing a faint yellow outline around his left eye. Of course, I wasn’t brave nor was I stupid enough to ask how he had obtained the injury; he’d hex me into oblivion if I did. I could still feel his eyes on me as I leaned against the wall, trying to blend in with the wall. I wasn’t a chameleon, so it was a great deal harder to blend in with my surroundings.

I’d like to be a chameleon, though. That’d be pretty sweet, if you asked me. I mean, you could hide out all the time and no one would ever see you. Not that anyone ever saw me anyway, but I really would blend it with my surroundings; I really would be invisible, in a sense. I could slink along in the corridors at night, maybe sneak to the Astronomy Tower to observe the stars late at night, since I did enjoy star gazing. Oh! And I could sneak into the Restricted Section of the library and get as many books as I could and bring them back to my dorm.

A sharp elbow to the small of my back jolted me out of my thoughts and I picked my head up to see that nearly the entire class was waiting outside the door. I shifted my bag onto my other shoulder and stifled a sigh. Someone’s hand brushed against my own and a jolt of electricity shot through my body. I pulled my hand away from my side and crammed it into my pocket; my hand stung, but oddly enough, it wasn’t a painful stinging.

Seconds later, the door to the classroom opened and a large, curved belly came into view before the Potions instructor, Professor Slughorn’s, face was visible. A bright smile lit up his lips as he motioned for us to file into the classroom. Snape slithered into the classroom before everyone else and was in his seat by the time I had walked through the door. There was only one seat available, seeing as how everyone had pushed their way past me and into the classroom, and that was by my roommate, Lily Evans.

“Hi, Eleanor,” Lily greeted as she moved her books aside from me so I could put my own in their place.

“Hey, Lily,” I replied, smiling in response as I sat down. “You weren’t saving this seat for anyone, were you?”

“No, I wasn’t,” she said with a shake of her head and a small sigh. “None of my friends were good enough in enough at Potions nor did they have the desire to continue.”

I took off my bag and set it down on the floor by my feet. I had to bite my tongue in order to restrain myself from pointing out that she actually had friends. I opened my mouth to ask her how her day had been when Professor Slughorn stood up, his chair scraping noisily against the cobblestone.

“All right, all right, settle down children," he said, chuckling to himself like he always did, his chins - yes chins, he just doesn’t have one; he has several - swung back and forth dangerously.

Surprisingly, the class actually quieted down for once. Although, I could hear a few people snickering, but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who it was. After all, Black and Potter sat two rows behind Lily and I.

“As you know, we’ve been researching various ingredients and their powers and the effects they have in potions over the past few weeks,” he looked around the classroom and began to pace in front of his desk, “along with researching these ingredients, you all have been making potions all by yourselves. But now, I think it is high time that you pair up, so you can start making more complicated and complex potions.” A murmur of interest rippled through the class at these words. Slughorn laughed excitedly. “Now, now, calm down.”

A hand shot up in the air and Slughorn called on the person. “Who are our partners?”

“Good question, Miss Greengrass. The person sitting next to you will be your partner from here on out,” Slughorn replied, smiling so widely, his eyes were drawn into small slits.

Another rush of voices rippled through the class, some of them happy, while others sounded a little bit more disappointed, including two very distinct voices behind me. I resisted the urge to smirk as I heard James Potter sighing wistfully at the prospect of not being partnered with Lily.

Speaking of Lily, I turned to look at her and saw that she, too, was sighing, only I’m sure she was sighing in relief.

“Glad Potter’s not your partner?” I asked her, seeing as how she obviously overheard the boys conversing behind us.

She nodded vigorously. “You have no idea. I’ve had to work with Potter before and it was miserable.”

“Don’t you have to work with him now? Since you are both Heads?”

Again, she bobbed her head. “Yes, I do. But thankfully, the only thing we have to do is arrange the Hogsmeade trips and patrol schedules for the Prefects and that doesn’t take much time at all.”

I glanced over at my shoulder to look at them - them being Black and Potter, of course - and saw that they were now struggling to hold back their laughter. What weird blokes, those two were.

“Is he really that bad?” I questioned, turning back around to face her. Potter didn’t seem like such a bad guy to me. Sure, he was a bit arrogant at times, but at least he had his redeeming qualities. And he actually tried to talk to me several times in first year, but gave up when he saw that I wasn’t going to respond.

Lily shrugged her shoulders and opened her mouth to say something when, yet again, Professor Slughorn interrupted.

“Your first assignment will be to find a potion to brew together. There are a few requirements, however, for this project and they are the following: one, the potion must take at least one, but no longer than three months to brew; two, before beginning said potion, it must be researched and you must turn in an essay with all the information on the potion of your choice; three, I must approve your choice of potion; and four, the potion must be legal and, no, Mister Black, Polyjuice Potion is not an exception to the last rule.”

The Gryffindors in the class laughed while the Slytherins scoffed louder than necessary, which made me roll my eyes. They were all for dramatics, those Slytherins were. Slughorn smiled, took a deep breath and spread his arms out wide, which wasn’t very far at all. “So does anyone have any questions?”

A few hands went soaring up into the air, Lily’s included in the bunch. I sat there, not really paying attention to the inquires being made or the answers that Slughorn was providing since I didn’t have any questions myself. However, when Slughorn called upon Lily, I snapped myself out of my incredibly pointless thoughts about the perks of being a chameleon. I mean, she was my new Potions partner and it would be rather rude if I didn’t pay any attention to what she had to say. I didn’t want her to have to do all the work, even though I was pretty good at Potions.

“Yes, Miss Evans?” Professor Slughorn said, positively beaming at her.

“I was wondering how long we have to research our potion and write our essays.”

“Oho! Thinking ahead, you are, Miss Evans, as always.” He gave an almighty chuckle, causing his chins to jiggle like jelly. I bit back a laugh and beside me, Lily was struggling to hold back her smile. “You will have three weeks to find and research your potion, and you’ll have another two weeks to write your essays, including our lesson time.”

“And how long do the essays have to be?” Lily asked.

“At least two feet long,” Slughorn answered.

While my eyes were all but bugging out of my head, Lily just nodded and quickly wrote down the information she had just obtained on a spare sheet of parchment. All around me, people seemed to be whispering about the absurd length of the essay. But hey, we were getting two weeks to complete it. And it’s not like we couldn’t get a head start on it.

“Any more questions?” Slughorn addressed the class at large. When he saw that no one else had their hand raise, he nodded to himself. “You have the rest of this period to discuss with your partner the possible potions you can brew. Do try and keep the noise level at a respectable level, please Misters Black and Potter?”

“Yes sir!” The pair of them chimed together, though the looks on their faces weren’t very convincing. If anything, it only spelt trouble. They were obviously planning something and, whatever it was, it couldn’t be good, judging by the expression of glee on Potter’s face; his warm, hazel eyes were glinting behind his wire-rimmed glasses.

“Oh no,” muttered Lily under her breath. She had obviously seen the same thing I had and was now shaking her head in dismay. “They will be the end of us all, I tell you.” Tucking a strand of vibrant, dark auburn hair behind her ear, she pulled her copy of Advanced Potion Making toward her and flipped to the index. “So,” she didn’t look up from her book as she spoke, “do you have suggestions for a potion we can brew?”

Oh Merlin, how I hated being put on the spot. This was precisely why I sat in the back of all my classes if it were at all possible or I took classes that required very little talking, considering it wasn’t exactly my thing.

“Erm…not yet?” I said hesitantly.

Lily chuckled to herself and smiled. “Don’t worry. I don’t have the slightest clue what legal potion we could brew. And, not to brag or anything, but I’m supposed to be some sort of potions genius.”

I laughed half-heartedly at her attempt at a joke. She didn’t seem to notice, as she continued to flip through the book. I should’ve been looking through my book as well, but I couldn’t. Instead, my eyes were trained on Professor Slughorn’s desk, where none other than James Potter was standing, his head bent toward the fat, balding man, apparently whispering something to him. Judging by the look on Slughorn’s face, he was eating up whatever Potter had to say and something told me that it wasn’t a good thing.

Shaking off the odd feeling, I pulled my book toward me and began to flip through it, looking at the text but not really reading it. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Doesn’t make much sense, but it’s true. I could barely concentrated, seeing as how I had much bigger things on my mind. For some reason, staring at Potter while he conversed in hushed tones with Professor Slughorn had reminded me of what had happened in the library the day before. And that was something I was trying so very hard to forget.

Before I knew it, Professor Slughorn was announcing the class was over in three minutes, so we might as well pack up our belongings. I slammed my book shut and grabbed my bag off the floor, accidentally knocking my head against the leg of the table. Rubbing the newly forming goose egg on the side of my head, I sat back up and shoved my book into my bag, along with my quill and anything else I had gotten out during the class. The bell rang and everyone made their way toward the door.

“Oh, Miss Briggs!” Slughorn called out. I was halfway toward the door when he had called my name and, if I pretended I hadn’t heard, I could rush back to the common room straight away and start on that Ancient Runes essay I still had to complete.

“Miss Briggs!” he shouted, a bit louder this time. Several heads swiveled in his direction and I knew I couldn’t escape now. With a sigh, I stopped where I was and left people walk around me. Slughorn smiled at me and beckoned me toward him with a chubby finger. Reluctantly, I obeyed and stopped a few feet in front of his desk.

“Yes Professor?” I asked what I assumed was an innocent voice.

Judging by the look on his face, I wasn’t going to like what was coming.

Chapter 4: Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
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“Why don’t you have a seat, Miss Briggs?”

As soon as the suggestion came rolling off his lips, I knew that no matter what he was about to share with me, it couldn’t be good. No good conversations started out with the words “why don’t you take a seat”. Most conversations that started out like that either ended with the person being directed to sit down bursting out in tears, for they had just lost someone dear to them or something equally tragic had happened to them or they were getting into a serious bit of trouble.

My stomach dropped at the possibilities that lay in store for me. Although, I was more than willing to bet that he was instructing me to sit down because he had some unwanted news he wanted to give me, something that he knew would upset me.

Oh joy, this was going to be lovely.

With a flick of his wand, a reasonably comfortable looking chair appeared out of thin air. Of course, I was expecting this, seeing as how most magical people did this sort of thing all the time. Most teachers, however, conjured up hard, wooden chairs that would leave splinters in your arse if you didn’t sit still. I don’t know about you, but I sure as hell didn’t fancy splinters in my buttocks, thank you very much.

Casting the chair a cautious look, I slowly sat down and wondered what the professor of Potions and Head of Slytherin House had in store for me.

I heard the door to his office close behind him and I gulped. Why did he have to shut the door? That only made things more dramatic. Could the information he was about to give to me really be that grave that he had to shut the door to prevent anyone from hearing my wails of despair? An odd sensation bubbled in the pit of my stomach and I resisted the urge to vomit; I didn’t want to ruin the nice, rather expensive Persian rug beneath my feet.

That was something I never quite understood, though, why someone would pay so much money for a rug if they were just going to walk all over it. I mean, doesn’t that sort of deface or devalue said rug? And what was the point in buying it if it was just going to get dirty and lose it’s value. Didn’t make much sense to me, quite honestly. If anything, I would just leave the floor bare-.

“As you know, Miss Briggs, I’ve assigned partners for the remainder of this term,” Professor Slughorn said as he settled himself down in his lavish armchair behind his dark oak desk. He really knew how to appreciate the finer things in life, old Sluggy did. “While everyone seemed satisfied with their partner - were you satisfied being paired with Miss Evans?”

I nodded my head, several strands of hair falling into my eyes annoyingly. “Yes, I was glad that I was partnered with her. She’s one of the best Potions students in our year.”

“Second only to Mister Snape,” Slughorn said, smiling as he pulled a silver tin toward himself. “I can remember the first time I learnt that Miss Evans was a Muggleborn. Couldn’t believe it, quiet honestly, seeing as how she had all the skill of a pureblood.”

I took offense to that. Though I was a half-blood, my mother was still a Muggle and I always hated it when people spoke negatively about Muggleborns. Stupid, prejudice wanker! Just because their parents weren’t magical folk certainly didn’t mean they were any less talented. I fought hard to keep a scowl off my face as I adjusted my bag on my shoulder, the weight of my textbooks causing me to tip to the side in my chair.

Slughorn finally stopped rambling and turned his attention back to me. Not that I wanted his beady little eyes focused on me; I hated it when people stared at me. “Oh, I’ve seemed to have lost myself in old memories.” He chuckled good-naturedly and I forced a tight smile. “And I have seemed to have forgotten what we had been talking about, Miss Briggs.”

I uncrossed my ankles and itched the back of my left calf with the toe of my right shoe. “You were saying something about Potions partners.”

“Right you are, Miss Briggs,” Slughorn said, opening the tin and unwrapping what appeared to be a little piece of chocolate. “So, that being said…”

I tuned him out as I watched him pop the chocolaty morsel into his mouth and chew it viciously. It’s not like he needed anymore sugar, but I wasn’t about to tell him that. He’d probably get really cross with me and have my head for breakfast tomorrow morning…wait, did I really just suggest that old Slughorn was a cannibal? The thought of Slughorn munching on human fingers as a snack in between lessons was both amusing as well as disgusting. The idea of anyone eating human body parts was vaguely revolting, but since this was Slughorn I was thinking about, I just couldn’t help but laugh. Silently, of course, there was no way I was going to laugh in the middle of Slughorn’s office. You know, since the door was closed and he was nearly five times my weight.

“So,” Slughorn exclaimed loudly, causing me to snap out of my ridiculous, but highly amusing thoughts and give him my full attention. “What do you think about that? Do you agree or disagree?”

Shit, I should’ve paid attention. Why, oh why did I always pick the worst times to tune people out? He was obviously explaining something to me of great importance…okay, so maybe not great importance, but it was important, since he had pulled me aside and asked to talk to me privately. Teacher usually didn’t do that to me, seeing as how I didn’t really do anything to get in trouble, turned in all my homework on time, and answered questions whenever I was addressed.

“Um…,” I licked my lips and looked around the office helplessly, searching for anything to fix my eyes on. I decided on the rather odd looking…thing floating in the green liquid behind his shoulder on the shelf. That was interesting enough. “I agree?” I winced, hoping that was the right answer.

“I knew I could count on you, Miss Briggs!” Professor Slughorn beamed.

I struggled to smile as convincingly as I could, but somehow, I just couldn’t get the left side of my mouth to cooperated. It probably looked like I was having a stroke or something, or at least a heart attack. Not that wizards knew what those were…or did they? I never knew of a wizard having a heart attack before. I wondered if it ever happened.

Slughorn cleared his throat and I, once again, snapped myself out of my pointless thoughts.

“I suppose you’d like to get going to dinner now, wouldn’t you?” he said, chuckling. “You’re free to go, Briggs.”

Heaving a heavy, mental sigh of relief, I rose from my seat, which disappeared with a sharp crack almost as soon as my butt had left the chair. I jumped slightly and made my way toward the door, trying to shrug off the odd sensation that I had just missed something incredibly important. Although, it obviously wasn’t an odd sensation, but a notion I should have, considering I didn’t catch a word of what Slughorn had said to me.

As I opened the door, I turned to Slughorn. “Thank you, Professor.”

“Oh no,” Professor Slughorn replied as he rose from his chair and came to stand beside me, holding the door open for me. “Thank you, Miss Briggs. If it wasn’t for you, Mister Black would be without a partner.”

My jaw unhinged itself from my face and fell to the floor with a loud crash, shattering into a hundred pieces.

Okay, so maybe that precise thing didn’t happen, but my jaw did drop wide open.

“You’ve looked like you’ve just seen a ghost,” chuckled Slughorn, giving me a friendly pat on the shoulder before not-so-discreetly nudging me out of his office and closing the door with a tight snap.

I stood by the door for Merlin only knows how long. Professor Slughorn had long since left the classroom before I finally came to my senses - and it was only because my stomach gave a great growl. Shaking my head to myself and hoping that this was just another part of this spiraling-out-of-control nightmare, I left the dungeons in exchange for the Great Hall.

X - X - X

 I barely ate anything before I headed up to the common room, where an alarming amount of people were clustered around various tables, end chairs, and the singular couch. There were bodies strewn across the floor - live ones, mind you - and laughter all around me. It finally made sense as to why it had been so easy for me to find an empty space at the Gryffindor table.

I was much too awake to even think about going to sleep. So, as a substitute for rest, I pulled out the morning’s copy of The Daily Prophet and flipped to the crossword that was always on the second to last page. I had already read the funnies at breakfast and never mind that the Evening Prophet had already been issued. I honestly didn’t care. I picked an armchair quite a good deal away from all the commotion of the common room and sank down into it, sighing in content as the muscles in my shoulders finally began to relax.

Honestly, I was going to die of a coronary soon if I didn’t get things settled sooner or later. All this mounting stress couldn’t be good for one girl, could it? I might not be incredibly tiny like Alice Harper, but I certainly wasn’t big. I was average, I guess you could say, stuck right in the middle. Like everything else in this world. I rolled my eyes to myself as I pulled a quill out of my bag and adjusted the paper on my knees.

I was really good at crossword puzzles. Sometimes, it took no longer than five minutes to figure out the entire thing and other times, it would take me the entire day. I never gave up because it would either eat away at me until I finished it or I was just that determined to finish the damn thing that everything finally clicked and I got the last clue. They weren’t as fun as the Muggle puzzles my dad used to solve in his office when I was younger…oh, what where they called?

Brain teasers! That’s it. Merlin, I used to love those things. I remembered sitting on his lap and trying to help him solve the riddles. Sometimes, I would get it right and he was praise me, kissing me on the top of my brunette head and giving me a Tootsie Roll, those delicious Muggle chocolates that even Chocolate Frogs couldn’t seem to beat - and I was obsessed with Chocolate Frogs.

I sighed to myself, momentarily revisiting my childhood and trying not to get too absorbed with my past. That was always one of the negatives things about reminiscing. I dipped my quill in my inkwell and poised it above the paper, reading the first clue off to the side.

I was about to write the answer to the ridiculously easy question ( What is the position on a Quidditch team that uses a bat to beat the Bludgers? ) when someone tapped me on my shoulder. Halfway frozen in between shock and frustration, seeing as how the ink was now dripping off the tip of my quill and soaking through the paper, I looked up from my crossword puzzle to find Lily Evans standing a foot in front of me, a bright smile on her face.

“Hi!” she greeted.

“Hello.” I replied, folding up the paper and placing it beside me on the armchair.

We stared at each other for a few moments, trapped in that awkward silence that always followed a friendly, but over exaggerated greeting.

“Did you enjoy dinner?” Lily asked, sitting down on the arm chair next to me.

I shrugged. “More or less. Why?”

“Oh…nothing, just wondering what took you so long to get into the Great Hall, is all.”

Whoa, wait. Someone actually noticed that I wasn’t at the first fifteen minutes dinner? Alert the Daily Prophet, for this was some seriously breaking, headline worthy news! Of course, it wasn’t a piece of juicy gossip or a mass murder of Muggles, but it was still pretty flashy, I guess you could say. Do people even use that word anymore; flashy, I mean?

“I was late because Professor Slughorn kept me after class.” I said, knowing that she was going to ask what had delayed me.

“Why did he keep you after class? You’re not failing, are you?” she inquired curiously.

Am I really that horrible at Potions that she automatically assumes that, just because Slughorn kept me after class, I’m failing? That was a low blow, I must admit, but I quickly recovered. Well, sort of.

I didn’t exactly want to break the news to her that Black was my partner now, which not only meant that I was confirming this wasn’t a dream, but actually a true, horribly painful reality that I couldn’t, but it was also mean that I would have to inform her that Potter was her partner.

Oh vey, this didn’t look good for me either way. You know, I could just make something up, or just go along with what she was saying about me failing Potions. But then, if I was failing, why would Slughorn have accept me into his N.E.W.T class? Or I could go along my favorite route and just play stupid! That wasn’t exactly the hardest feat to accomplish, but then again, as my conscious reminded me, it wasn’t very nice to lie…even though I wasn’t lying, per say, I was just fibbing to a certain extent. And yes, there is a difference between lying and fibbing, in case you were wondering, and it is quite astronomical.

“I…uh…,” I trailed off, my mouth suddenly going dry. I couldn’t lie to Lily! She may not have been my best mate, but I considered her a close acquaintance. You know, one of those people you called your friend in your head, but acknowledged them as something more than an acquaintance, but not quite a friend in public?



Yeah, maybe it’s just me.

“If you’re failing,” began Lily, her tone suddenly becoming very serious. “You could’ve always come to me for help. I would’ve been more than glad to assist you with some of the more complicated potions. I mean, I may not be the best brewer in our year, but I’m-.”

“Right after Snape,” I finished for her, smiling tightly and shaking my hair out of my eyes, as it was a great annoyance to me. “I know. Professor Slughorn let me know that in his office.”

“So…I’m taking it that you aren’t failing.”

“Thankfully, no, I’m not failing. I actually got an ‘E’ on my last essay,” I informed her. Of course, she had probably gotten an ‘O’, but now wasn’t exactly the time to let the little green monster known as jealous get the better of me, now was it?

“Well, that’s good," she said, cheerfully. Much to my surprise, her cheerfulness was genuine.

“Yeah,” I replied, a small smile forming at the corners of my lips. “I guess it is.”

Lily casually tossed her curtain of long, dark auburn locks over her shoulder and I felt a way of resentment surge through me. I wish I could toss my hair, but no, mine was much too thick, not to mention up in a ponytail at the moment, to do such a thing. And she looked so casual doing it. Most girls looked like little haughty, slightly deranged Barbie dolls when they tossed their hair over their shoulders. Not to mention, their facial expression was usually arranged in such a way, it looked like there was a nastily large pile of dung under their noses.

“So…”

Aha! It had finally reached that awkward stage, yet again. I knew she was dying to ask me why I had been kept after class, but she wasn’t sure it was in the lines of our friendship, if that’s what you could call it, to ask me.

With a sigh, I finally squelched her need to know. “If you really want to know why Slughorn kept me after class, it’s because,” I paused, gathering my wits about me, should she go ballistic on me and starting hexing and cursing me, “well, Slughorn assigned me a new partner.”

A look of shock swept briefly over her freckled features and her emerald green eyes flashed with momentary hurt.

“Oh no!” I said quickly, holding up my hands. “It’s not because I wanted a new partner. Not at all. You’re my…,” I trailed off, not sure what word I was looking for. Should I go the extra mile in my attempt to convince her and say that she was a friend, or should I just stick with classmate? I took a deep breath and went for it. “You’re my friend, Lily. Besides, with you as a partner, I would’ve surely gotten an ‘O’ on our project.”

She stared at me for a few more seconds, as though I was about to explode and tell her the truth, but once she saw that I was actually telling the truth, much to my own apparent surprise, a small smile crept onto her face and she blushed. “Well…yeah.” Lily tucked a strand of brilliant red hair behind her ear and her brow furrowed. “If you didn’t ask for a new partner…then why did you get one?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I honestly don’t know why I got a new one. He just pulled me aside and asked if I would take on a new partner. Of course, I wasn’t listening to what he was saying, as he tends to ramble on and on unnecessarily about things I don’t care about, but I, unfortunately, agreed without knowing what I was agreeing to.”

Lily sent me a look of pity. She licked her lips and shifted so she was sitting on the edge of her armchair. “So…if I’m no longer your partner…then who is?”

Oh no. This was it. The moment I admitted to myself that this was a harsh, cruel reality and I had the worst luck in the world. The moment where I acknowledged the fact that I was no longer as invisible as I once believed myself to be. The moment where I actually came face to face with the idea that Lucinda Matthews was keeping an sharp and weather eye on me, which slightly gave me the creeps.

I took a deep breath before I closed my eyes and exhaled. “Sirius Black.”

There was a prolonged moment of silence in which I watched, transfixed, as Lily turned an abnormal shade of red. Then, at the top of her lungs, Lily screamed, “I’M GOING TO MURDER YOU, POTTER!”

And, without so much as a goodbye, she flung herself out of her armchair in her anger and stormed off, no doubt going to find James and give him a good tongue lashing. I knew one thing was for sure, though it may suck to be me at this point in time, I sure as hell didn’t want to be James Potter.

Chapter 5: Cold As Ice
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The next day passed in a blur. My classes went unusually slow and I found myself doing head nods in Athrimancy, even though it was one of my favorite subjects. I enjoyed the professor’s lectures, no doubt, as they were always extremely interesting, but I hadn’t slept very well for the second night in a row and I could place the blame on one person. I realized that it wasn’t entirely his fault, but he certainly contributed to it. In all reality, almost all the blame belonged to me, seeing as how I hadn’t been paying attention to Slughorn in the first place and I had found it necessary to eavesdrop. If I had just gone back to my table…

You know what was irritating? I hadn’t noticed until the day after my odd meeting with Slughorn that Sirius Black was taking nearly every course I was taking, which were the classes required to become an Auror, something that I had overheard Black saying he’d like to become. There were only two classes that I didn’t share with him and they were Athrimancy and Ancient Runes, the only place I was safe from having unnecessary confrontations with him. It was already bad enough that I was partners with him in Potions, even when I didn’t want to be and hadn’t volunteered for it, but agreed anyway, since I wasn’t paying attention, but to have him in six out of eight classes? That was just torture!

Come on now, life, you could be a little bit fairer to me, couldn’t you? You know, ease up a little bit on the karma?

Ah, of course not. Apparently, life and that damn thing called luck had a personal vendetta against me and decided to hate on me at the exact same time. Why couldn’t it have happened last year? Or the year before last? Why did all this…crap have to happen now, in my seventh and final year at Hogwarts? Life and luck had been playing a fair game with me, giving doses of both good and bad throughout the majority of my life, but for some reason, it had something against me and my damn seventh year. Wasn’t the last year of my mandatory schooling supposed to be fun? If it was, then I must’ve really done something to tick off life and luck.

Was God trying to give me as sign? To stop taking Merlin’s name in vain or something…that really wasn’t a message, but it could be. Not that it would be that crucial, considering that Merlin actually was a phenomenal wizard and whatnot…

Anyway, back to the point.

Even though Friday was relatively uneventful. None of my lessons had gone by any different. I sat as quiet as a log during my classes, not once raising my hand. Thankfully, none of my teachers decided to give me the Spanish Inquisition, so I didn’t have to speak unless someone spoke to me. Which they didn’t, not that that was surprising or anything. And, like always, I sat by myself at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So, for the most part, it had been an uninteresting day where nothing strange had happened whatsoever.

Although, there was one thing…

As I walked through the corridors to my classes, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. But every time I tried to find out who had been staring at me like I was some pickled specimen to be viewed at one’s desire, I couldn’t find the damn culprit. Oh well, there really wasn’t anything that I could do about it, now could I?

The weekend was much like Friday had been: uneventful. I had a pile of homework to tackle and, much to my dismay, it didn’t take as long as I had hoped it would. In fact, I had been so efficient in completing my homework that I didn’t have anything to do on Sunday. Wasn’t that such a tragedy?

Since it had been nice outside, I decided to take a turn around the Black Lake. I figured that I might as well take advantage of the good weather before it turned dreary. Of course, just because it had been nice outside didn’t mean that it was sunny. Oh no, there had been a bitter wind that drove me inside after a half hour of being outdoors, my cheeks a brilliant shade of red, no thanks to the harsh whipping of the wind.

All too soon, I found myself rolling out of bed and preparing to get ready for my lessons. I had woken up early again, so I could take a shower before my roommates woke up and decided to drain the heater of all the hot water. You’d think that there would be some sort of enchantment or another on the heater, but to my knowledge, there wasn’t. I went through the same old routine, from the tying of my scuffed shoes to the pulling of my thick, dark hair back into a low hanging ponytail.

But even as I executed my morning routine, which I’ll admit, I was a little OCD about, there was something strange in the air. I couldn’t explain it, but it was something that I just knew. Today wasn’t going to be like any other day I had even had. Which could be either a good or a bad sign. And judging by the way my life had been going over the past few days, it was most likely a bad sign. As if I needed to sink any further into that pile of shit known as trouble.

With a small shake of my head at my own stupid thoughts, I traipsed down the staircase and, miraculously, I didn’t trip at the bottom of the steps like I normally did. In my triumph, I hadn’t been paying attention and ran smack into a firm chest, stumbling backward.

But before I could fall, a hand seized my elbow and kept me steady. When I looked up to see who it was, I found myself staring into the warm brown eyes of Remus Lupin, one of my fellow Gryffindors and also one of Sirius Black’s best friend.

What the hell was with the world? Who was I going to run into next, Peter Pettigrew? The thought alone made me grimace; he wasn’t exactly the most appealing boy in the universe and he always smelled like rotting cheese. I assumed that it was because he ate a lot of cheese and passed a lot of gas, but who knew. Maybe he was just lactose intolerant?

“I’m sorry,” I muttered, hanging my head in apology, “I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“It’s quite all right. I’m not as alert as I’d like to be in the morning, either.” Remus said, a smile gracing his lips. He had such a nice, friendly smile. If he wasn’t best mates with Potter and Black, I probably would’ve been better acquaintances with him.

Oh who was I kidding? Even if he wasn’t chums with that lot, I wouldn’t talk to him in a million years. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I probably would’ve never been able to gather the courage. Does it surprise you that I’ve never had a boyfriend? Nah, I didn’t think it would.

I opened my mouth to say something but I promptly closed my mouth as my stomach rumbled loudly. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks, blotches of red coloring my cheeks in my embarrassment. Oh my Circe, that hadn’t really happened, had it?

“You seem hungry,” Remus stated, not bothering to mask the note of amusement in his voice.

Mother of Merlin, it did! Why couldn’t Zeus just send a bolt of lightning streaking down from the high heavens to strike me down and save me from this humiliation!? I know why, because life hated me! It just wasn’t fair anymore and decided that not even death was a good enough punishment for me. Wasn’t that just wonderful? I had pissed fate off so badly, death wasn’t a considerable penalty.

Crap, Remus just said something and I had missed it because I wasn’t paying attention. Again. I had a knack for missing important things because I got distracted by my own train of thought, didn’t I? Probably not the best knack to pick up on, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers.

I looked up at Remus to see him wearing a curious, but warm expression. “Umm, er…sure?” I said, uneasily, biting the inside of my lip to make sure that I hadn’t said just agreed to something that I would regret five minutes from now.

He laughed. “You weren’t listening to a single word I said, were you?”

I lowered my eyes and shook my head, utterly mortified. Caught. In the act. Again. Fuck me.

“Sorry,” I said softly, making him chuckle again.

“It’s not that important, Eleanor.”

I picked my head up so quickly, the crown of my head collided with his chin. My teeth rattled at the impact and I groaned, placing a hand over the spot on my head. “Oh my Merlin! I’m so sorry! Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Remus said, rubbing his chin.

It’s not my fault that he was standing so close to me! It wasn’t like I had eyes on the…well, maybe I did have eyes on the front of my head, but that didn’t matter, did it? I had been observing the ground to hide my flaming cheeks and now look where it got me. I thought people knew by now to stay as far away as possible, for I often caused accidents in which either or both parties would walk away with minor to moderate injuries.

This was yet another reason why I had chosen invisibility to visibility in my first year at Hogwarts. I was unbelievable clumsy and it was one of the most unattractive attributes about me…not saying that I thought that I was a visually appealing person or had a lot to offer, but you get what I mean, right?

I found myself staring into his chocolate eyes, unable to tear my gaze away. “I…er…I’m just going to…yeah.” Without so much as a backward glance, I hurried out of the portrait hole, rushing as quickly as I could down to the Great Hall.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

 The strange encounter with Remus was still replaying in my head as I slowly made my way down to the dungeons. In fact, it had been playing in my mind for almost the entire day, seeing as how, like Black, he was in almost every single one of my classes; however, unlike his best mate, he actually took Ancient Runes. Could I never escape the curse of having Black’s friends follow me everywhere I go?

Wait a tick, I’m flattering myself. They’re not stalking me nor have they ever. They can’t help it that they have virtually every lesson with me. Hold on…was I actually taking pity on them? What in Circe’s name was I thinking? If I should feel sorry for anyone, it should be myself. I’m the one who is stuck with those pigheaded gits all day long.

By the time I made my way down the dungeons, there was already a crowd gathering at the door. Snape was, as always, positioned right in front of the doorway, his books clutched to his chest as though he was protecting himself with them. I didn’t know why he just didn’t get a bag to put them in, but maybe it was his own way of shielding himself. Or maybe he just didn’t have enough money for a bag? I rolled my eyes to myself, wondering why I was even bothering contemplating the reasons why Snape didn’t have a school bag. Someone must’ve put something in my pumpkin juice because I wasn’t acting very normally today. Not that I ever acted normally, though…

Anyway.

Just as I began to wonder if Slughorn was going to show his rotund self, the door to the classroom opened and his belly preceded him out of the doorway. Like any other day, a bright, shining smile was stretched across his mouth, shadowed by his bushy mustache. His balding head was glistening in the torch light from a light sheen of sweat and he hastily brushed his powder covered fingers on the front of his robes before beckoning the class inside.

I wrinkled my nose as I entered the dungeon, my nostrils had encountered a peculiar, but foul scent. I tried to mask my disgust at the smell, but once I noticed that nearly everyone around me had their faces scrunched up, I didn’t hesitate to let my face rearrange itself.

Subconsciously, I moved to sit next to Lily, who was smiling kindly at me. But when Potter lowered himself in the seat beside the vibrant redhead, sporting a noticeable black eye and a wide grin of thanks, Lily’s smile vanished and was replaced by an unpleasant grimace.

My shoulders slumped in defeat; my worst nightmare had come true. Over the past few days, I had been hoping that it had all been some crazy sort of delusion, but the sight of Potter’s bruised eye and Lily’s grimace had sent me catapulting back into reality and the cold, harsh truth was staring me in the face. I really was partnered with Sirius, much to my dismay.

I looked around the dungeon to see where Black was sitting and found him sitting by himself, a distinct pout on his face, at a table near the back of the class. Taking a deep breath, I made my way toward the table, feeling like everyone’s eyes were on me, even though I knew they weren’t. It was foolish to think that they would spare me a moment’s glance.

Black’s expression couldn’t be anymore pathetic than it was when I set my bag down on the tabletop and sat down timidly on the stool beside him. It was obvious that he was upset with the prospect of having a partner who wasn’t James, but I wasn’t that bad…was I?

He turned his head toward me as I folded my hands in my lap and stared pointedly at the front of the room. Professor Slughorn was flicking his wand at the blackboard, instructions appearing on the dark surface in scrunched, yellow writing. It was difficult to read from back here and since I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses, I had to squint unattractively just to make out the letters. It probably looked like I had just popped a lemonhead in my mouth at that precise moment and I wouldn’t be surprised if Black started laughing any moment now.

But he just continued to stare at me, an unreadable expression on his face as Slughorn gave a big, showy flourish of his wand, the invisible hand ceasing to write anymore. He turned toward the class, a smile on his face and hands on his belly, and began to ramble on about how important this project was and how it would be in our best interest to write down the rules, guidelines, and instructions for the essays we were supposed to assemble and turn in three weeks from now.

“You have the rest of the period to converse with your partner and think of the endless possibilities for your potions! Have at it!” Slughorn chirped merrily in a sing-song voice, removing his hands from his great stomach, only to reveal the yellowish outline of his handprints. The entire class began to laugh under their breath, myself included. It was hard not to laugh at the completely ridiculous sight that our professor was obviously oblivious to. The giant master of Potions smiled again before returning to his seat and a rather large stack of intimidating looking essays.

As the laughter died away, people began turning to their partners to discuss the possible potions they could brew for a grade. However, my partner and I remained silent, the pair of us staring in opposite directions. He was looking down at his hands where he was twisting a quill around his fingers and I was still staring at the front of the classroom, struggling to read the board.

“Thanks.”

I nearly leapt out of my skin in fright at the sound of Black’s low, yet oddly comforting voice, my hand flying off the edge of the desk and knocking off the piece of parchment I had placed in front of me. I’m glad I hadn’t pulled my inkwell out of my bag just yet, for it probably would’ve joined my sheet of parchment on the floor.

I sent him a side long glance and said, “For what?”

“For agreeing to be my partner,” he replied, as though he was stating the obvious.

I was at a loss of words. I couldn’t exactly tell him the honest to Pete truth, he’d probably get really offended and a nasty rumor about how big of an ice queen I was would spread around the school and I would go from a nobody to a widely known and acknowledged bitchmaster!

Instead of doing the polite and logical thing of replying as kindly as possible to him and plastering a fake, but cheery smile on my face, I pulled my bag toward me and opened it up, rifling through it in order to find my inkwell and a quill to write with. I made a show of rummaging through the mess that was my school bag so I wouldn’t have to face the music and say something back to him. After a few minutes of unnecessary searching, I finally snatched my hand out of the bag, which had been clutching my inkwell and quill for as long as I had been searching.

I had decided that I would avoid eye contact at all costs, even if it meant ticking him off. So a few rumors spread about me might be a bit hurtful, but hey, there were worse things that could happen to me, such as Lucinda finding out about this entire mess and slitting my throat while I slept in my comfortable four poster, dreaming only dreams that someone with a wildly overactive imagination such as myself could conjure.

Uncapping my inkwell, I dipped the tip of my quill in the ink and began scratching away at my parchment, which had miraculously appeared in front of me. I had a hunch that Black had pulled a gentlemanly move and snatched it up off the ground for me. Damn him! Damn him to the deepest, darkest ring of Hell for being such a nice bloke!

Though I had to lean forward on my stool and squint to read Slughorn’s writing on the blackboard, it was all too soon before there was nothing else to write down. I had written as slow as I possibly could, which was incredibly slow and I must say, my handwriting was actually halfway decent and didn’t look like I was having a stroke mid-sentence.

I frowned inwardly at the prospect of having to actually talk to Black once he noticed that I had run out of things to scribble down on the paper. Over the weekend, I had imagined that we would have so many notes and instructions to copy down that there wouldn’t be much room for conversation, but alas, I had thought wrong. There was a surprisingly small amount of information we had to copy down in our notes and unfortunately, it left another half hour of class to talk. In my mind’s eye, I hadn’t thought about the possibility that I would actually have to engage in conversation with Black. My stomach plummeted at the mere idea and I resisted the urge to vomit my lunch all over the table as my stomach gave a great turn.

“Are you all right?” Black asked, an odd and seemingly out of place note of concern in his voice.

“Huh?” I said through clenched teeth, my stomach giving an almighty lurch as I turned to look at him.

“You look a bit peaky,” he supplied, his lips quirking downward. “Are you sure you’re all right?”

I nodded my head frantically, keeping my mouth tightly closed. Why was the thought of talking to Sirius Black making me physically sick? Was I really that frightened of speaking to him? Or was the thought of Lucinda killing me just that threatening?

Black raised his hand in the air, an out of characteristic thing for him, to call Slughorn over to us. I picked up my head, which I had laid down on the tabletop, and shot him a glare.

“Don’t!” I squeaked, lunging at him and forcing his arm down. Black stared at me with an expression that could only be described as sheer shock.

A smile graced his full lips. “So it does speak.” His gray eyes glanced down at my hand, which was clamped tightly around his arm and I quickly released it, folding my hands in my lap once more.

“Yes, it does!” I growled indignantly, my teeth still clenched.

“Ah, but does it have a name?” Sirius asked, cocking a brow slyly. Damn him and his ability to raise one brow. I had always wanted to do that, but it was a seemingly impossible feat and I gave up after a few minutes of practicing in a mirror several years ago.

When I didn’t respond right away, he said, “I still haven’t figured your name out yet.”

“I seemed to have notice,” I retorted, sending a furtive look around the classroom to make sure that no one had seen us talking. But alas, they hadn’t, as they were all busy discussing their projects. Save for Lily and Potter. They looked to be arguing under their breath, Lily turning bright pink in the face from frustration.

Black laughed in his bark like way, making me jump in surprise once again, which only made his laughter continue. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and I found myself wishing that I would’ve kept my head on the desk and pretended to have passed out.

“But don’t think I haven’t been thinking about it all weekend,” Black continued, smirking when my eyebrows shot up into my fringe. “Does that honestly shock you? I figured that everyone knew that I’ll stop at nothing when there’s a mystery to be solved.”

“So you’re saying that I’m mysterious?” I shot back, grinning despite myself.

God, what was wrong with me? I was supposed to be giving him the cold shoulder so he wouldn’t talk to me at all, but I couldn’t help myself. Black was just so laid back and easy to talk to…

Oh, get a hold of yourself, Briggs! He’s nothing special, you just think he’s a fit young man. Figures you’d be just like the rest…

I scowled at my conscience, wondering if it would ever lay off and just let me think without criticizing my every thought. But I suppose that’s what your conscience is there for, isn’t it? To tell you when you’re about to do something incredibly stupid or to criticize you for doing something that could get you into a lot of trouble.

Sirius smiled in response. “I guess you could say that.” He shook his shaggy, black locks out of his eyes with such grace that made the purest of swans out there green with envy. Why couldn’t my hair look as elegant or as silky as his? My eyes widened when he pulled his stool closer to me and leaned toward me, as though he wished to tell me a secret. I scooted back onto the very edge of my stool, hoping that no one was looking at us, for it would look rather incriminating if they did. But, when I scanned the classroom, I saw that all my classmates were as close, if not closer, than Sirius was to me.

I stared into his handsome face and he smiled charmingly at me. Ah yes, that smile of his. If I had thought that Remus Lupin had a nice smile, he had nothing on Sirius Black. My stomach made a strange, swooping sort of movement. I didn’t understand it and chose to ignore it.

“So…,” continued Sirius, leaning slightly closer to me. I could see the faint dusting of light colored freckles that dotted the bridge of his nose and trickled onto his high cheekbones, that’s how close he was to me. “Care to tell me your name?”

That was it. My resolve had crumbled. If I didn’t tell him what my name was, the world that I knew around me would crumble and I would be held responsible for the destruction of the universe. Although, there was a certain appeal to having that sort of thing known about you, it wasn’t exactly something I wanted to be known as forever and always. Not that people would know, seeing as how all humanity would end due to my aforementioned destruction of the universe.

Just as I opened my mouth to speak, the bell rang, signaling the end of class. I gave Black an apologetic smile and said, “Sorry. It seems you’ll have to wait to solve this ‘mystery’.” And with that, I grabbed all my belongings and fled the classroom, an oddly pleased smile on my face.

Chapter 6: Good Intentions
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There was an hour and a half in between my last class of the day, which was Potions, and the start of dinner. Although my stomach gave an almighty rumble as I left the dungeons, feeling very pleased with myself for some unknown reason, I decided to head back to the common room to get started on some of my homework. Even though I had tackled a massive pile of it over the weekend, from today’s lessons alone, I had a good five or six hours of work ahead of me. It wasn’t a very good prospect, but the sooner I got it done, the sooner I could finish the crossword puzzle from this morning’s issue of the Daily Prophet.

I sat at one of the many round tables in the common room, my book opened in front of me and quill poised over a fresh sheet of parchment, but for some reason, I couldn’t concentrate. For a few seconds, I forgot what I was even writing about. Shaking my head to myself, I looked down at my book and saw that I had chosen to start with Athrimancy first.

I didn’t get very far into my essay, considering that my stomach let out an unattractive rumble halfway through my first paragraph. Not only that, but like always, my thoughts had started to wander. For some reason, I couldn’t get today’s Potions lesson off my mind. Perhaps it was because of the conversation I had engaged in with Black. Had I really subjected to my mental protests and flirted with the bloke? I shook my head to myself. No, there was no way I had done something so foolish. I was smarter than that, I wasn’t like all the other boy-crazy girls in this school…was I?

My stomach swooped and I slapped my hand to my forehead. Merlin, I was exactly like every other girl in this place, swooning at the sight of his gorgeous gray eyes and his damn silky black hair! I was supposed to be ignoring him with all my might, yet I had done the exact opposite down in the dungeons. I made a silent vow to myself that I would erect the thick, icy wall that was always in place and fortify it to make it stronger whenever I was around Black; I couldn’t let my guard down again. But I hadn’t even noticed that I had let it down until I was laughing with him. Well, not laughing per say, but I certainly did chortle a little bit. Christ, I really was like all the love struck birds in this damn school!

When my stomach rumbled yet again, I decided it was time to head down to dinner. A quick look at my wrist watch told me that dinner had already started. Setting my quill down on the table, I stood up, stretching my arms over my head as I fought off a yawn. The common room was nearly empty; apparently, everyone had decided to gravitate toward the Great Hall at the same time. Following their examples, I stumbled through the portrait hole and toward the Great Hall.

All too soon, my legs had managed to carry me down six flights of stairs. I found myself standing at the foot of the main staircase, the glorious and mouthwatering scents of the delicious platters of food wafting my way. My stomach gave an involuntary growl and I was propelled forward by my legs. The noise level gradually increased as I neared the Great Hall and, as soon as I entered, it was like someone had plugged in one of the Muggle devices that amplified noises. I walked down the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables, looking for an empty space where I could situate myself a good deal way from people.

I had just found a spot between a gaggle of fourth years and a platter of scrumptious looking lamb chops when the most peculiar thing happened.

At first, I wasn’t entirely sure if it had been my imagination or not. Someone was flailing their arms above their head frantically, a wide, pleasant smile on their face. I didn’t know if it was meant for me or not, so I looked over my shoulders. I didn’t see anything on either side, but just to save myself from the embarrassment, I did a little circle on spot, making sure that no one was behind me. There wasn’t anyone standing behind me.

I expected that much.

What I didn’t expected was for people to actually stop eating, their forks mid-air, to stare at me with wide, curious eyes. It was like I had a disease or something. Maybe they thought I was going to whip out some sort of crazy chainsaw-esque device and go mass murderer on their arses. Although it was highly unlikely, I wouldn’t be surprised if half of these people thought I was unstable enough to actually do something like that. Several people blinked owlishly at me, trying to decided if I was doing some sort of strange fertility dance or I was really was as mental as people made me out to be.

Well, that’s to say if people talked about me. You know, if people did gossip about me, I want them to talk about how crazy I was. It was better than being a whore or a prude, wasn’t it? Or a complete bitch because, really, who wanted to be a bitch? Aside from Lucinda Matthews, that is. That girl took pride in being the biggest bitch in the history of Hogwarts.

The person was still flailing around like a fish out of water, but I was still convinced that they must’ve been mistaken. Surely, they couldn’t have been trying to get my attention…

“Eleanor!” A familiar, friendly voice shouted.

Or maybe they were! You know what they say: there’s a first time for everything.

And I assuming that this was my moment to actually sit with people my own age instead of talking with the Gryffindor ghost, Nearly Headless Nick. Sure, the imprint of a departed soul was a very nice bloke to talk to, always interested in what I had to say, but honestly, it would be nice to not have to listen about how horrible death was. Yes, I got that it was incredibly depressing that he wasn’t able to be a part of the Headless Hunt, but I didn’t care all too much. I acted like I did, but I really didn’t. So, sorry Nick, if you ever manage to master the art of Legimens and get inside my head and hear my thoughts. I like you, buddy, but you just complain way too much.

I had been so caught up in my own thoughts about several strange conversations I’d had with Nick over the past few years that I nearly screamed when someone placed their hand on my elbow. I didn’t scream, per say, but I did squeak. Rather unattractively, too. It was like a loud giggle mixed with an obnoxious squeak and a hint of a squeal.



See, I told you it was unattractive.

“Oh, sorry!”

“It’s okay,” I said, not taking my eyes off the scratched hand which was still holding my elbow. I stared at the hand pointedly until the person removed it. I would’ve felt incredibly awkward looking up into their face while they were still holding onto my arm. Don’t ask why, but I just would’ve.

My eyes widened at the sight of Remus Lupin, drinking in his floppy hair and dazzling eyes. He was smiling in his timid way, but it was so hot on him…erm, what I meant to say was that it worked for him. Yeah, that was it. I didn’t like Remus. He was just a friendly acquaintance that I talked to on rare occasions…

Okay, I’m the worst liar in the entire world. I’ve had a crush on Remus Lupin for as long as I can remember. All right, so maybe not that long, but I think it started somewhere around the middle of fifth year when I said to myself, ‘Self, Remus Lupin got hot.’ Of course, I probably would’ve never noticed that he had gotten ‘hot’ over the summer if it hadn’t been for that delightful little man named Filius Flitwick. Oh, how I mentally thanked Merlin for putting him in this world. We probably didn’t become friendly acquaintances/almost friends under the best conditions, considering that he was tutoring me, that’s how bad I was at Charms, but hey, at least we talked. And I mean like really talked. Not some pleasantries and then got cracking down to business, but actually exchanged pleasant conversation.

So, I might be exaggerating just how much we talked, but I swear it happened!

“Hi,” I breathed, suddenly feeling lightheaded. Oh Merlin, not this again. Shite, there was nothing for me to grab onto.

“Hi,” Remus said back, still grinning. “So, I was wondering if you wanted to join us for dinner?”

What? He wanted me to marry him? Oh yes! I accept!

“Yes.” I answered.

“You will?”

“Most definitely.”

“That’s great,” replied Remus as he started to walk down the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff table. He was moving toward the middle of the table, where he sat with his buddies. I cringed inwardly as we neared the table. Had I really just agreed to sit with Remus and his best mates, one of which just happened to be Sirius Black? How in the name of Merlin’s pants did I get myself into such incredibly sticky situations?

Thankfully, I couldn’t feel any eyes on me as we came to a stop; people were much too busy eating their food. Remus gestured for me to sit down on the bench. I smiled tightly at him as I swung my leg over the bench, my knee cap hitting the lip of the table. I bit the inside of my cheek to prevent from crying out in pain, even if it hadn’t hurt very much, it was just instinct to do so when one got hurt, wasn’t it? No one laughed, much to my relief, and I lowered myself onto the bunch, only to see that I was sitting beside my cheery roommate, Alice Harper.

“Hiya Eleanor!” she said brightly, taking a small bit of her mashed potatoes.

“Hey Alice. How are you?” I asked as I struggled to fight off the feelings of intense awkwardness.

“Good, thanks for asking.” She wiped her mouth with her napkin. “What brings you over here? Don’t you usually sit by yourself?”

Though I loved Alice to death, she had a habit of stating the obvious as well as saying the things that was on everyone’s mind, but no one dared to speak. She was a sweet girl, really, she was, but sometimes, I wish someone would tell her that she should keep some of her words to herself.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, wanting nothing more than to hop off the bench and go running out of the Great Hall at top speed.

“Well,” Alice said, “I’m glad you’re sitting with us. You always look so lo-.”

“Do you want some potatoes, Eleanor?” Remus asked, cutting across Alice before she could finish her sentence.

I shot him a look of thanks, nodded, and wordlessly handed him my plate. It was sort of strange, having Remus slap a massive spoonful of mashed potatoes on my plate; it almost made me feel like a child again. Apparently, I was the only one who felt the least bit awkward, as everyone else was busy spooning - or in some cases, forking - food into their mouths with such seriousness, you would’ve thought that it was some sort of competition.

“Thanks,” I said as he passed the golden plate, which was now loaded with more potatoes that I could ever dream of eating, back to me. Our fingers brushed and, as juvenile as it sounded, I could feel the heat start to rise in my cheeks. Unfortunately, Remus seemed to notice.

“No problem,” He replied, smiling widely.

I lowered my head and began to eat my mashed potatoes, praying to Merlin that I was wrong about Remus seeing the blush in my cheeks. It was already bad enough that I was sitting with people I wasn’t exactly friends with, but now he had seen me blush at the simplest brushing of fingers? How ridiculous was I?

“’Ello,” said a pleasant, familiar voice. I looked up to see that James Potter had dropped onto the bench across from me. He nodded at me, smiling as he began to load his plate up with great amounts of food.

“What kept you?” Remus asked as he cut his steak into pieces. What a polite gentleman.

“Quidditch practice,” James answered after vigorously chewing up the chunk of meat in his mouth and swallowing roughly. He reached across the table and filled up his goblet with pumpkin juice, which he downed in one enormous gulp. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve, he added, “Padfoot should be along in a minute,” before plunging his spoon into a massive mound of gravy-covered mashed potatoes.

Remus merely nodded before returning to his food. I hadn’t realized that I had stopped eating until Peter brought it to my attention.

“Oh,” I muttered, the heat creeping up my neck as I stared at my plate of food. I blinked a few times, shaking myself out of my comatose state, and hurriedly shoved a too-big piece of steak into my mouth. My nerves were too frayed for me to properly chew my food, which led to my swallowing of a rather large, unmasticated piece of meat. It hurt as it made its way down my throat, scraping the sides of my esophagus.

Maybe if they got caught up in their conversation, I could slip underneath the lip of the table and crawl my way out of the Great Hall. It’s not like anyone would notice that I was crawling out from underneath the table when I reached the end anyway; no one ever noticed me. Ah, the perks of being invisible. They were grand and very valuable in times like these. If that plan failed, I could always feign sickness and rush out of the Great Hall and hurry back to the common room. Of course, I would be shut away in the girls’ dormitory for the rest of the evening and I didn’t exactly want that happening, but if it lowered my chances of encountering Black, then it was a possibility.

I kept my eyes trained on my plate of food, watching as the mound of mashed potatoes slowly dwindled as I forcefully shoved spoonful after spoonful into my mouth. There may not have been enough room in my stomach, but it was distracting me and that was all I needed. I missed my mouth several times, hitting my teeth as well as the tip of my mouth. Naturally, this had escaped my notice, as I kept sending the tiniest peeks over at the entrance to the Great Hall.

The second I saw his shiny black head of hair, I would slink underneath the table and crawl. Yes, I had decided that was the best way to go about making my escape. It was the only way I was going to be able to escape with the hopes of it going unnoticed by Remus and his friends. I sent a cautious look in their general direction and breathed a breath of relief. All three of them, and Alice included, were immersed deep into conversation with one another, most likely discussing a lesson they’d had that day. It would’ve been smart to keep one ear tuned into the conversation in case they asked me a random question, asking for my opinion of the subject matter, but of course, I hadn’t thought ahead.

So when they did ask for my input, I stared at each of their expectant faces in turn, my mouth slightly agape, despite the fact it was full of chewed up meat and potatoes. Swallowing roughly, I cleared my throat and shrugged my shoulders.

“I-I’m not really sure how I feel about that,” I said, trailing off as my sentence became more and more ridiculous.

Neither Alice nor Peter looked peeved by my answer, rather they looked as though they had expected such a thing from me. I wish I could say the same for Remus and Potter, as they were both staring at me with equally incredulous expressions on their faces.

“So you don’t think that women should be given the fair chance of playing for a professional Quidditch team as males are?” James questioned.

Oh, so that’s what the conversation was about.

“I, uh, don’t know much about Quidditch?” I replied, wincing slightly as I waited for their reactions.

“Just because you don’t know much about the sport doesn’t mean you can’t have an opinion, Eleanor,” said Remus pointedly.

I wish the floor would just open up and a monstrous earth worm would gobble me up. But nothing of the miracle sort ever happened to me.

“Er…”

“You don’t like Quidditch, do you?” James accused, raising a brow, his voice drenched with contempt.

“No!” I said hurriedly, holding out my hands and accidentally knocking my fork onto the floor. For the love of Circe! I tried to ignore the undeniable sensation of the heat creeping up onto my cheek as I rummaged my brain for a response. “It’s not that I don’t like Quidditch, I just don’t…oh…well, I don’t really understand it.”

“What about it don’t you understand?” Remus inquired, looking curious.

“I get the whole point of throwing that one leather ball - what’s it called?”

“The Quaffle.” James supplied, barely biting back a grimace.

“Yes, that thing. I know you have to throw the Quaffle through the hoops at either end of the field and there are those really heavy balls that the Booters-."

"Beaters. And those 'really heavy balls' are Bludgers."

"Right. I knew that. Then that Snatcher thing-."

“Snitch,” corrected James impatiently.

“Right, the Snitch. All I know is that needs to be caught in order for the game to end and it’s worth a lot of points.” I released a breath, wondering what my fellow Gryffindors would think of me after this revelation.

Much to my surprise, both James and Remus laughed. Not mockingly, thankfully, but in general amusement. But for some unknown reason, that bothered me. They may not have been making fun of me, but still, I didn’t want them laughing at me unless I thought it was funny as well. And I didn’t.

“Why are you laughing?” I snapped, unable to hold back my annoyance. Which was shocking. I was usually good at that sort of thing.

James was the first to sober up, somehow managing to get his incredibly girlish snickers under control. “I think that’s the most I have heard you say at one point in time,” he answered, unable to hide his smirk. “Ever.”

I opened my mouth to say something, but the words never came out. Snapping my jaw shut, I stared at the pair of them for a few more seconds before turning my attention back to my food. I wasn’t even hungry, but I couldn’t look at them. They had confirmed my worst fear: people had noticed me, but they had given up trying to get me to speak.

“Well,” Remus said, breaking the oddly tense silence that fell over our portion of the table. “There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?”

“Exactly,” James agreed, sending a genuine smile my way. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as Lily made him out to be.

Well, at least I thought he was smiling at me. He pushed himself away from the table, standing up to look over the various heads. “Oi! Padfoot!” He waved his arms in a wide arc and my stomach plummeted toward the ground.

Why, Merlin, why?

Chapter 7: Sound Effects and Overdramatics
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I wish that a meteorite would come crashing down from the enchanted ceiling and hit me on the head. That way, one of two things would happen: I’d either be rendered unconscious or, if life actually decided to relinquish its vendetta against me, I would drop dead. Although, judging by the glare I was receiving from Lucinda, it would only be a matter of time before I would crumple to the ground, dead. Not that anyone would care.

I subconsciously shrank back, my shoulder brushing against Remus’s. He glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes, his normally smooth brow furrowed in concern. The only thing he needed to be worried about were the thunderous words that threatened to escape Lucinda’s perfect mouth.

I vaguely marveled at the fact that she hadn’t spontaneously combusted yet. Her exquisite face was contorted, distorted even, into an expression beyond rage. Her pale skin was an ugly color of puce. Anger most certainly did not become her. In any other situation, I would have been struggling to keep my laughter under control, but this wasn’t an every day scenario. Oh no, the beautiful blonde’s anger was directed at me and the only person who seemed to notice was Remus.

“Move over, Moons,” commanded Sirius, his oddly soothing voice calming my nerves. I hadn’t even realized that I was nervous in the first place. Not until he spoke, at least.

Remus opened his mouth to say something, still looking at me and, most likely, seeing the fearful look in my eyes. But Lucinda beat him to it.

“There’s no more room here, baby,” came her sickeningly sweet, yet incredibly annoying voice. I cringed inwardly as she gave his arm a sharp tug, wondering how anyone could be so…well, I don’t know what word I’m searching for, as none seem to fit. “Let’s go sit at my table,” she insisted, pulling on his arm again as she sent me a scathing look. Oh, if looks could kill, then I would die worry free.

Sirius jerked his arm roughly out of her talons -- er, I mean fingers. He looked down at his arm briefly before his eyes flashed to her lovely face. The sternness in his silver depths seemed to lessen and he sighed. He didn’t say anything as he nudged his way onto the bench. You know, without considering the fact that someone else might actually be occupying it, a.k.a. me. He stepped on my toe and hit me square in the face with the point of his elbow.

“Oi!” Remus said. “Watch it, Pads.”

“What’d I do?”

“You knocked Eleanor in the face with your elbow.”

Why did Remus had to be such a gentleman? Couldn’t he just have let it slide? I didn’t care that Sirius had elbowed me in the face, so why did he? It hadn’t hurt that much anyway. I mean, yeah, my nose was throbbing and I had bit into the inside of my cheek, but other than that, I was injury free. Besides, it was an unnecessary shift of attention to me.

I tried to keep my attention focused on my half-empty plate of food, but it was a lot harder than I would have thought it to have been, considering there were six pairs of eyes glued on me. I shifted uncomfortably under the intense scrutiny. Did they all have to stare at me like stupid idiots? Merlin have mercy!

Sirius was the first to recover. With a shake of his head and a gleam of his light eyes, he gracefully sank down onto the bench beside me. I scooted closer to Remus, a sheepish smile on my face as I was pressed tightly against his side as Lucinda sat down as well. I could feel her glaring at me from around Sirius while he piled both of their plates full of food, looking incredibly happy.

If only he knew the truth about his so-called perfect girlfriend. I bet he wouldn’t like her very much then, or look as happy with himself like he did now. Unfortunately, I had made the Devil herself a promise and thought I may not like her, I wouldn’t go back on my word. Besides, I didn’t have anything against Sirius. At least, nothing more than the next person, so I wouldn’t bring that kind of unhappiness upon him unless the situation with Lucinda and Amos got worse.

Conversation commenced around me, and thankfully, it wasn’t about me. Neither Alice nor James talked to me, as they were deep into Quidditch talk with Sirius. Peter was too engrossed with his foot to care what was going on around him. And Lucinda, well, she was looking into the back of her spoon, dragging her finger along the edge of her lips to wipe away all stray access of lip gloss that might’ve smeared. Vain little bitch.

Wow, I was in quite the mood today, wasn’t I?

Remus, however, was staring at me, waiting for me to make a move. It was slightly unnerving.

I cleared my throat as quietly as possible, as I didn’t want to draw any attention to myself, and turned slightly to the left to look at Remus. “I’m going to go,” I muttered, tearing my eyes away from my plate and staring up into his face.

“Why?” he asked, sounding disappointed.

“I’m finished with my dinner and I have a lot of homework to do that’s due tomorrow,” I answered.

He could understand that, right? After all, he was a Prefect.

“Oh,” or maybe he couldn’t, “That’s all right.”

Ah, I knew I liked Remus for a reason. I looked down at my hands. “Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Eleanor. I understand. I have a lot of homework as well.”

Or maybe he did. Like I said, I knew I liked him for a reason.

Pushing away from the table, I struggled to worm my way off the bench. Neither Sirius nor Lucinda gave any inclination that they knew of my struggle, so it was increasingly difficult to get my left leg out from underneath the table. I jiggled my leg, cursing under my breath before I gave a frustrated kick…and succeeded in nailing Sirius in the shin with the back of my shoe.

“Ouch!” he cried out, small bits of food flying out of his mouth. I opened my mouth to apologize, but Lucinda was fawning over him before I could get a word out. Oh well.

Remus gripped my elbow so I wouldn’t topple over as I freed my leg. I struggled to ignore the frantic fluttering of butterflies in my stomach. Grindelwald be damned, I was acting like some silly little tart!

“Thanks for letting me sit with you,” I muttered, looking away sheepishly.

“Anytime.” He smiled, taking his hand off my elbow. “Again tomorrow?”

I smiled back timidly, my skin burning where he had held my elbow. “Maybe.”

X - X - X

 I stared longingly out the window, my eyes following the drops of rain as they made their slow descent toward the bottom of the pane. I was glad I sat in the back corner by the window. Not only could I daydream, but I could gaze outside and wish that I was out there. I wasn’t the biggest fan of thunderstorms, but rainstorms I could deal with. I could still remember when I was younger, my father would take me outside when it was raining and we’d try to catch raindrops in our mouths.

I sighed and glanced down at the watch on my wrist. I still had another fifteen minutes left of this class. Would it ever go any faster or would time slow down completely? I hoped not. I don’t think I could handle the sound of Binns’s monotone voice for the rest of eternity. Could you imagine how horrible that would be? I shudder at the mere thought of it.

While I stared out the window, I let my mind wander. It’s not like anything I would write down would help me remember what Binns’s had been talking about…okay, so maybe it would, but it’s not like I was going to use History of Magic at any point in my life as it were, so that made it unimportant.

Sort of.

Anyway, that’s not the point.

I didn’t want to go to my last lesson of the day. The familiar lump of dread was already forming in the pit of my stomach, which was gurgling uncomfortably. Maybe I could make myself throw up a few minutes into the class and leave? I wouldn’t have to go to the Hospital Wing because it would be unnecessary, so why not give it a try? The only flaw in the plan I saw was that I hated vomiting. That could prove to be a problem, don’t you think?

Shaking my head to myself, I looked out the window at the Quidditch Pitch. I could barely make it out through the haze of the rain nor from the angle the classroom was positioned at. A massive tree was blocking the majority of it from my view. I don’t know why I was so fascinated with staring at the Pitch, but I was.

I had never learned how to play Quidditch as it didn’t hold much interest to me. It wasn’t that the sport was boring, not in the slightest, it was just probable that I would - well, I’m going to be honest with myself - not only would I suck, but I would probably die the first match I played three seconds into it. Not only did I not do too well with nerves, but I wasn’t exactly the best flier. It wasn’t because I didn’t like heights, I just didn’t know how to control the damn broom. I want it to go left, it goes right. I want it to go up - you guessed it! It goes down. Besides, it was a bit too rough for me and, in my opinion, seemed like a man’s sport, no matter how much girls liked to argue otherwise. I wasn’t doubting any of the females’ skills, I just don’t fancy playing the sport myself.

Oh vey, if feminists could hear the conversations going on in my head right now, I’d be flayed like a fish. I cringed at the idea of hundreds of women coming rushing at me with their pitchforks raised and fists clenched and shaking mightily. I didn’t do so well with crowds.

The shrill sound of the bell cut through my thoughts. There was a chorus of chairs scraping against the flagstone and the general shuffle toward the door. I hung back like I always did, taking my time to shove my stuff into my satchel. Pushing a hand through my hair, I moved my fringe out of my eyes before I shouldered my bag. On the way out of the door, I gave a small wave to Mr. Binns, who didn’t seem to notice at all.

I was halfway down the hall when it happened. A strong hand clamped down around my upper arm and I was roughly tugged into a dark alcove. Before I could open my mouth to protest, I was being slammed against a wall, my teeth rattling in my skull. I blinked away the wetness that had gathered in my eyes as best as I could, trying in vain to clear my vision of all haziness.

“Could you let go?” I asked meekly, scrunching up my face as I anticipated the fist that would most likely coming hurling in my direction.

Much to my surprise, the grip on my arm was released and I could feel a surge of blood rushing through my veins.

“Open your eyes, you stupid cow,” growled a familiar voice. “You look like an idiot.”

Reluctantly, I unwrinkled my face and opened my eyes. I found myself staring into the obnoxiously beautiful face of Lucinda Matthews, her head several inches away from mine. Well, this was just fantastic, wasn’t it? I tried to shy away, but she put a hand on either side of my head.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she leered, baring her perfectly straight teeth.

I stared at her, completely dumbstruck. What in the name of Circe was she talking about? “Um, I’m not following?” The pitch of my voice rose as my sentence came to a close.

Lucinda rolled her brilliant eyes and backed away, an ugly expression on her pretty face. “You know perfectly well what I’m talking about, Briggs.”

I would’ve said something, congratulating her on remembering my name, but I decided against it. She already looked furious as it was, and I doubted it would be any good on her complexion if she continued to turn such an ugly shade of puce all the time.

“I, uh,” I swallowed the lump in my throat. I never responded well to intimidation. “I don’t think that I do know what you’re talking about, Lucinda.”

Okay, so that was a flat out lie. The truth of the matter was that I knew exactly what she was talking about. I just didn’t want to admit it to her too gorgeous face. My imagination could only invent so many new methods of social torture. Besides, it would probably only make her more livid than she already was.

Lucinda grabbed my arms again, tightening her grip on the tops of my arms as her sharp nails bit into my flesh. “Don’t play dumb, Briggs. I know exactly what you’re trying to do.”

Before I could help myself, I said, “Oh really?” The tone of voice I used sounded slightly challenging, but pained at the same time: a cold rush of air had just swept over my cut flesh. I could feel a drop of blood trickle down my arm. I’m not going to lie, I was a wimp when it came to pain.

Leering, she pulled me closer to her perfection. Lucinda was several inches taller than me, so she had to bring her face down to my level to reach proper intimidation conditions. Although, as I said earlier, I never responded well to intimidation and therefore, I was intimidated very easily.

I could barely contain my laughter at the next words that left her mouth:

“You plan on stealing Sirius from me,” she snarled through gritted teeth. “You want him all to yourself.”

A short breath of laughter escaped me before I clamped my jaw shut, my body shaking with unreleased laughter. How bloody stupid could she honestly be? If she thought that I was interested in stealing her annoying, exceedingly arrogant boyfriend away from her, Miss Ruddy Perfection, then she had another thing coming for her.

“Why are you laughing?” she demanded, her eyes widening. “Stop laughing!”

I sobered up immediately, my face blanching as I looked into her furious face. I mumbled my response under my breath, but she didn’t catch it.

“Excuse me? What was that?” Lucinda asked, her brow furrowing.

I gulped. Maybe I should learn to keep my comments to myself instead of saying them out loud. I struggled to make up a lie, but I was never good at lying on the spot and almost everyone saw through the feeble fibs I told.

“I said that you’re stupid for thinking something like that,” I muttered, hanging my head to stare at my shoes. Old habits die hard, my friends.

“I’m stupid?” she repeated incredulously. “I’M STUPID?!

“No! That’s not what I meant, Lucinda,” I amended quickly. I swallowed again, licking my lips nervously. Well, might as well butter her up so she’d relinquish her death grip on my arms. I could already feel the bruises forming under my skin. Clearing my throat, I continued, “What I meant to say is that the thought of me actually attempting to steal Sirius away from someone as pretty, intelligent, and sophisticated as you is simply preposterous.”

Lucinda considered it for a second, her eyes narrowing as she searched my face. I wasn’t lying, honestly. That was my opinion on the matter. I would never attempt something as pigheaded as that anyway. Besides, it’s not like I fancied Black anyway. In fact, he sort of repulsed me at times. And there was the whole intimidation thing…

“So you’re telling me that you didn’t plan on becoming partners with him in Potions?”

I shook my head vigorously. “Merlin no! Potter asked if he could switch to Lily, since she’s a genius when it comes to Potions and, well, Black’s not. Slughorn agreed and made me Black’s partner instead. I had no say in the matter.”

That was another lie. I did have a say in the matter, I just hadn’t been paying the slightest bit of attention. Actually, I think I was preoccupied with the various items floating around in that green stuff in those jars behind his desk…yeah, that was it.

When she didn’t say anything for a few seconds, I asked, “Could you please let go of my arms?”

“Oh, right,” she murmured to herself, immediately releasing me. My words seemed to shake Lucinda out of her stupor and she straightened her spine, rising a fraction of an inch. She tossed her curtain of long, flaxen hair over her shoulder before adding, “I guess I can accept that as an answer.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, my shoulders literally sagging as I leaned against the wall.

“Just remember: if I even catch wind that you told Sirius, you’ll have me to answer to.”

I was tempted to make some comment about how she couldn’t be much worse that the Devil himself, but I refrained. I could only imagine how insanely perfect her right hook would be.

“I won’t,” I squeaked.

Rolling her eyes, Lucinda looked at me for a prolonged moment before shoving past me. When I stepped out of the alcove, she was already around the corner and out of sight.

Chapter 8: Slow Down
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The rest of the lessons for that day came and went in their natural, orderly fashion. The constant patter of rain against the windows, the ancient rooftops, and the walls of the school wasn’t helping relieve my sudden wave of drowsiness. One would think that I would’ve been more alert than ever after the encounter with Lucinda, but if anything, it had made me all the more exhausted.

A heavy sighed escaped me as I pushed the door open, stumbling into the hallway. It was empty, just as I thought it would be. I was always one of the last students, if not the very last, to leave the classroom once a lesson had finished up. Hell, even the professor disappeared before I gathered up all my stuff as well as enough nerve to step out of the room. So, naturally, the corridors were deserted.

As I replayed the generally boring day - Lucinda encounter aside - while I walked down the hall, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. Clutching my books closer to my chest - the strap on my satchel had broken and even though it would’ve taken a simple flick of my wand, I didn’t feel like fixing it after lunch - I lengthened my strides. By the time I reached the end of the corridor, I was all but jogging down the corridors.

Glancing down at my watch, I saw that there was another hour and a half before dinner. I hadn’t been given much homework from today’s lessons, and I had really been wanting to seek some peace and quiet so I could read the book my Aunt had sent in the post that morning. I bit my lower lip, contemplating whether or not I should brave the loud ruckus of the Gryffindor common room and run the risk of bumping into Black or just head straight to the library and do whatever homework I had yet to complete.

Just when I was about to make my decision, someone called my name. I stopped walking mid-step, wondering if I had made up the voice. Slowly, I turned to look over my shoulder and breathed a breath of relief. I wasn’t crazy and I hadn’t made up the voice; Lily Evans, with Alice Harper in tow, was coming toward me, a brilliant smile on her already brilliantly beautiful face.

“Wotcher Eleanor!” Alice greeted pleasantly as both she and Lily came to a halt in front of me.

I muttered a soft hello, staring instinctively down at my feet. It was one of my worst habits, but one I couldn’t seem to break. My plain, brown hair fell into my eyes, but I didn’t push it out of the way.

A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed between the three of us in which I was began to ponder why they had called out to me in the hall to stop me in the first place. But before I could voice my concern, Lily began to speak;

“Were you making your way to the library?” she asked, looking at me curiously.

I nodded. “Yeah, I was.”

Her smile returned, wider than it had been before. “We were wondering if you’d like to study with us for our Charms exam tomorrow. I know you have some difficulty with the class, just like Alice does, so…” she trailed off suggestively, a hopeful tone in her voice.

I picked my gaze up from the floor and my eyes flickered between their faces. Of course, she knew that I was horrible in Charms. Then again, who didn’t, especially after the incident in second year when I knocked Professor Flitwick unconscious when one of my charms had gone terribly wrong. I contemplated whether or not I’d like to study with them when, really, I had been looking forward to just sitting in the library and listening to the rain. Hmm, it seemed that I had already subconsciously made up my mind about my return to the common room.

Alice was so anxious, she was gnawing on her bottom lip.

“Yeah, okay,” I conceded, giving another small nod of my head. “I’ll join you guys.”

The sweet-faced, honey blonde let out a noise of great happiness while Lily smiled widely, “Brilliant.”

I was glad that someone was happy in this situation. Well, technically, two people were happy, but that just didn’t count, now did it? I had only begrudgingly agreed to this scenario and the reason was solely academic. It wasn’t like I had anything against either of the two, as they were some of the few people that actually spoke to me on a regular basis - well, semi-regular - and acknowledged my existence. I had just planned on being alone for a little while.

Lily led the way to the library. As we walked behind her, Alice chattered on incessantly and, after about two minutes, I blocked her cheery voice out. It wasn’t that I was trying to be rude, I just didn’t care for the ramblings that were coming from her lips. I had either heard them all or didn’t have any interest in them.

The strange feeling that I was being watched came over me again and I tried my very hardest not to shiver and alert Alice and Lily to my discomfort. I held onto my books more tightly, staring straight ahead of me. I dare not look elsewhere because I would probably end up freaking myself out and running back to the common room like the little sissy that I was.

I barely registered that we had entered the library when we did. The sound of my feet against the floor changed ever so slightly as we walked toward a table. Well, my table to be exact. The one that was the farthest one away from all the buzz of the library were large amounts of students crowded the interior, studying until they could barely keep their eyes open - or Madam Pince kicked them out of the library.

Hurriedly, I took my regular seat before either of them could. If I was going to study with them, I might as well make myself comfortable. There were two reasons why I liked this particular seat: one, because the padding on the seat of the chair actually still had padding it in, despite the fact that it looked incredibly rickety, it was comfortable and two, the angle of the bookcases concealed me from the view of all the other students. In short, it was perfect for me.

Lily took the seat to my immediate left and Alice sat down beside her. Because of them, I was almost completely blocked from view. On the inside, I did a small dance before I set my books down on the top of the table. The last time I had been in the library had been fateful and was the cause behind the bruises that decorated the upper portion of both my arms.

“So, what are we going to study first?” Lily asked eagerly, her emerald eyes sparkling at the notion that she actually got to help two of her friends - or one of them, anyway, I was more of an acquaintance - with their homework.

“Um,” I glanced at Alice, who looked just as apprehensive as I did.

“How about what we learned in class today?” Alice suggested.

“Yeah, that sounds good,” I agreed, nodding my head.

I just wanted to get this over with before anyone saw me.

Even if I wasn’t “forbidden” from associating with Lily and Alice, I couldn’t help but see through the eyes of Lucinda, who probably thought I was trying to get closer to Black through Lily and Alice. The thought alone usually would’ve made me laugh, but now, it made me cautious; I had to watch who I hung out with and where I did.

“Well, in order to pick up where we left off in class, we’ll have to round up some books,” Lily began, reaching into her satchel and producing a piece of parchment and a handsome looking eagle feather quill. I thought of my ruined eagle quill and sighed inwardly. She quickly scribbled on the sheet before tearing it in two and handed me one half. Alice received the other.

I looked down at the call number and resisted the urge to breath out in an angsty way. Of course, I would get the one book that would be impossible to find. I rolled my eyes as Alice studied her paper, her lips silently forming words, as though she was committing the words on the parchment to memory.

Lily was the first to leave the table, hurrying off and muttering under her breath. I glanced sidelong at Alice and bit back a small titter of laughter. You know what they say, birds of a feather, flock together. I pushed away from the table and went off in the direction where I knew the bookcases held the book I was assigned were located.

Miraculously, I managed to not trip over my own feet as I made my way over toward the bookcases on the opposite side of the library. Thankfully, there weren’t many students inside the library and, at any rate, they were all too focused on their work to notice me.

A small smile lit up my lips as I started on the first row of voluminous books. It may not have been the most glorious of tasks to look up at the crackled spines of all the old, leather bound books, but I reveled in the musty smell of old books. I inhaled deeply, my eyes fluttering shut for a few moments. I leaned against the wooden shelf, my eyes still closed as I ran my fingers over the various spines of the books.

If anyone saw me, they’d probably think that I was some sort of freak. But that was really going out on a limb and saying that someone would actually take the time to look my way. Sighing softly, I opened my eyes and looked down at the piece of parchment in my hand. I was in charge of finding some ridiculously titled Charms book and, as I tilted my head upward and looked at the rows and rows of shelving, my stomach knocked together.

This was going to take a while.

I had been searching for a little longer than five minutes when someone cleared their throat rather noisily, causing me to hit my head on the lip of one of the shelves. I bit back a retort, knowing that it wasn’t smart to plunge headfirst into a disagreement with someone without actually knowing who you were confronting.

“Hello,” a smooth, familiar voice said.

Once I managed to duck my head and avoid hitting the shelf again, I shook my fringe out of my eyes and turned to look at who had cleared their throat.

Much to my surprise, instead of cowering at the thought of conversing with someone, my lips twitched slightly, as if they wanted to pull back into a welcoming smile.

“Hi Remus,” I said, my voice cracking slightly.

“I didn’t mean to make you hit your head,” he commented, taking a step closer to me.

“Oh, it’s all right,” I replied, standing up to my full height instead of crouching down on the dirty floor. “I scare easily.”

A warm smile made its way across his friendly face and he chuckled. Leaning against the bookcase and crossing his arms over his chest, he asked, “Are you planning on joining us for dinner again? James plans to teach you all about Quidditch.”

 “Really?” I raised a brow in amusement. It was so easy to feel comfortable around Remus.

“Oh yes,” he continued, still smiling. “He’s made a bet with me that he could convince you that Quidditch was not only the greatest sport ever invented, but that you’d become an avid fan by the end of dinner.”

I laughed and Remus joined in. “He has high hopes, James does.”

Remus’s face immediately sobered up and he nodded his head in a rather somber manner. “That he does.”

I knew almost instantaneously what he was talking about. I thought of my study partner - or tutor, rather - and sighed.

“So,” he said after a moment of relatively awkward silence settled between us. “What brings you here?”

“Studying,” I answered.

“Try not to sound so enthusiastic, Miss Briggs,” Remus reprimanded jokingly.

Again, I laughed. “Well, it’s not exactly fun when one is studying their most dreaded subject.”

He pulled a face. “Binns does know how to assign some pretty nasty essays.”

“Oh no,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m talking about Charms.” If anyone knew how horrible I was at Charms, it was Remus.

Another smile twitched at his lips and he nodded his head serenely. “I had forgotten how horrendous you were at that subject.”

I opened my mouth in mock offense. “That was a low blow, Mr. Lupin. A very low blow.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, sounding genuine in his apology. Had he not picked up on the joking, sarcastic tone in my voice?

“It’s all right. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”

“So, how about it?” Remus asked. “Are you going to join us for dinner?”

I couldn’t ignore the hopeful note in his voice and, inwardly, I cringed. I would’ve gladly accepted the invitation to sit with him and his mates had it not been for my encounter with Lucinda that afternoon. I subconsciously rubbed the tops of my arms and bit my lip when I applied a little too much pressure on a particularly nasty bruise. Was it really worth it? I valued Remus’s friendship, if that’s what you could call this new…thing that had formed between us, but were his feelings really worth having to subject to whatever Lucinda had planned for me should I go back on my word?

Thankfully, Lily came to my rescue. “Eleanor!” she said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Have you found that book yet?”

 Remus looked over his shoulder at the vivacious redhead and smiled warmly. The two of them were quite the pair of friends, having been Gryffindor Prefects from fifth to this year - until Lily was made Head Girl. “Oh, Hiya Remus! I wasn’t expecting to see you here. Care to join our little study group?”

His kind eyes flickered over to me and I bit my lip. I wanted to say no, that he wasn’t allowed to join our little study group, as Lily had put it, that he should just go back to the Gryffindor common room before I spilled the beans about why I was being semi-rude to him. Of course, I didn’t have the nerve to speak out. I rarely ever did.

“Actually,” he began. “I have to help Prongs with some Astronomy homework that he’s been having some trouble with.”

Lily’s brow furrowed at the mention of Hogwarts’ Head Boy, her expression halfway between a scowl and a fond smile. The look vanished immediately and I vaguely wondered if I had made the entire thing up, which was highly likely. “Can’t it wait until later on? Like after dinner?”

“We have arrangements after dinner,” Remus said. “Otherwise, I’d love to help you tutor the Charms invalids.” His lips quirked up into a smile at his last words and I smiled back.

“I’m glad you find humor in my incompetence, Mr. Lupin,” I muttered jokingly under my breath, loud enough so that they could both hear me.

Like I expected, Remus laughed before shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “Well, I should be going. Take care and good luck with the inept, Lily.”

An awkward silence settled between Lily and I before I turned my attention to the sprawling sea of books in front of me, intent on finding the book as soon as possible so we could return to our table in the corner of the library. I kept my eyes trained to the old spines of the books, my eyes narrowed as I searched.

Lily found the book first, holding it out for me to take. I accepted it wordlessly and followed her out of the aisle between the bookcases. I could tell that she wanted to say something, but she was keeping it back for my sake. At least, I hoped that it was for my sake and that it wasn’t some biting remark about how I should back off of Remus. Because, you know girls these days, they were always convince that you were going after their piece of man candy if you so much as talked to them. Delusional, I’ll tell you, the whole lot of them.

We were dangerously close to our table when Lily whispered in my ear, “I know your secret.”

A giggle escaped her as I stared at her back in disbelief, at a complete loss for words. Was I really that transparent? Was it really that obvious?

Oh shite, I was in for it. I was done for! Lily would tell Black not because she liked it, but because it was the right thing to do and then Black would go storming to his girlfriend and they’d have a nasty row and then she’d come to me, thinking that I told Sirius myself and…my Circe, it was just one huge, vicious circle, wasn’t it? Oh vey, I should just run up to my dormitory right now and pack up all my belongings to get it over with. I could Floo home, couldn’t I? Or maybe I could sneak out of the castle to Hogsmeade and fly to the nearest train station? It wouldn’t take that long, I suppose, and it was possible if I were stealthy enough.

“Eleanor!” By the sound of Alice’s voice, I could tell that she had been trying to get my attention for quite some time. I shook my head, clearing all thoughts of possible escape from my mind and gave her my full, undivided attention. Or at least, what I could spare of it.

“Yeah?”

“Finally, she speaks!” Alice threw her arms up in mock exasperation before she smiled and beckoned me toward the table. I glanced at Lily and there was no trace that she knew anything of my “secret”. She swore a strictly business expression and I vaguely wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. After all, I did have a very overactive imagination.

Chapter 9: Call It Karma
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My back connected with the rough stone wall behind me, stealing the breath from my lungs. It would’ve hurt had it been any other circumstance, but the pain in my spine was the last thing on my mind. Once air returned to my lungs, my chest heaved mightily. I struggled to get my pulse under control. There was a nervous lump in my throat, but the pure thrill of it all had somehow managed to calm all my other nerves.

I opened my mouth to whisper something, but I couldn’t utter a single syllable, as a pair of warm lips came crashing down upon mine. At first, I began to struggle, uncertain that this was the wisest thing to do, but once I looked around and saw that there was no one else around, that the corridor was deserted, I foolishly gave into it. No longer reluctant, I gave myself over to the heated kiss, my insides melting lightly when a tongue pushed its way into my mouth.

A pair of hands worked their way up my arms, swept over my shoulders, skittered across the curve of my neck, and came to rest on either side of my cheeks. Almost immediately, my face burned a brilliant shade of red, the heat of my blush warming the hands.

Much to my disappointment, the delicious lips delivering the most tantalizing kiss in what I was sure the entire history of the world, broke away from my mouth. A soft laugh emanated from the person I had been snogging and my cheeks burned yet again.

“Oh Ella,” the familiar warm voice muttered quietly, their hot breath dancing across the wet surface of my lips. The pad of a thumb stroked the length of my cheekbone, causing my eyelids to flutter slightly. “Open up those gorgeous eyes; I hate to see them veiled.”

I knew a command when I heard one and, hesitantly, I obliged the order. My found herself staring into a pair of sparkling gray eyes and my knees began to shake. I tried to open my mouth to speak, but Sirius Black placed a finger over my lips, silencing me.

“Not now, Eleanor,” he muttered, his appearance suddenly altering. The eyes changed color; they were no longer a mischievous shade of gray, but a pair of warm brown eyes. The voice had always changed timbre and the soft smirk on those delicate lips belonged to none other than Remus Lupin. The glint that reside in his eyes didn’t look like something one would expected to see in Remus’s kind eyes; it looked animalistic, in a sense. But the overall effect made my entire body shiver in anticipation. Deliberately stepping closer to me and crushing his chest against mine, he captured my lips in another heart melting-.

A sharp pinch to my arm jolted me from my dream. I picked up my head a little too quickly and ended up smashing the top of my head against Lily’s chin. She let out a short howl of pain, rubbing the point of her chin.

“Sorry,” I muttered under my breath, trying - and failing miserably - to shake off the dream - or was it a nightmare? - that I had just experienced.

“It’s all right,” Lily said, smiling tightly, her brow still furrowed in pain. “I just thought I’d wake you.”

I yawned, sitting up more cautiously than last time, and stretched my limbs over my head. The common room fire was lit and, much to my surprise, still blazing. Why on Earth would the fire in the hearth still be burning as brightly as it had been several hours ago when no one else was conscious?

“What time is it?”

“Seven-,”

“Seven? Where the hell is everyone?”

“- in the morning,” Lily finished, wincing slightly at my reaction.

It took me a few seconds to digest what she was saying before my eyes widened and I pushed myself away from the table so roughly, my chair clabbered to the cobblestone loudly. “What? Why didn’t anyone wake me up?!”

Lily shrugged her perfectly round shoulders, gesturing helplessly. She thought I blamed her, which I didn’t. If it hadn’t been for her, I would’ve slept through the entire day, most likely.

“Never mind,” I sighed heavily, knowing the exact reason why no one had shaken me awake. “I think I know the reason why.” Shaking my head to myself, I began to gather up all my belongings, shoving various items into my broken satchel. I turned to Lily and smiled as warmly as I could for being in such a foul mood. “Thanks for waking me, Lily. I appreciate it.”

The expression on her face transformed and she smiled. “Not a problem, Eleanor.” She looked at my bag and sighed. Pulling her wand out of her pocket, she pointed it at my satchel and a blue streak of light shot out from the tip of her wand. Merlin, was this girl good at everything? “Here,” she said, “You go upstairs and get changed into a fresh uniform. I’ll pack all your stuff up for you.”

“Really?” I said, smiling for the first time that morning. “Thank you, Lils.”

“Like I said, not a problem,” she beamed at me. “Now hurry along; you don’t want to be late for class, now do you?”

I shook my head before hurrying up the girls’ staircase, wondering what I would do if I didn’t have Lily as a friend.

X - X - X

 

I had been so concerned about getting to my lessons on time and turning in all my homework that I barely remembered what day it was until the second to last class of the day ended. Hell, it didn’t even hit me until I was already half way to the dungeons. And it probably wouldn’t have registered in my mind if Black and Potter hadn’t pushed past me.

I stopped walking in the middle of the dark corridor, the torchlight flickering eerily against the stone walls. I felt like I was going to be sick all over the floor. My stomach was twisting and turning and my world was spinning. I could feel a wave of nausea looming over my head and, if it hadn’t been for someone running into me, I would’ve thrown up everywhere.

Instead, I just fell flat on my face, my chin colliding roughly with the floor. I could feel my brain rattling in my skull and knew that a mental headache, if not a physical one, was fast approaching. I flipped over onto my back, clutching the lower portion of my face in my hand. No one bothered to help me, merely walked right around me like I was nothing. Which I pretty much was in their eyes. Hell, I would be surprised if they could see me at all, let alone give a damn.

I scoffed to myself in annoyance, wondering when people would get over themselves and actually lend a helping hand to those in need. Shaking my head to myself and barely masking my vexation, I started to push myself up off the floor when a hand shot out for me. I looked up to see that Severus Snape had his hand held out. I glanced from his hooked nose to his hand several times before I slid my hand into his and he hauled me up to my feet.

“Thank you,” I said, hoping that the gratitude showed in my voice.

He nodded curtly, wiping his hand on his fading black school robes before pushing past me and continuing down the hall. I stared after him, at a complete loss for words. For one, I was shocked that a Slytherin would so much as think of helping a Gryffindor like me off her feet and, secondly, it wasn’t just any Slytherin. This was Severus Snape. He never helped anyone, let alone someone as invisible as me.

Still baffled, I followed suit and started toward the classroom at the end of the corridor. Much to my surprise, I was one of the last students to gather in front of the door. Near the front of the line, I could hear Black and Potter laughing loudly, those around them joining in on the snickering. My curiosity was tweaked and I found myself wishing to know what they were talking about.

Or maybe it wasn’t my curiosity, but my insatiable need to know everything that was going on around me. I would be the first to admit that I was a nosy person, but that’s only because I got away - for the most part - with eavesdropping on my fellow classmates without them being none the wiser. Like I’ve said many times before, invisibility sure did have its perks from time to time.

