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Introduction:

harry potter fanfiction
28
“In and out, Eleanor,” I muttered as I stared, eyes wide and frightened, at my reflection. My hair was damp and my skin tinged a soft pink due to the heat of the shower. Having wiped the mist that had been fogging the mirror away, my hands were currently gripping the lip of the sink as I reminded myself to breathe.

I couldn’t do this. There was no way I would be able to keep a hold on my sanity with Sirius Black at my house. I could handle him at school, true enough. However, that was a completely different domain; it was less personal and much easier to ignore the obvious tension that existed between us. Unless I was just making it all up, this was a faint, but distinct possibility.

“In and out.”

Relinquishing my kung fu grip on the sink, I flexed my fingers to get the feeling back to them. My knuckles were white and I found that when I did flex my fingers, it hurt. Really hurt. I sent one last look at my reflection, surveying the mess of tangled, damp locks that hung around my face and the average looking face with features that could easily be dismissed in a crowd.

All right, now was not the time to start having self-confidence issues, I reminded myself as I turned away from the mirror and quickly opened the bathroom door. As per usual, Rufus was waiting at the door and I nearly tripped over his massive form. One would think that after a few days of the same routine, I would get used to him hanging outside every door of every room I entered, but my brain just didn’t seem possible of processing the message.

Of course, ever since I found out that Sirius Black would be spending Christmas Eve at my house, my brain had been on the frits and all I could think about was his lanky, taunt muscled form walking through the home I shared with Aunt Eliza and thinking it to be inadequate, therefore thinking that I was just as insufficient as the lodgings in which I spent many a happy year in. That was enough to make any girl nerves and scatterbrained, especially when she had enough time to mull over it.

There was that bit and the fact that I was more than positive I fancied him. And it wasn’t just a little bit of a fancy. Oh no, karma couldn’t be nice and just make me mildly attracted to his soft, dark locks that hung in his perfectly chiselled, aristocratic featured face so elegantly that it made every girl in London green with envy. No, it was a whole lot of fancy. This, in turn, made me even more nervous than I had already been for the past three days, if that is at all possible.

As soon as we had returned from Diagon Alley, I sent a letter to Lily via Leonidias, who didn’t snap at my fingers for once in his damn life, telling her everything that had transpired. If I was searching for comforting words in her return owl, I didn’t get them. Instead, she told me that it was very nice that Aunt Eliza had invited him to be with our family on such a family centric holiday when he had no one else to be with and, oh, did I ask my aunt if I could spend the night at her house?

Sighing softly to myself, I shut my bedroom door behind me, but not before Rufus could slither into my room. Normally, I would’ve booted him out of my room as soon as I saw his hairy self on my bed, but for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. As Rufus situated himself on my bed, I pulled on some clothes, not caring if the colour of my jumper was Christmas-y enough. All I could think about was the fact that Sirius Black would be in my house and what would happen to me if his girlfriend ever caught wind of this particular happening.

Out of habit, I draped my arm across my stomach and held it somewhat protectively. Don’t ask me why, but every time I envisioned Lucinda Matthews reaping her revenge, I always imagined that she would go for my innards, yanking them out in the most painful of ways, only to string me up by my ankles and let all the blood rush to the floor. You know, sort of like a pig. It might not be the most pleasant of images to retain within one’s brain, but since when was my mind a pleasant place to be when I was in such a sticky situation.

I flopped down onto my bed, carefully avoiding Rufus, and exhaled heavily. “I can’t do this, Rufus,” I said, blindly reaching out for his fluffy head. He pressed the tip of his extraordinarily wet and cold nose against the palm of my hand and I shivered, instantly reminded of the way Sirius’s nose had brushed against my cheek after he had pulled back from the friendly, one-armed embrace. Albeit the whole cold and wet bit, naturally.

Fuck.

I couldn’t even pet my dog without my thoughts immediately returning to the dark haired boy who had managed to - wait. What had he managed to do? It’s not as if I was head over heels in love with him. Pffft. Merlin, the thought alone made me snigger with laughter.

