“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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“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.
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.
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