Tucking a strand of hair behind my ear, I waited with the rest of my classmates, wondering when Slughorn would open the damn door and we could get on with the lesson. I wasn’t eager to get into the classroom and do the work, but I just wanted to get this done and over with. The quicker the lesson went, the easier this whole situation would become. I had already taken a vow of silence when it came to this particular class, so even if Black felt the need to strike up a conversation with me, I wasn’t going to let him get to me like he did last time. Make no mistake, I was not going to be charmed by him again. I had let my guard down once and it had been a fatal mistake.

Okay, maybe not a fatal mistake, but it was still a mistake. No one was injured, so it wasn’t fatal, my mentality and ego had taken a bruising. I had believed myself to be immune to Sirius Black’s infamous charms, but I was just like the rest of them, much to my chagrin. How he had managed to get me talking was still beyond me, but it’s not like it mattered, did it? I knew what to expect this time, so therefore, I wouldn’t be fooled again.

Merlin, this plan was foolproof! If Sirius Black thought that he was going to break the ice and get me talking again, oh boy, did he have another thing coming for him. Stupid, egotistical, charming, handsome - NO! Stop it! I couldn’t think like that. I shook my head to myself when I found my eyes were trained on, what else, Black’s perfectly formed arse.


You stop that right this instant, Briggs, Logic exclaimed angrily. You know better than that to act like such a…such a…tart!

Eleanor is not a tart, argued Ego. 

Inwardly, I was beaming at Ego.

She’s barely done anything with any blokes to be considered a tart, anyway.

The smile fell off my face abruptly. And here I thought egos were supposed to be make you more confident, not feel like such a pathetic waste of space. Leave it to my ego to get it backward. Circe be damned.


Just because she’s making an observation certainly doesn’t mean that she’s a tart. Besides, she’s right. He does have a rather nice bum, now that I look at it.

Are you kidding me? Look at yourself, Briggs. You’re just like the rest of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if you slipped on your own puddle of drool on your way through the door.

Now you wait just a minute, you should not be berating her. She’s a girl, after all. She’s allowed to admire the scenery. Besides, it’s like Ego said, she was just making an observation.Eeek, that voice sounded eerily like my Aunt Eliza. What the hell was she doing inside of my head?


An observation, you say? What about her dream? How can you explain that? 


Er, Logic’s got a point, Ellie. 


Indeed she does.

I let out a little growl, stomping my foot on the ground in annoyance. Of course, all the voices in my head would turn against me. Damn Logic! Would needed it anyway? Grinding my teeth in irritation, I suddenly realized that I was angry at non-existent voices inside my head. My face paled slightly and I wondered if I really was going as crazy as I thought I was. I looked around at my peers to see if they had noticed my little outburst, but none of them have, save for one.

And of course, it just had to be Sirius Black who was smirking at me in the most charming way, making my heart skip a beat when he raised a singular dark brow in amusement, those hauntingly beautiful eyes twinkling joyously, like he had just discovered some precious secret. I hated him for being able to raise one eyebrow in such a James Bond-esque way. And for being able to see that embarrassing show of frustration at the voices in my head.

Merlin, Briggs, you are going crazy!

I shook my head to myself, wondering if all these damn voices would ever leave me alone. I silently thanked God that no one was able to hear the raging war that questioned my sanity that was going on in my head between Logic, Ego, and my Aunt about whether I was a tarty girl or not.

Much to my immense relief, the door to the classroom opened and Slughorn made his usual short speech before allowing us entrance. I was the last one through the door. I made my way toward the back of the classroom as quickly as possible, hoping that no one noticed that I was partnered with Sirius Black.

When I reached the table, I saw that he was still wearing his trademark, knee melting smirk. But I was shocked to see that there wasn’t a trace of mocking or laughter in his smirk, and it was just simply that: a smirk. It wasn’t teasing, but rather friendly. I set my bag down on the top of the table before taking my seat on the stool beside him.

“Hi,” he greeted in a pleasant voice. He sounded genuine enough to me.

Without looking at him, I said, “Hello,” back.

“How are you doing today?”

My jaw tightened and I wondered if the rest of the lesson would continue in this vein. I prayed to Merlin that it wouldn’t. “Fine,” I replied shortly. I wasn’t intentionally being rude…

Okay, so I was trying my hardest to be rude, but with good reason. I didn’t want the other students in the classroom to see that I was actually conversing with Black about something other than Potions in fear that they would report back to Lucinda and my life would be over. As pitiful as my existence was, I didn’t exactly plan on ending my life as early as seventeen. That just wasn’t an option in my book.

“I’m doing good,” Sirius said out of the blue. “You know, in case you were wondering.”

“I wasn’t,” I muttered under my breath, feeling more than slightly annoyed, “but thanks for informing me anyway.” I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye to see that he was staring at me with a curious expression on his handsome face.

“Oh, it’s no problem at all,” he replied smoothly. I turned my head in his direction to see that he was smiling.

Shit, he wasn’t supposed to hear that. Goddamn it. Wow, I turned into quite the potty mouth when I retreated into the sanctuary of my own mind, didn’t I? But that’s the question, isn’t it; is my mind really a stable place?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to reply - to myself or to Sirius - , as Professor Slughorn began to prattle on and on about the essays we had turned in the previous class. He kept saying that he was greatly

‘disappointed’ and ‘displeased’ that our essays weren’t up to par, save for the papers submitted by Lily Evans and Severus Snape. My jaw clenched as I remembered the way Snape had wiped his hand on his school robes after helping me up like I had some sort of contagious disease.

People began to shuffle about, pulling their books from their bags and such. I had no idea what Slughorn had said, so I had to watch Sirius out of the corner of my eye to see what he was doing. Unfortunately, he wasn’t doing anything. He leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table. My, someone certainly was self-confident, weren’t they? Following the suit of my classmates, I pulled my book out of my newly repaired bag, thanks to Lily, and flipped open to the index, intending on scanning the small print for a potion that we could brew.

I had been skimming the finely printed text for a little more than thirty seconds before Sirius spoke up, “Did you know your lip is bleeding?”

I was startled by his words and picked my head up, my reading glasses resting on the crook of my nose. “What?”

“Your lip,” Sirius said, putting his chair down on all four legs and removing his feet from the table top. “It’s bleeding.”

I brought my fingers to my lips and felt around. Sure enough, when I pulled my hand away, my fingertips were dotted with a light layer of ruby red blood. “Oh,” I murmured under my breath. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For telling me,” I said.

Sirius smiled in his easy way and scooted his stool closer to the table top, finally seeming interested in what we were supposed to be doing. “So,” he began, resting his elbows on the table. “How’d it happen?”

“How’d what happen?” I asked stupidly.

“How d’you get that cut on your lip? Surely you didn’t just bite into your lip without a good reason.” He seemed intensely interested in the words coming from his own mouth and I could see in the depths of his gray eyes that the wheels were turning in his mind. “Did Peeves get you?”

“No,” I said defensively, shaking my head. As if Peeves could scare me…all right, he probably could, but that was beside the point.

“Did a Slytherin sneak up on you?” His tone hardened, as did his facial features.

“No,” I answered. “Someone ran into me and knocked me down to the floor. I guess I hit my chin so hard that I bit into my lip.” Tucking a lock of hair behind my ear, I continued, “And it was actually a Slytherin who helped me up.” My eyes flickered over to where Snape sat over his cauldron, looking positively vexed at the world. I was surprised to find that he didn’t have a partner. I wondered why that was…

“Oh,” muttered Sirius, looking a bit crestfallen. “Well, I’m sorry that someone bumped into you and you had to be helped up by a grimy Slytherin.”

I knew that it was pointless to try to tell him that not all Slytherins were like Lucius Malfoy. I shivered at the name, remembering the general pompous air that surrounded him when he walked down the halls. I could still remember when I was in my second year and he was in his seventh year, I had thought that he was one of the most frightening and imposing people I have ever seen in my life. I could still remember the way he had sneered at me when I accidentally gotten in his way.

Other than that, I really didn’t have a problem with Slytherins. True, they were a rather arrogant bunch, but just because they were overly self-confident in their abilities and their blood status didn’t mean that they were all bad. Lucinda belongs in Slytherin, the bloody cow, I thought blackly to myself.

“It’s not your fault,” I said softly, turning my eyes back to my book.

He didn’t say anything in response, so I figured that he had lost interest in the conversation, let alone the assignment we were supposed to be doing. I could already tell that I was going to be doing the majority of the work, seeing as how he hadn’t even taken his book out of his bag. Why did Potter have to be such a good persuader and get his way all the time? I would be partners with Lily and we would be having fun researching our potion. I wouldn’t be so high strung as I was when I was around Sirius Black and I wouldn’t have to watch what I said. I mean, I would still have to edit a great deal of my thoughts, as some were more…eccentric than others, but that was beyond the point. I did that around everyone, my family included, as it was.

“So,” Black drawled in his warm and sophisticated voice. “Have you come across any possibilities?”

I looked up from my book and shook my head. “No, not yet.”

“Damn,” he swore. “Neither have I.”

My eyes widened slightly and I could imagine how they looked behind my glasses. “You’ve looked?”

Sirius laughed in his bark like way, causing several heads to swivel in our direction. I could feel my cheeks flame up and suddenly, I was reminded on my dream. No, wait, it wasn’t a dream, it was a delusion. I had decided that in my Athrimancy lesson earlier that day when the professor had given us free time to do our homework. After spazzing out the entire time I rushed down the various corridors in hopes of making it to my lesson on time, I came to the conclusion that I hadn’t had that twisted dream where I snogged Sirius Black senseless before Sirius magically morphed into Remus Lupin. I shuddered as I remembered that - in the dream, not in real life - that I had actually enjoyed kissing not only Remus, but Sirius as well.

Sirius was speaking, but I couldn’t make out the words. I was just staring at his lips, reveling in the fact that they actually did look as smooth and inviting as I had imagined them in my dream - uh, I mean delusion. In my delusion.

“You have really nice lips,” I blurted before I could help myself.

Sirius stopped mid-sentence and stared at me in curiosity, his eyes dancing dangerously. “I what?”

“I, er,” I could feel my face going beet red and I pulled at my collar, as my neck as flaming as well. How could I be so bloody stupid? I wish the floor would open up and swallow me whole. That would put me out of this stupid misery that was adolescence. “I said that, um, I couldn’t understand what you said?”

His gaze turned doubtful, but after a few seconds of intense staring, he more or less decided that it wasn’t worth it. The amusement in his eyes died down and he seemed to be accepting my answer. He pushed a hand through his silky locks before he cleared his throat.

“I was saying that I had looked in the book last night with Moony, but we couldn’t find anything. So maybe, you and I could meet in the library after dinner tomorrow night to search for some potions.”

Slightly confused, I asked, “Who’s Moony?”

“Remus,” he supplied, giving a joking roll of his dazzling eyes.

Oh! So that’s why he was in the library last night! He had been searching for the same sort of book that I was. We had both been in the potions section of the library. I breathed a mental sigh of relief; so he hadn’t been stalking me. It hadn’t occurred to me that our meeting last night could’ve been more than chance until I had returned to the common room to do homework. It was a huge relief to know that he wasn’t my own personal stalker, although it would’ve been nice if someone showed some interest in me now and again.

I snorted out loud.

“What’d I say?” Sirius questioned.

“Nothing,” I amended quickly. “I just thought of something funny.”

“All right,” he said slowly, as though he was trying to understand what was so funny. Thank Merlin he wasn’t a skilled Legimens. That would really suck, wouldn’t it? Lord, everyone would know that I was insane. “So, how about it?”

Biting my lip, and immediately regretting it, as a white hot lick of pain shot through my jaw, as well as my mouth, I pondered the possibility. Lucinda couldn’t get mad at me since it was school related. I would just have to be weary of what I said. Not that it was that hard for me to do…okay, so maybe it was. Especially around Sirius. I felt like I was lying to him just sitting here. Even though he wasn’t my friend, nor my acquaintance, by any means, I knew something that would cause potential hurt to him when he found out that I knew, or just find out in general. I mean, it was a long stretch to ever think that we would become friends, but we were Potions partners, meaning that we would elevate from a first name basis, which we still hadn’t achieved on my part, as I had refused to give him my name, to something of acquaintances. Besides, I thought that all people deserved to know the truth, but look at me, hiding a huge secret from him simply to save my own hide. What sort of person was I?

“Um,” I closed my eyes very briefly before I nodded my head. “Sure.”

His grin was spectacular. “Excellent,” he exclaimed. Returning to his stool, he leaned it back on two legs and propped his feet back up on the table.

X - X - X

 
Fifty-five minutes later, the bell rang, signaling the end of class. There was the usual rush of students pushing themselves away from their desks and gathering up their belongings. The noise level, which had been at a manageable level throughout the lesson, increased by a tenfold the second the bell rang and dismissed everyone from class. I was putting my glasses back in their case and packing up all my stuff when I felt Sirius brush past me.

He seemed to notice and looked at me, smiling. He had been smiling almost the whole entire class. Why, I wasn’t sure, but it was a nice sight to behold. I tentatively smiled back as he turned around and started toward the door. Before he exited, he grabbed the doorframe, his smile widening into a arrogant, but insatiably attractive smirk, “See you around, Eleanor.”

And like a thin vapor, he vanished from sight, leaving me utterly dumbfounded.

Chapter 10: Lion's Roar
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The next morning at breakfast, I was still dumbfounded by what Sirius had said. Sure, he had only said my name, but that was huge. How had he found out? Well, I suppose since that he was one of the infamous Marauders, he had his ways of finding out, but I was more than willing to bet that he went straight to Lily to ask her. They might not have agreed on the treatment of Slytherins, but they usually got on just fine. So, there was no doubt in my mind he had asked her for my name and, knowing Lily, she would have gladly giving the information over to him.

Oh, listen to me! I’m talking as though I’m best friends with Lily Evans and have known her my entire life. Though it was true that we had become something of friends over the past week and a half, it was stupid of me to act like I actually knew her. I didn’t know all her little quirks, so why I would be assuming that she would willingly give him that small bit of information was beyond me. But that was beside the point, wasn’t it? Merlin, all my pointless rambling was going to get me into quite the pit of trouble, of that I was certain.

Although, it would look as though Lily and I had been friends for a while, as I was now sitting with her at breakfast. Unlike me, Lily actually enjoyed the mornings. I had never known that about her until I saw just how perky she was when I came down to the Great Hall and she beckoned me toward her. I had plopped down on the bench, giving Alice a friendly grunt when she, like Lily, had acted so bright so early in the morning.

I also discovered that Leanne Mason, one of my roommates, wasn’t as unpleasant as she appeared. Though she barely spoke to me, as her boyfriend was sitting right next to her, she said hello to me when I had dropped onto the bench and began to pile food onto my plate. Marlene McKinnon on the other hand wasn’t as pleasant. She was mad that I had taken the last of the pumpkin juice from the pitcher nearest us and practically snatched the last pieces of toast off the platter when she saw that I had the intention of taking some. I didn’t know what her problem was, but I knew that she could be quite the bitch if she was displeased, so I decided to leave her alone and stuck to polishing off my scrambled eggs.

I pushed the bacon rinds on my plate around with my fork for lack of anything better to do. I was full, but there was another half an hour before lessons started. It was pointless to go back to the common room for fifteen minutes when my class, Ancient Runes, was already on the other side of the castle. So, I decided to wait it out at the table. I barely listened to the conversation going on around me, as Alice and Lily were prattling on in their usual manner about, what else, school gossip. I didn’t even realized that the post had come until an owl bit my finger.

Giving a small squeak of fright, I nearly fell off the bench as I pulled my hand away as though I had been burned. The small cut started to bleed. Do you see now why I’m so afraid of owls? They could bloody chop clean through your fingers if they really wanted to.

“Damn owl!” I said loudly.

I could feel my companions eyes on me as they watched the scene unfold right before their amused eyes. I probably looked utterly ridiculous, shying away from the tawny owl as though it was some monstrous beast. I delved a bleeding hand into my pocket and took out the proper amount of money. Ever so cautiously, I reached out to put the money in the pouch when I realized that there wasn’t one. I looked at the owl more closely and saw that it wasn’t an owl carrying my Prophet at all; it was my Aunt Eliza’s owl, Leonidias.

Leonidias screeched at me impatiently, shaking his leg at me in annoyance. I stared at the owl, my brow furrowed as I hesitantly untied the letter. I wasn’t expecting a letter from Aunt Eliza, but it wasn’t all too surprising, seeing as how she hadn’t sent me anything for a little over two weeks. Leonidias nudged my hand away from my plate with his beak and feasted upon the remains of my bacon rinds before he pressed his tawny head against the palm of my hand, as was his odd custom, and took off flying.

“Did you get a letter?” Alice asked eagerly.

“Obviously she did, Alice,” Marlene said impatiently, rolling her eyes in an overdramatic manner. It might have been annoying that Alice always stated and asked the obvious, but Marlene didn’t have to be mean about it.

I didn’t say anything, as I didn’t want Marlene’s agitation to be taken out on me. Shady, but it was true. I’d rather not have anyone yelling at me in the middle of the Great Hall, thank you very much. So, without another thought as to those surrounding me, I broke the seal and began to read my letter.


Dear Ella ( Merlin, I hated when she started with that bloody salutation! )

When you didn’t respond to my last letter, I began to wonder if you had received it. But then I remembered that I was talking about you, my dearest niece, not my daughter who would - should, I suppose I should say - feel obligated to write me back. I can understand that you are busy with your school work and I don’t mean to sound like a pestering mother, but sometimes, it would be nice if you gave me a little clue as to what’s going on in your life away from home.

I sound like a condescending cow of an aunt, don’t I? Just ignore what I’ve just written, would you, Ella love? I know that Anna didn’t write to me as often as you do when she was at Hogwarts, so I shouldn’t be pestering you. It’s just that I worry about you, Ella. When I don’t hear from you, I fear that you…well, you know, after the situation with Anna, I guess I’ve just been a little paranoid that you’ll follow in her footsteps, no matter how foolish it sounds now in retrospect. Merlin, I really need to learn to shut up, don’t I? I must be annoying the piss out of you right about now. I wouldn’t be surprised if you crumpled up the letter already; I know I would’ve.

Anywho. Things at home have been good. Although, that pesky wandering dog that you fed before you left keeps hanging around the back kitchen door and I’m not entirely sure what I should do with it. I know you have an attachment to that dog - what did you name it, again? Rusty? Rudolph? Oh well, I suppose that doesn’t matter. He is rather cute, isn’t he? Suppose I’ll have a surprise for you when you come home? Although, I’ve just given away some massive clues, haven’t I? Oh, Circe be damned, I‘ll just come right out and say it - I‘ll probably end up adopting the dog. Does Rufus sound like an okay name to you? He looks like a Rufus to me.

As it is, I’m holding up here pretty good. It’s not the best thing, being alone, but it’s not always so bad. I just recently joined the neighborhood book club. They seem to be a nice pack of birds, but I don’t know about one of them. She’s called Rebecca Lyndall. She’s not very pleasant and thinks that she’s better than everyone else. I feel like socking her in the face every time she opens her mouth and her pompous voice comes forth. She’s a right cow, that’s what she is. Some of the novels they have picked out, I believe you have read before. Would you mind if I checked out the bookcase in your room to see if you have any of the novels so I don’t have to go out and buy them?

Well, I suppose your eyes are sore from reading all this pointless nonsense, but I had to get it out to someone. I’m sorry that it had to be you, love. I miss you terribly and hope that you’ll write back this time. Don’t feel like you have to, but it would be nice to have someone to talk to. I can’t wait to have you home for the holidays. A new jumper should be arriving for you in the post tomorrow morning that I believe you’ll like. So, with that, Ella, I shall take my leave.

Love,

Aunt Eliza
A smile lit up my face as I quickly reread the letter. I was unable to stop myself from rolling my eyes at the words on the parchment. My Aunt Eliza was, quite possibly, the most eccentric person I had ever met in my entire life. Not only was she as random as rain in the middle of May, but the way she put things and how she could switch moods so suddenly baffled me. For a forty-seven year old, she had more energy than I could and would ever dream of obtaining.

It was with a sharp pang through my chest that I realized just how much I missed Aunt Eliza. I missed her wild, fly away strawberry blonde hair that was going gray at the temples; her bright blue eyes that seemed to dance with an indescribable fire; her brilliant smile that always managed to lift my spirits; her arms wrapped around me when she embraced me; her soft way of speaking and the curses that rolled off her tongue when she was feeling particularly vexed.

I suddenly felt horrible for not responding back to her letter, especially after the comment she had made about her daughter, Anna. The last anyone had heard of Anna was three years ago, when she had announced over the Christmas Holidays that she was going to Berlin with her latest boyfriend, Hans. Aunt Eliza and I had tried countless times to contact her, but she never replied to any of our letters. It had left my aunt completely crushed, which was why she was wanted me to reply to her letters. She didn’t want me to abandoned her like her own daughter had.

I made a mental note to reply to her letter, folding the letter up and sticking it in my pocket.

“Who was the letter from?” Lily asked conversationally.

“My aunt,” I replied, picking up a banana nut muffin and taking a massive bite out of it.

“You talk to your other family members on a regular basis?” Alice said, smiling. Before I could chew my mouthful of muffin and come up with a reasonable lie, she added, “That’s great!”

After Alice spoke, the subject was dropped and I finished the rest of my muffin. I drank the rest of my pumpkin juice and wiped my mouth on the back of my sleeve. Marlene seemed revolted by the display, but didn’t say anything, much to my immense relief.

I glanced down at my watch and saw that there was only seven minutes before the day’s lessons began. I bid my roommates goodbye, slung my satchel full of books over my shoulder, and headed out of the Great Hall to what would most likely prove to be an uneventful, yet oddly stressful day. Oh, anticipation. It could be such a royal pain in my ass.

X - X - X

 My hand was frantically working across the page of parchment, scribbling down the professor was dictating to the class in my cramped handwriting when something hit me in the back of the head. There was a folded piece of paper resting near my elbow. I stopped writing and looked around the classroom as discreetly as possible. No one seemed suspicious, so once I was positive that the professor wasn’t watching, I opened the note.


What are you doing this afternoon?


- Sirius


My eyebrows shot up and it probably looked like they were getting very well acquainted with my hairline. Why was Black interested in knowing what I was doing this afternoon? I double checked to make sure that he had thrown the note at the right person and that it hadn’t been meant for someone sitting near me.

I turned around in my seat to look at him, but his head was bent and he appeared to be the picture perfect student. Yeah, right. That disguise wouldn’t fool me or any other student within the walls of Hogwarts.

I dipped my quill in my inkwell and scribbled down a reply.


I was planning on getting some of my homework done. Why?


I scanned the vicinity and once I was absolutely sure that no one was watching, I tossed the note over my shoulder, hoping that it landed within Black’s grasp.

A few seconds later, I was hit on the back of the head again.


Just curious, that’s all. It’s really nice outside, why would you want to do homework?


Because I have a lot of it? And it’s the middle of October; it can’t be that nice.


True.


Why would you care when I did my homework, anyway?


Honestly, this was incredibly confusing. Why was Black so concerned about my studying habits? I mean, I know that we had arranged to meet in the library after dinner to start our project, but that didn’t mean anything.


Sorry for making an attempt at getting to know my Potions partner. I’ll toss a note at someone who will bother being nice to me.


Oh, okay. Now I felt bad. I had been a little bit of a bitch in my last response, even if that was the last notion I had in mind.


Oh. Sorry. I have to take notes. I’m really far behind.


You can copy mine in the library.


But that’s cheating. And cheaters never prosper.


You sound like Evans.

I’m not going to write back after this.


Sure you won’t. Remus says “hi”, by the way.


My heart did this odd sort of fluttering thing in my chest as I thought of Remus. I was acting like a silly schoolgirl, but I just couldn’t help it! After our confrontation in the library, it was hard to get him out of my head. But honestly, could you blame me? Not only have I had a crush on him since fifth year, but we were actually talking like we were friends.

While it might not be a huge deal to some people, the prospect of actually having friends made me happy. I never really had a best friend. And when I say that, I mean ever. Sure, before Hogwarts, there were a few kids that I was really close to, but not close enough. There has never been that one person, outside of my Aunt Eliza and my half brother Kevin, who I felt like I could be myself around. It was hard to get through school sometimes, but I had managed thus far, hadn’t I?

Against my better judgment, I looked over my shoulder and saw Remus bent over his notes, his quill moving quickly across the page. Black, on the other hand, had his feet kicked up on his desk and was leaning back in his seat, chewing on the end of her quill. He smiled at me once he made eye contact and my stomach did an uncomfortable little flip thing. I mentally scowled myself; hadn’t I just had heart palpitations for Remus Lupin? And now my stomach was doing odd loopy things at the mere sight of Sirius Black’s smile. Oh vey, maybe I really was a tart!

He raised a brow in a very James Bond way and I gnashed my teeth together. I don’t know why I didn’t turn back around, but I didn’t. Instead, I stared at Sirius with fascination. I had never really taken the time and actually looked at him. I mean, sure, I had looked at him, but not seriously securitized his appearance. But now that I was actually looking, I could see the faint sign of purple bags under his eyes and I wondered why he wasn’t sleeping. Or if that was even the cause. For all I knew, someone could’ve socked him in the face. But even with the purplish bags under his eyes, he was still inhumanly attractive. I could see why practically every girl in the school got a little bit weaker in the knees whenever they looked at him. Hell, I’m pretty sure my knees were knocking together underneath the table right now.

Holy Circe, I am a tart! That’s the only proper explanation for this whole…well, I’m not really sure what this situation is at the moment, but I’d find a name for it. Eventually. Not only am I thinking not-so-innocent thoughts about Sirius Black, but I’m also harboring a huge crush for his best friend! But that’s not even the half of it. Oh no, I’ve been having dreams about getting hot and heavy with Sirius one minute and then the next thing I know, I’m locking lips with Remus and actually enjoying it!

Oh dear Merlin, I’ve actually admitted that they were dreams and not delusions, even though I decided a few days ago that they were delusions. At least, the first one was. The sad thing about the matter was that there had been more than one. Oh, but it gets better. Much, much better. I barely knew either of them, but out of the pair of them, I knew Remus better. Yet, I imagined that Sirius was the better snog of the two. How horrible was that? And who was I to say that he was better at kissing than Remus? First of all, I hadn’t kissed either of them, and in my entire life, I had only snogged one bloke and that was because he kissed me, not the other way around.

“Miss Briggs?” Professor Gilbert asked.

Eyes as wide as saucers, I looked up from the piece of parchment that I had been holding in my hand and found that the entire class was staring at me curiously. I could see Bertha Jorkins in the corner, leaning across her desk to hear the entire exchange.

I swallowed nervously. “Yes, Professor?”

“It seems as though you are too busy to pay attention in my class and have chosen to exchange notes with another one of your classmates,” Professor Gilbert began. I could tell by the look on her face that she was going to do something that would embarrass me for the rest of my life. But why she would do that when I was one of her favorite students, I have no idea. “So, I’ll give you one of two options: give me the note now and I read it in front of the entire class or wait for me after class and make sure that your partner in this minor crime stays behind with you so I can issue the both of you a detention.”

I swear to Merlin, I just pissed my pants. I could feel my cheeks flaming up. I was at a complete loss for words. I had no idea what to say to that. Not only would I be incriminating myself, but Sirius as well. What would he think of me if I chose option number two? Of course, it was much more appealing and would save me a great deal of embarrassment. Not that our note was all that embarrassing, I just seemed like an uptight priss.


That’s because you are an uptight priss, Briggs.
 

I ground my teeth together and willed my conscience to shut its mouth. I need to think in my head, but I couldn’t when that stupid little voice was breathing down my neck like an irritating little monkey!

“Well, Miss Briggs?” Professor Gilbert drawled. “What will it be?”

I cringed inwardly. Sorry Sirius. “I’ll stay after class.”

She smiled tightly at me and took the piece of wrinkled parchment out of my hands. “Get back to taking notes, Miss Briggs. I would hate for you to fail the next exam because of it.”

Again, I swallowed and I turned my attention back to my notes, which Professor Gilbert began to dictate as though there had been no interruption at all. Behind me, I could swear that I heard Black snickering under his breath.

X - X - X

 
The bell rang, signaling the end of class. While everyone gathered up their belongings and shuffled out of class, two students remained in their seats: myself and Sirius Black. Professor Gilbert herded the stragglers out of the classroom and shut the door before anyone could poke their heads in the doorjamb. She then cast a Silencing Charm around the room, so none of the pesky gossip-oholics could listen in.

With a swirl of her royal blue cloak, she faced us. But instead of looking threatening and downright frightening like I thought she would, she smiled at us.

“Come to my desk, won’t you children?” she said as she lowered herself down into her comfortable looking chair behind her desk.

I hesitantly looked back at Black to see if he was mad at me, but no anger showed on his handsome face as he gathered up his stuff, shoved them into his shoulder bag, and made his way to the front of the classroom. I started to pack up my items and, as he walked by me, he sent me a wink and I swear my knees started clattering together.


You like Remus, you little slag, not Black. Besides, he’s off limits anyway. Or do I need to remind you of what happened in the library nearly two weeks ago?

I shook myself out of my own head as I closed my satchel, slung it over my shoulder, and moved to the front of the room. I stood close to Black, so close, I could feel heat radiating off of his body. I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye and I could see that he was struggling to hold back a smirk.

Of course he could find humor in the situation.

“I’m sorry I embarrassed you in front of the class, Eleanor,” Professor Gilbert said quietly. “Normally, I wouldn’t have said anything, since you are always such a good student and pay attention to my lectures, but I noticed that some of the other students were, shall we say, gossiping about the passing of notes between the pair of you and I couldn’t let it go unnoticed.”

“It’s okay, Professor,” I replied, tucking a strand of dark hair behind my ear. It was another one of my nervous ticks. “I completely understand. You don’t want to seem like you favor me above other students.”

“Exactly,” smiled Professor Gilbert. Her eyes flickered over to Black and her lips pulled into an even wider smile. “And we both know how many run-ins we’ve had with one another when it comes to not paying the proper amount of attention in class, Mr. Black.”

Sirius grinned. “How could I forget a single encounter with you, Nora?”

Professor Gilbert blushed slightly. Oh my Circe! He had just charmed the teacher! She was supposed to be disciplining us and here he was, charming the pants right off of her. I wouldn’t be surprised if she told me to leave the room.

Okay, so that was definitely an unnecessary thought to have that welcomed unwanted images in my mind, but whatever. The sad thing is that it’s probably true.

“Nice try, Mr. Black,”

“Please, Nora, it’s Sirius.”

She rolled her dark eyes and nodded. “All right, Sirius, it was a nice try, but nothing’s going to distract me from delivering your punishment.”

“Don’t make it too harsh, Nora; I’ve got Quidditch practice tomorrow night and you want Gryffindor to win in our next match, don’t you?”

Professor Gilbert nodded. “Of course I do. No one wants the Slytherins to win the House Cup. Especially after that foul went unnoticed by Madam Hooch and they cheated their way to three goals against Hufflepuff last Saturday. Besides, Gryffindor doesn’t play Slytherin until December.”

Wow, this was sad. My Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher knew more about Quidditch than I did. Maybe I should start paying attention to the sport, since the whole school seems to care so damn much about it.

“But nevertheless,” Professor Gilbert continued, “I have to issue out a detention for Thursday night. Eight o’clock in the Trophy Room. You know the drill, Mr. Black, so I trust that you’ll show Miss Briggs the ropes of cleaning trophies.”

Sirius smiled brilliantly at her. “Of course I will, Nora.” He saluted her as he hitched his bag up on his shoulder. “I won’t let you down.”

“I knew I could count on you,” she replied sarcastically. “Now get out of my classroom before I change my mind about your punishment.”

Black swept into a low bow, which made Professor Gilbert chuckle, and I gave a small wave. She bobbed her head in recognition and I walked out of the door. When I stepped into the hallway, there were three girls gathered outside. I assumed they had been trying to listen in on the conversation that had just been had, but now they were consumed by the fact that Sirius Black was actually talking to them.

Merlin, some girls were so dim-witted, it was hardly bearable to watch. I actually felt sorry for them and I didn’t even know them. I shifted my bag from one shoulder to the other and took off down the corridor. I was nearly to the staircase that would take me to the seventh floor when Black fell into step beside me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, not daring to look at him. For all I knew, he would be grinning like a maniac, since happiness seemed to be the only expression that would dance across his face in my presence. That and confusion. Not to mention amusement and determination.

“What? I can’t walk beside you to the Gryffindor common room?”

“No, you can,” I replied, “I’m just wondering why you would want to.”

“Like I said earlier, I’m just trying to get to know my Potions partner,” Sirius answered, sounding serious. No pun intended.

“Oh,” I murmured under my breath, starting up the staircase.

It started to shift halfway up and I lost my balance. I would’ve fallen backward and probably broken my neck if Sirius hadn’t steady me in that oh-so-clichéd fashion that was only seen in the movies. Of course, I wasn’t dipped backward and his face was nowhere near mine. In fact, his face was buried in the back of my head in my mess of brown hair.

He spit some of my hair out of his mouth and shook his head to himself. “You know, it’s impossible to find anything out about you.”

I furrowed my brow. “What makes you say that?”

“Well, I asked around about you and no one had anything to say,” his brow pinched together in thought, “to tell you the truth, half of the people I asked didn’t even know who you were.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” I muttered to myself.

“It doesn’t?”

I shook my head. “Not really. Does it surprise you?”

“Sort of,” he replied. He shrugged his shoulders and stuck his hands in his pockets. “I don’t know, I just would’ve thought that someone as nice as you… well, I thought that people would know a little bit of information about you. But they didn’t, not even your roommates. So yeah, I guess you could say that it kind of surprised me.”

“I like to keep to myself,” I said.

“I can tell,” Black laughed, casually shaking his hair out of his eyes. “Why is that, anyway?”

I shrugged my shoulders. Like I would really tell him the real reason behind my “ways”. “I don’t know. I guess I just can’t relate to people our age. And they never took the time to talk to me, so if they don’t make an effort to be my friend, why should I waste my time on them?”

Sirius stared at me like I had sprouted a second hand. Maybe I should’ve put it in nicer terms; I sounded harsh and, well, like a bitch.

“Hmm, I never thought of that,” he pondered out loud. “Oh well.” We had reached the common room at this point in time and Black smiled at me, though I had no idea why. “I’ll see you tonight in the library, yeah?”

“Yeah, I guess you will,” I said as I scrambled out of the portrait hole into the common room. I started to walk toward the girls’ dormitory when Black called my name. Several curious heads swiveled in my direction and I felt myself blushing. Goddamn it! Stupid red cheeks! “What?”

“Remus wanted me to ask you if you’ll sit with us at dinner,” Sirius said. “So, how about it?”

I was eerily reminded of my encounter in the library with Remus. I pushed back the urge to shiver and I nodded my head. “Sure, I guess.”

He grinned in his wide, charming way and my knees did that stupid knocking together thing. “Perfect.”

Chyeah, maybe for you. For me, it spelt death.

Chapter 11: Warning Sign
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A/N: Hello, my faithful readers! I just realized that I haven’t put an author’s note in this story yet, but I’m going to do it now. Thank you all so very much for your kind words in your reviews. You have no idea how much they mean to me and how much they inspire me. It’s because of you guys that I’m writing this story and posting chapters. I just wanted to say thank you and keep showing me some love in the form of reviews.

X - X - X

 

The dormitory was empty. I sighed heavily, tossing my bag of books on my bed. I sent a glance over at the bathroom door and decided that I deserved a nice hot shower. Tension had been pinching my shoulders the entire day and I knew that the steam would help loosen my muscles. Kicking off my shoes and pulling off my socks, I made my way toward the bathroom. Just before I went into the bathroom, I looked at the alarm clock on Marlene’s bedside table.

I had forty five minutes before dinner started and I was expected to sit with the Marauders for dinner.

Merlin help me.

I turned on the tap and let the water warm up while I ran my fingers through my hair, working out all the knots that would only get more tangled when water touched them if I didn’t tug them out now. I pealed off my clothes, tossing them to the floor, and stepped into the shower.

I welcomed the hot water on my skin, even though it burned a little. Tipping my head back, I let the water drenched my hair and wipe away all the sweat that had formed at my hairline. A day’s worth of grim, even though I hadn’t done anything particular dirty that day, washed down the drain. Almost immediately, I started feeling better.

The tense coils in my shoulders were beginning to un-kink themselves and I rolled my head to the side. While the water was scalding and turning my pale skin bright red, it felt wonderful. I stood under the spray of the shower for a little more than fifteen minutes before I finally came to my senses and washed up. Like always, I watched with transfixed eyes as the foamy water swirled down the drain. I wasn’t sure why I did that, I guess it was just habit.

I shut off the water five minutes later and stepped out of the shower, blindly reaching for a towel. I wrapped the fluffy towel around myself and wrung the water out of my hair. The steam swirled as I walked through it and fogged up the mirror. I wiped the steam off the glass with my hand and surveyed my reflection. Compared to the last time that I had really studied myself in the mirror, I looked a hell of a lot better.

But that’s not say that I looked anything like Lucinda Matthews. I wasn’t gorgeous, but I wasn’t ugly. I guess you could say that I was stuck in the middle; yeah, that sounds about right, I was average. If I was ugly, I would’ve probably been picked on throughout my school years and if I was drop dead gorgeous, I’m pretty sure that guys would’ve noticed me. So yeah, I would say that average was the perfect word to describe my appearance.

I had always been slender, but not in an athletic way. I really didn’t have a hard jaw line or sharp, high cheekbones. My face was round, the planes of my cheeks smooth, the slope of my nose was gradual and short and my nose came to a round point at the end. My upper lip was much full than my bottom lip, which sort of made my face look out of proportion. But other than my slightly fuller top lip, the lines of my mouth were smooth. Absolutely nothing about my face made me remarkable. Nothing made me stand out, not even my blue eyes. If anything, my brown hair made me blend in with the rest. Which was never a problem. In fact, I kind of liked it that way.

“What are you doing?” I asked my reflection, shaking my head to myself as I finished drying off and put my uniform back on. It might have been dinner, but uniforms were still required. Bringing the towel with me, I stepped into the dormitory, only to find Leanne and Marlene perched on their beds, talking.

At my entrance, they turned toward the bathroom door and smiled in welcome.

“I didn’t know anyone else was here,” Leanne said as I crossed the room, towel drying my hair.

“Oh, you didn’t hear the shower running?” I asked as I dropped down onto my knees at the foot of my bed and rifled through my trunk for my hairbrush.

Leanne shook her head. “No, I didn’t. Sorry.” She smiled in apology.

I found my brush and began working out the tangles that had already knotted in my hair. I scowled; I hadn’t even been out of the shower for three minutes and knots were already forming. Just great. I winced when I pulled too hard on a particular knot and, eventually, I threw my brush to the ground in frustration.

Neither Marlene nor Leanne said anything, thankfully, so I found a new pair of socks, stuffed my feet into them, and then got down on my hands and knees searching for my shoes. Somehow, they had managed to get themselves tucked underneath my bed and I strained to reach my left shoe. When I pulled my arm out from underneath my bed, it was covered with dust.

Great. This was freakin’ fantastic!

I wasn’t sure why I was suddenly so angry at everything that normally went wrong during my day, but I supposed it had something to do with the fact that this would be the last meal I would ever eat. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. I had come to terms with it in the shower.

Lucinda would see me eating dinner with her boyfriend and his friends and automatically assume that I was trying to steal Sirius away from her, even after I had told her that I didn’t have those sort of intentions. Or worse, she would think that I was trying to get all buddy-buddy with him so I could tell him that she was cheating on him with Amos Diggory.

Oh boy, I wonder how the professors will react to murder in the Great Hall? What about the Prophet? What sort of headlines would be written then? What would my Aunt Eliza do once she received word that I had been killed in the Great Hall brawl?

My stomach dropped just thinking about it and I resisted the urge to vomit all over the floor. I had to pull myself together. The worst thing that could happen was that she would attack me, but the teachers would pull us apart, right? I mean, the most damage she could do in a cat fight is scratch out my eye and paralyze me from the waist down. That’s the worst she could manage in a thirty second period of time, right?

I gulped, threw my brush back in my trunk, and slammed it shut. I didn’t bother locking it like I normally did. I pushed off of the floor, wiping the dust of my left sleeve. I forced my feet into my shoes and without so much as another look at Lily and Alice, I made my way down the staircase.

When I reached the foot of the stairs, Remus was waiting for me. I gulped again. Why? Why did he have to be standing there, waiting for me, all the while looking like something good to eat?

Oh shit, had I really just referred to him as food? It was probably just because I was hungry. Yeah, that’s it. I wasn’t some sort of deranged psychopath who rated people on the scale of hotness by their ability to be eaten.

“Hi,” he said brightly.

“Hello,” I replied, trying my hardest not to toss my cookies everywhere.

“Padfoot told me that you agreed to come to dinner with us, but I just had to see for myself if he was telling the truth or not,” Remus explained.

The feeling of nausea eased in my stomach. “What makes you think that I’ll be joining you?”

“Well,” he started, slipping his hands into his pockets and leaning against the wall casually. “The way I see it, you really don’t have a choice now.”

“Oh really?”

“Yes.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I’m standing right here, aren’t I?”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” I asked, crossing my arms over my chest. “Am I supposed to feel threatened?”

His smile faltered and a glimmer of worry flashed in his warm brown eyes. “Well, no. Why, do you feel threatened?”

I shook my head. “Not particularly, no.”

“In that case,” Remus said. “I’ll be escorting you to dinner.”

I attempted to raise just one eyebrow, but failed miserably; I had never mastered that skill like Sirius and Remus had. Damn it. “Oh, you will, will you? What makes you think that I’ll go willing?”

Remus chuckled. “From what I understand, a lady never refuses an escort.”

I looked over both of my shoulders before turning back to him. “What lady? I don’t see a lady anywhere,” I said jokingly, a small smile twitching at the corners of my mouth.

His face suddenly turned serious and a small smile worked its way onto his lips. “Really? Because I could swear that I’m looking at one right now.”

Okay, before this can go any further, I’d like to take a moment and inform you that I don’t take very well to pick up lines. Of any sort. Even the most charming of pick up lines manage to bounce right off of me. Not that boys have ever used pick up lines on me, but I’ve seen it in action and it’s just plain nauseating. But there was a difference between a boy who was just using a line to pick up a girl and a boy who wasn’t trying to pick up a girl, but deliver her a compliment instead.

My mind wanted to believe that that was Remus’s intention. So, I let it.

I could feel the heat creeping up in my cheeks as I stepped off the last step. Thankfully, I didn’t stumble and twist my ankle. Instead, I managed to seem a little bit graceful. At least, I hoped I looked the least bit graceful.

X - X - X

 

When we walked through the doors of the Great Hall, I had been expecting Lucinda to be waiting at the foot of the short steps with her hands on her hips and a glower on her face. I had been expecting her little gaggle of followers to be surrounding her, crackling their knuckles with ugly, matching grimaces on their face. I had been expecting to eat cobblestone before I even reached the end of the stairs.

But of course, I had been completely wrong. The Great Hall was barely full, just a few students sat at the table. I assumed that it was still early in the evening and people were either in their respective common rooms or hunched over essays in the library, trying in vain to complete their assignments before the roaring hunger in their stomach got to them.

To tell you the truth, I was glad that there weren’t many people in the Great Hall when Remus and I entered. I didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention to myself. I didn’t want people to stare at me while we walked down the small aisle between the tables. I didn’t want anyone to see me sit down at the table with the Marauders, acting like they were my best friends. Because they weren’t and most people would probably be questioning their sanity. I know I would be if I saw me sitting down with the Marauders.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly common knowledge that I had witnessed Sirius Black’s girlfriend cheating on him with a Hufflepuff. And not just any Hufflepuff, but Amos Diggory. Most people didn’t know, since the two acted civil toward each other when they were forced into any given situation, but in truth, they hated each other. I’ll give you one guess as to why.

Nope, it wasn’t because of Lucinda Matthews. Well, not at first, anyway. I’m sure Diggory was bitter about that now, but when their feud, for lack of a better word started, it began over, what else, but Quidditch. There wasn’t any bad blood between Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, but from what I picked up on other people saying, there was a match in third year that went bad. Apparently, Sirius had been doing his job and whacked a Bludger in Diggory’s direction when he wasn’t paying attention. The force of the blow sent the Hufflepuff sailing straight toward the ground. Diggory fell about twenty feet and ended up breaking his wrist, enabling him to play for the rest of the season.

I mean, that’s just the rough version I’ve heard. Some people say that once everyone touched down on the ground, Diggory attacked Sirius and broke his nose. But I could knew that rumor was just that: a rumor. How? Because Sirius’s nose didn’t look broken at all. 


Circe, here you go again! Thinking about that blasted Black boy when you’re about to sit down and share dinner with his best mate! Way to be a slag, Briggs. Way to go. 

I mentally scolded the voice in my head and realized that I had been scolding that voice more than I had been thanking it like I had in the past. Before this whole situation happened, before I found myself in this sticky mess, I had relied heavily on the voice in the back of my head. But now, I just found it downright annoying.

“Are you just going to stand there or are you actually going to sit down?” Remus asked.

I shook myself out of my temporary stupor and found that we had reached the table and Remus had sat down. I smiled tightly at him and took the seat beside him. Peter was the only other Marauder present. I assumed James and Sirius were either causing havoc or actually doing their homework. I mentally snorted. Yeah, right. Potter and Black doing homework was just ridiculous.

The good thing about arriving to dinner early was that you got first dibs on everything. And by everything, I mean every single thing. The massive bowl of mashed potatoes hadn’t been touched. There was a variety of juicy meats that hadn’t been picked over. Pumpkin juice was practically overflowing from the silver pitchers. And the gravy, oh sweet Merlin, the gravy boats were actually full! My stomach gave a small, triumphant roar and I wasted no time shoveling food onto my plate.

“Pumpkin juice?” Peter asked, gesturing toward the pitcher in his hand.

I nodded, swallowing the hunk of succulent steak in my mouth. “Please,” I said, pushing the masticated cow to the side of my mouth so my words were audible. I could only imagine how attractive I looked.

Peter filled my goblet with freshly squeezed pumpkin juice and I drank over half of the cup before I lowered it from my lips and set it on the table.

Beside me, Remus chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I questioned, my fork halfway to my mouth.

“You,” he replied, smiling. Before I could ask what I had done that had entertained him so immensely, he shook his hair out of his eyes and added, “I can tell that you don’t get to dinner early.”

I winced, but I couldn’t help smiling at him. “Is it really that obvious?” Remus nodded as did Peter. My eyes widened. “You mean you noticed, too?”

Peter sniggered and, again, nodded his head. “Yeah, I did.”

I sent a mock glower at Remus before violently shoving my fork into my mouth. I immediately regretted it, as I stabbed my tongue with one of the prongs on my fork. Speaking of Prongs…

“Where are James and Sirius? Don’t they normally sit with you?”

“They’re down in the kitchens.”

“The kitchens?” I said, whistling. I was impressed. I thought I was one of the few students who knew about the location of the kitchens. Of course, I had discovered it by accident when I got myself lost in second year. Maybe that’s why I’m developing love handles. “What are they doing in the kitchens?”

Peter chewed the dinner roll in his mouth before answering, “If we told you, we’d-.”

“Have to kill me?” I guessed, smiling all the same.

Peter beamed and reached for another dinner roll. Now that he was eating them, they did look rather appetizing. I snatched one out of the basket, buttered it up, and tore off the end. It melted in my mouth. Oh Merlin, this wasn’t good.

X - X - X

 

By the time James and Sirius arrived to the table, I was stuffed. I could feel the waistband of my skirt tightening uncomfortably. I wish I was wearing trousers: I would’ve unsnapped the top button and hide it underneath my jumper.

“’ello,” James said cheerfully as he dropped down on the bench across from me, sitting next to Peter.

“Hi,” Remus, Peter, and I chorused in unison. They were still consuming food in massive proportions and I suddenly wondered where they put it all.

“So?” Remus drawled anxiously, leaning forward and getting the sleeve of his shirt in gravy. “Yay or nay?”

Sirius and James glanced at one another surreptitiously. Their eyes gleamed with mischief and I know whatever business they had been conducting had been successful, to say the very least.

“Yay,” Sirius said, winking in my direction.

My knees did that same melty-knocking together thing that they had been doing for the past three hours at the mere sight of Sirius. My God, this was getting ridiculous. I might have to start my reply to Aunt Eliza sooner than I thought. She would know what to do, wouldn’t she? Dear Merlin, I hoped she would know what to do. She had always given me some reasonable advice in the past that had helped me out quite a bit, so surely she wouldn’t fail me now…would she?

My stomach flipped uncomfortably and I could feel the medium-well steak that I had just ingested practically begging to be upchucked.

Because I had been lost in my own mind, I hadn’t been able to fully register the reactions of Remus and Peter. But they were still smiling like maniacs, so I was assuming that it must be something good.

“So,” James began a few seconds later, wagging his fork at me as he spoke. “Have you been getting in the mood for Quidditch?”

“Uh, not really,” I replied. He opened his mouth, looking ready to deliver the tongue lashing from hell when I held my hands up, adding hastily, “but that’s because I’ve had a lot of homework. I did think about it a little bit today.”

“And?” His eyes narrowed behind his glasses. Man, he really could be intimidating if he wanted to be.

“And I think that I should get a little bit more into the whole House spirit thing. I mean, I’ve only ever been to one of the school matches and I ended up getting a nosebleed halfway through because of the high altitude.”

All four of them stared at me, slack jawed, before they burst out into loud, uproarious laughter. Well, Peter’s laugh was more of a girlish titter, but the rest of them were obnoxious. Especially Sirius, it was almost as though he was barking each time he laughed.

“What’s so funny?” I demanded.

“You can’t be - did you really - there’s no way - is that -,” was pretty much the general response to my question.

Before I knew it, their infectious laughter made me start to giggle. I just couldn’t help it. I mean, really, getting a nosebleed at the high altitudes was really stupid, now that I thought about it. And yeah, I was a little insulted that they would laugh at me, but it was something to laugh about. I mean, how many kids actually got nosebleeds at Quidditch matches from heights, and not because they got pummeled by the Quaffle?

Then, I realized that I was the only one laughing. Right when I had accidentally let a snort slip. I immediately sobered up when I saw that they were staring at me with their jaws hanging open again.

“What?” I asked a bit breathlessly. Laughing really stole your breath away.

“You’re really serious about that, aren’t you?” James said.

I nodded. “Yeah, I am. Why would I lie about something so ridiculous as that? I mean, I can be a relatively creative person at times, but I’m not that inventive.”

“So that’s the only reason why you don’t come to matches?” Sirius asked.

Again, I nodded. “Well, yeah. I mean, what’s the point in going if I’m going to get a nosebleed five minutes into the game and have to trek all the way back to the Hospital Wing? Last time it happened, I had lost so much blood that I actually fainted.”

“Really?” Peter squeaked, his watery blue eyes wide.

“Yep,” I nodded. “Like I said, I may have an imagination, but it’s not that overactive.”

The food disappeared from the golden platters only to be replaced by delicious looking desserts. I suppose I could squeeze a few more bites of the Crum Brulee. I mean, did you see how scrumptious it looked? I licked my lips and forked some onto my plate.

We all munched on our desserts for a few minutes in a companionable silence and, as much as I hated to admit it, I actually enjoyed eating dinner with the Marauders. They were all very nice, they made me laugh ( mentally, most of the time, as the only time I had laughed in front of them, which was just now, I had snorted. Which generally happens any time I laughed ) and their company was infectious. It was like a fever I couldn’t get rid of. It was like an itch I just couldn’t stop scratching.

I knew this would be potentially problematic in the future, but I had never had many friends, so why couldn’t I indulge in the fact that these people actually wanted to associate with me. They actually wanted to be my friends. For too long, I had shut everyone out. I had put up a thick wall, refusing to even let people take a peek on the other side. I had not only shut out everyone; I had shut out myself.

James spoke to me, but I didn’t catch his words. I blinked and asked him to repeat his question.

“Do you think you would brave another match if Moony and Wormtail sat with you? You know, to make sure you didn’t get another nosebleed from the high altitudes,” his voice cracked near the end, as he was struggling to hold back his laughter. His lips were quivering as he tried to fight off a smile, but he couldn’t conquer that feat and a wide grin broke out across his face.

Charming is, quite possibly, the perfect word anyone could use to describe James Potter. I was already finding myself attached to him and I had only talked to him on a number of occasions that I could probably count on one hand.

I considered his words. What was the harm in attempting to go to a match? I mean, everyone else did it and maybe that nosebleed was a fluke. Maybe my nerves had triggered it. Or maybe gravity decided that it didn’t want that much blood in my brain and said, ‘Nose, you shall bleed and bleed heavily.’

Oh wow, I was giving voices to natural forces. Merlin, I was going insane.

I looked at all of their faces in turn, my eyes stopping the longest on Sirius. He winked at me again and my knees were knocking together so badly, I swore people in Africa could hear.

“Sure,” I said, smiling tightly as I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t see why not. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Well, you could fall out of the stands,” Peter said.

I blanched and glanced at Remus helplessly. “D-does that really happen?”

Someone kicked me underneath the table and I cried out. “Ouch!”

“Oops,” James apologized. “That kick was meant for Peter. And to answer your question, that only happened once in a Bulgarian match and that was because one of the crazed fans was trying to jump on one of the player’s brooms to give their team the advantage.”

My mouth formed a small ‘O’ as I reached under the table and rubbed my shin. That was going to bruise.

“When’s the next match?” I asked as I stuffed another fork of Crum Brulee into my mouth. This was like an orgasm of the mouth, that’s how good this stuff was. Honestly, there was no food like Hogwarts food. Not even Aunt Eliza’s cooking and she was freaking amazing at cooking. At least, in my opinion she was.

“Next Saturday,” Remus said. “It’s not a Gryffindor match, but Ravenclaw is playing Slytherin, so it should be a good match nonetheless.”

“Yeah,” Sirius agreed, nodding his head. “You can sit with us, if you’d like. I promise I’ll keep the cursing to a minimum, if that sort of thing bothers you.” He smiled charmingly.

“Cursing doesn’t bother me,” I said. If only they could hear the way I cursed in my own head. Yeesh, they’d probably think that I was insane. Of course, I was still doubting my own sanity.

“Good,” Sirius said. “It’s settled.” He glanced at his wristwatch and took a long pull from his goblet of pumpkin juice, draining it. His eyes locked with mine and I felt like he was looking right through me, a feeling that was neither welcome nor comfortable. “You finished yet?”

When I nodded, he nodded, too. “Good. Let’s get to the library before all the good Potions books are taken.”

A bit dumbfounded, I pushed myself away from the bench and struggled to get my leg out from underneath the bench without tripping. Like last time, Remus grabbed my elbow and helped me. I thanked him and waited until James and Sirius finished talking.

“Ready?” Sirius questioned as he came up to my side.

I could feel several pairs of curious eyes on us. “Yep, but we’ll have to run up to the common room so I can get my stuff from the girls’ dormitory.”

“No need to worry,” Sirius said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a miniature satchel that looked exactly like mine. Once we were out of the Great Hall and away from curious eyes and ears, he performed an Enlargement Charm. He handed my satchel over to me.

I looked up at him in wonder. “How did you - I mean, how could you - um, wow.” I finished lamely, chuckling softly. “Thanks,” I said a bit unsurely. I wasn’t sure if I should be impressed or slightly disturbed that he had managed to retrieve my satchel.

“No problem,” he grinned. And we were off to the library.

Chapter 12: House of Cards
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It was awkward, the walk to the library. A silence had settled between Sirius and I that neither of us seemed capable of shaking. Sure, we’d talked for a few moments about a particular subject, but we could never really get into discussing it. And here I had thought that I was starting to like Black. Not in that sense, of course, but as a person. But I guess the moments of silence between us didn’t really have anything to do with how I viewed him as a person.

Oh vey, my mind was a very confusing place. I was marveled that I ever managed to form a coherent thought, but less an intelligent sentence.

Maybe that was the problem. Maybe my ability - or lack thereof - to form a sentence that actually made sense made it physically impossible for me to carry any sort of intelligent conversation. I knew that Sirius was smart; he, Remus, and James had top marks in most of the classes I had with them. So maybe this really was all my fault and Sirius was just being polite, having already figured out that it was beyond my mental capacity.

You know, I actually felt sorry for him. He had to have a basket case like me as a Potions partner for the next three months. That probably sounded so appealing to him. I know that it sounded like an okay predicament to me, aside from the fact that his girlfriend was watching me like a hawk and I was still wearing the bruises on my arms from when she had held them fast in her talon-like grip.

We came to a stop in front of the library doors and, at the same time, both moved to open the door. Our hands brushed and a jolt of electricity surged through my arm, momentarily stunning me. I quickly pulled my hand back and stuck it in my pocket.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

Sirius smiled. “It’s nothing to worry about,” he pulled the door open and gave a grand sweep of his arm, “ladies’ first.”

My hand was still tingling as I stepped into the library and headed toward my customary table. I was halfway there when there was a sharp pull on the back of my robes. I let out a small squeal and nearly toppled backward, my arms failing wildly at my sides.

Behind me, Sirius laughed in his customary bark-like way. “Chill out, will you?” He shook his head to himself, the expression of his face that of clear amusement.

I righted myself and pushed a hand through my tousled hair. Tugging on my robes, I tried in vain to smother the wrinkles. It didn’t work, obviously.

“Merlin,” Sirius continued, his voice full of amusement.

“What?” I demanded testily, still tugging furtively on my robes.

“You are quite possibly the clumsiest person I have ever met,” he replied.

“Maybe I wouldn’t be so clumsy if you didn’t pull on the back of my robes!” I stomped my foot, you know, to emphasis my point.

He stared at me for a few seconds, cocked his head to the side, and started to laugh again.

I tried my hardest to glower at him, but I couldn’t muster so much as a glare. He was smiling at me and, well, you already know how I got when he smiled at me. I looked down at my knees to see if they were knocking together. Yep, they were.

Coming around to my senses, I tucked a few stray locks of hair behind my ear and said, “Let’s get to a table before Madam Pince stops her precious bookcase lurking and actually comes after us.”

He mimed the action of wiping tears of mirth out of his eyes. I was hit by a surprise wave of annoyance. Now I understood why Lily could only handle so much of the Marauders - especially Sirius. He was grating all my nerves and the only thing he had done was laugh at me.

Then again, I never liked being laughed at in the first place.

I started for my favorite table in the corner again, but a hand on my elbow stopped me. Even through the fabric of my robes, I could feel my skin burning underneath his touch. 


This is stupid, Eleanor. You’ll only get yourself into trouble if you let yourself start to fancy him.

Pshaw, I didn’t like Sirius. Why my conscience was trying to tell me I did was beyond me. I mean, the thought of actually fancying Sirius was preposterous. He was an arrogant, if not charming, bloke who’s head needed to be inflated to human proportions. Besides, he was strictly off limits. Remus, on the other hand…


That’s another sticky situation you want to avoid, Elles. It wouldn’t do you any good getting involved with either one of them.

Yeah, but that was saying that Remus even liked me. Which was, like the thought of liking Sirius, completely preposterous. It’s like Sirius just pointed out, I was a complete klutz and he was the exact opposite. And by he, I meant…

Well, did I really know who I was talking about? Merlin, this was so damn confusing. And it also reminded me why I steered clear of boys. And they said that girls were confusing. Ha!

Before I knew it, I was being pulled in a direction of the library that I wasn’t familiar with.

“Sit,” Sirius said, pointing to a chair.

“Yes sir,” I muttered under my breath as I pulled the aforementioned chair out and sank into it. I surveyed my surroundings. “Where are we?”

“Near the Restricted Section,” he answered, as though I had asked him a question about the weather.

I paled. “Y-you’re not planning on sneaking into the Restricted Section, are you?”

“No,” he replied and I released a sigh of relief. “There’ll be no need for sneaking with this.” He pulled something out of his bag made out of silvery cloth.

I reached out to touch it and was amazed as how soft, how flowy, it felt against the pads of my fingers. I stared at it for a few moments, running my hands over the smooth surface before looking up into Sirius’s face. “Is this an-?”

“Invisibility Cloak?” he finished, nodding his head, causing silky onyx locks to fall into his eyes. There went the knees. Again. “Yeah, it’s Prongs’, but I asked him if I could borrow it and he said that it was all right.”

He glanced over his shoulder and, before I could protest, slipped the cloak over his shoulders. His body disappeared right in front of my eyes and I clapped my hand over my mouth. Way to give a girl a heart attack, Black. And it’s not because of your good looks, either, I thought bitterly.

“Come on,” he held, holding out his hand. Well, at least, it looked like he was holding out a hand.

My eyes bugged out of my head. “You want me to get under that thing with you?” And be at risk of getting caught by Lucinda or one of her cronies? Hell no. I shook my head vehemently. “I-I can’t.”

He furrowed his brow. “Why not?”

“Because I’m - I’m -.” What was I was at a loss for words.

“Don’t even try to tell me that you’re allergic to invisibility.”

I frowned. Damn it, that was going to be my defense. “Could you at least pull that thing over your head? You’re freaking me out.”

Sirius laughed, but obliged my request. He disappeared before my eyes and suddenly, I found myself wishing that I hadn’t asked him to do that. My stomach churned uncomfortably and I drew my robe closer around me. No chance for him to cop a feel. Not that he would, but you never knew with blokes his age.

I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt hot breath on my neck. But at the same time, it felt nice. Very nice. And if it had been anyone but Black and I was anyone but me, I probably would’ve enjoyed it. Relished in it, even. However, I was a sensible young woman - shut up, conscience! - and I knew better than to do such a foolish thing. Besides, I didn’t even like him.

The Cloak was draped over my head and I suddenly found myself very, very close to Sirius Black. So close, I could not only feel his hot breath on my face, but I could see the faint dusting of freckles that covered the bridge of his nose and scattered out onto his cheeks unevenly. My breath momentarily hitched in my throat and Sirius smiled at me.

“Let’s hurry,” he said, waiting for me to stand up.

When I stood up, it became even more apparent that there wasn’t much room for us to move around. Since I was a great deal shorter than he was, standing at a modest five foot four inches and he was a towering six foot two, he had to hunch over to cover our ankles.

It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, sneaking into the Restricted Section. I had visited the Restricted Section on several occasions, but that was with a teacher’s permission and most of the time, Madam Pince found the book for me so I wouldn’t tally. I also knew that there wasn’t any sort of gate that surrounded the Restricted Section. All I knew was that Madam Pince watched it like a hawk.

“Do you know what book we’re looking for?” I asked, barely breathing.

He nodded his head. “Yeah, it’s in the next aisle. Hopefully, no one’s taken it yet.”

“Oh,” I muttered, going back to my own business of saying nothing and walking in time with him.

I stiffened every time his body so much as brushed against mine. He didn’t seem to notice nor did he seem to care when I trod over his toes. The only time he did care about what I did was when I knocked into a bookcase and nearly sent it toppling over. He had sent me ‘a look’ and I had the distinct feeling that I was being patronized. Something that I didn’t like at all.

Kind of like I didn’t like how the Marauders - well, three of them, actually -, along with Lily, had weaseled their way into my life. Just two weeks ago, I was a normal, invisible girl who didn’t have any friends and kept herself. One little eavesdropping mix up, a slip up in my attention span, and a few other mishaps had suddenly got me friends.

The world worked in mysterious ways, did it?

X - X - X

 

All in all, the study session in the library went better than I expected. The book that Sirius had been looking for was still there, so we returned to our table. Surprisingly, I didn’t trip over my own feet or the hem of the Cloak. I would’ve felt horrible if I had caused a snag in James’s Cloak. First of all, it wasn’t even mine and secondly, it was beyond beautiful. I had to admit, I was jealous of Potter. But everyone knew that he was filthy rich; at least he didn’t flaunt it obnoxiously.

Even with the book, which listed potions that I had never even heard of, we couldn’t think of a reasonable potion that would take the appropriate amount of time to brew and would get us extra points with the Slug. Because, according to Sirius, that was the important part.

“We need to get some extra credit,” he had said as he tipped his chair back and tried to balance his quill on the tip of his nose. “Hit high in the books of old Sluggers.”

I shook my head to myself as I spit toothpaste into the sink and rinsed my mouth out. I gargled water for a few moments, riding my mouth of that nasty aftertaste. I spit the water into the sink, washed off my toothbrush, and put it back in the little stand thing that held everyone’s toothbrushes.

When I shuffled out of the bathroom, I was surprised to see that Lily was sitting on my bed, her legs folded Indian Style. Sitting next to her was, who else, but Alice. I blanched slightly: I didn’t like it when people invaded my personal space. And by that, I meant I didn’t want them sitting on my bed, regardless of their intentions.

I slowly crossed the room over to my bed and sat on the edge, pealing my socks off my feet. I could never sleep with socks on, my feet always got way too hot and I ended up kicking them off, never able to find them ever again.

“Is there something I can help you with?” I asked, trying to sound as pleasant as possible while I tied my hair back into a ponytail.

“No,” Lily said, smiling as she shook her head. “We just thought we could all talk. You know, since you never participate in the late night chats we have.”

Gee, I wonder why?!

“Oh,” I replied, chewing the inside of my cheek. “Well, I was actually planning on going straight to sleep. I’m really tired.”

Alice’s face fell, as did Lily. I would’ve felt bad, but I really was tired. Trying to focus on finding Potions instead of the nearly invisible freckles on Sirius’s face took a lot out of a person, as well as dealing with his egotistical personality.

Besides, this whole friends thing was still new to me. Very new, to be honest with you. It felt like their treatment toward me was a little…how can I say it, forced? Maybe it was just me, but as much as I wanted to believe them, I couldn’t. I had major trust issues, that much was true.

“Sorry,” I added.

“It’s okay,” Lily said, brightening immediately. “I guess we should all get to sleep; we have that exam in Charms tomorrow.”

I paled and my head spun. Oh, right. I had forgotten all about that exam. Crap. I burrowed down deep into my covers and, a few minutes after my head hit the pillow, I was asleep. And, for once, I didn’t dream about snogging Black one moment and kissing Remus the next.

X - X - X

 

I woke up at five the next morning to cram for my Charms exam. I studied while I ate breakfast, by myself, believe it or not, for the first time in nearly seven days. It felt nice to sit by myself, my nose in a book and a cup of steaming tea in hand. No one bothered me at breakfast and History of Magic went off without a hitch.

When I reached Charms, however, I was pissed. Why, you ask? Because the Charms exam was moved to the next class, not this class. I sank down in my seat and propped my head up in my hands. It was nearly impossible for me to keep my eyes open, much less pay attention to a single word of the review that Professor Flitwick was giving.

I sighed, this was just fantastic.

Once Charms was over, I packed up all my belongings and headed toward the door. I was halfway out of the door when an arm jutted out in front of me, slamming into my chest. My breath was stolen away from me and I found myself looking up into the cold, harsh eyes of Lucinda Matthews.

I gulped and she beckoned me with a long finger. I wasn’t going to be a wimp and run away. Chances were, I would end up tripping and she would beat me to a bloody pulp. Yeah, I didn’t think that it sounded all too appealing either. Besides, my arms were still recovering from when she sank her nails into them. I absentmindedly rubbed the bruised flesh as I followed her down the hallway.

Without missing a beat, she whirled around and started attacking me. Verbally, of course, so I’m sorry to disappoint if you were expecting a cat fight.

“What the hell do you think you were doing sitting with Sirius at dinner last night?” she practically shrieked.

I winced. “Remus invited me to sit with them.”

“Oh yeah right! Like I believe that!”

“If you don’t believe me,” I said. “Go ask Remus yourself. Or better yet, ask your boyfriend. You don’t seem to be spending nearly enough time with him.”

Lucinda’s eyes narrowed and she gave me a rough shove. “Was that a threat?”

My eyes widened and I quickly shook my head. “No, it wasn’t,” I squeaked, scared for my own life.

What was it with this girl and attacking people in the middle of the halls? Couldn’t she just confront me in a normal situation? Oh right, I forgot. Talking to me would be like committing social suicide. Or wait, would it, considering that no one really knew me.

“Good,” Lucinda pulled her face back and fluffed up her hair. “My friends have been watching you, Briggs. They said that you two got a little close last night in the library.”

Oh shit, she knew about that?! How was I going to back out of this one? Play stupid! Yes, that’s the way to go!

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You never do, do you?” She rolled her eyes and sighed in exasperation. “She said that you were huddled together at your table.”

Oh phew. That’s a relief. I thought that her friend had seen us slip underneath the Invisibility Cloak together. Even I would admit that if I was observing that, I would be suspicious, too.

“That’s because we were studying, Lucinda,” I said. “You see, when people study, they usually sit closer together so they can share a book.”

Her eyes hardened. “You don’t have to treat me like I’m five years old, you know. I am the one who is in Ravenclaw here! You’re nothing but a pathetic Gryffindor. As to why you were sorted into that house will forever be a mystery.”

I glared at her. “Ha ha,” I bit out, clearly not amused.

Lucinda smiled in triumph. I had let her get to me. Again. And she knew it.

“Just make sure you keep that little mouth of yours closed, Briggs. If I find out that you’ve told him anything, I’ll make sure everyone knows about your deadbeat Mummy and suicidal Daddy.” She mimed the motion of placing a gun to the side of her head and pulling the trigger.

My breath was caught in my throat and little black dots were starting to dot my vision. My head was spinning out of control. I leaned against the wall for support, placed a hand over my throat, and struggled to draw breath. My stomach clenched with panic and I could hear my heart beating rapidly in my chest, despite the fact that I was hardly breathing. Tears pooled in my eyes as I slid down the rough wall, the stone scraping my back through my shirt.

How Lucinda Matthews of all people knew about my family’s past was beyond me. I hadn’t told a single soul about anything of my past, aside from Headmaster Dumbledore. Surely, he wouldn’t have given the information to her. Not without a good cause, of course. So, how did she find out then?

Lucinda laughed cruelly, patted me roughly on the head, and sauntered down the hall.

When my bum hit the ground, I drew my legs close to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. I started to rock back and forth, hoping to keep the tears at bay, but nothing helped. A salty, hot tear leaked out of the corner of my eye. I drew a deep breath, my lungs burning from the strain. A sob tore through my throat, the sound very foreign, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. They trickled freely down my face like a rainstorm in the middle of June. And they didn’t stop.

That was the first time I’d cried so hard in seven years.

Chapter 13: Shadowboxer
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I don’t know how long I sat on the floor with my knees gathered close to my chest, with my arms wrapped tightly around my legs, and my face buried against my thighs. I couldn’t stop the tears, no matter how hard I tried. Just when I thought I had gained control over myself, I would be hit by another monstrous memory and a fresh wave of tears would start streaming down my face.

I wiped at the tears furiously. I shouldn’t be crying; I had done enough crying over the past. I knew that I shouldn’t let the past come back, I shouldn’t let myself be overwhelmed by memories that I had spent countless hours sobbing about in Aunt Eliza’s arms.

This was stupid. I doubt that Dad would have wanted me to slump down against a wall right the middle of a corridor and sob my eyes out like a little baby over the mere mention of his death. He would have wanted me to be strong, to remember him in a positive way. He wouldn’t want me to be consumed by my tears. Then again, it was easier said than done.

If I was anything like my mum had been, from what I remember of her, anyway, she would’ve taken the low blow that Lucinda delivered and hurled one of her own right back. But my mum was brave to the point of stupidity, not to mention that she had an uncontrollable temper, a knack for starting fights, and an attitude that no one liked. At least, that’s what everyone said about her, anyway.

I squeezed my eyes shut tightly, trying to bring back memories of my parents happy together, but none came to mind. I wished that I was in my dorm, so I could open up my trunk and rifle through the mess that coated a good six inches of the bottom of my trunk. I knew that I had some pictures there; Aunt Eliza had put them there when I left for Hogwarts in first year so I could look at them in case I got homesick.

I knew exactly which photograph I would search for first. I would search for my parents’ wedding photograph. Aside from a picture that was taken at St. Mungo’s when I was born, that was the only one of my parents together. I knew that they loved each other, for some time and to a certain extent, anyway. But the marriage didn’t last very long.

The truth was that I didn’t remember much about my mum; she left when I was only one year old. If it weren’t for photographs, I doubt I would remember what she looked like. Though my dad never specified the reason why my mum left, he said that she was too much of a free spirit to settle down. While it had always been her dream to have a daughter, my dad said that she couldn’t commit so much time to someone other than herself.

Benjamin Ryan Briggs, more commonly known as my father, was a good man and an excellent father, if I do say so myself. He practically raised me from birth, seeing as how my mother felt that she had done her part, having carried me in her womb for nine months, gained seventy pounds doing so, and gave pushed me through a hole roughly the size of a Sickle. Although my dad did say that she was always up for a shopping trip for new baby clothes and she liked to flaunt me around at his office’s Christmas parties, that was pretty much the extent of her care for me. My dad did all the rest. I used to not believe him, but his sister-in-law, or Aunt Eliza, confirmed it.

So, when my mother left, it wasn’t that much of a change. My mother didn’t work, so the amount of money we had to spend didn’t change. We did move out of the flat that they bought together and Dad moved us into a modest, but cozy three bedroom home, which was twenty minutes outside of London.

To say that I was a Daddy’s girl would be an understatement. We did absolutely everything together. In my childhood, he was my hero. I wanted to be exactly like him, going as far as making him by me a mock-leather suitcase that looked exactly like his. As much as my world revolved around him, I knew that I meant so much more to him. I can still feel his arms wrapped around me in a tight hug that he would always give me before I went to sleep; I could still feel the small kiss he’d plant on the top of my head before he shut off the lights and closed the door, leaving it open a tiny crack in case I got scared at night.

We had a good life together, to say the very least. I was happy and I hope that my dad was happy. He looked like he was happy, anyway. Then again, I was a young, naïve girl who thought that rugby was the coolest sport in the world. You know, we actually went to matches together. A lot of them, too, seeing as how his company had a box.

She came back to visit once, my mum did. It was when I was eight years old. I could still remember the day. There had been a knock at the door and even though I wasn’t supposed to answer the door when no one was home, I did. When I opened the door, I was immediately swept into a person’s arms. But instead of embracing them in return, I started kicking and screaming that someone was trying to kidnap me. I ended up nailing my mother in the shin with my foot, sank my teeth into her shoulder, and pushed her down when she let go of me. Then I promptly slammed the door on her face and called my dad at his office.

He told me to call the police, and I did just that. When they tried to apprehend my mother, she shouted that I was her daughter and that I was “just sleepy” from my nap. How she knew that I had been sleeping on the couch was beyond me. One of the officers asked me to come forward and confirm what she said. It had been hard to tell if she was my mum at first because she had changed so dramatically in the span of seven years. Her face held many lines, her bloodshot eyes had heavy bags underneath them and she was rail thin. But I told them that she was my mum and they let her go. She waited inside the house with me until my dad got home from the office.

They had quite the row in the middle of the living room. Apparently, my mum hadn’t come back to see me; she came back to see if my dad would give her some money since she was “down on her luck”. I didn’t know until much later on in my life that my dad had actually been supporting my mother the entire time she left. I wouldn’t find out until much later that my mum would use the money he gave her to buy drugs.

I sniffled and took another angry swipe at my tears, but nothing seemed to stop the consistent flow.

No, I couldn’t think about the rest of it now. I would only cry more and I didn’t want that to happen. I groped the stone wall behind me, my fingers desperately searching for something that I could grip with my fingertips. I cried out in anger, another loud sob tearing through my throat as I pushed off the wall, struggling to get to my feet. My stomach clenched as my body racked with sobs. My legs were wobbly underneath me and I retrieved my satchel from the floor.

I took passages that I didn’t think many people knew about. I doubted that anyone would be roaming the halls anyway, lessons were currently in progress. I shook my sleeve back and looked at my watch. It was close to lunch, but I wasn’t anywhere near hunger. I wiped my face in earnest with the back of my hand and trekked back to the common room.

Thankfully, the Fat Lady admitted me without so much as a single word; I didn’t even have to speak the password, which was strange, even for the Fat Lady. As I crawled through the portrait hole, I felt another way of tears threatening to take a hold of me and drag me under. I took a deep breath and held it in my lungs, praying to Merlin that I would be able to make it to the seventh year girls’ dorms before I burst into tears.

There weren’t many students in the common room when I managed to stumble into it. However, two people that I didn’t want to see me were stretched across a pair of armchairs, looking quite comfortable as they played a game of Wizards’ Chess. I touched my face to see if tears had come yet, but none had; my face was dry.

I was halfway to the staircase when they noticed me.

“Eleanor!”

I debated acting like I didn’t hear them and rushing up the steps, but I doubted that I could get away with it. I stopped walking, my shoulders pinching with tension as I waited with baited breath. I didn’t move as I heard them getting up from their positions in the armchairs and walking over to me.

A hand on my elbow made me jump out of my skin.

“How are you - Merlin, Eleanor, are you okay?!” Lily half shrieked once she saw me.

I didn’t say anything in fear that I would start crying, that I would start spilling my guts. I didn’t want their pity, I didn’t need their pity. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them and it certainly wouldn’t hurt me. In fact, I would probably benefit from it.

So, instead of speaking, I shook my head.

“Did something happen in one of your lessons today, Eleanor?” Remus asked quietly, his warm voice soothing.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I muttered, my voice rough. “That’s it.”

“Oh,” he replied, obviously not satisfied with my answer. “All right.”

“I’m going to go upstairs now,” I said to no one, already heading toward the stairs.

Neither of them tried to stop me. I think they were too stunned to do anything aside from stare at me incredulously. I guess they were baffled by the fact that I was actually capable of crying. I told myself that it was ridiculous to think something so…lowly of two of the most intelligent and kind people I had ever encountered in my life.

As I walked up the stairs, a sudden wave of exhaustion hit me like a load of bricks. I yawned into my fist and by the time I opened the door to our dorm, my eyes were half closed. I threw my bag to the floor and flopped down face first on my bed, not even bothering to kick off my shoes. Within seconds, I was out like a light.

X - X - X

 

I didn’t wake up until six thirty. I still wasn’t hungry, so I didn’t bother going downstairs to the Great Hall for a bite to eat. There was also the fact that I probably looked atrocious that stopped me from leaving the room. I wasn’t sure how long I simply laid in my bed, my blankets pulled around me, and stared off into space. There weren’t any tears left in my ducts and my eyes were itchy and scratchy.

Deciding that I was wasting valuable time, I pulled my Charms book out of my bag and studied for the exam we were supposed to take today. It was a pointless attempt, really, but I just needed something to do, even though I wasn’t absorbing any of the information I was reading.

The door opened around seven o’clock and Lily poked her head into the room. She smiled in a warm, almost maternal way when she saw me. I tried to smile back, but my lips quit halfway through. She nudged the door open with her toe and I saw that she had some food with her. Well, not just some food, but a lot of food.

At the sight of the tray of food, my stomach gave a growl. Maybe I was hungry after all.

“You’re up,” she said timidly as she set the tray down on my bed. “I thought that you might be hungry, so I brought you some food.”

“Thanks,” I replied, my voice barely a whisper.

She twisted her hands nervously, watching me while I ate. Normally, I would’ve been bothered by it, but I didn’t really care now. “We were worried about you when you didn’t show up for dinner,” Lily said finally. I could tell that she had been wanting to say that for a few minutes now.

I looked up from my soup, blinking. “Who was worried?”

She sent me a dubious look. “Alice and I, of course. Who else would be worried about you?”

She had a point. There was no one else would should rightfully be worried about me, but something in my stomach wanted someone else to care. And my brain didn’t have a hard time figuring out who. I knew it was stupid to think such thoughts of grandeur, but it was nice, you know?

Almost immediately, Lily paled. “Oh Merlin, I didn’t mean it like that, Eleanor! Honest.”

I tried to laugh, but it ended up sounding like a car engine dying. “It’s okay, Lils, I know you didn’t.”

She smiled in her hesitant manner and tucked hair behind her ear. “Well, I’m still sorry nonetheless. Remus asked about you, though.”

Against my will, I brightened. “Really?”

Her timid smile broke into a wide grin. “You fancy him, don’t you?”

“No,” I said vehemently, although the color of my cheeks and ears suggested otherwise. She sent me a look and I sighed. “Okay, so maybe just a little bit.”

Instead of taunting me like girls normally do when obtaining a piece of information, Lily merely nodded her head curtly and reached forward, grabbing a dinner roll, and tearing it in half. She stuck half into her mouth and held the other in her pale hand. While she chewed she said, “He’s a good guy, Remus is.”

“I know,” I muttered, nodding my head, refusing to make eye contact with her now that she knew.

A tense silence fell over the room while I finished my dinner and Lily ate her roll. I sipped noisily on my pumpkin juice to fill the silence, but nothing seemed to help. The air was full of too many questions with answers I didn’t want to divulge to anyone just yet. I tried to ignore it, we both did, really, but it was just too hard.

It was Lily who cracked first.

“Why were you really crying, Eleanor?” she asked, biting her lip nervously. “You obviously didn’t have any exams today, otherwise I would’ve known about them, since Alice and I have nearly every class between us with you.”

I picked my head up suddenly and glared at her. “I don’t think that’s any of your business.” The tone of voice I used was too foreign, too cold, too defensive. I could already feel a shift going on around me and I didn’t like it.

“Sorry,” she apologized quickly. She rose gracefully from my bed and started toward the door. Lily hesitated when she reached the door and turned around, biting her lip nervously, “You can tell me if and when you’re ready. I’ll be here to listen, okay?”

I bobbed my head, showing that I heard her. She sent another smile my way, muttered another apology and left the room. Probably to report back to Remus.

I sighed, drained the rest of my pumpkin juice, setting the dinner tray on my nightstand. I threw my hair up into a messy bun and burrowed underneath the covers, pulling them over my head and falling into a fitful sleep.

Chapter 14: The Minnow and the Trout
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When I woke up the next morning, I felt like shit. My stomach was making angry protests of hunger and my throat was dry and scratchy. I threw the covers aside and shuffled into the bathroom, which was thankfully empty. I splashed some cold water on my face before looking at myself in the mirror. I looked like a bloody train wreck. My eyelids were puffy, making me look like someone had socked me in the face with brass knuckles.

I sighed heavily and took my hair down, shaking it out. When I saw how knotted and tangled it looked, I decided against pulling a brush through it and put it back up into a messy ponytail. I didn’t have enough energy to climb into the shower, so I brushed my teeth and tried to make myself look the least bit presentable. I didn’t want people running away as I walked down the halls, screaming that some twisted creature from the darkest depths of the Black Lake had emerged and was terrorizing the school.

I noticed that I was still wearing my uniform from the previous day and quickly changed clothes. My stomach gave an unattractive growl and the small creature called hunger clawed mercilessly at the walls of my stomach. I grumbled under my breath as I gathered up my books, stuffed them into my satchel, and left the dormitory.

Students were milling about the common room, scrambling to get their assignments done at the last minute before rushing off to the Great Hall to nab a few pieces of toast. I had homework that I knew was incompletely, but I was hungry enough not to care. Blowing strands of hair that fell in my face out of the way, I crawled through the portrait hole and started toward the Great Hall.

I didn’t bother looking for Remus, Lily, or, sadly enough, Sirius to see if I could sit with them. Instead, I found an empty spot at the Gryffindor table and plopped down beside a third year. He sent me an odd look and I could tell that he was scrutinizing my appearance. All right, so I might look like someone had sprayed bleach in my eyes and there wasn’t any water nearby, but there was nothing I could do about it. I dumped a spoonful of scrambled eggs on my plate, smothered them with ketchup, and stabbed at them angrily.

The morning post came and I suddenly remembered that I still had to get my letter to Aunt Eliza before the end of the day, otherwise she would send another letter and I would feel bad for not responding as soon as possible. I shoved down the rest of my eggs, knocked back a goblet of pumpkin juice, and took off for my first class of the day.

On my way out of the Great Hall, I slammed into, who else, but Sirius. He grabbed my elbow so I wouldn’t topple backward and crack my skull open. “Thanks,” I said, before shaking my head. “I mean, sorry.”

He smiled in his charming way, gave my elbow a squeeze, and let go. “I’ll see you in Potions.”

I nodded faintly, not really registering his words as I started for the first lesson of the day.

X - X - X

 

In Transfiguration, I had nodded off during McGonagall’s lecture, but instead of punishing me when I got caught, she asked me to stay after class. For the rest of the lesson, I mentally debated whether or not I would run out of the classroom as soon as the bell rang, but decided against it: McGonagall would call me to her office, as she was my Head of House.

When the bell finally did ring, I stayed seated at my desk, waiting for everyone to file out of the classroom. I couldn’t help but think that I was starting to make a habit out of staying after class to talk to teachers. First Professor Gilbert, now Professor McGonagall. Who was next, Old Sluggers? I shivered at the thought of having another unpleasant meeting with the Potions instructor and what methods he would use to rope me into agreeing to do something for him.

“Come forward, Miss Briggs,” McGonagall said in her brisk, clipped voice. It wasn’t a request, it was a politely put demand.

I left my stuff at my desk and walked to the front of the classroom, only it felt like I was walking toward the executioner. If she had asked me to stay after class from dozing off in the middle of her lesson, Merlin only knows what sort of punishment I would be dealt.

“Oh, I’m not going to bite,” she said, rolling her eyes in exasperation.

I took a step closer to her desk and put my hands behind my back, clasping my wrist in my hand. I licked my lips nervously and asked, “Do I get a detention?”

McGonagall looked up from the stack of papers she had been shuffling and sighed, taking off her glasses and pinching the bridge of her nose. “Miss Briggs, I wasn’t planning on giving you a detention, but if you want another one, by all means, I have my quill inked and ready.”

I took a gulp and shook my head, my eyes wide. “Oh no, Professor, I don’t want another detention,” I said quickly. “I just thought that it was the punishment for…well, falling asleep in class.” I averted my eyes to my shoes and poked at the ground with my toe.

I could feel McGonagall’s intense stare on me as I continued to look at my shoes as though they were some amazing new discovery. The fact of the matter was that they were old and worn, but they were my favorite shoes and I wasn’t willing to chuck them anytime soon.

When McGonagall spoke again, the tone of her voice had changed. Instead of sounding sharp, her voice sounded smoother, much more concerned. It wasn’t what I was expecting, to say the very least.

“Miss Briggs, are you all right?” she questioned.

“What do you mean?” I replied, puzzled.

The wheels in her brain seemed to be turning, as if she was debating if she should say what was on her mind or not. She straightened her shoulders and put her glasses back on her face.

“I know that you skipped out on your lessons yesterday after Charms. When your professors told me that you hadn’t shown up for class and, after checking with Poppy, you weren’t in the Hospital Wing, I thought they that were surely mistaken. But…” she trailed off, adjusting her glasses on the crook of her nose. “Well, you show up to class today, looking like you’ve been crying for the better part of a day, and then you fall asleep in my class. I’m sorry, Miss Briggs, but that isn’t your typical behavior and brings me to believe that something happened yesterday that upset you.”

I didn’t look up from my shoes, but continued to kick at the ground with the toe of my shoe.

“Well, Miss Briggs?” she pressed. “Did something happen that I should know about?”

I debated telling her about Lucinda approaching me in the halls. I wouldn’t benefit from it, but it would throw McGonagall off my trail. For now, anyway. But there was also the matter of actually proving that Lucinda had threatened me in the hall yesterday and delivered some gut wrenching blows.

My stomach twisted uncomfortably and I could feel tears burning in my eyes. I tried to push them back, but couldn’t. I took a sharp intake of breath, picked my head up, and looked McGonagall in the eye. “No,” I said, my voice cracking slightly. “Nothing happened, Professor. May I go now? I’ll be late for my next lesson if I don’t leave now.”

She stared at me for a few seconds before nodding her head. “Yes, you may leave. I’ll write you a pass so you won’t get in trouble with Horace.”

Armed with a written excuse in my hand, I made my way down the familiar path of the dungeons that led to the Potions classroom. I could sense the feeling of eyes constantly on me as I walked, but each time I turned around, there was no one in the corridors and I probably ended up looking like a crazed psychopath.

Slughorn had already begun his preaching when I entered the classroom. Everyone stared at me as though I was something to be dissected. Slughorn clicked his tongue at me as I approached him.

“That’ll be one detention, Miss Bri-,” he stopped talking when I held out a written excuse. He pulled a face, mumbled something under his breath, and took the slip from me.

Whirling around, I walked toward the table in the back of the class, where Sirius was lounging comfortably in his chair, his feet up on the table, and a quill hanging out his mouth. He looked like the picture perfect image of relaxation. I hated him for it.

He smirked at me as I sat down, waving his fingers at me in greeting. I smiled tightly back and set my stuff on my desk, pulling a sheaf of parchment out of my bag and throwing it in front of me. I rummaged around for a quill and an inkwell.

“Something bothering you?” he whispered under his breath as I settled myself into the lesson and began to scribble down the notes on the board that I had missed.

“Don’t want to talk about it,” I said through clenched teeth, pressing my quill against the paper so hard, it tore a small hole.

Sirius issued a small whistle and returned to his relaxed position. I rolled my eyes, blowing hair out of my face in annoyance. Today couldn’t get any worse.

At the end of the Potions lesson, as I was gathering up my things, Sirius stayed behind. I was curious as to why he was waiting for me, but made no indication of my curiosity. I continued to shove my belongings a little more roughly into my bag than necessary.

“Don’t forget,” Sirius said as we walked toward the door. “We have detention tonight at eight.”

Or maybe it could. With another roll of my eyes, I brushed past him and hurried down the hall. If I had detention tonight, I wanted to get as much homework done as possible so I wouldn’t get behind.

X - X - X

 

I had completed as much homework as I could before dinner. I scarfed down a plateful of mashed potatoes, seasoned chicken, and some green beans while I listened to Alice prattle pleasantly about a boy named Frank Longbottom. All I knew about him was that he had graduated the year before we had. Other than that, my knowledge of Mr. Longbottom was very limited. At least, it was until Alice opened her mouth and began to talk about him.