Very rarely did teenagers fall in true love with one another. I mean, honestly - it only happened once or twice every decade and I would have to say that both Alice and Frank and Lily and James had taken the cake for those occasions. Of course, Lily and James didn’t know that they were in love with each other - well, at least Lily didn’t realize that she was meant for James, but everyone knows that they will end up together in the end with at least half a dozen children to call their own.

Nevertheless, this wasn’t about Lily and James or Alice and Frank, now was it? This was about me and the huge amount of fancying I was currently feeling toward the boy I shouldn’t and the lack thereof I was feeling toward another boy that I was supposed to be fancying. If I was the only one confused by that, then my mind is truly beyond the state of recovering from this massively befuddling situation.

However, before my mind could become a further mess of entirely too baffling thoughts, there was a knock at my door.

“Ella,” Aunt Eliza called from the other side of the door. “Can I come in?”

Ever since she had insulted my breasts or apparent lack thereof, Aunt Eliza had taken to walking eggshells around me, especially when it came to entering my room. Apparently, she had taken my threat to lock her out of my room seriously and was trying to get back on my good side even though she wasn’t even on my bad side to begin with.

I gave a loud grunt, which Rufus echoed, giving a short, loud bark of approval. The doorknob turned, the hinges squeaked, and Aunt Eliza stepped into my room. I pushed myself up to my elbows and had to swallow a bout of laughter that threatened to escape me at the sight of her outfit. By now, I was more than used to her odd choice of clothing, but there were times, such as now, when even I was surprised with what she chose.

“So,” Aunt Eliza began, holding her hands out at her side, one arm gesturing toward herself. “What do you think?”

I bit the inside of my cheek as I took in the obnoxious forest green jumper where Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer was prancing about with his head held high and bright red nose thrust into the air. There were evergreen trees in the background, swaying back and forth and the little carollers where actually singing Christmas songs. Her feet were covered in elf like shoes, complete with tinkling gold bells at the heels.

“I like it,” I replied, moving around on my bed until I was fully sitting up. Rufus placed his head on my leg and I absentmindedly stroked the crown of his head. “I just thought that you would wear the robes with angels on them - you know the ones I got you last year?”

Aunt Eliza blushed suddenly, looking sheepish. “I would’ve worn them, Ella, but they’ve grown a bit too tight to be considered comfortable.”

Immediately, I felt like a prick. I smacked my palm against my forehead. “Merlin, Aunt Eliza, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean -.”

Her hand covering my mouth cut off my words; she sent me a stern look. “Hush, love,” she said, removing her hand from my mouth. “You couldn’t have known, so there is no need to be sorry.”

I smiled at her, tucking a strand of still damp hair behind my ear with a free hand, which shook like mad, in case you were still curious. “That doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad.”

“Well, don’t,” Aunt Eliza responded, patting me affectionately on the top of the head. “Where’s your Christmas spirit, miss? How come I don’t see any holiday colours on you?”

I laughed shortly. “You make it sound as though I’ve committed an act of heresy.”

“You have!” my aunt exclaimed overdramatically, holding my face between her hands. “Not a spot of green, red, or white on you, is there?” She clucked her tongue and scurried over to my wardrobe.

“What’re you doing?” I asked, rising to my feet and walking toward her.

“Finding something more suitable for you to wear,” Aunt Eliza explained shortly, pulling a handful of jumpers out of my drawer and throwing them to the floor. She eyed the lot with a mild look of discontent. “Merlin, do you have anything that isn’t a shade of blue?”

She tossed my favourite tee shirt to the ground and I bent down, picking it up and holding it to my chest protectively.

“Blue is one of my favourite colours,” I bit out defensively, placing the shirt on the trunk at the foot of my bed. “Besides, since when have you cared what I wear on Christmas? Just last year, I wore that orange jumper all day and you didn’t say a single thing!”

