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.
“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?”
“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.
“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. . ..
“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.”
“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.”
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