It made fine dinner chatter because I didn’t have to say very much. I sat with Lily, Alice, Marlene, and Leanne, and they would occasionally ask me a question about the day and accepted my presence but beyond that, I was free to eat without feeling like people were watching my every move. Although, as pleasant my roommates were, I caught myself casting glances at the end of the table where the Marauders sat. Even over the thick veil of conversation in the Great Hall, you could hear their laughter and it was the loudest as well as the most genuine. I was envious, to say the very least.

Once I had cleared my plate and drained my goblet of pumpkin juice, I was on my way to the Owlery. I had managed to write a response to Aunt Eliza’s letter and hoped that it would satisfy her for now. I told her in the post script that I would write a longer letter next time, that my work load had prevented me from writing more.

I hated going up the Owlery. I was surrounded by a hundred owls and I hated owls; they scared the crap out of me. I had been bitten by too many owls over the course of my life and all the bites that had been inflicted on me hurt. And then there was the unnatural fear I had of losing my thumbs to their sharp beaks. Besides, their beady eyes were just plain creepy.

I trekked up the winding stair to the Owlery, my breath coming in short pants by the time I reached the top. I pushed the door open and was pleased to find that it was empty. I looked around for an owl that I could send back and, much to my surprise, Leonidias was perched a few feet above me, licking his talons. Someone had obviously just eaten dinner.

I clicked my tongue in what I hoped was an affection manner. “Come here, Leo,” I cooed, trying to sound like I actually liked owls. “Come on, boy. I got a letter for you to bring back to Aunt Eliza.”

He blinked his amber eyes at me lazily before he gave a great flap of his wings and landed on my extended arm. The weight of him was heavy against my forearm and I could feel his sharp talons clinging onto my thin wrist through the fabric of my school robes. I stroked the top of his head with the back of my index finger.

“There’s a good boy,” I breathed as I pulled the letter out of my pocket along with some string.

Leonidias nuzzled against my finger and when I pulled away, he hooted at me. I stared at him curiously and he stared back, cocking his head to the side and blinking slowly. I stroked his head again and he nipped affectionately at my fingers. I gave a small squeak of fright.

“That was too close to the thumbs for comfort, buddy,” I said softly as I tied the letter to his left leg, which he had held out for me. His bird face was close to mine and I suddenly got freaked out. What if my nose looked like a mouse to him and he took it off with the sharp point of his hooked beak?

“All right,” I began. “You can go to Aunt Eliza now.” I patted him on the head with two fingers and moved my arm, hoping he would get the memo that I wanted him to fly off. The only problem was that he didn’t.

I began to panic. And just when I did, Leonidias started doing this weird jerky thing with his head and made a weird sound. I squealed again and tried to shake him off my arm, but I think that only pissed him off. The sound and the movement of his head began more violently.

Holy shit, he was going to attack me! What would I do without a nose?

Leonidias’ little owl body gave a great shudder and he made a loud coughing sound. A big ball of gray mass came sailing out of his mouth and landed with a plop on my shoe. Leonidias flapped his wings and took off into the night.

“Great,” I grumbled to myself as I shook the owl pellet off my foot. I cringed at the sight of it and walked out of the Owlery, wondering why I had even ventured up there anyway.

X - X - X

 

Over the past few weeks, my stomach had been quite the war zone. It was always flipping and flopping, swooping and swirling uncomfortably nearly every day. It didn’t matter what situation I was thrust into it, but it just happened. I wondered how my digestion system handle all the newfound attention that seemed to be rained down upon it on a daily basis.

My stomach was doing the same old, same old: it was a huge flipping, swooping mess. I wrung my hands nervously as I walked down the final flight of stairs and made an immediate left down a corridor. There was a light at the end of the corridor and I followed it, walking as slowly as possible. Maybe it if took me a long time to reach my destination, it would go away. I wouldn’t have anywhere to go, so I would have to go back to the Gryffindor common room, where I could work on my homework and chat with Lily. You know, do something productive with my time aside from scrubbing and polishing trophies in a room that no one ever visited.

I could feel a grimace coming on as I came to a stop at the end of the hallway. Mister Pringle, the Hogwarts’ caretaker, was holding a lantern while his nappy, pregnant cat twisted around his knobby ankles. He held out his arm, holding the glowing lantern close to my face. I instinctively drew back, fighting off another grimace.

“Never thought I’d see ye here, Miss Briggs,” Pringle slurred, one of his eyes looking at the ceiling while the other was staring at me.

I didn’t exactly know how to reply without vomiting, so I chose to press my back against the wall and wait until Sirius came strolling down the hall. I looked at my watch. It was 7:58. Any minute now, he would show up. Unless he was ditching the detention. If he was, so Merlin help him! I rarely ever shouted at people, but I wouldn’t hold back on him.

Just as colorful thoughts of various forms of torture raced through my mind, he came meandering down the corridor, his hands shoved casually in the pockets of his trousers, his shoulders leaned back in the typical stance of relaxation. He was whistling, but I couldn’t quite distinguish the tune.

“Evening, Pringle,” Sirius nodded his head in acknowledgement.

The old caretaker scowled at him and tossed them a pair of dirtied rags. “Ye ter clean the trophies with no magic,” spat Pringle, thrusting a bucket of polish into Sirius’s arms. “Any magic be done, and I’ll kno’ it.” He tapped his nose and he, along with his fat cat, disappeared into the darkness of the corridor.

I shivered involuntarily. “Creepy,” I whispered.

Sirius nodded. “I know. You’d almost feel sorry for the old bloke if he wasn’t so damn twisted.”

I wasn’t exactly sure what Sirius meant by that, so I didn’t ask any questions. I looked at the rag in my hand and wondered how the hell I was going to clean anything with something so dirty. It was completely baffling; maybe they didn’t want us to get anything done at all. Maybe I should’ve brought some homework with me.

Sirius and I both tried to walk through the narrow doorway at the same time and ended up knocking shoulders. I winced as his arm crushed the bruises his girlfriend had left on my upper arms. His smile faltered slightly when he saw the look of brief pain that flashed across my face. I pulled my expression together, smiled back as pleasantly as I could, and stepped through the doorway first.

I had never been in the Trophy Room at Hogwarts as it didn’t hold my interests. I highly doubted that my mother would‘ve received any awards with she was at Hogwarts. She just didn’t seem like the overachieving type to me.

I had been expecting to find a room full of gleaming trophies on dark wood shelves that proclaimed prestige. Instead, it was a small, cluttered room with trophies on shelves, old desks, and the larger ones were set on the floor; there were a few cases in which trophies were protected by a sheet of thick glass. All in all, the trophies were far from gleaming.

“This is really…” I trailed off and took another look of the room, my face falling, “something,” I finished lamely.

Sirius chuckled from behind me and I heard the sound of metal clanking. He had pulled a trophy off a shelf and was looking at it in his hands, turning it over and inspecting the tarnished surface. He seemed disinterested with what the inscription read, tossed it over his shoulder, and went about his looking; the trophy landed with a loud clank on the floor and I winced. I suppose if we had until midnight to clean trophies, we could always do a little bit of investigating before we set out to work.

I took a turn about the room, glancing at various trophies. The ones that caught my attention were the ones that were behind the plates of glass. These were the trophies that gleamed like I had imagined they would in my head. These were the ones that obviously were of very high standing and only awarded for the utmost important reasons. The only name I recognized on the plaques of these special trophies was that of our Headmaster. Judging by the amount of plaques that read the inscription Albus Dumbledore, he must’ve been quite the student. I had heard things about wise wizard, some of them believable and others over the top, but I never doubted his powers.

“Catch!”

I turned around to see that Sirius had tossed…well, I wasn’t sure what he tossed at me, but I blindly reached out and, miraculously, I managed to catch whatever it was that he had thrown at me.

“I thought they might be relatives of yours,” he nodded his head at the plaque in my hands.

I looked down at the plaque to take a better look. The inscription was coated with dust and once I wiped it away, the writing was still difficult to read. I furrowed my brow and read the small metal plate out loud, “Daphne Briggs.”

“Ring any bells?” Sirius asked, crossing the room and standing next to me, reading the plaque over my shoulder. He was, again, standing so close that I could feel his body heat. Did he not know the limit of personal boundaries? Did he miss the lesson of personal bubbles?

I shook my head. “No. My dad was - I, uh, I mean he is - a Muggle and doesn’t have any magical blood in his family, at least that’s what he told me when I asked. Besides, I got my magical blood from my mum.”

“Oh,” he frowned, dragging a hand through his hair. “Sorry, I thought that she might’ve been related to you or something.”

“There’s no need to be sorry,” I said, handing him the plaque. “I guess we should get started.”

Sirius chuckled, but nodded his head all the same, returning the mysterious plaque back to its position on a dusty shelf. I didn’t exactly know what I was doing. This wasn’t my first detention, but this was the first time that I had ever been assigned to polish the trophies in the Trophy Room. The first and only detention I got was when Professor Binns had caught me sleeping in his class. I got the pleasure of helping Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts, pick some belladonna in the Forbidden Forest for Slughorn’s Potions class.

I had been nervous about entering the Forbidden Forest, but Hagrid that told me that there was no reason for me to be scared, not with him around. While we were out in the forest, we saw an unicorn. That was the first and only time I had seen a unicorn before fourth year when Professor Kettleburn showed them to us. Because of Hagrid, I had displayed “impressionable knowledge” of how to handle unicorns in my Care of Magical Creatures class and was award with ten points for Gryffindor by Kettleburn. I wished I had been assigned that punishment tonight; I really liked Hagrid and I knew that I would’ve had a few good laughs.

“I’ll start with the trophies over here,” he said, gesturing to the wall of tarnished trophies to his left and my right. “And you can start over there.”

I nodded my head and fumbled with my hands. “I, uh, I know this is going to sound stupid, but exactly how to do you polish the trophies? I mean, I know you have to get some polish on the rag and you rub it all over the trophy, but…” I trailed off helplessly.

Sirius smiled understandingly at me. “Just grab a few trophies, place them in front of you, and polish them. Then get up, get more, and keep repeating the cycle. Once you get a good pile going around you, put them back on the shelves and get more. You’ll get used to it.”

I did as I was instructed, loading my arms up with five or six large trophies and picked a spot on the ground that was relatively free of clutter. One of the trophies dropped to the floor before I could set it down and another two followed. I clenched my jaw to keep from crying out in frustration and sat down with a small huff.

Sirius came to sit down close to me, putting the bucket of polish in between us. I pulled my rag out of the back pocket of my skirt and dipped a large portion of the corner in the polish. Sirius followed suit and we polished trophies in silence for a good half hour. I made several trips to get more trophies for polishing and brought a good amount back to their shelves.

For my first time polishing trophies, I thought that I was doing a pretty good job at it. We hadn’t even been at it for forty five minutes and I had already scrubbed seventeen trophies until they gleamed like they were brand new. I glanced over my shoulder at Sirius’s pile and my eyes widened.

“Holy shit!” I exclaimed.

He turned around to look at me, a smirk on his devastatingly handsome face.


This really isn’t helping you out, Briggs.

“How often do you polish trophies?” I asked, unable to help myself.

Sirius laughed. “How many detentions do you think I’ve had over the years?”

“Good point,” I said, chuckling softly before returning to my polishing.

There wasn’t enough polish on my rag, so I blindly reached behind me to smother my tattered towel with some of the thick goop. My hand brushed against Sirius’s and we both turned around at the same time to look at each other. We laughed softly before we turned out attention back to our work.

By the time Pringle came to fetch us, we had polished nearly all of the visible trophies in the room. He seemed surprised, but didn’t say anything as he leered at us, jerking his head in the general direction of the door.

I pushed myself off the floor and wiped the small beads of sweat that had gathered at my hairline, unknowingly smearing my forehead with polish. I handed my rag to Pringle, who pulled it out of my hand quickly and stuffed in into his overcoat pocket.

“If yer not back to yer common rooms in five minutes, I’ll kno’ it.” He tapped his nose the same way he had when he had left us to our own devices, his cat twisting between his ankles.

Sirius and I walked down the corridor and I started to make a right when he grabbed my elbow and pulled me in the opposite direction.

“Where are we going?” I asked, perplexed. I stumbled over my foot and Sirius steadied me instinctively.

“I know a shortcut,” he said, not even bothering to look at me over his shoulder.

He held fast to my elbow as he lead us down a darkened corridor. He stopped at a tapestry hanging on the wall, stuck his hand behind it and felt around. Once he found what he was looking for, he gave a sharp push and I heard the distinct sound of stone sliding out of place. “Ladies first,” he swept into a low, ostentatious bow.

I squeezed through the small opening in the wall and, seconds later, Sirius was pressed against me tightly. The space was dark and narrow, and there was barely enough room for one person, much less two. I tried to become one with the wall, but it just wasn’t happening. I sighed in frustration.

“Follow me,” Sirius whispered, blindly reaching back for my hand. I gave him my wrist instead and his hand closed around it, giving a small tug forward.

I hit my head on a low hanging beam and cried out in pain. From then on, Sirius told me exactly when to duck. Several times, he had to let go of my wrist and physically force my head down so I wouldn’t collide with one of the beams.

When we reached the end of the cramped passageway, he pushed on a wall of stone and it shifted out of place. There was a tapestry hanging in front of it and he pushed that aside as well. He crawled out of the small space first and held out a hand to help me. I didn’t take it and struggled to hoist myself out of the narrow space without scraping my elbows along the side of the rough stone.

Once I managed to get out of the small space, we walked down a short hall, took an immediate left, and were in front of the Fat Lady. I glanced at my wrist watch and saw that only three minutes had passed. It had felt like an eternity in there. Sirius supplied the password and let me crawl through the portrait hole first.

I stumbled my way out of the hole and caught myself on an armchair. Sirius rolled his eyes, shaking his head to himself. “You really are hopeless, aren’t you?”

“Not hopeless, just clumsy by nature,” I corrected.

He grinned as we walked to our respective staircases. “Good night, Eleanor.”

I smiled at him, nodding my head in response, and trudged up the spiral staircase to the seventh year girls’ dormitory. When I opened the door, Lily and Alice were still awake. They were wearing hopeful expressions on their faces.

“So,” Lily implored. “How did it go?”

“Fine,” I replied, loosening my tie and pulling it over my head.

“That’s it?” Alice asked dubiously.

“That’s it,” I answered, kicking off my shoes. “What else were you guys expecting?”

They exchanged meaningful looks that I didn’t like before returning their gazes to me. “Nothing,” they said in unison.

Alice crawled off of Lily’s bed and slithered into her own. I quickly changed into my pajamas, tied my hair back into a ponytail, and climbed into my warm covers.

“Night,” Lily said through a yawn.

“Good night,” I replied as I turned over onto my side and closed my eyes. For some strange reason, my wrist felt like it was burning.

Chapter 15: Technical Difficulties
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The rest of the week, as well as the weekend, went by without so much as a hitch after our detention. Sirius and I still hadn’t decided upon a potion to brew for our project and our essay was due in a week’s time; much to everyone’s surprise, Lily and James were the first to turn in their essay and, rumor had it, they had already started brewing their potion.

Instead of rushing to the library at every available chance we got like we should have, Sirius and I really didn’t talk much, save for in our lessons. He was always busy with Quidditch practice or had a previously schedule engagement he had to attend to, which I assumed had something to do with his wench of a girlfriend, Lucinda. Everywhere I went, I could feel her cold, hard, icy blue eyes following my every move, committing it to memory. It was a little bit creepy, if you asked me.

Normally, I would have been freaking out that the homework I had been assigned was left undone, but for some reason, I could gather up enough anxiety. It was like all the tears I had shed on the floor in the corridor and in my bed had given me an odd sense of tranquility, something that I wasn’t used to, considering that I was something of a high-strung person. If I had time, I would pay a visit to the library and read up on some potions; there were some that sounded promising and others we had brewed in fourth year. If only we could’ve done Polyjuice…that would’ve been a good potion.

On the weeknights, I hung out in the common room with Alice and Lily by the fire. It was weird the sense of companionship I had to them. It was so sudden, but no matter how much my mind told me to resist it, I just couldn’t. I had never had the delight of easy friendships and this was like a breath of fresh air I wanted to keep inhaling. I would stretch out in an armchair, my legs thrown over the side with a crossword in my lap while Alice and Lily played Exploding Snap in front of the fire. I always played the winner and ended up losing terribly; I had never been any good at Exploding Snap.

During the days, I would lounge around the common room, reading a book or catching up on homework that needed to be complete. The only thing that couldn’t seem to complete itself was the Potions essay. I had tried starting on it, but it didn’t work out very well when I didn’t have a potion to write about. Besides, we had to get our selection approved by Slughorn. I didn’t want my hard work to go to waste if he didn’t think the potion we selected was appropriate.

When Monday rolled around, I lugged myself out of bed, forcing myself to not fall asleep while standing underneath the showerhead by pinching myself on the arm whenever I felt my eyelids get heavy. By the time I stepped out of the shower, there was a faint bruise on my left arm from where my fingernails had dug into the skin countless time.

After drying off, I pulled my uniform on, stuffing my feet into a pair of Puddlemere United socks that Aunt Eliza had given me for Christmas the year before.

Aunt Eliza was a huge supporter of the team, going to the matches with her friends while I was away at school or during the summer. I could still remember the first Puddlemere United match she took me to. My father had gone away on a business trip and he had asked Eliza to take care of me for the weekend, she was more than pleased to take him up on his offer and she dragged me to the match. We sat near the top and I fell asleep halfway through the match. It was the first and only professional Quidditch match I had ever attended in my life. She tried to force the sport upon me, being such an avid fan, but I just didn’t take to it very well. So, she tried another tactic: if she couldn’t get me to watch the sport, why not give me countless Christmas and birthday gifts that consisted of Puddlemere United paraphernalia. I owned at least seven tee shirts, four jumpers, eleven pairs of socks, and three pairs of sweatpants with the Puddlemere emblem emblazed upon the bum of the trousers. I made a habit of walking around the house wearing them just to make her happy.

With a heavy sigh, I shoved my arms through the sleeves of my school robe, buttoned the top two buttons and started down the staircase. Lily and Alice were waiting for me at the foot of the stairs and I continued to fumble with the buttons as we made our way down to the Great Hall. Alice had not given up on raving how wonderful Frank Longbottom was. Lily had told me early on that I should just bob my head and make the occasional noise of acknowledgement instead of focusing on every word she said. Besides, we all knew that Alice would talk regardless if she had listeners or not.

I was shoving half a piece of toast into my mouth while my eyes scanned the front page of the Daily Prophet when a shadow was cast over my paper. I frowned and tilted my head backward, only to find myself looking at Sirius Black.

“’ello,” he greeted cheerfully, a smile on his face.

“I can see up your nostrils,” I remarked.

Sirius let out a bark of a laugh and sank down on the bench next to me, nudging me with his elbow to move to the left a little bit.

I honestly had no idea what was going on between Sirius and myself. One minute, my heart was fluttering a mile a minute, my knees were knocking together, and I kept having flashes of my dream - excuse me, delusion - of him shoving me against the wall and snogging me. And the next minute, I felt like he was one of my good friends, even though we had only been conversing with one another for a little over a week and a half.

He reached over my arm and snatched the last piece of toast off my plate.

“I was going to eat that,” I said.

“Well,” he replied through a mouthful of toast. “Obviously you aren’t anymore.”

Lily rolled her eyes and took a sip of her coffee. “Don’t you have other people to sit with?” It was common knowledge that Lily could only put up with any of the Marauders, save for Remus, for a little longer than five minutes before she lost her head.

Sirius stared at her unblinkingly for a few minutes before he shook himself out of his momentary stupor. “Right,” he rubbed his hands together and crumbs littered the table. “We need to find a potion; so let’s meet in the library after the last lesson of the day, yeah?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Sure, I guess,” I said, a little bit unsure.

“All right. See you at three o’clock.”

He snatched a piece of bacon off the plate in front of me, winked at me, and walked down the length of the table to join his friends, who, oddly enough, sat near the head of the table nearest the Staff table. One would think that they would sit as far away from the administration as possible, but the Marauders were daring blokes; who else would have the audacity to call themselves “the Marauders”?

Once he was out of earshot, Lily remarked offhandedly, “You two seem friendly.” There was no tone of bitterness in her voice, only a little spark of mild curiosity.

“I guess so,” I said thoughtfully as I finished off the last of my toast. “I mean, he is my Potions partner for the rest of the semester; I’m sure that’s the only reason why he’s being so nice to me.”

“I bet it isn’t,” Alice quipped. “I bet he fancies you.”

I rolled my eyes. How much more ridiculous could they get? I released a laugh, took a sip of my pumpkin juice, and swiped at my mouth with the back of my sleeve. “Are you joshing me?” I snorted. “There’s no way he fancies me; he barely knows me.”

“So?” Alice urged. “That can change.”

“He has a girlfriend,” I pointed out. “Only the most beautiful girl in the entire school.”

“You think Lucinda Matthews is pretty?” Lily wrinkled her nose in distaste. “I think she’s a stupid, ugly cow that needs to get her priorities straight and learn a few manners.” She spat Lucinda’s name like it was poison; the two were notorious for not getting along very well. Lily always had something to say about the way Lucinda treated people and Lucinda would always make quips about how Lily was a prude, amongst other things.

“She treats everyone so horribly,” Alice remarked. “I don’t even understand how she has any friends.”

“They’re all petrified of her,” Lily said. “They know that if they get on her bad side, they’re ruined as far as social status is concerned.” She rolled her eyes again. “People are so bloody stupid. Why anyone would want to be friends with such a horrendous bitch, much less date her, completely baffles me.”

“It’s a general consensus, isn’t it, though?” I said, tucking my hair behind my ear. “I mean, nearly every bloke in this school practically worships the ground she walks on. It’s…”

“Disgusting? Repulsive? Abhorrent?” Lily supplied, her nose scrunching up with each new adjective.

Alice and I laughed, nodding our heads in agreement.

Lily’s brilliant emerald eyes focused over my shoulder and I assumed that she was looking at Lucinda. Her nostrils started to flare a little bit and she was tearing her napkin into fine shreds of white paper compulsively. Her green eyes hardened with disgust and revulsion.

“She’s such a slag,” Lily murmured under her breath, shoving a piece of napkin in her mouth before either of us could stop her. She chewed on it for a few seconds before a look of realization dawned on her pale, freckled face and she spat out the chewed up napkin into her hand. We all stared at the wet piece of paper before bursting out into loud laughter.

Several heads swiveled in our direction and I could’ve swore I felt some jealous glares.

X - X - X

 

By three o’clock in the afternoon, I found myself sitting in the library at the table near the Restricted Section, like Sirius had instructed when he not-so-discreetly tossed a note at the back of my head in History of Magic. The only problem was that Sirius wasn’t here.

I shook back the sleeve of my robe and looked at the face of my watch. It had belonged to Aunt Eliza’s daughter, Anna, before she had left for Berlin with that Hans bloke. I received it as a present for my so called “fantastic” marks on my O.W.Ls. The hands of the watch were designed to look like comets with blazing tails and brightly glittering stars represented the numbers. I loved the watch.

It was three thirty now. I tapped my foot against the leg of my chair impatiently, folding my arms over my chest. He was just running a little late. He had probably gotten into trouble after one of his classes and was being reprimanded for it now. Yeah, I told myself, that was it. He wouldn’t have ditched me, would he? Not when he had made the plans to meet in the library in the first place.

Even though I didn’t quite believe myself, I handed Madam Pince the permission slip to use the books from the Restricted Section. She glowered at me, muttering under her breath as she watched me walk amongst the forbidden shelves of books. She kept her hawk-like gaze on me the entire time. I was quick to find the books that had been written down on the list and took them back to my table.

I might as well get some research done instead of wasting valuable time. I sank down into my chair, opened the book on the top of the stack, and was overwhelmed by the offense odor of molding paper. I gagged, turning my head to the side and ordering myself to breath through my mouth. I held my breath as I turned the pages, as the smell got worse with each page I turned.

By the time I had cracked open the third book, my left hand was plugging my nostrils shut as I struggled to flip pages and write at the same time with my right. It was all but impossible and I suddenly remembered that my Potions partner was still missing. I pushed my sleeve aside and my eyes widened in anger as I read the time. It was nearly six o’clock and Black had yet to show up.

I gritted my teeth in frustration and hurried to copy down the remaining information on a particular potion that had potential. I closed up the books, shoved my belongings into my bag, and launched myself out of my chair. When I passed Madam Pince, I handed her the books and she clutched them protectively to her chest. I swore that I saw her stroking the spine of one and whispering to it. I shoved the library doors open furiously and stormed up the common room, all but shouting the password at a startled Fat Lady; in all the years she had known me, I had always been polite.

I scrambled through the portrait hole, muttering a string of colorful curses under my breath as I went along. I nearly bumped into another student as I went stumbling into the common room. I managed to regain my footing without grabbing onto any furniture - or people. I was halfway to the staircase when Remus called out my name.

I turned around and nearly slammed into his chest. I held my hands out to prevent myself from falling into him.

The smile on his face faltered, his chocolate colored eyes raking over my appearance in what looked and seemed to be concern. “Are you all right?” he asked, the smile completely disappearing; it was replaced with a lopsided frown. “You looked a bit peeved.”

I shoved my hair out of my face, staring pointedly into the flames of the fire. I had a problem with looking people in the eye when they wanted to know what was wrong with me. First of all, I had absolutely no idea where to begin when someone asked me that question simply because there were numerous things wrong with me. Shall I start the list?

I was neurotic, I talked to myself in my head, the voices inside my head had arguments, and I may or may not be crushing on someone I thought I had gotten over in the beginning of sixth year. Add that to the fact that the head bitch of the school was watching me like a hawk because I couldn’t keep my nose out of people’s business - although, if you’re really going to cheat, you might not want to do it in public - and the fact that said bitch actually knew something about my past and was more than willing to use it against me, as she advertised in the corridor after she assaulted me for the second time in a week and a half. Oh yeah, and there was the small factor that I may or may not be losing my mind.

I breathed out a long, exaggerated sigh, my shoulders sagging as I sunk farther into the couch cushions. “That’s because I am,” I said in a relatively helpless voice. “I’m peeved, I’m stressed out, and I’m famished.”

As if right on cue, my stomach let out a long and unattractive growl. Surprisingly, this time I wasn’t embarrassed. For one, I was too ticked off to be embarrassed and there was also the fact that I had just informed him that I was hungry.

Remus looked like he wanted to smile, but he managed to keep his face a composed mask, neither amusement or laughter present in his expression. “So…what happened?”

“It’s not just ‘what happened’, it’s more like what hasn’t happened!” I plopped down on the couch next to him, folding my arms over my chest and exhaling deeply. I tried to keep as much space between us as possible. I frowned at my shoes and added, “It’s everything.”

I was well aware that I sounded incredibly overdramatic, but I honestly didn’t care. I hadn’t complained to anyone yet, so why not talk a little bit with Remus? After all, he was the one who was responsible for opening this can of worms. If he couldn’t handle it, that was his problem, not mine…well, to a certain extent anyway.

But it really was everything.

Even though I had been trying not to focus on what had happened in the hall between Lucinda and myself, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It was like a bad scene from a movie that kept replaying in my head repeatedly, no matter how hard I tried to shake it loose. It was always in the back of my mind, waiting for the perfect opportunity to implant itself in my brain permanently. At some point in time, I was going to spill the beans to someone; I just didn’t know who it was going to be. There was also the minor factor that I knew Lucinda was a lying, cheating, scathing little slag that everyone called her behind her back. And last, but certainly not least, there was what happened today in the library, or lack thereof, considering that much didn’t get completed. I had waited for nearly three hours for him to show up! Three bloody hours! So maybe it didn’t seem that long because I was doing research, but he was the one who had planned the meeting in the first place! I scoffed in annoyance.

“Like what?” Remus implored.

I ran a hand over my face and sighed again. “I wasted three hours in the library, waiting for someone, when I could’ve been doing my own homework.” I bit my lip. “Okay, so maybe I didn’t waste three hours, I actually managed to get some research done, but still, that doesn’t make it right. If you make an appointment with someone, you should show up, shouldn’t you?” I turned my eyes to Remus, searching his face for understanding.

Luckily, I found it in his kind face and I was suddenly reminded why I had fancied him in fifth year. Not only was he handsome, but there was something about his face that was warm and inviting, much like his eyes and his smile.

“I completely agree,” he said. “Do you know why they blew you off like that?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t. And I don’t care right now.”

“You certainly seem like you care.”

“All right, so maybe I care just a little bit. I’m not going to let it annoy me, though.” I roughly pushed a hand through my hair and folded my arms over my chest with a huff.

I could almost hear the laughter in his voice as he spoke. “If you say so.”

I wasn’t good friends with Remus, yet he knew me better than most people I associated with, which was a grand total of three other people, one of which I was feeling distinct feelings of hatred - well, not hatred, but utmost annoyance at. Who was I to say that I associated with Sirius Black, anyway? There was a distinct difference between talking to someone because you want to and talking to someone because they were your Potions partner and you had a huge project coming up.

I sent Remus what was supposed to be a silencing look and I could see that he was fighting off a smile. Narrowing my eyes, I hoped I had a chilling effect and didn’t look like a five year old pouting because they didn’t get their favorite Acid Pop. Judging by the way the corners of his smooth lips quivered, it was the latter rather than the former. Inwardly, I stomped my foot on the ground like a child throwing a temper tantrum, but I kept my face calm and composed…well, as calm and composed as I could manage.

“So,” Remus drawled casually. “Do I know this person?”

“You practically know everyone in this school,” I began, twirling a strand of hair around my finger absentmindedly. “So, I’m going to go with yes.”

“Are they a Gryffindor?” he urged.

I raised my eyebrows. “What is it, twenty questions?” I tried to make my voice sound harsh and biting, but even I could hear the edge of laughter in my voice.

“Well,” he pressed. “Are they?”

His brown eyes twinkled mischievously and my stomach flip-flopped all over the place. Reluctantly, I nodded my head. “Yeah,” I consented. “They’re in Gryffindor.”

“And I’m taking it that they are of the male species, yes?”

“However did you know?” I asked, rolling my eyes playfully, and obviously, for fun.

“Only someone as stupid as a bloke could forget a meeting with you,” Remus said, his voice dropping a tone lower.

Okay, what was with the sudden shift in conversations between Remus and I? One minute, we were laughing and joking, and then the next, he was dropping comments like nucleus bombs…or whatever those devices are called that Muggles drop all the time. First, it was the staircase before dinner. Then, it was the library. And now this! It was just getting a little too awkward for my taste. I mean, I fancied Remus in fifth year, but judging by the flip-flopping acrobatics that my stomach was performing on a daily basis, I was going to say that the fancy might’ve been recently rekindled…

My stomach growled loudly and I put a hand on my belly in embarrassment, as though it would quiet the pains of hunger that were shooting through my abdomen.

“Do you want to go head down to dinner?” Remus questioned, a smile on his face.

I nodded my head, pushing myself to my feet, and followed him out of the portrait hole, feeling a lot better than I had when I had first entered the common room.

Chapter 16: Bad Medicine
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A sharp elbow to my side jolted me awake. Blearily blinking the sleep out of my eyes, I tried to focus on my surroundings, but found it nearly impossible; my head was spinning out of control and I didn‘t know why. It was darker than normal and everything was hidden in a thick, smoke like haze.

“Eleanor,” Lily hissed in my ear, the sound rattling my brain. Or maybe she was just shaking my arm with an alarming amount of strength.

“What?” I whispered back, yawning into my fist as I pushed my hair out of my eyes.

“You fell asleep in the middle of the lecture,” she said in a maternal fashion; it almost sounded as though she were reprimanding me like a bad child.

I furrowed my brow, looking about. “Is class over?”

“Yes,” Lily cried shrilly, her green eyes widening in exasperation. “Did you stay up late last night?”

I pushed my chair back, rising to my feet and stifled another yawn with my fist. “No,” I said, shaking my head. “Not any later than usual. I did stay up reading last night,” I added as an afterthought.

“I don’t like how you’re taking this so lightly,” Lily remarked, frowning. “Do you think you’re getting sick?” Without warning, her pale hand shot out and cupped my forehead. After a moment of thought, she shook her head to herself. “Nope, no fever.” She chewed her lip, a look of deep concentration glazing over her brilliant colored eyes. “Maybe you should go to the Hospital Wing. You could’ve eaten something that’s made you tired…or maybe someone put something in your pumpkin juice.”

I ducked out from under her hand and sighed, gathering my belongings and shoving them into my bag. While I was faintly concerned about the whole ‘something in the pumpkin juice’ bit, I didn’t want to stress myself out over nothing.

“Look, Lily,” I began, a bit unsure of what I should say and how I should word it. “I appreciate your…concern, but I’m sure it’s nothing. I feel fine, really.”

The vivacious redhead looked at me skeptical, raking her eyes over my appearance. Okay, so maybe I didn’t look the most acceptable today. I had woken up twenty minutes late, skipped a shower in time to get to breakfast, and only got a spot of pumpkin juice, which was warm by the time I got to the table. My hair was a tangled mess, held back by a thick, black Aliceband, which blended in with my hair color so well, it was almost as though it wasn’t there. My clothes were wrinkled, my socks didn’t match, and the sole of my left shoe was coming away from the rest.

“Are you positive?”

I nodded deeply. “Yes, I am.”

She still looked skeptical, but kept her comments to herself. “Your shoe’s untied, though. You might want to tie it otherwise you’ll trip.”

She had a point, but I still pulled a face at her, evoking a light chuckle. I crouched down, narrowly avoiding a head on collision with the edge of the table. My shoe really was untied and I struggled to get the little bunny ears just right. I was really nit picky about the bows I tied, specifically with the ones on my shoes. Call me crazy, but you already know that I’ve been doubting my sanity for the better part of my entire life.

I was in the middle of bringing the first loop around the second when Lily shrieked. I picked my head up too quickly and smashed it against the corner of the table. I felt the wood slice into the skin on my forehead, breaking it, and cried out in pain. Clutching my forehead, I stood up, staggering to the side as a wave of vertigo swept over me.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my voice panicked.

“You have - you have - OH MY MERLIN!” she finished, her voice climbing higher and higher as she continued to stutter over her words.

“I have what? What do I have?” I questioned, my eyes widening with worry as I looked around; I could feel warm, sticky blood sweeping between my fingers from my head wound. Thanks a lot, table. I appreciate you being in the way - NOT.

Lily gulped and said in slow, deliberate tones. “You have gum in your hair.”

I stared at her, my heart skipping a few beats. Licking my lips cautiously, I said, “What?”

“Gum,” she repeated, looking pained as she spoke; she stroked my hair with a pale hand. “It’s in your hair.”

“Pardon?” I asked, not sure I heard what she had said correctly.

Swallowing, she said in slow, butchered words, “Someone deliberately put gum in your hair.”

“Well, what are you waiting for!” I cried, flailing my arms about like a windmill. “Get it out!”

Taking me by the shoulders, she spun me around so my back was to her. I could feel her hands in my hair, trying to pull the gum out. She gave a hard yank and I yelped. “My hair is attached to my scalp, you know!”

“Sorry, sorry,” she apologized quickly. Lily’s tugs were smaller and not as sharp, but I could tell by the little whimpers she was making that she wasn’t making any progress. Soon, I too, began to whimper.

“Is it out?” I asked, biting the inside of my cheek. A drop of blood fell to the floor, whizzing past my eyes at the speed of light.

“You’re not going to like this,” Lily said softly.

I whirled around so quickly, I lost my balance. The world spun in a tight circle and I pressed my hand more tightly to my forehead, trying in vain to stop the steady flow of blood. Leaning heavily against one of the desks in the classroom, I asked in a petrified voice, “What am I not going to like?”

“I think I made it worse,” she was chewing her lip nervously and her eyes were pleading. Like she was silently begging me not to get angry at her.

I opened my mouth to speak, but the world tilted sideways a bit. I stumbled to the side and Lily was at my side, my elbow clutched in her hands.

“Eleanor!?” she cried frantically, her voice sounding far away. “Are you all right? Eleanor?!”

X - X - X

 

When I woke up, my head felt like an elephant had sat on it. I could feel the tears in my eyes burning as I struggled to crack my eyelids open a fraction of an inch; every single movement was killing me.

“Ouch,” I croaked, my voice rough and scratchy.

“You’re awake!” My eyes snapped open at the sound Alice’s friendly, slightly over enthusiastic voice. “Lily, she’s awake!”

I could faintly make out Alice’s head of honey blonde curls and her kind brown eyes. She was sitting in one of the uncomfortable orange chairs that were scattered throughout the…oh shit, I was in the Hospital Wing!

I sprung up from the bed, drawing myself into a sitting position. I prepared myself to experience a wave of vertigo, but thankfully, it never came. I leaned back against the fluffy pillows behind my back, glancing down. Good, I was still in my school robes. It couldn’t be that bad, could it?

“What happened?” I asked, not sure if I really wanted to know the answer to my own question.

“Do you remember anything that happened before we came here?” Lily questioned, biting her lip. I hadn’t even noticed that she had sidled on up to my bedside and perched herself on the edge of my mattress.

“Well,” I began, chewing the inside of my cheek as I struggled to recall my memory. “I remember that you woke me up at the end of class…and then we started freaking out because I had gum in my hair,” I stopped and my hand instinctively flew to the back of my head. My stomach dropped to the floor; several inches of my hair was gone. Eyes wide, I turned my gaze to Lily. “D-did Madam Pomfrey?” I paused and made the motion of scissors with my fingers.

Lily nodded her head. “It was the only thing she could do to get it out,” she answered solemnly.

“What do you mean?”

I thought that anyone of magical blood would be able to get something as simple as gum out of human hair. This wasn’t the first time I had gotten gum stuck in my hair. When I was six, one of the girls at the school yard spit gum in my hair and laughed at the sight of it waded pathetically in my dark locks. My dad had tried to get it out with peanut butter, but that hadn’t worked and neither did putting ice on it and freezing it. So, he did the only other thing he knew how to do; he cut my hair…by himself.

Yeah, it didn’t turn out very well.

“Well, she tried all the spells she knew, but nothing could get it out,” she sighed heavily and leaned against my legs, which were trapped beneath the scratchy sheet. “Alice and I…well, we have a theory,” I glanced over at Alice to see that she was gnawing on her full bottom lip nervously, her leg bouncing up and down.

“What is it?” I asked uncertainly, swallowing despite myself. It really wasn’t that dramatic of a situation, but still, I liked my hair long.

They shared a glance before Lily continued, “We think that someone put a powerful enchantment on the gum so it would be impossible to remove by magic, that you would have to resort to Muggle methods of getting it out. And Madam Pomfrey tried all those methods as well, but nothing seemed to work, so her only option was to cut out a big chunk of your hair.” She paused and stared at me for a long, hard second. “Do you know anyone who would purposefully stick gum in your hair?”

“No, not at -,” I stopped abruptly. It had suddenly become blatantly obvious who had stuck the gum in my hair. I snapped my jaw together so quickly, my teeth clicked together and a white hot lick of pain shot up along the line of my jaw. Ouch. Not exactly good for a headache.

“Eleanor?” Alice said. “Do you know who did it?”

I automatically shook my head. “No,” I answered mechanically. “I don’t.”

“Oh,” she looked crestfallen. “I was looking forward to exacting revenge.”

Before I could stop myself, I started laughing. They both stared at me like I was insane, but before long, Lily’s lips were twitching and small giggles were escaping her. Pretty soon, we were all laughing.

It was at that moment that I knew I had cemented my friendship with Alice and Lily.

X - X - X

 

It turns out that when you get a head injury, even a minor one, the Hogwarts nurse goes berserk and won’t let your friends stay for longer than an hour at a time.

“Open up,” she said, holding a spoonful of a nasty looking concoction.

I grimaced. “Do I have to?” The last potion had been incredibly grotesque and felt like I had been swallowing frogs.

“If you want that wrist of yours to heal, then yes, you have to,” Madam Pomfrey replied sternly, touching the spoon to my mouth, which I hesitantly opened. “The quicker you take it, the easier it goes down.”

Yeah, that was easy for her to say. She wasn’t the one gulping down nasty potions. Once she was satisfied with how much medicine I had consumed, she left me to my own devices, which wasn’t much. When one was confide to a miniscule, hard mattress, there wasn’t much else to do aside from twiddle your thumbs and ponder the beginnings of the universe.

There was only one other student in the Hospital Wing and he was getting ready to leave. It was a third year Hufflepuff by the name of Lloyd and when I asked him what happened, he said that he had got himself burnt by some plant or another in Herbology. Then he asked if I even went to this school and I stopped talking to him.

Breathing a sigh, I glanced down at my wrist, which was bound and in a sling. Apparently, after Lily had told me the extent of the damage done to my hair, I passed out. I thought it was from the shock of the news that she had made my hair worse, as if it were all possible, but Madam Pomfrey assured me that it had been from the blood lost. The cut I had received when my forehead had a scuffle with the corner of a desk was deep enough that she said there was a chance that I would have a scar on my forehead. Oh joy. In falling, I had fractured my wrist, too.

Today was just my lucky day, wasn’t it?

I leaned back against my pillows and tried to get some shut eye. Not that I was tired, I just didn’t have anything to do. Lloyd had left the Hospital Wing for dinner and my stomach growled. I was hungry, but from what I could see, Madam Pomfrey had already taken her dinner into her office. What about me? Wasn’t I going to get fed?

I contemplated throwing the covers aside and walking down to the Great Hall by myself, but with my luck, I would run into Lucinda and she would beat the living crap out of me. It honestly wasn’t worth it; I was hungry, but not that hungry. My wrist throbbed painfully, but I was thankful that I didn’t have to regrow any of the bones. Madam Pomfrey had mended the bones in my wrist, but it still had to be put in a sling. Stupid thing. I’d probably end up getting even more hurt with this damn thing on my arm rather than it doing any good for me. Things always happened that way for me, if you couldn’t tell already.

I sank deeper into the pillows, hoping that my growling stomach would soon silence itself and I would drift off to sleep. I could feel the pin pricks at the backs of my eyes, blurring my vision. The potion Madam Pomfrey had given me was working; it was putting me to sleep. Or it was trying to, at least.

I fluffed up the already fluffy pillows for something to do and settled back upon them again, my shoulders sinking into the massive amounts of feathers. The pillows were comfortable and seemed to radiate a small amount of heat that felt pleasant against the back of my neck. I shifted around in the bed, making use of what limited space I had, trying to make myself a little more comfortable. I lay my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes.

I could do this. I could fall asleep.

I thought of the most sleep alluring images and sounds that I could. I pictured the ocean, which I had never been to, in my mind’s eyes and I could practically hear the steady call of the gulls. It was a calm, peaceful feeling as the waves came crashing down on the rocks in my semi-dream/fantasy.

I was on the brink of sleep when my stomach growled obnoxiously, reminding me of my previous hunger. All thoughts of sleep evaded me and the beach was replaced with a hefty plate of poultry and, my favorite, mashed potatoes. Yum.

Heaving a sigh of annoyance, I sat up and pushed my hand through my hair. I frowned when I came upon the massive chunk missing. I hadn’t realized it went up that high. I could feel the color leaving my cheeks as I ran my hand through the missing clump.

The entire back side of my hair was missing for the most part, the longest of hairs coming to rest at the nape of my neck, right above the small, fine baby hairs. I cringed as I felt around some more. It was longer on the left side than on the right, which would prove to be problematic. I was going to have to get my hair cut. Aw, crap!

The burning sensation in my eyes told me that I was on the brink of crying. Over my hair. Oh vey, I was being overdramatic, not to mention incredibly pathetic. Maybe it was just my hunger getting the better of me. I tended to become overly moody whenever I was hungry, something that Aunt Eliza always teased me about. A small smile flickered briefly across my face at the thought of her. Just like every other time I thought about her, a painful jolt shot through my chest, right where my heart was.

A tear escaped the corner of my eye and I swiped at it angrily. This was stupid; I shouldn’t be getting upset over a missing chunk of hair. Granted, the chunk was approximately the size of China and would need to be fixed before lessons tomorrow, but things could be worse. For one, I could be dead, courtesy of Lucinda, but I wasn’t. Nope, I was still alive and kicking, breathing in air and circulating blood through my system. Unfortunately, just because she hadn’t killed me didn’t mean that she hadn’t exacted her revenge upon me. Although what she would be avenging was beyond me. I was quite certain that it had been she who had stuck the massive wad of gum in my hair. I had thought so in the classroom and my suspicions had been confirmed when Lily said that there was no spell to get it to unstick; I knew that Lucinda was very good at Charms, which was the exact opposite that I could say for myself.

“Oh vey,” I muttered under my breath, scrubbing my face with my hands. I tried to forget my hunger and made another attempt at going to sleep when Madam Pomfrey came shuffling over to my bed. As she leaned over me, I could smell the intoxicating scent of roasted chicken on her breath and immediately hated her for it. I could’ve eaten that roasted chicken; I loved roasted chicken.

“How are you feeling, Miss Briggs?” she asked, grabbing my arm and flipping it over.

“All right, I guess,” I shrugged. “I am a bit hungry, though.”

She grabbed her wand and prodded the valley of my elbow with the tip. A red spark shot out of the end and disappeared into my skin, the red growing brighter and brighter by the second. She stared at the crook of my elbow for few more seconds before giving a nod of her head. “That seems about right.”

Hello? Had she not heard my comment about my hunger?

Madam Pomfrey stuck the palm of her cold hand against my forehead and I shivered. Without warning, she pulled down one of my eyelids and blew into my eye. My eyelid struggled to close as water quickly rushed into my vision.

“I think you’ll be ready to leave tomorrow.”

My eyes widened. “Tomorrow? Why do I have to wait until tomorrow? I took all the damn potions you wanted me to, my wrist is on the mend, and my head it okay!”

“No, your head is not okay, Miss Briggs,” she corrected smoothly, a fleeting look of shock on her face at my curse. “You might have a concussion.”

“Isn’t there some sort of potion available that fixes concussion? Concussion-Be-Gone?! Something?” I asked desperately.

I really didn’t want to spend the night in the Hospital Wing. Ever since my dad had…well, died, I hadn’t done very well in hospitals. We, as in Aunt Eliza and I, had spent the better part of three days in the hospital when my dad had…yeah, because he was in a coma. I was there when he died. The smell of antiseptics burned in my nose to this day. I couldn’t remain in a place that smelt like the very place my father had died. Especially not since Lucinda the Bitch had reopened that particular wound that was well on its way of successful healing, albeit a small amount of scar issue.

Another tear leaked out of my eye and I prayed to Merlin that Madam Pomfrey didn’t see it.

Thankfully, she hadn’t. “I’m sorry, Miss Briggs, but I have to keep you overnight for the potion to take full effect. If there was brain damage and I sent you back to your dorm…I would lose my job.”

Way to be concerned about my health, lady. I really appreciate it.

“As for that wrist of yours,” she scuffled around the edge of the bed and lightly took my hand in hers. She poked at my wrist and I winced. “See? It’s still tender. Try doing lessons with a gimpy arm.”

Chapter 17: Keep It Simple
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It was a little after breakfast when Madam Pomfrey had decided that my fever, which had deflated over the night, was no longer an issue and I was completely concussion free. So, after pulling a clean uniform onto my body, I was released from the prison that was the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey had informed all my professors that since my health wasn’t up to par, I wouldn’t be at lessons today. That meant I had the entire day to myself.

The breakfast I had been served in the Hospital Wing hadn’t been enough sustenance for me, so I decided that the first order of business was to get some more food from the kitchens. Not only did they cheat me on breakfast, but I found out after several attempts of capturing her attention that because of the potions I had ingested, I wasn’t allowed to eat for eight hours. You can only imagine how that bit of news had added to my already relatively crappy day.

In short, my stomach was about to engage in World War III if I didn’t eat something soon. As dramatic as it sounds, I could already feel the pangs of hunger racking through my abdomen uncomfortably.

Of course, I thought that I was being ridiculous; I couldn’t be that hungry, could I? Placing my hand on the thick banister, I walked slowly down the stairs, taking my time as there was no need to rush to my lessons before the bell rang. It was nice to see the corridors empty and not crowded with loud and obnoxious students. At the same time, it was a little odd. The castle seemed entirely too empty for my liking, so I picked up the pace.

By the time I had descended down the seven flights of stairs, I felt lightheaded. The world was starting to tilt this way and that. I tightened my hold on the banister, hoping that I wouldn’t go crashing toward the ground and end up cracking my head open again. As unlikely as it sounds, only I could achieve something like that. Because, you know, I just had the best of luck.

I stood still for a few minutes, hoping that the floor would stop swirling. Shutting my eyes, I took a few deep, steady breaths, thinking that it would help. It didn’t hurt to try. Madam Pomfrey had said not to exert myself too much because dizziness and vertigo were side effects of the potion when it had been pumped through the veins too hard and too quickly.

Once I was confident that I wouldn’t throw up all over my shoes, I straightened my shoulders and opened my eyes. Ah, no more spinning Entrance Hall. With a happy sigh, I made my way toward the basement, where the kitchens were located.

I hadn’t remembered the walk being this long, but then again, the last time I had been to the kitchens was in fifth year when I had been feeling a little blue. I can’t remember why, but I’m more than willing to bet that it had something to do with O.W.L.s. I always ate when I was stressed out, I would admit to that. And it wasn’t like I had a naturally high metabolism, but I wasn’t a walrus, for lack of a better word.

The toe of my shoe caught on an uneven surface in the cobblestone and I pitched forward. Luckily, however, I didn’t go tumbling to my impending doom. I actually managed to stop myself this time, practically hugging the wall to stop myself from hitting the ground. I really didn’t want another concussion, least of all a head wound. Those had to be the least fun injuries.

When I stood up, my left wrist was throbbing. I had landed on it wrong and a jolt of pain was shooting through my arm every few seconds. “Damn it,” I cursed, rubbing the tender spot on my wrist through the fabric of the sling. I couldn’t believe that I had done that.

Well, actually, I could, but that’s not the point. I was supposed to be outraged by my clumsiness instead of accepting, but lo and behold, I wasn’t. Merlin, this was starting to get ridiculous.

Ten minutes later and one wrong turn down a dark corridor, I found myself standing in front of the portrait of a fruit bowl. I had never been a huge fan of fruit, but if I had to pick one that I liked best, it would have to clementines - you know, those small little orange things? Unfortunately, they weren’t included in the fruit basket, but I shrugged it off. No worries. Reaching forward with a curled finger, I tickled the pear and waited for the handle to appear.

It didn’t. So I tried again.

I blinked. Where the crap was the handle? I was supposed to tickle the pear, right? That’s the fruit I tickled last time and the portrait had swung open. There were hundreds of eager house elves on the other side, just waiting to serve me. But where was I? Stuck out in the corridor because I failed at tickling. Either that or my memory wasn’t reliable, which was a distinct possibility. Merlin only knew how many times my memory has failed me in the past.

Determined to make it work, I took a step back and observed the painting. Maybe I was standing in front of the wrong portrait of a fruit bowl. Perhaps there was another one halfway down the corridor that I had missed. Or maybe it was down a little bit more. With furrowed brows, I shook off both assumptions. No, this was the spot and this was the painting with the pear I was supposed to tickle.

“Come on, work,” I whispered to myself as I stepped toward the painting and tickled the pear. It squirmed around a little bit, but no handle appeared. Stomping my foot angrily on the ground, my stomach gave an unattractive growl, something that it did quite often, and I sighed. This was just ridiculous. Now paintings had vendettas against me, too! Maybe they knew that I was coming down to the kitchens to feast mightily upon all the delicious foods I knew that house elves could make me. Maybe they were trying to help me rather than oppose me. Maybe they were trying to tell me something…

Then again, who were “they” exactly? It’s not like the paintings came to life…at least, not paintings of fruit bowls. Or did they?

I exhaled and leaned against the wall, my arms folded over my chest. Well, one arm, anyway. The only one was sort of gimpy. My eyes threw daggers at the painting as I stared at it, my mouth set into a grim line of malcontent.

I don’t know how long I stood in front of the painting, but at some point, someone had come strolling down the hallway and stopped next to me. Of course, being who I am, didn’t hear their approach and I nearly jumped out of my skin, squeaking in fright, when said person cleared their throat.

“Holy Circe!” I cried, knee buckling as I cowered against the wall. Please don’t let it be a Slytherin, I found myself silently praying, my eyes screwed shut and my nose scrunched.

A smooth, warm bout of laughter instantly made me open my eyes and unscratched my face, as it was a very familiar bout of laughter. Even if it shouldn’t be familiar to me at all.

“Sorry,” Sirius apologized quickly, despite the smile on his face. I had opened my eyes just in time to see him shove a folded sheet of paper into the back pocket of his trousers. However, I didn’t say anything. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

“Well then,” I said, straightening up, “maybe you shouldn’t have snuck up on me.”

“I highly doubt you would’ve noticed anyway,” he replied. “You were staring so damn hard at that painting.” At these words, his brow pinched together in confusion. “Why are you standing out here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be inside the kitchens stuffing your face?”

All right, so my eating habits weren’t exactly a mystery to everyone. Unfortunately that meant that Sirius watched me when I ate, which I was almost certain was a grotesque sight, as I have never been one to practice proper table manners; my elbows were always on the table and I rarely used my napkin.

“Ha ha,” I rolled my eyes exaggeratedly. “I would go inside, but I can’t.”

“Why not?” he prompted. “Are you on…oh, what are those things called that birds always go on?”

“A diet?” I supplied.

Sirius nodded. “Yes, that’s it. Are you on a diet?”

“No!” I exclaimed, my tone somewhat defiant. His eyes raked over me and I suddenly wished that I was wearing my school robes, so I could pull them closer to myself.

“Good,” he replied, smile returning to his lips as his eyes returned to my face, deep gray depths glinting with some unknown emotion. “You don’t need to be.”

I didn’t really have anything to say to that. I wasn’t one of those girls who expected compliments from anyone, much less a bloke. In fact, I never really expected anything from anyone, aside from Aunt Eliza, of course. I could feel the faint twinge of heat in my cheeks as I tore my eyes away from his and stared intently at my shoes, which were just as scuffed as they had always been.

“You never answered my question,” Sirius said, breaking the odd silence.

“What question?” I asked, not daring to look up from my shoes just yet. The good news was that my knees no longer started clattering together at the mere sight of Sirius, which was always a good sign.

“Why you’re not inside,” he responded.

“Oh,” I said suddenly, picking up my head, hoping that the faint lining of pink had faded completely from sight. “That’s because I can’t get inside.”

“Did you-,”

“Tickle the pear?” I filled in, nodding. “Yeah, I did, but the knob won’t appear.”

“Really?” Sirius mused out loud, his brow pinched together once more. He closed the distance between us and brushed against me to get a better look at the portrait. “Hmm, maybe you’re not tickling it right.”

“There’s no right way to tickle,” I said, rolling my eyes in annoyance.

“Do you really believe that?” he asked.

“Well, yes, I’d have to say that I do believe that. I mean, there is really only one way to tickle and that’s using your fingers,” I replied.

He chuckled, shaking his head to himself. “If that’s what you believe,” he muttered to himself, raising a curled finger to the surface of the portrait and lightly brushing his knuckle against the skin of the pear. It let out a little tinkering laugh as it shook before a bronze handle sprouted out of no where.

Sirius threw me a look over his shoulder as he turned the knob and opened the door. “Do you still believe there’s only one way to tickle?” he asked gloatingly.

I glared at him as he swept into a low bow, motioning with his arm for me to go first. I gladly took the opportunity, my stomach not allowing me to be defiant.

It had been a while since I had last been inside the kitchens, but it looked exactly like I had remembered it. There were literally hundreds of house elves scurrying about the place, carrying various trays of ingredients and fully prepared foods high above their heads as they rushed around. There were several almost collisions, but somehow, the elves managed to dodge one another before anything horrific could happen. The atmosphere was warm, not only because the ovens were constantly cooking and the stovetops were alight, but the all around feel of the large cooking space was inviting. Not to mention that the smell was positively mouthwatering. I was surprised that my stomach didn’t rip itself out of my abdomen in search of foods to devour, even though the nearest tray of scrumptious looking food was only about two meters away.

The sound of a tray clattering to the ground echoed in my ears and I whipped around, trying to find the source of the noise. Hopefully a house elf hadn’t gotten injured. Before I could even get my bearings straight, an odd sort of squealing noise was reverberating off the walls. It took a few minutes to understand what was being said - or squealed, rather.

“The Mister Black!” a high pitched, cheery voice screeched loudly.

Beside me, I heard Sirius give an almighty whoosh of breath as something latched itself onto his legs. I turned to look and saw that a small house elf was clinging to his legs, a look of pure joy on its face.

“Hello, Iggy,” Sirius said, smiling down at the small creature as he patted it on the head. At the moment, I still wasn’t sure if the house elf was a boy or a girl.

“Iggy is so happy to see the Mister Black, she is,” the house elf exclaimed happily.

Well, that answered it. Geez, the house elf must be a Legimens or something like that.

I jumped at the sound of a much lower voice behind me. “And Iggy shouldn’t be a-huggin’ the students, no she should not,” the voice said.

I looked over my shoulder and down at the floor, where a wrinkly looking house elf was standing with its stubby hands on its hips, looking generally foreboding, which was out of character for any house elf.

“Oh, I really don’t mind, Spinter,” Sirius said; he was still smiling at the elf that clung to his legs.

Iggy beamed up at him.

“Let him a-go, Iggy,” Spinter ordered warningly. “You a-need to get Mister Black and the Miss what they want.”

Almost as though she had been burnt, Iggy leapt away from Sirius’s legs and looked up into his face with wide, bright yellow eyes. “Oh no, Iggy is sorry, the Mister Black. She really is!”

“That’s all right, Iggy,” Sirius consoled as Spinter tottered off to do whatever it is that the house elf had been doing. “I’ll take whatever it is you think I’d like.”

“But the Mister Black, Iggy doesn’t-,’”

“I’ll be happy with whatever you bring me,” he said, still smiling. “I promise.”

Iggy turned her massive, bright yellow eyes upon me and blinked. “And what would the Miss…” the elf trailed off helplessly.

“Briggs,” I stated. “My name’s Eleanor Briggs.”

Iggy beamed at me, much like she had smiled at Sirius second before; in fact, she looked like she was about to attach herself to my legs at any given moment. I wasn‘t sure if I should shy away or not; I didn‘t exactly want Spinter the House Elf to reprimanded her or me. “What would the Miss Briggs like to eat?”

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to eat. A part of me wanted the food that I had been skeeted on earlier this morning, and another half wanted something tasty, sugary, and sweet. The scent of scrambled eggs lingered in the air and, as I sniffed, my stomach gave a purr of content. Well, it was obvious what I wanted.

“May I have some scrambled eggs?” I asked Iggy, throwing an uncertain look out of the corner of my eye at Sirius. “Some ketchup would be nice as well.”

“Iggy is on the job, the Miss Briggs,” Iggy gave me a mock salute before turning on the heel of her small foot and marching off into the throng of busy house elves who were preparing for the impending lunch, which was only about an hour or two away.

When she left, it was just Sirius and I standing off to the side of all the chaos. I winced every time two or more elves came in close contact with one another, carefully balancing silver platters and the like on the palms of their small, sweaty hands.

The smallest amount of pressure on my elbow made me jump in fright and I wheeled around.

“Do you always scare this easy or did I catch you on a bad day?” he asked, the smile evident in his voice.

“Shut it,” I muttered under my breath as I lightly pushed past him and made my way over to a table near the corner of the kitchens with three legged stools surrounding the circular surface.

I was halfway there when I heard him laugh in his typical, bark like way that I had become accustomed to hearing, even though I knew deep down that I shouldn’t. I stopped walking and almost immediately, I knew exactly what he was laughing about. The color drained from my cheeks and I felt my shoulders tense up.

His laughter continued as he stumbled toward me, grabbing onto my shoulder when he almost toppled to the floor. I had balance issues myself when I didn’t have another person’s weight holding me back, so I nearly toppled over with him.

“W-what the h-he-hell,” he trailed off, his voice lost in his outrageously loud and obnoxious laughter. I was two seconds away from turning on my heel and stalking out of the kitchens when he finally managed to sober up a little bit, to the point where he could talk, anyway. “Merlin, what happened to your-,”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” I said instantaneously. And my words were true. I really didn’t want to talk about it. The situation was still a little unbearable for me to handle.

“But there’s a huge-,”

“Sirius!” I shouted, several house elves halting in their work momentarily to stare at us. “Please, can we not talk about it right now? I’m really hungry and cranky and I just want to eat something before I lose my mind and my stomach devours itself, along with all my internal organs!”

There, I had said it. Exactly what I was feeling. I looked at him and suddenly wondered if it was the right thing to do. He was staring at me with a look of utmost perplexity, like he was trying to process the words that had just come out of my mouth. Crap.

“All right,” he said, running a hand over the top of his hair before he took a seat on a stool. “We won’t talk about it-,”

“Thank you.”

“-now, but I expect an explanation at some point in time,” he sent me a look and I sighed, taking the stool across the circular table from him.

Hey…speaking of explanations!

“Why didn’t you show up in the library a few days ago?” I asked with a newfound anger. I tried my hardest to make my eyes looking threatening, but I highly doubted I was very successful.

His face paled and he opened his mouth a few times, but not a single word came forth, only a string on unintelligible mutterings. “I - uh, well you see - um - I had to - er, well there was this - yeah, that and so…”

“We were supposed to find a potion to brew so we could write our essay on it,” I continued, my anger building for reasons unbeknownst to me. “Which is due in three days, mind you, and now, we’re pretty much royally screwed because everyone else has all the other valuable potions that would’ve scored us extra points with the Slug!”

“Well, you see, Eleanor-,”

“No!” I slapped my hand down on the table and felt the nasty burn on the palm of my hand as an aftereffect. “I don’t want excuses, Black, I want the real answer!”

Sirius stared at me, blinking owlishly, like he had just seen something that only occurs once in a lifetime. Like…Dumbledore waltzing around the Great Hall with a parakeet on his shoulder and a sombrero on his head. Although, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t put it past the old man to do something as outlandish as that.

I took a deep breath and added, “Please, I just want the truth. I promise I won’t get mad.”

He rolled his eyes, muttering something about how he had heard that line one too many times before. Pushing a hand through his hair, causing the locks to become more disheveled than they had been before, he said, “I was with Lucinda.”

I was afraid of that. My uninjured hand clenched underneath the table and my nails dug into the palm of my hand, which was still stinging, by the way. If it had been anything else, perhaps I wouldn’t be mad. But it was Lucinda, the reason why I would have to get all my hair chopped off because she was childish and put gum in it. This was Lucinda, the girl who was cheating on him with a Hufflepuff, for Morgana’s sake! This was the girl I was lying for, right to her boyfriend’s face.

“Oh,” I muttered, making sure that my face remained indifferent. “Well, I suppose that’s okay.”

“Sorry I didn’t come afterward,” Sirius said. “We only met up for ten minutes or so.”

“Please!” I exclaimed, holding up both of my hands. “I don’t want to hear the details!”

He chuckled and sighed, leaning on his elbows. “Actually, we had a row.”

At this, I perked up in my seat, despite the fact my conscience was screaming at me that I was being a silly little tart and I would end up pregnant by the time I was eighteen. I rolled my eyes inwardly and told my conscience to buzz off. Ha, fat chance of that happening!

“Oh really,” I picked at a spot on the table. “What happened?”

“Nothing really,” he shrugged his shoulders. “She was just complaining that I’ve been spending too much time with-,” he stopped suddenly and turned his gaze to the floor. I followed his eyes, wondering what he was going to say before Iggy had shown up with our food.

“Food for the Mister Black and the Miss Briggs,” Iggy proclaimed proudly, setting the tray on the table.

My eyes widened at the sight of the massive plate of eggs and a bottle of ketchup. Thank Merlin, she had remembered! “Thank you, Iggy,” I said graciously, reaching for my utensils and unrolling the napkin that trapped them within.

“The Miss Briggs is very welcome,” Iggy said, nodding her head. “Iggy hopes the eggs are good. Iggy would stick around, but Iggy must get back to work. Students need to be served their lunch, they do.”

“Thanks again, Iggy,” Sirius said as the small elf tottered off in the general direction of chaos.

Neither of us said anything while we shoveled food into our mouths. I had taken two huge bites of scrambled egg before I realized that I hadn’t put any ketchup on them. Grabbing the bottle, I popped the top and squirted a long stream of thick, red liquid on the top of my eggs, my mouth watering at the sight of the delicious condiment. Forking some ketchup drenched scrambled egg into my mouth, I let out a small, if not pleasurable, moan as I chewed.

It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed Sirius’s fork was no longer scraping against his plate and he wasn’t speaking to fill the silence. I stopped mid chew and looked at Sirius. He was gapping at me with his mouth half open and a mystified look on his face.

“Wha’?” I asked through my mouthful of food.

“Do you always eat like…that?” he questioned.

I swallowed what I had in my mouth and washed it down with some pumpkin juice, which I hadn’t even noticed until now that Iggy had brought for us. “Like what?”

He made a vague gesture with his hand, fork included, directed at me. “You know…do you make those noises all the time?” He peered at my plate and his lip wrinkled in revulsion. “And douse your food in so much ketchup?”

Heat rushing to my cheeks, I ducked my head before he could see any sign of pink. Blushing in the presence of Sirius Black was a big no-no. That would only lead to trouble and, by the looks of the current situation, I was already in trouble. You know, should anyone find out about this and I was praying to Merlin that they wouldn’t.

“Well,” he prompted. “Do you?”

I shrugged my shoulders, still not picking my head up until I was sure my cheeks were completely blush free. “I don’t know…I guess.”

“That’s really odd,” he commented.

“You wouldn’t say that if you tried it,” I said, finally picking up my head to look at him. He was smiling, leaning toward me with his chin cupped in the palm of his hand. I struggled to form a coherent thought as he raised a brow in amusement.

“Is that a challenge?”

“Only if you want it to be,” I replied smoothly, sounding much more confident than I felt.

With a bright smirk, he reached across the small expanse of the table and forked some ketchup covered scrambled egg onto his fork before shoving it into his mouth. A contemplative look flashed across his face as he chewed slowly, trying to decide if he liked the taste or not.

“Well?” I pressed.

He swallowed thickly and shrugged his shoulders. “It’s all right, I suppose.”

I laughed and gave his shoulder a rough shove that nearly caused him to fall off his stool. But he recovered, laughing all the while, and we continued to shove our faces with food.

Chapter 18: Chop, Chop
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Realizing that we didn’t have much time left, Sirius and I decided that we would go to the library at every available moment, starting with that evening, the second classes ended. When I inquired as to why he wasn’t in lessons himself, he claimed that he had a free period that he didn’t need for studying. But it was obvious now that we did need all those free slots of time, but by the time we had eaten our fill, Sirius had to go to Herbology.

There wasn’t much else for me to do for the rest of the day, so I dragged myself up back to the Gryffindor common room and lounged around in front of the fireplace for a while, a folded crossword in my lap. I was chewing on my quill, trying to figure out what was a seven letter word for “poultry” when I felt the familiar sensation of someone sitting down beside me on the couch. Immediately, my shoulders tensed, but I tried not to let on that I noticed their presence.

I continued chewing on my quill, oblivious to the world around me - or the common room, at least. My eyes were itching to glance out of the corner so I could see who it was, but my mind was firm in its decision to play, well, stupid.

“So, you’re not going to say hi to me, then,” a warm voice said.

As ridiculous as it sounds, I breathed out a sigh of relief. Well, at least it wasn’t Lucinda coming to Avada Kedavra me into non existent for talking to her boyfriend. I looked up from the paper and was met with the sight of James Potter’s twinkling hazel eyes and handsome face.

“Hello, James,” I said, smiling with mock falsity.

He grinned widely. “That’s more like it,” he nodded in approval before his eyes found the newspaper on my lap. “Whatcha got there?”

“Crossword,” I answered, shifting so my legs were no longer hanging over the arm of the couch.

“Having any luck?” He leaned closer to me to see the print on the page. Normally, I would’ve shied away from such close contact and the thought of someone actually going through the difficulty of trying to decipher my handwriting, but Potter was notorious for having horrible scrawl, so it was all right.

“I’m stuck on a seven letter word for ‘poultry’,” I complained, sighing as I turned my eyes back to the crossword. “It’s the only blank left, too.”

Beside me, James laughed. “Are you really having that much difficulty?”

My eyes widened. “You mean you know the answer?”

“’Course I do,” he boasted. “But it’s not like I’m going to give it to you without a price.”

My brow pinched together with a frown. “Are you serious?”

“No, that’d be-,”

“Please,” I cut him off, holding up a hand. “Spare me jokes filled with puns. I hear enough of them in lessons.”

James smiled and nodded his head. “I promise I won’t make any corny jokes.”

“Thank you,” I said, my eyes briefly flickering over to the portrait hole. We were the only two in the common room and I wasn’t going to lie, I was feeling a little more than uncomfortable. If the wrong person were to walk in…oh Merlin, I could only imagine. Mentally, I made the sign of the cross and prayed that Aunt Eliza knew that I loved her. “Are you really going to make me ‘pay’ for the answer?”

“Yep,” James replied, grinning from ear to ear.

“You’re ridiculous,” I muttered under my breath, wondering if the seven little white squares were really worth agreeing to something blindly. I had done that one too many times before and look where it got me. But I didn’t finish this crossword, it was going to drive me insane. Literally. I would think about that singular word that I hadn’t been able to figure out until it drove me to brink of my sanity and I hurled myself off the battlements.

“I swear that it’s nothing bad,” he said hurriedly. “I just need you to give something to someone for me.”

“I am not cursing anyone for you!” I cried, flinging myself off the comfortable couch into a standing position.

From his spot on the couch, James laughed heartily, the sound warming me from the inside out. Now, I know what you’re thinking: great, she fancies another bloke, but you’d be wrong. I don’t fancy James at all, he’s just an all around charming guy with an adorable laugh and pretty eyes. Not to mention a great arse, but you didn’t hear that from me.

“I wasn’t going to ask you to curse anyone for me, Ellie,” he said, the laughter still evident in his voice as he pushed a hand through his already ruffled, black hair and made himself even more comfortable (if it were all possible) on the couch. “Everyone knows that I can curse anyone, anywhere, and at any time with both of my hands tied behind my back.”

I rolled my eyes good-naturedly. “If I wanted to hear someone brag, I would go to Slughorn.”

James’s eyes widened in mock shock. “You would willing subject yourself to that sort of torture?”

“Good point,” I said, grimacing for effect. With a small sigh - as well as a mental shake -, I reminded myself that I was supposed to be getting somewhere in this conversation, not just running around in circles laughing. “So…what do you need me to do?”

“Oh, right!” His eyes sparkled with realization as he, too, stood up from the couch and rummaged around in the pocket of his school robe. A frown tilted his lips downward as he began to pull random things from his pockets, shoving them into my waiting hands, even if one was injured and bound in a sleeve. I wasn’t even going to think about asking about half of the stuff I was holding.

It took three empty pockets and a pile of junk in my hands for James to realize that he had left whatever he was planning on giving me upstairs in the boys’ dormitory. He flew up the stairs, promising to only be a few seconds, and disappeared out of sight. Meanwhile, I was left in the middle of the common room holding various objects in my arms, many of which may or may not have been banned from Hogwarts - and the entire wizarding community at large. Hopefully no Ministry officials came waltzing through the portrait hole anytime soon.

A few students came meandering in through the portrait hole and they stared at me curiously, some looking as though they wanted to come over and inspect the objects in my arms. I adjusted my arms and school robes so that the items were mostly hidden by the dark sleeves of my robe. One third year actually took a step in my direction and I took a step back, nearly falling flat on my bum when the heel of my shoe snagged on the edge of the threadbare rug.

I heard the sound of thundering footsteps coming in the direction of the boys’ staircase. It was followed by the sound of two people colliding and one rolling down the stairs. I wasn’t even surprised when I saw James come spitting out of the staircase, looking a right mess. He sprung up to his feet, brushing off his robes as though nothing had happened, and strolled over to me.

“Thanks for holding onto those,” he said, taking the random assortment of objects from my arms and steadily returning them to his pockets. I was about to say something, but I could see the off white top of a piece of parchment sticking out of the front pocket of his shirt. Thank Merlin, the boy had some sense!

When James saw my wrist, he frowned. “What happened?”

“I fainted after Ancient Runes and fell on my hand all wrong,” I said, following his gaze to my wrist, which was hanging helplessly in the sling. “It’s only a fracture.”

“I’m assuming that cut on your head is a result of when you fell, yeah?” James asked as he finished loading his belongings into his pockets.

“Actually, the cut is what made me fall,” I replied. “That and the fact Lily told me that I had gum in my hair.”

“Ah, so that’s what Padfoot was talking about,” James mumbled under his breath as he pulled the piece of parchment out of his breast pocket.

“What do you mean?”

“He said that your hair was all wonky and he suspected that someone got gum in it,” James answered. “Actually, he thinks that you got gum in it, since you’re sort of…well, accident prone?”

I chuckled lightly, but inside, I was frowning. Did Sirius really think that I was a complete and total klutz? Of course, he would be right in his way of thinking, but still, other people noticed that?

“Anyway,” he continued, shaking off the topic of conversation. He extended the parchment toward me. “Here. Be sure to give this to her, okay?”

I nodded as I stowed the letter into my pocket. “Sure thing, James.”

He smiled amiably at me and sat back down on the couch. Although, how he wasn’t bulging at the seams was beyond me. He reached for the crossword puzzle and I sank down on the couch next to him. Holding out an expectant hand for my quill, I gave it to him and he quickly scribbled the answer into the blank before handing it back to me.

“Well, it seems that our work is done,” he gave a sweeping bow, and I laughed. “But I must be getting to Wormtail in the library. He needs help with his Transfiguration and I just so happen to be the top in our class.”

“You’re boasting again,” I reminded him.

Another grin overtook his sweet features and I couldn’t help but smile back. He was halfway out of the portrait hole when he looked over his shoulder and called across the common room, loud enough so I could hear him, “Don’t kick yourself when you read the answer, either.”

I frowned momentarily before flipping the paper over in my hands. And there, in messy scrawl that was so strikingly similar to mine, was the word “chicken”. Coincidence, I think not.

X - X - X

 

I sighed, resting my right elbow on the table and burying my hand in my hair. “We’re screwed,” I muttered tiredly under my breath.

“No, we’re not,” Sirius said, his voice firm as he frantically flipped through the book in front of him, his pale eyes roaming about the page at the speed of light.

“How can you say that?” I whined helplessly, looking down at the thick textbook on the table before me, wondering if I should actually contribute to the search for the potion or just sit here and stare at the book like it would come to life. You never knew when it came to the magical world.

“Because I don’t give up that easily, that’s why,” he replied smoothly, never taking his eyes off the damn book. “Besides, you searched for three hours for potions all by yourself when I forgot to show up, so consider this my way of paying you back.”

I looked at him through the curtain of my dark fringe. “Does that mean you’ll write the essay, too?”

“Ha!” he exclaimed, his laughter sounding like a bark. “Not without your help, I won’t.”

I rolled my eyes and collapsed both of my arms on the table top, burying my face inside the crook of one of my elbows. I felt a warm hand on my hair and grunted as Sirius ruffled the hair. I tried to beat his hand away, but failed miserably and gave up.

Someone’s stomach gave a low growl.

“Was that my stomach or yours?” I asked.

“Yours,” he responded, the sound of a page flipping following his words closely.

“Oh,” I mumbled, picking up my head and staring at the books on the table. “Have you found anything of interest yet?” I pulled an old, leather bound book toward me as I fought off a yawn.

“Nope, not yet,” Sirius said. “At least, not anything legal.”

My eyes flickered involuntarily to his face and, sure enough, he was smirking. Reaching back, I scratched my head, my fingers brushing against the gap of hair that was missing. I really needed to get something down about that. Maybe I’d ask Lily to help me fix it when I got back to the dormitory.

“Slughorn’s requirements are ridiculous,” I stated as I straightened up in my seat. I loosened the tie around my neck and almost instantly, it was much easier to breath. It actually felt like oxygen was getting to my brain rather that fleeing for its life. “I mean, finding a potion that brews for one to three months, but isn’t illegal? Is he insane?”

“Ellie,” Sirius chastised, using the nickname he had taken to calling me for the past three hours when he decided that my full name was much too long and I ‘needed a proper nickname’. To be completely honest with you, even though I acted like I disliked it, I thought it was…well, I won’t get into that right now. Merlin only knows how overloaded my brain already is. “Do you realize who you’re talking about?”

I sent him a look, but let my mind wander for a bit. Professor Horace Slughorn really was a piece of work who enjoyed giving his students challenges such as these to determine who was the best. I had no doubt in my mind that either Lily or Snape would claim the title. Oh Circe, I could only imagine what would be said on the part of James Potter when he won the award of the best potion in the class. That is to say if he and Lily won, of course; there was a chance - and a rather large one at that - the title could go to Snape. But for some reason, I found myself rooting for Lily and James. Perhaps it’s because I’m a biased person.

I sighed as I routinely flipped through the page, scanning the words without really reading them. “You’re right. Sluggers a nut,” I consented. “A delusional, superficial nut.”

Sirius chuckled and we fell into a comfortable silence as we read the context in front of us. I kept glancing at him through my eyelashes, thankful that gum hadn’t gotten stuck in my fringe. That would’ve been a nightmare, considering I relied on that hair to act as a curtain between myself and the outside world.

Bringing my elbow up on top of the table, I rested my chin in the palm of my hand, my fingers curling around the point of my chin as I continued to turn the pages, my eyes scanning over the pages lazily. It was hard to concentrate when you were hungry. At least it was for me.

I shifted my position in my chair uncomfortably, my lower back cramping up as I struggled to find a position where I wasn’t sufficiently awkward with a leg tucked under my bum and another cast upon the table. Not that it was or anything, but if it had been, that would’ve been very awkward and just flat out weird indeed. Could you imagine being that flexible? Honestly, that would be mind-blowing and fascinating and all, but at the same time, it would be strange and weird. I wondered if I could put my foot behind my head like I use to be able to when I was little?

“Eleanor!” Sirius whispered hotly, the volume of his voice louder than it had been before, especially for the library.

“What?” I said, giving him my full and undivided attention.

“I think I’ve found it,” he said, smiling widely.

“Seriously? That’s fantastic,” I replied, leaning over my half of the table to get a better look at the book that was resting before him. With a lazy roll of his eyes, Sirius scooted his chair, as well as the book, toward me and pushed my elbow out of the way to make room for his. “Where is it?”

“Third section on the left page,” he responded. I could tell by the note of amusement in his voice that he was rather proud of his findings, which could only spell trouble.

Cautiously, I pulled the book toward me, my eyes still glued to his face. A smug smile slowly stretched across his perfect mouth and I could see a glint of bright, pearly whites behind his lips. I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he kicked back in his chair, balancing on two wobbly legs as he propped his feet up on the table. Merlin help him if Madam Pince came scurrying around the corner and caught him in the act.

Scooting close to the table, I rested my elbows on either side of the book, pushing his feet away from my head. I had an issue with feet. It wasn’t so much a phobia as it was an annoyance. An inch flared up behind my ear and, as I scratched, I scanned the four paragraphs in which the potion he had selected was outlined, the instructions on how to brew it clear cut and to the point.

Once I had finished reading, I slowly picked my eyes up and rested them on Sirius’s face.

He grinned widely. “Am I good or what?”

“Good?” I repeated incredulously. “You’re fantastic! It’s bloody unbelievable how you found this!”

“What can I say?” He shrugged his shoulders cockily, casually brushing some of his shiny locks out of his piercing stormy eyes. “I’m gifted.”

I tore my eyes away from his face, unable to help the feeling that my knees would be knocking together at any given moment, and quickly rescanned the text. “Are you sure this is legal?” I asked while I read.

“It didn’t say that it wasn’t,” he replied smoothly.

I looked up again and smiled at him. “I think we’ve found our potion.”

“And in the nick of time, too.”

“We need to get it approved by Sluggers,” I remarked, subconsciously reprimanding myself for resorting to such rude names for the Potions Master…even if he was a ponce. I shook back the sleeve of my robe and was shocked to see that it was almost eight o’clock in the evening. Not only had we missed dinner, but Madam Pince had already closed the library and hadn’t even noticed us.

“How are we…?”

“Still here?” he asked, smirking. “Believe you me, Ellie, I have my ways.”

I frowned at him. “How come I have the feeling I’ve been Disillusioned?”

“It’s because you have, my dear,” Sirius said, his feet sliding off the table top as he reached over and patted me on my head. What was his fixation with my hair, anyway? Before I could ask my question, he answered it, “I did it while you were in the Restricted Section looking for a book.”

“Wanker,” I muttered under my breath loud enough so that he could hear me.

Another grin lit up his face and he laughed. “If the boot fits.”

“Boy, does it,” I commented as I began to pack up all my belongings. Sirius closed the book and shoved it into his satchel, which he then slung casually over his shoulder. “You’re taking the book?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not like Madam Pince will ever know it’s gone.”

For his sake, I hope he was right.

X - X - X

 

The next few days passed in a blur.

On Tuesday night, Sirius and I found ourselves using every available moment of our time to write our essay and, once we realized that we were relatively hopeless, Sirius made me ask Lily for help as we both knew she probably wouldn’t help Sirius, but there was a good chance she’d help me.

Luckily, she had agreed and quickly scanned over our essay, making the necessary corrections and generally praising us for our selection of potion. It wasn’t as complicated as hers, she assured us with a shrewdness in her emerald eyes, but the smile on her face told me that she was joking…to a certain extent.

Once the essay had been finished and I had completed all my other homework that seemed to have stock piled over the expanse of the week, I finally commissioned Alice to fix my hair on Friday night, as Lily was, apparently, helpless when it came to mattes of the hair. While she cut my hair with Muggle scissors, something she assured me that her mother had shown her how to do, we chatted about anything and everything. Mostly, Alice talked of her beloved Frank and how much she loved him. Lily made a few inquiries about my home life, but I didn’t offer up much information. I could tell that she was still trying to figure out what I had been crying about the week before; I still couldn’t believe that it had been that long ago. In fact, I almost refused to believe it. It was all happening so fast, this was.

I had forgotten all about the upcoming Halloween feast until Lily mentioned it in passing.

“It’s Halloween?” I asked dubiously.

“It is next Wednesday, silly,” Lily said from over my shoulder, laughing slightly. “Haven’t you noticed the floating pumpkins about the castle?”

“Not really,” I mumbled under my breath, my gaze turning to my hands.

“Right, I forgot that procrastinators oftentimes get busy with the work they forgot to do and end up missing everything,” she teased, sticking her tongue out at me in the mirror. I returned the gesture.

“Supposedly, there’s going to be a party in the Gryffindor common room Halloween night,” Alice commented, and I could practically hear the smile in her voice. “The Marauders are throwing it,” she added, giggling under her breath as though she knew something that we didn’t. And I suspected that she did.

Almost immediately, Lily stopped casually twisting her auburn locks around her fingers and her emerald eyes found Alice’s. “What? How come I didn’t know about this?” she cried shrilly.

“Because everyone knew you would react this way,” Alice replied, the cold edge of the scissors gently caressing my neck; I shivered in response. “Besides, Dumbledore’s already approved of it months ago, supposedly.”

Suddenly, it was starting to make sense. The night I had joined the Marauders for dinner, but only Remus and Peter had been at the table until halfway through. James and Sirius had been in the kitchens talking to the house elves, most likely Iggy, to see if they would supply the food for the party! Merlin, I could be so daft sometimes. I should’ve been able to connect the dots, but no!

“Oh,” I breathed.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Alice and Lily inquired in unison.

I explained my revelation to them. Alice nodded her head serenely, returning her attention back to my hair, which she had been cutting for the better part of an hour because of all the distractions we had been providing her.

Lily, on the other hand, folded her arms over her chest and stared sullenly at the floor. When we asked what was the matter, she replied, “He didn’t tell me about a party.” But she didn’t say anything else, which was surprising. Alice and I shared a look in the mirror and I could see a smile working its way onto her berry pink lips.

“Are costumes required?” I asked curiously.

“Do James and Sirius win every Quidditch match they play?” Alice returned evenly.

“Touché,” I replied, laughing slightly, even though my mind was reeling.

I knew what this meant. I was going to have to go to the party, whether I wanted to or not. Not only would Sirius invite me to go, but so would Remus and, more than likely, James, not to mention Lily and Alice would expect me to be there. Oh vey, there really was no way of avoiding this, was there?

This only added to my already immense stress level. At the same time, it made me thankful that I was able to finish the essay, which had been due at the end of today’s Potions lesson. At least now I had time to think of a costume. There was also the added bonus that I now had two girlfriends to rely on for some help.

As lame as it sounds, this would be my first party - ever. I mean, yeah, I’ve had birthday parties in the past, but most of the time, Aunt Eliza and I were the only one in attendance, aside from Bert the Muggle mailman and Julia, the old codger that lived down the street and use to baby-sit me when Aunt Eliza went out on the town. I knew that there was a slight chance that some firewhisky would be involved and while I wasn’t a stranger to its taste, I didn’t want to get piss drunk in front of everyone, much less Remus and Sirius. The very thought made me ill with uneasiness.

There was a weight on both of my shoulders. It took me a minute to register that it was Alice’s hands. “All done,” she said, a bright smile on her lips as she took a step back from me and handed me a mirror.

From the front view, it looked cute enough. A little too short for my liking, as I had never had chin length hair before, but it was nice looking nonetheless. It felt strange, not having hair surrounding my neck and shoulders. I couldn’t twist it around my fingers like I did when I was nervous and I couldn’t pull it back into a ponytail.

“Do you like it?” Alice asked hopefully.

“I love it,” I commented, smiling genuinely. I really did like it…but I liked my old hair better. Stupid Lucinda.

“Here, take a look at the back,” Alice said as she physically turned me around so my back was to the mirror. With the smaller mirror in hand, I held it so that I could see over my shoulder at the reflection in the mirror. “Well?”

It was different, to say the very least. It was much shorter in the back, many a layer in the back making my thick hair look much…well, I suppose lighter would be the correct word. The hair was shorter toward the middle of my skull and it gradually descended downward in a swing sort of cut, the edges cupping around my chin and jaw line. Thankfully, my ears, which I had always been self conscious about were hidden behind my hair.

As much as I wanted to dislike it, from this angle, I liked it. A lot, actually. Which was surprising, considering I didn’t like changes when it came to my physical appearance. “I really love it, Alice,” I replied, hoping that tone of my voice was as genuine as it sounded in my own ears. “Thank you so much for fixing it.”

“Not a problem, love,” she said, fluffing the hair up in the back for size. “I’m glad you like it. What do you think Lily?”

I glanced over at Lily and saw that she had returned to her old self. A smirk was on her face and she said slyly, “I’m sure he won’t be able to keep his hands off you now.”

I stared at her, incredulous, and ready to slap her silly for saying that in front of Alice, who immediately launched into a slew of questions.

“Who is she talking about? Why did she say that? Oh, come on, Eleanor, just tell me! Who is it? Is it someone I know? Can I ask-,”

“Alice!” I exclaimed, slightly disgruntled. “It’s nothing. She was referring to the joke we have about Slughorn, right?” I sent Lily a pointed look and she rolled her eyes before sighing.

“Yeah, that’s right,” she replied lamely.

Alice glanced between us skeptically, her honey blonde brows raised. But thankfully, she didn’t say anything else and went about teaching me how I could style my new haircut.

Chapter 19: Two Step
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On the morning of the match, I found myself being shaken awake, Alice calling my name as loudly as she possibly could. I rolled out of bed, nearly toppling to the floor in my blind attempt to stand on my own two feet. Balance problems or not, I couldn’t help that a shoe had been in my way. It was my own shoe, naturally, but what’s the difference, anyway?

I lifted my hand to scratch the back of my head as I shuffled toward the bathroom and stopped at the lack of hair. After a moment of panic, I remembered that Alice had cut my hair the night before. My hand lingered on the back of my neck, stroking at the invisible hairs in mourning. I would have to let Aunt Eliza what had happened to the locks that she loved so much. It was more than likely that she would find it funny opposed to stupid. I mean, this was the woman who thought that someone should make a legal sport of which house elf could win in a manners’ contest. Not because she detested the creatures, in fact, she loved them, but just because it would be amusing to see what they would do. Especially when they tend to fight over who’s the better elf.

Shaking my head to myself, I quickly stripped of my pajamas and stepped into the shower. I knew that there wasn’t much time left for breakfast and I knew that I would not only be cranky if I went unfed before going to the game, but it would only make my stomach more nauseous at the prospect of climbing the bleachers. I might not have been fearful of heights, but who liked killer nosebleeds?

Not me.

I washed as fast as I could, all but sprinting out of the shower and throwing on a pair of clean clothes. Since it was the weekend and uniforms weren’t required, I settled on a faded maroon tee shirt and pulled a solid black jumper over it, the words, OXFORD, emblazoned across the front in massive white letters. It had been the Muggle college my father had attended in his youth, and the jumper had belonged to him originally. I plucked at the collar and brought it to my nose, inhaling the scent of old cigars and brandy. I had never washed this jumper since Aunt Eliza had given it to me when I was thirteen.

“You ready?” Lily asked, poking her head around the corner of the bathroom.

I nodded my head and tucked my newly cut hair behind my ear. “I don’t look like an idiot, do I?”

She raked her eyes over my appearance and a contemplative look fell over her face. “You look fine, but I think there’s something missing,” she mused out loud, tapping her finger against her chin. Her eyes sparkled to life suddenly and she disappeared momentarily, only to reappear seconds later with a headband in her hand. “Here,” she said, handing over the scarlet and gold head accessory to me.

“Thanks,” I replied, staring at the headband before situating it upon my head.

Lily rolled her eyes good-naturedly and took a step toward me, taking it as her duty to fix my hair correctly. Once she was finished, she backed away, a smile on her face. “There, much better.”

“Good to know that I’m inept at putting on a headband,” I muttered under my breath, although I was smiling.

Lily laughed and together, we trouped down to the Great Hall together, grabbing our scarves and hats on the way out of the door, should we get cold whilst sitting in the stands. Even though I doubted that would happen, given the amount of people that cramped into the limited space of the bleachers.

X - X - X

Upon reaching the Great Hall entrance, I was received by an embarrassing display of camaraderie. James and Sirius had pushed themselves up into semi-standing positions and were waving their arms above their heads in quick, frantic gestures in a successful attempt to capture our attention. I knew by the smiles on their faces that they were doing it on purpose and I immediately felt the color rise to my cheeks, the heat around my now bare neck unbearably mortifying. However, Lily was cursing vehemently under her breath.