As per usual, she ignored me as she rifled through my drawers, muttering wildly under her breath as she always did. I resolved to sitting on top of my trunk, returning to my absentminded petting of Rufus’s head as I waited for her to finally find something that she deemed acceptable for Christmas.

Finally, after what seemed like a millennia, she threw a pile of clothing at me, which I just barely caught, seeing as how she caught me off guard. I sputtered slightly and batted them away from my face. As I unfolded the clothes that had just been chucked at my head, Aunt Eliza flicked her wand at the clothes littering the floor, all of which folded themselves and returned to my drawers. Why she hadn’t performed a spot of magic and found something for me to wear was beyond me, but I never questioned my aunt’s doings.

“Like it?” Aunt Eliza said as she pulled out the chair at my writing desk and sat down in it.

“Yeah, I do,” I replied, pulling the soft grey jumper I was currently wearing over my head and tossing it to the floor. The shirt that my aunt had selected for me was an off-white colour with flecks of red, blue, and green laced through the top of it. The sleeves stopped just above my elbows, exposing the paleness of my bony arms. I tugged it over my head wordlessly and held my arms out at my sides, much like my aunt had only minutes ago. “What d’you think?”

Aunt Eliza regarded me silently for a few long moments before speaking. “I think you need to do something with that nest you call hair before Sirius gets here.” She rose from her seat at my desk and smiled at me as she walked past me. She left my room and closed the door behind her.

It took a few moments for Aunt Eliza’s words to fully sink in, but as soon as they did, I spurred myself into action despite the fact that my stomach was flipping and flopping to the point where I felt as though I could vomit at any moment. All but sprinting out of my room and into the bathroom, I roughly tugged the brush through my hair. Normally, I didn’t trust myself with doing magic on my hair, but since I was desperate to look somewhat presentable, I screwed my face up, my eyes clench tightly shut, and flicked my wand at my hair. A small bout of heat gushed over me and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck go warm very briefly before returning to normal temperature. When I unscrewed my face, I saw that my hair was dry and thankfully, I hadn’t done any damage to it.

From there, I hurried down the steps. Like usual, I lost my footing and ended up sliding down the rest of the way, banging my lower back against the wood of the stairs roughly. I let loose a howl of pain and struggled to my feet.

“Are you all right?” Aunt Eliza called from the kitchen, where I assumed she had begun working on the gingerbread house.

“Yeah,” I shouted back as I limped my way into the living room. “I’m fine. . .I think,” I added as an afterthought to myself, having just sat down on the sofa and cringed as my lower back touched a throw pillow. There were boxes all over the floor, which were marked with words such as ‘ornaments’ and ‘Christmas shite’.

Someone had entered the living room and when I looked up, Aunt Eliza was standing with her hands on her hips, slowly shaking her head back and forth. “I don’t think so.”

I raised my eyebrows, finding that I was still incapable of raising a singular brow, much to my own dismay. “What?”

“Get off your arse, love,” Aunt Eliza said, making a shooing motion with her hand at me. I opened my mouth to protest, saying that I was injured and simply couldn’t work, but she sent me a sharp look that told me to keep my mouth shut. “The ornaments aren’t going to put themselves on the tree, are they?”

“But I’m-,”

“Eleanor Jane,” she huffed somewhat impatiently, dragging her hand across her nose and leaving a thin line of brown gunk across it. “Just do it, all right? I want to make it look like something got done before your friend gets here.”

Without another word, she turned around and headed back into the kitchen where I could hear her talking to Leonidias as though he was the most precious being in the planet. Let me assure you right now that he most certainly is not, considering he has the tendency to snap at my thumbs, which as you all know, is the reasoning behind my fear for owls. Bloody creatures.

Rising to my feet, I grabbed my wand out of my trouser pocket, momentarily amazed that it hadn’t snapped completely in two when I had come tumbling down the stairs. Well, I didn’t so much as tumble as I did slid on my tailbone, which is nowhere near as fun and exciting as it sounds. In fact, I could pretty much feel the bruises forming and that was not a comforting thought. I flicked my wand at the box nearest to me; the flaps flipped back and revealed that the contents of that particular box were stockings. With a wave of my wand, both of our stocking zoomed over toward the fireplace, hanging them up on the mantel.

