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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.

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