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes when I felt her tense beside me. I wrapped my fingers around her wrist in warning and she made an odd sort of whimpering noise, like she didn’t want to walk toward the boys. I had a distinct feeling that there was something that she hadn’t told me, and that it was something that she needed to tell someone before she exploded.

I looked at her and she sighed. “I’ll tell you later, okay? You just have to promise not to tell Alice.”

Wow. Did she really just say that? Could Big Brother please press the rewind button so I could make sure that there wasn’t an obscene amount of earwax clogging my ears?

“I promise,” I said without hesitation. “Can we please eat now?”

An uneasy expression flickered briefly across her face before she nodded her head and we joined the four boys at the table.

“Your hair looks nice,” Remus said genuinely, smiling warmly at me as I dropped down onto the bench beside him.

“Thanks,” I replied, coloring slightly at the tiny compliment. “Alice did it.”

“Well, she did a very nice job,” Sirius added, stretching across the table to knick a piece of toast off the golden plate nearest my elbow. “It’s very…oh, what’s that word?”

“Becoming?” Lily and James supplied in unison. While James laughed it off, all the color drained from Lily’s face. That was when I knew that something was definitely going on. I opened my mouth to speak, but she delivered a sharp and swift kick to my shin, the pain surging my leg and tickling my knee.

“Yeah,” Sirius said, seeming to sense the odd feeling in the air, too. “That’s the word.” He took a huge bite out of his toast before returning his shimmering eyes to me. “It looks very becoming on you, Ella.”

“Thank you,” I muttered, scooping some eggs onto my plate and snatching a few pieces of toast off the plate in front of me to avoid the curious stares from everyone else at the table.

We ate, sparsely talking as we were all extremely hungry. The tension between James and Lily was much too odd for my liking, so I subconsciously kept scooting closer to Remus to free myself from the negative vibes radiating off Lily. I didn’t even realize how close I was until our elbows slammed into one another and my funny bone hurt so much, I just had to laugh.

Remus and I were the only two laughing. The others was staring at us like they didn’t understand what was going on. Which they didn’t, of course, but apparently we were the only two people who found humor in knocking funny bones together. I tried to hold back my laughter and decided that maybe if I took a drink it would be squelch my desire to laugh.

I was wrong and ended up choking on a mouthful of pumpkin juice. Peter, who was sitting next to Lily, reached around her to slap me heartily on the back. Which in turn only made my coughing worse, so thanks very much, Peter.

“That only makes it worse, you dolt,” Remus scolded as he waited for me to stop coughing.

I managed to get my throat under control and sighed from lung exhaustion.

“Are you all right?” James inquired from across the table.

“I’m fine,” I replied, taking an earnest sip from my goblet of pumpkin juice to soothe the burning in my throat.

Pushing back the sleeve of his jumper, Sirius glanced at the expensive watch that adorned his wrist, a gift from his family, no doubt. “Well,” he said, not looking up from his watch. “The match starts in twenty minutes and by now, the stands are probably filling up. So, I suggest that we get a move on before all the good seats are taken.”

“Yeah,” James agreed as we all began to take last minutes bites of our food and wash it down with quick gulps of pumpkin juice. “We wouldn’t want to have to sit too far up in case Eleanor got a nosebleed.”

The rest of them laughed while I glared at James. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly at me and traipsed out of the door. Lily lingered behind, walking at a steady pace beside me. “You see what I mean when I say he can be infuriating?”

I smiled at her and, like James had, shrugged my shoulders. He hadn’t infuriated me; that was too strong of a word. But he had annoyed me. In his own charming sort of way. “He’s not infuriating,” I trailed off lightly.

Lily rolled her emerald eyes heavenward, groaning. “Oh no, not you, too!”

“Lily,” I said sharply, bringing her back to her senses before she could lose them. “This is me we’re talking about, not half of the female population at Hogwarts.”

She caught on almost immediately and her eyes sparkled. Tapping her finger against the side of her nose that reminded me eerily of Pringle, I shivered and pointedly took long strides away from her.

X - X - X

Sirius was right. A good majority of the seats were taken by the time we reached the pitch. I tried to weasel my way out of climbing up to the very top, claiming that there weren’t any seats available that my naked eye could see.

“Then maybe you should get glasses,” James commented, his eyes glinting behind his own wire-rimmed glasses, grinning widely as I stared open mouthed at him.

“Sod off,” I muttered under my breath. I turned around suddenly and smacked into Sirius’s chest, our faces inches apart. Talk about uncomfortable and sufficiently awkward, especially with all these people watching and taking notice. Yeesh.

I tried to pretend that I didn’t notice our closeness and Sirius grabbed my upper arms, his hands lying right over the fading bruises that his very own girlfriend had given me. “Turn around and march up those stairs.”

“But Sirius-,”

“No buts,” James cut in. “You promised that you would at least attempt to sit through an entire match. Now get your bum moving; there’s a line forming behind us.”

I looked over Sirius’s shoulder to see that there was, in fact, a line forming behind Remus, who was eyeing me oddly. I didn’t like the look nor the feeling I was getting from said look, so I turned around like I was asked - or demanded, rather, as they seemed to think they could order me about like their own personal servant. Which they probably could, as I usually went completely brain dead around any of them for some seriously unknown reasons.

Lily nudged me roughly in the ribcage and together, we climbed up the staircase. The stairs were wooden, looked and felt incredibly old, and were spaced about a foot apart. Which made it exceedingly difficult for someone like me with short legs to walk up without teetering backwards and forwards every few steps. In fact, Lily had to loop her arm through mine to make sure I didn’t topple backward and send everyone to the Hospital Wing.

Halfway to the top of the staircase, I felt a familiar dripping running down my face. My hand flew to my nose and I turned around, this time finding myself standing obnoxiously close to Remus.

“What?” he asked, concerned at the sight of my hand against my face.

“I think my nose is bleeding,” I said. “Can I go now?”

“Not so fast,” he wrapped his fingers around my wrist and gently tugged my hand, which felt like a flame had engulfed it and was now burning away the flesh in the slowest manner possible, away from my face.

The second he rolled his eyes, I knew my nose wasn’t bleeding. Damn.

“My nose isn’t bleeding, is it?” I asked.

“No, it’s not,” Remus smiled charmingly at me before his lips twitched into a slight frown. “Although, you might want to blow your nose or something; it’s running.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. Great, this was freakin’ fantastic, wasn’t it? I had tried to weasel my way out of a potentially fatal Quidditch match by showing the boy I may or may not have a crush on him a snotty, runny nose. Wow, I couldn’t get more attractive than that, could I?

I was spun around once again and Lily tugged me by my hand, which was still burning, by the way, in case you were wondering, up the stands. I could see Alice amongst the crowd, decked out in full on Gryffindor gear, even though the match was Ravenclaw versus Slytherin. When she spotted us, she began to wave her arms over her head in a huge arc, beckoning us toward her. I heard Lily and Remus give soft, amiable laughter as we climbed the last flight of stairs to where Alice had claimed seats for all of us.

“I saved us all seats,” she said, oblivious to the fact that we had already figured that much out.

“I knew I liked you for a reason, Alice,” Sirius said from behind me, the smile evident in his voice.

It took a few minutes to figure out the seating arrangement, but somehow, instead of sitting by Lily and Alice like I thought I would be, I was squished between Sirius and Remus, their body heat radiating through their clothes in such a way that my head spun. On Remus’s left sat Alice, who was sitting between the sandy brunette and James, who was sitting next to Lily, who was seated besides Peter. How that situation was going to work out, well, time would only tell.

But to be honest with you, I would much rather be between James and Alice, quite possibly the two most talkative people I have ever encountered in my entire life, opposed to sitting where I was now. I mean, it wasn’t that it was uncomfortable, it was just…well, awkward. As hell. But on the plus side, it was really warm and I would be surrounded by pretty scenery. So, maybe a partial yay was necessary?

Wait…did that thought really just process through my mind? Pretty scenery on either side? Circe be damned, I was turning into one of them. A fan girl. Mental shudder.

I decided to focus my attention on the stands, which were filling up quickly. It seemed as though students from all the Houses were turning up, the stands becoming a massive sea of scarlet and gold, yellow and black, blue and bronze, and green and silver. In the immediate area, there was a large amount of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors gathered together. I smiled to myself at the thought: it seemed that the students of Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor always got along the very best.

“It’s a nice day, don’t you think?” Sirius asked. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt his hot breath dancing across the side of my neck.

I nodded faintly, not trusting my voice, as it would most likely come out as some sort of pathetic little gasp of breath or worse, a moan. “Yeah,” I agreed somewhat breathlessly. “It’s very nice.”

Thankfully, he sat back, seeming happy with himself that he had managed to capture my attention. You know, if the somewhat smug expression on his face wasn’t a dead giveaway. “So, are you glad you came?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “That has yet to be seen, as the match hasn’t started yet,” I replied.

Sirius laughed. “Let’s just hope that no stray Bludgers come our way, yeah?”

Even though I knew he was joking, I paled considerably. Could that really happen? Would a rogue Bludger come wandering our way and smack me in the face, breaking my nose? Or worse, killing me?

“Oh, ha ha,” I tried to laugh along with him, but my stomach was doing wild flip flops and I felt like I was going to be sick.

I nearly fell off the bench in surprise when I felt a hand on my lower back, rubbing a small circle into the base of my spine. My eyebrows disappeared into my hairline and I turned my head to look at Sirius, but he was engaged in conversation with the Hufflepuff sitting in front of them, telling a joke by the looks of it. So then…who could it be? 


Oh, come ON, Ellen. It’s not that hard to figure out. Look to the left, perhaps?

I swallowed the nervous lump in my throat and tilted my head to the left. But it couldn’t have been Remus either, as he was busy talking to Alice, the latter with a huge smile on her face. I assumed she was talking about Frank. She always smiled like that when she was talking about her beloved. Her word, not mine.

I made sure that his hand wasn’t subconsciously rubbing my back, but I saw that his hands were in front of him, moving about as they always did when he spoke; he always moved his hands a lot when he talked, something that, unfortunately, I as well as half of the girls’ population found incredibly endearing.

What the fuck was going on? Unless I was imaging the touch, which was highly possible, I had absolutely no bloody clue what was going on. Maybe I was hallucinating because of the high altitude. Yeah…that was a distinct possibility.

I moved to stand up and immediately, the hand let up and found my wrist. I followed the clothed arm and saw that it was attached to Sirius. Well, it looks like I found the culprit after all.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“I - uh,” I licked my lips and hastily looked around. “Um, well, you see, I, uh…” Sirius sent me a look and I crumbled, as per usual, “had to go to the, um…yeah, I’ve got nothing.”

“Weren’t trying to escape the match, were you?” James questioned jokingly, leaning over Alice so his words would be heard by their intend target (me), a smirk on his face.

I smiled tightly. “No, of course not, James,” I sat back down on my seat and sighed, wondering how I was going to make it through the match when it hadn’t even started yet.

X - X - X

“AND IT’S ANOTHER TEN POINTS FOR RAVENCLAW!” 

A loud scream tore through my throat as I jumped up and down, grabbing onto both Sirius and Remus’s arms.

“HOLY HIPPOGRIFF, DID YOU SEE THAT?!” I asked, dropping their arms and clapping in excitement. The entire crowd was in a positive uproar, save for the Slytherins, who were booing as they usually did when they were losing.

Remus laughed and nodded his head. “I think everyone saw it, Eleanor,” he said, chuckling some more. He had such a nice laugh.

“But did you really see it?” I pressed, putting my hand against my forehead. “Merlin’s beard, that was an amazing play! She got it into the hoop by hitting it off the end of her broom WHILE HANGING UPSIDE DOWN!”

Sirius joined Remus in his laughter and ruffled my hair. “You can be so adorable at times, did you know that?”

He laughed to himself before the Hufflepuff who he had been talking to earlier turned around and gave him a high five. It turns out that they had been taking bets with some of the Slytherins as to which team was going to be the victor of the match and were currently winning. Big time.

I, on the other hand, was completely dumbfounded and totally embarrassed by his words. I knew that they meant nothing, that they were just hollow, something that anyone could say to a friend, regardless if said friend might have had stronger feelings that necessary for that person as well as another boy, who was that person’s best friend. Oh Merlin, talk about mental confusion. I turned my head to the side and hoped that my hair would hide me from view. But then I remember that I didn’t have any hair to use as a curtain.

“Are you cold?” Remus asked, sounding a little more concerned than necessary.

“No,” I replied. “I’m warm. I’ve got plenty of layers on.” The truth of the matter was that I was actually feeling a little bit hot. I had no idea this much body heat could circulate through a crowd from so high up, but apparently, it happened. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing, really,” he bowed his head slightly, a small, shy smile on his lips. “Your cheeks were just a bit red.”

Oh, that stupid wench! I wanted nothing more than to strangle the life out of her pretty little blonde head. Of course, I would never act upon that urge, but still, it was an urge nonetheless and the mental images helped me rid my body of unnecessary amounts of pent up anger. If it wasn’t for her, I would be able to hide the rosy color of my cheeks behind my hair. But now, I couldn’t and people were starting to take notice every time I was embarrassed

“Oh,” I thought about it for a moment before nodding my head. “I’m fine.”

“Are you sure? They’re still a smidge pink.”

Sweet mother of Morgana, why was murder illegal?! “I promise that I’m fine.”

“Aside from your apparent balance issues, of course,” Remus quipped.

I stuck my tongue out at him and together, we laughed. The sound of mirth seemed to draw curious stares to us like moths to a flame. However, I didn’t notice the most important one, as I was slightly mystified by just how deep Remus’s warm brown eyes went.

I was snapped out of my momentary gaze by the sound of someone shouting my name and a sharp tug on my wrist. The good one, that is. As sad and pathetic and slightly stalkerish as it sounded, I could tell by the calluses on the fingers that it was Sirius who had both called my name and grabbed my wrist.

“Look!” he instructed, his voice flitting past my ear as I followed the line of his extended arm. In the air, both of the Seekers from each house were zipping through the air.

“Are they after the…” I trailed off.

Sirius rolled his eyes good-naturedly and nodded, “Yeah, they’re after the Snitch.”

Try as I might, I just couldn’t pay attention to the players. I was too focused on the way his hand felt against the bone and skin of my wrist, all the while forcing my knees to not knock together, which was more difficult than it sounded, let me assure you. Especially when you were a considerable distance from the ground and may or may not be experiencing brief euphoria. (Merlin, I really was getting to become like one of them, wasn’t I? It’s sort of scary how fast the transformation can take place.)

Suddenly, there was a great and triumphant roar from all over the stands. The next thing I knew, two pairs of arms were being thrown around me and I found myself in the middle of a Eleanor sandwich.

“They won!” Sirius and Remus shouted at the same time and, ironically, they released me at the same time to high five one another over my head. Apparently, I was a lot shorter than I thought I was.

“Yes!” I shouted, trying to sound as though I had witnessed the whole thing, which I wish I had. But no, once again, I was distracted by a boy I shouldn’t fancy. Did I really just say that? Er, I meant a boy that I really shouldn’t…well, I suppose there really is no other word for the blatant truth, huh?

I was going to say something, but I found myself being swept up into another hug, this one nearly crushing the life out of me. I could tell by the loud, slightly obnoxious whooping that this was James. But instead of tensing up like I normally did, I found myself laughing with him, although I had no idea why. He set me back on the ground and bopped me playfully on the head.

“So, how’d you like the match?” he questioned eagerly, roughly shoving his glasses up the bridge of his nose as they had been in danger of slipping off the slightly crooked ridge.

“It was amazing,” I answered. I was telling the truth. I had just missed the single most exciting part about it because of a bloke.

“I told you that you’d love it!” He pumped his fist in the air triumphantly. “Are you going to come to the Gryffindor match?”

“If I say no, I’ll have to come anyway, won’t I?”

James laughed. “Damn right, you would.”

He ruffled my hair again before slinging an arm around my shoulder. Apparently, I would be walking back to the common room with James, not Sirius or Remus. I was thankful, to say the very least because I felt nothing but platonic feelings for James and I was pretty sure that he felt the exact same way about me.

We started down the stands, moving with the crowd and somehow, James managed to keep his arm around my shoulder. The rest of the group was farther behind us and I was almost positive that Lily was ranting away to Alice right now about the seating arrangement. When we were halfway to the castle, he dropped his arm from my shoulder and the expression (and banter we had been exchanging) suddenly stopped.

“So, have you given it to her yet?” he asked, his voice serious.

“Give what to who yet?”

His hazel eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Oh! The letter!” I smacked my forehead, a little too roughly and the healing cut on my forehead burned underneath the palm of my hand. “I haven’t given it to her yet.”

He sighed and pushed a nervous hand through her hair. “Could you give it to her tonight? It was supposed to get to her last night, but I’m sure it’s all right, given your spill in the classroom and all,” the frown had left his face by this point in time and he was grinning again.

I resisted the urge to smack him on the arm to knock the look off his smug face. “Yeah, I will.” I shoved my hands into the pockets of my trousers and sighed. “So…what’s so important about the letter?”

James laughed and shook his head. “Oh no, my clever friend, you don’t get to know that bit. It’s private.” 

“You’re no fun,” I pouted, looking over my shoulder at the sound of the others approaching us. They were all laughing, their heads thrown back and shoulders shaking. Suddenly, I found that an odd warm feeling of sort was spreading through my chest. And I thought to myself that I didn’t want it to go away any time soon.

Chapter 20: Taken Aback
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A/N: All right, I figured it was time for another author’s note. I usually don’t write them very often when it comes to my hpff.com stories, but I thought it was necessary now. I can’t even begin to describe how amazed I am that you guys are responding so well to this story. I thank each and every one of you for reviewing my story; really, I do. If it wasn’t for you all, I doubt I would’ve continued after Chapter Four. So, I’m dedicating this chapter to all the reviewers. Thank you all so much.

And yes, I realize that there might not be a plant called a Giggling Plant, but hey, it’s a magical world; I can make things up. XP



There was a reason why I wasn’t the biggest fan of Herbology. It wasn’t because I was severely allergic to almost everything that retained green pigments; not in the slightest. It just seemed that all plant life seemed to want to attack me, even if they weren’t of vicious nature. I could barely recall a Herbology lesson where I hadn’t gotten hurt by some stupid plant over the past seven years that I’ve been attending Hogwarts. And they said that Herbology was supposed to be an easy subject, BAH! So sorry that we all can’t transfer flesh eating plants from one pot to another with one hand tied behind our backs and all the lights off.



Not like that was our assignment, but you catch my drift, right?

I gave a huff of annoyance as I struggled to de-root the plant that was currently wiggling about in the pot settled in front of me at my lab station. This was much more difficult than Professor Sprout had made it out to be. She made it look as though she was lifting a cotton swab instead of a two hundred pound dumbbell. Then again, she was an experienced and licensed professional in the subject of Herbology and relatively young and full of spirit. So I’m assuming that those small factors might’ve contributed to her abilities.

Besides, I only had use of one hand. Wiping the beads of sweat that had begun to gather at my hairline, I pulled my singular hand out of the planted pot to find that my glove had gotten stuck in the dragon dung fertilizer.

“For the love of Morgana!” I stomped my foot in irritation, having half the mind to throw down the rest of my tools and march out of the greenhouse. But I’m sure that Professor Sprout wouldn’t exactly appreciate that. I could always say that my wrist was bothering me and to be quite honest with you, it was starting to throb a little bit. Nothing that was too serious, of course, but Sprout didn’t know that.

I pushed myself up to my tiptoes and looked around for the tattered hat and flyaway brown hair that belonged to Professor Sprout. My eyes scanned the interior of the greenhouse and I even turned in a full circle, but I couldn’t find the damn woman. Bullocks, now what was I going to do?

Releasing a deep breath, my shortened hair swirled in front of my face before settling against my forehead, some of the hair becoming damp and matting due to the sweat on my forehead. Great, I probably looked like the most attractive woman on the face of the planet right about now. I suppose that I should just get to work and live with the assignment that had been given to us by the slightly crazed, if not a little quirky professor. I licked my lips and tilted my head to the side, trying to scope out all the possible angles in which I could yank the damn plant from the blasted pot and actually transfer it into the empty one that looked quite lonely and pathetic. The more I studied the pot and the plant, the more I realized that this was going to be next to impossible without both of my hands.

Fantastic, isn’t it? Having to participate in Herbology when you were partially crippled. I should’ve been excused from this class or something. It’s only the most logical thing I could think of.

Oh, Ellen, you sound like such a whiny little baby. Toughen up a little bit, will you? Maybe grow some vertebrae.
I could feel my jaw clenching together at the sound of the Voice in my head. Really, it was about time that I did something about that pesky little bugger. It was starting to grate on my every nerve and I wasn’t sure how much more criticism I could take from it without yanking what little hair I had left on my head out.

Rolling my shoulders as I mentally prepared myself, I delved my free hand into the pot and felt around with my fingers. Once my fingertips found the fabric, I quickly grabbed it and gave a sharp tug. When I removed my arm, it was covered in dragon dung fertilizer all the way up to my elbow. I grimaced at the sight of dirt underneath my fingernails.

Ew.

One thing was for sure, I wouldn’t be biting my fingernails anytime soon without giving my hands a few good washings. Shaking the excess dirt off the glove, I shoved my hand back into the leather piece of fabric, flexing my fingers as they slipped into the finger holes. Merlin, this was going to be quite the chore.

Taking a deep breath, I plunged my good hand into the potted plant and began to tickle the roots to the best of my ability, just as Professor Sprout had instructed us to do. It was difficult to work my fingers beneath the heavy weight of the soil, but somehow I managed to move them about slightly, just enough for the plant to start jumping about. Just as I expected, the plant started giggling obnoxiously and I resisted the urge to sock it in the face, even though it would’ve been extremely difficult, what with this sling and all. But I could manage if I really wanted to. There’s nothing quite like determination.

What I didn’t expect was to start giggling along with the stupid plant. At first, it was just a few small titters that managed to escape me, but before I knew it, I was chuckling under my breath, trying my hardest to mask my snort as a sneeze. Several of the students around me looked at me as though I had sprouted six heads and had just proclaimed that I had plans to rule the world. I tried to squelch my laughter, but nothing was working. Especially since I had to keep tickling the damn plant until it jumped out of the soil and I could wrangle it into the other pot.

I worked my fingers as fast as the soil would permit under the roots of the plant. When the Giggling Plant reached its peak, I quickly withdrew my hand from the fertilizer and wrapped it around the top of the stalks. The plant jumped and I gave a hard tug. The roots came from the fertilizer and I jumped up in my excitement.

“HA! VICTORY!” I shouted as I placed the Giggling Plant into the pot. Maybe I really was good at this whole Herbology thing.




Surprisingly, I managed to escape Herbology with only a few cuts on my arm. I think that Professor Sprout actually started tearing up once she saw that I hadn’t gotten a bloody nose or tore open a good portion of skin. I mean, she did pat me affectionately on the shoulder and praised me for my work. Which happened only on very rare occasions, I’ll tell you.

After class, I trekked up seven levels to Gryffindor Tower, spoke the password to the Fat Lady, and clambered through the portrait hole. Considering that most students were in class, the common room wasn’t too crowded. It was nothing too bad, but there were still a few people horsing around or lounging in front of the fire. I spotted Alice sitting by herself at a table, her head bent low and her hand moving at an alarmingly quick rate across a piece of parchment. I raised my hand in greeting, but realized that it was a lost cause as she wasn’t likely to pick her head up any time soon. At least not with an look of concentration that intensely set upon her delicate facial features.

I made a bee line toward the girls’ staircase and was nearly there when someone grabbed a hold of my elbow and spun me around. I gave a startled cry of surprised, which got trapped inside my throat and sounded like I was choking on air. Which I was, but that’s beside the point.

“Merlin, Sirius,” I gasped. “You scared me.”

“Sorry,” he offered, smiling limply.

Almost immediately, I knew that something was wrong and for some reason, all the alarms inside my head went off, telling me that he knew something that he wasn’t supposed to know. I felt my entire body stiffen and a singular thought ran through my head: he knows.

I tried my best not to swallow too noticeably and licked my lips uneasily. “What’s up?”

“Oh,” he muttered distractedly, shaking his head. “Nothing.”

My brows knitted together in confusion and I placed a hand over his hand, which was still gripping my upper arm.

“Sirius,” I started.

He jerked his head upward too quickly and the crown of his head connected with my nose. We both let out a howl of pain and backed away from one another; me gripping my nose and he holding onto tightly to his head, as though he were trying to fuse the bones back together that I had probably split apart.

“Circe, are you all right?” Sirius asked as he semi-stumbled over to where I was standing.

I could feel something warm and sticky leaking into my hands and knew what it was almost instantaneously. Blood. He had given me a bloody nose. Fantastic.

“Ih tink Ih gorts er nahbead,” I said from behind my hands, hoping that it was stem the blood flow.

“What?” he questioned, looking genuinely perplexed. With a roll of my eyes, I pulled my hand away from my nose and showed him the bloody mess that was my face. “Oh fuck,” he breathed, his gray eyes widened in shock. “I’m so sorry!” Before I knew what was happening, he casually wrapped his arm around my waist and ushered me toward the portrait hole.

In a slight state of panic, I pressed the heels of my feet into the ground, hoping that it would stop our progress toward the door. When Sirius realized that I was delaying us, he sent me a questioning look.

“I don’t w-wanna go to the h-hospital wing,” I explained, wincing and stuttering every few words as it hurt my nose to talk.

“Why not?”

“I was just there a few days ago, that’s why,” I responded, unable to stifle the note of annoyance in my voice.

He thrust something into my hand then and I looked down to see a handkerchief. I had no idea that people still kept these things on their person. It seemed so…nineteenth century to me.

“For your nose,” he elaborated at my perplexed expression. “Don’t forget to tilt your head forward.”

Hesitantly, I balled up the handkerchief, which was made of what I presumed to be silk, underneath my nose and pushed my head downward. I was still able to see, but just barely. In fact, my feet were pretty much the only thing in my direct line of vision.

I felt myself being turned around in a circle and led toward the staircases. However, instead of veering off in the direction of the girls’ staircase, I found that I was being directed toward the boys’ dormitory. My stomach clenched with a mixture of emotion, the most prominent being anxiety.

“Where are we going?” I asked, a gush of blood streaming from my nose and making me gag.

“Up to my dormitory.”

“Why?” I squeaked.

“Because you won’t let me take you to the Hospital Wing and someone’s got to fix you up,” he stated simply.

“Please…just be careful. I can’t seem a damn thing like this,” I replied, tentatively placing my foot on the first step.

I could practically hear him smiling. “Don’t worry,” he spoke softly. “I’ve adapted to your inability to walk a straight line without tripping.”

Before I could stop myself, my arm flailed out and smacked him hard in the stomach. He sucked in a deep breath, but didn’t do anything else as he continued to guide me up the stairs. I had half the mind to sock him once more in the stomach and hurry down the stairs. I don’t know where I would go from there, but there was something about going up to their dorm that seemed so personal, it seemed like something I shouldn’t be doing at all. I mean, Sirius and I really didn’t know each other all too well, even if he was treating me like I was one of his good friends, which I knew I wasn’t. I would be foolish to think that I was a good friend of his. Besides, I had promised myself at the beginning of this thing that I wouldn’t get involved in any sort of way with him.



Well, we see how that all turned out.

“Ladies first,” Sirius said, letting go of my elbow and dipping into a low bow.

I rolled my eyes, handkerchief still pressed firmly to my nose, although I was no longer tipping my head forward. I was almost entirely positive I looked ridiculous, but thankfully, there hadn’t been many people in the common room to see me. And the fact I had sorta-kinda snuck up to Sirius’ dorm. That sort of evidence could be rather incriminating, especially if it fell into the wrong hands.

I scanned the boys’ dormitory and blinked once. Was I really standing in the middle of the boys’ dorm? I turned to Sirius and saw that he was loosening his neck tie as he swaggered into the room.

“Where’s the mess?” I blurted.

Sirius’s gaze met mine and his eyes twinkled mischievous. Damn knees better not start knocking again, I thought to myself, locking my jaw. “What mess?”

“You know,” I gestured toward the room, which was pretty clean, save for the bed pushed in the farthest corner of the room. There were some school shirts lying about and some dirty socks, but other than that, the room was reasonably clean. I sputtered for a few seconds before I sighed and pushed a hand through my hair. “Aren’t boys supposed to be complete slobs?” I asked helplessly.

Sirius laughed as he shrugged off his school robe, tossing it on one of the beds that I automatically assumed was his. “You might not believe me, but James is a really neat freak,” he informed me.

“Really?” I tried to raise a singular brow in amusement, but like always, it didn’t work.

“Yeah,” chuckled Sirius. “He goes ballistic when the room gets too dirty and makes a time where we can all clean our portions of the room…together.”

I eyed him skeptically, but the look on his face told me that he was telling the truth. “That’s taking it to extremes, don’t you think?”

Sirius disappeared into the bathroom attached to the dorm. I heard the sound of a cabinet being opened and the faucet running. He reemerged from the bathroom with a damp cloth in his hand.

“One would think,” Sirius said. “Just don’t let James hear, though. He’ll go-,”

“Ballistic?” I offered, grinning widely.

“Someone’s feeling a bit cheeky,” he commented dryly, an amused smile on his lips as he shook his hair out of his eyes. Damn him. Why did he have to do that now of all times? “Sit down,” Sirius instructed, taking me off guard.

My eyes widened. “Excuse me?”

“I said sit down,” he repeated, gesturing toward the trunk at the foot of his bed.

I eyed the trunk for a few moments, considering my options. I was never a fast runner and it would be incredibly awkward if I suddenly fled the room. With a small sigh, I hesitantly took a seat on the hard surface of the trunk, tucking the folds of my skirt underneath my bum. I could barely hide my shock as Sirius knelt down in front of me.

“What are you doing?” I asked suspiciously.

“Fixing your nose for you,” he said in exasperation. “Move your hand.”

I pulled the blood stained handkerchief away from my nose and grimaced at the mess I had made on it. I sent a sympathetic look at Sirius. “Sorry. I kind of ruined it.”

He shrugged his shoulders carelessly. “It’s no big deal. I have enough as it is.”

He readjusted his position on his knees, scooting so close to me that his abdomen was touching my knee caps. I prayed to all the magical forces out there that my knees weren’t knocking together as they always did when I was in Sirius’s presence. Luckily, they weren’t.

“So tell me,” Sirius began conversationally as he brushed some of my hair out of the way, tucking it primly behind my ear. I shivered as his thumb stroked against the length of my cheekbone, but he didn’t noticed…thankfully. “Is it normal for you to get this many nosebleeds?”

I scoffed in mock offense. “I’ll have you know that this is the first one I’ve had all school year.”

“I’m sure it is.” I nudged him in the stomach with my knee and he sucked in a breath. “All right, I believe you.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes while he cleaned up the blood monstrosity that was my nose. I felt like a little kid who was getting fixed up by their parent. Except most little kids don’t fancy their parents. I could feel the butterflies fluttering about in the pit of my stomach, but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant, to tell you the truth.

“Sorry about that,” I muttered under my breath.

“Sorry about what?” Sirius asked, his eyes never leaving the lower part of my face.

“About kneeing you in the stomach,” I explained quickly. “It wasn’t very nice of me, especially since you’re helping me with my nose and all. Even though I think I’m capable of cleaning up the remains of a bloody nose all by myself.”

“It’s okay,” he assured me, lifting his eyes up to meet mine. I could tell by the glimmer in his eyes that he was smiling, even if his lips weren’t pulled back as usual. “Besides, you wouldn’t even have a bloody nose if it wasn’t for me, so the least I can do is help you clean it up.”

Once again, it felt as though someone had unleashed a cage of butterflies in my stomach and they were desperately trying to escape. I placed a hand over my stomach and almost immediately, he noticed.

“Are you all right?” he questioned, sounding a little more than alarmed. “You’re not going to be sick, are you?”

“What?” I followed his gaze to my hand, which was clutching my stomach in the universal ‘I’m going to toss my cookies’ sort of way. “Oh no!” I said, quickly removing my hand. “I’m just hungry.”

He rolled his pale gray eyes exaggeratedly and I placed both hands on either of his shoulders, giving him a rough shove backward. Playfully, he fell onto his back and started rolling around as though in pain, although if you asked me, he looked more like a dog begging for a belly rub. It was that simple thought that drew my eyes to his stomach, which I knew I shouldn’t be looking at, but I was an easily distracted person.

Thankfully, he didn’t seem to notice, as he sat up a few seconds later and sat down next to me on the top of his trunk. He took my chin in his hand and turned my face toward his, tilting it upward slightly. Once he was satisfied with whatever he was looking at, he nodded his head. “Looks like the bleeding’s stopped.”

“Have you ever thought about becoming a Healer?” I asked him curiously.

“A few times,” he shrugged his shoulders noncommittally. “What I’d really like to be is an Auror.”

“I’m too clumsy to become an Auror,” I laughed. “I’m not even sure if I want to take up a magical profession.”

Sirius raised an eyebrow. Damn him! “Really?”

“Yeah,” I nodded, suddenly feeling thirsty. “My Aunt Eliza has a bookstore that she runs in downtown London and I’m thinking about joining her employees when I graduated. I know it’s not the best job, but I love being around books, especially Muggle books-,”

“Do you fancy Remus?” Sirius blurted.

We both looked at each other, our eyes wide with shock. I was shocked that he’d actually asked me that question and I suppose that he was, too, if the look in his eyes gave away anything. Which it did.

“W-w-what?” I sputtered breathlessly. I hoped to Merlin that color wasn’t flooding to my cheeks and giving me away.

He opened and closed his mouth a few times, struggling to find the right words. “It’s just that he’s going to ask you to the next Hogsmeade trip tomorrow after Potions and I figured I would give you the heads up,” Sirius lied (although at this point in time, I didn’t know that he was lying.). “’Side, I don’t want him making a fool out of himself when he asks you.”

I stared at him, completely dumbfounded. I honestly didn’t know how to respond to that. Some part of me told me that when Sirius had asked me that particular question, it wasn’t because he wanted to make sure that I was going to say yes to his friend. It almost sounded as though he were, dare I say it, jealous? No, that was just too preposterous. Why would Sirius be jealous of Remus? After all, he was dating his precious Lucinda, the bitch that could do no wrong whatsoever; I was still wearing the faint outline of her bruises.

Jealousy was definitely not the reason why he’d asked me that…or was it? As much as I wanted to convince myself that he’d asked for the sake of his friend, there was something that I just couldn’t put my finger on that said he had other intentions. He was interested in knowing, there was no doubt about that, but I wasn’t entirely positive why he wanted to know. Not only did it mean that it was obvious that I had a crush on Sirius - I MEAN REMUS! -, but maybe Remus liked me, too. Unless he was asking me out of pity, which was a distinct possibility.

Licking my lips, I rose to my feet and took three long strides toward the door. “I’m going to go,” I announced, opening the door and disappearing through the thin slit I had made before he could object. I sprinted down the stairs, nearly stumbling over my own limbs several times. I jumped the last three steps and hurried up the girls’ staircase, wondering why on earth I had gone up there anyway.

I forced the door open with my shoulder and stumbled into the room. I cringed when I heard a firm something fall to the floor. I shut the door and hurried over to Lily’s bed, where she was lying on her side on the floor. She looked like she was trying not to cry and laugh at the same time.

“Oh my Merlin, I’m so sorry, Lily!” I exclaimed as I knelt down beside her and helped her into a sitting position.

“It’s all right,” she said, smiling at me as she pushed herself up to stand. “You just scared me, is all.”

“Well, sorry,” I repeated. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightening shooting from the sky, I remembered what James had told me and I rushed over to my bedside table, retching open the drawer and pulling out an envelope. “Here,” I said, handing it to Lily. “This is for you.”

She eyed the letter skeptically before taking the envelope from me. “Thanks?”

“I’m going to go to the library,” I decided suddenly. “I need to do some homework and I need some time to think.”

Lily stared at me dubiously. “Um, all right?”

Without another look, I scurried out of the room and headed not toward the library, but the Astronomy Tower.

Chapter 21: Wine Red
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Lily was acting strange. Almost too strange for me to be comfortable about. She may not have been my best friend, but she was one of my only friends and because of that, I was worried about her.

With a small shake of my head, I continued to chew on the end of my quill, regarding her beneath my eyelashes as I pretended to pay attention to Professor Gilbert’s lesson. She looked positively restless in her chair, constantly shifting uncomfortably and glancing over her shoulder every few minutes. It was obvious who she was looking at: James sat three rows behind her, and one row behind me, with Sirius.

I rolled my eyes at myself when my stomach did an odd sort of swooping motion. Inwardly, I cursed myself for acting like such a…fan girl. I cringed at the word and shook my head to myself. I needed to get a hold of myself, I needed to put myself back on the right track, into the right state of mind, although I wasn’t entirely sure I had a right state of mind.

“Miss Briggs?” Professor Gilbert said in a sing-song voice, catching me off guard.

I plucked my quill from my mouth and sat up straighter. “Yes, Professor?”

She smiled at me, the dimples in her cheeks showing. “Just making sure that you were still with us,” she commented dryly, causing the majority of the class to chortle.

“I am, Professor,” I replied lamely.

“Good, then could you please come to the front of the class?”

I stiffened in my seat. Behind me, I could hear James and Sirius snickering under their breath. I wanted nothing more than to turn around and smack them both upside the head, but I simply clenched my fists and pushed my seat back from the desk, the legs scraping loudly against the floor. I walked toward the front of the class, ignoring the nudge that Alice delivered to my arm as I passed her’s and Lily’s desk.

I took my position next to Professor Gilbert, my stomach a tumbling, rolling mess of nerves and anxiety. I took the inside of my cheek between my teeth and gnawed on the flesh tensely, waiting for my impending doom. Hopefully I wasn’t asked to perform a complicated spell. Professor Gilbert liked me, didn’t she? So surely, she wouldn’t do something that would totally embarrass me…would she? That only made my stomach flip another flop. I felt like I was going to vomit all over the place.

“Right, now give me your wand, Miss Briggs.”

My eyes widened as I turned to her. “M-my wand?”

“Yes, Miss Briggs,” she said complacently. “You are aware of what I’m talking about, yes? The stick of wood that you perform magic with…ringing any bells?”

Several of the immature students in class tittered at her words and I rolled my eyes. I vaguely wondered what I had done to get on Gilbert’s bad side. Had I forgotten to turn in an assignment? Was I late to class again? Did I accidentally say one of my thoughts out loud like I did from time to time? I continued to chew on the inside of my cheek nervously.

Swallowing, I reached into the pocket of my school robe and withdrew my wand, placing it in Professor Gilbert’s outstretched hand. She wrapped her thin fingers around it and I suddenly felt completely exposed. I wasn’t that great of a witch, but without my wand, I was nothing at all.

She held it up for the class to see and I prayed to Merlin that she wasn’t going to snap it in two because I hadn’t been paying attention in her class. But Professor Gilbert wouldn’t do something like that…would you? Was that even legal?

“A witch and/or wizard of your age and skill are absolutely defenseless without their wands,” she began. “Unable to perform magic of any sort to defend or protect themselves. They’re weak, which is exactly what this class is teaching you not to be.” She turned her eyes toward me and smiled sympathetically.

Right then and there, I knew what was coming. I was going to get another detention for not paying attention in class. Again. The first time had been entirely Sirius’s fault, but he wasn’t even guilty of making me unfocused. I couldn’t blame Lily either just because I had been trying to figure out what was wrong with her. So that meant I actually had to take responsibility for what I had done. Not that I normally didn’t shoulder the responsibility when I did something wrong, but this would mean I was actually admitting I wasn’t paying attention in class, but at least it was for a good reason, right?

“However, taking a wizard’s wand away from them is not the only way to render them defenseless; by catching him unawares.” Professor Gilbert handed me back my wand. “Don’t let it happen again, Miss Briggs.”

I let out a huge sigh of relief, my entire upper body sagging as I resisted the urge to throw my arms around my professor. I hurried back to my seat before I could get into any more trouble and dutifully took notes.

“Shut it,” I growled as James and Sirius laughed like little arses off, which of course, only made them laugh harder. I rolled my eyes, wondering why I had become friends with either of them in the first place.





Once dinner came rolling around, I found that my stomach was eating itself alive with worry: I was worried for Lily, and now Alice, as she was acting more than a little depressed. There was also the fact that I was going to be alone with Sirius for the next three hours working on our potion in an empty classroom.

I swallowed anxiously at the thought and glanced down at my golden plate, which was completely covered with the heaps of food I had unknowingly piled on top of the surface. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to eat all of this, not when my stomach was feeling the way it was. With a disheartened sigh, I poked at my mashed potatoes with my fork in disinterest.

“Something wrong?” Remus asked, his brow furrowed in concern as he swallowed the morsel of food he had been chewing.

“I’m not very hungry,” I replied, continuing to attack my potatoes with the prongs of the utensil.

“You don’t feel sick, do you?”

I shook my head, picking up my goblet of pumpkin juice and taking a small swig. “No, I don’t feel sick, I just don’t think I can eat anymore.”

His eyebrows shot up toward his hairline in surprise. “Anymore?” he repeated. “Eleanor, you’ve barely touched your food.” He gestured down to my nearly full plate of food.

“I know,” I licked my lips and took another drink of my pumpkin juice. I hoped that he would take the hint that I didn’t really feel like talking about why I wasn’t in the mood to wolf down all my food like I normally was.

His smile was tight and his eyes concerned, but he nodded his head tersely and turned his attention back to his food, which he had no apparent problem with eating.

A hand hovered over my plate and snatched the warm, golden dinner roll that had been ready to fall off the lip of my plate. I followed the arm as it retreated. I wasn’t all too surprised to see James at the other end of it. His hazel eyes were twinkling innocently behind his spectacles as he tried to inconspicuously chew on the entire dinner roll he had just shoved into his mouth. I made a showy display of rolling my eyes in annoyance, but he could tell that I wasn’t serious about it, and smiled.

Well, as best as he could with a whole roll in his mouth.

All too soon, dinner was done and over with. Students were heading back to their common rooms to tackle the mountainous piles of homework that had been assigned by their professors. While all the others seemed intent on getting back to the common room to finish their homework, I was not.

It wasn’t that I had an impressive amount of homework to do, I just didn’t want to have to be locked in the same room with Sirius for the next three hours, is all. The thought alone made my stomach coil tightly and vomit all over the place, which wasn’t a very appealing feeling to be experiencing, to say the very least.

I waited for Sirius in the Entrance Hall, my satchel draped over my shoulder, the weight of which was outstandingly heavy. I shifted uncomfortably, trying to blend in with the stone wall as groups of students from various houses passed me. Though I might not have been as invisible as I was nearly a month ago, people were still pretty much oblivious to my existence. Not that I minded, of course, I had friends now.

Hitching the strap of the heavy satchel up my shoulder, I shook the sleeve of my school robe back and glanced down at my watch. Dinner had ended nearly ten minutes ago; Sirius should’ve been out here by now. I tried not to let it get to me, but the last time he had been ten minutes late, he hadn’t even bothered to show. Taking the inside of my cheek in between my teeth, I gnawed on the skin apprehensively, tapping my feet against the flagstone impatiently.

So help him Merlin if he was standing me up again…


He’s not your best friend, Ellen. He has other obligations that are more important than you. ’Sides, he does have a girlfriend, if I remember correctly.

I scorned the Voice in my head, silently cursing it into oblivion. Honestly, having a conscience was more obnoxious than a little puppy waiting by the door to go pee. It was just so…so…insistent and insolent and it drove me up a wall. Yet no matter what I did, I couldn’t shake the Voice. If it wasn’t for the Voice, I would’ve probably found myself in a lot of trouble. Then again, my mental health was already in peril, given the fact that I was acting dubbing my conscience the Voice.

I shook my head to myself and turned my eyes back toward the entrance arc to the Great Hall. My eyes widened at the sight I was observing. A certain leggy blonde had a certain dark haired boy pressed against the wall and, apparently, she was pretty intent on sucking the lips right off his face.

And here I thought dementors were the only thing that could deliver a kiss so nasty.

The Voice tutted inside my head, telling me that I hadn’t been very nice in the remarks I had been making lately. I supposed it had something to do with the people I was hanging out with, namely Lily. She always had something to say about someone, but most of the time, it was amusing, albeit a little judgmental.

As much as I wanted to tear my eyes away, I found that they were glued to the skeptical currently happening naught but seven or eight meters away from me. I knew it was both disgusting and somewhat creepy to watch people snog, but honestly, this was just downright nauseating. I mean, honestly, couldn’t they have waited just a little bit longer and found a broom closet for Merlin’s sake? I could walk away, but this was a public hallway, not a snogging booth.

Wait…were there such things as snogging booths? I highly doubted it, but it would be amusing if there were. Could you imagine? People inserting coins into a small slot and stepping into a dinky little booth that was more than likely infested with millions of germs, just for a few good minutes of snogging alone. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wouldn’t make all that bad of an invention. I’d have to pitch the idea to one of Aunt Eliza’s crazy friends; they were odd enough to buy nearly anything I told them.

I was pulled out of my thoughts by the sound of a moan, which sounded eerily like an “Oh, Sirius”.

I resisted the urge to gag in my own mouth. I wondered if I should clear my throat loudly to get their attention and break them apart. It would be incredibly rude, yes, but they were also being incredibly inconsiderate to the students of Hogwarts, snogging in plain view. Not that other people didn’t do it, but it was still rude. At least in my opinion it was.


Just do it, Elle Belle.

With the small encouragement, I positioned myself to make it look as though I had just arrived and cleared my throat as primly as possible. After all, who didn’t hate it when people cleared their throat in the most annoying manner? I certainly didn’t like it.

Like a fire had sparked between them, they leapt back from one another, believing that I was a teacher. I hide my smirk to the best of my ability. Not that I had any ability to hide a smirk, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Sirius’s gray eyes were wide as he regarded me, although I could tell by the glint that he was relieved I was a student and not a teacher. I rolled my eyes to myself and adjusted the strap of my bag on my shoulder.

“Eleanor,” Sirius said. “I didn’t think you would be here.”

I simply stared at him. “You told me to meet you here after dinner.”

He furrowed his brow in confusion. “I did?”

I nodded my head, sighing softly in exasperation. “Yes, after Defense Against the Dark Arts, you said that we should start working on our potion after dinner.”

He continued to stare at me like I had just told him…well, I’m not sure what, but he looked like a complete idiot, what with his mouth hanging open like that. I tossed my gaze toward the ceiling in annoyance.

“Whatever,” I sighed. “You can just get back to snogging your girlfriend and whenever you decide to remember that it was you, who arranged this whole…thing, you can come find me in McGonagall’s classroom; she’s letting us use to it brew our potion.”

I whirled around on the heel of my foot, walking briskly toward the staircase that would take me right up to McGonagall’s room. Biting my tongue was the only thing that I could think of doing to keep myself from whipping back around and yelling in his face for being such a stupid bloke. Honestly! He was the one who was being so damn insistent upon meeting up as much as possible and starting our project before it was “too late”. I heaved another sigh and started to climb up the stairs, stopping abruptly when I heard a loud shriek.

“Sirius!” Lucinda had cried shrilly. I could picture her in the mind, her glorious blonde hair around her face, which was probably beet red, and her foot stomping on the ground like a five year old. “You promised to spend tonight with me!”

Merlin, how could she be so ridiculous? Okay, if I didn’t know that she was a lying, cheating bitch, I would’ve felt sorry for her that her boyfriend was ditching her to go do a project with someone as lame as me, but honestly, I knew what Lucinda was really like. More so than her boyfriend, that much was true. She didn’t give a damn about her boyfriend, she was using him for his social standing in the school and nothing else. If she wanted to be with Diggory so damn bad that she was desperate enough to make me promise not to be around Sirius, then why didn’t she just break up with him already?

Because she wants him to break up with her.

I snorted at the Voice. If that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing I had heard all day, then I didn’t honestly know what was.

Shaking my hair out of my eyes, I was about to start climbing the staircase again when a voice called after me, “Elle, wait up!”

Against my better judgment, I waited like I was told. I knew that voice from anywhere and, honestly, it wasn’t very hard to deduce who it was. I leaned against the railing until Sirius was standing on the same step as I was, though he towered over me and made me feel incredibly small and somewhat feeble. I raised my eyebrows at him, knowing it was pointless to try and raise only one. I settled for both eyebrows for now, but one day, I would master the art!

I had to tilt my head back slightly to look up into his stormy gray eyes and almost as soon as I did, I saw that they were full of guilt. I didn’t like the glint his eyes took whenever he was feeling guilty, even if this was the first time I was seeing that particular glimmer. I wanted to tell him right away that it was nothing for him to feel bad about, but when I moved to open my lips, taking a breath before speaking, he held up a hand. So he wanted to get the first word out, eh? He must’ve been planning on making a big speech.

He opened his mouth to speak. However, before he could get a single word out, the staircase shifted, sending him flying into me. I was nearly knocked over the railing at the force in which his body slammed into my front, the breath stolen from my lungs. I could feel the contorts of his body against mine, and my hands gripped the thick marble banister behind me, which was digging into my lower back painfully, even tighter.

When I opened my eyes - I wasn’t even aware that I had closed them -, Sirius’s face was mere centimeters away from mine, which caused me to gasp. Inwardly, of course. His lips were even closer than that; a shiver crept up my spine and I felt my heart thrum wildly inside my chest. It was only a matter of seconds before my knees starting knocking together and I turned into a pile of goo.

“Sirius,” I whispered softly.

“Shhh,“ he breathed back, his warm breath skittering over the surface of my lips. He gently tilted my head back, brushing his fingers along the base of my neck. I shivered involuntarily and my knees starting shaking, knocking together like they always did when Sirius got particularly close to me. I knew that I shouldn’t be doing this, allowing him to touch me in such a way when I was well aware he had a girlfriend; he had just been snogging her senseless naught but five minutes ago! But here I was, pinned against his body and a railing, with no one else around.

Oddly enough, the Voice wasn’t scolding me. Apparently, it didn’t have anything better to do than watch the scene unfold and criticize me later. So much for a conscience!

His fingers traveled up the side of my neck, dancing along the line of my jaw. Sirius cupped my face in the palm of his hand, his thumb stroking the length of my cheekbone. I let out a breathy sigh as his hand slowly slide down my face, his fingers deftly taking my chin between them. I could feel my skin burning as I stared at him, wide eyed, but not frightened. Nervous, you better believe it.

Just when I thought he was going to press his lips against mine, he dropped his head down to my ear and whispered, “I’m sorry for this; I’m being a complete idiot.”

He pushed away from me and I released a shaky breath. What the hell was that supposed to mean? Did he not mean to take things so far? If so, I could understand where he was coming from, but the butterflies in my stomach was swooping and fluttering about happily, ecstatic by what had just happened. Even if I was confused as hell about it.

I cleared my throat, nodding my head to let him know that I accepted his apology, even if I didn’t understand it. Sirius Black was one of the oddest people I had ever encountered in my entire life, I decided. Tucking the stray locks of hair behind my ear, I threw an arm out in a sweeping gesture toward the stairs and said in the calmest, steadiest voice I could muster, “Shall we? There’s a potion that needs to be prepared.”





Things had started off awkwardly. We avoided being near each other, which made it exceedingly difficult to arrange the ingredients in the proper order. After a while, I realized that we were being childish and, surprising myself, picked up my belongings and set them down on the desk next to him. When he had raised his eyes in question, I simply replied, “We’re partners.”

Now, I had my hair pulled back into the tiniest, most pathetic ponytail known to man and Sirius was making fun of it, swatting at it with his hand as he stood beside me, cutting the beetle into precise pieces.

“Stop it,” I scolded as I emptied an ounce of bat blood into the small cauldron. “It’s annoying me.”

“Why do you think I’m doing it in the first place?” he countered.

I grabbed the nearest thing to me, which just so happened to be a severed frog leg, and threw it at him. I let out a loud, mighty laugh when it smacked him on the neck.

“You think that’s funny?” he asked.

I nodded enthusiastically. “I think it’s hilarious.”

“Well then, surely you’ll find this funny as well,” Sirius remarked before smearing a thick, yellowy paste that smelt of formaldehyde and dragon dung all over the side of my face.

I let out a shriek of disgust and scrubbed it away as best as I could. “That’s disgusting!”

“And throwing a frog at me isn’t?” He snorted, smiling slightly.

“You’re a boy,” I replied. “You’re not supposed to care about getting dirty or getting hit with frog legs. At least I didn’t smear it all over your face.” I made a whiny noise and took another swipe at my cheek again. “Damn it, now I smell funny!”

Beside me, Sirius laughed and patted me on the top of the head. “Well, I’m sorry.”

Before I could help myself, I said, “Sorry doesn’t cut it, you wanker.”

Immediately, I looked over at him and offered a sympathetic smile. I didn’t want to say sorry in turn because then I would sound like a hypocrite, but judging by the look on his face, he knew that I didn’t mean what I just said, only in the situation at hand. I know I was acting overly cautious, but after what had just happened on the stairs, this whole apology business had taken on a whole new meaning that I didn’t quite understand yet.

I muffled a yawn behind my hand and Sirius noticed. “Getting tired?”

“A little bit, yeah,” I answered.

“I think we’re done for the night,” he said.

I shook my head. “No, we have to make sure that the bat’s blood boils for thirty minutes and we stir it counter clock wise every seven and a half minutes.“ I yawned again, struggling to gain control over my tired state. I wasn‘t normally so bad at this, concealing my exhaustion, that was. “Otherwise, the blood won’t thicken correctly with the beetle juice and that’ll mess up our potion.”

“I’ll stay behind,” Sirius remarked. “You can head back up to the Tower and get the sleep that you need. I’ll stay here and make sure that it thickens correctly before turning in myself.”

I regarded him through half opened eyes. What time was it anyway? I glanced down at my wrist watch to see that it was nearing eleven thirty, which was pretty late for a school night. But I shook my head nonetheless. “No, I want to stay up for a little bit longer,” I insisted. “I can’t have you doing all the work, can I?”

He sent me a look, which I wasn’t entirely accustomed to getting from him, but I took it anyway and tried my best to return it. Judging by the smirk that worked its way onto his face, I hadn’t done very well. He nodded his head, sighing heavily. “All right, fine. But if you start falling asleep in lessons tomorrow, it’s your head I’m having.”

I laughed and we went back to preparing our potion.



Two days later, I was sitting in the dorm with Lily and Alice, who were both acting too strange for their own good. I was no where closer to finding out what was wrong with Lily than I had been before and it was starting to really grate on my nerves.

Just as I had gathered up enough courage to ask the redhead what, exactly was bothering her so damn much, the door to our dorm burst open, carrying an excited Marlene and Leanne in with it. A bag was looped around each of their arms and they were giggling obnoxiously.

“Look what we got!” Leanne exclaimed, delving a pale hand into the bag to pull out a frumpy mess of fabric. I stared at her, suggesting that she further elaborate what the mess way in her hands. “It’s my costume for the party on Saturday evening! My mum sent it along with the family owl. Marlene‘s was in the package, too, as we live next to each other and our mums are friends. Isn‘t it exciting?”

I could feel my lips pulling back into a smile. Truth be told, I actually was excited for the Halloween party; it was the first party, aside from birthday parties, that I would be attending.

This drew Alice and Lily toward the other girls. I was thankful to see that the wearisome looks on their faces had momentarily lifted and they looked generally interested in what was going on. Alice nudged me with her shoulder and I scooted over on my mattress, making room for the pair of them.

“What are they?” Lily asked. “Your costumes, I mean. What are you supposed to be?”

Leanne and Marlene glanced at one another, smirking, before saying in unison, “Princesses!”

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes, but despite myself, I found that I was smiling once again and laughing along with the rest of the girls. It was odd, to say the very least, given the fact that I had always disliked princesses and the clichés they represented. But then again, maybe I did have a new found appreciation for them. I mean, they did always have a few problems and hard decisions to make…

Oh Merlin, who was I kidding? I was nothing like a princess.

“So,” Marlene said, oddly chirpier. “What are you all going to dress up as?”

“I don’t know,” the three of us said together unknowingly, looking at one another and laughing when we realized this.

Leanne, on the other hand, didn’t think that it was such a laughing matter. Her face turned stoic and she stared at us like we were demons. “Are you serious? You don’t have costumes? But the party’s on Saturday and it’s Wednesday evening!”

“So?” Alice said. “That’s more than enough time to think of a costume.”

“No, it’s not!” Leanne exclaimed in horror. “No, no, no. Marlene and I will help you all decide what you can go as, won’t we, Marly?”

Marlene nodded her auburn head enthusiastically. “Of course we will! We’re always willing to help our fellow Gryffindors.”

Ah, spoken like a true Gryffindor.

Even though I normally wasn’t one for these types of situations, I found myself getting into the whole idea of coming up with costume ideas together. Not just Lily, Alice, and I, but all five of us seventh year Gryffindor girls. We never did anything together, even after six years of bunking with another one. But change was always welcomed, wasn’t it?

“All right, let’s do it,” Lily said suddenly. “Let’s plan our costumes together. It’ll be fun.” Translation, she needed something to get her mind off whatever she was thinking about, which I had yet to figure out.

Leanne let out a squeal and both she and Marlene somehow managed to squeeze onto my already crowded bed.

It was a little uncomfortable but I felt as though I was at a sleep over all of the sudden, which was pretty much the evening turned into it. We were so involved in planning our costumes that we skipped over dinner! Alice and I ended up sneaking down to the kitchens to get some snacks while Leanne assisted Marlene in coming up with possible costume ideas for Alice and I, as we had collectively decided that it would absolutely hilarious if Lily showed up dressed as the devil, complete with a pitch fork. She seemed to like the idea as well, full heartedly agreeing with it as soon as the suggestion was thrown out.

By the time Alice and I made it back to the dorm, our arms laden with various delicious treats, they had a hundred and one suggestions to throw out at us. It was Lily who suggested that Alice go as…well Alice from Alice in Wonderland, as it was not only a play-on-words/practical joke, but she pretty much was the epitome of Alice in Wonderland.

Last but not least was me. I sat in the middle of my bed, thankful that they had decided it was a little too cramped on my bed and they needed to pace in order to think. I crossed and recrossed my legs Indian style, trying to keep my mind focused on what was going on instead of what had happened on the staircase between Sirius and I. I thought I was over that, but apparently, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“What about a cat?” Alice suggested, wiping the remains of a Chocolate Frog away from the corner of her mouth.

“Nah,” Leanne said, shooting the idea down just as quickly as it had arisen. “It’s too cliché.”

“An angel to compliment Lily’s demon?” Marlene put forward.

Lily tilted her head back and laughed. Obviously, that was the end of that suggestion.

“I think I’ve got it!” Marlene cried triumphantly, jumping off the bed she and Leanne were sitting on so suddenly, she nearly tripped in the process. I held back a giggle.

“Oh, what is it?” Alice demanded, her eyes wide.

“She could go as a fairy!” Marlene said, clapping her hands together. “A pixie with wings and all. I mean, she already has the haircut to pull it off!”

Lily and I exchanged a look while the other three cooed over the idea. I personally didn’t like it all too much. I would probably look ten different kinds of ridiculous with a pair of colored wings attached to my back.

As if suddenly struck by inspiration, I gave a great jolt and Lily looked at me curiously. “What?”

“I know what I’m going to dress up as,” I stated, causing Leanne, Marlene, and Alice to look at me as well, their eyes gleaming and ears perked.

“What? What? What?!” Leanne cried eagerly.

I smirked. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”

Chapter 22: Silence Is A Scary Sound
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It was Friday afternoon and lessons were done for the day. I chose not to hang out with Lily and the others, as the costume, er, meeting had brought us all together. Obviously, Alice and Lily felt more camaraderie toward Leanne and Marlene than I did, but the girls were nice, if not a little too perky for my liking. Instead, I chose to venture to the library so I could tackle some of the other homework that I had yet to touch upon.

I found myself sitting alone at a table in the far back corner - the table that was otherwise known as mine. It had been quite a long time since I had been by myself. As it seemed, someone was always around me, jabbering away and I found it comforting. But sometimes, a girl just needed to be alone.


You were alone for six years, Elle. I think that’s more than enough time.
Ever since the incident on the staircase, the Voice had grown more insistent. More like annoying, but there really wasn’t much of a difference between the two. Though the Voice never alerted me to stupid things I may or may not be doing while I was around Remus and Sirius, it was nagging me about everything else. Which I had decided was more annoying that correcting, scolding, and generally insulting me for being such an indecisive bint when it came to blokes I didn’t fancy.


Liar, liar, pants on fire!
See? There It was again! I was honestly going to go raving mad and throw myself off the tallest tower if the damn Voice didn’t shut the hell up! Honestly, I was trying to get some studying done before my Potions project took up my entire life.

Tucking a strand of hair that had escaped my headband behind my ear in annoyance, I flipped the page of the book resting in front of me and leaned toward the desk, lowering my head while pushing my reading glasses up my nose. This action resulted in my finger somehow slipping underneath the lens of my glasses and poking me in the eye. Which hurt. Although I’m sure you would’ve come to that assumption on your own.

“Damn it,” I whispered under my breath, blinking away the hot tears that had begun to form in the corner of my eye. One slipped down my cheek and I brushed at it, furious that something so stupid had happened to me. Although, it wasn’t all that surprising.

Rolling my eyes heavenward, I gave my glasses a rough shove up the bridge of my nose and found where I had left off in my reading, posing my inked quill above a piece of parchment, which was clustered with various notes that I had taken over the material I had been reading for the last hour and fifteen minutes. Of course, since I didn’t look at the paper as I wrote, almost all my notes were overlapping and looked as though a four year old had written them. Oh well, I was the only one who could understand them and no one could benefit from them, should I drop them on the floor and another student come bustling along and pick them up.

I had only scribbled down a few more lines before another distraction settled into the seat across the table from me. Against my will, I raised my eyes and dropped my quill almost instantly. Remus was sitting across the table from me, wearing a shy smile on his face.

“Hello,” he greeted.

“Hi Remus,” I returned warmly, sticking the sheet of notes in my textbook, pushing it to the side.

“How are you?” he asked, somewhat nervously. Weird.

“Good, even though you just saw me a little over an hour ago in Potions.” I attempted to raise a brow and look as though I was deeply immersed in mirth, but I probably looked as though I was having some intestinal problem.

The left side of his mouth quirked slightly, and I could tell by the sparkle in his inviting brown eyes that he was struggling to hold back a bout of laughter for my sake. I rearranged my facial features and subconsciously pushed my reading glasses up the bridge of my nose in typical Geek fashion.

“So,” I continued, folding my arms and leaning against them on the table top. “What brings you to the library? Don’t you have some mischief to procure with some of your seemingly elusive best mates?”

He stared at me for a second. “Um. . .no, not today. Why? Did Sirius forget to show up again?”

“Oh no,” I replied immediately, groaning inwardly as I felt the heat flare up in my cheeks. “I was just attempting to make a joke.”

Sirius would’ve gotten the joke, I found myself thinking. Almost immediately, the Voice suggested that I should stop thinking about someone who was already attached and focus my attention back to the conversation at hand. For once, I found myself agreeing with the Voice..

“Oh,” he laughed, again sounding more nervous than I had ever heard him before.

Then it hit me like a load of bricks.

Sweet Mother of Merlin, he really was going to ask me to Hogsmeade! Blessed Mother of all Things Magical and Magnificent, Sirius hadn’t been pulling my leg!

“Eleanor?”

“Hmmm?” I muttered, snapping myself back into the realm of the present.

“I, uh, asked if you needed any help with your homework,” he licked his lips and attempted to smile at me, but quite honestly, he looked as though he was going to be sick all over his own shoes. Poor bloke, he was as nervous as they come.


You should be, too, Eleanor, if you knew what was good for you. This is only going to stir up a whole lot of trouble when it comes to your Sanity.What sanity?! I hardly had any as it was.

Mentally scolding myself, I tucked an invisible strand of hair behind my ear - a nervous tick. What can I say, I’m full of them!

“Oh no,” I began to ramble. “I think I’ve got it all covered. I was just taking some notes for Monday’s Transfiguration exam. Don’t want to fall behind, right?”

A genuine smile broke out across his handsome face. I think a bit of the sweat forming at his brow had retreated back into his pours. He mimicked my position, his arms folded and his body leaning slightly toward me.

“No, wouldn’t want to fall behind at all,” he returned, still smiling. “But are you sure you don’t need some help? Transfiguration can be a tricky subject when it wants to be.”

“Transfiguration is one of the few subjects I have an ‘O’ in, actually,” I replied, suddenly realizing how Know-It-All I sounded. I slapped a hand to my forehead and added quickly, “I didn’t mean it in the way it came out. What I meant to say is that it’s a surprise that I actually have such a good score in a hard subject and all, not that you were insulting my intelligence or anything - but you know what I mean, right? If you don’t I completely understand, I mean, what’s not to understand about a simple misunderstanding of what I said, right? Haha, right. I suppose this is just confusing you even more so than you were before and I-,”

“Eleanor?” he cut me off abruptly.

I closed my mouth immediately, wincing slightly as I bit into my tongue. Ouch, that had hurt, but I could ignore the pain. For now. A confident smile had overtaken the warm, affectionate one Remus had aimed at me naught but just a few seconds ago. My entire body gave an unwilling tremor of pure delight.

“Yes?”

“Go to Hogsmeade with me tomorrow?”

I nodded, unable to hold back my smile. “Yeah, of course I will.”

X - X - X

 
When I returned to the dormitory after dinner, Alice began to shriek with excitement before I had even kicked off my shoes to relax. Her screaming alerted Lily, which brought Leanne and Marlene to attention, who were busy working on our costumes.

With one look, Lily’s mouth dropped open. “No, he didn’t!”

“He did,” was my simple reply, my cheeks burning.

“Oh my God!” She began to squeal excitedly with Alice, both girls joining hands to jump up and down before turning toward me and enveloping me in a tight hug. I hugged them back fiercely, glad to finally have found the companionship that I had been searching for for so long.

Marlene and Leanne were both wearing expressions of confusion. “I’m not following,” Marlene said slowly, not bothering to rise from her position on her bed. She sent a look at Leanne, who simply shrugged her narrow shoulders while Lily and Alice fawned over me, dragging me over to Lily’s bed to get all the “juicy” details and help me “plan” for tomorrow.

X - X - X

 

Waking up had been simple enough, if not a task that I had taken begrudgingly - I hated getting out of my nice, cozy bed in the morning. Taking a shower, picking out an outfit, and making myself look fit enough to take out into public - also a relatively easy task. Walking down to the Great Hall, eating breakfast, and then going to meet Remus in the Entrance Hall.

Yeah, that’s where my morning had hit a snag. Halfway through my third slice of toast (and second helping of ketchup drenched eggs), I realized that I was going on a date with the bloke I fancied. My stomach flipped uncomfortably, churning the food I had just eaten with the stomach acid floating about due to my extra bad case of nerves. I felt like I was going to hurl all over my shoes, which weren’t exactly mine, as I had nothing that went along with the pleated skirt and navy blue blouse that had been chosen for me. At least, according to Lily and Alice I didn’t.

I pushed my plate away from me and held a hand to my mouth. “Merlin, I think I’m going to be sick,” I said, my voice muffled by my hand.

Lily and Alice shot each other a look before glancing at me in unison. It was sort of freaky how their movements always paralleled one another’s. A bit unnerving, if you asked me.

“There’s no need to be worried, Ella,” Alice said, her kind voice reassuring, like a mother’s voice would be.

However, I couldn’t draw any comfort from her voice. If anything, it only made it worse. My stomach continued to churn and I removed my hand from my mouth and placed it on my abdomen. “That’s easy for you to say, Alice. You’re not the one going on your first date, are you?”

They shared another look and I wished that they would stop doing that! It was almost as unnerving as the look they had shared just moments ago.

“Look, Eleanor,” Lily began, taking the Alice band out of my hair to fix it. She had a tendency of doing that, as I was apparently incapable of making it look right or something. Normally, it would’ve bothered me, but right now, I appreciated the help. “You and Remus have always gotten on rather well, right?”

“Right,” I bobbed my head in agreement.

“And you can keep a steady flow of conversation without it getting awkward, yes?”

“Aside from yesterday when he asked me; yeah, we can. Quite well, actually,” I added as an afterthought.

“Well then, I bet it won’t even feel like a date!” She smiled widely, encouragingly even, but my stomach plummeted and my eyes went wide.

Date.

The word kept repeating like a skipped record in my head, making my already churning stomach flip and flop even more so, mixing my breakfast around with unpleasant stomach acid. Circe, I might actually end up throwing up before I left the Great Hall!

“You better go,” Alice suggested. “It’s almost nine o’clock, and that’s when he said to meet him, right?”

I nodded my head, muttering a weak, “Yeah.” in return.

As I stood up to leave, Lily grabbed my hand and pulled me toward her. “You’ll be fine,” she whispered. “I promise.”

I waved goodbye to Lily and Alice, afraid that if I opened my mouth, vomit would come out instead of words, which just wasn’t something that I needed at this point in time. I needed to keep myself looking nice and clean. I needed to look my best, and be on my best behavior. Not that I ever had so called bad behavior, but I did have the tendency to drift off subject. Like now.

I took a deep breath and left the comforting atmosphere of the Great Hall, taking a step into the Entrance Hall. It was a great deal chillier in here, as the door was opened wide. But plenty of students were milling about, making it damn near impossible to find anyone. They were all looking for their mates and, quite possibly, their dates.

Inwardly, I winced at the word as it started to repeat in my head. Date. Date. Date. Date. It was like an alien heartbeat in my head, a rhythm that would eventually push what little remained of my sanity over the edge, thus resulting in my psychotic meltdown. Really, it’s as lovely as it sounds, I promise.

Fidgeting with my hands apprehensively, I pushed myself up on my tip toes to look around the Entrance Hall, hoping to see Remus. After a few seconds of searching, I found a familiar head of impossibly messy black hair near the foot of the staircase. James had his hand on Remus’s shoulder and his lips were close to the latter’s ear. It looked as though James was giving Remus a bit of a pep walk.

Wait. . .Remus was nervous, too? I couldn’t stop the mental ‘aw’ from escaping me, but I silenced it almost immediately. Heaven forbid that sound should escape me. Merlin already knew that I already made enough odd sounds, I didn’t need another one to be known by my fellow schoolmates. Not that they would poke fun at me or anything; I had never been the subject of teasing. Although, that third year sure was staring at me like I was Medusa.

James must’ve spotted me, because he shouted my name across the bustling Entrance Hall and waved his arms in a wide arc, as if I didn’t see him. Several curious heads turned in my direction. I could feel my cheeks heating up as I hurriedly crossed the expanse of the hall, hoping to get to the people I was familiar with before others could start talking.

After muttering a quick goodbye to his mates, Remus met me halfway across the hall, his hands in the pockets of his trousers and a timid, but warm smile on his face. “Hello,” he greeted, just as he had in the library, once we reached one another.

“Hi,” I returned, refraining from letting my full grin break out. I kept it to a soft, hopefully welcoming smile. I didn’t want to scare him off by looking like a clown.

“Ready to go?”

“Yep.”

His smirk widened. “Great, let’s hit it.”

I snorted to myself as we walked out of the doors, nicely stepping around the younger students and pushing our way through the older ones who knew the rules better than most. I resisted the urge to say something at these particular students who were just standing about and blocking the exit, but I decided against it.

X - X - X

 

“. . .and then Aunt Eliza marches straight up to the man and socks him right in the face!”

Remus struggled to hold back his laughter, but failed miserably, causing the entire mouthful of butterbeer to spray all over the table top. I laughed with him, although it was clear he found this story much more funny that it was supposed to be.

Wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt, he threw back his head and continued to laugh loudly, his entire torso shaking with effort. I smiled to myself, looking down at the battered table top, and tucking a strand of hair behind my ear; I had taken off the Aliceband within the first ten minutes of our date.

“I didn’t think it was that funny,” I murmured quietly.

Remus managed to get a hold of himself, once again dragging his sleeve across the top of his lip to wipe away any butter beer that remained there. “It was to me,” he replied, smiling. “I didn’t get any on you, did I?”

I shook my head. “No, you didn’t. But I think you got everyone else in the pub.”

He chuckled once more, taking a napkin out of the dispense on the table and mopping up the mess. I didn’t understand why he didn’t just clean it up with his wand, but I suppose it was first instinct. I know I would’ve done the very same, if I were in his position.

Taking the bottle between his fingers, he raised it to his lips, only to pause and send me a sly look over the neck of the bottle. “Is it safe to take another drink, or will you spring another hilarious story upon me?”

“It’s safe,” I said.

“Promise?”

I made a showy display of rolling my eyes. “I promise,” I assured him, folding my arms and setting them on the table top. I felt a little odd, watching him take sip after sip of his butterbeer. I had barely touched mine, given the fact that I was afraid I would upchuck anything that I ingested. Even if I did love butter beer.

Well, maybe one dreg wouldn’t hurt.

“So,” Remus began. “Have any other funny family stories?”

I took a drink from my butterbeer, allowing the warm, rich liquid to roll around on my tongue before swallowing it, once I realized I was being addressed. “You have no idea,” I said in what I hoped was a mock-dark voice.

Judging by the grin on his face, it was.

For the past hour and a half, we had been sitting in the Three Broomsticks, the warm, comfortable pub that all the students seemed to flock to. It was crowded, to say the very least, but not to the point where you wanted to rip your hair out because you could barely hear yourself think in your own head. Madam Rosemerta had seated us at one of the tables nearest the window, so we could see the students milling about on the sidewalk, scurrying from one shop to another.

We had shopped around Hogsmeade for the better part of an hour, stepping into the stores we both liked and taking a look about. We had spent the majority of our time in Zonko’s and Honeyduke’s, where Remus bought early Christmas gifts for his mates, and an Acid Pop for me; I loved Acid Pops almost as much as I loved Chocolate Frogs. We had been walking across the lane to the Quidditch shop when a cold wind blew through the streets of Hogsmeade and we made the joint decision to go into the nearest building, which just so happened to be the Three Broomsticks.

At first, we had settled on ordering some butterbeer for the pair of us and fell into amiable chatter concerning school and upcoming exams. But somewhere along the way, I had dropped the name of my Aunt Eliza, and he inquired about her. His questions were those that only breached the surface, and none deeper, but somehow, he had convinced me to tell him a family story and for the past hour, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

I had just finished the story where Aunt Eliza and I had gone to the butcher’s, only to find out that he had sold the Christmas ham she had put on reserve two months beforehand. I hadn’t thought it was funny. In fact, I had been just as pissed as Aunt Eliza had been when we found out the news and had wanted to sock him myself, but like always, I refrained and Aunt Eliza took the initiative.

“But enough about me,” I said, snapping myself back to present time. There was a soft rumble of conversation all around us, but it was comforting, not annoying like I thought it would be. “How about you? Do you have any interesting stories that you’d like to share?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Not really.”

“I find that somewhat hard to believe,” I snorted, sitting up straighter in my chair, only to lean toward Remus ever-so-slightly. I didn’t even realize I had done such a thing until my bum reached the edge of the seat.

“Why?”

“Did you really just ask that question?” I said incredulously, laughing again. “You’re a Marauder! You must have some interesting stories to tell me! After all, I told you about the time Aunt Eliza caught my neighbor‘s cat on fire!”

Remus snorted, shaking his head to himself. “Do you realize how immature that sounds?”

“Do you realize how you’re straying for the subject?” I returned, smirking at him when he sent me a mock-glower. At least, I hoped it was fake.

He sighed, pushing a hand through his floppy hair and took another drink of butterbeer. “There’s just so many to tell. . .” he trailed off suggestively, and I could see that he was fighting off a smile. “I don’t know where to begin.”

“Why not from the beginning?” I suggested. “That’s always a good place.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Tell me about. . .about how you all became friends!”

“But that’s so boring,” he replied.

“Maybe to you, but I’ve never heard the story,” I paused at the doubtful look he shot me. “All right, I’ve never heard the true story. Happy?”

Much to my surprise, he reached across the table and placed his hand over mine, his fingers cupping the palm of my hand and giving it a squeeze. “Yeah,” he said, smiling. Seeing that I wasn’t going to pull away, he wove his fingers through mine. An involuntary shiver ran up and down my spine. “I am now.”

I felt my cheeks flame up once again and I ducked my head, embarrassed that I was unable to control my ruddy cheeks.

X - X - X

After listening to Remus’s stories of the young Marauder days when they thought it was cool to stay away from girls for twenty minutes, we decided that we should head back to the castle for the Halloween Feast. Although it wasn’t very cold outside at the beginning of the day, now that the sun was sinking behind the gloomy looking clouds, it had started to get a bit nippy outside.

I was shivering as we walked back to the castle, my arms folded close to my chest while my teeth clattered in my skull. I suppose it wasn’t my brightest moment when I decided to wear such a thin blouse. But then I remembered it was not I who picked out the bloody blouse, but rather Lily and Alice. It was no thanks to them that I was freezing my little arse off in the thin blouse and damn near microscopic skirt. Well, it was microscopic in my opinion.

“Cold?” Remus asked as he walked beside me, our shoulders brushing against one another’s.

I nodded stiffly. “Y-yeah, just a little bit,” I replied, my lips quivering as I spoke. I know it wasn’t like it was winter or anything, but that breeze blowing around us was frigid for this time of year.

He slipped his arm around my shoulders, his hand coming to rest on the curve of my neck as he pulled me closer to his body. Looking down at me, he asked, “Does that help?”

Again, I nodded. “A lot, actually,” I said, and I honestly meant it. I was a great deal warmer than I had been moments ago. And it was all thanks to Remus and his deliciously warm body.

“Glad to be of some assistance,” he said with a smile, giving my shoulder a comforting squeeze.

I grinned back, nuzzling closer to him as we walked, trying to draw as much warmth as possible from his tall form. He seemed to sense what I was doing and pressed me against his side even more tightly, if it were at all humanly possible.

It was a warm walk back to the castle, to say the very least.

However, something odd happened as we trekked up the path with the rest of the students. All of the sudden, I felt that foreboding feeling seeping into my bones; I felt like someone was watching me. When I scanned the vicinity, I was shocked to see that several students were staring at Remus and I and our, uh, close position.

Well, it wasn’t like we were having a wrestling match with our tongues! What in Merlin’s name gave them the right to gawk like that? I swallowed my tongue (no pun intended) and tilted my head downward against the wind.

You know, maybe I would have to thank Lily and Alice for selecting this particular outfit for me. I’m sure that if they didn’t, Remus and I wouldn’t be standing this close at all. We probably wouldn’t even be holding hands like we had been in the Three Broomsticks; Madame Rosemerta gave us a good bit of teasing over that.

When we reached the double doors leading into the Entrance Hall, the moment struck that I had been scared shitless about. The moment where we separated to tell our mates about our day. I’m sure that Remus wouldn’t tell James and Sirius much of anything, as nothing really happened on our date aside from a bit of story telling and hand holding. Nothing too big by a bloke’s standards.

I, on the other hand, would be going through the ringer as soon as I waltzed through the door to the girls’ dorm.

You see, it wouldn’t be such a big problem if I didn’t fancy Remus so much. If I didn’t, I would simply say goodbye and walked back to the common room. But I did like him. A little too much for my own liking. (Not to mention the fact I feel the very same about him that I do for his best friend, which sounds really slaggish of me, but let’s face it: it’s fact. Unfortunately.) And since I did fancy him quite a bit and I was sure that he liked me, too, that would mean he would be expecting something like most blokes would.

Namely, a kiss.

I swallowed nervously at the fact. I wasn’t very experienced in the area of kissing, to be honest with you. I had only snogged one boy in my entire life and that was because he attacked me, practically sucking off my lips with his mouth. It had been one of the scariest moments of my life, let me assure you, but nowhere near as frightening as this.

I knew that I was just being silly. That I shouldn’t be acting like such an inexperienced schoolgirl, but that was the problem, wasn’t it? I really was an inexperienced schoolgirl when it came to the likes of boys. This wasn’t my area of expertise.

Merlin, I should’ve talked to Lily and Alice about this! They would’ve known what to do, right? They had been on dates before. Plenty of them. Well, I know that Lily has. I’m not too sure about Alice, given the fact she’s head over heels for her precious Frank.

“Well,” Remus began, a little awkwardly. His hand found the back of his head and he ruffled the hair in the back. It was a motion that severely reminded me of James. Not that something reminding me of James was a bad thing, I just think that thinking of him in the current situation I was in wasn’t exactly what one would call “good timing”.

. . .

Wow, that sentence was confusing, even to me.

I was about to mumble my response back as I glanced at my feet, but then I suddenly realized that I might not ever face this situation again. This might be my only chance to show Remus how much I really did fancy him. I mean, it wasn’t a serious fancy, but I did like him enough to do something that was completely out of character for someone such as myself.

I grabbed him by the ears and pulled his face toward mine, sealing our lips in a kiss. Our mouths remained pressed together for a few seconds before I pulled back. His eyes were wide, his expression surprised.

Circe be damned, what had I done?!!?

“Oh shite, Remus, I’m sor-,”

I stopped talking, seeing as how he lowered his mouth onto mine; my words were lost on his lips. I found myself shaking slightly as our kiss deepened. His kiss was like fire, his lips warm against mine as we kisses, right there in the middle of the Entrance Hall.

A chill racked up my spine as his hands wandered away from my face, finding my waist, and wound around it; he pulled me ever-so-slightly closer to him as he did this. My chest brushed against him, and a legion of butterflies was released into my stomach, fluttering up and down, spiraling around and around repeatedly. Instead of making me feel nauseous, I felt like I was on the top of the world, kissing Remus.

Pushing my hands back, I threaded my fingers through his sandy brown locks, bringing his face closer to mine, if it were at all humanly possible. I was almost entirely certain that our mouths couldn’t get any closer, but then his mouth slide open and I seized the opportunity.

I snogged Remus Lupin. And hopefully, I snogged him good.

He broke the kiss, his breath coming in short pants as he rested his forehead against mine. “That was-,”

“Yeah,” I breathed back, laughing slightly before pulling his face toward mine again, kissing him just one more time.

Chapter 23: Rock Lobster
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My lips burned as I watched Remus walk away. He told me that he needed to meet James in one of the passageways so they could start getting things together for the party before the Feast. He had given me a quick kiss on the cheek before we parted, which had made me to flush a brilliant shade of red. When he was halfway down the corridor, he came jogging back to me and we kissed for a good five minutes, leaving me in my current state of lightheadedness and breathlessness.

As I walked up the staircase toward Gryffindor Tower, however, the lightheadedness slowly started to dissipate. For some strange reason, my stomach started to feel heavy like a lead cannon had been dropped inside. Not only did it feel like I had ate too much Christmas ham and I was about to keel over from all the extra weight, but the acid within my stomach began to churn uncomfortably.

However, it wasn’t the oddness of my stomach’s behavior that was annoying me. What irked me the most about the entire situation is why I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why I would be feeling this way. I hadn’t eaten anything that would’ve given me a stomachache. At lunch, I’d ordered a basket of chips at the Three Broomsticks, but that was it. Maybe I shouldn’t have drank all that butterbeer after all. I knew that it wasn’t good for my stomach, but it was just so damn good!

Shouldn’t I be feeling happy for myself? Shouldn’t I be gliding down the halls, spinning around in circles, and breaking out into song on the spot? I mean, that’s how it worked in the fairytales. . . right?

Whenever I was little girl, and I would go over to my Muggle babysitter’s house, she’d always take me to the cinema so I could watch a film. It was wondrous, and all the princesses seemed to live such wonderful lives. They were always dancing around with their little furry animal friends, randomly breaking out into song about. . .well, anything, to be honest with you. Most of the time, their songs were about the wonders of love, although at the moment, I’m not so sure those feelings were all that wonderful, not if I was going to feel as though I would vomit at any given moment after every single kiss.

But I knew that generally wasn’t the way one was supposed to feel about a snog.

So why in the name of Houdini was I feeling this way? Like someone had just socked me in the stomach while wearing brass knuckles, leaving me utterly breathless, but not in a good way? I could feel angry tears pooling in my eyes, and I tried to push them away. But the harder I pushed, the more insistent they were upon staying.

Gah, I hated being emotional! I hated emotions! What was the use of them when you couldn’t even figure out why you were experiencing them? I felt as though the answer was right underneath my nose, as though it were right on the tip of my bloody tongue, but I just couldn’t grasp it. The solution was out of my reach. That in itself was more maddening than anything else at the moment.

“Why are you crying, miss?” the Fat Lady asked once I reached her.

I glared up at her. “I’m not crying,” I murmured defensively.

“Then why are your cheeks wet?” she shot back, lifting her nose at me. “Honestly, the impertinence of today’s youth. Back in my day. . .”

While the Fat Lady rambled, I quickly dragged the sleeves of my shirt across my cheeks, wiping away any and all signs of tears that may have been spilt. My stomach clenched in anger and I unknowingly stomped my foot on the ground in my irritation.

“What do you want?” the Fat Lady questioned snappishly.

“Entrance, that’s what,” I replied testily, suddenly in a foul mood.

“Password?”

“Schnicklefritz,” I supplied.

The Fat Lady rolled her eyes, sighing heavily. “Oh, all right. I suppose I could let you in, since you did provide the appropriate password. . .” She swung open and I scurried into the common room, which was packed to the brim with anxious people, all wearing various expressions of excitement. I suppose it had something to do with the impending party.

Almost as soon as my feet touched the carpet, a hand clamped down around my wrist and I was being dragged toward the staircase.

“What the bloody hell?!”

Once I saw that it was Lily who was doing the dragging, I immediately clamped my mouth shut tightly and didn’t fight against her tug. I simply marched behind her like a diligent little soldier. We traipsed up the stairs in a hurry, although I didn’t see what all the rush was about; we still had another hour until the Feast started and after that, the Halloween party didn’t start until nine o’clock.

Lily all but kicked down the door and when I stepped into the dorm, it was oddly empty. She shut the door behind me and whirled around, her complexion whiter than bone and her emerald eyes wide.

“Lily, what’s wrong?” I exclaimed, worried.

“I don’t know how to tell him,” she said hurriedly. “I tried to talk to him earlier today, but I couldn’t do it; I’ve been trying to talk to him about it for weeks on end, but I always chicken out a moment too soon. I couldn’t muster the courage and now I feel like an idiot. Maybe I’ll just get trashed tonight and hope that something good happens, yeah? That’s always the way to go.”

“Lily. . .?”

She nodded to herself, bringing her hand up to her mouth, gnawing on her thumbnail. “Right, I’ll just get drunk as humanly possible without getting alcohol poisoning, and just hope for the best! That surely is a fool proof plan.”

“Lils?”

“But what if he reacts badly? Then what I am going to do?” She pushed her hands into her hair, which made her look a little more than slightly possessed. Maybe it was a good thing she was planning on dressing up as the Devil for Halloween. “Oh Merlin, I couldn’t even imagine how embarrassing that would be. Being rejected by him of all people?”

“LILY!” I shouted.

“What?” she snapped waspishly, her emerald eyes narrowing as her brow came together in a hard line.

“You’re rambling like a lunatic!” I exclaimed.

“Rambling like a lunatic?” she parroted, a look of mild offensive crossing her pretty features. “I’m not rambling about anything. I have no idea what you’re talking about, Eleanor.” She crossed her arms over her chest.

All I could do was stare at her in surprise. “Uh, Lily, you’re kind of freaking me out.”

Suddenly, she scoffed and shook her head. “Of course that doesn’t mean I fancy him! Where on Earth did you get such a preposterous idea?”

Oh Circe, this was bad. She was going crazy. Here I thought I was going to be the first one to loose my grip on reality and end up in St. Mungo’s loony bin, but apparently, I was wrong. It seemed as though it was going to be Lily in the ward, all by her lonesome self on Christmas morning, handing out dead daisies to the Healers who came to administer her medication.

I couldn’t let that happen to Lily!

Grabbing her by the shoulders, I gave her a firm shake. Her emerald eyes found mine at once. “No, Lily, you really are ranting and raving about things I’m not even sure I want to know about, to be quite honest with you. And the only reason why I’m taking interest is because, well, let’s face it, you’re the best friend I’ve got and I’m really worried about you. So,” I took a deep breath, my lungs feeling utterly exhausted. I wondered how she had ranted for so long without fainting. “Mind telling me what the hell you were talking about?”

Her round green eyes gazed into mine and, for some strange reason that I couldn’t explain, they glazed over with tears. Tears? Just moments ago, I thought she was going to throttle me for suggesting that she was going insane, and now, she was about to cry?! What the hell?!

She blinked once, almost owlishly, and whispered, “I’m really your best friend?”

Releasing a heavy sigh, I nodded. “Yes, you are, Lily, but that’s beside the point. The point of the matter is that we need to get to the bottom of-,”

She lunged at me, then, wrapping me up in a warm, friendly hug that threatened to squeeze all life out of my body. It hurt, to say the very least, and I wondered where she had gotten the strength to hug so tightly. I returned the hug halfheartedly, patting her somewhat awkwardly on the shoulder. I found myself completely unsure of what had just conspired and if I really wanted to know the truth behind her odd psychotic freak out.

Lily pulled back from the hug, a grin on her face. “Thanks, Eleanor. I really needed that. You’ve helped me so much just now!”

I licked my lips once before saying as slowly as possible to make sure she didn’t miss a single syllable I spoke, “What the hell are you talking about?”

She laughed, tossing her curtain of red hair over her shoulder in her casually elegant way. Damn her and having long flowing hair. I absentmindedly brushed my hand over my own shoulder where my own hair used to lie. Before Lucinda the Terrible stuck gum in it and I had to get it all whacked off.

“Lily, are you sure you’re all right?”

“Don’t worry about me, Eleanor dear,” she said, patting my cheek in a very maternal fashion. “I’ve got everything sorted out now, thanks to you. So, how about we make our way downstairs for some dinner and while we walk, you can tell me all about your date with Remus. Okay?”

I grabbed an old jumper off the foot of my bed and pulled it over my head, nodding once my head had poked through the hole at the top of the jumper. “Sure, I guess that’ll work.”

She grinned at me again and we started down the stairs, and I wondered if it was smart to walk down a windy flight of stairs with someone who may or may not be off their rocker.