Wow. I wasn’t accustomed to using magic for things other than schoolwork. It was rather nice not having to manually do everything. Circe, no wonder why so many witches and wizards grew ‘pleasantly plump’ in their later years of life!

I waved and flourished my wand about, smiling to myself as everything zoomed into its proper place, looking as though a professional Christmas decorator person had come in and completely the job. I was more than little proud of myself as I regarded all the snow globes and little figurine towns, which littered just about every available space on shelves, side tables, and the coffee table. Not that there was much space to be covered, given the fact that our house was, to say the very least, cluttered.

I had been so preoccupied with my decorating of the living room that I hadn’t heard the knock at the kitchen door. Instead, I continued to whirl around in circles, pausing every few seconds to flick my wand and command an ornament into place. It really was a thrilling feeling, being able to do all this magic. However, I knew that Aunt Eliza was very particular about the tree and every year since I had come to live with her, we set it up manually - not with magic. Usually, it was Aunt Eliza was doing the waving of the wand and decorating, but I guess she knew that I had a knack for it.

A girlish giggle escaped me as I surveyed my work. Damn, I really was good at this. Pushing up to my tiptoes, I spun around in a circle, much like I had always imagined ballerinas would, so I could go into the kitchen and start helping Aunt Eliza with the gingerbread house. However, as soon as I straightened up, a squeak of surprise escaped me.

He was standing underneath the archway that connected the kitchen to our living room. There were flecks of white in his dark hair and his nose and cheeks were a rosy red colour, which contrasted nicely against his pale, faintly freckled skin. A smug smirk was firmly in place on his lips and like always, a single brow was cocked in that spy-like fashion that I so envied.

“D’you always pretend to be a ballroom dancer when you decorate or is this just one of those ‘rare occasions’?” Sirius questioned complacently, his light eyes glittering mischievous.

I narrowed my eyes at him and raised my wand threateningly. “Don’t make me use it.”

Sirius laughed in his bark like way, a noise that both startled me and made my stomach erupt at butterflies. Yes, I know - very odd. No need to tell me twice. If you think it’s weird hearing about it, imagine experiencing it. Yeah, not exactly comfortable.

“Is this how you greet all of your guests?” he asked.

Lowering my wand, I stowed it away in my pocket. “What? D’you want me to offer to take your coat?”

“That would be a good place to start, I imagine.”

Deciding to play along, I dropped into what could be considered one of the messiest, out of control curtsies ever known or seen by man. I mean, honestly - I made Humpty Dumpty’s fall from that wall look elegant. “As you wish, my good sir,” I said, putting on the stateliest voice I could.

He bopped me on the head and grabbed my elbow, hauling me back up to proper height. Sirius had already taken off his coat, revealing the navy blue jumper he had chosen to wear for today. I couldn’t help but look - well, more like gape enthusiastically, but who cares, right? Thankfully, he did not seem the notice that I raked my eyes over his upper body, almost drowning in my own salvia at the way his shirt clung ever so lightly to his arms.

Merlin, this is very slag like behaviour, Briggs.

Ah, the Voice. I was waiting for it to come back. It hadn’t bothered me since the beginning of the holidays, but the second that Sirius is presented in front of me and I get caught with my hand in the figurative biscuit jar, the Voice comes bolting back into action. Wonderful. This is exactly what I need when my sanity was already in more question than it was on a normal day.

I hung his dark coat up on the rack near the closet and said, “We’re just about to start making the gingerbread house.”

“Gingerbread house?” Sirius parroted, an amused look on his face.

I nodded, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear. “Yeah, we make a gingerbread house and then some gingersnaps every year.” I could feel the heat rushing to my cheeks as he followed me into the kitchen, where Aunt Eliza was mixing the icing. “You don’t have to help, if you don’t want to,” I added at the look on his face, which was more than difficult to read.