X - - X

Dinner went exactly how I thought it would. Remus sat beside me, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye and smiling widely. I had tried my hardest to smile as brightly as I could in return, but for some reason, the left side of my mouth wasn’t cooperating, so it probably looked as though I was having a severe stroke, or something of the sort. Luckily, he didn’t seem to notice and we all tucked into our meals, exchanging a few loud laughs every now and then.

However, I wasn’t the only one acting out of character. Just as I thought, Lily was stiff in her seat, her arms pressed tightly against her side, as though she were trying to shy as far away as possible from James, who was shoveling food into his mouth at an impressive rate. When I had asked where the fire was, he informed me that the party wasn’t completely set up yet, and that he and Sirius were heading up to the common room while Remus finished getting the rest of the supplies from wherever it was they got their supply; he failed to mention that bit of information to me.

Speaking of Sirius, I had the hardest time not looking at him all throughout dinner. He seemed to be acting normally, what with the mega watt smile on his face and loud, slightly obnoxious laughter spreading through the entire Great Hall like a contagious fever. They were just small glances, the looks I was sending Sirius. In fact, they were much like the ones that Remus had been shooting my way all through dinner, eyelashes heavy and eyes discreet.

I’d thought I was being discreet, but when Sirius made eye contact with me, I’d dropped my spoon onto my lap, beef stew drenching my legs and scalding the skin of my thighs. I’d leapt up from the table, my actions mirrored by Lily and Alice.

“Are you all right?” Alice had squeaked nervously, practically scrambling over the top of the table to come to my aid. It was sweet of her, really, it was, but if I had been in extreme pain, I would’ve been crying my eyes out. I hardly had any tolerance for pain.

They asked me this question several times, their voices growing more frantic by each moment. I reassured them that I wasn’t severely injured, but Lily insisted that we go up to the dorm to make sure it hadn’t left any damage as well as change into our costumes. Unfortunately, I had missed Dumbledore’s Halloween speech, which was something I always looked forward to each and every year; that man’s a genius, I tell you. Pure and intangible genius.

I sighed at my reflection, fussing with my hair once more. At the moment, I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, wondering if my costume was an ingenious idea or one of the stupidest things I had ever conceived in my overactive mind. After all, the yellow tape looked quite ridiculous when it was draped over the human form. I, of course, was no exception to this rule, but this was what I had to deal with. I mean, it was my stupid idea.

“Merlin, Eleanor,” I grumbled to my reflection in a low voice. “You surely know how to pick them.”

I halfheartedly played with my hair, knowing that it wasn’t going to get any better or worse than it was now. Unless, of course, Lucinda was downstairs and dressed in the sluttiest outfit she could manage, which was a distinct possibility, given the person we were talking about. And by we, of course I mean the voices in my head and I.

My conscience and I were very well acquainted, but you already know that. For some reason, the Voice wasn’t present, which was a bit creepy and unsettling at the same time. I mean, who would get me out of trouble when I was up to my neck in utter shite?

I sighed for what seemed like the umpteenth time. The question wasn’t whether or not I had enough guts to walk down the stairs and into the common room, but if it was entirely necessary for me to go in the first place. Perhaps for one night, my invisibility would be to my advantage.


But you’re not invisible anymore, dearest Ella.


Ahh, Voice. I was wondering when you were going to show up. Somehow, it seemed that the Voice had impeccable timing, but that might’ve been because it was all in my head and I made up the Voice in the first place on a subconscious level as a way to comfort myself in awkward or unsettling situations, including but not limited to ones like today when I was snogging Remus or when I was sitting within close proximity to Sirius and started having not-so-friendly thoughts.

The Voice was right. In a matter of three and a half weeks, I had managed to not only make a few new friends, but I had started to shed the figurative Cloak of Invisibility, which is really symbolic to my insecurity and uncertainty, as well. So it really didn’t matter if I didn’t want to go because people would be expecting me to show up.


Especially Remus.
Yes, that was the part that frightened me the most. My stomach did a flip at the thought, but I wasn’t entirely positive if it was a good flip. Yeah, Remus was going to be there, probably looking dashing in whatever costume he adorned, but Sirius would be present as well. And we all know what happened when I was around both Remus and Sirius. Need I remind you of the Quidditch match?

. . .

Yeah, I didn’t think I did.

A knock on the door scared me out of my wits. “Eleanor,” called Alice’s voice from the other side of the wooden barrier. “Are you almost done in there? It’s nearly nine o’clock and we need to start heading downstairs.”

“Y-yeah,” I stuttered, swallowing the lump that had formed in my throat before casting one last look in the mirror. I looked like a complete and total idiot, but it had been my choice to dress up like this, so I had come to terms with moments ago, I would have to live with it. “Just give me a minute to make a few last touches, all right?”

More like a few moments not to vomit all over my shoes.

“All right,” Alice said. “But do try to hurry up!”

I rolled my eyes to myself and knowing that Alice wouldn’t stop wrapping her knuckles against the door until I came out, opened the door and stepped into the room, where I was greeted by all four of my roommates who were dressed in their costumes.

“Oh Merlin, I look ridiculous,” I moaned, backing into the bathroom. I tried to shut the door, but Alice wedged her foot in between the frame and the door, and grabbed my wrist.

“Not so fast, miss,” she said, giving my arm a sharp tug. “Get out here right now and let us have a look at you.”

An odd sort of petrified noise escaped me before I could stop it as Alice dragged me back into the room. I felt awkward as I stood before them, as though I was on trial for a crime. Which was what this outfit should be, a crime. Merlin, I was so stupid.

Lily was the first to speak. “Erm, Ella?” she asked cautiously, her expression apprehensively. “Why are you all wrapped up in yellow caution tape?”

“It’s part of my costume,” I murmured, my cheeks burning as I lowered my gaze to my feet.

“Part of your costume?” Leanne repeated dubiously. “And just what the bleeding hell are you supposed to be?” Beside her, Marlene snickered into the fluffy sleeve of her princess gown.

“Oh,” Alice exclaimed suddenly, scaring the hell out of all three of us. “I get it!”

“You do?” Lily and I asked at the same time. We glanced at each other and smiled.

“It’s so obvious, isn’t it?” Alice continued as though we hadn’t interrupted her, flipping her curtain of blonde hair over her shoulder. “You’re a disaster, aren’t you?”

My shoulders sagged as my hopes of someone actually knowing my costume quickly fled. I sighed once again, and turned toward the door. “Let’s just go to the party, okay?”

X - - X

We had been at the party for the better part of a half hour and there was still no sign of Remus. I chewed the inside of my cheek nervously as I took another gander around the room. Everyone else was milling about, chattering happily and laughing heartily as the radio played in the corner. The song that was filtering through the speakers was completely foreign to me, but I bobbed my head along to the beat all the same. It was a distraction at best, and that’s what I needed at the moment.

When we had first descended the staircase, we had been greeted by all four of the Marauders, all of which were dressed as various knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. They all looked as equally ridiculous as the next, so of course Marlene couldn’t resist snapping a photograph of the quartet in front of the fireplace, their fists raised and mouths opened in a shout.

It had been good fun. . .until Peter made an inquiry about my costume. Suddenly, the entire room’s attention (which was a grand total of seven people) shifted toward me and they gawked at me. I shifted uncomfortably in my spot and mumbled what my costume was supposed to be under my breath. Sirius was the only one who caught on, and laughed heartily.

“That’s mighty clever,” he had said, still laughing. “A walking accident. How very fitting.”

Then he had ruffled my hair and gave me a short bop on the head before squeezing through the gathering crowd to go off on Marauder’s business. We all knew he was waiting at the portrait hole for his bloody, cheating girlfriend. Although, I was almost entirely certain that I was the only one who knew about that last little bit.

I rolled my eyes after him and turned my attention back toward everyone else. They were all smiling at me, and James spoke first, “Merlin, you look ridiculous.”

I scoffed, offended. “Well, thanks James,” I’d replied sarcastically.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he’d said quickly. “What I meant is that it’s so ridiculous, it’s ingenious. I mean, honestly, you have to be pretty damn clever to wrap yourself up in caution tape and say that you’re a walking accident.”

I’d raised my eyebrows at him skeptically. “You’re not mocking me, are you?”

“Of course not,” he’d returned smoothly, smiling genuinely at me. “Why would I mock you? You’re a friend. I don’t mock my mates unless it’s Sirius, Peter, or Remus. Speaking of Remus, we still need to get the rest of the stuff from the passageway. So, if you’ll excuse us. . .”

Placing his hand on my shoulder, he’d gently stepped around me and crossed the room to Remus, who was standing in front of a table with Lily, chatting amiably. When James had approached the pair and began to address Remus, I noticed that Lily had turned her back on the two boys and hurried over to where Alice was talking with some younger students, most likely about how wonderful her Frank was.

Then, it clicked. Oh Mother of Merlin and Circe above, Lily fancied James! That’s what her psychotic rant was about up in our dormitory. She wasn’t losing her marbles, she just couldn’t cope with her feelings for James because then, she would be going against everything she had ever said to him in the six and a half years they had known each other!

I leaned against the armchair that was strategically placed behind me and sighed softly. Well, I never thought I’d see the day when Lily actually admitted to herself that she had something for James. Everyone had always known she did, but she refused to admit it to herself. I began to wonder what had triggered this sudden realization when I felt someone come to stand beside me.

“What’re you thinking about?” Sirius asked somberly.

I didn’t answer the question, rather asked one of my own. I absentmindedly placed my hand on his arm and asked, “What’s wrong?”

We both glanced down at my hand at the same moment, but instead of removing it, I kept it there and met his gaze. I repeated my question more adamantly. Sirius sighed.

“Lucy’s not here yet,” he answered. “And she promised that she would come this time around.”

“This time around?”

“Yeah,” he moved his arm to fold over his chest and my hand fell back to my side. “She didn’t come to last year’s party because she had ‘too much homework’ or something of the sort to do.”

I stared at the fire, unable to meet his eyes. I knew that she wasn’t studying, that she was most likely holed up in a broom closet with Amos Diggory and sucking the poor bloke’s face off with her perfect plump lips.

He shook his head to himself and sighed once more. “I’m just sick of it, you know? I know that her studies are very important to her and all, but you’d think that she could make some time for me. I try to make time for her, but she can’t return the favor? I mean, can’t she just put the books aside for once to spend some quality time together?”

I didn’t say anything, but I nodded my head. I knew that I should’ve told him right then and there what was going on, the piece of knowledge I had known since before we started becoming friends, if that’s what one could even call us, but I didn’t. No, I remained silent, my lips pursed as I stared off into the burning fire.

“I’m sorry,” I muttered, my voice sounding pathetic.

“For what?” He chuckled without mirth. “You have no reason to be sorry. You showed up to the party, didn’t you, which is more than Lucinda can say.” He sounded bitter and I could understand why he would be. “I’m going to get something to drink,” he said suddenly. “Do you want anything?”

I considered for a moment, but shook my head. “No, I’m fine.”

“You sure? We have a full stock of Madam Rosemerta’s finest butterbeer, and James and Remus are going to get the fire whiskey,” he said, his voice highly persuasive and his smile making my knees knock together obnoxiously.

I bobbed my head. “I’m sure.”

He smiled tightly at me, his gray eyes glinting oddly before he slinked past me toward the table that was littered with all the snack foods and candies that one could imagine. I found myself staring after him wistfully, wishing that he would’ve stuck around to talk to me a little bit longer. It felt as though I hadn’t talked to Sirius in a good while, and for some reason, that upset me. But then I remembered that tomorrow night we were supposed to meet to work on our potion and I brightened as much as I could.

I scanned the room once more and felt my chest deflating as the air rushed out of my lungs. I felt as pathetic as one could possibly get, standing all by myself while all my mates were laughing and having a good time. I spotted James next to Sirius at the refreshment table. There was a group of students surrounding them and I realized that they were the members of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. I couldn’t help but smile as they all tilted their heads back in laughter at something that James had said; he was a very funny bloke when he chose to be, which was almost all the time.

Then I realized something. James and Remus had left together, so why wasn’t Remus in the common room with all the other Gryffindors just yet? Shouldn’t he have returned at the same time that James had? Unless they had gotten into trouble and Remus had been caught, but even if that was the case, I know that James wouldn’t have left his mate behind to take the heat all for himself. Besides, it’s like Alice said the night she had been cutting my hair; the Marauders had obtained permission from Dumbledore to throw this party anyway. I’m sure he had told them that fire whiskey wasn’t allowed, but that was beside the point.

I decided to wait a few more minutes before jumping to conclusions, but when I glanced down at my wrist watch and saw that it was already a little after ten thirty, I decided that I’d had enough with all this stupid waiting.

I pushed my way through the throng of students toward the refreshment table, where James and Sirius were still standing with the Quidditch team, laughing and jabbing at one another all in good humor.

“Yay,” James shouted, throwing his arm around my shoulder. “Ellie has come to join us!” His breath smelt faintly of alcohol and his eyes were a little glassy behind his spectacles, but I knew that he wasn’t drunk. Not yet, anyway.

“Indeed I have,” I said, laughing as I patted his hand. I removed his arm from my shoulder.

Sirius grabbed my elbow then and addressed the team in front of him. He, too, smelt of alcohol, although the scent was much stronger on him than James. “You all know Eleanor, right?”

All five of the students in front of me stared at me as though I had sprouted three heads. “No,” they all said slowly.

“Well,” Sirius began, his voice slightly haughty. “This is Eleanor Briggs, only the most amazing person that no one’s ever heard of.” He ruffled my hair against and I pushed his hand off my head, annoyed.

“Anyway, this is the team,” James said. “This is Caradoc Dearborn and Henry Lincoln, they’re our Beaters, and magnificent ones at that. Clara Morris and Jason Hawthorne are Chasers along with me, and this little slighter you see here is Ryan Hensworth. He’s a fast little bastard, aren’t you?”

Ryan, a thin looking boy with pale skin and wide brown eyes nodded his head, smiling widely. “That I am. Not even James here can catch me, and he’s the best flyer on the team.”

“Oy,” Sirius injected. “What about me? I’m a fair flyer myself.”

We all chose to ignore him as each of the players shook my hand, smiling at me in welcome.

Caradoc stared at me a little bit longer than necessary, although it wasn’t in the creepy sort of way. His penetrating bright green eyes were staring into my eyes, and making me feel uncomfortable. He let go of my hand and reached behind him, producing a small shot glass full of fire whiskey.

“What’s this?” I asked as he shoved the glass into the hand he had just shook.

“It looks like you could use a little pick me up,” he replied, smiling slightly as he tossed back a shot of his own. He winced and shook his head, coughing. “I’m still not used to the stuff, but it’s good.”

I stared at him skeptically. “I’m sure it is.” I sighed and looked at the amber liquid in the small glass in my hand. What else did I have to lose? Remus hadn’t shown up yet, and I doubt that he would, now that it was going on eleven at night.

I shrugged my shoulders and muttered, “Here goes nothing.” Tossing back my head, I swallowed the fire whiskey in one huge gulp, and it burned as it made its way down my throat. I gasped and licked my lips, blinking the tears out of my eyes. “Merlin, that’s horrible.”

Caradoc laughed. “Want another?”

I took the proffered glass from his hand and knocked back another shot, wincing and gasping just as I had before.

X - - X

Two and a half hours later. . .


“And then. . .and then the porter said to the pig, get the fuck out!” Caradoc gasped, tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes.

Everyone laughed and I felt my breathing becoming strained, so l leaned against Sirius for support. He latched onto my arm with his hand and pressed his cheek into the top of my head, both of our bodies shaking as we laughed together.

To put it simply, we were all airlocked.

For the last part of an hour, we had been swapping stories and telling the most ridiculous jokes, most of which were perverted and came from the Beaters of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. It was hard to determine which one was worse, Caradoc or Henry. It took a few shots of fire whiskey for Henry to loosen up and start letting loose all the terribly perverted jokes that he had, but they were funny as hell.

I reached for another shot of fire whiskey, but Sirius grabbed my hand, shaking his head. “No, you don’t need anymore.”

“Says the bloke that’s been drinking since the very beginning of the party,” I snorted, trying to push myself up to my feet, and failing miserably. I fell back onto my bum, nearly knocking heads with Sirius.

“Eleanor,” Sirius said, sighing. “We need to get you up to bed.”

“But you can’t come up the stairs,” I pointed out, literally pointing my finger at his face. “Otherwise, that alarm thingy will start blaring and we’ll all come bouncing down.”

He sent me a look of pure annoyance; he seemed to have sobered up. “Regardless, you need to stop drinking, otherwise you’ll have a massive hangover tomorrow,” he replied. “And no one likes taking a hangover potion.”

I shrugged my shoulders, my hands held out to my sides, palms up. “I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been drunk before.” I giggled.

Sirius rolled his eyes. “I couldn’t tell.”

He rose to his feet quite steadily and wrapped my arm around his shoulder, hoisting me to my feet. I felt like a mushy pile of . . .mush as he held me up, my legs impossible to gather underneath me. We started to walk toward the staircase when Lily came into view.

“Do you happen to know where James is?” she asked Sirius, her brow furrowed. She too seemed to be completely sober. Was I the only drunk person present? A loud bout of laughter told me that I wasn’t alone, and that there were much more drunk people than sober present in the common room.

“Over by the fire,” he replied, pointing toward the group gathered around the coffee table, which was slowly starting to dissipate as the party quieted down.

She nodded her head as she pushed herself to her tiptoes to make sure that Sirius was right. She must’ve spotted him because she turned her gaze back toward me and frowned. “You look. . .” she trailed off and looked at Sirius. “Are you taking her upstairs?”

“Trying to,” Sirius said. “But she doesn’t seem to want to go.”

“I can hear you, you know.”

“And that’s lovely,” said Sirius. He rolled his eyes and turned back to Lily. “Anyway, she just pointed out that I won’t be able to bring her upstairs, so I was thinking that-.”

“You could take her up to your dorm until she sobers up a bit?” Lily supplied.

Sirius nodded. “That was my intention.”

Emerald eyes found my face and I giggled, leaning against Sirius heavily as my legs trembled underneath me.

“That’s fine,” she finally said. “Just don’t. . .well, you know. But I know you better than that, and as slimy as I call you,” she smiled to herself. “I know you’re not that sort of bloke.” She offered one last glance at me before flouncing off toward the fire.

Sirius started to lead me toward the stairs, but I shook my head, my hand on his arm. “No, just wait. I wanna see what happens.”

He stared down at me, his aristocratic nose looking especially handsome as he did so. I went as far as reaching up to tap the ball of his nose, and he laughed, much to my surprise. “Nothing’s going to happened - oh Merlin above, they’re snogging.”

Sure enough, there was Lily and James in front of the fire place, snogging one another in front of all the drunken common room to see. Normally, I would’ve been slightly revolt by the sight of two people sucking that much face, but it was Lily and James, and as odd as it sounds, it was sort of adorable.

I smiled up at Sirius triumphantly. “See, I told you.”

He laughed, shaking his head to himself and draping my arm over his shoulder again; I hadn’t even realized that it had slipped. “Let’s just get you to bed all in one piece, yeah?”

Halfway up the boys’ staircase, I vomited all over my shoes, groaning as we stopped so I could catch my breath. Sirius patted my back soothingly, and after a few moments, we started back up the stairs. We reached the seventh year boys’ dorm without many problems, and he walked me over to his bed.

I sat down and slumped forward, my forehead pressed against his. “I’m sorry,” I groaned. “I didn’t mean to throw up on your shoes.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he said, smiling at me in the dark of the room. “You didn’t get hardly any on my shoes.” He started to unwrap the yellow caution tape from around my body, laughing. “What in the name of Agrippa gave you the idea to wrap yourself in caution tape and call yourself a walking accident?”

“I was trying to impress you,” I answered, yawning as my forehead slipped from his, my head lolling back as he lifted up my left arm to get the tape off. “I mean, not really impress you, but just show you that I could be funny, too.”

Two hands gripped my face and I found myself staring into Sirius’s stormy gray eyes. “You have pretty eyes,” I giggling, smiling.

“You were trying to impress me?” he questioned, ignoring my previous remark.

“Yep,” I nodded my head deeply and almost fell forward. “Did it work?”

He laughed and sighed. “You’re mental, Ellie.” He wadded the yellow tape up into a ball, throwing it into the darkness behind him. “You don’t need to dress up as a walking accident to make me think you’re funny.” A look of slight revulsion crossed over his handsome features as he quickly untied my vomit drenched shoes and pulled them off my feet, tossing them to the floor. “I’ve always thought you were funny. Clumsy and insanely peculiar at times, but funny all the same.”

Sirius helped me into a standing position and let me lean against him, my face pressed into the crook of his neck. I inhaled and my knees started to knock together again. Merlin, did he smell delicious. If he were food, I would take a huge bite out of him.

Once he was done pulling back the blankets, he tried to stand me up as straight as possible, but my legs kept wobbling beneath me and I held onto him by his arms tightly. “I don’t want to go to sleep.”

“But you need to,” Sirius said, sitting me down on the bed. “Do you want another shirt to sleep in or will the jumper you’re wearing be okay?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “It doesn’t matter to me,” I yawned, and I laid down on the bed, stuffing the pillow underneath my head and fluffing it up. It smelt like his skin did, and I subconsciously inhaled as I felt the blankets being pulled up my legs.

“Well, good night,” Sirius said, rising to his feet. Before he could walk away, I grabbed his hand and he stopped, turning toward me. “What is it?”

“Do you know why I decided to drink?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I didn’t. Why did you decide to start drinking tonight?”

“Because Remus wasn’t there,” I said softly, nuzzling deeper into the comfortable bed.

“I’m sure Remus was there, Ellie,” Sirius returned. “I may not have seen him, but he was most likely talking to Alice or someone in the corner. And you were over with the Quidditch team, and Remus doesn’t really get along with them. Well, not Caradoc at least. He thinks Cary’s a little bit annoying, and I really can’t say that I blame-,”

“We snogged, you know,” I stated in a matter-of-factly voice.

“You and Caradoc?” he inquired, his eyes wide.

I snorted, squeezing his hand. “Of course not. I meant Remus and I.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, when we were coming back from the trip today. I just kissed him. Just like that.” I tried to snap, but it didn’t work, so I clapped my hands together instead.

“That’s nice,” Sirius said, his voice hollow. “Well, I’m happy for you. Remus has fancied you for a while now.”

“You don’t sound happy,” I remarked. “You sound sad. Is it because Lucinda didn’t show up?” When he didn’t respond, I added, “She’s a slag, you know.”

“Eleanor!” he exclaimed, leaping up from his seat next to me on his bed. “She’s not a slag!”

“All right, all right,” I said hurriedly, my words slurring together as my eyelids began to prickle painfully with sleep. “She may not be a slag, but she’s stupid.”

“And why is that?”

“Because she’d rather do her bloody homework than spend time with you,” I sighed, letting my eyes close and snuggling deeper into the blankets, which were a great deal softer than mine, I noted. “She’d have to be m-m-m-mental not to spend time with you,” I yawned.

“D’you like spending time with me?” Sirius asked, his hot breath dancing across my cheeks as I realized he had knelt down in front of me and his face was centimeters from mine. Even still, I didn’t open my eyes, rather basked in the scent of his breath and the way it felt on my skin.

Unfortunately for Sirius, he wouldn’t know the answer to his own question, as the calming scent of his breath, the warmth it provided against my cheeks, and the gentleness in his voice had lulled me to sleep.

Chapter 24: Calculation Theme
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I wasn’t in my own bed. I could tell that from the first fully conscious movement I had made when I woke up the next morning. The sheets were much too comfortable to be my own and they smelt fantastic. Not that mine didn’t smell good, but this scent. . .it was just so. . .I couldn’t even describe what it smelt like. I bunched up the blankets and inhaled. A calm, soothing feeling rushed over me and I felt relief, but it only lasted for a fair few seconds.

All too soon, my head started pounding within my skull and I wondered what I had done to piss my brain off so much, it was trying to get out of my head. As warm and comfortable as I was, I forced myself to sit up in the bed that was not my own. Blinking the sleep out of my eyes, I looked around the room and was shocked to see that I was in the boys’ dormitory.

Normally, I would’ve freaked out, but blurry images of what had happened the previous night were slowly starting to come back to me, and I knew that someone had been aware of what’d happened the night before. At least, that’s what I hoped.

Thankfully, the rest of the boys were asleep, some snoring while others slept soundlessly in their beds. I threw the covers aside and saw that I was still dressed in a plain black jumper and trousers, the very same ones I had worn to the Halloween party.

As I climbed out of the bed that wasn’t my own, I discovered that this strange morning was probably the result of the Halloween party the night before. My head throbbing, I reached for my shoes but dropped them immediately as the horrible scent of vomit rushed into my nostrils, knocking out the former scent that had been clinging so deliciously to those sheets I had slept in.

Creeping toward the door, I took one last look around the dark room only to see that Remus was draped across his bed, his arm falling off the side and mouth hanging wide open. Oh, so he was a snorer, was he? I couldn’t help but smile as I slipped out of the room and began to creep down the stairs to the common room.

I tripped over the last step and stumbled into the common room, catching myself on the back of the couch. My eyes widened in surprise to see that someone was, in fact, sleeping on the very same couch that I had just nearly knocked over. Funnily enough, the only inclination that the sleeper gave was a faint grunt. I couldn’t see their face because there was a blanket draped over it, so I left it alone, turning around and walked toward the girls’ staircase.

I was nearly there when the person on the couch began to stir quite noisily, the familiar sound of someone yawning and stretching meeting my ears. I debated whether I should run up the stairs or just stay put. Despite myself, my feet stayed rooted to the spot and I was forced to endure the long silence that stretched as the person fully woke up.

“Eleanor?”

I whipped around so quickly, black dots danced before my eyes as the world tilted sideways. I steadied myself and blinked once. “Sirius?” I said incredulously.

There he was, standing in the middle of the common room, his dark black hair rumpled, stormy grey eyes heavy with sleep and nicely toned chest for all the world to see. It felt as though I had been doused with a bucket full of ice cold water. I tried my absolutely hardest to avert my gaze and not stare at his exposed torso, but I quickly found that it was a lot easier said than done. My stomach did a flip flop of excitement and a tremor surged through me. It wasn’t as if he was bulging at the seams with muscles, but that wasn’t to say he was lacking definition. I suspected that his nicely muscled stomach and his entire body in general came from all those years of playing Keeper from the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

I was having a hard time keeping my mouth shut, so when Sirius began to speak, I was thankful that I had an excuse to move my mouth. If I were capable, that is.

“What’re you doing down here so early?” Sirius asked, yawning widely and stretching his arms high above his head. “Shouldn’t you be upstairs sleeping the morning away in my bed?” He smirked at me and I felt my legs start to tremble beneath me.

Licking my lips, I attempted to form a coherent response. “Oh, well, I just woke up. . .you see, my head, it was throbbing, so I. . .and it was cold,” I trailed off lamely, ducking my head and starting long and hard at my bare feet.

“You woke up because your head was throbbing and it was cold?” he reiterated for me.

I realized just how stupid I must’ve sounded and actually did something that was quite unintelligent to do when you had a hangover as nasty as the one that was rattling my brain to and fro; I slapped myself on the forehead with an open palm. I winced, instantly regretting doing such an idiotic thing.

Sirius snorted, drawing my attention away from my feet and to his form. Thankfully, he had decided to pull a rumpled looking shirt over his head. Although, now that I knew what lurked beneath the material, I still couldn’t prevent myself from stealing the occasional look at his covered chest.

Scratching the back of his neck, Sirius asked, “D’you know what time it is? If it’s not too early, we can make a trip down to the kitchens and see if Iggy can whip us up some magnificent hangover cure.”

“You have a hangover, too?” I questioned, a little dubiously. “But how did you manage to get me upstairs last night?”

I knew that I had asked the wrong question as soon as that mischievous smirk lit up his features and his eyes glinted in the pale light of the common room. “Oh, you went quite willingly,” he joked charmingly.

If I was the main character in one of those harlequin romance novels Aunt Eliza enjoyed reading by the fireplace, I would’ve swooned and all but thrown myself, completely starkers, in his arms and begged him to shag me rotten right then and there.

But thank Merlin and Agrippa above, I wasn’t and miraculously managed to keep my composure in the face of Sirius Black.

“I’m sure I did,” I said, rolling my eyes good naturedly just for show.

“So how about it?” Sirius encouraged, his face alight with hope. “Down to the kitchens for a spot of breakfast and some nasty potion to cure these bleeding headaches?”

“Sure,” I replied, smiling softly, even though the effort made me wince as the throbbing in my head became more persistent. “Just let me go upstairs and put some shoes on; I’ve seemed to have vomited on my other ones last night.”

Sirius laughed and I hurried up the stairs as quickly as my legs would carry me, my stomach a mess of fluttering butterflies and the same heavy feeling I had felt yesterday when walking back to Gryffindor Tower after snogging Remus. Strange, I found myself thinking as I gently pushed the door to the girls’ dorm open and snuck inside the room.

For once I was glad that my bed was so near to the door and quickly threw open my trunk, wincing to myself when the lid hit the edge of my bed. No one so much as stirred and I suspected it had something to do with the hangovers they were experiencing. Although I couldn’t remember much of what happened at the party after I had accepted the fourth shot from Caradoc Dearborn, I knew that Marlene and Leanne had gotten themselves into quite a bit of trouble when they initiated a miniature talent show in the middle of the common room. I already knew what Lily had been up to the entire party, but when it came to Alice, I hadn’t recalled seeing much of her, save for at the beginning of the party when she was talking to Remus.

Again, my stomach clenched and I found my fists balling themselves up at the mention of his name. I wasn’t about to jump to conclusions about where the sandy haired boy had gallivanted off to, but that still didn’t mean I wasn’t a bit miffed that he hadn’t even talked to me for the majority of the party.

Pulling out a pair of comfortable trousers and a plain dark blue tee shirt, I quickly stripped of my black outfit and tugged the new clothing onto my body. I wound my hair back into a stub of a ponytail and searched for pins to keep my hair back, but after I realized it was pointless to try and look through the mess that was my trunk and the bathroom was much too far away to tip toe to, I shut my trunk, slipped into a pair of old trainers at the foot of my bed, and headed toward the door.

When I reached the common room, two more students had joined Sirius and I recognized them at once. With his strange bright green eyes and tousled hair was Caradoc Dearborn and to Sirius’s immediate left was James, who looked just as exhausted as a person could get. He turned his sleepy hazel eyes toward me and smiled as groggily as possible.

“Hullo Ellie,” he greeted lamely, his shoulders sagging with effort as he fought off a fierce yawn.

“Hey James,” I replied, taking a seat in one of the armchairs. “What’s going on?” I asked the room at large.

“Quidditch meeting,” the three boys answered.

“Quidditch meeting?” I repeated, a little stunned. “Why would you be discussing Quidditch so early in the morning on a Sunday? Isn’t that a little odd?”

“I had a nightmare that we lost to Slytherin,” explained Caradoc, yawning widely. “And I figured I’d alert the captain,” he pointed to James. “And since Sirius was already down here when James and I entered, we figured we could involve him in the discussion, right James?”

“Uh huh,” groaned James, who was struggling to keep his head up.

I had to bite the inside of my cheek to prevent the smile from spreading across my face. “I see,” I muttered. “And do you always report to your captain when you have a bad dream considering Quidditch?”

Sirius sniggered under his breath while Caradoc’s eyes hardened. “It wasn’t a bad dream, it was a nightmare. To answer your question, yes, I do, because I wouldn’t want our team to lose.”

“But it was a nightmare, wasn’t it? Meaning that it hasn’t come true,” I returned. “So why worry if it hasn’t happened yet?”

He stared at me, his mouth flapping as he tried to summon a remark. Licking his lips, he finally said, “Why are you being so mean to me? You were really nice yesterday evening.”

“You see,” I said, pushing myself into a standing position and swaying slightly on my feet. “If it wasn’t for you and your offering of firewhisky to me, I wouldn’t have this monstrous headache at the moment. Besides, Sirius and I were planning on heading down to the kitchens for a bite to eat and some hangover cure, but you just had to interrupt our plans with your little nightmare business. So excuse me if I’m a little bitter.”

Again, Sirius chuckled under his breath, but this time, he disguised it as a cough.

Caradoc shook his head to himself, muttered something about girls and how crazy they were, before turning swiftly on his heel and marching up the stairs. James had taken a seat on the couch and had already fallen back to sleep.

“Well,” Sirius started as we walked toward the portrait hole. “That certainly was entertaining. Who knew that little Eleanor Briggs could be so intimidating.”

“It’s not so much intimidating as it is irritated,” I said, subconsciously bringing my hand up to my temple and massaging it. “I really do have a nasty headache and all I want is for the damn throbbing to go away, but that little blighter was preventing it from happening with his nightmare.”

“Cary’s an odd fellow,” commented Sirius, waiting for me to step out of the portrait hole before following behind me closely. “But he’s got good intentions. A bit too obsessed with Quidditch, if you ask me, but a good bloke nonetheless.”

“If you say so,” I replied as we began to trek down the corridors, which were still chilly and tinged pink due to the rising sun in the east. “I think he’s a few pieces short of a chess set if you ask me.”

Again, Sirius snorted with laughter and we continued to talk about everything and nothing as we made our way down to the kitchens.

Once we reached the painting of the fruit bowl, Sirius turned to me and mockingly asked if I would like to tickle the pear. I stuck my tongue out at him and swept my arm toward the painting, and he tickled the pear. Which giggle and produced a golden doorknob, much to my dismay. I blew a raspberry in his direction before stumbling into the kitchens, where the house elves were already busy with their work, zipping back and forth like little bullets.

One of the busybody house elves nearly collided with my knees, and in my surprise, I leaned back and knocked into Sirius’s chest, which was conveniently placed behind me. Trying as hard I might to suppress a sudden shudder, I immediately straightened my spine and took a few cautious steps between the dark haired Gryffindor and me.

Despite myself, I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks as my heart pumped blood through my body at an abnormally quick rate. Inwardly, I scorned myself for being so stupid. Just yesterday I was snogging Remus in the middle of the Entrance Hall, where anyone, and most likely quite a few people, could see us. Now, I was standing in the middle of the Hogwarts kitchens with Sirius, the very boy I was supposed to not be talking to, save for when we had to do our Potions assignment and my heart was racing a meter a minute.

Oh vey, I could just tell that it was going to be one of those days.

X - - X

 

A laughter filled breakfast with Sirius and a gulp of nasty hangover cure later, I was back heading up the stairs to the girls’ dormitory. It was only eight thirty in the morning and it was more than likely that everyone else was still sleeping. I slipped into the dorm as quietly as possible and tiptoed to my bed, pulling back the covers and sliding in between them.

Damn, these blankets weren’t as nice as Sirius’s, and they didn’t smell anywhere near as good. I rolled my eyes to myself, wondering why I couldn’t stop thinking about him for one single section.

Punching my pillow to fluff it up, I made myself as comfortable as possible and tried in vain to fall back asleep. I knew it was a worthless feat to try to accomplish, seeing as how every fibre of my being was positively buzzing. I rolled over, my back the rest of my dormmates and stared at the wall for Merlin only knows how long.

When the first sounds of shuffling met my ears, I froze in my bed and waited until I heard footsteps on the wooden floor before moving. I thought that the person who had just woken up was going to head to the bathroom straight away, but much to my dismay, the footsteps were approaching me and I knew that it could only be one person: Lily.

Sure enough, naught but five seconds later, I felt a hand on my shoulder softly shaking me awake.

“Eleanor?” Lily whispered. For show, I groaned under my breath, smacking my lips together. “Oh, come off it,” she continued. “I heard you come in earlier, so you can stop acting like you’re asleep.”

Drat.

With a sigh, I rolled over to face her and pushed myself up into a sitting position. Nudging my legs, Lily climbed onto my bed with me and pulled the hangings shut. She flicked her wand and I knew that she had cast a Silencing Charm on us. Although why, I still didn’t know and I had to admit, I was getting a little creeped out by this.

“I kissed him,” said Lily simply. Licking her lips apprehensively, she repeated, “I kissed James last night at the party.”

A jolt of shock surged through my body for a brief second before the memory of them snogging in front of the fireplace flickered before my eyes. “I know,” I informed her. “I remembered awing.”

She giggled, tilting her head downward so that her vibrant red hair surrounded her.

“So,” I continued, nudging her leg with my foot. “What happened after that?”

Picking her head up to look me in the face, I saw that her cheeks were tinged a brilliant shade of pink and she was biting her bottom lip. “We kept snogging,” she said. My expression must have faltered slightly because she quickly added, “for a while, anyway. Then, we started to talk in the classroom on the sixth floor.”

I shifted so that my legs were tucked underneath my chin. “What’d you guys talk about?” I pressed eagerly.

She shrugged her shoulders, smiling. “I don’t really know. We just talked for hours and hours; we were up until nearly five o’clock. Just talking. About anything and everything, really. Occasionally, we’d kiss, but other than that, we just talked. It was nice.” She sighed, somewhat dreamily. “It was nice. Nicer than I thought it was going to be.”

“Much to everyone’s surprise, James does know how to carry a conversation-,”

“I wasn’t talking about his communication abilities, silly,” she giggled.

It took a few seconds for it to register in my mind exactly what she was talking about, but once it clicked into place, I let out a very girlish giggle and punched her lightly on the arm. “Lily!” I squealed, laughing loudly.

“Can you really blame me?!” she exclaimed, laughing along with me. “I mean, I’ve heard all the girls that he’s gone out with say that he’s a fantastic kisser, but I always thought it was all talk. But Merlin, does that boy know how to snog.” Again, she sighed dreamily. “He does this thing with his tongue that’s just-,”

“Lily!” I cried, blushing furiously. “As lovely as it is to hear about how wonderful of a snog that James is, I’d rather not talk about it. He is my friend, after all.”

She ran a hand through her long auburn locks and smiled. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I realize that I’m being horrible and hogging up all the attention - you never told me about your date with Remus!”

Just as the heat had started to flee my cheeks, I felt them flame up again and I looked at my hands, which I was twisting nervously, and licked my lips. “Look - I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Why not?” Lily inquired, her hand reaching out to cover my own. I looked up at her and shrugged my shoulders. “Did it not go well?”

I shook my head. “Oh no, it went marvellously. We even snogged and -,”

“Hold the phone!” the redhead shrieked, holding her hands out in front of her in the telltale sign to stop talking. I promptly shut my mouth. “You and Remus snogged?”

“You make it sound as though it’s the news of the century,” I returned jokingly. “If anything, the fact that you and James snogged is much more newsworthy than my kissing Remus.”

It was Lily’s turn to blush and as she did so, she took one of the pillows on my bed and bunched it under her arms. “That’s not what I meant. I mean, it is a little surprising that it happened so soon, I didn’t take either of you as the type to kiss on the first date, but -,” she cut herself off and sighed once more. “Wow, I should really stop talking.”

I laughed and shook my head in disagreement. “No, Lily, I understand what you’re trying to say. ‘Sides you have a reason to be all. . .giddy,” at this, she giggled, “although, I’ll have to admit that it is a little scary.”

Lily chortled and squeezed the pillow in her lap. “So, tell me how it went. From the very beginning, all the way up until you think you should stop.”

Taking a deep breath, I proceeded to tell her all about our date, from the very beginning to the end, just as she’d asked. I told her that the date had been a little awkward as we window-shopped; occasionally entering a store to look around and see if anything caught our eyes. Slowly, but surely, we had fallen into a comfortable thread of conversation and once the wind had started to pick up, we hurried into the Three Broomsticks for a spot of lunch and some good conversation. I told her that we stayed in the pub for nearly four hours before heading back up to school, where Remus kept me pressed firmly to his side and huddled inside his cloak from the harsh wind as it whipped around us. She had cooed at this, but I quickly scorned her because it was she who insisted that I wouldn’t need a cloak that afternoon. She blushed, but I quickly waved her away and told her how, at the last minute, I grabbed Remus by the ears and planted a wet one on his lips.

You kissed him?!?” Lily squealed, her expression full of light as well as incredulity.

Bashfully, I bobbed my head, clutching tightly to the pillow I had gathered to my chest.

“And?” she encouraged.

“And what?”

She rolled her beautiful emerald eyes heavenward and sent me a look. “So,“ she drawled. “How was it?”

I took my bottom lip between my teeth and chewed on it nervously as I contemplated my answer. It had been an amazing snog, but I wasn’t sure if I should tell her about the odd sensation that had sunk into the pit of my stomach as I walked back to Gryffindor Tower or if I should omit that part of the story. Deciding that I was the only one who needed to know that my stomach was judging how I felt opposed to the chemicals in my brain, I said in an overly dreamy voice, “It was amazing.”

Judging by the ecstatic look on her face, she bought it. Lunging forward, she grabbed my hands between her smooth, pale ones and squealed for the umpteenth time. “Oh, Ella, I’m so happy for you!” She let go of my hands and gave me a tight hug.

Much to my own surprise, I returned it just as adamantly as she did. “I’m happy for you and James as well,” I commented, pulling back and tucking a strand of loose hair behind my ear. “Speaking of that situation. . .where d’you think it’s headed?”

Lily looked apprehensively and settled on shrugging her shoulders. “Dunno. I think we should get to know each other a little better. I mean, I know that James already knows loads about me and stuff, but I don’t know all too much about him because. . .,” she trailed off, an expression of shame on her face.

“I know,” I said in what I assumed to be a soothing, friendly voice.

When her eyes met mien, I saw that they were brimming with tears. “I was so wrong about him, Eleanor. So totally completely wrong. I’ve always told him that he’s a git for judging people when the whole entire time we’ve been at Hogwarts, I’ve judged him for face value.” A few tears rolled down her cheeks. I grabbed my wand off the side table next to my bed and conjured a tissue. Dabbing the tears away, she added, “But I know that I was wrong to do that, and I want to make it right.”

“And I’m sure he’ll be elated that you chose to do so,” I assured her, smiling as an added effect. “As long as I’ve known you, you’ve always made good decisions; I‘m sure this situation with James will be the best choice you‘ve ever made.”

“Oh, Ella!” She lunged at me again and we hugged. Squeezing her tightly, I found myself wishing that I were capable of making the right decisions myself.

-----


This chapter may seem as though it was shorter than the last and that’s because it was. Last chapter was over 7000 words long. This chapter is only 4000+. I know this little note is a little pointless, but I just thought I would let you know that my chapters aren’t getting any shorter; last chapter was a beast. Thanks for reading and review!


Chapter 25: Let It Snow
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Once I had finally travelled down the stairs and into the Gryffindor common room for the third time that morning, I found that Remus was waiting for me. There was an unreadable expression on his face and he was twisting his fingers at odd angles that didn’t look all that comfortable. Concerned, I hustled over to him, asking what on Earth was wrong. He gently took me by the elbow and asked if he could talk to me in private.

I couldn't but thinking, Oh Merlin, he’s going to break up with me - and we aren’t even dating!

I allowed him to lead me out of the common room and I followed him through a series of passages that I had no idea even existed. What was even odder still was that Remus seemed to be at home as we climbed up the rickety stairs and ducked under fallen wooden beams. It took us a good time before we reached our destination and the entire time we had walked, neither of us had spoken a single word.

When we finally reached the Astronomy Tower, a place that I was very familiar with, yet could not figure out for the life of me why Remus had led me hear when it was freezing outside, he turned toward me, the look I had seen on his face in the common room returning.

“I know,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Immediately, my stomach plummeted and I couldn’t stop a hand from flying to my mouth. The air was stolen from my lungs and it felt as though a paper weight had been settled on my chest. My throat constricted and I wondered who had told him or he was clever enough to figure it out himself.

“You do?” I said back uncertainly.

He nodded his head gravely. “Yeah,” he murmured. “I do.”

My abdomen clenched painfully. “Look, Remus, I would’ve told you earlier-,”

“It’s okay, Elle,” Remus said, an peculiar smile on his face. “I know that it was necessary for you to keep it a secret.”

I blinked, completely befuddled. Holy Circe, what was he on? He was okay with the fact that I may or may not fancy his best mate more than I fancied him? That was just too strange to comprehend, not to mention something that seemed completely out of character for Remus. While I didn’t picture him as a bloke who got angry very easily, he was still a boy and boys got jealous when it came to girls rather easily.

“Y-you do?” I stuttered. It seemed as though that was the only sentence I was capable of saying.

“Of course I do,” he replied. “I’m not planning on telling him either.” His lips quirked into a frown and he shook his head to himself. “Well, not yet, at least.”

I continued to stare at him, utterly confused. The cold air was starting to get to my fingers, making the tips of them go numb. I folded my arms over my chest and tucked my hands firmly against my stomach to make sure that they didn’t get frostbitten, which wasn’t very likely, but you never know; it could happen.

Finally, I said, “What on Earth on you talking about?”

He stared back at me, looking just as confused as I felt. “What are you talking about?”

Ut oh, I wasn’t ready for that territory yet, seeing as how I hadn’t exactly mentally prepared for that question. I mean, honestly, how do you tell someone that you fancy their mate as well as them? It just wasn’t something that was commonly practiced, so naturally, it just had to happen to me. Oh, Karma. What a cow, right?

Biting the inside of my cheek, I said, “I asked you first.” Yes, it was a childish retort, but it was the only card I had left in my hand that was still playable. . .to a certain extent, anyway.

Despite the strangeness of the situation, Remus fought hard against a smile threatening to turn his lips upward, and fortunately for me, lost. I did love his smile; it was so warm and welcoming and so. . .Remus.

“I’m talking about Lucinda sneaking around with Diggory, that’s what,” he finally answered.

Both of my hands flew to my mouth as I failed to stifle my surprised gasp. Of all things, this was certainly the thing I least expected to hear from Remus. I tried to gain control over my senses and the feeling of relief that was flooding into my stomach. But something told me that my face was a dead giveaway that I was a little more than relieved.

Remus sent me a strange look, a singular eyebrow quirked in a silent question. “Why?” he inquired. “What were you talking about?”

I let my hands fall and shook my head. “Nothing,” I responded quickly. “I was - er - talking about the very same thing you were, of course.” I could feel the heat rising my cheeks as my mind struggled to come up with an articulate conclusion to my rather un-epic sentence. “What else would I have to say?”

The expression that danced across his handsome features was doubtful, but if he had an opinion, he didn’t voice it. He ran his tongue over his top row of teeth. “So, how long have you known?”

“About Lucinda and Diggory?” I squeaked. When he nodded, I responded with a question of my own. “How did you know that I know?”

“First tell me how long you’ve known and I’ll answer your question,” he bargained.

Great. Of course I had to face a Marauder when it came to this subject matter. If it had been anyone else, I might’ve been able to convince them to spill the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavoured Beans first, but this was Remus - and he had been trained by the very best: Sirius and James. Merlin, life really did have a personal vendetta against me.

I sighed, rolling my eyes. “Fine, I’ll tell you. But can we go somewhere warmer than the Astronomy Tower? I’m freezing my arse off,” I complained, shivering for further effect.

Remus pulled his wand out of his pocket and with a flick, I instantly felt loads warmer. Clever wizard and his use of practical magic. Heat spells really were nice at times. “Better?” he asked.

I nodded. “Much.”

Prodding me with the tip of his wand gently, he said, “So, go on. How long have you known?”

I licked my lips and murmured my answer. “Since the beginning of October.”

His warm brown eyes went as wide as saucers for the briefest of seconds, but they returned to normal size and he bobbed his head. “Wow,” he began, playing with the collar of his shirt. “That’s - er - a rather long time to know and not tell someone.”

“It’s not like it’s my position to tell!” I exclaimed suddenly. “It’s not like I asked to be put in the situation as it was.”

Remus stared at me, an expression of complete perplexity on his face. “What?”

Finding a comfortable wall to lean against, which was rather tricky when all the walls were either missing a huge chunk and were made of rough stone that stabbed you in the kidneys, I began to tell him all about the fateful afternoon I spent cooped up in the library. How I had discovered the little affair that Lucinda and Diggory had been having behind Sirius’s back by complete accident and had been sworn to secrecy by Lucinda herself “or else”.

“Or else?” he repeated. He appeared as though he was trying his absolute hardest not to laugh.

“Well, excuse me, but all of us don’t have strong, sturdy backbones like yourself, Remus,” I spat, somewhat bitterly. I glared at the wall opposite us and beside me, Remus sighed softly.

“I didn’t mean it like that, Eleanor,” he whispered gently. “I just thought that you had more sense than that.” When I scoffed in offence, he winced. “That didn’t make it much better, did it?”

“I’d say it made it a fair bit worse, actually,” I replied, my eyes focused on the stony wall.

“I guess I can’t really explain how I meant it, to be honest with you,” he said. “I just thought that you would’ve stood up to her.”

“To Lucinda?” I laughed. “Surely you must be joking. Me standing up to the likes of Lucinda? She would turn the whole student body against me in the snap of her perfectly manicured fingers.”

“You do realize that you’re being incredibly silly, right?”

“Silly? Hardly,” I said, snorting mirthlessly. “If anything, I’m being smart. I don’t know about you, but I don’t fancy being on the Ice Queen’s bad side, thank you very much.”

Remus pushed himself off the wall and came around to stand in front of me, blocking my view from the spot on the wall I had been concentrating on. Lowering his face toward mine, he muttered, “Are you really that frightened of her?”

I chewed on my lip and faintly nodded my head, feeling like an utter fool. I had just admitted to who could possibly be one of the strongest people I knew that I was afraid of some blonde bimbo with legs as long as the Nile.

Cupping my chin in his hands, he tilted my head upward and my eyes met his. “You shouldn’t be,” he continued, his voice still soft and smooth. “You’re a hundred times the witch that she could ever dream of being, not to mention a million times the better person.”

“You really think so?” I questioned weakly.

Remus smiled and pressed his forehead against mine, his hands on either side of my face. “I don’t just think so, Eleanor,” he breathed, his mouth mere centimetres away from mine; his lips brushed against my mouth with each word that he spoke. A shiver crept up my spine and settled into my neck, tingling pleasantly. “I know so.”

He kissed me. I completely forgot about the devastatingly handsome bloke with stormy grey eyes, tousled black hair, and charming smile that I had spent the better part of the morning with, and had felt very same feelings that I was now feeling toward Remus.

Merlin, this whole fancying business really wasn’t worth all the trouble. At least, that’s what I tried to tell myself.

X - - X

That day in the Astronomy Tower, Remus had told me how he had found out about Lucinda’s affair with Diggory. When he and James had been on their way back to the common room with the crate of firewhisky, Pringle’s fat cat had come twisting around the corner and they had been forced to split up as it would lessen their chances of getting caught. Remus had been the one with the Marauder’s Map, something which he had shown me once we went back to Gryffindor Tower, and once he made sure that James was safe in the common room, he began to creep back to the Tower, only to see something that surely couldn’t be right.

Why in the name of Merlin’s good mother would Amos Diggory and Lucinda Matthews be in the same broom cupboard together on the night of a party that Lucinda couldn’t attend because she had too much homework? Surely it must’ve been a mistake, and Remus couldn’t help but itch his curiosity and double check.

Unfortunately for Sirius, it turned out to be true. “The Map never lies,” Remus had said with a glum expression on his face.

“Why didn’t you come back to the party straightaway?” I’d asked curiously.

“I couldn’t face him, Eleanor,” he had responded, his face glum and tone subdue.

I couldn’t help but believe every word he spoke. I hugged him close to me and we stayed there, holding one another close for Merlin only knows how long before we realized it was freezing outside and there was a good chance we might catch hypothermia.

The days seemed to melt into one another after that. November slowly disintegrated right before my very eyes.

Remus and I made an agreement not to tell Sirius about his girlfriend’s indiscretions until we felt he was ready to know. We were aware that there would be severe consequences when he found out just how long we knew, but it would be worth it; there was no way we were going to crush his spirits around the holiday season.

As much as I hated Lucinda for the predicament she had put me in, I didn’t want Sirius to suffer from heartbreak because of the stupid wench. It was absolutely maddening, to tell you the truth. I felt like I was keeping a terrible secret, which I was, but now that I knew that Remus knew, the burden seemed to lessen. At the same time, it seemed to intensify the guilt as well. I could only imagine how horrible he would react when he found out. My stomach clenched at the thought. Of course, Sirius would be completely justified in his actions, but that didn’t mean I had to like them.

Our schoolwork was finally starting to catch up with us. The professors seemed to think that they weren’t drowning us under ridiculously large piles of homework and so, they assigned us more each and every night. Sometimes I think that they conspired together and attacked us all with outrageous assignments all at once to see who cracked first. (It was a sixth year Ravenclaw, if you must know, and he was in the Hospital Wing for a good two weeks before his anxiety had ebbed away enough for him to step into a classroom without hyperventilating.)

I knew that homework was supposed to be a severely dreadful thing to do, but I couldn’t help enjoying myself in the evenings when we all gathered around a table and did our assignments. Of course, not much work got done within the first hour or so, but once someone (usually Lily) voiced this particular sentiment, we all buckled down, pairing up to do the work. Remus would always sit to my right and Sirius would be at my left, which put me in a rough spot. Remus’s knee would brush against my own underneath the table and sometimes, he would grab my hand and tickle my palm with his long, thin fingers. I would giggle, but unconsciously lean toward Sirius. Our shoulders would brush and we’d lock eyes, simply staring at one another for a few seconds before we’d laugh under our breaths, only to be kicked in the shins by Lily and James.

Thankfully, no one, especially Remus, thought anything of it. At least, that’s what I told myself.

Speaking of Lily and James. . .things between them looked as though they were heating up, so to speak. Much to the surprise of nearly every single inhabitant in the castle, including and certainly not excluding a handful of teaches, they were actually getting along. Quite well, if their occasional hand holding in the corridors was any indication that they had sucked face a fair few times. Lily had told me they were “taking it slow”. If she was on Cloud Nine, there was no describing what planet James was currently residing on. Everywhere he went, there was a spring in his step, a smile on his handsome face, and a greeting to be spoken. Odder yet, he hadn’t cursed, hexed, or jinxed Snape since the start of term.

In between the copious amounts of homework we were given each night, Sirius and I met up to four times a week in the extra classroom to work on our potion, which was going spectacularly. Most of the time, we would concentrated on our potion for about a quarter of an hour before the joking and Ingredient War would begin. Half the time, I would return to the common room with bits of crocodile heart in my hair and frog spawn on my robes, Sirius looking no better than I. No one would question us as they didn’t understand how throwing potions ingredients at one another could be fun.

As much as I loved our potions meetings, I hated them as well. I loved that I was guaranteed a good laugh around Sirius while we worked on our Potions project, but at the same time, I felt guilty that I was subconsciously flirting with Sirius the entire time. I wasn’t going to deny it any longer: I fancied Sirius. And maybe a little more so than I should. I was more than well aware that he had a girlfriend, naturally, but it wasn’t just that. Even though I wasn’t officially going out with Remus yet, I had still snogged him on several different occasions.

I know I didn’t belong to anyone, but I felt like I was betraying Remus for hanging around his best mate so much. But it’s not like I could help it, right? I mean, I wasn’t the one who asked James to persuade Slughorn to switch partners, I wasn’t the one who had asked for Sirius to be my partner - mean, in a way, I did because I hadn’t been paying attention and karma was a right fat cow, but that doesn’t count. I mean, it does because I could’ve told Slughorn “no”, but since I hadn’t been paying any attention to Slughorn, which happened a good lot of the time.

I tried as hard as I could not feel any sort of attraction toward Sirius, but it was easier said than done. Although I had fancied Remus for a while back in fifth year, over the course of sixth year, it had waned until this term when I was hit in the face with a lot of Remus. Not that it was a bad thing or anything, but still. I don’t know whether it was because I liked Remus once before that made Sirius so much more. . .well, what was Sirius? I wasn’t even sure, so why was I trying to confuse myself even more so than I already was?

Because your life is a huge mess of confused obscurity. the Voice chimed in the back of my head tauntingly.

For once, I couldn’t help but agree with the Voice.

X - - X

It was already the second week in December. I was sitting in the middle of Transfiguration, my head lolling to the side and my eyes drooping shut when it happened.

“Oh my Merlin, it’s SNOWING!”

There was a loud chorus of chairs scraping along the cobblestone and a stampede of feet hurrying over to the window to see if the proclamation was true. Professor McGonagall tried to quiet down the class, but once she saw it was a pointless feat, she rolled her eyes and began to furiously mutter under her breath.

Sirius and James rose from their seats and came to join Lily and I at the back of the crowd. We watched in amusement as the class swarmed around the window, pushing and shoving to get the first glimpse at the blurry bits of white as they drifted past the window. The students ‘ohhed’ and ‘ahhed’ as they pressed their faces up to the window panes.

“You’d think they just saw Slughorn doing the conga,” muttered James under his breath, shaking his head to himself, although there was a wide smirk on his face.

We all snickered under our breath and the two dark haired males exchanged glances over our heads.

“Are you thinking what I am thinking, dearest Prongs?” Sirius asked.

“If you are thinking that this calls for a snowball fight, then yes, Sir Padfoot, I am thinking what you are thinking, my good man,” James replied.

Lily shook her head, her emerald eyes wide in protest. “Oh no,” she said, flat out. “I am not participating in a snowball fight.”

“Why not?” the boys cried in unison. I managed an intelligent noise of. . .well, it was just a noise, truth be told.

“Because I’ve seen your snowball fights and they get violent,” she stated, folding her arms over her chest. “And there’s no way I’m getting myself involved in a snowball fight that might get me injured.”

James turned his body towards hers, wrapping a nicely muscled arm around her shoulder so he could nuzzle her neck affectionately. “Don’t worry,“ he whispered loud enough for us to hear, “I’ll protect you.”

I looked at Sirius and mimed gagging, making him snort. We both shook our heads at the open display of affection. Sure, it was sort of cute the way they were all touchy-lovey-dovey but some of the time, like now, they overdid it. And according to Lily, they weren’t even officially dating yet!

As if he had been reading my mind, Sirius joked, “If they’re this bad now, imagine what they’ll be like when they’re married.”

I stared at him, wide eyed and curious, before returning to my seat with the rest of my classmates.

X - - X

 “I‘ve already told you; I‘m not going,” Lily growled through clenched teeth as I pinned her arms to her side.

“Oh, come on, Lily, you’re making this more difficult than it has to be,” Alice huffed in exasperation, trying to tug the green woollen jumped over Lily’s head, which was damn near impossible seeing as how the redhead was constantly thrashing about.

“You don’t even have to participate,” I reasoned breathlessly, having just received a sharp elbow to my stomach. I trod on her toes in retaliation. “You can just sit out on the sidelines and watch as the rest of us get pummelled with snowballs.”

“If I’m just going to sit on the sidelines,” Lily barked, thrashing some more, her dark red hair whipping me in the face, “then why should I even bother getting all dressed in winter clothes?”

Though she did have a good point, I played the meanest card in my hand. “James wants you to go, Lily,” I began, rewrapping my fingers around her upper arms. “Isn’t that enough?”

Almost as though she knew I had played the dirty card on purpose, which I had, she glared at me and huffed in annoyance. “Fine, I’ll get dressed.” We released her and flexed our fingers which were aching from the lack of strength. “But I’m warning you, if so much as one snowball hits me, it’s you that I’m skinning first.” She pointed her finger threatening between Alice and I, but all we did was struggle to contain our laughter.

Seeing as how Alice and I were already bundled up and prepared for our snowball fight, we waited in semi-impatience for Lily to tug on all her clothes. She kept shooting me death glares, but I ignored them, smiling at her in return. Once, she even went as far as flipping me her middle finger, which apparently means something highly offensive to Muggles. Although I don’t see what is so offensive about a middle finger.

Lily reluctantly followed us out the door as we trooped down the stairs. James had instructed us to meet him and the others in the Entrance Hall, where they would be waiting for the Quidditch team to gather. From there, the teams would be divided into two. By the time we had gotten there, I saw all the familiar faces of the Gryffindor Quidditch team along with half of Gryffindor. Apparently, the word had spread that there was going to be a huge snowball fight on the front lawn before dinner, and people had congregated.

Apparently, James and Sirius were always captains and therefore, they got to pick the teams. I took my place beside Remus, who smiled warmly at me in greeting, his arm snaking around my shoulders. I felt comfortable in his arms, but at the same time, part of my body stiffened. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening, but I tried to ignore it to the best of my ability.

I fancy Remus, not Sirius; I fancy Remus, not Sirius; I fancy Remus. . .

“Eleanor!” called out an all too familiar voice.

My eyes widened in shock and I gestured toward myself helplessly. “What? You want me on your team?” I asked James incredulously.

The bespectacled boy nodded enthusiastically, smiling. “’Course I do.”

I glanced at Remus, who offered a simple shrug of his shoulders. He unwound his arm from around my shoulders and I started toward James, wondering if I was walking toward my death. I was surprised, to say the very least, that I was the first person chosen for either side. One would think that James would select Remus first and Sirius would then pick Peter for his team. But alas, the world doesn’t work like we all wish it would and I was the first one chosen.

“You realize that you’re going to lose, right?” I said out of the corner of my mouth as I took my place beside him.

“We’re not going to lose,” James assured me, his voice firm and bright as Sirius called out for Lily.

The redhead shook her head adamantly and threw a pleading look in our direction, but the tall boy shrugged his shoulders and mouthed, “There’s nothing I can do”. She glared at him before turning her hard gaze to me. I pretended to shudder and she whirled around, shoving Sirius with two hands on his chest and going to stand behind him.

Surprisingly, Remus was the last person chosen. One would think that he would take offence to it, but judging by the look on his face, he was okay with it. In fact, he seemed to be, dare I say it, gloating that his two best mates were arguing over him.

“No, I want Remus!” Sirius shouted.

“But it’s my pick, you prat,” James returned. “So therefore, I get him.”

“I don’t understand how you get the first and the last pick,” Peter interjected. “Shouldn’t you get the first pick, James, and Sirius get the last one?”

Both boys stared at Peter for a few seconds, rolled their eyes, and started yelling at each other again.

“All right!” Lily hollered over their pointless bickering. “What if Remus were to be a referee of sorts for the game to make sure that no one cheated?”

They considered it for a second, looking at one another and seemingly having a conversation with their eyes. If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve sworn that they were Legimens. They nodded and shook their heads a few times before coming to a mutual agreement.

“Sounds good,” James said.

Lily smiled brilliantly at James and turned toward Remus. “Good, now how about we switch places, Remus?”

“That’s fine with me,” Remus said, stepping around Lily and joining the ranks of Sirius. Lily came to stand in between the two groups and James was. . .glaring at her?!

“You did that on purpose,” he accused. “Didn’t you?”

“So what if I did,” she replied. She reached up and cupped his cheek in her hand. “If you’re going to force me to do something, you should know that I play dirty.” She winked at him and let her hand fall from his face, upon which was an expression of complete shock.

James and Sirius led their respective teams outside of the castle and across to either end of the lawn. I was halfway tempted to break rank and scurry over to Sirius’s team when Alice grabbed my wrist and hauled me in the right direction. I glanced back at Sirius just as he winked at me, which sent a chill up my spine. I suspected that it had something to do with the cold and not the fact that my toes had started to curl in my boots.

There were at least fifteen students on each team, not including their leaders. So, it was suffice to say that when we crowded all around each other to hear what James had in mind as a game plan, it was a little uncomfortable. Alice was standing to my right and Peter was on my other side; we were squished together and Peter’s elbow was digging into my rib cage uncomfortably. When one of the girls, a Ravenclaw judging by the colours of the scarf wrapped around her neck, complained, James turned his hazel eyes to her and glared.

“If you can’t handle being squished together,” he began dramatically. “There is no way you will be able to survive out there, Emily.” He lowered his head, again dramatically, and sighed. “It’s a harsh battle out there and only the strong survive.” He reached across the tightly knit circle and patted Emily on the shoulder. “It was good knowing you, my dear.”

The girl’s doe eyes grew wide and petrified. She looked like she was having second thoughts about joining the snowball fight that everyone would be talking about for days.

Once he had made sure that no one was going to chicken out on him and head south for the winter, as James had so subtly put it, he told us his plan. “Right, we’re not aiming at the other team,” he explained. “We’re aiming at Lily.”

I punched him in the shoulder. “No, we’re not!”

“I’m the captain and I say we are,” he replied.

“Well then, I’m joining the other team.”

James and Peter gasped in unison, shouting, “Traitor!”

Alice rolled her eyes. “Look, you all are being seriously immature about this. We’re hitting the other team heavy, all right?” She looked around the circle and when James opened his mouth to protest, she sent him a dark glare that was very uncharacteristic of Alice. “Look, you’re wanting to throw snowballs at your girlfriend-,”

“She’s not his girlfriend yet,” I reminded her, looking pointedly at James. “Although a little birdie told me that she would love to be.”

“Oh, shut up!” James cried shrilly. “And no, Alice, you’re not commanding the team; I am. So, here is how it’s going to work: Lucas, you take Emily and Ryan to the eastern flank. Bryce, you, Hector and Rosaline are going to cover the western flank. Caradoc and Henry, you guys just go your funny business and weave in and out of everyone, throwing as hard and as much as you possibly can. Peter, Ellie, and Alice? You’ll be with me and attack the other team when I give the go ahead.” He looked around the circle, which was now more tightly packed than before, and eyed us. “Are there any questions?”

Emily raised her hand.

“What?” James asked impatiently.

“Has the game started yet?” she questioned meekly.

“No. Why?”

“Because they’re already hurling snowballs at us!”

Right after she had finished her sentence, a snowball hit Peter in the back of the head. We all stood up from our crouched positions and whirled around to see that half of Sirius’s team was on the line magically drawn that was separating the two sides of the field. They were hurling snowballs at us and, as quick as whip, James placed a Shield Charm over all of us.

“Cheaters!” Alice called over her shoulder as we all began to back out of the circle and hurry toward our designated spots.

I crouched down behind a snow covered rock that had been conveniently placed on our side beside Peter, who had his wand gripped tightly in his hand.

“Hey!” Lily called from her spot on a ledge. “That’s cheating, Black! The game hasn’t even started yet!”

From where I was crouched, I could hear Sirius’s laughter and found myself struggling to hold back a giggle. What could I say? His laughter was infectious. “Haven’t you heard, Evans?” he shouted in return. “All is fair in love and war?”

“That has nothing to do with it!” Lily hollered and I could practically hear her rolling her eyes. “The only rule is that no magic can be used to conjure up snowballs. Other than that, magic can be used to build forts, to conjure shields, and repel attacks. Is that clear?”

There was a loud, collective shout of understanding and once she made sure that no one was on the wrong side, she shouted, “Game on!”

That was when the first legal snowball hit. Although she had been complaining earlier, Emily took the hit to the face like a champion and hurled her own over to the other team. Peter and I nodded at one another as we hurriedly started moulding snowballs in our gloved hands. He lobbed two over our protective spot behind the rock before I even had a chance to make one.

“You’re good at this!” I complimented as I peeked out from behind my spot and threw the ball of snow as hard as I possibly could at Remus. It hit him in the stomach and I pumped my fist in the air.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Peter said, laughing as his snowball smacked some Hufflepuff in the neck and knocked him over. We both winced at the same time.

“I can tell,” I chortled, throwing another snowball.

From his position next to Alice, James called out to me and when I met his gaze, he beckoned me over. In a mad dash, I ran across the field, my head hidden by my arms. At least seven snowballs hit me as I scurried over to James and Alice.

“Is it almost time for the attack?” I asked anxiously.

“No,” Alice answered. “But we figured we could use you over here; Peter’s got himself covered.”

“He’s a master at the snowball business,” James said. “Which is why I picked him right after you.”

I nodded my head and started to pack more snowballs.

Fifteen minutes later, we were losing people fast. They were either running for cover like chickens with their heads cut off or they were being taken captive by the other team. Alice was one of the first people we had lost and all because she hurried toward the line to save the Gryffindor Seeker, Ryan. James had sworn colourfully under his breath as he cast a look around our side and saw that we only had four people left: Peter, myself, himself, and much to everyone’s surprise, Emily, who was throwing and hitting more targets than everyone else combined.

“What are we going to do?” I asked, my voice frantic as I dodged a snowball thrown at me by none other than Sirius Black. I stuck my tongue out at him and hurled a snowball in his direction, which of course, narrowly missed him. He and Remus slapped hands together and did some sort of dance, which would’ve been amusing if I wasn’t freezing my bum off and losing the game.

“We have no other choice,” Emily said. “We have to attack them and regain our prisoners! There’s no other way!”

“We can’t all go at once,” Peter reasoned as he shoved Emily out of the way of an oncoming ball of packed snow and ice. “Otherwise we’d lose for sure.”

“So that means one of us has got to go,” James stated, casting a look about the circle.

No one spoke for a few seconds. We had our backs to the other team and, since they were such gentlemen, James and Peter had taken the outer rim and were getting hit with all the snowballs. I licked my lips anxiously before nodding to myself. I could do this. This could be my moment.

“I’ll go,” I said, my voice a great deal stronger than it had been moments ago.

“Are you mad?” Peter cried. “You’re the weakest link in our chain!” When I scoffed, he sent me an apologetic look. “It’s harsh, but true.”

“Which is why they would never suspect me to go forward and attack,” I argued. “Look, all you’ve got to do is provide a distraction, which I know you’re good at,” I said, grinning up at James, who smiled widely back. “And I’ll dart across to get everyone else. I mean, all I’ve got to do is break through their defensive line to the prisoners’ camp. How hard can that be?”

The glance that was exchanged around the circle told me that they thought I wasn’t good enough for the job. I sighed and shook my head. “Regardless of what you guys say, I’m going.”

James patted me on the shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “You’re a brave soldier, Ellie.”

“Good luck,” Emily whispered as I crept away from the circle.

We all fanned out and I took my position to the left, slightly in front of everyone else. With a great cry, James stuck his arm up in the air and they began to hurtled snowballs at the opposing team, I would’ve thought they were using magic. Sirius’s team seemed to notice the extra artillery that was being used against them and I took their distraction as my chance.

I ran as fast as my legs would carry me through the shin deep snow, nearly tripping several times. Miraculously, I managed to catch myself each and every time and somehow, made my way across enemy lines. However, much to my dismay, Conner, a boy from Hufflepuff, had noticed.

“Oy! She’s trying to get the prisoners!” he shouted over all the mayhem.

I froze where I was, like a deer in the headlights, and gave a small whimper. Everyone turned their bodies toward me and started to lob snowballs in my direction. With a loud shriek, I hurried toward the prisoner line, where Alice had her arm outstretched to me. If I could only tag her hand, all our captives would be able to go back to our side peacefully. Her fingers were mere centimetres away from mine when I was tackled to the ground.

“NOOOOOOO!” Alice shrieked loudly.

I struggle to flip over onto my back and, when I did, I found that Sirius Black was straddling me, his knees on either side of my hips, and he was holding his fists in the air victoriously.

“Get off me!” I roared loudly, placing both of my hands on his chest and shoving. But of course, he didn’t budge.

In fact, he looked down at me and smirked widely. “I don’t think so, Cupcake,” he made fish lips at me before shoving a handful of snow down my robes. I shrieked and struggled against him, but this only made Sirius laugh even more.

The war was waging around us, but all I could think of was the fact that Sirius Black was sitting on top of me. Sure, he had just thrown snow down my robes and I was shivering like a mad woman, yet a pleasant warmth had built in my stomach and was currently spreading throughout the rest of my body. I tried not to focus on it as much, but it proved to be a difficult feat.

When his fingers brushed against my side, I squirmed. Have I ever told you that I’m devilishly ticklish?

“What’s this?” Sirius mused out loud. His fingers danced along my sides again and I emitted a small squeak of protest, my entire body going into a convulsion.

“Sirius, please!” I begged. “You can take me prisoner. But please don’t-” My words were lost as he began to tickle me. I wriggled about underneath him, screaming and pouting and begging for him to stop tickling me. On a side note, I should tell you that with each jerky movement, my entire being flushed brilliantly. Thank Merlin it was so cold outside!

“Say it!” he commanded laughingly.

“Say what?” I managed to get out, my voice rough.

“Mercy!”

With a squeal and another wriggle, I cried, “Mercy! Mercy!”

Thankfully, he stopped tickling me. For some reason, we were both panting while we stared at each other. Much to my surprise, and secret delight, Sirius dragged his tongue along his lips as I tried to wiggle out from underneath him. His hands grasped my wrists and he attempted to pin them over my head, but I fought against him. And somehow, I managed to flip us over. Now I was straddling him, my knees on either side of his narrow hips.

“What the-,”

But his words were muffled by the alarming amount of snow I managed to scoop up and dump on his face. I laughed triumphantly and stood up, reaching over to Alice and tagging her hand. She and the rest of the wrongfully imprisoned team gave a cry of victory and hurried over to our side of the line. I, unfortunately having been touched by the enemy, was forced to stay on the other side.

I held out a hand for Sirius and helped him to his feet. Snow clung to his dark hair and his long eyelashes, which I envied. I had short eyelashes myself. We stared at each other for another long moment before laughing loudly. He grabbed me by the upper arms and frog marched me backward into the holding pin.

“So much for revenge, huh?” he quipped as he packed a snowball.

I didn’t say anything. To me, it was worth it.

Chapter 26: Home Is Where The Heart Is
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“You swear to Merlin that you’ll owl me before Christmas Eve?”

I stared at Lily for a few seconds, wondering if it was natural for her to be this perky. Of course, she had been incredibly happy and bouncy since James had asked her to come to his house for Christmas Day so he could introduce her to his parents. She had been over the moon about it and had come rushing back to the dormitory, squealing at the top of her lungs before launching into a hurried explanation of what had transpired. Alice and I were so confused, we waited until she came back from the Owlery so she could properly tell us what happened.

However, I couldn’t help but smile. “Of course,” I said, nodding my head softly.

“Promise?” She held out her pinkie finger and wiggled it.

Rolling my eyes good-naturedly, I hooked my own pinkie finger around hers. “I promise.”

Lily grinned, dropping my hand, and hugged me tightly. “Take care, Eleanor,” she spoke into my ear.

I returned the hug eagerly and gave her a small pat on the back. “You too, Lily.” We pulled back from the friendly embrace and looked at each other, grinning. I narrowed my eyes slightly and said, “Now, no shenanigans.”

She laughed, a warm, pleasant sound. Her mouth opened and she had been about to speak, but over her shoulder, her parents were anxiously awaiting their daughter’s greetings by her trolley, which she had pushed over to them only to come running back to her mates to say goodbye to.

“Well, I’ve got to go,” she said, the side of her mouth quirking downward into a partial frown.

“I’ll see if my aunt will let me come over, yeah?”

The would-be frown vanished and she bobbed her head enthusiastically. “All right! Just promise that you’ll owl me!” She had started to walk away and was shouting so that I could hear her over all the commotion on the platform. “Happy Christmas!”

I waved. “Happy Christmas!” I shouted back.

Lily had been the last of my friends to leave for her family members. Everyone else had left rather quickly, but not without proper goodbyes. I had gotten tight hugs and had promised each and every single one of them that I would owl them. I would have to get over my aversion to owls, particularly Leonidias, but I could do that for my mates.

Alice had been the first to depart, having caught sight of Frank Longbottom off in the distance. With a shriek, she had run toward her lover, jumping into his arms and planting kisses on his face. It was a happy sight to behold, especially in such dark times.

Peter had patted me on the shoulder, told me to have a Happy Christmas, and went waddling over to his mother, a foul looking woman who had a permanent scorn on her face. When he reached the forbidding looking woman, she glared over in our general direction and immediately began to scold her son. I couldn’t help but thinking, Poor Peter.

James had wrapped me up in a tight hug, swinging me around in the process before he set me down and bopped me on the head, ordering me that I had to show up to his parents’ annual New Years’ Eve party or else. I hadn’t asked what the “or else” bit meant, but the look in his hazel eyes was suggestive enough. And no I don’t mean like that. I just knew that I would be in for trouble if I didn’t attend that party.

Sirius had left with James since his family had left without him. Like James, he had swept me up into a hug, but my heart hadn’t thrummed so powerfully when James embraced me. Whispering a softest of “Happy Christmas” in my ear, his lips brushing against the side of my face and earlobe, he released me, playfully ruffled my hair, and hurried after James. I couldn’t help but notice the tiniest hint of sadness in his endless grey eyes.

Remus had waited until I had said goodbye to all that others before saying his own goodbye. He had kissed me somewhat unexpectedly on the lips, right in the middle of the platform. Though I did enjoy the feel of his warm lips against mine, I pulled back quickly, feeling a little more than slightly awkward and guilty. I muttered an apology, claiming that Aunt Eliza would murder me if she saw me snogging him in public. Truth be told, she would praise me, patting me on the back like a father would do to his son and then ask if I wanted to get an ale at the pub. Remus just smiled, hugging me close to his body, and kissed my forehead, informing me that he would owl me whenever he had a free moment and to have a Happy Christmas.

Now I was standing on the platform, surrounded by hundreds of families exchanging loud welcoming hugs and kisses. It was a little awkward, truth be told, but I didn’t mind it. I pulled my cloak closer to my body, shivering. I knew I should’ve warn my travelling cloak as well!

I pushed my way through the crowd, my trunk trailing behind me, and found a bench to sit upon as I waited for Aunt Eliza. I wasn’t mad that she wasn’t here yet. In fact, I was expecting her to be late. The only time she had actually been on time to pick me up from the station was at the end of my first year. She had rushed at me, scooping me up in her arms and clinging to me tightly. I had never seen her blubber so much at one point in time.

A cold, bitter wind swept through the emptying platform, stirring my cloak around my ankles. Biting my cheek, I tried to stop my teeth from clicking together. It honestly wasn’t that cold, but my body tended to overreact in extreme weather conditions. I tucked my arms against my side and scanned the platform. If it hadn’t been for the ridiculous hat she was wearing, I doubted I would’ve spotted her.

Scrambling to untangle myself from the mess I had made of my cloak in an attempt to block out the cold, I rose to my feet, pushing myself up on my tiptoes so she could see me. When she finally did spot me, I could hear her excited yelp all the way across the platform. She began to shove her way through the departing families, apologizing to them if she pushed too roughly. In return, they all gave her odd looks. It was rude, to say the very least, but if she wasn’t my aunt and I didn’t know that she regularly dressed in odd clothes, I probably would’ve stared at her funnily, too.

I mean, it wasn’t every day that a woman who was nearing fifty wore a peach coloured bowler hat with a blue robin perched on the brim, a set of violently orange and lime green striped robes that had random flowers of vibrant pink and purple on the print with ruby red shoes that glittered somewhat obnoxiously beneath her sweeping robes. Not to mention the many necklaces cluttered with silver charms and all sorts of odds and end that were draped around her neck.

“Ella!” she cried once she had managed to fight her way through the sea of bodies. She held out her arms for me and, like a small child, I rushed into them. A whoosh of air escaped her as I collided with her body, her arms immediately circling around my waist tightly.

“Oh,” she chuckled, kissing the top of my head. “I’ve missed you so much, my dear.”

I choked back a happy sob. “I’ve missed you, too,” I said, a hot salty tear escaping my eye.

With a final squeeze, Aunt Eliza pulled back from our warm embrace, her hands gripping either of my elbows.

“You’ve cut your hair,” she commented, removing one of her hands to wipe away the tears on my face. She, too, had tears of happiness leaking slowly out of her eyes.

“Gum got stuck in it,” I replied.

She laughed, a sound that made me want to throw my arms around her again. I loved the sound of her warm, heartfelt laugh. When she laughed, it felt like there was hope in the world, that everything had not gone to pot just yet.

“You would get gum in your hair,” she said, shaking her head to herself in amusement.

“Who said that I got the gum in my hair?” I asked teasingly, trying and failing to raise a brow at her.

Reaching up, she swatted me on the back of the head before stroking my dark locks of hair. “I like it,” she stated, nodding in approval. “It suits you much better than that long mop you called hair.”

My eyes widened slightly. “But you always told me that my hair looked good long!”

“Well, that was only because I didn’t want my opinion to influence your own personal style,” she returned in a tone of voice that suggested that it blatantly obvious.

I threw my arms up into the air, a look of feigned annoyance flashing across my face. “You tell me this now!”

Aunt Eliza laughed again. “Oh hush up,” she ordered lightly. Wordless, she flicked her wand at my trunk and it soared onto the bed of the trolley.

I saluted her. “Yes, ma’am.”

Aunt Eliza sighed softly, her arm coming around my shoulders. As we walked, I pushed the trolley and she leaned against me, her temple pressing against mine, her outrageous hat nearly falling off her head of flyaway strawberry blonde hair.

“It’s so good to have you home, Ella,” she said softly. “Even if it is only until the beginning of January.”

I grabbed her hand, giving it a tight, affectionate squeeze. “It’s good to be back, Aunt Eliza.”

X - - X

With a loud pop, we Apparated straight into our backyard, which wasn’t much, but still humble and well kept by my energetic aunt.

“Don’t you just love the feeling Apparation gives you?” Aunt Eliza giggled, her cheeks tinged pink.

She had always enjoyed Apparation for some strange reason that is beyond my comprehension. I, on the other hand, hated it. I nearly failed the test when I took it just days after my seventeenth birthday back in June. It wasn’t because I hadn’t appeared in the right location; I had fainted upon arrival. Which was rather embarrassing, if I do say so myself.

Since I disliked Apparation so much, I was currently sitting on top of my trunk with my head between my knees, trying to think of anything aside from the feeling of being squeezed through a tiny little tube, which was a lot harder than it sounded.

“Hmm,” Aunt Eliza mused out loud. “I guess not.”

She unlocked the back door and started making odd kissing sounds. My interest piqued, I picked up my head just in time to see a mass of white and grey fur bounding toward me. Before I was able to move, a pair of monstrous paws were placed upon my chest with a surprising amount of force and I was knocked backward off my trunk, heels over head, onto the ground.

When my back connected with the ground, all the air that had been in my lungs left with a quick whoosh. I wasn’t left much reaction time as a wet tongue started lapping at my face, licking ever available space. I tried to pull my head away, but every time I moved, I could only grunt in pain.

“Ouch!” I squeaked, swatting at the weight on my chest, but missing my target every time.

Heeled shoes clicked against the pavement and the beast was wrenched off me. “Sorry, dear,” she said hurriedly. “Leo’s water bowl needed to be refilled.”

Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I pushed myself up into a sitting position, a little more than slightly disgruntled. “Rufus, I take it?” I said, gesturing toward the dog at her heels, the collar of which was grasped firmly in her hand.

“You don’t remember him?” Aunt Eliza gasped as if I had just said the wrong thing. Which, judging by the look on her face, I had.

I shook my head slowly. “No, I can’t say that I do.”

“Ella!” she squealed. “This is Rufus! The dog you kept feeding over the summer, even though I told you not to? The one I told you about in my letter?”

I struggled to my feet, straightening my robes as I did so. “No, that’s not Rufus,” I said, pointing to the English Sheep Dog sitting right beside her. “Well, it is,” I corrected. “But it’s not my Rufus.”

Her brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“That’s not the dog I was feeding over the summer,” I reiterated.

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not.”

“Is too.”

“Is not - oh, what’s the use?” I cried, throwing my hands up in the air in exasperation. “Aunt Eliza, that is not the dog I kept feeding. The one I fed was big and black and did not look like that - that - thing!”

“Are you sure?” Aunt Eliza asked, raising one eyebrow. Urgh! Did everyone except me know how to do that? Was I born with some sort of genetic birth defect: the inability to raise a singular eyebrow in order to appear cool and intimidating and, in some cases, incredibly sexy and spy like.

“Absolutely positive,” I replied. Cocking my head to the side slightly, I held out my hand cautiously for Rufus to sniff. “Although,” I began as he lightly licked my hand with a long pink tongue. “He is sort of cute.”

A smile brighter than the sun and wider than the Pacific Ocean lit up her face. “Isn’t he just?” She bent down next to Rufus, taking his massive head between her hands and placing a kiss on top of it. “He thinks you are very pretty, too.” She looked into the dog’s eyes and laughed. “And he agrees with me: your short hair is much better on you.”

I chuckled softly, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. Most people would have raised their brows at such oddity, but I was used to it by now. Truth be told, if Aunt Eliza acted like she couldn’t talk to animals, namely dogs and owls, and didn’t wear obnoxious clothing, then and only then would I ever consider rushing her to St. Mungo’s for a check up.

“Can we go inside now?” I asked, folding my arms against the cold. “It’s freezing out here.”

Aunt Eliza smiled at me again and flicked her wand at my trunk, making it zoom into the kitchen through the back door, which was still hanging wide open. Gesturing for her to go up the stairs first, I followed behind her, nearly tripping over Rufus as he stopped abruptly to spin around and lick my hand. I closed the door behind me, subconsciously sliding the lock into place. It was an old habit of mine that I had supposedly picked up from my dad.

“Why don’t you go upstairs and get settled in while I fix us something to eat?” Aunt Eliza suggested kindly, her bright blue orbs twinkling. “I’m sure you must be starving.”

As if on cue, my stomach gave a loud groan of hunger. We both giggled and I grabbed my trunk by the handle, physically hauling it up the stairs like I used to before I had turned seventeen. Even if I could use magic to get my trunk upstairs, it was nice to stick to some sort of tradition. And if that included lugging my trunk up a flight of stairs and nearly breaking my back doing so, then I was more than willing to do it.

It was a struggle, to say the very least. I huffed and puffed as I tugged and pushed the heavy trunk up the stairs. It wouldn’t have been so heavy if I hadn’t been forced to take home almost all of my text books so I could complete the homework given to us over the holiday break. Professors Binns and McGonagall had gone surprisingly easy on their students while instructors like Slughorn and Gilbert had laden us with work.

Though I hated stairs, I loved our house. The house I had lived in which Aunt Eliza for the past eight years; we had moved into the modest house just two weeks after my dad’s death. There might have been too many pieces of mismatched furniture littering the rooms of the house and all sorts of strange odds and ends taking up space on the shelves, but that is what made it our home. It certainly wasn’t a palace, but who wanted to live in a cold, dank palace when they could have a nice, warm, and comforting home that was just a little too cramped?

Finally, with a great grunt and a mighty heave, I managed to get my trunk over the last step and onto the flat ground of the upper level. A thin sheen of sweat had collected at my hairline. I wiped it away with the back of my sleeve and used my feet to kick my trunk into my bedroom. Twisting the doorknob, I pushed the door open, smiling softly to myself when the door creaked on the hinges.

My room looked exactly how I had left it nearly five months ago. Although, I noted, my bed was actually made and there were not clothes strewn all over the floor. The soft purple walls were just that: still soft purple. I was surprised, to say the very least, considering that Aunt Eliza oftentimes took on home improvement projects to pass the time while I was away at school. Ninety percent of the time, when I came home from Hogwarts my room was painted a completely different colour and the decorations weren’t the same. I didn’t mind it. Quite the contrary, I liked it coming home to see a new coating of paint on my walls and new décor: it broke the monotony that threatened to form if I were to keep it the same colour.

Aside from the colour of my walls, the things that were plastered to them were the same as well. The few posters that I had were still the same, unmoving and featuring the names of some of the Muggle bands that I had been raised on. Like me, Aunt Eliza was a half-blood witch and had grown up in a strictly Muggle area. She had even been raised a Muggle as her father was scared that if either of his daughters were aware of their magical abilities - which they had inherited from him - that they would go blabbing about it. I couldn’t blame my grandfather; if my mother and Aunt Eliza were my daughters, I certainly wouldn’t have let them know. Anyway, to make a long story short, since she was raised in a Muggle environment, she tried to stick to it as much as possible so I would be well versed in both worlds.

Needless to say, I thought that Muggle music was much better than the crap they played on WWN.

Having kicked my trunk into my room, I removed my cloak and shoes, tossing them onto the floor like I always did when I first came home. I changed into much more comfortable clothing, opting for a pair of trousers and my Puddlemere United jumper; I knew that would make Aunt Eliza happy to see. Seeing that my room was just a little bit dusty, I flicked my wand and all the surfaces were cleaned.

Merlin, it was nice to be able to use magic to clean things.

I flopped down onto my bed like they do in the movies. A sigh escaped me as I pulled my pillow down from the top of my bed and tucked it underneath my head. Yes, these pillows were much better than the ones at Hogwarts because they smelt like the house. Which reminded me of Aunt Eliza. My mattress was much bigger than the one I slept in every night at Hogwarts: it was a queen size and that was a good thing, considering I moved around a lot in my sleep.

The mattress dipped slightly as Rufus jumped onto my bed. I narrowly dodged his massive paws, which nearly clobbered all over me as he searched for a place to rest. He settled from right beside me, his warm, shaggy body curling up against my frame. Despite the fact that my bed was bound to be covered with his hair, I couldn’t help but rub the top of his head affectionately. And yes, I did end up resorting to baby talk. Rufus licked my face with more exuberance than any dog I had ever seen, not to mention with the worst smelling breath possible. I literally had to hold a hand over my nose as I attempted to bat his massive head away from my face.

Nothing worked, obviously, but once he saw that I didn’t fancy having my skin licked off my bones, Rufus settled his heavy head on my stomach. In turn, I settled for petting his head with my fingers, scratching behind his floppy ears and massaging circles into the crown of his head. He would make a noise of satisfaction every few minutes while I had to pretend someone was massaging my feet. Dogs always got the luxury treatment, didn’t they?

Even though my mind was a complicated mess of feelings I shouldn’t be experiencing and thoughts that I should’ve already been absolutely positive about, I somehow managed to let go off everything and just lay on my comfortable bed, stroking the new family dog, and relaxing. Tucking an arm behind my head, I closed my eyes.

It wasn’t until Aunt Eliza was tickling the bottom of my foot that I realized that I had dozed off. I jerked away suddenly, squeaking as she tickled me. I sat up, rubbing the tingly feeling of sleep from my eyes. I blinked at her. “What?”

“It’s time to get up, sleepyhead,” she said gently, smiling down at me. “Dinner is ready.” She moved to tickle my foot again, but I nudged her arm out of the way before she could. As you know, I hated being tickled, and Aunt Eliza was a merciless tickler.

My stomach lurched happily and I hauled myself to my feet, swaying to the left as Rufus knocked into me with his massive form. Glaring down at him, I stumbled down the stairs after him, the smells wafting from the kitchen making my toes curl happily.

“What’s on the menu?” I asked as I took a seat at the table.

“Onion soup and cheese sandwiches,” Aunt Eliza replied from her position at the stove, where she was ladling hot, steaming onion soup into two separate bowls. The sandwiches were already out on the table, looking absolutely delicious in their simplicity.

“Sounds good, looks good,” I said, smiling as I picked up a sandwich and placed it on the plate in front of me. “Can’t wait to eat. I’m a bit thirsty, though. What do we have to drink? Anything good?”

“There’s some fresh squeezed lemonade in the icebox if you would like some,” she answered.

But she was barely halfway through her sentence before I was out of my seat and rummaging through the cabinets for a glass. I practically tore the door off the hinges and lunged at the pitcher when I saw it standing on the shelf. I tipped a generous helping of it into my glass and slid back over to the table, taking my seat once again.

I gulped down a large mouthful and sighed happily. “This is heaven!” I moaned.

Aunt Eliza laughed. “It’s only lemonade.”

“You don’t understand, Aunt Eliza,” I said dramatically. “They don’t have lemonade at Hogwarts, at least not to my knowledge they don’t. Therefore, I’m milking this for all it’s worth - and don’t you go ruining it either.”

She chuckled again, shaking her head to herself as she pivoted and carefully walked toward the table. She set a bowl down in front of me and helped herself to some lemonade as well. Picking up my spoon, I slurped some soup into my mouth, only to regret swallowing it an instant later. I fanned my face with my hands, making a helpless face at Aunt Eliza.

“Oh, don’t give me that look,” she giggled. “You should’ve known that it was going to be hot. It is issuing steam, after all.”

Quickly swallowing my mouthful of burning hot soup, I coughed into my fist. “You could’ve warned me first!”

Aunt Eliza shook her head to herself, chuckling in her humbling manner. “Silly Ellie. Why don’t you eat a cheese sandwich before you can burn your mouth with anymore soup.”

I glared at her as I roughly bit into my sandwich, chewing it up roughly. Aunt Eliza reached over the table and patted me soothingly on the head with one of her bejewelled hands. I resisted the urge to bat her hand away, knowing that she was doing it as a way to apologize for taking the mickey out of me, although she should’ve known that I was only pretending to be upset. I mean, it was just a mouthful of hot soup, after all. It’s not like I had swallowed drain cleaner or anything.

We ate in a companionable silence for a good stretch of time, just like we always did whenever we ate a meal together in the kitchen. We both felt that there was no need for chatter if we were both stuffing our faces with food. That was one of the things that I loved about Aunt Eliza. She never forced conversation upon anyone if she saw that they didn’t really feel like talking - at least that’s how she was with me. I had seen her chatting with complete strangers who looked as though they wanted nothing to do with whatever it was that she was talking about. Not that she cared, of course.

I was scraping my spoon against the bottom of the bowl to get the remainder of the delicious onion soup from the bottom of my bowl when Aunt Eliza began to speak.

“So, I’m assuming those people on the platform were your friends?”

I was startled by her sudden words, slopping the remainder of my soup down my front. I sighed in annoyance at myself, reaching out and grabbing a napkin from the holder on the table. As I swiped at the liquid, which was still mildly hot, I nodded my head. “Yeah, those were my friends. Why do you ask?”

“Oh,” Aunt Eliza said. “No reason. I’m just glad that you’re finally making friends.” She cleared the dishes off the table with a flick of her wand and walked with them over toward the sink.

“I’ve always had friends, Aunt Eliza,” I replied, somewhat offended by her implication as I gathered the sandwich plate and our glasses up in my arms.

Manually turning on the faucet, she put the stopper in the sink, adding soap to the filling basin. “Oh, I know,” she remarked offhandedly as I came to stand next to her. I set the dishes in my arm down on the counter. “It’s just that I rarely get to see them with you is all.”

Pushing my sleeves up to my elbows, I said, “That’s because we always say goodbye to each other in our compartment.”

“Oh,” Aunt Eliza said. “I get it.” She chuckled and began to soap up a dish. “Well, regardless of what you did with your other friends in the past, I’m glad that you’re getting along so well with them. They all seemed very nice.”

I smiled to myself as she passed me a dish. I ran it underneath the cool stream of water, rinsing off the suds. “That’s because they are,” I responded fondly. “They’re all so wonderful; I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better set of friends, Aunt Eliza.”

“That’s great, Ella,” she commented, nudging me in the side with her elbow affectionately. “I’ll have to meet them all.” A gasp left her mouth and I knew that it couldn’t be good. Whenever Aunt Eliza gasped, it meant only one thing: she had an idea. And when she had an idea, usually bad things ended up happening.

“What?” I groaned as I rinsed off another dish.

“You should have them over for dinner!”

Immediately, I shook my head. “No.”

Her face fell. “Why not?”

“They’re all busy with their families, Aunt Eliza,” I said automatically. “James, Lily, Alice, and Peter are going on vacation with their families and I know that Remus rarely sees his father, even during the summer, so I’m willing to bet that he wants to spend as much time as possible with them. And Sirius. . ., “ I trailed off, not sure what I should say about him. Muttering his name made my heart skip a beat and my stomach flutter. I know, I’m being ridiculous, but it did.

“Oh,” Aunt Eliza began. “I understand. Well, it’s only natural that they would be busy with their families. Although,” she added as she handed me another dish to clean. “You never said what that Sirius bloke is doing. Which one was he - by the way?”

Before I could help myself, I sighed somewhat dreamily and began to spill my guts. “He’s the extremely handsome one with the dark, shaggy hair and beautiful grey eyes. You know, the one standing next to the really tall fellow with dark black hair and glasses?”

“Oh, that one,” she mused out loud. “The one that you were staring after as he walked away?”

I nodded. “Yeah, the one I was staring after -,” I stopped suddenly and glared at her. “Hey! That’s unfair of you!”

She laughed. “I’m just teasing, Ella.” Wiping her hands on her slacks, she added, “He was very handsome, though. I mean, if I wasn’t so old, I would -,”

“Eliza!” I interrupted. “Please, I don’t need to hear what you would do to him. I have to hear about it all the from the other girls at school.”

“So he’s one of those boys, is he?” she assumed. “One that uses girls shamelessly -,”

“No,” I interrupted again, shaking my head adamantly. “No, he’s not like that at all, Aunt Eliza. He is really sweet - and he has a girlfriend, anyway. They’ve been going together for nearly two years, I think. I’m not entirely sure though.” I set the dish I had been drying down on the towel beside me and pondered for a bit. “Why do you want to know about him anyway?”

She shrugged her shoulders, a smirk threatening to upturn her lips. “No reason, just curious about your friends, is all,” she answered. We continued to wash and dry the dinner dishes in silence before she asked, “Would you fancy a trip to Diagon Alley tomorrow? I have a few more presents left to buy from some friends. Besides, you haven’t been since school’s started.”

I smiled widely at her. “Yeah, I’d like that a lot.”

Chapter 27: We've Got A Big Mess on Our Hands
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When I woke up the next morning, it took me a few moments to get my bearings. As soon as I took my first breath of air, my senses were overwhelmed with one of the best smells in the entire world: home. I laid in bed for a long while, the patchwork quilt I’d had since I was six years old pulled up to my chin and eyes glued to the slanted ceiling above me. Out of curiosity, I glanced at the gold clock that you see in all those Muggle films on my bedside table and groaned. It was only nine in the morning, it was early enough for me to go back to sleep and I was tired enough to do just that.

Snuggling down deeper into my comfortable bed, I turned over onto my side and immediately flipped back over. Rufus was lying on the other side of the mattress, his hairy body stretched out as though he were a human being. I wouldn’t have minded it so much if his breath didn’t smell so vile and if there wasn’t drool on my favourite pillow case. Unfortunately, it looked like he was waking up from his deep slumber.

The mattress moved around underneath me and soon, Rufus was looming above my head, his pink tongue hanging sideways out of his mouth and horrific breath clogging my nostrils. I gagged, moving to push his head away, but the dog dodged my hand with the expertise of a boxer. Stupid, adorable mutt.

Narrowing my eyes at his cocked head, I groaned, “Go away, Rufus; go bother Aunt Eliza.”

Instead of listening to me, his tongue started to lap at every available space on my face. I made a noise of protest, trying my hardest to swat him away, but Rufus remained where he was, licking my face as though it was going out of style.

“Rufus!” I exclaimed, my annoyance peeking. His ears pricked up and he nudged my shoulder before turning his head toward my open bedroom door. . .funny, I always shut my bedroom door when I went to sleep; it was a pet peeve of mine.

I sent him a questioning look and he moved his huge head back and forth, gesturing from me to the door. My eyebrows probably disappeared into my hairline, that’s how surprised I was. Scooting into a sitting position, I stared at Rufus. “Are you trying to tell me something?” I asked cautiously.

Rufus barked softly and I swear to Merlin, he nodded his head. I bit back a startled gasp, wondering if Rufus was really an Animagus that just so happened to be my aunt’s lover that she was hiding from magical authorities. Although I wasn’t entirely sure why he would be hanging out in my room if he was Eliza’s lover. . .oh vey, this was getting ridiculous.

Rolling my eyes to myself, I flopped back down onto my bed. “Whatever, I’m going back to bed,” I said, fluffing up my pillows and snuggling back down.

I felt Rufus’s snout nudging my lower back and I squirmed. Damn, I hated being so ticklish. It was one of the worst traits to possess, I tell you. I tried my hardest to ignore his constant licks of my face and his occasional growl of discontent as I wouldn’t abide to what he was suggesting. But after fifteen minutes of unsuccessful attempts to fall back asleep, I sat up and tossed the blankets aside.

“All right, all right!” I exclaimed, harassed. “I’m up!” I stood up to emphasize my point, staring down at Rufus, who was laying on my bed with his huge head on his extremely hairy paws. He barked in what I assumed was triumphant and pushed himself into a sitting position. “Are you happy now?” I asked. His ears perked up and once again, he cocked his head to the side, his thick pink tongue hanging out of his mouth as he panted. “Urgh!” I ground out, throwing my hands up in the air. “Why the bloody hell am I explaining myself to a dog?!”

Wrenching open my bedroom door, I stomped down the hall and into the bathroom, shutting the door behind me before Rufus could follow me in. I swear, that dog had become my stalker in a matter of minutes. Aunt Eliza claimed that he had just taken a liking to me since I was a kind, caring spirit, but something told me he knew about the stash of biscuits I had in my sock drawer and was just waiting until my back was turned to get them. You know that old saying: keep your friends close, but your enemies closer? That’s what Rufus was doing to me.

I finished cleaning up as quickly as possible, all but sprinting to my room so that Rufus couldn’t slither in before I had a chance to shut the door. As soon as I did, I went straight for my wardrobe.

Outside of my bedroom door, I could hear Rufus scratching at the wood pitifully. If he hadn’t have woken me up so early, I would’ve left him in. Although I have to admit, I know he’s just a dog, but he’s a male dog and it would still be creepy if he watched me get pick out all my clothes and get dressed. You know what I mean? All right, so maybe not, but still, I was paranoid about that sort of thing if you couldn’t already tell.

With a soft sigh, I picked out an outfit that would be comfortable, yet looked somewhat presentable. It wasn’t very often that I got to go to Diagon Alley and even though it was just a marketplace, I felt the need to dress a little bit nicer than flannel pajama bottoms and stained tee shirts. I would have worn my Puddlemere United jumper, but I had worn it to sleep and it reeked of dog. Thanks, Rufus, yet another thing you’ve done for me that I appreciate. In the end, I selected a deep red long sleeved shirt and a pair of dark denim trousers with flared legs. Apparently, this sort of style of jeans was very popular with the Muggle crowd and since Aunt Eliza insisted we travel to Diagon Alley “the Muggle way - just for old times’ sake”, I thought it would be best if I didn’t wear any robes.

I normally wasn’t one to care about how I looked, but for some reason, I gravitated toward the full length mirror propped up in the corner of my room to study my reflection. I know that I am capable of some rather strange behaviour, but for me, this was beyond odd. My hair was still damp from my shower and hung limp around my face; I could already see the tangles forming and inwardly let out a groan.

There was a soft knock at my door and without a word, it opened. I knew that it could only be one person, unless of course a murderer had snuck into our house and killed Aunt Eliza in cold blood in the kitchen. But I could see her sparkling red shoes in the reflection of my mirror and held back a smile. Merlin, it was so good to be back in her company where everything was less chaotic, save for my aunt’s personality.

“Breakfast is ready when you want it,” Aunt Eliza said as she started to make my bed.

“I’m not all that hungry,” I replied, tugging at the waistband of my trousers; they were unnaturally tight. I turned sideways and inspected my reflection, the frown between my brows becoming more pronounced as I noticed my bum was a little bit rounder than I remembered it being. Frowning, I added, “Maybe I should skip eating all together.”

Aunt Eliza laughed as she set my old stuffed duck, who was named Mr. Quackiedoodle, on the top of the patchwork quilt. “Oh, Ella,” she chuckled. “You’re being silly. Of course you’ve got to eat.”

“True,” I consented. “But maybe not as much.” I tugged at my waistband again, sighing. “And not as often.”

Over my shoulder, I saw Aunt Eliza roll her eyes in her very exaggerated manner. “I don’t know why you’re complaining, Eleanor. You’ve barely any hips and good Merlin, that chest of yours.”

I whipped around, my eyes wide and mouth hanging open. “What’s wrong with my chest?!”

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Aunt Eliza responded evenly as she smoothed out any wrinkles in the blankets. “It could just a bit more. . .,” she trailed off suggestively and raised a blonde eyebrow at me.

Immediately, I flushed and folded my arms over my chest subconsciously. Aunt Eliza came toward me, her arms extended out in front of her as though she was planning on giving me a hug, but I backed away before she could get her arms around me in a sympathetic hug.

“Oh Ella.”

I narrowed my eyes at her. “I’m locking my door from here on out.”

She made a pouty face at me, sticking out her bottom lip in an over-exaggerated way that only worked on really desperate fathers and half crazed mothers. “You don’t mean that.”

“Yes I do,” I shot back, feigning a look of utmost offence by upturning my nose and squaring my shoulders. “You just insulted my breasts, of apparent lack thereof. That’s seriously degrading to a girl my age.”

Aunt Eliza pushed my arms down away from my chest and ruffled my hair affectionately. I turned away from my mirror, deciding that it would be best not to scrutinize my reflection any further than I already had, which was definitely out of character for me.

Rufus leapt off my bed when my aunt patted her leg and motioned for him to come to her. Damn dog, of course he would listen to her. She’d probably put him up to waking me this morning, now that I thought about it. I glared after the pair of them and headed back toward my wardrobe, pulling my sock drawer open and withdrawing a pair of woollen socks.

Once I put on my shoes, I hurried down the stairs, jumping the last three steps and nearly spraining my ankle in the process. I bit back a cry of pain and a slur of curses as colours flashed behind my eyelids. Limping my way into the kitchen, I used the countertop to hold myself up while I waited for Aunt Eliza to chose which shoes she wanted to wear; she kept her shoes by the door.

“You know,” she began conversationally as she selected the orange and lime green trainers and sat down in a chair to put them on her feet. “If you haven’t been successful in leaping down the stairs without hurting your ankle, why d’you keep doing it?”

I stared at her, momentarily amazed by how she knew that I had just jumped the last of the steps and nearly broke my leg in the process. Then I shook my head to myself, remembering that this was Aunt Eliza that I was talking about and there was no counting the ways she obtained all the information she held in her head.

X - - X

When Aunt Eliza had told me her intentions to travel to Diagon Alley via Muggle transportation methods, I didn’t think that people would stare at her this much. I mean, there are easily hundreds of odd people in the city, especially a city as vast and diverse as London, marching to the beat of their own drums, most of which had much odder tempos than Aunt Eliza‘s. But Merlin, people were staring at her as though she had a huge tattoo of some naughty word inscribed across her forehead. I had half the mind to leap up from my seat and sock a few people in the face when they started whispering behind their hands, their eyes clearly fixed on my aunt.

“Don’t bother, Ella,” Aunt Eliza had whispered quietly as she covered my balled fist with her hand, her tone of voice suggesting that she was used to this sort of behaviour from others. I had to bit down hard on my tongue to keep from objecting.

Not too long after that, our stop came up and we left the bus, me limping down the stairs and hobbling into the street as Aunt Eliza said goodbye to the driver. I couldn’t but let a slow smile spread across my face as I saw the familiar, beaten up sign of the Leaky Cauldron swinging back and forth on the rusty hinges. I hadn’t been to the pub since earlier that summer and I was craving some of their chips. I might not like much else on their menu and I wouldn’t stay the night there even if you paid me, but their chips were the best in London. I know, it’s a pretty bold statement to make, but it’s the truth. Honestly.

“We’ll get a bite to eat once we’ve finished our shopping, okay?” Aunt Eliza said as she came up beside me, patting me on the shoulder; my gaze was fixated on the sign as though it were some sort of holy sign.

I smiled in response and she offered me her arm through which I looped my arm, and we walked toward the Leaky Cauldron together. I held the door open for her and bowed low; she laughed and flounced through the door like she owned the dank, but oddly humble pub. I followed her inside, my senses overwhelmed by the mixed scents; it was a peculiar mixture of greasy food, heavy smoke, and oddly enough, cheese.

As we walked through the pub, several people nodded in Aunt Eliza’s direction. A few times, she stopped to make pleasant conversation with those who greeted her and one or two of them were vaguely familiar to me. Like any person with manners, I nodded my head in greeting, shook their hands and answered the occasional question that was thrown my way. After a few minutes, though, Aunt Eliza seemed to remember that we were here to complete our Christmas shopping and that we need to get a move on with things.

Once we were outdoors again, I pulled my coat closer to my body and waited for Aunt Eliza to tap her wand against the brick that I could never seem to remember. Another smile pulled at my lips as the stones slowly slid back into place, folding into one another, and revealed an archway for us to walk through.

As soon as we stepped into the stone street, Aunt Eliza slapped her hand to her forehead, her face screwing up.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, mildly alarmed.

“I just remembered that I needed to withdraw some more money from my vault so I’ll have enough for your gift,” she replied, sighing softly. “Would you like to come or would you prefer to stay here?”

I considered it for a moment and shrugged my shoulders. “I’ll wait here. You won’t be long, will you?”

“I shouldn’t be, dear,” Aunt Eliza said, already walking in the other direction. I didn’t even have time to wave goodbye before she was out of sight, weaving in and out through the throngs of witches and wizards who were getting their last minute shopping done.

Exhaling lightly, I looked around for place to sit and within moments, I found a perfectly cosy bench that was close enough to the cobblestone lane to observe the passers-by and far away enough for my toes not to get trampled on. The metal was a bit chilly, but my body soon adjusted and I sat there for several minutes, humming to myself. I was on the second verse of the song I had made up when a street vendor came sidling up to me, his cart just metres behind him.

“’ould ye fancy buyin’ an am’let?” the vendor asked, his words choppy and hard to hear over the hustle and bustle of the street. At the doubtful look I gave his cart, he added, “They ‘ard off ‘vil spirits, miss.”

“Um,” I mumbled, bringing my hand up to my lips to chew at my nail nervously; I was never good at telling people no, a trait in which I have displayed many a time. My eyes found the vendor again, an older man with a hunch in his back and three of his teeth missing. His robes were fading and torn in some places. “Sure.”

The vendor smiled widely at me and brought out a collection of very pretty looking amulets. “’hich woul’ ye like, miss?”

I surveyed the lot of them and after a few moments of searching, my gaze found a beautiful blue stone strung upon a very fine, pretty silver chain. I pointed to it. “I’ll take that one, please.”

“Ye have goo’ taste, ma’am,” the vendor said as he unclasped the necklace from the display stand and placed it in a small, brown bag. “’hat’ll be t’ree Sickles,” he said as he handed the bag to me and extended his hand, palm up and open.

I dropped the money into his hand and once again, the vendor smiled at me. I really wished that he wouldn’t smile, it was starting to creep me out a little bit.

I tried to smile as kindly as possible back at him, but I could only feel the left side of my mouth twitching, which probably meant I looked as though I were having a stroke. Stowing the bag in the pocket of my coat, I said to the man, “Happy Christmas!”

“’appy Christmas,” he parroted back to me, giving me a farewell wave.

I returned to my seat on the bench, waiting for Aunt Eliza to come back with her money purse heavy with coins. She didn’t return until nearly a half hour later and by that point in time, I was in a somewhat foul mood, having had to wait outside in the cold all this time.

When I expressed this to her, she simply laughed. “You could’ve gone inside another store if you were so cold, dear.”

“But that’s not the point!” I returned, folding my arms over my chest moodily as we fell into step beside one another.

“I’m sorry, Ella,” Aunt Eliza began. “But it’s not my fault those damn goblins were taking so long to get to all the customers.”

Though my aunt was usually very tolerant of most magical creatures, she did not favour goblins all too much as she saw them as strictly greedy creatures that would do whatever was necessary to obtain things that they wanted. She also disliked them because one had tried to steal back one of her family’s heirlooms that was apparently made by goblins.

“Oh all right,” I sighed as I pushed open the Apothecary door. “You’re forgiven.”

We were in and out of the store within moments, seeing as how, for once in her life, Aunt Eliza had walked into a store knowing what she needed instead of browsing for hours on end. She plucked the items she needed off the shelf and waltzed over to the counter, where she conversed with the witch behind the counter as she passed over her Galleons.

As we passed by the Quidditch Shop, I couldn’t help but take a peek through the window. I felt like a very small child, my face pressed against the foggy pane as I gazed at the window display, which consisted of some fancy new broom and other Quidditch items that I had no idea existed.

“I need to go inside,” I said quite suddenly.

Behind me, Aunt Eliza frowned. “Since when have you liked Quidditch?”

“It’s not for me, Aunt Eliza,” I responded as I yanked the door open and walked inside, a small bell tinkling overhead and announcing our arrival. My aunt followed me inside, a look of pure perplexity written clearly across her face.

“If it’s not for you,” she muttered, momentarily distracted by the rack of Quidditch jumpers, which were on clearance. “Then who is it for?”

“I have yet to buy a Christmas present for my friend, James,” I replied as I started to walk through the aisles, my brows pinching together more fiercely after each shelf I inspected.

“Well, do you know what you want to get him?”

I shook my head and immediately tucked the strands of hair behind my ear that had escaped. “No, I have no idea about all this Quidditch stuff,” I said, rolling my eyes to myself as I picked up a pair of Keeper‘s gloves. “You know that I don’t.” I set the gloves back down on the shelf and let my eyes roam over the many products in stock. “But if it helps, James is the captain of the Gryffindor team; he’s a Chaser.”

Aunt Eliza inhaled a sharp intake of breath. I whirled around to make sure she was all right and saw that her eyes were open wide, her mouth the shape of a perfect ‘O’. “H-he plays Chaser. . .and he’s the captain?”

I nodded. “Yeah. . .why are you so surprised?”

“Why aren’t you dating him!?” she shouted, causing several heads to swivel in our direction.

Colour rose to my cheeks and I felt very hot around the collar. I pulled at the scarf coiled tightly around my neck and answered, “He’s dating my best friend, Lily. Besides, I don’t even fancy him.”

“Why not?!” Aunt Eliza cried shrilly.

I sent her a look, gave a small shake of my head, and turned on my heel, walking away from her. I came to the aisle where all the servicing kits were on display, selected the one that was moderately priced, tucked it under my arm, and headed toward the cashier. I placed the box on the counter and waited for the clerk to ring up my purchase.

“What do you think of this jumper?” Aunt Eliza asked from behind me. I turned around and saw that she was holding up a Puddlemere United jumper, the team’s mascot emblazed across the front in bold lettering. “D’you think it would look good on me?”

I ran my eyes over the jumper, considering my options, but decided upon bobbing my head. “Yeah, I think it would look great,” I replied as she set her purchase next to mine on the counter.

“Ring them up together,” she told the clerk, pulling out her money pouch, jostling the coins inside.

“No!” I cried. “You can’t pay for James’s gift; I want to pay for it.”

Aunt Eliza narrowed her bright blue eyes at me. “I’m paying for it and that’s final.” And with that, she handed the correct sum of money over to the clerk, who took it, bid us a Happy Christmas, and we walked out of the shop.

“Why’d you do that?” I questioned as I took my bag from her arm and looped it around my own. “I had enough money to pay for it.”

“Because I felt like doing it, Ella,” Aunt Eliza explained with a roll of her eyes. “Besides, I’m your aunt, I’m entitled to do things like that unexpectedly. And don’t most teenagers want someone else to pay for everything?”

Before I could respond, however, I swore that I heard someone calling out my name over the noise of the bustling street. I stopped mid-stride, causing a burly looking wizard to slam into my back who nearly knocked me over. The wizard gave a grunt, but didn’t say sorry as he stepped around me and continued on his way. I know Aunt Eliza would’ve said something to him had it not been for the voice calling out my name.

“Eleanor!”

I pushed myself up to my tiptoes, struggling to see over the pointed hats of the witches and wizards scrambling to get their shopping done.

However, it didn’t take very long for me to discover who had been calling out my name as they quickly came into my line of vision. Almost instantaneously, my heart rate started to pick up and my stomach began to do that annoying swooping thing that it always did. I could practically hear the blood pumping through my veins by the time that he reached me.

“Ellie!” he exclaimed happily, a smile pulling back his lips to reveal a row of white teeth.

My heart skipped a beat as I stared into his deep, grey eyes.

“Sirius!” I replied, trying to put as much enthusiasm in my voice without sounding like a stupid idiot. I nearly died when he pulled me into a one armed hug, his hand patting my back softly. The tip of his nose brushed against my cheek as he pulled back from the miniature hug.

“What’re you doing here?” I asked, subconsciously shoving my hands into the pockets of my coat.

“Just finishing some Christmas shopping,” he answered, casually shaking his dark, sweeping locks out of his eyes in such a way that I felt a surge of jealous; damn him and all those other people who had perfect hair. He held up the bag looped around his wrist for emphasis. “What about you?”

“I’m here doing the same, actually,” I said, flushing slightly although I had no idea why. Perhaps it was because this was the first time we had ever talked outside of school. I don’t know, but it just seemed much more personal - which was weird.

Behind me, Aunt Eliza cleared her throat somewhat noisily. I resisted the urge to roll her eyes, her previous comment from last night ringing in my ears. Merlin, tell me she wasn’t checking him out or anything like that! I would die if she was because, well, Aunt Eliza wasn’t exactly the most discreet person when it came to that sort of thing.

“Sirius, this is my Aunt Eliza Kensington,” I said, gesturing toward my aunt with a hand. “Aunt Eliza, this is my friend -,” I put heavy emphasis on the word and sent her a secretive look that warned her to try to suggest otherwise, “Sirius Black.”

A warm, welcoming smile tugged at Sirius’s mouth, which had almost kissed me several weeks ago on that staircase - don’t you dare go thinking that I ever forgot about that. He extended his hand to her. She slipped her hand into his and they shook hands for a few seconds.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Ms. Kensington,” Sirius commented, sounding and looking genuine. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

My eyes went wide. “You have?” Aunt Eliza and I questioned in unison.

Sirius laughed. “Yeah,” he continued. “Ellie has told us some pretty hilarious stories about you.” He winked at me, which caused me to blanch in horror. Of course, he just had to mention the only time I had ever spoken about my aunt, the time I had been completely smashed and he’d had to carry me up the stairs to his room so I could sober up - but I had fallen asleep in his bed. Merlin!

Aunt Eliza raised a brow. “Has she now?” She chuckled to herself, a warm sound that made me feel much better, despite the fact my stomach was still fluttering like mad.

“Oh yeah,” he goaded, smirking. “She told us about the time you all went to the butcher’s. . .”

Aunt Eliza gasped and turned her blue eyes to me, which were wide. “Ella! You didn’t!”

“She did,” Sirius responded before I had a chance to open my mouth. I nudged him hard in the ribs with my elbow and he let out a small gush of air, his eyes momentarily hardening.

“Oh come on!” I exclaimed. “It’s not that bad, Aunt Eliza. I could’ve told them about the time when you-,”

“Eleanor Jane Briggs!” Aunt Eliza shouted, though there was no indication of anger on her face. “Please, spare me the misery of being horribly embarrassed in front of your friend.”

Sirius laughed in his bark like way. “Horribly embarrassed? You’re practically a legend, Mrs. Kensington.”

At these words, Aunt Eliza blushed.

Yes. That’s right.

My aunt actually blushed at the words of a handsome seventeen year old boy! I had never seen her blush in the entire time I had known her, which was basically my entire life. I had been trying to get her to do it for years, but to no avail. And then Sirius comes along, drops one comment, and bam! Her cheeks become all rosy and she’s a school girl once again, giggling like mad.

Circe be damned! Did everyone find him attractive?

“Please,” Aunt Eliza began. “Call me Eliza.”

Sirius smiled at her. “Well then, you’re practically a legend, Eliza.”

My aunt returned his smile and I heard her giggle softly. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and decided that I would take the reigns of the conversation before it got too out of hand and Aunt Eliza tried to snog him in the middle of the street, which would be very frightening indeed not only for the people on the streets, but for Sirius and myself as well.

“So,” I said as soon as I saw Aunt Eliza open her mouth. “What’re your plans for the holidays?”

Adjusting the bag around his wrist, he said, “On Christmas Day, I’m going over to the Potters’ like I always do to open presents. And you know about the New Years Eve party at James’s house as well, so I’ll be there and-.”

“Wait,” Aunt Eliza interrupted, holding up her hands as a sign for him to stop talking; he did. “How come you won’t be at home for Christmas Day?”

I winced - Sirius had told me the story of his home life while we had been preparing our potion one night out of nowhere. It had all started when I had made a comment about him acting very oddly and suddenly, he was telling me his entire life story about his horrid parents and brainwashed brother.

His eyes clouded over and his facial features darkened slightly, but he kept his voice very even and emotionless as possible. “I haven’t lived at home since the end of fifth year.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Aunt Eliza apologized. “I had no idea.”

The darkness left his handsome face and he put on a tight smile. “It’s all right.” He licked his lips and turned his eyes back to me, the smile loosening up and becoming the one I was very familiar with. “But yeah, other than that, I don’t have much else planned. I do have to do some of that homework Flitwick assigned, though.”

“Yeah, that assignment seems a little difficult-,”

I was cut off by Aunt Eliza’s sudden intake of air. I turned my eyes toward her, once again alarmed as I was always was around her. Sirius, too, looked mildly surprised and his eyes flickered over to mine, a singular brow arching in question.

Daaaaaamn him!

“You didn’t mention anything about tomorrow evening - not a single thing about Christmas Eve!” she remarked.

“That’s because I don’t have anything planned,” Sirius answered in a tone of voice that suggested everyone stayed at home by themselves on Christmas Eve.

She shook her head, muttering to herself under her breath. I couldn’t make out the mutterings nor did I even try - I wasn’t even sure I wanted to know what she was talking about.

“No,” Aunt Eliza said, giving a firm shake of her head. “That won’t do. No, it won’t do at all.”

“What won’t do?” we questioned in unison, smirking at each other. Although, I probably didn’t look as scrumptious as upside down pineapple cake.

“You can’t spend Christmas Ever alone, Sirius!” Aunt Eliza exclaimed. “I simply won’t have it. Not while my niece calls you her friend!” Shaking her head to herself once more, she added, “So that leaves only one solution: you have to spend Christmas Eve with us.”

It felt like my stomach had dropped out of my body and onto the floor. My heart had stopped beating and I wondered if I had really heard those words leave my aunt’s mouth or if it was just a figment of my very overactive imagination. Please, please tell me she didn’t just invite Sirius over to our house for Christmas Eve! This couldn’t be happening. No, no way. She didn’t even know him all that well and yet she was inviting into our home for Christmas Eve dinner!

Before I could say anything, Sirius began talking.

“As much as I appreciate the invitation, Eliza,” he began. “I can’t impose on you like that. Not at Christmastime.”

Aunt Eliza made a noise of disbelieve. “Nonsense! You won’t be imposing at all, dear boy. In fact, if you didn’t come, I would be very offended indeed,” she finished with a grave nod of her head. “As it is, I wouldn’t have invited you if I thought you were going to impose upon us.”

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I saw signs of apprehension on his face. He was even fidgeting with the strap of the bag around his wrist; I vaguely wondered what was inside. As soon as he saw my eyes trained upon the bag, he moved it out of sight, concealing it in the fold of his cloak. Oh, it must have been Lucinda’s present.

“Are you sure?” he asked tentatively.

“Of course I’m sure!” Aunt Eliza cried loudly. “I won’t have you spending Christmas Eve alone! Besides, Ella and I haven’t had someone to share Christmas with ever since my daughter Anna le - I mean, ever since she went off to school in Germany.”

Sirius pushed a hand through his hair, a motion that I had only seen him do one other time. He cast me a sidelong glance. “If Eleanor’s okay with it, so I am.”

Aunt Eliza turned her blue eyes to me, narrowing them and daring me to say no to him. Pshaw, she obviously didn’t live inside my head and know that it was damn near impossible for me to deny him pretty much anything. Which was both a good thing and a bad thing. Of course, I wouldn’t murder people for him or commit any crimes, but I would go to lengths to - oh, well, you get the point!

“Of course, I want you to come.” I smiled at Sirius, hoping that it radiated warmth and friendliness. However, I couldn't help thinking that this was only going to complicate things even more.

Chapter 28: Come Down
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“In and out, Eleanor,” I muttered as I stared, eyes wide and frightened, at my reflection. My hair was damp and my skin tinged a soft pink due to the heat of the shower. Having wiped the mist that had been fogging the mirror away, my hands were currently gripping the lip of the sink as I reminded myself to breathe.

I couldn’t do this. There was no way I would be able to keep a hold on my sanity with Sirius Black at my house. I could handle him at school, true enough. However, that was a completely different domain; it was less personal and much easier to ignore the obvious tension that existed between us. Unless I was just making it all up, this was a faint, but distinct possibility.

“In and out.”

Relinquishing my kung fu grip on the sink, I flexed my fingers to get the feeling back to them. My knuckles were white and I found that when I did flex my fingers, it hurt. Really hurt. I sent one last look at my reflection, surveying the mess of tangled, damp locks that hung around my face and the average looking face with features that could easily be dismissed in a crowd.

All right, now was not the time to start having self-confidence issues, I reminded myself as I turned away from the mirror and quickly opened the bathroom door. As per usual, Rufus was waiting at the door and I nearly tripped over his massive form. One would think that after a few days of the same routine, I would get used to him hanging outside every door of every room I entered, but my brain just didn’t seem possible of processing the message.

Of course, ever since I found out that Sirius Black would be spending Christmas Eve at my house, my brain had been on the frits and all I could think about was his lanky, taunt muscled form walking through the home I shared with Aunt Eliza and thinking it to be inadequate, therefore thinking that I was just as insufficient as the lodgings in which I spent many a happy year in. That was enough to make any girl nerves and scatterbrained, especially when she had enough time to mull over it.

There was that bit and the fact that I was more than positive I fancied him. And it wasn’t just a little bit of a fancy. Oh no, karma couldn’t be nice and just make me mildly attracted to his soft, dark locks that hung in his perfectly chiselled, aristocratic featured face so elegantly that it made every girl in London green with envy. No, it was a whole lot of fancy. This, in turn, made me even more nervous than I had already been for the past three days, if that is at all possible.

As soon as we had returned from Diagon Alley, I sent a letter to Lily via Leonidias, who didn’t snap at my fingers for once in his damn life, telling her everything that had transpired. If I was searching for comforting words in her return owl, I didn’t get them. Instead, she told me that it was very nice that Aunt Eliza had invited him to be with our family on such a family centric holiday when he had no one else to be with and, oh, did I ask my aunt if I could spend the night at her house?

Sighing softly to myself, I shut my bedroom door behind me, but not before Rufus could slither into my room. Normally, I would’ve booted him out of my room as soon as I saw his hairy self on my bed, but for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As Rufus situated himself on my bed, I pulled on some clothes, not caring if the colour of my jumper was Christmas-y enough. All I could think about was the fact that Sirius Black would be in my house and what would happen to me if his girlfriend ever caught wind of this particular happening.

Out of habit, I draped my arm across my stomach and held it somewhat protectively. Don’t ask me why, but every time I envisioned Lucinda Matthews reaping her revenge, I always imagined that she would go for my innards, yanking them out in the most painful of ways, only to string me up by my ankles and let all the blood rush to the floor. You know, sort of like a pig. It might not be the most pleasant of images to retain within one’s brain, but since when was my mind a pleasant place to be when I was in such a sticky situation.

I flopped down onto my bed, carefully avoiding Rufus, and exhaled heavily. “I can’t do this, Rufus,” I said, blindly reaching out for his fluffy head. He pressed the tip of his extraordinarily wet and cold nose against the palm of my hand and I shivered, instantly reminded of the way Sirius’s nose had brushed against my cheek after he had pulled back from the friendly, one-armed embrace. Albeit the whole cold and wet bit, naturally. 

Fuck.

I couldn’t even pet my dog without my thoughts immediately returning to the dark haired boy who had managed to - wait. What had he managed to do? It’s not as if I was head over heels in love with him. Pffft. Merlin, the thought alone made me snigger with laughter.

Very rarely did teenagers fall in true love with one another. I mean, honestly - it only happened once or twice every decade and I would have to say that both Alice and Frank and Lily and James had taken the cake for those occasions. Of course, Lily and James didn’t know that they were in love with each other - well, at least Lily didn’t realize that she was meant for James, but everyone knows that they will end up together in the end with at least half a dozen children to call their own.

Nevertheless, this wasn’t about Lily and James or Alice and Frank, now was it? This was about me and the huge amount of fancying I was currently feeling toward the boy I shouldn’t and the lack thereof I was feeling toward another boy that I was supposed to be fancying. If I was the only one confused by that, then my mind is truly beyond the state of recovering from this massively befuddling situation.

However, before my mind could become a further mess of entirely too baffling thoughts, there was a knock at my door.

“Ella,” Aunt Eliza called from the other side of the door. “Can I come in?”

Ever since she had insulted my breasts or apparent lack thereof, Aunt Eliza had taken to walking eggshells around me, especially when it came to entering my room. Apparently, she had taken my threat to lock her out of my room seriously and was trying to get back on my good side even though she wasn’t even on my bad side to begin with.

I gave a loud grunt, which Rufus echoed, giving a short, loud bark of approval. The doorknob turned, the hinges squeaked, and Aunt Eliza stepped into my room. I pushed myself up to my elbows and had to swallow a bout of laughter that threatened to escape me at the sight of her outfit. By now, I was more than used to her odd choice of clothing, but there were times, such as now, when even I was surprised with what she chose.

“So,” Aunt Eliza began, holding her hands out at her side, one arm gesturing toward herself. “What do you think?”

I bit the inside of my cheek as I took in the obnoxious forest green jumper where Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was prancing about with his head held high and bright red nose thrust into the air. There were evergreen trees in the background, swaying back and forth and the little carollers where actually singing Christmas songs. Her feet were covered in elf like shoes, complete with tinkling gold bells at the heels.

“I like it,” I replied, moving around on my bed until I was fully sitting up. Rufus placed his head on my leg and I absentmindedly stroked the crown of his head. “I just thought that you would wear the robes with angels on them - you know the ones I got you last year?”

Aunt Eliza blushed suddenly, looking sheepish. “I would’ve worn them, Ella, but they’ve grown a bit too tight to be considered comfortable.”

Immediately, I felt like a prick. I smacked my palm against my forehead. “Merlin, Aunt Eliza, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean -.”

Her hand covering my mouth cut off my words; she sent me a stern look. “Hush, love,” she said, removing her hand from my mouth. “You couldn’t have known, so there is no need to be sorry.”

I smiled at her, tucking a strand of still damp hair behind my ear with a free hand, which shook like mad, in case you were still curious. “That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad.”

“Well, don’t,” Aunt Eliza responded, patting me affectionately on the top of the head. “Where’s your Christmas spirit, miss? How come I don’t see any holiday colours on you?”

I laughed shortly. “You make it sound as though I’ve committed an act of heresy.”

“You have!” my aunt exclaimed overdramatically, holding my face between her hands. “Not a spot of green, red, or white on you, is there?” She clucked her tongue and scurried over to my wardrobe.

“What’re you doing?” I asked, rising to my feet and walking toward her.

“Finding something more suitable for you to wear,” Aunt Eliza explained shortly, pulling a handful of jumpers out of my drawer and throwing them to the floor. She eyed the lot with a mild look of discontent. “Merlin, do you have anything that isn’t a shade of blue?”

She tossed my favourite tee shirt to the ground and I bent down, picking it up and holding it to my chest protectively.

“Blue is one of my favourite colours,” I bit out defensively, placing the shirt on the trunk at the foot of my bed. “Besides, since when have you cared what I wear on Christmas? Just last year, I wore that orange jumper all day and you didn’t say a single thing!”

As per usual, she ignored me as she rifled through my drawers, muttering wildly under her breath as she always did. I resolved to sitting on top of my trunk, returning to my absentminded petting of Rufus’s head as I waited for her to finally find something that she deemed acceptable for Christmas.

Finally, after what seemed like a millennia, she threw a pile of clothing at me, which I just barely caught, seeing as how she caught me off guard. I sputtered slightly and batted them away from my face. As I unfolded the clothes that had just been chucked at my head, Aunt Eliza flicked her wand at the clothes littering the floor, all of which folded themselves and returned to my drawers. Why she hadn’t performed a spot of magic and found something for me to wear was beyond me, but I never questioned my aunt’s doings.

“Like it?” Aunt Eliza said as she pulled out the chair at my writing desk and sat down in it.

“Yeah, I do,” I replied, pulling the soft grey jumper I was currently wearing over my head and tossing it to the floor. The shirt that my aunt had selected for me was an off-white colour with flecks of red, blue, and green laced through the top of it. The sleeves stopped just above my elbows, exposing the paleness of my bony arms. I tugged it over my head wordlessly and held my arms out at my sides, much like my aunt had only minutes ago. “What d’you think?”

Aunt Eliza regarded me silently for a few long moments before speaking. “I think you need to do something with that nest you call hair before Sirius gets here.” She rose from her seat at my desk and smiled at me as she walked past me. She left my room and closed the door behind her.

It took a few moments for Aunt Eliza’s words to fully sink in, but as soon as they did, I spurred myself into action despite the fact that my stomach was flipping and flopping to the point where I felt as though I could vomit at any moment. All but sprinting out of my room and into the bathroom, I roughly tugged the brush through my hair. Normally, I didn’t trust myself with doing magic on my hair, but since I was desperate to look somewhat presentable, I screwed my face up, my eyes clench tightly shut, and flicked my wand at my hair. A small bout of heat gushed over me and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go warm very briefly before returning to normal temperature. When I unscrewed my face, I saw that my hair was dry and thankfully, I hadn’t done any damage to it.

From there, I hurried down the steps. Like usual, I lost my footing and ended up sliding down the rest of the way, banging my lower back against the wood of the stairs roughly. I let loose a howl of pain and struggled to my feet.

“Are you all right?” Aunt Eliza called from the kitchen, where I assumed she had begun working on the gingerbread house.

“Yeah,” I shouted back as I limped my way into the living room. “I’m fine. . .I think,” I added as an afterthought to myself, having just sat down on the sofa and cringed as my lower back touched a throw pillow. There were boxes all over the floor, which were marked with words such as ‘ornaments’ and ‘Christmas shite’.

Someone had entered the living room and when I looked up, Aunt Eliza was standing with her hands on her hips, slowly shaking her head back and forth. “I don’t think so.”

I raised my eyebrows, finding that I was still incapable of raising a singular brow, much to my own dismay. “What?”

“Get off your arse, love,” Aunt Eliza said, making a shooing motion with her hand at me. I opened my mouth to protest, saying that I was injured and simply couldn’t work, but she sent me a sharp look that told me to keep my mouth shut. “The ornaments aren’t going to put themselves on the tree, are they?”

“But I’m-,”

“Eleanor Jane,” she huffed somewhat impatiently, dragging her hand across her nose and leaving a thin line of brown gunk across it. “Just do it, all right? I want to make it look like something got done before your friend gets here.”

Without another word, she turned around and headed back into the kitchen where I could hear her talking to Leonidias as though he was the most precious being in the planet. Let me assure you right now that he most certainly is not, considering he has the tendency to snap at my thumbs, which as you all know, is the reasoning behind my fear for owls. Bloody creatures.

Rising to my feet, I grabbed my wand out of my trouser pocket, momentarily amazed that it hadn’t snapped completely in two when I had come tumbling down the stairs. Well, I didn’t so much as tumble as I did slid on my tailbone, which is nowhere near as fun and exciting as it sounds. In fact, I could pretty much feel the bruises forming and that was not a comforting thought. I flicked my wand at the box nearest to me; the flaps flipped back and revealed that the contents of that particular box were stockings. With a wave of my wand, both of our stocking zoomed over toward the fireplace, hanging them up on the mantel.

Wow. I wasn’t accustomed to using magic for things other than schoolwork. It was rather nice not having to manually do everything. Circe, no wonder why so many witches and wizards grew ‘pleasantly plump’ in their later years of life!

I waved and flourished my wand about, smiling to myself as everything zoomed into its proper place, looking as though a professional Christmas decorator person had come in and completely the job. I was more than little proud of myself as I regarded all the snow globes and little figurine towns, which littered just about every available space on shelves, side tables, and the coffee table. Not that there was much space to be covered, given the fact that our house was, to say the very least, cluttered.

I had been so preoccupied with my decorating of the living room that I hadn’t heard the knock at the kitchen door. Instead, I continued to whirl around in circles, pausing every few seconds to flick my wand and command an ornament into place. It really was a thrilling feeling, being able to do all this magic. However, I knew that Aunt Eliza was very particular about the tree and every year since I had come to live with her, we set it up manually - not with magic. Usually, it was Aunt Eliza was doing the waving of the wand and decorating, but I guess she knew that I had a knack for it.

A girlish giggle escaped me as I surveyed my work. Damn, I really was good at this. Pushing up to my tiptoes, I spun around in a circle, much like I had always imagined ballerinas would, so I could go into the kitchen and start helping Aunt Eliza with the gingerbread house. However, as soon as I straightened up, a squeak of surprise escaped me.

He was standing underneath the archway that connected the kitchen to our living room. There were flecks of white in his dark hair and his nose and cheeks were a rosy red colour, which contrasted nicely against his pale, faintly freckled skin. A smug smirk was firmly in place on his lips and like always, a single brow was cocked in that spy-like fashion that I so envied.

“D’you always pretend to be a ballroom dancer when you decorate or is this just one of those ‘rare occasions’?” Sirius questioned complacently, his light eyes glittering mischievous.

I narrowed my eyes at him and raised my wand threateningly. “Don’t make me use it.”

Sirius laughed in his bark like way, a noise that both startled me and made my stomach erupt at butterflies. Yes, I know - very odd. No need to tell me twice. If you think it’s weird hearing about it, imagine experiencing it. Yeah, not exactly comfortable.

“Is this how you greet all of your guests?” he asked.

Lowering my wand, I stowed it away in my pocket. “What? D’you want me to offer to take your coat?”

“That would be a good place to start, I imagine.”

Deciding to play along, I dropped into what could be considered one of the messiest, out of control curtsies ever known or seen by man. I mean, honestly - I made Humpty Dumpty’s fall from that wall look elegant. “As you wish, my good sir,” I said, putting on the stateliest voice I could.

He bopped me on the head and grabbed my elbow, hauling me back up to proper height. Sirius had already taken off his coat, revealing the navy blue jumper he had chosen to wear for today. I couldn’t help but look - well, more like gape enthusiastically, but who cares, right? Thankfully, he did not seem the notice that I raked my eyes over his upper body, almost drowning in my own salvia at the way his shirt clung ever so lightly to his arms. 

Merlin, this is very slag like behaviour, Briggs.

Ah, the Voice. I was waiting for it to come back. It hadn’t bothered me since the beginning of the holidays, but the second that Sirius is presented in front of me and I get caught with my hand in the figurative biscuit jar, the Voice comes bolting back into action. Wonderful. This is exactly what I need when my sanity was already in more question than it was on a normal day.

I hung his dark coat up on the rack near the closet and said, “We’re just about to start making the gingerbread house.”

“Gingerbread house?” Sirius parroted, an amused look on his face.

I nodded, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “Yeah, we make a gingerbread house and then some gingersnaps every year.” I could feel the heat rushing to my cheeks as he followed me into the kitchen, where Aunt Eliza was mixing the icing. “You don’t have to help, if you don’t want to,” I added at the look on his face, which was more than difficult to read.

“Nonsense,” Aunt Eliza said before Sirius could so much as open his mouth. “Like he even has a choice - of course he’s going to help. You think I invited him so he could sit on his arse the entire time while we worked? Merlin no!” She winked in our direction and went about whatever it was that she was doing.

Sirius laughed while I threw daggers at Aunt Eliza’s back. Of course, she had to make her odd jokes about forcing labour upon the innocent when Sirius was around. Circe, as if he didn’t think my aunt was odd enough. . .

“So,” Sirius began, rubbing his hands together. “What comes first?”

I stared at him a moment, taking in the planes of his face. “First, you need to wash your hands and get yourself an apron.”

“An apron?”

“Yes, an apron,” I said, a small grin threatening to upturn my lips as I conjured the mental image of Sirius Black in a floral apron and for some reason, a string of pearls. I turned on the faucet, adjusted the knobs, and washed my hands, Sirius following my suit. “You’ll get your clothes all dirty if you don’t wear one.”

“Eleanor, just because you can’t eat a meal without getting food all over yourself,” Aunt Eliza said from her position at the stove, “doesn’t mean that everyone else does.”

I gasped, unable to determine whether I should be scuffing in offence or laughing along with Sirius, who seemed to find her remark amongst the funniest things he had ever heard. He pressed a wet hand against his stomach as he drew in a few deep breaths.

I glared at Aunt Eliza over his hunched body. “D’you poison him?” I mouthed.

“Of course not,” she mouthed back. My aunt rolled her eyes, gave a noncommittal wave of her hand, and turned back to the bowl of icing she had been mixing.

Setting my jaw into place, I finished washing my hands and dried them with a hand towel. “Are you all right or do you need a minute to collect yourself?” I asked Sirius somewhat bitterly as I snagged two aprons off the hook beside the kitchen door.

He straightened up and nodded his head. Several locks of dark hair fell into his face, but he didn’t push them aside. “I’m fine,” he panted, taking the proffered apron out of my hands. As I secured my apron in place, my eyes were trained on him, waiting for his imminent reaction anxiously. The locks seemed to click into place and his gaze immediately met mine, his eyes wide with disbelief. “You’re not going to make me wear this. . .are you?”

I grinned at him. “’Course I am,” I replied, tugging on the strings to tighten them up. At the grumpy look on his face, I added, “Oh, come on, it’s not that bad, Sirius. I thought floral patterns were your thing, anyway.”

He grunted in response and proceeded to tie the apron on, muttering darkly under his breath. Once he had all the strings tied, he sent me a stern look and pointed a finger at me in a very maternal manner. “If you tell anyone. . .,” he trailed off suggestively.

“You’ll tie me to a tree and skin me?” I supplied.

“Yeah, I’ll do-,” he stopped mid sentence, his eyes going wide once again. “Tie you to a tree and skin you? What in the name of Merlin ever gave you such a grotesque idea?”

I shrugged my shoulders as I began to rummage through the cabinets, searching for all the candy that we had purchased the day before in Diagon Alley. “I don’t know.”

Sirius shook his head. “That is definitely not normal, Eleanor,” he said, coming up beside me and leaning against the counter. “Not even for you.”

I stuck my tongue at him again and I could’ve sworn that something flickered in his eyes. Although I couldn’t tell you what it was. I wish I could, but again, I’ve never been very good at reading people or their emotions, which was unfortunate. I mean, imagine if you had that ability! It would make life so much easier.

It took a little longer than necessary, considering that we could’ve used magic, but chose not to, to locate all the damn miscellaneous items that would be needed for the gingerbread house. After nearly ten minutes of searching for the gumdrops, I had half the mind to just give up completely and wallow at the loss of such a delectable candy. But Sirius had found them in Rufus’s dog bed, which was as weird as it was funny.

Once everything was collected, however, Sirius and I each took a seat at the kitchen table so that we were sitting at a ninety-degree angle to one another. Sirius kept picking up all the packages of candy and observing them, turning them over in his hands as his brow furrowed slightly. Most of the candy we had bought was from the wizarding world, but some things you just had to buy Muggle.

“So,” Sirius said as he set down the candy canes he had been holding in his hands. “What happens now?”

I grabbed the bowl of icing sitting on the far end of the table and pulled it toward us, so that it was situated between the pair of us. “Right,” I started. “First, we have to actually build the damn house.”

“Ella!”

“Sorry!” I apologized quickly before Aunt Eliza could attack me with the spatula in her hand, which she had raised threateningly. “What I meant to say is that we have to build the house first.”

“How do you do that?” Sirius questioned.

“Easy,” I said, grabbing one of the knives off the table and slathering it with sticky white icing. “You take the icing and use it as mortar, you know, like when they lay bricks.” I smeared icing along the edges of two different graham crackers and stuck them together carefully. “Just like that - although, if you want them to stick together really well, you have to push them together. But not too hard, otherwise you’ll break the graham cracker and we’ll have to start all over again.” I set the part of wall I had constructed down on the piece of cardboard on the table and gestured to Sirius. “You try.”

He sent me an uneasy look. “Can’t you just build it and I help you add all the decorations?”

I snorted, moving the hair that had fallen into my face away. “Hell - I mean heck - heck no!” I quickly corrected myself, throwing a cautious look at Aunt Eliza. She normally didn’t have a problem when I cursed, but maybe she just wanted to impress our company?

“That’s what I thought,” I heard her murmur under her breath with an airy chuckle.

Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I sighed softly. “It won’t be the same if you don’t help me with the house; someone always helps me with the house.” I stuck out my bottom lip in a pout. “Please? For me?”

We stared at each other for a few moments of silence and I felt my stomach churning with an emotion I knew that I shouldn’t be feeling toward him. Merlin above, emotions were just about the most annoying thing on the planet. There were times, such as now, when I wished that I had been born male. I’m convinced that my life wouldn’t be as complicated as it is now and I wouldn’t be all ’ooh, woe is me’. I knew I sounded like a little girl whining about the stupidest of things and claiming that my life was just oh-so-horrible when I was more than well aware that there was a Dark Lord at large in England, killing innocent people and ripping apart families. So really, my problems were nowhere near as bad as I made them out to be.

The sigh that escaped him was very melodramatic and judging by the glimmer in his eyes, entirely playful. His shoulders sagged in defeat and he nodded his head solemnly. “Oh, all right.”

In response, I dabbed the leftover icing on my finger on the tip of his nose, laughing all the while. He gave me one of those looks that told me I had just pulled the worst move possible. All I could think was oh vey.

X - - X

 

Two hours later, the gingerbread house was complete. So, maybe it was a little lopsided and yeah, there were chunks of the roof missing because I hadn’t been able to keep my fingers off the treacle chocolate. And maybe it wasn’t exactly the nicest gingerbread house ever constructed, but it’s not as if appearances ever matter, right?

At the moment, Sirius and I were standing a few metres away from the kitchen table with Rufus sitting on the tiled floor between us, all three of our heads cocked to the side as we observed our handiwork.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Sirius said, a note of pride in his voice.

Inwardly, I smiled. “Yeah,” I agreed, nodding my head. “You know, for your first gingerbread house, that is.”

He nudged me in the side with his elbow and I emitted a small squeak of surprise. “Is it me or are you asking for more icing in your hair?” Sirius asked, swiping his finger along the edge of the bowl of icing and holding it up in front of him somewhat threateningly.

“You wouldn’t,” I gasped dramatically.

Sirius laughed loudly, popping his finger into his mouth. “You’re right,” he replied, pulling his now icing free finger out of his mouth and grinning. “It’s much too good to waste.”

As thought beckoned by the sound of his laugh, Aunt Eliza appeared in the doorway, several pieces of Spell-o-tape stuck to her fingers. She had disappeared shortly after we had started construction on the house to wrap a few last minute presents. Her hair was now pulled back into an extremely messy bun at the nape of her neck and I couldn’t help but notice that there were several scratches on her face.

“What happened to you?” I asked, slightly appalled.

“It was the damn wrapping paper,” she said as she waddled over to the sink and wet a cloth to dab to her face. “I had forgotten Milburn had given me enchanted, paper cutting wrapping paper as a gag gift at last year’s Christmas party.”

Beside me, Sirius sputtered, struggling to keep his laughter under control. When he saw that I was staring at him warningly, he quickly disguised his laughter as an uncontrollable cough.

“Oh,” was all I was able to say.

“It’s all right now,” Aunt Eliza continued. “I got it under control, thankfully. Shoved it into the linen closet upstairs. The enchantment should wear off. . .eventually.” She set the damp cloth back in the sink and her eyes brightened. “Did you finish the house?” she questioned, her voice eager.

“Er-,” Sirius and I said in unison, throwing each other a look.

Aunt Eliza paid no attention to either of us, unceremoniously shoving past me to get a good look at the house. She had apparently been expecting some sort of masterpiece because the expression that had been on her face fell slightly.

“Oh,” she said, turning toward the pair of us. She saw Sirius smiling at her hopefully and she tried to rearrange her expression to the best of her ability. “It looks, er, good. I mean, fantastic!”

I snorted, but quickly covered it up as a sneeze when Aunt Eliza sent me a sharp look.

“Thanks, Eliza,” Sirius said, grinning winningly at her. “We worked really hard on it.”

“Really?” she murmured, her blue eyes raking over our messy appearances. I don’t blame her for sounding so doubtful. I mean, if I saw the pair of us standing in the middle of the kitchen wearing more candy than the actual house, I would’ve doubted that any work had been done, much less hard work.

“Yep,” Sirius chirped, clasping his hands behind his back as though he were a schoolboy. “Eleanor built most of the house and I added the candy.”

Aunt Eliza laughed loftily. “I couldn’t tell. . .,” she trailed off, casting me a fleeting look. “Well,” she said suddenly, snapping out of her momentary stupor. She clapped her hands together very rapidly and a huge smile spread across her cheery face. “How about we start setting up the tree? Dinner is already in the oven and I made the batter for the biscuits last night.”

I turned toward Sirius, who looked faintly awkward standing in the middle of our kitchen wearing a floral apron with bits of candy cane and gum drops clinging to his clothes and streaks of white icing laced throughout his black hair. “How about it? D’you wanna help set up the tree?”

“Sure,” he replied, and we all trekked into the living room.

The empty boxes were pushed against the wall and the ones containing the ornaments and other decorative items for the tree were circled around the coffee table in the middle of the room. I dropped down onto my knees and began to open the boxes, beckoning Sirius to join me on the floor. As we began to take things out of their boxes and placed them on the table, Sirius leaned over; his shoulder pressed tightly against mine, and whispered into my ear, “I’ve never done this before.”

All right before I go any further, if a handsome bloke like Sirius freakin’ Black whispered that phrase into your ear, you’d go all kinds of crazy, right? I mean, come on! This wasn’t your average, every day bloke that we’re talking about. This was Sirius and one doesn’t expect sentences like that to come out of his mouth without. . .well, without some sort of sexual meaning behind them. That being said, it is common knowledge that my mind tends to stray and I’ll give you three guesses where it strayed to. . .

If you guessed that proverbial gutter, then you would be correct.

“Excuse me!?” I squeaked, falling backward into the couch. I could practically feel the blood leaving my face and retreating to my toes.

Staring at me as though my stomach had just talked, Sirius cleared his throat and said loud enough so that Aunt Eliza could hear, “I’ve never put up a Christmas tree before.”

“Are you kidding me?” Aunt Eliza and I exclaimed together. “What do you mean you’ve never put up a tree before?!” I was shocked; Aunt Eliza was outraged.

Much to my surprise, Sirius flushed slightly around his collar and he licked his lips nervously. “Well, you see when I was living at home, our house elf always put up the tree because my mother,” he spat the word like it was a poison, “didn’t want us to break anything. And last winter when I went to the Potters’, they had already put the tree up when we got back from the platform. So,” he finished with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Well,” Aunt Eliza said after a few moments’ of silence. “There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?” She tossed a thick strand of silvery garland at him and he caught it deftly. Stupid Keeper and his bloody fast reflexes. “You’re in charge of that, all right? And Ella, you’re on ornament duty.”

I groaned and stomped my foot. “Again?”

“Yes.”

“But I put the ornaments on last year,” I whined childishly.

“D’you want to put the lights on?” Aunt Eliza asked, peering at me through hooded eyes.

A frown turned my lips downward and I shook my head. “No, I don’t.” I toed a box of ornaments, made another pouty noise, and sighed. “Why do there have to be so many of them?”

“I can help,” Sirius said suddenly, his grey gaze locked on Aunt Eliza. “I mean, it’s like you said earlier, isn’t it? There’s a first time for everything and I’ve never hung ornaments on a tree. Maybe Ellie could teach me?”

Aunt Eliza seemed to consider it for a few moments before nodding her head. “Yeah, I guess that’ll be okay,” she said, smiling fondly at Sirius. “Just don’t break anything.”

“I won’t,” Sirius replied. He winked at me and my knees started to knock together. Oh Merlin, not this again!

X - - X

 

With an extra pair of hands, it took us less than an hour to decorate the tree. Granted, it would’ve taken a lesser amount of time had Sirius not thought it necessary to perform a Leg Locking Jinx on me and then proceed to wrap the garland around me as though I was some sort of prisoner. If I had thought it was a pain in the arse to get all that bleeding yellow caution tape off at Halloween, the damn garland was much worse.

Conveniently, the oven timer decided to chime noisily just minutes after we had finished setting up the Christmas tree, much to my stomach’s delight. Sirius and I followed Aunt Eliza into the kitchen and were surprised to find that the table had been cleared of our monstrosity of a gingerbread house and the table was set, complete with steaming dishes of pure deliciousness.

Dinner was a very warm, laughter filled affair. I could scarcely eat in fear that either Aunt Eliza or Sirius would make some incredibly witty, sarcastic comment and make me choke on my food in my mouth. It took me much longer than the pair of them to finish my meal and like a gentleman, Sirius waited for me to finish, sitting beside me and flicking peas at me whenever Aunt Eliza wasn’t looking. He had tried to help with the dishes, but as soon as he picked up the first sudsy plate and it shattered all over the kitchen floor, Aunt Eliza sent him a reproachful look and he slinked back to the table, a soft smirk on his face as he dropped into the creaky wooden chair.

One of Sirius’s accurately aimed peas hit me square in the eye, catching me by complete surprise. Because it caught me by surprise, I jumped in my seat, causing both myself and the chair to topple backward onto the floor. My head slammed against the ground just as the back of the chair did and I let out a long, drawn out groan of pain.

“Are you okay?” Sirius asked, scooting back his chair and coming to kneel beside me. Although his voice sounded concerned enough, the look on his face clearly said that he was having a hard time disguising his laughter.

My eyes narrowed slightly, but I nodded my head all the same. “I think so.”

Sirius extended a hand to me and I reluctantly took it, trying my hardest to ignore the jolts of heat that shot through my arm at the contact. Merlin, this really was getting ridiculous. Maybe I should just go out and find a suitable bridge to throw myself off so I would lessen everyone else’s problems.

“Sorry,” Sirius apologized quickly.

“S’okay,” I replied, rubbing the egg that was forming on the back of my head. I winced, sucking in a short hiss of air.

From her position at the sink, Aunt Eliza laughed loudly. “There’s no need to fret over her, Sirius,” she began, her laughter lacing her words. “She does silly stuff like that all the time. Like yesterday, she jumped down the stairs and nearly broke her ankle, she did.”

I found my cheeks flushing a bright red and immediately looked down at my feet. Circe above, she just had to bring that bollocks up, didn’t she? I found myself wishing that a black hole would open up in the middle of the floor and suck me in. I know it wasn’t that embarrassing, but leaping down the stairs in your home and nearly spraining your ankle is not something you generally want people to know. At least, I don’t want people to know about my natural clumsiness that I was sure not even medication could cure. That is, if there was medication for clumsiness. If there’s not, then I think that someone should invent some. . .

“Eleanor?” Aunt Eliza said, and judging by the tone of her voice, she had repeated herself.

My eyes found her face and I raised my brows. “What?” I questioned, somewhat dazed.

“I was wondering what you and Sirius would like to do next,” Aunt Eliza answered.

Glancing at Sirius with a questioning look, he shrugged his shoulders and I resisted the urge to sigh heavily and respond with something sarcastic which I knew I would get reprimanded for because, according to Aunt Eliza and her crazy ways, Sirius was some sort of religious deity that should not be mocked, scorned, or whatever else a person to could do someone else. My aunt might not have ever come out and said it, but I knew that she was thinking it. In fact, she was probably wondering where she could get a little statue of Sirius and mentally figuring out a place to put it among all the clutter in the living room.

Softly shaking my head to myself, I turned to Aunt Eliza and offered a shrug of my shoulders. “I don’t know.”

Aunt Eliza rolled her eyes dramatically. She didn’t say anything as she shuffled over to the ice box, opened the door, and began to rummage around for only Merlin knows what. She emerged seconds later with a huge ceramic bowl in her arms, which she promptly placed on the counter top. She did some fancy wand work and two cookie sheets came zooming out from the oven drawer.

“You make a terrible hostess, Eleanor,” Aunt Eliza informed me as she flicked her wand once more. Utensils zoomed out of the drawers, the aluminium foil flew off the top of the bowl, and the spatula began to scoop out lumps of batter onto the cookie sheets. “Why don’t you guys watch something on the telly?”

“Like what?” I asked, moving to skim my finger along the edge of the batter bowl. Before I could get even the smallest taste, the spatula whacked me smartly on the hand. The sharp slap stung and I glared at the utensil, swiping my finger along the rim of the bowl anyway, and stuck it in my mouth before the spatula could get me again; beside me, I heard Sirius snicker under his breath.

“I don’t know. . .why not flip through the channels?” Aunt Eliza suggested.

I snorted. “What, all four of them?”

“Eleanor,” she uttered warningly, adopting the tone she only took on when I started grating on her nerves.

Heaving a heavy sigh, I stole another swipe of biscuit batter and sighed. “I’ll find something for us to do, all right?” I said impatiently. Pivoting on the heel of my foot, I turned toward Sirius and beckoned for him to follow me out of the kitchen. He said something in a low voice to Aunt Eliza, something I didn’t catch, but apparently, whatever he’d said was funny, as my aunt started laughing loudly.

Once we were out of earshot, I stopped walking and turned toward Sirius. However, Sirius didn’t see that I had stopped and slammed into me, pinning me between the banister and himself. It was like the moving staircase all over again, except for the fact he leapt away from me as though I was on fire and apologized very quickly under his breath; I was surprised to see that his cheeks were faintly flushed. I, on the other hand, was still trying to get over the shock that that had just happened.

It was a few minutes before I decided enough tension had dissipated from the air that I could talk without making the situation entirely too awkward. “Well, er, I was going to say that we could play a board game if you wanted,” I licked my lips nervously. “But, uh, they’re all upstairs in my room.”

“A board game?” Sirius parroted, his grey eyes twinkling as he considered the idea. A smile slowly spread across his face and he nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like it could be fun.”

I smiled back. “Great,” I said, starting up the stairs. “C’mon.”

Halfway up the flight of stairs, Rufus came streaking out of the kitchen and paused like a deer in the headlights. We stopped and looked down at him. Rufus cocked his head to the side as if deciding whether or not he would come upstairs with us or not. Sirius patted his leg and quite surprisingly, Rufus came sprinting up the steps, licking Sirius’s extended hand. I rolled my eyes to myself and we walked up the remaining stairs to my room.

I didn’t realize how awkward this would be until I opened my door. Thank Merlin, I didn’t have any clothes lying around on the floor and nothing too embarrassing was on display on my desk or my nightstand.

“This is it,” I said lamely, gesturing with my arm to the purple walls and slanted ceiling of my bedroom. “It’s not much, but-.”

“I like it,” Sirius announced loudly, stepping into my room and looking about. He gave me a nod of approval and began to take a turn about my room as I opened up my closet door and began to look for the board games I hadn’t played since I was a child. It was more than likely we would have to resort to playing Exploding Snap; at least I knew where my cards were.

I placed my foot on one of the lower shelves, having seen what looked to be a box of a board game on the top shelf of the dinky little closet where Aunt Eliza shoved everything that she couldn’t fit into the linen closet in the hall. I moved things around, dropping some of them to the floor and others I simply moved onto other shelves.

One of the boxes began to tip precariously on the edge of the shelf and, thinking that it would stay put, I continued to shuffle boxes around. Unfortunately, the box decided that it didn’t want to stay put on the shelf anymore and tipped downward, colliding with my head.

“Ow!” I cried, the sudden impact startling me so much, my footing slipped and I fell back onto the carpet with a dull, but painful thump.

Rufus barked as Sirius set down the photograph he had been holding in his hands and came over to my side to help me up. I pushed myself up to my elbows and sighed loudly.

“Are you all right?” he asked, a note of concern in his voice.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I responded, rising to my feet and rubbing the back of my head as I did so. “I think I am.”

“That’s the second time you’ve fallen and hit your head in an hour,” Sirius reminded me, smilingly. “If I told Prongs. . .”

“He would take the mickey out of me forever,” I finished for him. “So please, refrain from telling him.” I grabbed the fallen box, which, coincidentally, is the one that I had wanted in the first place. Cursing my luck, I tossed it onto my bed and plunked down on the edge. Sirius picked up the picture again and I furrowed my brow. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

Sirius turned toward me. “Oh, just one of your pictures,” he muttered, hurriedly placing the picture back in its spot on my desk.

I chuckled. “You don’t have to put it back,” I said without thinking. “You can look around if you want. There’s nothing of interest in here, really. My aunt’s got all our records in her room, so. . .” I trailed off, realizing that he might not have any idea what the bloody hell records were.

However, Sirius wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he was picking up all the framed photos that sat on my desk and nightstand. Some of them had moving pictures within the frames and others didn’t. Most of them were of Aunt Eliza, and me although a few of them were just of Aunt Eliza and the various pets we’d had over the years.

I was content with watching him, mildly curious as to why he found my photographs so amusing. I knew they weren’t anything special and most of them were either out of focus or stationary, which was always a let down when it came to photography; there was something about moving pictures that just made a person seem more real.

A swirl of memories hit me like a load of bricks, stealing my breath away. My fists clenched the patchwork quilt on my bed and I could feel tears burning in my eyes. My heart was thundering in my chest painfully and I heard a distant sound. . .almost like someone was calling my name.

As quickly as I had fallen into the trance, I snapped back out of it and looked into the clear, silver eyes of Sirius Black. He was only a few centimetres away from me as he had come to sit beside me on my mattress; I hadn’t even noticed he had.

The look on his face was expectant, which led me to believe that had just asked a question about the picture he was holding in his hand. “Who’s that?” he asked, pointing to the man in the picture.

Again, a rush of memories swirled in my mind, but I kept the painful unrest at bay to the best of my ability. “My dad,” I murmured quietly. “That’s my dad.”

There was another long, drawn out silence. I stared at the picture in Sirius’s hand, wanting nothing more than to snatch it out of his grasp and hold it close to my chest like I used to do when I was much younger. But I couldn’t do that. Instead, I shifted uncomfortably on the bed, unsure of what to do with my hands.

Finally, Sirius broke the silence. “You look a lot like him.”

Despite the solemnity I was feeling, I still managed to muster a smile. “That’s what everyone says - well, at least, that’s what Aunt Eliza says every time she sees me looking at his photograph.”

“D’you miss him?” Sirius asked softly.

“Yeah,” I replied, nodding my head. “He was the best father a girl could ask for.” My throat tightened and burned when I tried to draw in a breath of air. “I know every girl says that about her dad, but my dad really was the best around.”

“He seems like it, judging by the picture,” he said, gesturing toward the photograph in his hand. “When was this taken?”

Scooting closer to Sirius, I peered over his shoulder at the picture and felt my stomach plummet. I hadn’t been expecting him to pick up that particular picture. 

Clearing my throat, I said, “A little over a year before he. . .died.”

“How’d he die?” It must’ve been the deep gasp of air that rushed into my lungs that tipped him off because he quickly amended his comment, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, Eleanor.”

I shook my head, snuffling. Squaring my shoulders, I mentally prepared myself for the words that were about to leave my mouth.

“He committed suicide,” I answered quite blatantly.

I had never told a single soul about what had happened to my father because I never felt comfortable with it. However, now, for some reason, although it still hurt a little to think about it, I didn’t feel the squirming feeling in the stomach that I usually did when people inquired after my parents. Maybe it was because Sirius had gone through the same thing that I had with his parents - of course, his didn’t die or anything, but they were good as dead to him.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius murmured, grabbing my hand off my lap. He laced his fingers through mine and gave it a tight, affectionate, comforting squeeze. An intense flare of heat rose in my stomach and I felt as though my entire inside was on fire; I could hardly handle it.

I don’t know how long we sat in silence. Sirius didn’t ask anything more about what had happened to my dad; he didn’t ask why my father had committed suicide or what happened afterward, as I’m pretty sure that he figured it out. After I had told him, an odd sort of feeling washed over me that I couldn’t describe. Sirius would squeeze my hand every now and then, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. I stared at the picture in his hand which he eventually set aside to wrap his arms around me in tight, warm embrace.

I hadn’t even realized that I had started crying softly until he had hugged me. The tears fell in a slow stream. It wasn’t one of those full on hysterical fits of sobs and it wasn’t even a silent river of tears. It was just the occasional slew of tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes as I stared off, unsure of what I should feel at the moment. It was nice to finally tell someone, to let the cat out of the bag, to have someone who knew the real reason as to why I lived with my aunt. Lily knew that I lived with Aunt Eliza because I no longer had parents, but she didn’t know the real reason behind it. And for the moment, I wanted to keep it that way.

“Don’t worry,” whispered Sirius, finally releasing me from his arms. He took my face between his hands and wiped away my salty tears with his thumbs. I could feel my cheeks burning beneath the touch of his palms against my face; my heart started to pump blood faster, making it throb in my ears loudly. “I won’t tell anyone.”

He gave me another quick hug before standing up. I sniffled, wiping my nose with the back of my sleeve. I didn’t even want to see if there were boogies or not; it would ruin the moment - if that is what you can even call it.

“So, how about a game of Exploding Snap?” he suggested lightly.

I smiled tightly, stood up as well and rummaged through my trunk until I found my pack of playing cards. We sat down on the ground, Indian-style, and I dealt out the cards between us. Sirius told me some perverted joke that Caradoc had told him before the holiday break, which made me laugh long and hard. It was nice to laugh a little after a small crying bit.

When Aunt Eliza rapped her knuckles against my doorframe, we both jumped in surprise; I dropped my hand of cards all over the floor. She smiled at us, laughing softly under her breath. Rufus quickly ran over to her, whining happily as she pet him on the head. Her blue eyes found mine and I found that they were swimming with sympathy; it was almost like she had known what had transpired up here. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t come after us with that damn spatula. Speaking of which, there was an angry red welt on my hand.

At my inquisitive look, she said, “I just thought I would see what you lot were up to.”

“Just playing Exploding Snap,” I responded, smiling as I pointed to a strand of my hair, which was still smoking slightly.

“Well,” Aunt Eliza began, folding her arms over her chest and leaning against the door jam. “It’s nearly one o’clock in the morning and though I’m not kicking you out, Sirius, I just thought I would let you know since I don’t know what time you plan to go over to the Potters’ tomorrow morning.”

“Circe be damned,” Sirius said. “Are you kidding? It’s one o’clock in the morning?”

Aunt Eliza nodded her head sagely. “Indeed it is. You’ve been up here for nearly five hours,” she said, laughing again. Straightening herself, she fixed the hem of her shirt and turned on her heel, leaving the doorway just as quietly as she had come.

Sirius and I stared at one another for a few moments before he swiftly rose to his feet. Holding out a hand for me, I took it reluctantly and let him pull me to my feet. He quickly released my hand and I hoped he didn’t feel the same sharp, electric jolt when our skin had come in contact.

“Shall we?” I said, gesturing toward the door with a sweeping wave of my arm.

I started down the stairs, Sirius just a step behind me, and once we reached the main level, I found that I was more than mildly upset that he was leaving. Of course, I would see him in just a few days time at James’s house for New Years, but still, it wasn’t the same. I grabbed his coat off the rack and handed it to him.

“I’m glad that you decided to come,” I stated. I hoped I sounded genuine because that was how I really felt. I was a bit hesitant to have him in the house at first, but after spending the entire day with him and actually sharing Christmas with someone other than my aunt, I had no idea why I had been so damn reluctant.

Perhaps it’s because you didn’t want Lucinda to find out - even though you know she will eventually.

Trying my hardest not to talk back to the Voice, I watched as Sirius slipped his arms into his coat.

“Are you kidding me?” Sirius began. “I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity even if I had tickets to the World Cup -,” at the doubtful look I sent him, he corrected himself, “well, maybe. But it was nice to be with another family, to say the very least. You’re very lucky to have such a loving aunt.”

“I know,” I replied, smiling at him. We looked at each other once again, but I snapped myself out of it before it turned into one of those terribly clichéd moments when my heart began to flutter wildly and I leaned in to kiss him. “Anyway, we actually have to go through the back door. Since we live in a Muggle neighbourhood, we can’t risk Apparating in the front yard,” I explained as I walked toward the kitchen.

He followed me into the kitchen and once again, we were faced with an awkward silence as we stood before the back door. I opened it up and stepped out onto the slab of concrete, hoping that he would follow me; he did. It was much chillier outside than I had thought it to be and I started to shiver through the material of my shirt.

Folding my arms against my chest to try to keep in the warmth, I opened my mouth to say my bit, my goodbye, but the words never came. A warm mouth closed over mine, stealing the words right from my lips, never to be heard.

. . .

I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing, too - SIRIUS BLACK IS KISSING ME!

But just as quickly as he placed his lips against mine, he pulled back and began to mutter furiously under his breath.

“Merlin, Eleanor, I’m sorry - I don’t know what I was - you know, I shouldn’t have - fuck, I’m such a horrible person - please I hope you didn’t - shite, what I have done-,”

I don’t know why I did it, but I did. I grabbed him by the collar of his coat and pressed my mouth against his roughly. Immediately, he stopped talking and began to kiss me back.

In one swift movement, he had me pinned between himself and the brick wall of the house. He had shoved me a little more roughly than necessary, but I ignored it. Pain was the last thing on my mind as I fell deeper into the kiss, even though the Voice in the back of my head was screaming at me to get a hold of myself. 

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, YOU STUPID GIRL!? HE’S GOT A GIRLFRIEND! MERLIN, YOU ARE SUCH A SLAG, BRIGGS!


His fingers threaded through my hair, holding my face closer to his. His lips were warm and wet against mine, and the feeling brewing in the pit of my stomach was nothing I had ever experienced before. It was all so foreign, this whole snogging business. Oddly enough, my fingers found his ear lobe, I rubbed it between my thumb, and index finger, eliciting a moan from him that made Sirius pressed his mouth against mine more tightly. 

YOU ARE JUST ASKING FOR TROUBLE! STOP FUCKING SNOGGING HIM, ELEANOR! NOW!


I felt his tongue prodding the corner of my lips gently and without a second thought, I opened my mouth to him. I could feel every line of his body against my front and I loved it. My head spun with a sense of eternal happiness, a sense of pleasure that I had never felt before. Like his lips, his tongue was warm and when it brushed against mine, I shuddered. My knees were knocking together again and I felt almost too weak to support myself. Thank Merlin I was pressed against the door! 

STOP SNOGGING HIM RIGHT NOW, ELEANOR! STOP WHILE YOU’RE AHEAD AND THINGS START TO HEAT UP!

His hands quickly left my hair and started to trail down my body. I could barely contain my squeak of surprise as one of his hands cupped my breast through the fabric of my shirt. My stomach gave a great flip of pleasure and I felt my toes curling happily within my shoes. Instead of pulling away like I should’ve, I melted into his touch, encouraging him to go on and I kissed him back as hard as I could, putting all the feelings I felt for him in that one kiss, into this one snog. 

You’re going to regret this.


Just as his hands began to move down my sides, I gave a little giggle and muttered against his lips, “Sirius.”

This, my friends, was the absolute worst thing for me to do. As if struck by lightning, Sirius broke away from me. His hand immediately found his face, his fingertips pressed lightly against his lips, which were very swollen and very red. He turned his silver eyes to me and we stared at each other for a prolonged moment.

“Sirius, I-,”

He stumbled backward, his eyes as wide as saucers. Because he hadn’t been playing attention to what he was doing, he lost his footing on the short flight of stairs that led to the small patch of grass that we called a backyard. He fell to the ground and I hurried toward him to help, but he held out a hand.

“Don’t!” he shouted at me.

I stared at him, perplexed and at an utter loss for words. “Sirius-,”

He scrambled to his feet, pulling his wand out of his pocket as he did so. I opened my mouth to say something, but he turned on the spot and with a very sharp CRACK!, he Disapparated.



.

Chapter 29: Holiday From Real
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After the sleepless night I had, I could scarcely enjoy Christmas morning. Like usual, Aunt Eliza had been abnormally chipper, rushing about the house like a chicken with its head severed from its body. It was entertaining to watch, true enough, but it was not enough of a distraction.

Every time I let my thoughts stray, all I saw was that kiss. All I could feel was his warm, soft mouth moving roughly yet delicately against mine. All I could feel were his hands buried deep in my hair, travelling down the sides of my body. The feel of his open palm, his splayed fingers, against my breast; the electrical current that pulsated through my veins like a burning fire, a wild flame that could not be extinguished by any force known to man.

. . .

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Right, what gives? I’m just trying to convey how much that stupid snog as addled my brain over the past few days.

Honestly, on Christmas morning, I kept zoning out throughout breakfast. So much so that I emptied half a bottle of ketchup on my eggs before I noticed what I was doing. I’m sure that if it weren’t for Aunt Eliza’s shriek of surprise, I would not have even noticed it. When I was pouring myself a fresh glass of pumpkin juice, I completely missed my glass and ended up getting it all over the table. And as you might have guessed, I didn’t notice that either.

Yep, that’s how badly The Snog was effecting me.

After the slightly awkward breakfast, Aunt Eliza suggested that we open our presents. With a nod of my head, I followed her into the living room, Rufus hot on my heels.

Ever since I could remember, my Christmases were short affairs, consisting for a few gifts from both my aunt and my dad (when he had been alive, obviously), and occasionally the florist down the lane. So, it’s suffice to say that when I saw the mountain of gifts beneath the tree this year, I was a little more than taken back. I couldn’t prevent my eyes from widening greedily at the pile as I plunked down eagerly on the couch.

Aunt Eliza separated the presents into three piles: hers, mine, and Rufus’s. Not surprisingly, Rufus had quite the stack this year - no doubt he received a good many of them from Aunt Eliza. I couldn’t blame her for giving him so much, he made a really good companion when you needed one.

“Oh Ella!” Aunt Eliza exclaimed, her hand flying to her mouth to stifle a gasp.

I looked up from the parcel in my lap, which was proving very difficult to open without the wrapping paper nipping at my fingers; I knew this gift was from Aunt Eliza. “What?” I asked, panicked. “What is it?”

She was holding up her hand where something was dangling from her fingers; it was the amulet I purchased for her in Diagon Alley.

“It’s supposed to be a protective amulet,” I explained as she motioned for me to fasten the necklace around her neck. “At least, that’s what the vendor said when I bought it from him, but I highly doubt it.” Unhooking the clasp, I draped the necklace around her neck, pulling the chain back around to reconnect the clasp. “Really, I only bought it because I thought it was pretty.”

“It’s beautiful, that’s what is it,” Aunt Eliza gushed, her cheeks flushing as she leaned over and wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. I, too, found my face colouring as she pulled back from the embrace and looked down at the charm hanging around her neck. “What sort of stone is this?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure, actually,” I replied. “The vendor didn’t tell me. I’m assuming that it’s a sapphire, but I could be wrong.”

“Regardless,” Aunt Eliza said. “It’s wonderful; I love it, Ella.” She giggled in her schoolgirl way and clapped her hands together excitedly. “All right, open yours!”

Turning my attention to the parcel in my lap, I started to unwrap it. The Flesh Eating Wrapping Paper slashed viciously at my fingers and I winced a few times, quickly pulling my hand back. After several attempts, I was able to rip the paper enough that it lay still, the enchantment being lifted.

“What could it be?” I mused out loud, making Aunt Eliza laugh. As I pulled the paper away from the box, I saw that there were tiny holes puncturing the sides of the box as well as the lid; I was more than curious to see what lay inside. I tore the top of the box away from the base and let out a gasp.

My eyes met Aunt Eliza’s over the box and I saw that she was smiling widely, her blue eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Do you like it?” she questioned coyly.

“I love it!” I exclaimed happily as I reached into the box and tenderly scooped up the small, grey tabby kitten in my hands. A tiny paw lightly scratched the side of my thumb and I released one of the most startling noises - a coo. I didn’t normally coo over things, but this little kitten, this tiny animal was, perhaps, the most adorable thing I had ever beheld.

“Martha’s cat had a litter and she was giving them away,” Aunt Eliza said as I lifted the kitten up to my face, gazing into its bright yellow eyes. “Since you’re not allowed to have puppies at Hogwarts, I figured that a kitten was the next best thing. Especially since you hate toads and for some reason that is beyond me, have an aversion to owls.”

“It’s because they have sharp beaks and might peck off my thumbs,” I answered simply, not tearing my eyes away from the kitten. “Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked.

“A boy,” Aunt Eliza replied as she picked up another one of her gifts and began to unwrap it; it was a book from Martha, that same lady whose cat had had kittens. “What’re you going to name him?”

I stared at the kitten, my heart leaping momentarily as it gave a small, happy sounding mew. I never liked naming animals because, well, it was a hard thing to do. It was sort of like naming a child, but not as big - well, not to most people anyway. But the way I see it is that the animal - or child - is forced to live with your decision for their entire life - unless, of course, they do the sensible thing and change their name. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to give him a stupid name, only to have him hate me for the rest of his nine lives.

I was still considering an appropriate name for my new kitten when an owl appeared in the front window, a letter attached to its leg. Curiosity sparking within me, I rose from my position on the couch, the kitten mewing quietly in my hands as it toyed with my thumb, and went to open the window. The owl looked very regal indeed and my stomach flopped. I tried not to get my hopes up that it was an owl from. . .well, I don’t think I need to elaborate on who it might be from, as I had been thinking about him and his bloody perfect lips all morning.

The owl stared at me hungrily. At least, I thought it was staring at me hungrily. In truth, the owl was gazing longingly at my brand new kitten, whom was small enough to be an appetizer for the lunch I knew that bloody owl was planning.

I glared at the owl. “He’s my kitten,” I said defensively, shielding the kitten in my arms. “Not yours,” I added pointlessly as I took the letter from the owl’s leg and opened the window further to allow him entrance. He swooped into the house and flapped his great wings once, landing on the perch in the kitchen beside Leonidias; the pair put their heads together as though they were planning a mutiny against me to get to my beloved-

“Cappa!” I cried suddenly, exuberant.

“I beg your pardon?” Aunt Eliza squeaked, her eyes round with surprise.

“That’s his name,” I said in an explanatory voice as I sat back down on the couch, my newly named kitten still in my arms and the letter in my hand. “Only his name will be with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘K’.”

My aunt stared at me for a few moments. “I like it,” she said, bobbing her head. “It fits him.” She smiled at me before gesturing to the letter in my hand. “Whose it from?”

I shrugged my shoulders somewhat helplessly.

“I’ve no idea,” I answered slowly, even though I did have hopes as to whom it could be from. I set Cappa down in my lap and he walked around cautiously, taking carefully measured steps before taking a great leap off my lap. He hurried over to where Rufus lay sleeping on the couch and began to swipe at the dog’s ears.

Deciding that I would open the rest of my gifts before I opened the letter, I set it aside and pulled the rest of my presents onto the couch beside me.

It was all over rather quickly. From Alice, I received an enchanted hairbrush that got rid of tangles with little to no pain at all. James gifted me with a book entitled Quidditch Through the Ages with a note attached, saying that it would help me better get into the sport. Having seen the book in my lap, Aunt Eliza shrieked and briefly fawned over James, saying that I should try to snatch him up for myself. I ignored her as per usual when she made silly remarks like that and continued opening my stack of presents. Peter gave me three Sugar Quills and a package of Chocolate Frogs, which I’ll have to admit, was a wonderful present. From Lily, I received a beautiful, leather bound book and when I opened the pages, I saw that they were all empty. Inside, a note was scribbled in her scrawl and I found my eyes watering as I read the text.


I hope you enjoy this scrapbook to catalogue your most cherished memories in. Our friendship may be new, but the memories we’ve shared at already record-worthy! Thanks so much for being such a wonderful friend. Have a Happy Christmas and don’t you dare forget to owl me back -

Love,

Lily.

Wiping my eyes, I set the book aside and glanced at the letter beside me; it was more than likely, I realized, that the letter was from Lily confirming our plans for New Years Eve. I should’ve been much more excited than I was, but I had been so hopeful. . .

I picked up the last two presents and opened the one in my right hand. It was from Remus. A huge amount of pressure settled on my chest and my stomach sank. A peculiar yet familiar feeling began to spread through my body. I realized what it was at once.

Unwillingly, images of Sirius’s lips against mine, his hands in my hair, on my body, flashed quickly through my head. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, I attempted to staunch the guilt that was flowing into every particle of my being. Nothing was working. Faster and faster, the images flickered in my mind, occasionally accompanied by a gush of heat and a flip of my stomach.

It was guilt for what I had done the night before - the unforgivable thing that I had done to Remus. I was the one who had responded to the kiss. I encouraged Sirius to continue to snog me. It was all my fault; the blame rested in my hands, the hands of a sinner.

It’s not like you’re dating Remus, the Voice reminded me. You just went on a date with him. And snog him more times than necessary. Besides, I think we both know which of the two you fancy more.

The Voice’s presence in my mind was not the least bit comforting. If anything, it made me feel much worse than I had only moments ago. The heavy lead bullet that was guilt sank deep into the pit of my stomach, churning around in the acids within.