“Nonsense,” Aunt Eliza said before Sirius could so much as open his mouth. “Like he even has a choice - of course he’s going to help. You think I invited him so he could sit on his arse the entire time while we worked? Merlin no!” She winked in our direction and went about whatever it was that she was doing.

Sirius laughed while I threw daggers at Aunt Eliza’s back. Of course, she had to make her odd jokes about forcing labour upon the innocent when Sirius was around. Circe, as if he didn’t think my aunt was odd enough. . .

“So,” Sirius began, rubbing his hands together. “What comes first?”

I stared at him a moment, taking in the planes of his face. “First, you need to wash your hands and get yourself an apron.”

“An apron?”

“Yes, an apron,” I said, a small grin threatening to upturn my lips as I conjured the mental image of Sirius Black in a floral apron and for some reason, a string of pearls. I turned on the faucet, adjusted the knobs, and washed my hands, Sirius following my suit. “You’ll get your clothes all dirty if you don’t wear one.”

“Eleanor, just because you can’t eat a meal without getting food all over yourself,” Aunt Eliza said from her position at the stove, “doesn’t mean that everyone else does.”

I gasped, unable to determine whether I should be scuffing in offence or laughing along with Sirius, who seemed to find her remark amongst the funniest things he had ever heard. He pressed a wet hand against his stomach as he drew in a few deep breaths.

I glared at Aunt Eliza over his hunched body. “D’you poison him?” I mouthed.

“Of course not,” she mouthed back. My aunt rolled her eyes, gave a noncommittal wave of her hand, and turned back to the bowl of icing she had been mixing.

Setting my jaw into place, I finished washing my hands and dried them with a hand towel. “Are you all right or do you need a minute to collect yourself?” I asked Sirius somewhat bitterly as I snagged two aprons off the hook beside the kitchen door.

He straightened up and nodded his head. Several locks of dark hair fell into his face, but he didn’t push them aside. “I’m fine,” he panted, taking the proffered apron out of my hands. As I secured my apron in place, my eyes were trained on him, waiting for his imminent reaction anxiously. The locks seemed to click into place and his gaze immediately met mine, his eyes wide with disbelief. “You’re not going to make me wear this. . .are you?”

I grinned at him. “’Course I am,” I replied, tugging on the strings to tighten them up. At the grumpy look on his face, I added, “Oh, come on, it’s not that bad, Sirius. I thought floral patterns were your thing, anyway.”

He grunted in response and proceeded to tie the apron on, muttering darkly under his breath. Once he had all the strings tied, he sent me a stern look and pointed a finger at me in a very maternal manner. “If you tell anyone. . .,” he trailed off suggestively.

“You’ll tie me to a tree and skin me?” I supplied.

“Yeah, I’ll do-,” he stopped mid sentence, his eyes going wide once again. “Tie you to a tree and skin you? What in the name of Merlin ever gave you such a grotesque idea?”

I shrugged my shoulders as I began to rummage through the cabinets, searching for all the candy that we had purchased the day before in Diagon Alley. “I don’t know.”

Sirius shook his head. “That is definitely not normal, Eleanor,” he said, coming up beside me and leaning against the counter. “Not even for you.”

I stuck my tongue at him again and I could’ve sworn that something flickered in his eyes. Although I couldn’t tell you what it was. I wish I could, but again, I’ve never been very good at reading people or their emotions, which was unfortunate. I mean, imagine if you had that ability! It would make life so much easier.

It took a little longer than necessary, considering that we could’ve used magic, but chose not to, to locate all the damn miscellaneous items that would be needed for the gingerbread house. After nearly ten minutes of searching for the gumdrops, I had half the mind to just give up completely and wallow at the loss of such a delectable candy. But Sirius had found them in Rufus’s dog bed, which was as weird as it was funny.

Once everything was collected, however, Sirius and I each took a seat at the kitchen table so that we were sitting at a ninety-degree angle to one another. Sirius kept picking up all the packages of candy and observing them, turning them over in his hands as his brow furrowed slightly. Most of the candy we had bought was from the wizarding world, but some things you just had to buy Muggle.