So, I might not have been going with Remus, but that still doesn’t mean that what I did - what we did was justified by any means. Sirius had a girlfriend, for Merlin’s sake! Conveniently enough, she also had it out for me, just waiting for me to slip up. And this was a pretty big slip up, if you ask me. This was the sort of act that tore apart friendship - not that it matters in the case of Sirius and I, as I was more than sure that our friendship was shot to hell the moment his lips brushed against mine. . .

Another wave of unwanted images washed over me and I brutally shoved them aside. No, I wouldn’t let them get to me. I couldn’t, not now and not ever. There was a small possibility that I would be able to put this all behind me, but I knew what I had to do first. I didn’t like it in the slightest, but I knew it was the only way that I would be able to get rid of this immense weight, this pressure that was constricting my heart.

“Eleanor?” Aunt Eliza asked, her voice faint as I pulled myself back together. “Are you alright?”

Swiping at my eyes, I turned to face her and nodded my head briefly. “Yeah, I’m fine. Lily’s note just got to me,” I answered smoothly, and it was true - her note had gotten to me.

Once Aunt Eliza took the photo book from my hands, my gaze was redirected to the parcel in my lap. With hesitancy I didn’t normally display toward the prospect of opening a gift, I unwrapped the small, but oddly heavy package. An affectionate sigh escaped my lips once I saw what was inside the box. A book as thick as a dictionary was nestled in red and green tinsel paper, the book itself full of crossword puzzles, brain teasers, and everything else in between that could keep someone like me busy for hours on end. Beside the book, there was also a set of three beautiful Eagle Quills along with an inkwell full of ink that changed colours according to the writer’s mood.

Out of all my gifts, this, by far, was the best. It was just so. . .personal, that I couldn’t handle it. My hand flew to my mouth, just barely stifling the sob that escaped me. Painful tears stung the backs of my eyes and I didn’t bother wiping them away. Instead, I rose from my position on the couch and hurried out of the living room. I raced up the stairs and into my room, slamming my bedroom door shut behind me just as another great sob tore through me.

X - - X

“D’you have everything?” Aunt Eliza questioned from the doorway.

Her voice startled me and I jumped in surprise, my hand leaping nervously to my throat where a heavy amethyst pendant hung from an extraordinarily crafted silver chain - a gift and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who had given it to me.

“Sorry,” she added, smiling sympathetically. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s alright,” I said, chewing on my lip as I surveyed my bedroom. My hands found my hips and I nodded my head to myself. “Yeah, I think I have everything.”

“Good,” Aunt Eliza said, her smile still intact. “Mr. Evans said that he’ll be here around three o’clock this afternoon. It’s nearly that time, so I suggest we go downstairs.”

With a wave of her wand, my trunk followed her out the door and down the hall. I struggled to keep up with her, Cappa wedged under my arm. “You talked to Mr. Evans?” I asked as we walked down the stairs.

“Of course I did,” gasped Aunt Eliza dramatically. “You honestly didn’t think I would let you spend the rest of your holiday there without talking to either of her parents, did you?”

When I didn’t say anything in response, she reached back and slapped me lightly, playfully, on my arm. “I’m not that irresponsible!” she half-shrieked. “For all I know, you could be having scandalous parties while her parents are away!”

I rolled my eyes, trying very hard not to think about the party that I was forced to attend. There were times such as now when I really hated having friends. I clobbered down the rest of the stairs, though I really couldn’t explain the suddenly foul mood I was in. Praying that the sight of Lily would cheer me up, I plopped down on the couch in the living room and began to play with the adorable little kitten named Cappa, who was delighted to have my full and undivided attention.

Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang. I leapt out of my seat faster than a curse off the lips of James Potter. Cappa mewed, apparently annoyed that I tossed him aside unceremoniously in order to get to the door before Aunt Eliza could embarrass me. Quickly running a hand over the top of my head to make sure that I didn’t look ridiculous, I pulled the door open.

Two things happened at once. There was a loud, ear piercing shriek of delight and I was being crushed to death in the arms of my best friend.

“Can’t. . .breathe,” I wheezed into Lily’s ear as she continued to squeeze my eternal organs to the point of near combustion.

Finally, she released me, gripping tightly onto my elbows. She let out another happy shriek and jumped up and down on spot. “It’s so good to see you!”

I couldn’t stop the smiling from consuming my face. An intense feeling of relief washed over me as I stared into Lily’s gorgeous emerald eyes. “I know!” I found myself crying happily, throwing my arms around her once more.

Behind me, someone cleared their throat a bit more dramatically than necessary and I found that I was rolling my eyes playfully. “Lily, this is my aunt, Eliza. Aunt Eliza, this is my best mate, Lily Evans,” I introduced them to one another, making the appropriate hand gestures show that they could clearly establish who was who.

Instead of shaking her hand like I thought she would, Aunt Eliza pulled Lily into one of her infamous bone crushing, coma inducing embraces. She pulled away quickly, though, her face flushed.

“It’s so good to finally meet you,” Aunt Eliza gushed. “I’ve always wanted to meet my niece’s best friend.”

Lily grinned from ear to ear. “The pleasure’s all mine - er - Eliza.”

Aunt Eliza nodded in approval. “Won’t you come in?” she asked with a sweep of her arm.

“Oh,” Lily said, gnawing her lip as a look of apprehension spread across her face. “I’d really love to, but we can’t stay very long.” She looked genuinely upset at the prospect of having to leave. “We’ve got to pick my sister up from her boyfriend’s house.” There was a barely concealed bitterness in her voice, but if she was feeling particularly bitter, her face showed no sign of it whatsoever.

“Don’t be sorry,” said Aunt Eliza, a false smile on her face. It looked convincing enough to anyone else, but I knew what her real smile looked like and that certainly was not it. Turning toward me with her arms held open, I gave her a hug.

“Take care,” I muttered softly to her. She squeezed me tightly before releasing me.

“I’ll see you in June,” she replied, tears gathering in her blue eyes. At her heels, Rufus barked loudly and I obliged to bending down to his level to give him a sloppy hug and to drop a kiss on the top of his head. Once I was back at human level, Aunt Eliza added, “Keep safe.”

“I promise I will,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Lily quipped from beside me. “I’ll make sure she’s all right.”

Aunt Eliza offered the vibrant redhead a watery smile before she handed over Cappa the Kitten. It really made quite the name, didn’t it?

“Just. . .,” Aunt Eliza trailed off, wiping at her eyes. “I love you.”

I smiled faintly at her. “I love you, too.” I gave her a quick hug, unable to stop the salty water from gathering in my eyes.

Wedging Cappa under one arm and grabbing the handle to my trunk with my other hand, I hurried out of the house; Lily had a hold of the other handle. From the doorway, Aunt Eliza stood with Rufus ready to wave us off. Lily and I heaved my trunk into the back of the car before climbing into the car ourselves.

I felt a tear trail down my cheek as we pulled away from the house, the sight of a crying Aunt Eliza waving farewell imprinted in my head.

X - - X

I quickly found out that Lily was every bit like her father and absolutely nothing like her mother. Even though Angela Evans was a very polite, very kind woman, Lily not only looked like her father when it came to physical appearance, but she acted like him, too. It was odd, watching the pair of them go back and forth with their witty remarks and jokes. It felt as though I were watching from the far end of a prism, observing things at an arm’s length instead of up close. I felt like an intruder upon their lives.

However, Lily’s good humour quickly diminished once Petunia, her older sister, piled into the car. I’d never asked Lily about Petunia, but from what I gathered from Alice, she wasn’t a very nice person or a very pretty one at that. Normally, I wasn’t very critical of the appearances of others, but I could not stop myself from mentally agreeing with Alice - Petunia really did resemble a horse.

I’m assuming that Petunia didn’t know that they were picking me up from my aunt’s house because she sent me one look before shrieking, “She’s one of them, isn’t she?” She whipped her head to Lily and added, “She’s a freak like you, isn’t she?”

I felt my cheeks flush and beside me, Lily stiffened considerably. I knew she was ready to open fire upon her sister, something I wished she wouldn’t do, but Mr. Evans spoke before anything could happen.

“Petunia!” he exclaimed, a note of warning in his voice. “You do not talk to Lily’s friends - or anyone - that way. It was rude and uncalled for. Now, apologize to Eleanor.”

Petunia leaned over Lily, who was sitting between us, and glared into my face. “Sorry,” she ground out viciously. Folding her arms over her chest, she sat back in her seat and turned her hard gaze to the rear view mirror. “Happy now?”

Those were the last words anyone dared to utter for the rest of the car ride, which, thankfully, wasn’t very long at all. I couldn’t help releasing a sigh of relief once the car started to slow.

When we pulled up to the Evans’ house, I had to bite back a laugh. It was as picturesque as any house could be. It was a modest two story made of bricks with black shutters and a white door. A white picket fence surrounded the front lawn, which featured a small rose garden off to the side. It looked like the type of house where many good memories had been made. I smiled as I stepped out of the car, Cappa cradled in my arms.

Mr. Evans walked around to the back of the car and opened the trunk where my belongings were stowed away. A look of consideration flashed across his face.

“Do you need any help with that, Mr. Evans?” I asked, my fingers absentmindedly stroking the top of Cappa’s fluffy head.

He laughed. “Heavens no. The day I start asking a guest for help is the day the world goes up in smoke,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “No, you go on inside with Lily, Eleanor. Make yourself at home. I think Angie’s going to make some cold cuts for lunch.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive,” he said as he reached into the trunk and grabbed the handle of my trunk. “Run along now.”

I offered a soft smile before hurrying after Lily, who was already on the porch, waiting for her sister to unlock the front door. When I came up behind her, she grinned at me. As soon as the door was unlocked, Petunia flew into the house, thundering up the stairs to her bedroom.

“Sorry about her,” Lily said as she walked deep into the house.

“It’s no big deal, Lils,” I replied, glancing at the pictures hanging on the walls.

The hallway walls were covered with family photographs. They looked like such a happy family. I was surprised to see more than one photograph where Lily and Petunia had their arms thrown around one another, huge smiles on their faces, the laughter evident in their eyes.

Lily caught my lingering gaze at the pictures and snorted. “Weird, isn’t it?”

“What’s weird?”

“These pictures,” she said, placing her hands on her hips in a casual fashion as we looked at the framed, unmoving photographs. “We used to be best friends, you know.” She sighed softly. “I just wish that things could go back to the way they used to be. Before Petunia stopped thinking of me as her sister and started thinking of me as a freak.”

I wasn’t sure what I could say to that, if there was anything at all for me to say. I was at a loss for words, but for some reason, I felt guilty that I wasn’t saying anything. I turned toward Lily, my mouth opened and some lame response on my lips. Thankfully, her mother called out from the kitchen that lunch was ready before the words could leave my mouth.

Relieved, I followed Lily into the kitchen and we sat down at the kitchen table, ham and cheese sandwiches set out on plates with condiments at our disposal.

X - - X

My first night at the Evans’ house was a sleepless one. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see The Snog. I couldn’t get it out of my head, no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t help that I knew what would be happening in several days‘ time. We would be going to James’s house for his New Years Eve party, which not only made me feel nauseous, but scared the shit out of me. I wasn’t prepared to deal with that sort of stress.

Not many people had the stomach to face someone who Disapparated after you snogged. I, for one, certainly didn’t possess that sort of gall. The thought of having to see his face made my stomach turn uncomfortably, making me physically sick. I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I might as well tell Lily that I wasn’t going to the party. I already knew what her response would be. That I was letting everyone down, that I had promised James I would attend. I was already aware of that, but this was my sanity on the line here. Sure, I questioned my sanity nearly every day, but I knew that if I went to the party, I would definitely lose it.

With a sigh, I turned over and punched the pillow beneath my head. I knew it was a fruitless attempt to try and go back to sleep, but what other option did I have? 

- - 

All right, so this is the chapter! I know nothing exciting happened, but that's because I thought it best to cut it off here. It was already eight pages long and if I tried to include the party, well, it would be much too long to read. So, that being said, the next chapter shall include the party and all the dramatic joy that comes with it. I hope you all liked this chapter and I'm sorry it took so long for me to update - I was just busy with my schoolwork and such. Hopefully, the next chapter won't take as long to write.


Chapter 30: Turn On Me
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Over the next couple of days, the infamous Snog began to slowly recede into the back of my mind, only coming back to haunt me when I lay down at night and attempted to get a few hours sleep. The explanation behind this unnatural phenomenon lay in the hands of Lily’s extraordinary family. This excluded Petunia, the self proclaimed Witch Hunter of the Evans’ household. At least, that’s what I imagined Petunia would call herself if she was one of those people who thought it necessary to give themselves a nickname.

Anyway, moving on.

Being with the Evans’ family (minus Petunia, who spent an alarming amount of time with a boy who went by the name of Vernon Dursley and, according to Lily, was roughly the size of a walrus) was a breath of fresh air. It was nice to see a fully functioning family that seemed to love each other more than life itself. The way that Mr. Evans looked at his youngest daughter, the light that caught in his sparkling green eyes, made me feel a twinge of jealous toward the brilliant and beautiful redhead. Of course, I was happy that she was so loved by her parents. But it made me realize that perhaps my life wasn’t as fulfilled as I pretended it to be, that maybe everything wasn’t all right and I missed my father more than I let on.

When I submersed myself into those memories, I was always quickly pulled to safety by either Lily or her wonderful parents. Her mother, who insisted several times that I should call her Angie as she felt “ancient” being addressed by the same name as her dreaded mother-in-law, started to address me by pet names such as “sweetheart” and “honey”. Whether it was out of habit or intentionally, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Normally, I didn’t fancy pet names all that much, but when the words left Mrs. Evans - oops, I meant to say Angie’s - lips, the muscles around my mouth immediately lifted into a happy grin.

In the mornings, Lily and I would head downstairs only to be greeted with a delicious breakfast. Now I’m a huge fan of my aunt’s cooking and I’d always thought she was the greatest cook known, but as soon as I tasted one of Angela’s omelettes, I knew that I had been sadly mistaken. I would never tell Aunt Eliza that I favoured Angela’s cooking over hers; it was a secret I would take to the grave. I would sit down across the table from Lily with Mr. Evans at my left elbow, reading his paper through his bifocals. He wouldn’t look up from his newspaper, but he would make an occasional comment that left a stitch in my side from laughter. If he said something particularly crude, Angela would hit him on the back of the head with an oven mitt, which only made me dissolve into another fit of high pitched, fairly annoying giggles.

Once breakfast was eaten and we were cleaned up, we usually left the house to do something more exciting. On the first day, we went to the park. Lily and I played with Cappa in the snow, cooing at the adorable kitten as he attempted to climb over the mountainous piles of snow while Mr. Evans and Angela went for a turn about the paved way. The second day of my stay, we made a trip to the London Zoo. It was a place I had never been before, much to the surprise of the entire Evans’ clan. I told them how I would always refuse my father’s offers to take me as I didn’t want to see all the sad animals in the glass cages. Her parents had laughed, but Lily said that I did make a good point for a small child. That day was one of the most enjoyable that I could recall in a long time. On the third day, we went to the cinema. We watched a movie that Angela and I ended up leaving early due to the fact it failed to capture our interest. Instead, we hurried across the street to a small café where we drank hot chocolate. Angela told me countless stories of how she and Mr. Evans met and fell in love, which were no where close to cliché. I don’t think I’d ever laughed so hard with another adult, including Aunt Eliza.

We went on many other day trips that were fun packed and laughter filled. I almost felt like I was a part of the Evans family, even though I was well aware that I wasn’t. Somewhere deep inside, I found myself wishing that I was. My mind quickly banished the thought. If I was an Evans, then I wouldn’t have Aunt Eliza. And a life without Aunt Eliza wasn’t much of a life, if you asked me.

The days slowly melted into one another. I was happy for the distraction. I would be happy for any sort of distraction to keep me from thinking about The Snog. Of course, it didn’t always elude me like I hoped it would. No, at night when my mind was slack and I was more than ready to go to bed, I would imagine his slick lips against mine, his hot breath intermingled with mine, his glorious hands on me. I hated it. I wanted the stupid dreams to go away, but no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I jolted myself awake, they always came creeping back to burst my dream cloud.

Bugger.

X - - X

 

It was the sixth day of my stay at the Evans’ house. Like every other day I had been here, I rolled out of bed and shuffled out of the guest room into Lily’s room. She was still sleeping, like always, but like she requested of me the first morning here, I was to wake her up when I woke up. I poked her in the side and she grunted.

“Go away.”

“You told me to wake you up when I woke up,” I said as I fought back a yawn. Unfortunately, I lost the battle and ended up being consumed by one of the biggest yawns in the history of yawns.

“Is breakfast ready yet?”

I shrugged my shoulders, even though I knew she couldn’t see me; her quilt was pulled over her head. “I dunno. Doesn’t your mum usually make breakfast every morning?”

Lily tossed the blanket aside and fumbled around on her mattress, struggling to push herself to her elbows. She blinked blearily at me. “What time is it?”

I glanced over at the alarm clock on her bedside table. The digital numbers were green and glowed iridescently. “Nearly nine. Why, does it matter?”

“It would if it was too early,” she mumbled under her breath as she untangled herself from her quilt and stumbled around on the floor. She placed a hand on her head as though she were trying to get the world to stop spinning. I followed her with concerned eyes as she crossed the room and took her dressing gown off the hook beside the closet door. Once she donned the robe, she gestured to the door and I conceded to her silent command, marching down the stairs.

I wasn’t all that surprised to see Angela standing at the stove, her back toward us as she prepared our breakfast or to find Mr. Evans already in his seat at the table, the paper unfolded in front of him. At the sight of his newspaper, I suddenly realized it had been nearly a week since I had so much as picked up a copy of the Daily Prophet and completed a crossword puzzle. This thought bothered me more than it should’ve, but I pushed it aside as I took my customary seat at the table.

“Good morning, girls,” Angela said in a sing-song voice as she set a plate in front of me.

And there it was, the best damn green onion and cheese omelette that I had ever tasted, looking absolutely delicious on the white plate. I smiled up at her. “Good morning,” I replied in the same voice Lily’s mum had greeted us with.

Lily sent me a surprised look, her emerald eyes wide. However, she said nothing when her mother placed a plate of fried bacon and eggs in front of her. Instead, she grabbed her fork and knife eagerly and cut into her breakfast, all but shovelling it into her mouth.

From his place beside me, Mr. Evans laughed. “Where’s the fire, Lils?”

She looked up from her plate and realization dashed across her face. “Um,” she responded, her slim shoulders moving upward into a funky, somewhat deformed shrug. “I guess I’m just really hungry?”

I resisted the urge to laugh at her. With a small smirk on my face, I started to eat my own breakfast and nearly moaned out loud when the first morsel touched the taste buds on my tongue. Mmmm, it was just so yummy!

Once she finished preparing her own breakfast, Angela took her seat at head of the table, opposite her husband. She took a sip of coffee before taking a bite of her eggs. We fell into a comfortable silence as we ate. And you wonder why I want to be a part of their family when I have Aunt Eliza at home? I may lapse into comfortable silences with Aunt Eliza, true enough, but almost always, she would start rambling. . ..

With a pang, I realized that I missed her rambling more than I thought I did. My heart thumped in my chest albeit painfully. It was a little bit harder to eat my breakfast than it had been in days.

Halfway through our meal, the post arrived via owl. Every morning since I had been here, there was an affectionate letter in the mail from James. Sometimes, during the evenings when I attempted to play a game of chess with Mr. Evans, Lily would sit in a cosy armchair and reread her letter, a soft expression on her pale, freckled face. At first, it was cute, but after the third letter, I realized that James might’ve been more in love with her than I originally thought.

Things seemed to be turning out that way, didn’t they? They were always much bigger, much more meaningful than I believed them to be. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.

Lily hurried over to the window and wretched it open, allowing the two owls entrance. I cringed, my back pressed firmly against my chair as - wait a tick. There were two owls? That was more than a little odd. I was more than just a tiny bit curious now. Maybe it was an owl from Alice to Lily. But it didn’t fit. Alice had a barn owl and neither of the two majestic owls that came swooping in belonged to her. I recognized one of the owls, the beautiful snowy owl, as James’s, but the eagle owl. . .now I wasn’t so sure about that one. However, it did seem a little bit familiar.

But that’s not all I was surprised about. Oh no, not in the slightest. Not only were there two owls but the eagle owl had a huge parcel grasped within its beak. Its surprisingly sharp, pointed break. I felt the heat rush to my cheeks. Not out of embarrassment, but out of fear. Oh Merlin. . .

Lily took her letter from James’s owl and tore it open. I watched the eagle owl, my eyes growing as wide as saucers when it gave a great flap of its wings and landed in the middle of the table, its eyes focused on my. A shriek of fright escaped me and I tried to leap out of my seat. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much room between the wall and my chair, so I only succeeded in hitting my head against the wall behind me. It hurt. Badly.

A brief silence fell over the room. Mr. Evans and Angela were staring at me, identical expressions of confusion on their faces. The silence was quickly shattered by Lily’s loud laughter. I looked over at her to see that she was doubled over, her hand clutched to her stomach. Oh, so apparently, it was amusing to her. I had to admit, if I was watching it instead of experiencing it, I would probably be on the floor, laughing while I kicked my legs. But she was my best mate, she wasn’t supposed to start laughing at my fear.

I glared at her and righted myself, a hand flying to the back of my head. A huge lump had already begun to form and I knew that I was in for a monster of a headache. How very lucky of me. The owl started to trod across my plate until it was on the edge of the table, its beak thrust out at me. I could hardly retain my shudder as I subconsciously pressed myself against the wall, biting back what would’ve been another shriek of terror had I not seen the name scribbled across the parcel.

All right, so this owl didn’t want to attack me. It didn’t want to eat my thumbs as a tasty snack only to come back for my index fingers and pinkies. It was carrying a package for me. The scrawl looked vaguely familiar, but even if I wanted to there was no way I would be able to place it. I had difficulty remembering which socks I had on, much less whose writing looked like what. The slightly slanted letters threw me for a curve, but I reluctantly took the package from the owl. It seemed satisfied and turned on its tail (no pun intended, I swear) before spreading its great wings and flapping out the window.

The parcel was heavy in my hands. “And unnaturally lumpy.”

“What’d you say?” Lily asked, a grin on her face.

I looked at her, my brow furrowed. I wasn’t aware that I had spoken, but similar situations happened to me on a regular basis, so I was relatively used to it. “Oh, the package. It’s sort of lumpy.”

Without another word, Lily rushed over to my side, James’s letter forgotten, and took the package from my hand. I didn’t mind. In fact, I was glad that she had taken it. Something within my stomach told me that I already knew who it was from. My hand flew to my throat where the heavy amethyst pendant hung on the silver chain. When I touched the metal, a heated spark wound up my arm and an odd calm rushed over me; every time I touched any part of the necklace, it had the same effect.

Lily turned the package over in her hands a few times. A look of deep concentration passed over her face as she squinted at the words scrawled across the front.

“Well,” she said after a while; Mr. Evans and his wife had gone back to their plates of yummy eggs and bacon. “It’s obviously for you.”

“Believe it or not,” I began. “I actually managed that one on my own.”

She smirked at me and handed the parcel back to me. “Open it,” she instructed as she folded her arms over her chest.

My eyes widened. My mouth went dry. My hands started to shake. . .

All right, so maybe none of that happened. Actually, I hurriedly tore the plain brown paper away from the bulky object in my hands. It was better to get it over with than let my mind travel into the world of speculation. We all knew how much trouble I would be in if I let my thoughts stray and ideas take a hold on me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was what the package contained. Or rather, what the parcel was.

A low gasp of surprise escaped me as the deep purple fabric pooled in my hand, softer than silk and lighter than air. I was briefly reminded of James’s Invisibility Cloak and the singular time I had been underneath it with Sirius. A tremor of - well, something - rippled through me as I stared down at the object in my hands.

“What is it?” Angela asked. I jumped at how close her voice was. I jumped again when I turned my head and saw that she was standing at my shoulder. Mr. Evans was on my other side. And here I thought that Lily was a nosy person. No wonder where she gets it from, I thought with a mental eye roll.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I dunno.”

“Looks like a dress,” Mr. Evans said.

“Yeah,” Lily agreed, nodding her head eagerly. “It does.”

“Well,” Angela exclaimed, clapping her hands in an excited way that reminded me so much of my beloved Aunt Eliza. I wonder how she was holding up. “Unfold it and let us have a look!”

Swallowing nervously, I quietly reminded myself that I might as well get it over with and not drag out the torturous process of wondering what the hell it was. It certainly looked like a dress and a very formal one at that, but for all I knew, it was a flying carpet. In fact, I hoped that it was a flying carpet. I glanced at Lily out of the corner of my eye and she smiled at me encouragingly like any best mate would. She was forgiven for laughing at me earlier, I decided.

I held my breath as I held up the fabric. It fell swiftly, the edges skirting the white tiles of the kitchen floor. I gasped. Somewhat dramatically.

It was, perhaps, one of the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen in my life. Of course, I didn’t wear dresses all that often, much less owned one that still fit me. But still, it was exquisite. The dress as you might’ve guessed, was floor length. I was stunned at how something so simplistic could be so gorgeous! It was one of those form fitting dresses with a built in bodice. A lump immediately formed in my throat as I thought of what would happen when I put it on. Would it fit? I hoped it would, it was much too pretty to go to waste. I could tell by the sleeves - or lack thereof - that it was one of those off-the-shoulders numbers, something that would look incredible on someone like Lily, but on me? I would probably look like a retarded - well, I dunno, but I wouldn’t look good, of that much I was sure.

“Wow,” breathed Lily and her mother in unison. “It’s beautiful!”

When I blinked, I was surprised to feel a tear trickle down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away, hoping that no one saw, but when I felt the pressure of Mr. Evans’s hand on my shoulder, I knew that he’d seen it.

“I know,” I muttered softly, my finger finding and stroking the small, pearly clasp on the left shoulder bunch of fabric. Furrowing my brow, I asked, “What d’you think it’s for?”

“What? The brooch?”

In my mind, I wondered - oh, is that what its called? I shook my head to myself and bit in the inside of my cheek. “No, I meant the dress.” I sighed. “I can’t imagine why someone would send it to me.”

Beside me, Lily let out an almighty cackle of disbelief. At least, I hoped it was disbelief. If she was cackling like that just for the sake of cackling, then I really was afraid that she’d fallen off her rocker.

I sent her an incredulous look and she laughed. “Isn’t it obvious?” she exclaimed once the look on my face shifted from incredulity to questioning.

Now, it was probably arranged in a confused fashion. “Um,” I stalled, biting down harder on the inside of my mouth. “Not really?”

She gave a short laugh again, her piercing eyes searching my face for any sign of joking. There wasn’t any and she seemed to finally discover it. Her mouth snapped shut with a tiny click and her cheeks flushed a deep crimson.

“Oh,” she murmured. Lily cleared her throat and began to explain. “Don’t you see? It’s obviously for James’s New Years Eve party tomorrow night.”

My brow puckered with confusion. “What d’you mean? I thought. . . .”

“James didn’t tell you, did he?” When I shook my head, she muttered darkly under her breath that she would kill her boyfriend of a little less than one month for not telling me. She rolled her eyes and sighed, licking her lips. “Well, this party. . .it’s sort of an annual ordeal at the Potters’ house and it’s a really big deal to his parents. There’s all sorts of families there from the Ministry and family friends of the Potters’, but. . .a lot of them are pureblood, you see, and it’s only because the Potters’ want to be nice and respectable to them all. And well,” she rubbed the back of her neck nervously, “you see, Ellie, it’s a formal event. You know, black tie and evening gowns sort of thing? So, I’m thinking that whomever sent this to you meant for you to. . .wear it. . .tomorrow night.”

“A f-f-ormal. . . ?” I trailed off, my voice helpless. The colour quickly let my face. I felt dizzy on my feet. I must’ve swayed to the side because I felt Mr. Evans grab my elbow suddenly as though he was trying to steady me.

“Are you going to be all right, Eleanor?” Mr. Evans asked, his tone coloured with concern.

I nodded my head and pushed the dress into Lily’s hands. “I’m just - I need a - yeah.” I walked out of the kitchen, closing the door behind me, and hurried upstairs to the guest room where I had been staying. Merlin, this wasn’t good at all!

X - - X

 

It had come. The New Years Eve party. I had woken up with an upset stomach and now, with three hours until the official party started, it was still acting up. Flipping and flopping like I was on one of those rollercoaster things that Aunt Eliza always tried to get me to ride. I stared at the mirror in the bathroom, my wet hair hanging limp around my shoulders. I could do this. I had to. I didn’t have any other option. I had to face my fears, whether I wanted to or not.

I took a deep breath, hoping to ease the knot that had started to harden in the pit of my stomach. It didn’t work, much like I expected it to, and I expelled the breath. I might as well just face the music while I was still conscious.

With a resolute sigh, I gathered up my dirty clothes and left the safe confinements of the bathroom. As soon as I stepped out into the hall, I bumped into Petunia. She leapt back a good ten metres as if I had stung her or something. I stared at her, wide eyed and confused, as she made small yipping noises that reminded me of an irritated ostrich.

“Um,” I said, biting my lip. “Are you all right?”

Her face turned a startling shade of plum. “DON’T!” she bellowed in voice so big, it was impossible for it to have come from her. “Don’t you dare talk to me, you - you-.”

“Freak?” I supplied innocently, smiling slightly.

“URGH!” She threw her arms up into the air in a hysterical motion and stomped down the rest of the hall.

I stared after her, momentarily stunned into silence before my blood began to thunder loudly in my ears. Oh right, I had to go prepare for my eminent demise. I rolled my eyes to myself and heaving another heavy sigh, made my way toward Lily’s bedroom, the very place where I was supposed to go so she could help me get ready for the party.

Seconds after I’d rapped my knuckles against the white wood of her door, it sprung open. Lily had her hair up in curlers and was halfway through putting on her make up by the looks of it. She smiled widely and opened the door for me to come into her room. I slipped into the room and I was a little surprised to see Cappa was already on her bed, swatting his small grey paws at one of her stuffed animals, a moose named Pippin. Apparently, the moose was named after one of Lily’s favourite characters from a famous Muggle book series called “The Lord of the Rings”. Having never read the books myself, I thought it was a rather odd name to bestow upon your stuffed animal.

“Was that Tuney I heard shrieking out there?” Lily questioned, her tone amused, as she nudged the door shut with her toe. It clicked into place.

I laughed and nodded. “Yeah, that was her. I accidentally bumped into her when I was coming out of the toilet and she completely flipped out on me.”

The smile faltered on Lily’s face, but she quickly turned away from me and to the mirror. “What’d she say to you?”

I shrugged my shoulders and made myself more comfortable on the bed. “Oh, you know, the usual. She attempted to call me a freak, but I guess she was just so repulsed that I had actually touched her that she just couldn’t get the words out.” I sighed wistfully.

Lily laughed and turned to face me again, a mascara brush in her hand. “Really? Did she turned that really odd shade of purple?”

I bobbed my head. “Yes!” I exclaimed, a chuckle building up in my throat. “She did.” The stone in my stomach was starting to lessen, to become softer and more bearable. Maybe laughter was the best medicine after all.

The redhead shook her head softly. “It’s a shame. I wish you could’ve met Tuney before she turned all. . .well, you know how she is. She was really a wonderful girl.”

“I’m sorry, Lils, but I have a hard time believing that,” I commented, my voice low.

“I know. Alice does, too. But she wasn’t always this bad,” Lily sighed weakly. “She’s only gotten worse with age.” She was quiet for a long time and eventually, turned back to the mirror to finish putting on her makeup.

I watched her, equally quiet and lost in thought. Cappa climbed onto my stomach and curled up into a little ball, mewing in contentment when I stroked the top of his tiny head. He pressed his skull into my palm, eager for more affection. Originally, I’d thought that bringing Cappa here would’ve been a big mistake on my part as I wouldn’t be able to give him the proper amount of attention. Naturally, I was wrong; Lily and her mother showered him with more than enough attention, and yet here he was, acting like he was attention starved. Nevertheless, I continued to pet his head and he mewed happily, the only sound aside from the occasional shuffle of make up products on Lily’s dresser that filled the room.

Nearly twenty minutes later, Lily turned to face me once again. “All done,” she announced. My eyes were immediately drawn to her face and I gasped. She looked lovely. I told her so and her cheeks were stained red. “Oh, I don’t look that good!”

“I think you do,” I remarked as I sat up. I didn’t even realize that I’d laid down.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation before her face broke into a wide grin. “Your turn!”

“What?” I squealed, so loudly I woke Cappa up. He stumbled about like a confused drunk for a few moments before collapsing on the bed in a small heap.

“You honestly didn’t think you were going to the party without any make up, did you?”

“Maybe?” I winced.

“Eleanor!” she exclaimed, her voice full of amused outrage. “You can be so silly sometimes. Come over here and sit down. I promise I won’t do anything to your face that I wouldn’t do to my own.”

I sent her a look and reluctantly stood up, crossing the room to sit down in the vanity chair. She’d turned it so that it would be facing her instead of the mirror. I glowered at her as Lily began to select what she would use.

“Oh, wipe that look off your face,” she said once she caught sight of my glare. “It’s not like I’m going to do anything crazy. At least it’s not Alice; you can trust me.”

I nodded in silent agreement, my eyes trained on the floor. “Did you have to turn me away from the mirror, though?”

Another grin swept across her perfect, freckled features. “Of course I did! It wouldn’t be any fun if you got to see what you looked like before my job was complete.”

“That’s not fair!” I cried, furious. “You got to see yourself!”

“That’s because I was doing my own make up,” she replied, not at all bothered by the fact that I was trying to escape the chair. “Don’t make me bind you to that chair, Ellie. I would really hate to force you into this.”

I laughed bitterly. “Isn’t that what you’re already doing?”

She sent me a look. “Do you want to look good for Remus or not?”

That comment alone was enough to shut me up for the thirty minutes it took her to complete her work, as she’d called it. Hell, it was enough for me to mull over while she went about fixing my hair in a way that I would “just love”. I trusted Lily, so I didn’t say anything when she pulled out a very threatening looking device that she called a curling iron. I’d never heard of one before, but I sat as still as possible so she wouldn’t burn me with the hot metal, just like she instructed me to.

This is exactly why I hated getting makeovers.

X - - X

An hour and a half later, I was staring at The Dress, which was hanging on the back of the door to the guest bedroom. It was such a beautiful dress that I feared I would ruin it. Even with the fantastic job Lily had done with my hair and make up, I still wouldn’t look right in the dress. Perhaps it would look much better on someone like Lucinda or Lily. They had the shoulders, those perfectly round and delicate, feminine shoulders, to pull off the dress. Me? I barely had any curves to call my own and would look like a flimsy piece of cardboard in the dress.

“Just put it on,” someone said from the doorway.

I whirled around to see Angela leaning against the door jamb, her arms folded quaintly over her chest.

“You scared me.”

“I tend to have that effect on people,” she said, grinning. “Go ahead, put it on. It’ll look fabulous on you, even if you don’t think so,” she tacked on before I could speak.

I stared at her. “Can you read minds or something?”

She laughed, it sounded like wind chimes. “Not quite. I can recognize signs of hesitation. And doubt. Which I don’t know why you have either.” Her brow puckered together in genuine bafflement. “The way Lily spoke about you in her letters made it seem like you were one of those girls who was very sure of herself.”

“Lily talked about in me in her letters home?” I asked, incredulous.

“Of course she did,” Angela said. “She always said how she thought you were such a good person and probably even better friend, but that you didn’t like talking to people all that much. But when you finally did come around, oh, Lily was so excited. She wanted to make friends with you so badly.”

“She did?”

Again, Angela laughed. “That’s Lily for you. Anyway, I suppose I should let you get dressed. James is supposed to be picking the pair of you up at six o’clock and it’s nearly five thirty. You should start getting dressed, Eleanor. I know that Lily is already putting her shoes on.”

I smiled softly at Angela and as she turned to leave, muttered, “Thank you.”

“Anytime, dear.” She shut the door behind her with a soft cliff and I turned to look at the beautiful yet slightly intimidating dress again.

So Lily had always thought that I was sure of myself and that I would make a good mate? I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought. If anything, it was Lily, not I, who was that sort of girl and the better mate. I wished I could be more like Lily, someone with a good head on their shoulders. I had an all right head on a set of clumsy shoulders.

I guess this is it, I told myself as I took the dress off the hanger. I unbuttoned the flannel shirt I’d been wearing and was careful not to mess up my hair. I know Lily would throw a fit if one strand was out of place. I would, too, if I’d spent as long as she had trying to get the stubborn strands to fit into place in an elegant way; there was hardly anything elegant about me.

The sound of the zipper was ominous and sent a chill down my spine. I tried to ignore it as I slowly stepped into the dress, careful not to do anything stupid. Knowing me, I would tear a huge hole in the fabric before I took two steps. Thankfully, I was going to be wearing flat heeled shoes under the gown; Merlin forbid I had three inch heels strapped to my feet. Both Lily and I had agreed that would be a huge safety hazard for everyone involved.

I was astonish to find that the dress fit much better than I thought it would. It wasn’t a perfect fit by any means, but there wasn’t as much space in the bust area as I thought there was going to be. It had looked to be a big space to fill, but apparently I filled it as best as I could. The gown was off the shoulders, just like I suspected it to be. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I noticed that my shoulders looked much more delicate than I could ever remember them being, a lot more thinner as well. I was mildly concerned. I’d never been a bulky person, but I wasn’t exactly a stick figure either. I would have to remember to gorge on the refreshments. I reached back and pulled the zipper as softly as possible. If I snagged something, I would kill myself. And you think I’m joking.

As I fastened the amethyst pendant around my neck (it was surprising how perfect the colour of fabric of the dress matched the necklace that Sirius had given me), there was a brief knock on my door. It flung opened before I could say anything and there was Lily, standing there in all her beauty.

Her auburn hair was pulled into an elegant half twist, the bottom half of her locks hanging in waves around her shoulders, which made them look all the more delicate. A stab of jealous surged through me as my eyes took in her emerald dress. It was no doubt that she’d bought the dress because it matched the colour of her eyes so perfectly. It was a classic number with an empire waist and two straps that came up around her neck.

“Like it?” she asked, twirling about on spot. I saw that the straps criss-crossed one another over the pale expanse of her back.

“You look stunning,” I said, meaning every word.

“So do you!” Lily cried, rushing toward me as much as her heeled feet would allow. She grabbed my hands and made me spin in a circle, like she had. The edges of my dress flared out around me and she laughed. “That dress looks amazing on you! Remus won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

My stomach faltered and my heart stuttered in my chest. Remus. . .I would have to deal with him tonight. For the first time since The Snog. My blood once again began to thunder in my ears and I tried to stop the room from spinning.

“Let’s hurry downstairs!” Lily said, releasing her tight grip on one of my hands and pulling me toward the door. “James will be here any moment!”

I followed her down the stairs, my heart beating erratically against my ribs. I was afraid it would bust out of my chest if I didn’t control it soon. Even though I should’ve been thinking about Remus, there was only one face that I saw in my mind’s eye. I wondered how he would look all dressed up at the shindig at James’s manor home. He would probably look like some sort of Greek god descended directly from the line of Adonis himself.


You’re only getting yourself into trouble, thinking thoughts like that.

I’d been expecting the Voice to appear and once more, I was thankful for it. It was right. I would get in trouble if I kept thinking thoughts like that. Especially if I kept thinking them until I actually saw him. All hell would break loose and that was something I definitely couldn’t afford.

We’d been downstairs for naught but two minutes before there was a casual knock on the back door. Lily’s eyes widened with excitement and a shriek of pure delight escaped her as Mr. Evans answered the caller. From my position in the living room, I could just barely see through the narrow doorway, past Mr. Evans’ broad shoulder. He was shaking hands with James and there was a smile on his face. That was good. Very good, indeed.

When James came into the living room, even I had to let out a soft gasp of wonder. He looked as handsome as ever in his impeccably cut black suit. There was a narrow black tie fastened around his neck and a nervous tinge of pink around his neck. If anyone would be able to detect nerves in another human being on this night, it would be me.

But James only had eyes for Lily.

“Lily,” he breathed so softly, I wasn’t sure if I’d made it up or not.

I felt like a stranger intruding upon their moment, so I averted my eyes as soon as he captured her lips in a sweet kiss. Thankfully, they didn’t suck too much face and released one another, taking a hand instead. James turned his now glassy eyes to me and smiled widely.

“Wow, Ellie,” he said as he gave me an one armed hug, his fingers still laced through Lily‘s. “You look beautiful. Remus’ll be knocked off his feet.”

I tried not to cringe too noticeably at the casual dropping of his best mate’s name and grinned back at my good friend in response. “Thank you, James. You sure do know how clean up.”

James laughed heartily. “If you think I look good, wait until you see Remus and Sirius. They sure do know how to go all out. I suppose its because they want to look impressive for their girls.” The wink he sent me was a little too warm for my liking.

However, I couldn’t help thinking which one was truly dressed to impress me. Thankfully, before my thoughts could completely consume me, James spoke again, drawing me out of my trance.

“Well, we better get going,” he said, addressing the room at large which included myself, Lily, Mr. Evans, and James; Angela had gone to pick Petunia up from Vernon’s house. “It was wonderful to finally get the chance to meet you, Mr. Evans.”

“Please,” Mr. Evans responded, taking James’s proffered hand in his grasp and shaking it. “Call me Mark. And the pleasure’s all mine. It’s good to know that the right sort of bloke is making my Lily as happy as she is.” He dropped James’s hand, returning it to his pocket.

“Bye Daddy,” Lily said, kissing her father on the cheek shortly.

“Goodbye, Mr. Evans,” I said to the man, smiling kindly at him.

He grinned in response. “Have a good night, kids. And don’t stay up too late.”

We laughed and turned toward the door, stepping out into the backyard. The Evans’ backyard was much larger than mine and Aunt Eliza’s and had much more personality. But seeing as how dusk was quickly settling and the party started in nearly twenty minutes, we were running short on time for me to admire the surroundings.

We didn’t waste any time. On James’s count, we all whirled around on the spot and disappeared with sharp CRACKS!
X - - X

 

“. . .and these are my parents, Julian and Mary Potter.” James gestured grandly toward his parents, who looked like very humble people indeed.

“Hello, dear,” his mother said, taking my extended hand. Her skin was smooth to the touch and her grip was gentle. I wasn’t expecting James’s parents to be as old as they were, but nevertheless, his mother was a very beautiful woman. Her once black hair was beginning to fade into a deep grey and probably would’ve hung a little below her shoulders had it not been swept back into such an elegant and somewhat complex bun. She wore a burgundy dress that complemented her warm brown eyes, the eyes that were so like her son’s. The smile on her face was very maternal and warmed me from the inside. “It’s very nice to make your acquaintance.”

“It’s nice to meet you as well, Mrs. Potter,” I returned, unable to prevent a smile from spreading across my face.

She laughed heartily. “Oh, James must’ve forgotten to tell you,” she waved her hand as though it were an every day mistake. And knowing her son as well as I did, it probably was. “You may call me Mary, if you wish. It makes me feel much younger.”

In that instant, I was reminded of Angela, Lily’s wonderful mother who had treated me like her own daughter in the short time I had been staying with them. “All right then,” I amended. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mary.”

Mary Potter grinned widely at me. “That sounds much better.” She patted the side of my hand as she let her fingers fall.

I was introduced to Mr. Potter next. Julian Potter was nothing like his son. Where James was tall and lanky, Julian Potter was tall, that much was true, but much more stockier. In his younger days, I bet he was built rather nicely, with shapely muscles ringed around his arms. He was an attractive man, even with his salt and pepper hair. There was something wry about his smile that was all too familiar to me. The crinkles around his sky blue eyes reminded me of James as well, the way his eyes would scrunch together when he smiled wide.

Unlike his wife’s grip, Julian shook my hand firmly and pumped my arm. “Welcome! Jimmy has told me a lot about you,” Mr. Potter proclaimed, his voice booming throughout the vast ballroom in which we were standing.

My eyes widened slightly and I glanced over at James, who was standing with his mother and Lily. I tried to gain control of my surprise, tried to reign it in, and licked my lips. “He has?”

“Oh yes!” He laughed loudly. I nearly jumped out of my skin in shock; James laughed exactly like his father, it was almost scary. “He says that he’s persuaded you to start coming to the Quidditch matches. Says that you didn’t used to fancy the sport.”

I swallowed nervously, unsure of how I should respond. “What can I say? He’s a real charmer.”

This seemed to satisfy Mr. Potter, who I would later discover was a very popular, very well liked man throughout the wizarding community. He laughed again, just as loudly as before, and it bounced off the walls, rang in my ears.

“That’s my boy,” he said, chewing on the end of his Cuban cigar. “You know, I used to play a bit of the sport myself.”

“Really?” I supplied, relatively surprised.

“Jimmy never told you, did he?”

I shook my head. “No, he didn’t.”

Mr. Potter rolled his eyes. “Figures.” He shook his head briefly and his impossibly messy hair fell into his eyes. He swiped at it and continued, “He doesn’t like boasting about it much. Thinks that people will get it in their minds that my success in my time is the only reason why he’s on the team at school.”

I snorted. “Sure. Because no one would be able to see how talented he is.”

“Exactly!” Mr. Potter exclaimed. He clapped me on the shoulder so roughly, I swore I felt a bone pop out of place. I tried not to wince as he squeezed my shoulder between his thick fingers, but it was just too painful for me to feel any affection from it. “You really do know your stuff. Jimmy had said you came to your senses. I was sceptical at first, but now - now I believe him.”

There was something about Mr. Potter that I really liked. Maybe it was his frankness or his sense of humour. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but I knew that if I got to know him a little better, he would prove to very entertaining indeed.

“He got me a book, you know,” I said, scrounging around for a topic to keep our conversation going; Lily’s attention was still on Mrs. Potter and her wonderful boyfriend. “To help me better understand Quidditch.”

“Did he now?”

I nodded deeply. “He did. Quidditch Through the Ages, I think it was called. Very interesting read, you know. I’ve learned a lot about the techniques of old and the histories of the teams. I saw that it had your name listed under Puddlemere United, but at the time, I wasn’t sure if it was you or not. I mean, James had never told me the names of his parents nor that you played Quidditch.”

“Yes, I played for Puddlemere,” a slow grin slid into place on his lips. “They were some of the best years of my life. It’s how I met Mary, actually. I ran into her when she was in the stands with her fiancée.”

My eyes widened. “She had a fiancée?”

“At the time she did,” Mr. Potter said, his sparkling blue eyes clearly in the past. He rolled his cigar around his mouth, gnawing on the edge with his teeth. “Not after I was finished courting her. It took her nearly six months to come around and actually go out on a date with me. By that time, she’d already called off the engagement and was too upset. She thought that could cheer her up. Mary even said that she didn’t plan on ever talking to me again after that night.”

There was a brief moment of silence in which I glanced between Mr. Potter and his lovely wife, who was now greeting some guests. I was momentarily caught by surprise - when had guests started arriving? When I scanned the room, I was even more surprised to see that there was a good amount of people gathered.

“Shame, isn’t it?” Mr. Potter remarked.

I looked at him, my eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “What’s a shame?”

“That Mary fell in love with me,” he replied, a wry smile on his face.

I burst into a fit of laughter. Mr. Potter was quick to join me and I knew immediately that he was one of those people who would do anything for the chance of laughter. It also occurred to me this party was not his cup of tea. I imagined that he would rather be up in his den, smoking cigars on his own account with a glass of wine in one hand and a group of his closest friends, maybe even just James and his wife surrounding him as company. Yes. . .Mr. Potter may have spoke in loud tones, but I could tell that he preferred the quiet sort of life.

“I don’t think it’s a shame,” I said once I had regained my composure. Several people had been staring at us oddly. “Because if she hadn’t fallen in love with you that night, I wouldn’t have one of the best mates I’ve ever known. And I also wouldn’t have a reason to stand in front of you to have this conversation.”

Julian grinned a very Cheshire Cat like grin at me. Normally, grins like that made me uncomfortable, but coming from Mr. Potter, it just felt right. He took the cigar out of his mouth and gestured at me with it.

“You know,” he said after a long pause, one of his blue eyes squinted shut. “I like you. You’ve got spunk.”

I laughed again. “I’ve hardly got spunk, Mr. Potter.”

“Well,” Mr. Potter commented. “You must have something. That boy over there can’t stop looking at you.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion. He pointed over my shoulder and I slowly turned to look, unsure of what I would see. However, at the sight of the devilishly handsome boy that was gazing at me, their eyes twinkling with delight, I couldn’t help but allow a smile to spread across my face.

As happy as I was to join whomever was waiting for me, I turned back to Mr. Potter, a sad smile on my face. “As lovely as our conversation is. . . .” I trailed off.

“We’ll continue it later, my dear,” Mr. Potter said, his hand coming on my shoulder again. I was afraid that he was going to squeeze the life out of it, but thankfully, he simply let his calloused hand rest there. “I’ve got guests of my own I have to start mingling with. Unfortunately,” he added gruffly, a sour look on his face. He threw the cigar into a potted plant and wiped his hands on his pants. “Until later.” He bowed very formally at me. I bit back a wide grin as he whirled around dramatically, the hem of his black dress robe swirling around him.

Once Mr. Potter was gone, I took a deep breath and met my gazer halfway across the room. Two strong arms wrapped around my middle and lifted me off the ground. I was spun around and a bout of happy laughter escaped me. I was surprised that there was no crushing sense of guilt, that my heart wasn’t thundering with nerves and my palms weren’t sweaty.

I was returned to the ground and able to look properly into the face of the boy. I reached up with a hand to tuck a floppy lock of sandy brown hair behind his ear.

Before I could say anything, his mouth was over mine. His lips were warm and familiar against mine but there was something missing. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but I kissed him back with the same fever that he kissed me with. The fingers of my left hand had just found the soft tendrils of wispy hair at the back of his neck when he pulled his face away from mine, the hesitation of this action more than obvious.

My head spun lightly. “Hello to you, too,” I muttered.

Remus laughed warmly and dropped a kiss onto my forehead. “Sorry about that,” he apologized and he sounded genuinely sorry. “I just couldn’t take it any longer. It feels like I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”

I wrapped my arms around his middle and laid my head against his chest. He tucked me under his chin and we stayed like that for several minutes. I could feel his heart crashing against his chest in a erratic rhythm. I’m sure mine was beating in a similar fashion.

“I know,” I finally replied, disentangling my limbs from his and gazing up into his face.

His warm brown eyes sparkled. “Do you realize how. . .how. . .,” he trailed off, his lips pursed as he struggled to find the right words.

“How what?” I asked, curious.

He grinned down at me and softly kissed my mouth. “How very tempting you look in that dress. You know, purple really suits you. Why don’t you wear it more often? When not in uniform, all I ever see you in is blue, grey, and that awful orange jumper you have.”

“Hey!” I exclaimed, wagging a finger at him. “Don’t insult the jumper. It’s one of my favourites.”

Remus grabbed my hand and brought it to his mouth, planting a kiss on the inside of my palm. I felt my heart skip a beat, but there was no thrilling feeling in my stomach that would’ve been there a few weeks ago. At this, my stomach did react; it churned uncomfortably and now, I could feel the guilt beginning to overcome me.

I opened my mouth to say something, but before I could utter a single word, a wide grin swept over Remus’s face. He was not looking at me, so I wasn’t me he was grinning at, so I followed his gaze over my shoulder. And almost immediately, my stomach plummeted.

Oh. . .fuck. I was not ready for this!

They looked so beautiful together, it was almost painful. In fact, I felt a sharp pinch in my chest that I subconsciously rubbed as I stared at them in wide-eyed wonder. Of course, she would look like a Greek goddess, what with her long, flowing blonde hair and a gorgeous turquoise dress which clung to her every curve. Her icy blue eyes danced with delight, even from here. Hell, I bet my eyes would be doing the conga as well if I had him on my arm. Where Lucinda might have been considered to look beautiful tonight, Sirius Black was nothing short of stunning. The cut of his suit was crisp and hung off his lanky frame perfectly. His impossibly black, glossy hair was hanging in his grey eyes, much like it always did. However, I noticed that while his girlfriend look joyous, he did not. The set of his full lips was not that of happiness, but discontent. Though it was hardly noticeable, the fact that I did notice it made my heart skip a beat and my stomach swoop.

Before I could stop him, Remus called out to his best mate. “Sirius! Lucinda!” He waved them over with an energetic hand.

Ice gripped at my insides and I had to place a hand over my stomach to keep from vomiting. Oh no, this was not good at all. The Voice was screaming at me to make up some excuse, to hurry to the toilet before they came over here, but I pointedly ignored the Voice.

No, I was stronger than that. I could face them. At least, I hoped I could. And if I didn’t think I could handle it, then and only then would I take the coward’s way out. I would hurry to the bathroom and lock myself inside until either Lily or Alice came looking for me.

“Remus,” I hissed out of the corner of my mouth. I grabbed his hand to get him to stop waving, but it was already too late. I glared at him. “Are you suicidal? You do realize that Lucinda knows that we now both know about her and Amos?” I whispered harshly.

The colour drained from his face as his smile faltered. “Fuck,” he murmured hotly under his breath.

He slid his hand into mine and I held fast. I needed something to hold onto to keep me rooted in the world of consciousness. There was no spark when his fingers wound around mine. Another wave of guilt came crashing over my head and all I could think at this point of time was if Remus would ever find it in his heart to forgive me. I prayed that he would.

They came floating toward us. A smug smile was on Lucinda’s face as she placed her talons - oh, excuse me, fingers around Sirius’s arm. It seemed that she was dragging him over here, like he did not want to be near us - near me.

My stomach gave another jolt.

“Padfoot!” Remus exclaimed, rushing forward to embrace his best mate. He let go of my hand and I wished he hadn’t. I could already feel the room tilting around me.

A brief, but genuinely happy spread across Sirius’s face. “Moony!” Sirius hollered, returning the embrace with much enthusiasm. They pulled back quickly and clapped each other on the shoulder. “You all right?”

“Fantastic. You?”

“Never better,” Sirius said, his gaze fixed pointedly on me as his arm snaked around Lucinda’s waist. He tugged her toward his body and she eagerly wrapped her arms around his toned torso.

“Hi Sirius,” I greeted, my voice strained.

“Eleanor.”

The board was set. So this was how we were going to play the game. With cold indifference and vacant, meaningless words. I could play that game. Especially if I was being treated so badly with absolutely no reason at all. After all, he did kiss me first.



Chapter 31: Time Is Running Out
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My nostrils flared as I expelled a deep breath. Just because I had mentally prepared myself to play the game with Sirius didn’t mean that I favoured it. I turned my face toward Remus, unable to look at Sirius without feeling the need to vomit due to my intense guilt; his face was only a reminder of what had transpired between us. I felt the ghost of Remus’s touch as his hand floated toward the small of my back, his fingertips brushing against the base of my spine gently through the fabric of my dress.

“Well,” Sirius said, his sharp grey eyes travelling down the length of Remus’s arm, stopping when he found the place where his best mate‘s hand rest. An eyebrow raised in a fashion that I would’ve once envied but now loathed (well, that‘s what I was trying to convince myself. But we all know how horrible I am at doing such self-convincing.) “It looks like you have gotten comfortable with one another.”

I flinched at the accusatory tone in his smooth voice. I could feel tears starting to prickle at the back of my eyes and gritted my teeth. However, when the Voice started to poke at the edges of my mind, reminding me that I was not the only guilty person involved, I recovered.

Without even realizing it what I was doing before it was already done, I wrapped my arms around the lanky boy standing next to me. A frown threatened to pull the corners of my lips downward when my arms snaked around him; Remus seemed much thinner than I remembered him being. A brief wave of panic consumed me and I wondered if there was something wrong. Was he getting mistreated at home?

But then my mind snapped me back to the current situation and I made sure that I wiped any terror that resided in my face away. Tilting my head upward, I stared into the warm brown eyes that I was capable of getting lost in. Like melted chocolate. I smiled at Remus and naturally, he grinned back.

The guilt felt like a lead bullet in the pit of my stomach.

Finally, Remus spoke. “I guess you could say we have,” he said, still smiling. His arm came around my waist and held me firm, close to his skinny body.

“Like two peas in a pod,” I added, pushing myself up onto my tiptoes to kiss him lightly on the lips. I turned my attention toward Sirius and Lucinda, the latter of which was glaring at me like I had done something incredibly offence, which, in retrospect, I probably did. After all, she was aware that both Remus and I knew of her infidelity and probably assumed that we were plotting against her. I locked eyes with Sirius, fighting hard against the natural urge to shudder at the intense colour of his bright grey eyes. “You and Lucinda,” I inclined my head toward the beautiful blonde in her turquoise dress and smiled softly, “look pretty cosy yourself.” I made a point of gesturing toward their close position, one that eerily mirrored mine and Remus’s.

I barely caught sight of the muscles in Sirius’s jaw clenching tightly as my words left my mouth. His eyes flickered, very briefly, to the gorgeous girl that hung off his arm before they found mine again.

“Very cosy, indeed,” said Lucinda, the hand she had placed on his chest slowly sliding upward. Her hand wound up around his neck and with her fingers, she pushed his face toward hers and pressed her stained lips against his.

I could barely contain my shock when Sirius pulled her dangerously close. Repulsion overtook me as I watched them, their kiss progressing into an aggressive snog. As if he’d sensed my discomfort, Remus slid his hand in mine and led me away from the pair.

I didn’t speak as Remus gently tugged me through the gathering crowd. I didn’t know where it was that we were going and I found that I really didn’t care all that much. As long as I was able to get as far away from Sirius Black as possible, then any destination would be fine. A wizard stepped on my foot, but before he could apologize I was being led toward a long, linen covered table. I soon found that this was the refreshment table. It was like Remus read my mind or something. I hadn’t realized that I wanted food until I saw all the delicious dishes and hors d’oeuvres on the table.

I snatched up one particularly tasty looking hors d’oeuvres and popped it into my mouth. I chewed for a few seconds before turning to Remus and asking, “Are you a Legimens? Because you read my mind.”

Remus laughed and smiled down at me. “Unfortunately, no. I’m not a Legimens.”

I snapped my fingers and feigned a look of disappointed. “Damn it, I was hoping you could tell me what the witch in that ridiculous fur dress was thinking when she selected her attire for the evening.”

Again, Remus chuckled and I found myself laughing with him. Without Sirius around, it was easier to breathe. Much easier for me to be myself. It was an immensely relieving feeling and the guilt in my stomach was beginning to subside. If I could avoid him for the rest of the evening, I would be in the clear. For all I knew, the guilt might even evaporate and be replaced with a loathing so intense I would never have to look at his face again. Although I knew that was not a possibility, it was still a fun idea to entertain myself with.

I continued to pick out treats from the crowded table and munched on them, stealing what I could of the oddly calming aura that seemed to be radiating from Remus. However, after a few more minutes of snacking, he swallowed what he had in his mouth and announced that he was going to get drinks so that we could wash down what we had consumed, which, I realized moments after he left, was a startling amount of hors d’oeuvres, especially on my part.

Licking my fingers clean, I turned my back on the table so the tasty snacks wouldn’t call out to me and demand that I eat them; if I ate much more, my dress would start getting uncomfortably tight at the waist. My eyes lazily scanned the crowd, taking in the eccentrically dressed wizards and the regal looking witches and vice versa. I’d never seen so many adult wizards in the same room before, so it was a little odd as well as amusing to see just how different they were from one another. It was incredibly easy to distinguish which of the crowd were pure of blood as they were dressed in attire so formal, you might’ve thought they were meeting the Queen. Quite a number of these said people were very good looking, the women slender and beautiful and the men classically handsome with a arrogant look scribed across their faces.

I found that I was entranced, watching all of the witches and wizards socialize with one another. It was, once again, easy to determine what the “cliques” amongst wizarding society were. Those who had pureblood hung around one another, eyeing each other with disdain while those of “lesser blood” laughed heartily with their neighbours and knocked back flutes of champagne. I could only imagine what the party would be like if Aunt Eliza were in attendance. . .oh Merlin, the thought alone made me both smile and grimace. She would probably be the loudest person in the entire place, but as embarrassing as that was, it was also comforting. Aunt Eliza, the woman who was never afraid to be herself.

I wondered what Aunt Eliza would think if she knew about my situation. I know she had a hunch that I fancied Sirius. I mean, I wasn’t exactly discreet in hiding my feelings from my aunt. After all, she raised me alongside my father for the majority of my life, so she knew these things. She’d seen the crushes I had formed over the years and how I handled them, so I imagined it was relatively easy for her to discover that I felt something more than friendship toward Sirius. However, I didn’t tell her about Remus. What would she say if she knew I not only fancied two blokes, but they were the best of mates and I’d snogged both of them, one of which on multiple occasions?

A sigh escaped me before I could stop it. I reached behind me and picked up another hors d’oeuvre off the fancy little doily it sat on. I popped it into my mouth and savoured the flavour of the sweet treat as it rolled around on my tongue. Maybe I could hang around the refreshment table the entire time. I doubt that Remus would have any qualm with it as I knew he loved little snacks and Merlin only knows that he needed it. Once again, I felt a brief wave of worry consume me. I still couldn’t get over how skinny he felt when my arms circled around him. It definitely was not a good sign, but something told me that I shouldn’t meddle in business that wasn’t mine.

I folded my arms over my chest and focused on the now dancing couples. I spotted James and Lily first. They looked absolutely blissful in each other’s arms, huge smiles on their faces as they gazed into one another’s eyes. It would’ve been nauseating had it been anyone else aside from my mates, but for them, it just seemed natural. Not that phoney business you oftentimes see between couples just so they can keep up appearances or the type that you know isn’t going to last. No, James and Lily were in it for the long haul, that much I could tell, even if they themselves didn’t know it.

“For you, milady,” said Remus, bowing in an overexaggerated manner as he handed a flute of beige champagne.

I took the glass from his hand in as pompous of a matter that I could muster. “Thank you, good sir,” I replied, grinning softly as I brought the flute to my lips and took a shallow drink. I didn’t want to look like I was an alcoholic or something.

Remus took a drink, although he left the glass to his mouth much longer than I would’ve dared in a room full of strangers. He licked his lips and looked down at me. His chocolate eyes seemed to shift and immediately, something in my gut told me that he knew. What it was, I don’t know, but he definitely knew something. Setting his glass down on the table, he furrowed his brow.

“Are you all right?” he asked, concerned.

I nodded my head. “Yeah,” I said, quickly drinking from my flute. “I’m fine. Why d’you ask?”

He seemed to contemplate his answer, his brow still pinched together in concentration as his eyes roamed my face. I felt a shiver of uncomfortable-ness trail down my back as he stared intently into my eyes.

After a moment, however, he seemed to recover. “It’s nothing, really,” he replied, although there was something about his tone of voice that I didn’t totally believe. “I just thought. . .” he let his words trail off and then shook his head, spreading his sandy coloured fringe across his forehead. “Anyway, Mr. Potter caught me when I was getting drinks and told me that dinner is going to be starting soon, but that we didn’t have to worry because we had a table saved for us.”

I blinked in confusion. “A table saved for us?” I parroted. “As in you and me?”

“No,” Remus said. “As in me, you, James, Lily, Alice, Frank, Peter, Sirius, and-,”

“Lucinda,” I finished, grimacing. “This is going to be such a pleasant dinner.” To add emphasis to my displeasure, I tipped my head back and drained the remaining contents of my glass. It burned slightly (but nowhere near as much as firewhisky) as it travelled down into my belly. Thank Merlin I had eaten something, though, otherwise I had a distinct feeling it would be the Halloween party all over again.

I thought that Remus would try to convince me that it wouldn’t be as bad as I was making it out to be, so I was more than a little shocked to see him mirror my actions, although he didn’t seem all that bothered by the burn of the alcohol.

At my look of surprise, Remus raised a brow in question. “What?”

“It’s nothing,” I responded. “I just. . .wasn’t expecting that from you is all.”

He smirked softly at me, although there was no trace of arrogant in his lips, quite unlike someone else I just so happened to know. Remus manoeuvred his arm around me and snatched one of the hors d’oeuvres off the table.

“How can you still be eating?” I questioned as he shovelled another snack into his mouth.

Remus shrugged, chewing up what was in his mouth before speaking. “I dunno. I’m really hungry.”

My eyes slowly travelled down the length of his body while he continued to eat the hors d’oeuvres on the table. I was glad that he was eating; like I’ve said many times, he was much too skinny for my liking, especially now. I’m sure if he would’ve lifted up his shirt, I could’ve counted his ribs due to the faint outline they left against his pale skin.

Before I could help myself, I asked, “Are you all right?” Circe, I hated impulses and my inability to control them.

“Yes,” Remus replied slowly. “I’m fine.”

I shook my head impatiently. “No, I don’t mean like hi-how’s-your-day fine. I mean are-you-sure-you-are-feeling-all-right sort of fine,” I explained.

“Oh,” he muttered, the corners of his mouth dropping into a frown. “Well, I don’t feel ill. Do I look it?”

I contemplated my response. If I said yes, he would probably take offence to it and not talk to me for the rest of the night. At least, he would if he were a normal teenaged boy, but Remus wasn’t like all the other blokes; he was incredibly understanding, which was a bit annoying at times. If no was my chosen reply, he would know that I was lying because, well, I had asked if he was feeling well.

Reaching back to scratch an itch at my neck, I stalled for a few moments. “It’s just. . .well, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way or anything, but you look a great deal thinner than I remember you being and, well, sort of peaky.”

And like always, he didn’t react like I expected him to. Instead of scoffing and telling me that I had it all wrong, Remus draped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me toward him in a half-hug, my side pressed against the length of his abdomen. His lips pressed against the top of my hair gently, as though he was trying not to disturb my hair. He pulled back slightly and tilted his head so that he was looking down at me. The warm brown eyes that I loved were a blend of emotions that I couldn’t decipher.

“Don’t worry about me,” Remus murmured. “Promise you won’t worry fruitlessly about me, Eleanor. I just don’t feel all the great today. Haven’t for a few days, actually. So please,” he repeated, his eyes drilling into mine. “Don’t worry about little old me; I can take care of myself.”

I stared into his eyes, searching for anything that might give away the double meaning to his words, but absolutely nothing surfaced in his chocolate orbs. Inwardly, I frowned, more concerned than I’d been before, but outwardly, I nodded my head in agreement.

“Okay,” I agreed, tucking a strand of loose hair behind my ear. “I won’t.” Even I spoke, I knew I was lying and something told me that Remus knew that, too.

 

Thankfully, there wasn’t any time for another moment of semi-awkwardness to resurface. Mr. Potter had taken a fork to the side of his champagne class and clinked it loudly, until the entire room was absolutely silent. Well, almost absolutely silent: James had just whispered something into Lily’s ear and she looked as though she was about to implode from laughter.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Mr. Potter began, his voice booming across the ballroom without the help of any charm. “First of all, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for making it out tonight. Mary and I always love to see the smiling faces of our fellow witches and wizards in the community. That being said, I hope the party as been as you all hoped it to be.”

A witch with a semi-hooked nose leaned over and muttered something to her husband. He nodded his head in agreement and they trained their eyes ahead at the figure of Mr. Potter. I glared at them, wondering if all purebloods were that disagreeable.

“Secondly,” continued Mr. Potter. “The house elves (who have been slaving away for the better part of three days to prepare for a party of this size and deserve a round of applause) have just informed me that dinner is ready to be served. So, if you would all be so kind, please make your way into the dining area. There are place settings at each of the tables with a card to identifying who should sit where. If your seating arrangement displeases you, please, just let either myself or Mary know and we will try to sort everything out so that it is comfortable for everyone.”

With a clap of his hands, Mr. Potter leapt from the chair upon which he had been standing with the agility of a much younger man. He looped his arm around Mary’s back, his hand barely touching the small of her back. She looked into the eyes of her husband and grinned widely. It was a grin of true happiness. Which she must’ve been, what with a husband like Julian Potter and a son like James.

Remus cleared his throat and held out his arm for me to take. “May I escort you to dinner?” There was a playful glimmer in his eyes and I couldn’t help smiling.

“You may,” I replied, slipping my arm through his.

We followed the throng of people into the dining area, which was sectioned off by a low wall which surrounded all the tables. There were eight seats at each of the round tables. James found the table where we would all be sitting and beckoned Remus and I over to him. Another smile graced my lips as we approached the happy pair. Out of nowhere, I wrapped my arms around Lily and she returned my hug with equal eagerness.

“You look like you’re having a good time,” I said as we released each other and took our seats next to one another.

“I am,” she replied, sincerity ringing in every note of her voice. Her green eyes sparkled brilliantly and her pale cheeks were flushed a faint pink. The smile that had been plastered on her face only grew bigger at my words. “I hope you’re having fun as well.”

“Remus and I have been hanging around the hors d’oeuvres table,” I explained, unfolding my napkin. “So, yes, I’ve been having fun.”

Lily laughed loudly, which caused several heads to swivel in our direction. Some of the observers wore smiles while others scowled. Lily didn’t notice; she was too wrapped in her own little bubble to be concerned with anyone but her friends and James.

My eyes were drawn to the handsome young man whom was shaking hands with James. His hair was dark and curly, coming to a stop just about his ears. His face was one of those friendly faces that made you smile at the sight of it, even if you didn’t know him. I knew right away that this was Alice’s Frank Longbottom, the boy she talked about so much. There was no mistake about that. I knew now why she gushed so much about him. Not only was he handsome, but he looked like an all-around nice bloke. And I hadn’t even talked to him yet!

“From my understanding, you’ve already met Lily,” said James as he gestured toward the redhead sitting beside me and myself. “But I dunno if you know Eleanor?”

“No,” Frank said, his voice a great deal lower than I thought it would be. “I haven’t. It’s nice to meet you,” he continued, extending a hand for me to shake. I rose from my seat and leaned across the table to shake his hand. “I’m Frank Longbottom.”

“Eleanor Briggs,” I responded, smiling at him in greeting.

He grinned back and dropped into the chair next to James. “Have either of you seen Alice? I can’t seem to find her anywhere.”

“Last I saw of her,” Lily began, tossing her head to the side to shake her fringe out of her eyes. “She was headed to the loo to fix her makeup. Something about her eyes watering or something. . .,” she trailed off pointedly and fixed her gaze upon Frank, who was turning red around the ears.

“Oh,” he stuttered, his cheeks turning an alarming shade of scarlet. “That. Well, I’m sure Alice will tell you all about it when she gets back from the loo.”

I stared at Frank, unable to stop myself from worrying about his face. If all that blood was rushing to his cheeks, would it be rushing to his brain as well? I’m sure it wasn’t healthy that he was turning such a deep hue of red, either. I mean, it just didn’t seem like it could be healthy at all.

A brief silence passed over the table as we all settled in, taking small sips of water. I kept glancing at Frank to make sure his head didn’t explode and thankfully, I didn’t have any bits of his brain all over me. . .yet. I was still wary as another group approached our table.

I felt my stomach plummet. All of the sudden, eating all those hors d’oeuvres didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. In fact, I was almost entirely certain that they would be splattered all over the table if I didn’t make a rush to the toilet in the next few seconds.

The way they walked together, it was almost like they were floating, that’s how graceful they were. I could hardly swallow my jealousy as I forced myself to take another drink of water, choking it down as he came nearer to the table. Merlin, this wasn’t going to be good at all. If I could barely swallow water, I could only imagine what it would be like when I was trying to eat whatever food was placed in front of me.

A warm hand slid over mine and I glanced over at Remus. He’d placed his hand on top of mine and the tips of his fingers were rubbing small circles on the back of my hand. I suppose this was meant to be a comforting gesture, but it wasn’t. If anything, it only added to the unpleasant chills that were coursing through my body, not to mention the already turbulent emotions I was experiencing.

I tugged my hand out from under his and placed my hands in my lap. I tried to ignore the hurt look that flashed across Remus’s face and turned my attention to the crystal dinner plate in front of me. I felt horribly guilty and very rude, but I was trying to salvage my sanity.

“Padfoot!” James exclaimed happily, all but leaping out of his seat to embrace his best mate.

Sirius returned the hug eagerly and pat James once on the back before stepping back, a smile on his lips. “Nice to see you, too, Prongs.” He nodded toward Lily. “Hullo Lily.”

She grinned back at him. “Hello Sirius,” she responded. Her emerald eyes narrowed slightly as she eyed the beautiful girl standing by his side. “Lucinda.”

“Lily,” the blonde acknowledged stiffly. She cleared her throat obnoxiously and sent her boyfriend a pointed look.

Lucinda’s ice blue eyes found mine and she threw daggers at me while she waited for Sirius to pull out her chair for her to sit. I resisted the urge to roll my own eyes as he obliged to her subtle, throat-clearing hint. It was almost as though Lucinda was the puppeteer and Sirius was her plaything. Not her favourite, though - that spot was reserved for Amos Diggory.

She sat down primly in her chair and he pushed her in. I didn’t realized I’d scoffed out loud until all eyes were trained on me. Out of everyone, Frank looked the most amused; he was biting his lower lip in order to hold back a bout of laughter. He winked at me and I felt my cheeks flame up. Oops. If anyone’s glare was most disproving, it was Sirius’s. His grey orbs were full of flames and they were directed at me, like I was the one who had done something wrong. How was I to know that he found my sounds of annoyance rude and obnoxious? I found his girlfriend rude and obnoxious, but I didn’t say anything or glare at him, now did I?

All right, so I’m being bitter. I don’t care. I think I have every right to be, thank you very much.

“Well,” James said, his voice a half octave higher than normal as his eyes flickered from face to face nervously. The tension was so thick between everyone, one could cut it with a dull knife. “Pads, you remember Frank Longbottom, right?”

Sirius seemed to remember himself, breaking his eyes away from mine and turning them to Frank, who was still pink in the cheeks and struggling to control his smile. “How could I forget Frankie?” he questioned rhetorically, shaking hands with Frank. “You’re a legend amongst the Gryffindors.”

Frank laughed. “Please, you make me feel so old.”

Lucinda’s eyes cut over to him. They turned calculating. “How old are you, Frank? I don’t seem to recall your being at Hogwarts.”

“I’ll be twenty one next month,” answered Frank.

The corners of her mouth upturned a fraction of a centimetre and I knew he was in for trouble. “Am I to be mistaken that you are the one dating Alice Logan?”

“No,” Frank replied, shifting his position in his seat uncomfortably as he dragged his tongue across his bottom lip. “You are correct; I’m dating Alice. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Lucinda said, her voice airy as she waved a manicured hand. “It’s just that I didn’t think that someone of your age would be interested in a seventeen year old, is all.”

Remus choked on his mouthful of water. Sirius stiffened in his chair. Frank’s eyes bugged out of his head. I gasp and disguised it as a cough. James instinctively reached for Lily’s hand as a gesture to calm her down, but Lily wouldn’t have it. She jerked her hand out from underneath his and glared at Lucinda.

“I don’t think it’s any of your business what Frank sees in Alice, Lucinda,” Lily spat acidly. Colour was quickly rising to her cheeks. “Besides, Alice is eighteen, not seventeen. You should get your facts straight before you start commenting on the lives of others.”

There was a beat of stony silence in which Lucinda simply stared at Lily. Her blue eyes hardened and a cruel sort of smile slowly spread across her lips. It gave me the chills and had I been in Lily’s position, I probably would’ve soiled my trousers. However, everyone knew that Lily was never one to cave under pressure, especially when it came from a manipulative bitch.

“Touché,” Lucinda finally said, reaching for her glass of water and taking a long sip from it.

X - - X

 

Dinner was a tense affair, especially after Alice returned to the table. There was a bright flush on her cheeks and her brown eyes sparkled joyously. It was as though Alice didn’t even notice the tension between the occupants of our table. She chattered on, encouraging everyone to talk to one another, but even with her eager words, conversation was scarce and short.

The food, however, was delicious. I was curious as to how James stayed to lean when he returned home for the summer holidays. If I lived in a house where house elves prepared such scrumptious meals three times a day, I would probably weigh at least three hundred pounds by now because I’d eat everything in sight and demand for more like a spoiled brat.

Every so often, Remus’s knee would brush against mine under the table and he would glance at me out of the corner of his marvellous brown eyes. I tried not to make a big deal of it, concealing all my blushes to the best of my ability. These weren’t blushes of embarrassment, but I was willing to bet that Remus thought that they were. No, these were flushes of guilt. My shameful feelings climbed higher with every discreet glance he sent my way.

So, it was needless to say that as soon as dessert had been served, I was eager to leave the table. I hopped up from my seat, startling a few magical folk around me as my sudden movement. One of the wizard actually had his wand drawn. He glared at me suspiciously and I wondered if I had food caked to the side of my face that no one had cared to tell me about. I raised my hand to my cheek and felt nothing. A soft sigh escaped me and I turned my eyes away from the wizard, who stowed his wand back into the folds of his dress robes.

Remus, Lily, James, Frank, and Alice were quick to follow my movements. Frank escorted Alice to the dance floor, where a live wizarding band was playing. I didn’t know their name and I didn’t care to learn it, either. The music was great, but I didn’t feel like dancing. Unfortunately, Remus didn’t know that.

“D’you want to dance or something?” he asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

What was it with my inability to turn people down when they asked things of me? Especially when their voices got all hopeful and their eyes glistened?

Biting back a groan, I nodded my head. “Sure.”

Lily caught sight of the slightly disheartened look on my face and grabbed James’s hand. “We’ll come, too.” She tugged him over toward the dance floor before he could object and I followed Lily, who’d snatched my hand right out of Remus’s and began lugging me toward the parquet floor as well.

I’d never enjoyed dancing all that much. Not only was I physically incapable of not looking like a complete idiot when I started dancing, but I hated the way I was expected to adapt to the rhythm and figure out a way to move my body along with it. Quicker paced songs weren’t all that bad as you only had to sway back and forth and occasionally offer a shake. However, slow dancing was an entirely different story. There were so many rules and it made me feel uncomfortable. It also made me feel sorry for the poor girls from centuries past who were forced to dance with dukes and earls who were twice their age in order to secure a fortune for their fathers.

Thankfully, when we made it to the dance floor, the tune had switched from a slower tempo-ed song to one that was much more upbeat. It was easier to dance to as well as much more fun.

My hand was still nestled tightly in Lily’s and before I knew it, I was being twirled around and spun under her arm. Laughing, I held my arm high and she ducked under it. We dropped the other’s hand and Lily started to dance on spot. It looked like she didn’t care at all, the way she was waving her arms above her head to the rhythm of the music.

James joined his girlfriend, resting a hand on her hip and drawing her closer to him. He grabbed her hand and even though the tempo was upbeat, they danced on spot, whirling around. They twisted and turned, revolving around one another. It wasn’t elegant in the slightest, but they were having fun, goofing off with one another while they danced.

A stab of jealous surged through me, but it didn’t have to time to take hold. Remus had started to dance beside me and I couldn’t help laughing out loud. I couldn’t even describe what he was doing, but it was hilarious.

When he heard my laughter, he grinned. “Are you mocking me?”

I didn’t say anything as my laughter made it nigh impossible to get a word out. Without warning, he grabbed my hand and pulled me near to him. Like Lily had done to me and James had done to her, Remus spun me around in a circle, ballerina style, and the skirt of my purple dress fanned out as I rotated in a wide arc. A smile worked its way onto my face as I whirled back around to face Remus. He made a strange movement with his arms and I laughed loudly.

Remus held on tight to my hand and quickly spun me away from him again. If he kept doing this, I was going to fall over and, most likely, crack my head open on something. My chest was heaving as the momentum stopped. I was an arm’s length away from Remus now, our hands connected. He then pulled me back toward him and once more, I was whirling around and around and around until the side of my body was pressed against his chest.

I looked up at him, attempting to raise an eyebrow, but failing miserably. “You’re quite the dancer,” I remarked.

Remus chuckled. “My mum used to teach me. I’m not all that good,” he added. “In fact, I’m terrible at dancing, but you’re equally bad, so I doubt it matters.”

I scoffed in mock offence and smacked him on the arm. I pulled out of his grasp dramatically. “That was mean, Remus Lupin.”

He struggled to hold back his laughter and reached for my hand again. I let him take it and we were dancing once again.

X - - X

 

After forty minutes of dancing, I was ready for a break. However, Remus was not, nor were any of my other mates. Peter had joined the growing group of Gryffindors on the dance floor only moments again. He was entertaining, to say the very least, but once he, Remus, and James started to dance together, it was priceless. I could hardly breath, my chest heaving as I struggled to control the huge stitch in my side.

I touched Remus on the arm and said, “I’m going to get some fresh air.”

He nodded, although I knew he probably couldn’t hear me. He was too wrapped up with the fun he was having with his best mates. I didn’t mind in the slightest; in fact, I was glad he was having such a good time. I only wished that I could say I was, too.

I wove my way around the witches and wizards who were steadily on their way to drunkenness and telling stories at the top of their voices. I could hear Mr. Potter, who was standing on the other side of the room with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, from where I stood by the huge French doors that led out to a beautiful patio.

I fumbled with the handle, but was eventually able to push the door open with a bit of elbow grease. I stepped out onto the patio and left the door open a fraction of a centimetre. That way, when I went back inside I wouldn’t look like a total invalid when I waged war with the silver handle.

It was much cooler outside than it was indoors. It was obvious to see why, considering there were over three hundred people packed into the ballroom, many of which were dancing about like fools at a wedding reception. My eyes scanned the patio and from what I could see, there was no one else out here. I heaved a sigh of relief; I needed a few minutes by myself so I could clear my head and cool off. After all, I’d worked up quite the sweat when Lily and I were teaching James, Frank, and Remus how to do the Duck Dance.

The stone beneath my feet absorbed my footfalls as I walked toward a bench nestled between two yellow rose bushes. It was a metal bench, wrought iron and oddly inviting. I perched on the edge of the bench. The metal was cold, even though the fabric of my dress, yet I myself wasn’t chilly. It took me a few moments to piece together the obvious: someone had cast a mild Heating Charm on the patio so that guests could access it and still stay warm.

Cautiously, I leaned back on the bench, making myself as comfortable as possible. I shivered for a few minutes, trying to ignore the creeping chill that was working its way up my spine.

My thoughts began to wander, just like I knew they would. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, even though I really wanted to. It was obvious that he had made his choice: he had chosen Lucinda over me, even though there was no contest. I mean, it wasn’t like he loved me and I certainly didn’t love him, but still, it hurt to know that he wasn’t even acknowledging the fact that we were mates. I cared little about the Snog - all right, so that’s a lie. I actually cared a lot about it, but that wasn’t the point at the moment. The point of the matter was that he was ignoring me, treating me like he didn’t even know who I was and, even if he did, the air which he was radiating screamed arrogance.

Merlin, Sirius Black was treating me like a social pariah.

It was hard not to let it get to me. I’d told myself when I was in my room at the Evans’ house that I shouldn’t take it personally, that I should expect this to happen, but everything is always easier said than done. It was annoying, not being able to control my own emotions. I was just a toy yo-yo and I was being jerked around by Sirius.

And he wasn’t the only reason why I was stressing out.

I also had to worry about Lucinda. She was giving me the Stink Eye. It was as though she thought I’d told her boyfriend that she was a liar and a cheater. One would think she would put two and two together and realize that I hadn’t. I mean, why else would she be at the party with Sirius if I’d told him? It’s not like Sirius would tolerate a cheater. Maybe that was why he was treating me like dung. Because he didn’t like cheaters, therefore he was angry at himself. Or maybe he was angry at me. I mean, I did kiss him back.


Oh no, Eleanor. Don’t you dare pull that. He kissed you first. You’re single and, let’s face it, he’s not. If anyone should feel guilty, it should be him. Even if you did kiss him back.

I rolled my eyes at the Voice. It seemed as though It, too, had lost Its voice of reason. No pun intended.

The thing was that I was partially guilty. I did encourage him to continue kissing me, even if I didn’t lay down the first move. True, he was mostly responsible for what’d happened between us, but not entirely. No, I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t that sort of person. I had to own up to what I did, to what I’d encouraged him to do to me.

Circe be damned, I was making it seem as though we shagged! Which, I assure you, we did not.

I could keep telling myself that it was only a snog. That I wanted nothing else from him, but then I would be lying to myself. I didn’t just want a kiss from Sirius. No, I wanted something more, which scared the living shit out of me. For one, I was positive that Sirius didn’t not feel the same way, or else he wouldn’t have Disapparated when he realized that we were snogging. Secondly, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge just how deep my feelings for Sirius ran just yet.

Hey, at least I was willing to admit I had feelings of the romantic sort toward him.

And then there was Remus.

I groaned and lowered my head into my hands, massaging my temples with my fingers. I didn’t even want to start thinking about Remus and the immense amount of guilt that accompanied his name.

Thankfully, I didn’t have time to think about him. One of the French doors squeaked open, snapping me out of my own self pity and forcing me to look up from my hands. A tall, dark figure was walking backward onto the patio, muttering quickly under their breath. By the sound of it, the figure was relieved to be rid of their company.

“Merlin,” the voice murmured. A tremor rolled through me. I knew that voice.

I tried to shrink back onto the bench and make myself less noticeable, but it was no use. As soon as he turned around, I found myself face to face with Sirius Black.

Our eyes met and locked into place. My breath quickly left my lungs and a heavy weigh settled in the bottom of my stomach. My head swam and my vision blurred. Ut oh, this wasn’t good.

“Oh,” Sirius said, a hand flying to the back of his neck, which he rubbed awkwardly. “I didn’t realize that anyone else was out -,” he stopped mid sentence and narrowed his silver eyes. “Er, what are you doing in that bush?”

Aw, shit. I hadn’t realized I was completely crouched behind the bush. Heat rushed to my face and burned along my neck. I kept my eyes downcast as I struggled to pull my dress free of the thorny stems of the rose bush.

“I - uh - well, you see, it’s just so cold outside that my, er, arms and legs, well, they froze up and when you came out here, I was so startled that, um, I fell over and into this here bush,” I stuttered, feeling like an incompetent airhead by the time all the hot air had left my mouth.

I could feel his stare on the back of my neck and my insides squirmed uncomfortably.

“Right,” Sirius said, his tone doubtful.

I raised my head and looked at him, my brow furrowed as I studied his sceptical face. There was a glimmer in his eyes that I didn’t fancy, but I kept my mouth shut. Gathering up the hem of my dress in my hand, I shook my leg free of the rose bush and started toward the door.

I had one hand on the silver handle when I felt callused fingers wrap around my other wrist. It was a very gentle touch, but also a very pleading gesture. One that I found I couldn’t resist, even though the Voice was screaming at me to jerk out of his grasp, slam the door open and stomp back inside before anything bad could happen. Which, judging by the way everything had thus far played out, it would.

I froze, my knees locking up and my feet cementing themselves into the stone patio. I prayed that he couldn’t detect that my pulse was skyrocketing. I willed my heart to calm down and hoped that it worked. Otherwise, that would be pretty damn embarrassing.

Turning my head to the side, I whispered, “Let me go.”

He was closer than I had originally perceived him to be. Sirius bent his head so that his lips were at my ear. “Don’t you see?” he whispered back. “That’s my problem. I can’t let you go.”

Despite the fact my heart was hammering against my ribs, I rolled my eyes and broke my wrist out of his grip. “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I half-shrieked, eyes wide and scornful. I pivoted so that I was standing in front of him rather than beside him and glared.

“What?”

“Tell me you did not just use one of those - those - sickening and - and cheesy lines on me!”

“A line?” Sirius repeated. He let out a bark like laugh. “You think that was a line? Honey, I’ve got plenty of lines and that wasn’t one of them.”

“How would I know what is one of your lines and what’s not?” I asked, my voice still louder than it should’ve been. “If you ask me, that certainly sounded like a line.” I exhaled heavily, my entire body shaking with suppressed rage and other various emotions. Subconsciously, I was reminding myself that I needed to reign in my temper. “Anyway, where do you of all people get saying stuff like that to me? You haven’t spoken a single word to me since Christmas Eve!”

Well, damn, so much for trying to control my temper. Thank Merlin we were outside and alone.

Obviously, this was not the best thing to say to Sirius. Even in the poor lighting, I could see that his grey eyes flashed with anger and the muscle in his jaw was flexing compulsively as he struggled to control himself as well.

“It’s not like you’ve made an effort to talk to me, either!” he shot back scathingly.

I released a half-crazed scream of anger. “I’M NOT THE ONE WHO DISAPPARATED AFTER WE SNOGGED!”

“Shut the bloody hell up!” Sirius yelled at me, striding forward and taking the tops of my arms in his hands. He shook me once as he spoke. “Do you want everyone in the bloody world to hear you?!”

I glowered at him, all but ripping my arms out of his grasp. My upper arms hurt, but I tried not to let on that they did. “Maybe I do! Maybe I want them to know what a lying piece of dung you really are!”

Sirius threw his head back and issued another barking laugh. “You must be insane! You honestly want Lucinda to find out what happened?!”

“SEE!” I cried. “Your girlfriend is such a horrible slag, even you’re scared of her!”

His eyes narrowed again. “Shut up, Eleanor. You don’t know anything.” His voice was quiet and that worried me. He should be screaming at me. Hollering at me, that I was being stupid and there was no way that he, Sirius Black, was scared of his girlfriend.

“I don’t know anything, huh?” I laughed shortly. “It’s obviously you who doesn’t know anything. If you knew what was good for you, you’d just break up with her already!”

“Why?” he cut across me sharply. “So you will feel less guilty about snogging me back!?”

I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Yes! That’s exactly why I’m telling you to break up with her, for my own sake!” I scoffed loudly and glared at him. “What sort of person do you think I am?”

“Honestly?” Sirius asked, raising a brow. He walked toward me, forcing me to walk backward until my lower back brushed against the wrought iron railing that surrounded the patio. The sharp point of the fence dug into my back as I leaned away from his as far as I possibly could. “I think that you’re one of the most amazing,” his face drew closer, “wonderful,” and closer, “beautiful,” and closer, “and incredibly horrible liars I’ve ever met in my life.”

Our lips were almost touching. When I spoke, my top lip touched his full bottom lip and a spark was sent through my body, addling my brain. “You think I’m a liar?”

His hand was cupping the back of my neck now. His palm was warm and I found that I was nuzzling into the curve his hand created. “Well,” he considered it for a moment. “Maybe not a liar. But you’re a hypocrite.”

And his mouth was on mine again.

Unlike our last kiss, this one was slow and steady, not hurried, heated and hungry. His lips were warm and soft against mine. His other hand came to the side of my face and I felt my cheeks grow warm under the subtle pressure. My heart was racing in my chest as our mouths worked together to create the most beautiful kiss I could ever imagine myself having. I could feel everything that he was feeling. Every part of my body was alive and aware of what was happening - it was aware of him and only him.

I buried my hands in his hair, twirling one of the soft tendrils around my finger. My lips grew urgent against his and he complied to my want. His mouth parted and our breath mixed together, hot and heavy. I took a deep breath and drew in his heady scent. Our tongues touched ever so slightly and danced around, not with, one another. I pushed my mouth against his and my teeth clicked against his. Normally, this wouldn’t have been very romantic or in the least way attractive, but I didn’t care.

This was an apology snog. I knew that. But I honestly didn’t care. Sirius was finally letting me know exactly where we stood with one another, even if it wasn’t the opportune moment for such things to be happening. I should’ve felt heavy with guilt, but I was as light as a feather.

I didn’t even realize that I was unbuttoning the top of his dress shirt until he pushed my hands away and tore his lips from mine.

We were both breathing heavy. His forehead touched mine and his hot breath skittered across my face, warming me from the inside out. My heaving chest brushed against his and he tucked a lock of stray hair behind my ear.

This should’ve been our first kiss. Not the one we had.

“I’m sorry, Eleanor,” he panted softly.

“Please,” I breathed back. “Call me Ellie.”

I had just requested the one thing from him that I could. It was an intimate gesture, I know, but that was my point. I normally didn’t like it when people called me by various nicknames, but when Sirius said it, I didn’t mind it. And I was letting him know that I wanted him to keep doing it.

A grin tugged at his lips and he pressed his lips against my forehead.

We stood with our foreheads touching, but nothing else, for quite some time. My pulse returned to a normal pace and my knees were no longer knocking together obnoxiously.

After a few more moments of silence, I tilted my head back to look up into his face. “What did you mean when you called me a hypocrite?”

“You’re with Remus,” he stated, plain as day. “So, really, that makes you just as big of a piece of dung as me.”

I stepped away from Sirius and manoeuvred around him so that I was standing away from the fence, near the door of the patio. Light from the ballroom was streaming in. For a moment, I felt like one of those helpless princesses who just found a lot of fancy in one place.

I opened my mouth to say something, but I was unable to get my words out. Naturally, that’s how everything happened to me. Right when I was about to make a dramatic statement, someone just had to interrupt me. Although, I had to admit, some of them were pleasant interruptions.

This time, however, it wasn’t a pleasant disturbance.

My eyes widened in horror as Lucinda, in her bright turquoise dress, came stumbling out onto the patio, her lips locked in a fierce battle with a bloke who was certainly not her boyfriend, seeing as how he was standing near to me. Panic seized my body as I looked for a possible escape route. I knew that nothing good would come from this.

Amos pressed Lucinda against the wall and she panted his name. Her leg hitched up around his waist and he pushed her dress down to the junction where her thigh met her hip. It was more than I wanted to see and more than Sirius should ever have to witness.

I looked over at Sirius to see that he was wearing an expression of pure shock. The colour had left his face and his swollen lips formed a small ‘O’.

The sound of Amos unzipping the back of her dress seemed to snap Sirius out of his stupor. “What the fuck is this?”

As if lightening had struck between them, they leapt apart. Lucinda quickly fixed her dress so that all her previously exposed parts were covered. I averted my eyes elsewhere, specifically staring long and hard at the uneven stone under my feet.

“Sirius!” Lucinda exclaimed. “I can explain -,” she stopped talking suddenly. And I knew. I knew that she’d seen me. That she was starting to piece together her own version of what happened out here, which, she would later find out, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

You!” she spat venomously. In one, two, three strides she’d crossed the expanse of the patio and she stood, blonde and glorious, towering over me. She jabbed me in the chest with a finger. “You told him, didn’t you?”

“N-no.”

“DIDN’T YOU?”

“No, I didn’t-,”

“Tell me what?” Sirius asked, glancing back and forth between us, perplexed. Though there was still anger in his expression, confusion was the reason behind the crease in his brow.

“Don’t play dumb, Sirius,” Lucinda growled, whirling around so quickly that her hair smacked me in the face. “I know you know and I know that she told you.” She turned to me. “You are such a little bitch. You swore you wouldn’t-,”

But it was like Sirius hadn’t even heard her. He grabbed Lucinda by the arm and forced her to look him in the eye. “Tell me what!” he demanded, his upper lip pulling back over his teeth. “What does Eleanor know?”

Lucinda stared at him. “What do you think she knew?”

They stared - or rather, glowered - at each other. It was as though they were communicating with their eyes, that Lucinda was telling him all that about the fateful day in the library when I’d stumbled across one of the biggest scandals in Hogwarts history.

He dropped her arm. His eyes flashed over to me and he shook his head. “No,” he said, still shaking his head back and forth. Black hair flopped into his now dark, stormy grey eyes. “You didn’t.” This was directed at me. “Please, tell me you didn’t.”

Lucinda laughed loudly. “Oh, she did.”

“Ellie,” he said, helplessly, not wanting to believe it.

“She’s known for a while now, Sirius,” Lucinda taunted.

“Don’t!” Sirius shouted at her. So loudly that the wave of conversation that was floating through the now open door to the patio halted. It was only moments now before people would start filing out onto the patio and be observing this oh-so-dramatic scene. I felt like I was in a really bad chick flick, only I knew this ending wouldn’t bade well for me at all.

He turned his eyes back to me. I fumbled with my hands. I could feel the tears prickling at the back of my eyes.

“How long?” he asked, his voice now so low, I could scarcely hear it.

“Sirius, I-,”

“How long!” he demanded, shouting once more.

Great. Now people were filtering out onto the patio. My eyes flickered over to the crowd and I saw them, each and every single one of the people I called my friends. They were standing around, all of them wearing expressions of equal confusion. Lily was clutching James by the arm and I could see that he was struggling to comprehend why Lucinda, Sirius, Amos, and I were all out on the patio, and why Sirius was screaming at me, his expression that of complete rage.

“I said, how long have you known?” Sirius said.

I swallowed a sob and tore my eyes away from my mates. But not before I saw James’s face light up with recognition. And suddenly, like something cold was gripping my insides, I realized, James knows.

I muttered my response, but it was so quiet, I could hardly hear.

“How long!” he shouted, impatiently.

I was crying now. Tears were leaking out of my eyes and I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I picked my head up and locked eyes with him. “Since October.”

What colour had been in his face quickly fled. His hands started to shake at his sides and he rolled them into fists, tucking his thumbs inside his curled fingers, like he was going to punch me. And I would let him. Hell, I’d want to punch me, too.

“Since October?” he parroted. “And you didn’t - you didn’t -.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I didn’t tell you.”

Sirius opened his mouth, and it looked as though he was going to scream at me again, but Remus beat him to the chase.

“It’s more like she couldn’t tell you,” Remus amended, striding forward and taking my hand. I felt my cheeks flame up in shame. I didn’t deserve his support and now, he was going to go down with me.

I was a destroyer of friendships.

Sirius’s eyes flashed between us rapidly. He was making the connection. He set his jaw. His eyes became stony.

“So,” Sirius finally said. “Eleanor knew. You knew, Moony. Who else knows?” He turned to Lily and asked, “Did you know?”

She shook her head. “No,” she replied. Only she didn’t sound sad. If anything, she sounded pissed off. “I didn’t know at all. But if I did, I would’ve told you immediately.”

Sirius smiled bitterly at her. “It’s good to know that my best mate’s got a girl with a good head on her shoulders.” His eyes rested on James and his smile grew into a smirk, “And I know you don’t-,”

“Oh yes he does!” Lucinda cut him off. She was laughing again. “Don’t you think for one minute that James bloody Potter didn’t know about Amos and I.”

Lily dropped his hand immediately and took a step away from him. “What?” she asked, her tone biting as she glared at him. “You knew? And you didn’t even tell your best friend?”

Lucinda laughed, folding her arms over her chest. “Go on, James. Why don’t you let everyone know exactly how long you’ve been in on my secret?”

James swallowed nervously. His eyes were trained on Sirius, and the latter was glowering at him with a murderous expression on his face. From where I stood, I could see that James’s eyes were glassy behind his spectacles, like he was going to cry.

This was all my fault. If only I’d told him first. . ..

“Padfoot-,”

“Don’t you dare ‘Padfoot’ me!” Sirius shouted loudly. “How fucking long have you’ve known, Potter?”

When James couldn’t answer, Lucinda stepped up to the plate. Her face was smug. “Since the end of last term.” The colour drained from James’s face, which became expressionless. “He found us on the train together, in one of the spare compartments.”

“Sirius-,”

“No!”

“I did it for you, mate!” James yelled, his eyes suddenly flickering to life again behind his glasses. “I didn’t tell you because I knew it would tear you apart! I knew you were much too in love with her! At least, at that point in time you were.” He took a deep breath. “It was not a big secret that your and Lucinda’s relationship had been on the rocks - you’d been complaining it to Peter, Remus and I for months!”

“It doesn’t matter, James!” Sirius shouted passionately. “You are - no, you were my best mate. You should’ve told me, regardless of how I feel, instead of making me look like a fool now.”

“Would you have done the same for him?” Remus cut in.

The centre of the argument had shifted away from me now. This was between the three of them and I knew it wouldn’t bade well. I draped my arm over my stomach, trying to hold myself together and not vomit on Mrs. Potter’s beautiful rose bushes; I doubted she would’ve liked that.

“What sort of question is that?” Sirius scoffed. “Of course I would’ve told him-,”

“Even if Lily was cheating on him, and you knew it would crush him if you told him that the girl of his dreams was a cheating slag-,”

“Hey!” Lily interjected angrily.

“I’m not saying that you are,” Remus threw over his shoulder at Lily. “And no, I doubt you would’ve, even though you seem to think that you’re the best mate anyone could ever ask for.”

Sirius’s eyes narrowed once more. “Well, I’m sure as hell of a lot better mate than you are!”

“Don’t you go insulting Remus,” James thundered, shouting so loud that now his parents had come to investigate all the ruckus. “He’s done nothing but been a loyal friend to us since we’ve all been at Hogwarts-,”

“Shut your gob, Potter!” Sirius exclaimed. “I don’t care how loyal of a friend he’s been to me! Or how loyal you’re been! The point of the matter is that you lied to me. All of you.” His gaze met mine and I averted my eyes, feeling much worse than I could ever recall feeling. “You’ve been lying to my face for months now.”

There was a beat of silence.

“We were only trying to protect you,” I muttered softly.

“No,” he corrected, laughing without mirth. “You were only trying to protect yourselves from what my reaction would be. What you lot failed to realize is that, eventually, I would’ve gotten over it! But this - this outright lying for a prolonged period of time?” He shook his head and his lips became a thin line. “You can’t undo this.”

“You’re an idiot,” James stated.

An eyebrow disappeared into Sirius’s hair line. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said that you’re an idiot,” James repeated, much louder this time. “I’ve known you for a good deal of my life and I know that it wouldn’t have been that simple. You make it sound so easy, so simple, the process of getting over someone,” he threw a glance at Lily and I felt my heart break for him. “I know what it’s like and it’s not as easy or as simple as it sounds. I also know that if you were in my shoes - in our shoes, you wouldn’t have found it so easy to tell your best mate the worst news of his life.”

They stared at each other for a pregnant moment. I could feel Remus tense beside me and I was sorely tempted to reach out for his hand and take it. Not for his sake, but for mine, so I could keep myself composed.

“Whatever,” Sirius breathed. “I’m done. With all of you.” He glanced at each of us in turn. And then he turned on the spot and stomped back into the house.

There was absolute silence on the patio. Without another word, Lily filed into the ballroom after Sirius and I knew what this meant. People were picking sides. Our tightly knit group of mates was being pulled apart and it was all because of me. Alice followed Lily.

Because I couldn’t swallow my own fear and tell Sirius that his girlfriend was a disgusting piece of slag.

Frank followed Alice.

Because I couldn’t take the risk of having everyone know the truth about my father, the man who shot himself in the head because he’d lost his job, his only way to support me, and he couldn’t get it back together.

Finally, Peter followed Frank.

Because I was a pansy. Because I was me. I didn’t fit into the puzzle with them, yet I’d forced my way in and ruined the entire thing.

I was such a horrible person. I didn’t deserve to be alive, but I was.

Five minutes later, the only ones left on the patio were Remus, James, and me.

I didn’t even realize I had been crying until James placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. He gave my shoulder a tight squeeze and my hand covered his, returning the favour by giving his fingers a tight squeeze as well.

Inside the ballroom, the huge grandfather clock struck midnight and the bells began to toll. All the guests, at least the ones who hadn’t been out on the patio, shrieked with delight.

“Well,” James said. “Happy New Year.”

Chapter 32: Trouble Sleeping
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“Whomever said that the truth will set you free was obviously delusional,” James said, bringing the bottle of champagne to his lips. He grimaced as he took a large swig. “Ah, that shite is-,”

“Shite?” I supplied.

His grin was half-hearted and didn’t reach his eyes. “Too right you are, Eleanor.” Lazily, he brought a hand to his temple, giving me a sloppy salute. His motions were slow and his words were slurred; it was obvious that the alcohol was getting to him. “Everything,” he took a sip, “has turned to utter,” he took another drink from the bottle dangling from his long fingers, “shite.”

I stared into his handsome face, searching for any signs of pain. Searched for any emotions, really. His face was a mask, but his eyes were unguarded. The hazel depths were filled to the brim with an despair so intense, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around it. He looked absolutely hopeless and it was all my fault.

A rough sob escaped my throat, scraping at the sides. James sent me an inquisitive look, his head tilting to the side slightly. I quickly disguised it as a bad coughing fit, gently banging my fist against my chest.

“Are you all right?” James questioned, words slurred.

I nodded my head. “Something got caught in my throat,” was the only adequate faux-explanation I could offer.

His gaze still suspicious, he held out the bottle of champagne to me. Hesitantly, I took it from him, having drank more than I was used to. The last time I had drank so much, I ended up in Sirius’s bed with a massive headache and a sour attitude. . .that didn’t sound very good, did it? Seeing as how I was already in a horrendously sour mood, I thought it was best that I tried to limit my alcohol intake for the evening. Squeezing my eyes shut, I drank deeply and tried to ignore the faint burn of alcohol as it made its way down my throat, coming to settle in my belly.

“Whoa, slow down there, Ella,” said Remus, closing the French door behind him. I glanced over my shoulder at him to see his arms were laden with three more bottles of champagne, and thankfully, a bunch of napkin-wrapped food.

Great, now Remus thought that I was an alcoholic. This was fantastic.

“Why should she?” James asked, somewhat indignantly. “’Snot gonna help none.”

“Is not going to help, Prongs,” Remus corrected. “Is not going to help.” He came to sit down beside me on the small stone step, flashing me a tight, but warm smile.

James waved a dismissive hand at the floppy haired boy. “Pffft, whatever.” He snatched the bottle out of my hands. I tried to stop him, but he jerked it out from my fingers and hurriedly emptied the rest, which was nearly one third of the bottle.

I scowled, muttering under my breath as I resisted the urge to vomit. I had only just decided that I would drink no more for the rest of the night. I turned my body so that I was facing Remus. “Is any of that for me?” I said hopefully, eyeing the food in his arms and waggling my eyebrows for show.

Before he could answer, my stomach gave a loud, low growl. He laughed and nodded his head, all but shoving what looked to be a piece of cake into my outstretched hand. “It’s amazing that I could understand you,” Remus stated.

I chewed the cake I’d crammed into my mouth and swallowed roughly. “What do you mean?”

“You’re slurring your words.”

My eyebrows shot to somewhere in my hairline. “I am?”

He nodded deeply. “Severely.”

A giggle escaped me. “I didn’t realize that I was speaking the Language of the Drunks.” I took a big bite from the cake in my hand. I chewed and chewed, my eyes widening happily. “This is good!”

Something in Remus’s kind, warm eyes changed. I swore I saw his lips twitch downward. “You’re drunk, Eleanor,” he said quietly. Almost disapprovingly.

I opened my mouth to say something, my tongue heavy, but like always, someone else beat me to the chase. This time, however, it was James. And he was laughing. Quite loudly, actually. I stared at James, confused and waiting for an explanation, which he naturally gave.

“That’s the problem, though, isn’t it, Moony?” James exclaimed, still laughing. “We’re drunk,” he gestured from himself to me and then back again. Suddenly, his arm was around my shoulders and he pressed the side of his head against mine. Then, he pointed at Remus, his eyes narrowing in a semi-accusing manner. “And you, my good, very dear friend, are not. I say that we need to fix this.” With a wave of his hand, he popped the cork out of one of the bottles that Remus had brought out to the patio. He held out the bottle to his best mate, waggling his eyebrows.

Remus cast a doubtful look at the bottle and reluctantly took it from him. He drank from the bottle, although his mouth lingered around the lip a little longer than I expected it to. When he pulled back from the bottle, I was surprised to see that he had consumed nearly half and didn’t even grimace at the aftertaste.

He smacked his lips together. “It’s actually not that bad. Once you over the aftertaste, that is,” he added as an afterthought.

I mentally released a sigh of relief; at least I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stand the taste of the champagne. I glanced at James out of the corner of my eye, a feeling of concern bubbling deep in my stomach when I saw his lips wrapped around the smooth top of a glass bottle.

We sat in silence for Merlin only knows how long, none of us daring to utter a single word. Remus and I ate all of the food he’d brought out with him; I wanted to save some for James, but he was too drunk to even swallow. After awhile, the messy haired, bespectacled boy leaned over and pressed his head against my shoulder, the crown of his skull resting in the crook where my shoulder joined the neck.

Absentmindedly, I brought my hand up and patted him on the head. I heard him sigh and assumed that he’d fallen asleep as the weight on my shoulder became greater. All too soon, it felt as though there was sand behind my eyelids, scraping my eyeballs, which was very uncomfortably. I blinked rapidly, not daring to casually tip my head to the side in fear of falling asleep against Remus. I also wanted to sober up a bit before dozing off, although it wasn’t looking like an option now, seeing as how I kept jerking myself awake.

My eyelids had just slide over my eyes for the umpteenth when a loud, sharp CRACK echoed in my ears, jolting any thoughts of fluffy pillows and wool blankets out of my mind.

“Whatta bloody fuckin’ hell was that?!” James exclaimed, although I’m not entirely sure that’s what he said. That’s just what it sounded like he said. He tottered dangerously and I had to grab a fistful of his sleeve to keep him steady.

Remus and I glanced at one another; I imagined my expression mirrored his - confused and little bit scared.

“I have no idea,” Remus answered, turning his head this way and that as his hand slowly travelled to the pocket of his dress trousers.

My stomach plummeted as I thought of the absolute worst: Death Eaters had come to the Potters’ party and were about to kill everyone. I released James’s sleeve, which made him sway to and fro unsteadily, and snatched Remus’s hand.

“You don’t think it’s Death Eaters,” I began, my voice pitching a note higher than usual toward the end. “Do you?”

Remus shook his head. “No, they would’ve made a grander, more dramatic entrance.” He squeezed my hand reassuringly; warmth shot through my arm and tingled in my chest.

“What could it be, then?” I questioned cautiously, not sure if I wanted to know the answer or not. It was more than likely that I should’ve kept my question to myself, but these days, I couldn’t control anything I said. I had diarrhoea of the mouth, I suppose one could say.

A shrug of a shoulder was all I received in response before Remus slowly rose to his feet, dragging me with him. I had half the mind to release his hand and let him wander without me, but I knew that it wasn’t good to leave anyone unattended, especially when it came to cracking noises in the dark. I tripped over a small rock on the garden path and blindly followed Remus. I trusted him, almost a bit too much for my own good, considering that he was a Marauder, but even I had my limitations. And I’m more than sure investigating creepy noises is definitely my limit.

We’ve barely walked three steps before James came lumbering after us, his footsteps clopping so loudly against the paved path, it sounded as though a horse drawn carriage was passing through. I reached for his hand when he was near enough and secured it within my own; if I was going to go gallivanting in the dark, I was going to have as much protection as I could possibly get. However, I had the slightest inclination that I was inhibiting the pair of them with my hands clutching theirs, but I doubted that either one of them was sober enough to know that.

“What d’you think-,”

“Shhhh!” Remus hissed through clenched teeth, cutting James off. I suppose he, Remus, meant to stomp on James’s foot, but he clambered on my toes instead. I yelped, shrieking out a long slew of curse words as I resisted the urge to hop around on one foot, like they do in cartoons. “Oops, sorry. I meant to-,”

“Yeah, I know,” I interrupted him impatiently. “You meant to step on his foot.”

Even though it was pitch black, I knew that James rolled his eyes, judging by the sigh that escaped him; he didn’t even seem all that drunk anymore. Merlin, I had never seen anyone sober up quite as quickly as James did. I tried not to dwell on the bubble of envy that gathered in my chest as we slowly crept around one of the tall hedges.

When we came around the corner, there was nothing. I frowned and James took the helm, my hand still in his, and Remus took up the rear. The bespectacled boy led us around another corner toward the centre of the maze-esque garden path. There, in the clearing next to a beautiful fountain, were several large lumps, one of which looked strangely like a trunk. A soft mewing sound was coming from somewhere within the huge mess.

It took me a few moments to piece it together, but once it finally clicked, I lost it. A great sob shook my chest as I rushed forward, casting numerous items of clothing aside to get to it. When I picked him up, Cappa blinked lazily at me, sleep still clouding his vibrant yellow eyes.

“Meow,” he chirped innocently.

I clung to my kitten, who had grown an alarming amount in the past few hours, it seemed, and ran my finger along the curve of his head. I didn’t even realize tears were streaming down my face and I was the one making the horrendous screeching noises until Cappa started licking my cheeks free of salty tears.

Shakily, and still crying - or sobbing like a cow getting its utters cut off -, with Cappa nestled under my arm, I began to pick up all my belongings. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling or the rough sobs from escaping me. I tried my hardest to pick everything up and shove it back into my trunk, which must’ve fallen open when Lily sent it to me, but it was hard to see anything. Even if I wasn’t crying, I’m sure it would’ve been difficult! A pair of hands pried Cappa from my arms while another set of hands, which were much larger and more callused, began to help me gather my stuff.

Once James closed my trunk, all my garments secured inside, he put an arm around my shoulder, drawing me close to his body. It was a very brotherly gesture, one that I received most greedily. His other arm wrapped around my abdomen so that he was hugging me. After he’d done that, there was no way I was able to keep my sobs, or myself, under control.

“I’m such a b-b-bitch,” I choked through hiccoughs, teardrops rolling off my chin.

“No,” James said quickly, his hand coming up to brush hair away from my face. I felt like a child in his arms, and a pathetic one at that. “You’re not a bitch.”

I shook my head ardently, dragging my wrist under my nose to wipe away any drainage. “But I am. I d-didn’t t-t-tell him.”

“Neither did I,” he protested, lowering his hand to my upper arm, which was alarming cold. His hand chaffed against my skin. “Does that make me a bitch?”

My chuckle got caught in my throat, making me sound like a drowning cat. I glanced at Cappa, who was sleeping peacefully in Remus’s arms, and sighed heavily. I swiped at my tears with the pads of my thumbs and shook my head again. James gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze and let my head fall against his arm.

“Everything will be okay,” James murmured quietly, trying in vain to sound reassuring when, really, it sounded as though he was trying to convince himself as well as me.

X - - X

Three days later, I found myself abroad the Hogwarts Express. It was the start of the new term, but I wasn’t as excited as the rest of the students on board. Hell, I wasn’t even the least bit excited to be heading back to school. If the world revolved around me, I would be back at home with Aunt Eliza, a pint of ice cream resting on my stomach and Spanish soap operas blaring on the television. Sadly, however, the world did not revolve around me.

Instead of picking myself up off the ground and heading home like I ought to have, I stayed with the Potters’ for the remainder of the holidays. Julian and Mary had been eager to accept me into their household, treating me as though I were a regular fixture in their lives. Though I couldn’t say that I was ever truly happy while staying at the lovely mansion, I certainly had a few laughs that lifted my spirits. It was a shame that once I went to sleep, a days’ worth of happy moments subsided, giving way to dreams that would torture me. His seraphic features contorted with fury, a hatred that was for me and only me.

Funny how even though I wasn’t the one who’d cheated on him, I was the one he was the angriest at. Well, maybe he wasn’t as pissed off with me as he was with James, but still, we were neck in neck for first place, James and I were, which wasn’t a good thing in the slightest.

A low grumble of displeasure escaped me, which drew attention toward myself. James raised one eyebrow in question, though his eyes were devoid of any emotion. Not even the smallest hint of pain resided in his warm, hazel depths. When Lily had left him, for lack of a better phrase, she took all of James with her, which was one of the cruellest things she could’ve done. I may have loved Lily like a sister, even though we all knew how much she hated me, but she could’ve listened to what he had to say instead of choosing a side so quickly. It didn’t help that Alice was so quick to pick a team to play for, either. She was such a dear friend to James; they’d grown up with each other, their parents having been friends in their Hogwarts days. And she’d abandoned him, just like Lily did. Because Lily had.

I closed my eyes tightly, a tear leaking out of the corner. If I continued to cry at any given moment, my tear ducts would surely dry out and, while I’m not sure how you feel about the matter, it doesn’t sound very pleasant at all. I swiped at it, furious with myself for getting so emotional. You’d think that I was pregnant or something, the mood swings I was experiencing were that severe.

“Are you all right?” Remus asked suddenly, his voice cautious.

Averting my eyes, I turned my gaze to the rainy window and the green blur that passed by. “I’ll be fine,” I replied automatically, hollowly.

I could feel his eyes on me and willed my body not to react, willed my cheeks not to flush and my neck not to flare up. “If you say so. . .,” he trailed off, shaking his copy of the Daily Prophet open, commencing his reading.

Once I was certain he wasn’t looking at me, I glared at the back of his bowed head, though I’m not sure why. I had so much pent up anger, so much frustration locked within me that I knew sooner or later (probably sooner rather than later), I was going to explode at either one of them. I would try not to, of course, seeing as how they were the only friends I had left. I needed them and vice versa. We were one another’s crutches, there until we were ready to walk on our own. We just didn’t know how long that would be.

Cappa padded his way across the seat and hopped into my lap. After circling three times, he finally settled himself, his head coming to rest against my thigh. I wondered what I would do without my cute kitten. I might not have had him all that long, but he was already becoming one of my dearest friends. He was always there when I needed some form of comfort and the fact that he was fluffy and smelt good was just an added bonus.

I didn’t even realize that I’d dozed off until the Trolley Lady came rolling down the narrow corridor, her voice echoing as she announced her arrival. James flew out of his seat, shoving his hand in his pocket to withdraw some money. Circe only knew what he had in his pockets. Probably a few prank items and a shrunken head. But that was just my guess.

Setting the sleeping Cappa aside (I swear, he doesn’t sleep as much as it seems like he does!), I rose to my feet, stretching my arms above my head and working out the kinks in my back. I didn’t have all that much money, but if I didn’t buy anything on the next Hogsmeade trip, I’d have enough until Easter came and Aunt Eliza sent me some money along with chocolate. Since I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, I ran smack into James’s back, nearly toppling backward. If it hadn’t been for Remus grabbing me by my upper arms and straightening me out, I would’ve hit me head on the edge of my trunk. And we all know that I didn’t need another head contusion.

The Trolley Lady was a jolly old woman. She had grey hair fastened in a tight chignon at the nape of her neck. Horn rimmed glasses rested on the narrow slope of her nose, which contrasted oddly to the rest of her wrinkled face, and blurred her watery blue eyes. The smile she offered to those who purchased sweets from her cart was warm and she dressed in outrageously coloured cardigans. I was immediately reminded of Aunt Eliza, a pang surging through my chest.

“Anything from the trolley, dear?” she asked, gifting me with a very maternal grin.

I nodded faintly. “Two Pumpkin Pasties and six Chocolate Frogs.”

Her eyes widened slightly, but I’m sure this wasn’t the biggest order she’d ever received from a girl. At least, I hoped it wasn’t. Otherwise, that would be pretty damn embarrassing. Not that I cared all that much anymore.

“That’ll be two Galleons and a Sickle.”

I handed her the appropriate sum of money, taking my treats from her grasp, and hurried back into the compartment. Remus purchased a small bottle of pumpkin juice, something I wish I would have thought of. My mouth was going to be insanely dry now. As if reading my mind, Remus stopped the Trolley Lady and bought another bottle of juice.

“You looked thirsty,” he explained, taking the seat next to me, though he was careful to avoid sitting on Cappa.

The kitten leapt onto his lap eagerly and nuzzled his palm. I smiled slightly. “Aw, he likes you.”

“Yeah,” Remus said, delicately stroking Cappa’s head with two fingers. “I guess he does.”

Remembering the disastrous aftermath of the party and how Cappa had cuddled with Remus then, I felt my smile grow a little bit tighter.

“In fact,” I began. “All animals seem to like you, James, and. . .,” I trailed off suddenly. Tension hung thick in the air before I cleared my throat and continued, “well, my aunt’s dog, Rufus, went ballistic when James swung by to pick L-Lily and I up.” It was hard to say her name, too.

Remus nodded his head in understanding and leaned across the small cabin, snatching his paper and shaking it open once again. He disappeared behind the neatly printed lines of text and soon, he became so engrossed in his reading that he didn’t even complain when Cappa started clawing at his face. Weird.

My stomach rumbled unattractively, but thankfully, neither of the boys looked up from their current tasks. James was shoving food into his mouth at such a blinding rate, I couldn’t even tell what he was consuming. And Remus, well, he was reading. I could only imagine what. . .I stopped myself from thinking thoughts that would make me upset. Which was difficult. I’d never realized how much I thought about You-Know. . .well, that wouldn’t work either, would it? I mean, it’s not like he’s a Dark Lord. Unless he moonlights, of course. I can’t call him Him or He because I’m pretty sure that God would be offended.

Rolling my eyes, I exhaled deeply and tore open a Chocolate Frog with my teeth. It leapt about like mad, but I got it under control. Stuffing the jumpy chocolate into my mouth, I chewed rather roughly, making sure to mash it up good before swallowing. I uncapped the bottle of pumpkin juice and right when I was about to take a drink, the train get a sudden lurch forward. Orange tinted juice slopped all down my front, drenching my white button up.

And Mary Potter had wondered why I was so depressed about going back to school.

X - - X

By the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station, however, I was more than ready to get out of the compartment and into the shelter of the castle. I couldn’t stand another minute of Quiet Remus and Depressed James. They were driving me mad with their non-talkative attitudes. So, as soon as it was announced that we were nearing the school, I eagerly shrugged my school robes on and sat by the door, tapping my foot impatiently.

The train gave a lurch and I flew out of my seat like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. Well, I went as fast as I could with all the people surging into the narrow strip some had the nerve to call a corridor. I pushed and shoved my way out of the train until the cold air hit my face. Unfortunately, there was an odd slush-rain pouring down from the sky that was positively frigid. I had half the mind to turn on my heel and head back to the safety of my compartment, but I was forced forward. I cursed under my breath when someone elbow me in the side.

“Sorry,” he said, but it was obvious he didn’t see me. Or he was acting like he didn’t see me, which was the more likely possibility.

I frowned after him, watching as his head of dark, silky hair weaved in and out of the crowd, making his way toward the thestral drawn carriages. My frown deepened when I saw who he climbed into a carriage with. Something rolled in my abdomen. I tried not to dwell on the matter, instead choosing to conjure a make shift shield for Cappa so he wouldn’t catch a chill. No matter how hard I tried to tear my eyes away from the sight of them, I couldn’t. Lily threw her head back and laughed loudly, so loudly that her infectious laughter reached my ears. And if it was within my hearing. . .oh vey, I didn’t want to think about that.

I waited until James and Remus stepped off the train. Once I spotted them, I sloshed through the mud and fought my way around the throng of students as I moved toward them. James was wearing a harsh scowl and I knew that he’d heard her laughter, much like I’d feared. I resisted the urge to reach out a sympathetic hand. At least, I thought I’d resisted the urge; Remus must’ve thought that I was holding out my hand for him to take because he took it within his own. Without a moment’s hesitation, he led James and I toward an available carriage.

The ride up to the castle was shrouded by a stony silence. I tried to make conversation, but neither of them seemed to be in a speaking mood, though Remus held my hand the entire way. I wanted to pull my hand away, not because I didn’t want him to hold it, but because the stone heavy guilt was beginning to settle in the pit of my stomach. It was so heavy, I almost felt physically ill.

When we pulled up to the fortress, James and I hurriedly rose from our seats and reached for the door handle. I let him take it within his grasp and watched as he pushed the door open, jumping out into the misty night air. I thought that he was going to rush ahead of us and duck into the Great Hall so he could get the first dibs on food, but he waited for Remus and I to climb out of the carriage.

We joined the surge of students, walking into the Entrance Hall. I breathed in deeply through my nose; it was so nice to be back. How could I’ve been so stupid and actually been hesitant to come back to Hogwarts? It was practically my home and I hadn’t realized until that moment that it was a part of the healing process for me. And perhaps, it would serve the same purpose for James, but I knew somewhere deep inside that it would probably only make things worse.

I swallowed nervously at the thought and made a vain attempt of pushing it to the back of my mind, which, naturally, didn’t work. Rather, it did the exact opposite. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I followed James’s lead into the Great Hall. Almost immediately, my senses were sent into overdrive and actual tears of happiness sprung to my eyes. I would be able to eat Hogwarts food again. I’d be able to gorge myself until I had to undo the top button of my skirt.

I was in hog heaven.

James made his way toward the Marauders’ typical spot, but quickly stopped short when he saw that Sirius, Lily, Alice, and Peter had already claimed that particular stretch of bench. An odd sort of tension was strung suddenly, tighter than a rubber band pulled to its limits, and I felt heat begin to build around my collar. Lily’s eyes found mine and she glowered at me, the set of her mouth hard and unforgiving, just like her cool emerald eyes. We stared at each other for several moments and it felt as though my heart had frozen up. Her gaze left mine and travelled over to the hazel eyed boy standing beside me. Anger bubbled through my veins until I felt the force of his glare.

I was unable to turn my head, to look away or even pretend I didn’t notice him, like he had done to me when he’d bumped shoulders with me. His gaze was penetrating and full of hatred; I didn’t think it was possible for someone with such perfect, angelic features to look so demonic. I sucked in a deep breath, the tears that were once of happiness now that of pain. His eyes burned into mine and spoke the words I didn’t need to physically hear to understand.

He wanted nothing to do with me. He didn’t want me near him. He wanted me out of his life, to go back to being invisible, to living a life in the shadows. I was the lowliest of scum, no better than the people he had to call family. My heart stopped beating and leapt into my throat, making it nigh near impossible to breathe. I was such a terrible person. I didn’t deserve to be alive.

He hated me.Although I had the faintest inclination that he was feeling all these things toward me, I didn’t realize just how much it would hurt when I finally took everything into full recognition. It hit harder than I had expected it to. It felt as though someone was holding my head underwater and I wasn’t able to free myself from their fierce grip. Like they wished me to die.

Something painfully cinched around my heart and I couldn’t help thinking, he doesn’t really want me to die, does he?

I was barely aware of Remus’s fingers hovering against the palm of my hand. I jerked away from him and clenched my fist. I didn’t want my hand to be held. It wouldn’t help at all. If anything, it would only make things much, much worse than they already were.

“Come on, guys,” Remus said, his voice low. “We’ll find somewhere else to sit.”

I nodded my head faintly and tore my eyes away from Sirius’s intense gaze. I could feel his eyes burning the back of my head as I grabbed James by the arm and tugged him down the aisle toward a different area of the Gryffindor table. I didn’t like the feel of guilt that was rolling up and down my spine, but I knew that it was my fault. Purely my fault and there was nothing else I could do about it except for deal with it. As much as I might not like it, it was the only option I had left.

Tremors were surging up James’s arm, his hand shaking fiercely. It alarmed me, but I didn’t say a word in fear of saying the wrong thing. The expression he was wearing could only be described as blank, but his eyes were a much different story. I’d thought that they would be completely devoid of any emotion, aside from misery, but I saw they were burning bright with something I couldn’t quite recognize. Of course, I was never good when it came to realizing emotions, so who was I to judge?

We found a spot somewhere near the middle of the table. Remus hurried around the other side and plonked down opposite of me. Most of the students had already found their seats, so it was more than a little awkward standing around, waiting for James to sit down as well.

I gave a sharp tug on his arm and said softly, “James.”

With a small shake of his head and some muttered words, he threw a leg over the bench and slid into a more comfortable position. I threw a cautious look across the table at Remus, but he didn’t seem to notice, for his attention was fixated elsewhere. Namely, anything that wasn‘t in the direct line of sight of the other students gathered in the Great Hall.

Apparently, the entire school had taken notice that the Marauders were divided. And believe you me, they didn’t ease the tension stretched between the two groups at all. If anything, they only made it worse. And here I thought I was going to be able to enjoy dinner. Could nothing be like it used to be?

X - - X

Once Dumbledore had given his very short, to the point speech, I hurriedly tucked into my dinner as instructed by the starry eyed headmaster. I could feel hundreds of eyes burning into the back of my head, which is why I was shovelling food into my mouth at high speed. Several people nearest to us looked as though they were going to ask me a question, but they always backed down. Thankfully. I had no idea what I would do if someone actually opened their mouth and asked me what was going on. How on earth would I be able to explain the situation?

Simple - I wouldn’t. I would turn on my heel as quickly as possible with my tail tucked between my legs and hurry toward my dormitory, the only place where I would be able to find any sort of comfort. We were all absolutely quiet as we ate, the sounds of silverware scraping against golden plates the only noise erupting from any of us, save for the belch that James released after downing a goblet of pumpkin juice all in one go.

Even though none of us were speaking, I couldn’t help noticing there was something different about James. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but there was something wrong with his eyes. Well, I would not say wrong, but. . .just different. Severely different. Only moments ago, he looked as though he would never come out of the depressive state he’d sunk into after the party. But now, I was almost alarmed by the glimmer in his eyes. Frightened.

I hoped to Merlin that it was a positive glimmer of determination instead of a bad one.

When desert appeared on the table, my stomach growled happily as I reached across to snatch up a piece of chocolate cake. I horked it down at a surprisingly quick rate, my anxiety level spiking as I shoved each forkful into my mouth. All too soon, my cake had run out and I was ready to head up to my dormitory to get some sleep. All I wanted to do was sleep. Get some shut eye and forget that this mess ever happened. Although I knew deep in my gut that a good night’s sleep would be next to impossible.

As soon as I had scraped the last of the cake off the golden plate, I gulped down the rest of my pumpkin juice, sloshing some over the front of my uniform. I paid no heed, rather pushing back somewhat hurriedly from the table and knocking James in the face with an elbow.

“Sorry,” I muttered, offering an apologetic half smile.

“Where’s the fire?” Remus asked lightly, a joking tone to his voice.

I tried to laugh, but it sounded like I was choking, which, I assure you, is as unattractive as it sounds. Lamely, I shrugged my shoulders and pushed myself to my feet.

“I’m tired,” I offered.

And it was the truth. Well, the semi-truth. What I really wanted was to fall into a deep coma and maybe create a time machine so I could do things the right way and tell Sirius as soon as I found out about his cheating girlfriend, despite the fact it was more than likely he wouldn’t believe me. Much less look at me. Because, let’s face it, before I was forced to be his partner in Potions, he barely knew I existed. For Merlin’s sake, the boy couldn’t even get my name right!

Well, he could now, but then? Don’t make me laugh. How many times did he guess? At least a dozen times and he didn’t even find out what my name was until he asked Slughorn. By Gods, I never did realize just how invisible I had made myself. I should’ve been proud, but I wasn’t. I was disappointed in myself. Severely.

With a small shake of my head, I snapped myself back into the present moment, only to realize that more than a dozen pairs of curious eyes were trained on me. Acid churned deep in my belly as my stomach flipped and flopped as though I were on one of those Muggle things - a rollercoaster. I could feel a familiar pair of emerald eyes burning into my back and shifted my weight from foot to foot uneasily.

“I’m just going to. . .,” I trailed off, somewhat lamely, before waving a brief goodbye to my mates and heading out of the Great Hall.

It didn’t take me long to sprint up all seven flights of stairs to Gryffindor tower. Not saying that I was not panting for breath by the time I reached the top of the last flight, but still, I think I did pretty good for having a full belly and being on the verge of a mental breakdown. Sucking in another deep breath, I pushed my slightly sweat out of my face and muttered the password to the Fat Lady.

“Are you all right, dear?” the Fat Lady asked cautiously, her eyes wary as she slowly swung open.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I panted. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“You look a bit flustered,” she replied, her tone now as wary as her dark gaze.

I resisted the urge to spit out my retort that I’d just ran up seven flights of stairs without one pause after a very hearty dinner, but I did the wise thing and kept my mouth shut. It was the least I could do for the Fat Lady. Without another word, I climbed through the portrait hole and all but fell to my bum on the other side of the hole. Thankfully, there was no one around to see it and I released a short, shaky laugh at my own expense. It was probably the only laugh I would be having for a long while to come.

Given the fact I was out of breath, I paced myself as I walked up the spiral staircase to the girls’ dormitory. I could just barely see the door to the seventh year girls’ dorm when a sudden realization struck me like Zeus’s infamous thunderbolt. This room was no longer an area where I could find peace. If anything, it had turned into a silent war zone and I was more than willing to bet I was going to be completely ally-less.

Heaving a resolute sigh, I pushed the door open and tripped into the room. Literally. I had stumbled over one of my own shoes, though how it’d gotten out of my trunk is beyond me. I noticed that my belongings were strewn hap-hazardously across my region of the room. Comforted by the sight of the organized chaos, I began to undo the buttons of my blouse and kicked off my shoes. A nice, hot shower seemed perfectly in order, especially after the craptastic day I’d experienced thus far, but instinct only told me that it was going to get much worse.

How much worse, I would find out as soon as I finished brushing the tangles out of my air and had thrown my pyjamas over my head.

Dinner must’ve ended while I was still the shower because as soon as I stepped out into the room, it went silent. All eyes were trained on me and more than one of the gazes were mutinous. I held back a shiver of actual fright, not knowing what these girls were capable of when pissed off, and I crossed the room at top speed.

Almost as soon as my back was turned to my roommates, the frantic whispers began. It didn’t take a Potions master to figure out that it was Leanne and Marlene chattering away, trying to get some information from Lily. Surprisingly, when I looked over my shoulder, the redhead was shaking her head firmly.

“Oh, come on, Lily -,”

“I said no, Marlene,” Lily said stiffly. She must’ve sensed my gaze because she slowly pivoted her head so that she was looking at me. Her eyes burned into mine, throwing hot daggers that I couldn’t dodge, even if my life depended on it. One of her eyebrows arched high. “Can I help you?”

Licking my lips, I shook my head. “N-no,” I stammered, heat rushing around my neck.

“Then why are you staring?” Marlene snapped, eyes flashing with anger.

A sudden wave of offence swept through me. Marlene didn’t even know what was going on, yet here she was, trying to act as though she was personally involved the conflict between Lily and myself. I squared my shoulders, feeling a good deal bolder than I had in quite a while.

“Why don’t you just stay out of everyone’s business for once, McKinnon, and stop mucking things up,” I spat acidly.

A short laugh rolled through Alice, but when Lily‘s eyes cut over to her, she stifled it with her hand. I could see a glimmer of regret in her friendly, brown eyes and I knew that she had only picked Lily’s side because they were best friends.

Which was totally understandable.

Leanne and Marlene shared a glance, the latter of which folded her arms over her chest and raised a brow at me in questioning curiosity. “From what I heard, you’ve already mucked things up quite a bit on your own,” Marlene teased.

“Didn’t think you were the type of keep such a secret from a beloved friend,” Leanne chimed in, a wicked smile overcoming her lips.

“So much for honesty,” Lily commented coldly. She turned her back then and went about getting ready for bed.

I stood, rooted in my spot, and I tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t; it felt as though there was a heavy weight situated on my chest. One that wouldn’t go away until I said what I needed to. One that would pester me until I at least tried. So, wetting my lips once more, I took the tiniest of steps toward Lily, though I knew she wouldn’t see, as her back was to me.

“Lily,” I began, my voice weak. Circe, I really was pathetic, wasn’t I? “I said I’m-,”

“I don’t want to hear it, Briggs,” Lily murmured, loud enough for the entire room to hear, “nothing you could say can change my opinion of you.”

X - - X

Unable to sleep in a room full of hostility, as soon as it was late enough, I grabbed my blanket and pillow from my bed and headed down the staircase as quietly as I could. It wasn’t the best place to lay down for the night, but I was not only scared that I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, but because not one of my roommates wanted a single thing to do with me. Save for Alice. And that was a steep maybe.

Expelling a short breath, I leapt down the last of the steps and headed over to the couch. It wasn’t very long, but at least it was comfortable and had enough room for me to curl up on. Throwing my pillow down on the couch, I wrapped my blanket around my body and sank down onto the squishy, but comfortable surface.

I shifted around until I found a relatively comfortable position. I was lying on my side, my eyes on the dying embers of the fire. It was going to be cold tonight, that much was true, but at least it was better than sleeping in the dorm. I knew that if anyone found me in the morning, especially the wrong sort of person, I could get into trouble. We weren’t supposed to sleep anywhere else, save for our own dorms. Not unless we had permission, which I doubted I would get from McGonagall.

All too soon, however, the waves of sleep were softly lulling me to sleep. Just as I was taken up in the tide, I heard the portrait hole swing open. Seeing as how I wasn’t fully conscious, I didn’t move, much less make a noise. I didn’t want anyone to see me and unless they were going to sit down on the sofa, then they wouldn’t.

I allowed the waves of sleep to take me away, but not before I caught the musky scent of. . .well, to be honest, it smelt vaguely of wet dog and cinnamon. The smell was faintly familiar, but I was too tired to give a damn and actually think as to who it could be. As unconsciousness lulled me into a light slumber, I felt the faintest touch of warmth against the cool skin of my cheek. It almost felt as though a finger were being dragged across my face.

But by the time I managed to pull myself to the surface of consciousness, the warmth had gone and I was all alone in the common room.

Chapter 33: I See You, You See Me
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“. . .and finally, you give your wand a quick, smooth flourish,” squeaked Professor Flitwick from his position atop a pile of books, “like so.” He performed the movement so quickly, I didn’t see it. Well, that’s what I told myself so I would feel less guilty about falling asleep in his class.

Anyone who knew me (which wasn’t saying much) was aware that I was terrible at Charms. But as horrible as I was at performing the spells, I actually enjoyed the classes. Professor Flitwick was a very nice man, always willing to help his students when they asked for it. Of course, it took nearly failing three of my exams in a row for me to finally gather up the courage and ask Flitwick for help; his answer had been Remus Lupin. And we all know how that one turned out.

Insert eye roll here.

How come it seems that every bloke that’s shoved at me for academic purposes, I seem to fall for? And why, did it seem, that I had horrible timing, no matter what I did?

Unable to answer my own question, I wrapped my fingers around the handle of my wand and did as Flitwick asked: we were to mimic his movements without actually saying the incantation while he walked around the classroom and observed. Which meant that I was probably going to be getting a visit from the short, delightful man in just a few moments. I hated being invalid at Charms.

I shook my bangs out of my eyes and adjusted my grip on my wand. I was suppose to charm the clock in front of me to speak the time, rather than using my eyes to look at the face of it. To me, it seemed like such a silly bit of magic to use, but according to Flitwick, it was very important. When he had said it, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he was looking at me. It wasn’t like I meant to trip over invisible surfaces when I sprinted off to class. Though I had yet to completely master the art of silent incantations, I was pretty well off. However, sometimes, such as now, I had to mumble the spell under my breath to get it right.

I threw a casual glance over each shoulder to make sure that Flitwick wasn’t in hearing distance. I scanned the room and saw that he was near another student across the room, assisting them. My shoulders heaved as I released a deep sigh. Squeezing my eyes shut, I swished my wand as I was instructed and muttered the incantation. I silently prayed to Circe that everything would go as it was supposed to. And naturally, it didn’t.

The clock that was supposed to verbally tell me the time was singing in a deep, baritone voice. It was speaking - or singing rather - in fluent Italian. And quite loudly, too.

I tried to shut the thing up, waving my wand at it sporadically and whispering a Silencing Charm, but every time I said it, the louder the damn clock crooned out its sorrowful tune. I pointed my wand at the clock and swished my wand again. Maybe if I repeated the spell, it would reverse the effects. I knew that I couldn’t have been further from the truth, as all spells had a Counter Spell, save for the Killing Curse, but it was worth a try. My voice began to grow in volume as I pointlessly waved my wand at the clock, heat rushing to my cheeks and pooling around my neck as I tried and failed to get the thing to shut up.

Finally, out of sheer frustration, I dropped my wand onto the surface of the desk and picked up the clock. I studied it for a few moments, wondering if there was an off switch. I knew it was unlikely, but I was more than willing to try anything to get it to be quiet. With a roll of my eyes, I began to shake the clock.

“Merlin, why won’t you shut the bloody hell up?” I shouted at the inanimate object, shaking it all the more furiously as its noise grew louder. I emitted a long, loud shriek of anger and threw the clock on the table. Rather hard, too. I heard the insides rattle, I noted with a satisfied smile, but the exterior was undamaged. At least, from what I could see.

I snatched up my wand again and pointed it at the clock, fully prepared to break the rules and use a bit of Transfiguration to make the clock stop producing noise. Before I could yell out the incantation that rested on the tip of my tongue, I heard Flitwick’s squeaky voice:

“Miss Briggs,” he said, though the tone which he adopted suggested he was questioning me rather than addressing me.

It was so quiet, I could practically hear the heartbeat of the student beside me. Oh fuck, not again!

I kept my eyes focused on the crooning clock in front of me, my fists clenching and unclenching at my sides. Maybe if I acted like this was a bad dream, I would wake up on the common room couch, a kink in my neck and that oddly familiar scent just a memory from the dream I’d had. As soon as I heard the peals of barely concealed laughter, however, I knew it was anything but a dream.

Nightmare was a more adequate phrase.

The sigh escaped me before I could help it. “Yes, Professor?”

The Hufflepuff at the desk next to me snorted and when my eyes snapped to him, he disguised it as a cough. Hm, I never knew I could be so menacing. The Voice chuckled at me, but thankfully didn’t say anything. I didn’t know if I could handle what the Voice had to say just now.

I didn’t even realize that Flitwick was at my elbow until he flicked his wand at the clock, shutting it up immediately. My shoulders sagged with relief, but I was a bit frightened of what the little man would say. Was I going to get another detention? I hoped not; I certainly didn’t fancy running into Sirius, which was a definite possibility considering how much trouble he got into.

“Are you - would you like to - er, need a bit of fresh air?”

I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and groaned. Great. I had done something so psychotic that even Professor Flitwick couldn’t speak around me. This was just wonderful. I wonder how long it will take for this little bit of news to get around the school. Oh yeah, that’s right. For students to actually talk about me, they’d actually have to know who I was. However, just because the idiots didn’t know my name didn’t mean that I was safe from their gossip. They could just say “You know that really weird girl with a rat’s nest for hair? Yeah, she totally fell off her rocker during Charms today” or they could just point very indiscreetly at me as I walked by. Which had been happening a lot as of late.

Eyes still shut, I nodded my head slowly, feeling like a complete asshole.

Flitwick’s sigh of relief was heavy and I found that it stung. “Oh good, I was hoping you would say that.”

I slung my bag over my shoulder and snatched up my belongings, not bothering o stuff them in the aforementioned bag as it would only take more time; I didn’t think I could handle the constant stares of my classmates for much longer.

X - - X

Twenty minutes later, I found myself down in the kitchens, sitting on a stool at one of the countertop islands. My elbows were perched on the ledge and a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream drenched with a hearty coating of chocolate sauce was settled in front of me. Iggy was sitting next to me, concern in her very round eyes.

“Is the Miss Briggs okey-dokey?” Iggy asked as I attempted to shovel another massive spoonful of ice cream into the mouth. I missed and hit my chin.

I shrugged my shoulders as I corrected my mistake, directing the spoon into my mouth. The metal scraped against my teeth and sent a chill roiling down my spine. I hated whenever that happened. I licked the spoon free of ice cream as I pondered how to answer Iggy’s question.

So far, I’d had an incredibly shitty day. Well, to be honest with you, it all began last night. After I’d gone downstairs to sleep on the couch in the common room, it was hard for me to get to sleep, and it only got worse after the Visitor. Though I didn’t know who the Visitor was, but their scent was so irritatingly familiar that I was literally driving myself mad trying to think of where I’d smelled the scent before. There was an image, but it was blurry around the edges. Too blurry to make out, which was just as frustrating.

Although, the Voice had argued with me for a good half hour or so that someone hadn’t even made an appearance, that I was making it all up to comfort myself, I knew someone had been in the same room as me, that someone had been in the common room while I was sleeping. I was aware that it sounded odd; hell, I thought it sounded odd that while I was submerged in my dreams, I had sensed the presence of another. The Voice could fight all it wanted; I know what I saw - or smelt, rather.

After the Visitor slinked away into the darkness and went about their rendezvous, I spent the next two hours trying to get back to sleep. Not only was the couch incredibly uncomfortable, but I could not sleep without knowing who it was. If there was anyone at all. However, I finally did get to sleep - an hour before dawn. Needless to say, the early risers sent me stomping up the spiral staircase in a severely grumpy mood. James and Remus took note of my sour disposition and, wisely, left me alone while I crammed food into my mouth and sloppily drank my pumpkin juice.

Then, there was the Charms Incident. I don’t think I need to detail that for you.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as I walked into History of Magic, more than a dozen fingers were pointed at me simultaneously. The whispering began. It took me all but a second to turn on my heel and high tail it out of there. There was no way I was going to stick around for lessons when I knew that people were going to be talking about me the entire time.

The only problem was that I didn’t even know if they were talking about the Charms Incident or the Disastrous New Years’ Eve party.

Setting my spoon down beside the bowl, I sighed. “I don’t know, Iggy. I have absolutely no idea how I could make things better.” I pushed a hand through my short hair. “What d’you think I should do?”

When I turned to look at the small elf, I saw that her eyes were even wider than usual. Her mouth hung open and I could just barely see the pink of her tongue. Her chest heaved with effort as she tried to catch her breath.

Apparently, she wasn’t used to being asked for her opinion. Which made sense, given that she was a house elf.

“The Miss Briggs is asking. . .asking Iggy what - what she thinks?” she managed to squeak out.

I nodded my head, idly picking up the spoon and searching for ice creams remains. I couldn’t find any and dropped the spoon onto the table. “Yeah, I’m asking you. Have you never been asked to give your opinion?” Even though I’d already answered my own question, I figured I could ask Iggy.

I was surprised with how quickly she nodded her head, her ears flopping back and forth. I imagined it couldn’t have been too pleasant, those massive ears smacking against the sides of her head.

She fidgeted with her tiny hands, her skinny fingers getting tangled in a complicated web. I stared at her curiously, waiting for her reply. She seemed to be calculating it in her head and I could see that glimmer of fear in her eyes.

It took longer than it should’ve for me to realize that she was scared. Scared to say the wrong thing in fear of me getting mad at her. Silly little elf.

“I promise I won’t get mad,” I added, a note of reassurance in my voice. “I promise.”

Iggy licked her lips anxiously and said in a very hesitant voice, “Iggy thinks that the Miss Briggs should tell the Mr. Black the entire story, the story that the Miss Briggs has just told Iggy.”

I felt the colour drain from my face as I stared at her, taking in her wide, apprehensive eyes and the cautious smile on her lips. “Merlin, I was afraid you were going to say that,” I muttered softly, slowly shaking my head.

Iggy’s eyes widened considerably. “Oh, the Miss Briggs! Iggy is so very sorry for not saying what the Miss Briggs wanted to hear! So very, very sorry!”

As quick as a flash, she hopped off her stool, promptly falling to the flagstone on her face. Before I could bend over and help right her, Iggy was hurrying over to the hearth. What little colour my face had been retaining had now vanished. She was going to throw herself into the flames!

“Iggy, no!” I cried, scrambling off my stool and running after the house elf. Well, attempting to run after her would have been a better and more correct way to phrase it. My ankle was wrapped around the leg of the stool and, having forgotten that bit, I pulled away from said stool too quickly. I fell flat on my face, hitting my china against the floor. My teeth rattled in my skull and it felt as though my brain had shifted. Blood began to pool in my mouth; I’d bit my tongue. Fantastic.

A groan escaped me before I could stop it and, instead of standing up, I crawled on all fours over to the hearth. Thankfully, Iggy hadn’t thrown herself into the flames. Unfortunately, she was smacking her forehead against the rough stone surface of the surrounding bricks.

“Stop it, Iggy!” I pushed myself to my knees and grabbed the house elf around the waist, yanking her away from the wall. She struggled furiously in my arms. I tightened my hold on her until her jerky movements slowed. “I’m not mad! I swear, I’m not mad at you! I just don’t want to face the truth!”

Iggy stopped wiggling. I stopped breathing.

It was as if time had been frozen in some weird, warped space/time continuum. Or something sort of like that. My chest felt like the weight of the world was resting on it one moment and the next, it all but vanished. My mind, which had been severely cloudy ever since the New Years party, was as clear as a spring morning. At least, as clear as a spring morning can get in England. It was as if someone as slapped me across the face with an open palm with every intention of making it hurt as much as possible.

Holy Mother of Merlin, that was it, wasn’t it? I didn’t want to face the truth, avoiding it like the Black Death or worse. The truth that I had more than just a small inkling of feelings for Sirius Black. That I was the very definition of a coward and didn’t have the slightest hint of a backbone. That I am an unbelievably pathetic person who needed the support of others to keep my sanity in check, for proof, see the Charms Incident.

I relinquished my hold on Iggy as though I’d been burned, both of falling back onto the cobblestone. As I lay on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, I breathed, “Oh shit.” My chest became lighter yet heavier at the same time. A realization like mine could do that to a person.

After awhile, I rolled over onto my side and spat the blood in my mouth onto the floor. I dragged my sleeve across my lips and pushed myself into a sitting position. Iggy was staring at me with a look that suggested I was off my rocker. Which I was. But so was she, so it really didn’t matter. Burying my hands in my hair, I realized - I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.

X - - X

“. . .and then I heard her say ‘well, he’s just a right git, now isn’t he’, like she has the right to call me a git when she’s the one acting like an arse. It’s getting to be ridiculous, quite honestly. And I - Eleanor!”

At the sound of James’s sharp cry, I jerked my head in his direction, dropping the quill that was in my hand on the surface of the table.

We were in the library, attempting to study for the upcoming Transfiguration exam. Though I was all right at the subject, I’d asked James, who was a bloody genius in the course, to help me with some of the more complicated spells. While we’d practiced for over forty minutes, the conversation soon turned to Lily. Just like every conversation I’d partaken in with James had over the last three and a half weeks since we’d been back at Hogwarts.

“What?” I asked, hastily picking up the quill and scribbling down a useless note. Might as well make it look like I was doing something.

“Were you even listening to me?” He was giving me a measured look, one eyebrow raised.

Damn him and his ability to raise a singular eyebrow, I growled inwardly, wishing to drive the tip of my quill through his hand. You would’ve thought I just punted his puppy over a bridge or something, the look he was giving me.

“Yes,” I replied, somewhat exasperated. “I was.” I shifted in my seat, hoping that my lie wasn’t as obvious as I thought it was. “Now can you help me with this-,”

“What’d I say then?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If you were listening, Eleanor,” James began. “Then you’d be able to paraphrase what I just said to you. So, if you please.” He made a fluttery motion with his hand. It was almost like he was shooing me or something. . .

Wetting my lips, I tried to think of a plausible reply. He had obviously been talking about Lily and how annoying she was being, as that was all he ever talked about anymore, so I could basically reiterate every single one of our conversations in the past twenty four hours.

“You said that Lily called you a name and that she is the one acting like the arse, not you.” I took a shot in the dark and by Circe, I hoped I was right.

His accusing look faltered and his shoulders relaxed. “Oh,” he muttered, obviously disappointed that I’d guessed right. “You were listening.”

“Of course I was,” I said, reaching across the table and grabbing his hand in a comforting gesture. “I would never tune you out.”

His laugh was full of doubt, but he patted my hand briefly before slipping his own out from under my palm. “So,” he began, shaking his shaggy hair out of his eyes. “What’d you need help with?”

I scooted my chair around the table so that I was closer to him, mentally sighing to myself for being right in my guessing. I don’t know what James would’ve done if I guessed wrong. Well, he would probably make me suffer through another one of his long-winded rants about the fiery redhead and I would, of course, tune him out again. It was just a vicious circle, really, and Merlin I wanted out of it as quickly as possible. I wasn’t a big fan of circles.

Pulling my book across the table, I situated it so that it was open between James and myself. With a lazy finger, I pointed to the spell. James’s eyes widened considerably as he saw the incantation I was having difficulty with. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

“Wow, you really want to learn how to do that?” he inquired, his tone incredulous.

I shot him a look. “Way to make me feel like an idiot, James,” I murmured under my breath. Rolling my eyes in annoyance, I continued, “No, I don’t want to learn how to do it. I just need to know the basics of it.”

“What don’t you understand?”

I combed my fingers through my hair, ready to tear my fringe out of my skull. “I don’t understand how it can be considered Transfiguration when there’s a potion involved. Honestly, it doesn’t make the slightest sense, this Animagus shit.”

“A potion, you say?” His brow furrowed in confusion as he spoke. James pulled the book toward him and leaned over it, his eyes quickly scanning the text and absorbing. “That’s weird.”

“What is?” I questioned, resting my chin in the curve of my hand.

“The potion bit.” He was absolutely absorbed in the book now, his voice almost feather light as his eyes took in the information. The wrinkle in his brow deepened. “We didn’t need to use a potion when we-,” he stopped suddenly. He tore his eyes away from the page and looked into my face to see if I’d heard him. I had.

“What do you mean ‘we’? What are you talking about?”

“It’s nothing, Eleanor,” he responded, a bit too hastily for my liking.

“James, I know when I’m being lied to,” I began.

“So I do,” he shot back. “I knew you weren’t listening earlier, but since you guessed good enough, I dropped it.” He flashed me a quick smile before his face turned serious again. “Trust me when I say that it’s nothing, Eleanor.”

“Why do you keep using my name?” It was starting to get suspicious.

“I do?” James sounded generally surprised. “Hmm,” he mused aloud. “I guess I have been. Sorry about that. But really, it was nothing.”

“Can’t you just tell me what happened? It’s not like I have anyone to tell as Remus probably already knows,” I said, hoping that my argument was a good one.

Sadly enough, it was true. After all that had happened over the recent weeks, the only friends I had left were James and Remus. Hell, Iggy would hardly look at me any more in fear that I would ask for her opinion again and all but tackle her to the floor. I’d be cautious of me, too, if that’d happened.

I stuck my lip out in a pout. “Pretty please?”

James stared at me unblinkingly for a few moments. I saw something sparkle in his hazel eyes, like he really did want to tell me what had happened. But there was also a guarded look in his eyes, like he didn’t want to tell me the story because it wasn’t entirely his to tell. Finally, the guarded glimmer receded and he sighed.

“Fine, I’ll tell you.”

I clapped my hands like a giddy child and pushed the book away from both of us.

James laughed. “You’re acting like it’s story time or something.”

“It sort of is,” I said, smiling. “Anyway, on with it! No distractions, mister.”

He rolled his eyes good-naturedly and licked his lips, just like any good story teller does right before diving head first into an exciting tale. “A few summers ago, Sirius, Peter and I made an attempt to become Animagus,” he said simply.

I blinked. “Is that all?”

“Yep, that’s it. I told you it wasn’t that big of a deal, Ella.” He shook his head to himself, laughing softly as he began to gather his things.

“Well, that’s no fun. I was expecting a long and exciting Marauder’s tale. Like the ones Sirius used-,” I stopped myself, my eyes widening.

James whipped his head in my direction so fast, I thought he received whiplash. He seemed okay, though his eyes, like mine, looked as though they were going to pop out of his skull. He seemed just as surprised as I was that I’d said his name out loud. I’d been saying it in my head for weeks now, but when it came to conversation, I always referred to Sirius as ‘that one bloke’ or, worse yet, him.

I didn’t say anything as I snapped my Transfiguration book shut and shoved it into my bag. James followed suit, pretending that I hadn’t just randomly blurted out the name that I had been refusing to say for nearly an entire month. Pathetic, me? No way!

We were halfway out of the library doors when I turned around abruptly and said - well, more like ordered, really - through gritted teeth, “Don’t tell Remus about this.”

James halted, his chest brushing against my extended index finger. Alarm was engraved in his face and he cocked his head to the side. “Why not? It’s not like it has anything to do-.” James stopped in the middle of his sentence and his eyes sparkled with recognition and understanding. “Oh, you don’t-,”

“James!” I hissed, throwing looks over my shoulder. Luckily, no one was looking at us. Really, there was no one else in the library. Thank Merlin. “Say it louder, will you!”

He put his hands up in the air. “What! I didn’t say a single thing.” A smirk twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Yet.”

James slipped out of the library door before I could grab the hem of his shirt. A squeak escaped me as I squeezed through the narrow crack provided by the double doors. I had to suck in my stomach to fit, but once I did, I marched down the corridor after James, who thought it funny to run as fast as he possibly could. Cursed Grindelwald, I was going to murder him!

X - - X

Lucky for me, James didn’t go running to Remus. He had actually sprinted down the corridors to the Great Hall, where dinner was waiting for him. I guess we lost track of time while we were studying in the library and his stomach reminded him of his previous arrangement.

To say that I was thankful it was the weekend just wouldn’t suffice. I was ecstatic that I could relax and maybe, just maybe, get a decent night’s sleep. Though I had started sleeping in the dormitory a little over two weeks ago, I still couldn’t get a sound night of sleep. My roommates dreamed, but I stared at the ceiling for an hour or two before slowly easing into unconsciousness, only to wake up several minutes later when the nightmares started. The previous weekend, I took three naps over the course of twelve hours and, for some reason, in daylight, I was able to sleep without dreams ruining my state of semi-unconsciousness.

But that would have to wait for later. Now, there was a massive pile of homework for me to tackle. I threw a longing glance over at Lily’s bed, which was vacant. If I could avoid it, the only times I came up to the room was to sleep and to gather my books for my lessons. Other than that, I was missing in action. If anyone was concerned about me, none of them voiced it. Not that I was expecting them to do so.

Things had reverted to how they used to be and quite honestly, I didn’t see why I wasted anymore energy being upset over it. The way I saw it, there was no going back to the way things were now. I had screwed up big time and because of it, I was paying the consequences.

At least I still had James and Remus. The latter name made my stomach plummet. Over the past few weeks, Remus had started to get attached. Clingy, almost. When we were around each other, he would reach for my hand and hold it within his own, even if I didn’t want him to hold my hand. It must’ve been an instinct reaction or something like that. I mean, he wouldn’t do something when I didn’t want it to be done, would he? He let go of my hand when I pulled it from his grip, but now that I thought of it, he did always seem reluctant. . .

I glanced down at my hand and sighed. The tingles that would’ve accompanied the thought of him, Remus Lupin, holding my hand no longer surfaced. It was a small fizzle, if that, and I felt horrible for it. Remus was, in short, perfect. He liked me for who I was. He was forgiving, extremely kind, smart, and a great kisser. Not that the latter mattered. And I’d fancied him for nearly three years! Then, out of nowhere, all of the feelings I possessed for him vanished. I would say that I didn’t know why they suddenly disappeared, but I would be lying. I knew exactly why I didn’t feel anything aside platonic feelings toward Remus and it was because of his best friend.

The boy I wasn’t supposed to associate with in the first place. The boy with the clearest eyes and most endearing smile. The boy with a laugh that warmed me so thoroughly, it spread from my very centre to my toes in a matter of seconds. The boy I might just love.

I closed my eyes at the last thought and, with a soft sigh, slammed the book that was situated on my lap shut. I fell back onto my bed, my legs still folded Indian style. My back screamed in protest, but I ignored it.

Merlin. I was just as clueless as I had been in the kitchens with Iggy. The problem was I knew what I had to do, I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to break Remus’s heart and tell him that I did not feel the same way that he felt about me. He would be confused and, worse yet, heartbroken. That is if he even fancied me anymore.

To make matters worse, I would lose him as a friend. And I certainly did not want that. Worse case scenario was that James would go right along with him and there I’d be, back in Square Numero Uno, a place I didn‘t wish to be ever again. Not that I wasn’t already mentally preparing myself for such happenings.

It was kismet. Fate. Destiny. It was whatever you want to call it, I had a strong inkling that it was going to happen.

A light weight settled on my chest. Great, it was back again. The feeling of guilt and self resentment that had been following me around since New Years. Bloody fantastic. This was the last thing that I needed at the moment. I was about to roll over onto my stomach to see if I could shift the weight, to see if I could make it less heavy when a soft mewing met my ears.

Oh thank Circe, it was Cappa.

Cracking one eye open, I found myself face to face with my kitten, who’d grown an alarming amount in the past month. With a paw, he gave an affectionate swat as my face. I rolled my eyes softly and I scooted up the bed, pushing myself onto my elbows.

“Hey little guy,” I cooed, scratching him behind the ears. “Sorry I haven’t been a very good owner as of late. I’ve been way stressed.” He nuzzled my hand and I smiled. “So you’ve forgiven me, eh?” He purred and, once again, I smirked. “Well, that’s good. I don’t know what I would do without my best furry friend.” Tipping my head downward, I placed a kiss on the crown of his head.

I laid back down on my bed, shifting the pillows around beneath my head, and stared up at the bit of ceiling that peaked through the top of my four poster. While I gazed and wallowed in my self pity, I stroked Cappa from head to tail absentmindedly. His body contorted to the curve of my hand each time I pet him and I found a faint smile playing at my lips. The sad thing was, this was the most I’ve smiled in days.

My fingertips found the small shell behind his pointed ears and lightly scratched the spot. Cappa gave a loud purr of appreciation and pushed his head into my palm. I obligated his demand, a soft snicker shaking my chest.

“You wouldn’t leave me, would you, Cappa?” I asked as I idly smoothed out his sleek mane of hair.

As if he’d been waiting for me to ask that particular question, he leapt off my stomach and onto the floor. He meandered his way toward the door, his tail sticking straight up in the air.

I expelled a deep breath, swirling my fringe around my forehead. “Well, I guess I know the answer to that,” I muttered to myself, falling back down on my bed again.

A few seconds of hollow silence past before, “The answer to what?”

A shriek escaped me and, in my fright, I scrambled myself up in the mess of sheets and homework splattered across my bed. Chest heaving, I took several deep breaths to steady my racing pulse. I could hardly see, for my hair was smothering my face. I shook it out and tucked the stray strands behind my ears. To my immense surprise, Lily was standing in the doorway with an all-too-content looking Cappa in her arms.

Damn kitten. I would lose everyone to her, wouldn’t I?

However, upon closer inspection, I noted that there were grey circles under her emerald green eyes, which were bloodshot. Her dark red hair was piled on the top of her head in a makeshift ponytail that swayed from side to side when she moved. Her jumper was a dull pink and clashed horribly with her hair. I didn’t say anything though, just nervously tucked my hair behind my ears.

“Nothing,” I muttered softly. “I was just-,”

“Talking to yourself again?” she finished for me. The smile on her lips was tight, hesitant. “You do that a lot.”

I felt my face harden and my stomach dropped. So much for trying to play nice. “Look, if you came up here to make fun of me, I would appreciate it if you got over with it quickly. I have homework that needs to be completed.”

. . .

Whoa, did that just come from me? Cool. Eleanor one, Lily Evans, zilch. Let’s see how long the score stayed that way.

Her smile vanished all too quickly and I imagined she mirrored my expression. “Sorry for trying to be civil, Briggs,” she hissed, stalking across the room toward her bed. As she walked past, she set my cat down on my trunk at the foot of my mattress.

Civil? She wanted to be civil after all of the rubbish she’d put me through? Was she crazy?

“Are you insane?” I blurted before I could help myself.

She stopped mid-stride and slowly turned toward me. I wasn’t going to lie, a cool chill crept up my spine and settled at the base of my neck, making the hairs stand on end. Good Merlin, I knew there was a reason why I never wanted to piss off Lily Evans; she was positively frightening!

“Excuse me?”

I swallowed nervously. Oh boy, this wasn’t good. How could I be chickening out when I was the one who ‘started it’ in the first place? Dear Sweet Circe, I am a pathetic human being.

“I said, are you insane?” For some reason, my voice was stronger when I pushed myself up into a sitting position. I guess I felt more vulnerable while laying down. “You want me to be civil with you when it was you who has been treating me like rubbish for the past month!? I’m sorry for jumping to the conclusion that you were poking fun of me because you don’t already do it enough with fucking Marlene and Leanne!”

Oh no. I was shouting now. And cursing. Shit.

The look on Lily’s face could only be described as shocked. Her mouth was open and her eyes wide, like she hadn’t been expecting to elicit such a response from me.

“I-,”

“No!” I said. Or shouted, rather. Eek, if I screamed any louder, I would draw attention. It was only a matter of seconds before footsteps began to pound up the stairs. Girls were such nosy people. “I’m not finished yet! You can’t just expect me to act nicely to you because you’re being nice to me. Do yourself a favour and save your energy - I don’t give a damn and most certainly do not wish to hear anything you have to say, no matter how ‘civil’ it may be.”

“Eleanor,-”

“Oh, don’t ‘Eleanor’ me!” Man, I was ploughing right through this confrontation, wasn’t I? “We’re not mates anymore; you made that damn well clear when you sent my belongings to the Potters’ home after the party. Do you know how humiliating it is to ask someone you’ve just met if you can stay at their house because your mate - oh, excuse me, exmate - kicked you out of their house!”

“Well, no-,”

“That’s right, you don’t! You don’t have a bloody clue what it’s like being alone, without any friends for years!” I closed the distance between us, so that we were only a metre or so apart. “You’ve had mates all your life, Lily. I’ve only just acquired my own, so excuse me for exercising a little caution as to the potentially harmful things I tell them. I may be sorry for not going to Sirius right away, but I’ll tell you one thing that I’m not sorry about. I am in no way sorry for not telling you. You’re just a bossy,” I poked her in the chest, “pushy,” I placed my hands on her shoulders and gave her a rough shove, “bitch who expects the best out of people when you aren’t even as good as a mate as you claim to be!”

Lily grabbed my wrist and returned the shove I’d given her. I stumbled backward until I hit the post of my bed. A brief lick of pain vibrated in the back of my head, but I swallowed the pain.

“At least I tell the truth!” she countered. “You have absolutely no idea how hurt Sirius is that you didn’t tell him. He thought you were his friend. Friends don’t keep secrets from each other.”

“It wasn’t my damn secret to tell!” I yelled, my face and neck blazing hot like my anger. “And maybe I would have the slightest inkling as to how he feels if you actually responded to my attempts to talk to you. To reason things out.”

Her jaw clenched, her nostrils flared. “I wasn’t ready for that.”

“It’s not Potions mixing, Lily!” I felt like ripping out my hair. “I took the first step to try to fix this, but you kept pushing me away. And now that you’re ready to make things right, you think I’m just going to sit back like a good, obedient puppy and listen to what you have to say?” I shook my head. “I am not like that anymore. I am not a pushover and I certainly won’t be bossed around by a hypocrite! Get off your damn high horse and stop acting like your shit doesn’t reek!”

I shoved away from the bedpost and stalked toward the door, all but ripping it off the hinges. When I tried to step out into the stairwell, I was shocked to see that no less than seventeen girls were on the steps, surprised looks on their faces. They’d obviously been listening at the door. Great. This was just great. It’s not like I needed something else for others to talk about.

Pushing my way through the mess of girls, I clambered down the stairs, nearly tripping over my feet when I reached the foot of the stairs. I wasn’t as surprised to see that the students in the common room were wearing equal looks of astonishment. However, I did see two smirking faces. And at the moment, they were the only ones I wanted to see. I jerked my head toward the portrait hole, hoping that they would be able to translate the message.

Thankfully, they did and I scurried over to the exit, snaking my way through the people who stood there, stunned. Well, I couldn’t blame them. In all my years on earth, I think that was not only the most I’d ever said in one gush of air, but also the only time I’ve ever stood up for myself.

X - - X

I don’t know how we made it out to the Quidditch pitch, but we did. Once we fled the common room, James assumed the role of leader, as per usual, Remus and I following behind him like diligent little soldiers marching after their captain. I was silent as we walked to the field, wondering why we were going out to the field. Until it hit me that it was the first place that James would probably go when he was angry. Not that I’d ever seen him angry before. I glanced at Remus to see if he felt the same as I did. If he was confused, he didn’t show any signs of it.

Since my strides were nowhere near as long as either of them, I practically ran to keep up with the pair, especially when we hit the downward slope of the hill. I nearly tripped half a dozen times as I trekked down the slope, muttering darkly under my breath. It wasn’t bad enough that I was already pissed off, but the fact that I couldn’t even walk down a hill without screwing up incensed me even more.

We continued marching down the occasionally travelled path, a path I’d taken a few months ago to attend my second ever Hogwarts Quidditch match. Something tugged at my heart; it wasn’t painful, but at the same time, it wasn’t all that enjoyable. I surmised that it was the memory of the day, a day that had been both good and bad. Though I couldn’t imagine what’d been bad about that day.

When the toe of my shoe snagged on one of the rickety, wooden steps, I promptly fell down to my knees, skinning my kneecaps against the prickly wood. Closing my eyes, I ground out, “Fuck!” And I said it quite loudly, too.

James and Remus stopped walking to see what was wrong. Neither of them so much as cracked a smile when they saw me like they would’ve done, given a completely different circumstance. They knew that I was about to break, that I’d already begun to crack and was on the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes. It was only a matter of time before the initial meltdown process began and I fell off my rocker officially.

Remus hurried down the stairs to help me up. Holding out his hand, he wiggled his fingers slightly. It was a welcoming, warm gesture, though I could hardly appreciate it when I was so livid. I wrapped my fingers around his, squeezing much harder than necessary as I pulled myself to my feet.

“You all right?” His brow was creased with concern. Unnecessary concern, I found myself adding.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I’ve been better.” Placing a hand on his arm, I pushed around him and began to traipse up the stairs, much more cautious than I was before. The cool air stung as it bit into the freshly torn skin on my kneecaps and every time I lifted my leg to take another step, the skin ripped even more. I bit into my cheek to keep from crying out in pain, though the tears in my eyes would have given me away, had James or Remus been paying the slightest bit of attention to me.

Abruptly, James stopped and threw himself, quite gracefully, I might add, down onto one of the bleachers. I hadn’t realized how far we’d climbed until I noted how much cooler the air was up here. The faint breeze that had stirred my skirt around my knees was much stronger, sending shivers up and down my spin. I tried to ignore it the best I could as I felt Remus come up behind me and slip past to lower himself down on the bleachers beside James.

I was panting for breath, but they were perfectly fine, their chests rising and falling steadily. Biting back bitter thoughts, I placed my hands on my thighs, just above my skinned and bleeding knees to gulp down some air. The air stung my lungs, sharp, almost like a knife point. Had I really worked so hard to climb up the stairs?

“Merlin,” I said, lowering myself down onto one of the seats, a row below James and Remus. “I’m in terrible shape.”

Both of the boys laughed, James louder than Remus. My eyes flickered over to his face and I saw that the line of his mouth was tight, his eyes guarded, and his general expression was sombre. My stomach seized up with panic, but I did my best to swallow it with another breath of air.

“You’re not in terrible shape,” James said, still chuckling, though it seemed a bit more forced than his usual laughter. “I’m just in much better.”

To add emphasis to his joke, he rubbed his hands over his chest in an arrogant matter, which made me laugh softly. I would’ve laughed harder, if not for the bitter taste in my mouth. James was trying to distract me, to calm me down before I started seething again. The thought made me clench my fists in fury and bit my tongue to prevent from speaking out.

Gee, I never realised how much anger could change a person’s perceptive. I could see now why he, Sirius, didn’t want to listen to my reasoning behind my betrayal - he was too caught up in his anger to care about anything else. Something clamped around my heart; I vaguely recognised it as pity or sympathy, rather. Yes, I could sympathise with Sirius on this issue, now that I was mad enough to actually reach the same level of rage as he had.

“So,” Remus said after a considerable stretch of silence. “What happened?”

James sniggered. “Way to be blunt, Moony.” He shook his head to himself, obviously caught up in a bout of amusement.

“I’m always blunt when the point needs to be reached,” supplied Remus almost defensively. With a small shake of his head, he turned his gaze back toward me. The melted chocolate gaze that used to make my heart pump furiously, now it only trembled, reminding me of the guilt that I felt when it came the boy in front for me. He didn’t deserve a friend like me. Not at all.

No one did.

“So, I repeat: what happened?”

The intensity of his stare was too much. I broke my eyes away from his, focusing them on a piece of splintered wood. My fingers found a small gorge in the wood and circled it slowly.

“I-I don’t really know,” I said, my voice weak, trembling. I could feel the tears gathering in my eyes, but they were no longer a side effect of the pain shooting up my knees. Great Circe, I must’ve done quite the number on my knees if they were still hurting. Sucking a deep breath of air, I continued, “I was just sitting upstairs in the dorm. You know, playing with Cappa and talking to myself. And then she came into the room. I-I really dunno. She made a comment about something I said to Cappa,” I licked my lips, looking into the hazel eyes of James Potter. “I wouldn’t have yelled at her if I knew she wasn’t aiming to take the mickey out of me.” My voice had a desperate note to it, as though I was begging James to understand my inconsiderate behaviour toward the girl he loved. “It’s just that I’ve seen the way she acts around Marlene and Leanne. It’s almost like they were, er, rubbing off on her or something like that. I really thought that she was just commenting to make me angry; almost everyone knows I wouldn’t harm a fly. But-,”

“You just snapped?” Remus offered.

I nodded dejectedly, looking down at the singular hand in my lap. The other was still tracing the faint outline of the knot in the wood. “Yeah,” I muttered. “I just snapped.”

“What happened next?” James pressed, his tone light, though guarded.

I shrugged. “I just went off on her. I told her that she had no right to expect me to act civil toward her when she’s been treating me like a leper. Well,” I added, “I didn’t say it like that, but it was close to it. In fact, it probably would’ve been better had I gone that route opposed to just yelling at her to get rid of some of the anger and frustration I felt-,”

“We get it, Eleanor,” Remus cut in. “Continue.”

I took another deep, steadying breath. I could feel that my cheeks were hot, not with shame, but with a newfound anger. I’d never felt so angry in my life.

“I s-shoved her,” I stuttered. “And not just a small push, but an actual shove. She was knocked off balance and was sort of surprise, you know. Then she started yelling at me, basically calling me a liar since I didn’t tell S-Sirius. And she told me that he was miserable - that I was the source of his misery and-,”

“Wait!” James interrupted. “She called you a liar?”

I bobbed my head. “Yeah, she did. But I can see where she’s coming-,”

“No, Ella,” he continued, rage coating his words. “She had no right to call you out! You’re not a liar for being concerned about your friend’s feelings!”

“But - if you look at it from her perceptive-,”

“Eleanor.” This time it was Remus. “You can’t let her influence you like that. She’s trying to make you feel guilty.”

I laughed hollowly, shaking my head in disbelief. “No,” I said, my voice assured. “Lily wouldn’t do that. I mean, she might be angry with me, but she wouldn’t purposely try to feel guilty.” I turned my eyes toward James, my brows raised. “Would she?”

He considered it for a moment, his expression perplexed. His brow creased in concentration as he thought of the possibility of his Lily being an unfair, manipulative person. I could understand why he was reluctant to accept the fact that she could be like that. I understood because that was how I felt about her. Lily had been one of the best mates I’d ever had in my life. She wouldn’t knowingly do that to me.

“No,” James finally said, his voice low. “Not Lily.”

A breath of relief escaped me as my shoulders slumped. I was suddenly very tired.

“Are you bloody serious!?” Remus shouted, leaping to his feet. “Of course Lily was guilt tripping her! Why else would she have said she was the ‘source of Sirius’s misery’. I haven’t seen him looking all that torn up about what happened! The way Eleanor said that Lily said it, you’d think that they were more than just mates, which is ridicul-,”

When he caught sight of the expression on my face, he stopped. I didn’t even realise that I’d stood up and my hand was extended toward him, my fingertips brushing against his arms. He studied my face for a long minute. Then, he started to slowly shake his head.

“No,” said Remus, his head moving from side to side. “No, it couldn’t have happened.”

“Remus.” I tried to grab a fist of his shirt, but he jerked his arm out from underneath my touch, like I had burnt him.

“We were - you wouldn’t - no. Ella, you wouldn’t do something like that. Not you.” He bit his lip, an apprehensive expression settling on his face as though he were considering the possibility. “I could see him doing it, true enough. In fact, he’s done it before. That’s how he got with Lucinda. But you - when he knew how I felt about you?”

My mouth quivered. My legs shook beneath me. “Please, Remus - let me explain-,”

“You need a chance to explain?” Remus released a loud, howl-like laugh. “So something did happen between you and Sirius? Something more than just friendship!”

A tear rolled down my cheek. “It wasn’t on purpose. I fancied you, Remus. Really, I did. For years, if you want me to be honest with you. And-,”

“You fancied me?” He licked his mouth. “Does that mean you no longer fancy me? That you’ve just been appeasing me, letting me take your hand when we walk down the corridors and kiss you when you-,”

“I’m sorry, Remus!” I was screaming again, only I sounded a lot more hysterical than before. It took a few tears landing on my arms before I realized I was crying. Well, sobbing, really. “I didn’t mean for it to happen! It just did!”

“So you think that explains it? That suddenly your behaviour is excusable?” He laughed again, a hollow sound that felt course in my ears. I didn’t like it, but I was source behind it. “I can believe that Sirius would do something about it; he’s never been good with controlling his feelings, but you are actually telling me that you reciprocate his feelings?”

Slowly, I nodded, my chest heaving and shoulders shaking. “Yes,” I said, my voice just barely above a whisper.

“You could’ve just told me to back off! I would’ve stopped holding your hand and maybe, I would’ve understood why you were so upset. You know, I actually thought that you were depressed because of something I did! And here, I was ready to apologise to you for something I didn’t even do, that I’m not even responsible for.”

“No, Remus-,”

Remus made a noise of disgust, turning on his heel, his back toward me. I stared hard down at my feet, the sound of his angry footsteps like Muggle bombs as he clambered down the stairs, cursing to himself and to the night. Eventually, the wind carried away his cursing and angry mutterings until I couldn’t hear him at all. He must have made it back to the castle or was well on his way.

My heart was barely beating, too absorbed in keeping the solid feeling of misery pumping through my veins. My chest was compressed, heavier than it had been since the New Years Eve Party. It was hard to breathe. Hard to think, really. I felt like I was the worst person on the planet and to be honest, I was. I was a hideous person, toying with the emotions of a boy that was already fragile. I just didn’t realise how fragile he was until tonight.

A hand settled on my shoulder, warm and comforting. Brotherly, almost. I reached up and placed my hand over James’s, squeezing his fingers tightly. “You know,” I muttered, “you don’t have to stay here with me. He’s your mate - he’s going to need some consoling. More than I do.”

“Eleanor, I’m not going to leave you.”

“You should, though,” I replied. “He’s been your friend longer than I have.”

“Eleanor-,”

I tore my hand away from his and spun around so that I was facing him. “Just go, James. Please, it would make me a feel a lot better.” The lie actually sounded convincing coming from my mouth.

“If you’re sure. . .”

I nodded and with a regretful, sad smile, he loped gracefully down the steps, going to console the friend that would eventually turn him away, as soon as he learned that James knew what was going on between Sirius and I the entire time.

Bloody hell.

Chapter 34: I Wasn't Prepared
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The days passed by faster than I thought they would. I wasn’t as miserable as I could’ve been. Not to say that I wasn’t upset because, clearly, I was, but in a way, it was almost like the friendships I had established with Peter, Alice, Remus, James, Lily, and Sirius didn’t even exist. It was like they were merely a dream. A delusion that I concocted in my boredom. Which is entirely plausible.

I might have believed it if didn’t hurt so badly to see them together. Separate, yes, but at least they had one another. Meanwhile, I had no one. No one, but the Voice. Not that It was being helpful as of late. In fact, I hadn’t heard from the Voice since the night on the Quidditch pitch.

A sigh escaped me as I rolled out of bed, making sure that I didn’t thump my feet too loudly against the floor as I padded toward the bathroom. I took a quick, hot shower and hurriedly scrambled out of the washroom just as the others were beginning to wake up. I avoided eye contact as I brushed my hair, which had already reached a length where it skimmed just above my collarbone. Thankfully, I didn’t have too many knots in my hair and was able to dress in my uniform, which, for once, wasn’t covered in wrinkles.

As I made my way toward the door, my eyes caught Alice and I was surprised to see that she gave me a small wave. Just a tiny wiggle of her fingers and a semi-smile. For some strange reason, I felt the urge to cry. Wrenching the door open, I blinked away tears as I traipsed down the stairs, nearly tripping over my feet in my rush.

When I stepped into the common room, my stomach gave a familiar swoop and my heart began to hammer, quite loudly, I might add, in my chest, beating a painful tattoo against my ribcage. Sirius was standing by the fireplace, an arm against the mantel and his head bowed slightly. His hair was in a hectic sort of disarray, wild in the back and on his crown, but smooth beside his ears, almost as though he had been tucking it behind his ears nervously. The line of his shoulders was tight with tension and from what I could see, the hand that hung limp by his side was holding something.

A letter.

He didn’t seem to have noticed my presence in the common room, which gave me the smallest bit of hope that I could slip out unnoticed. Hell, Sirius was probably so used to tuning me out, he would not notice me if I caught myself on fire and ran around like a headless chicken. Not that I would ever do something as ridiculous as that. . . Though, I couldn’t blame him for tuning me out or anything, I mean, he had a substantial reason to hate me.

I watched as Sirius crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the fire. With a hand, he grabbed the poker and began to prod the logs inside the grate. It was a very unusually solemn gesture that I would not have expected from Sirius. It was, well, almost as though he had gotten the