“So,” Sirius said as he set down the candy canes he had been holding in his hands. “What happens now?”

I grabbed the bowl of icing sitting on the far end of the table and pulled it toward us, so that it was situated between the pair of us. “Right,” I started. “First, we have to actually build the damn house.”

“Ella!”

“Sorry!” I apologized quickly before Aunt Eliza could attack me with the spatula in her hand, which she had raised threateningly. “What I meant to say is that we have to build the house first.”

“How do you do that?” Sirius questioned.

“Easy,” I said, grabbing one of the knives off the table and slathering it with sticky white icing. “You take the icing and use it as mortar, you know, like when they lay bricks.” I smeared icing along the edges of two different graham crackers and stuck them together carefully. “Just like that - although, if you want them to stick together really well, you have to push them together. But not too hard, otherwise you’ll break the graham cracker and we’ll have to start all over again.” I set the part of wall I had constructed down on the piece of cardboard on the table and gestured to Sirius. “You try.”

He sent me an uneasy look. “Can’t you just build it and I help you add all the decorations?”

I snorted, moving the hair that had fallen into my face away. “Hell - I mean heck - heck no!” I quickly corrected myself, throwing a cautious look at Aunt Eliza. She normally didn’t have a problem when I cursed, but maybe she just wanted to impress our company?

“That’s what I thought,” I heard her murmur under her breath with an airy chuckle.

Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I sighed softly. “It won’t be the same if you don’t help me with the house; someone always helps me with the house.” I stuck out my bottom lip in a pout. “Please? For me?”

We stared at each other for a few moments of silence and I felt my stomach churning with an emotion I knew that I shouldn’t be feeling toward him. Merlin above, emotions were just about the most annoying thing on the planet. There were times, such as now, when I wished that I had been born male. I’m convinced that my life wouldn’t be as complicated as it is now and I wouldn’t be all ’ooh, woe is me’. I knew I sounded like a little girl whining about the stupidest of things and claiming that my life was just oh-so-horrible when I was more than well aware that there was a Dark Lord at large in England, killing innocent people and ripping apart families. So really, my problems were nowhere near as bad as I made them out to be.

The sigh that escaped him was very melodramatic and judging by the glimmer in his eyes, entirely playful. His shoulders sagged in defeat and he nodded his head solemnly. “Oh, all right.”

In response, I dabbed the leftover icing on my finger on the tip of his nose, laughing all the while. He gave me one of those looks that told me I had just pulled the worst move possible. All I could think was oh vey.

X - - X



Two hours later, the gingerbread house was complete. So, maybe it was a little lopsided and yeah, there were chunks of the roof missing because I hadn’t been able to keep my fingers off the treacle chocolate. And maybe it wasn’t exactly the nicest gingerbread house ever constructed, but it’s not as if appearances ever matter, right?

At the moment, Sirius and I were standing a few metres away from the kitchen table with Rufus sitting on the tiled floor between us, all three of our heads cocked to the side as we observed our handiwork.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Sirius said, a note of pride in his voice.

Inwardly, I smiled. “Yeah,” I agreed, nodding my head. “You know, for your first gingerbread house, that is.”

He nudged me in the side with his elbow and I emitted a small squeak of surprise. “Is it me or are you asking for more icing in your hair?” Sirius asked, swiping his finger along the edge of the bowl of icing and holding it up in front of him somewhat threateningly.

“You wouldn’t,” I gasped dramatically.

Sirius laughed loudly, popping his finger into his mouth. “You’re right,” he replied, pulling his now icing free finger out of his mouth and grinning. “It’s much too good to waste.”

As thought beckoned by the sound of his laugh, Aunt Eliza appeared in the doorway, several pieces of Spell-o-tape stuck to her fingers. She had disappeared shortly after we had started construction on the house to wrap a few last minute presents. Her hair was now pulled back into an extremely messy bun at the nape of her neck and I couldn’t help but notice that there were several scratches on her face.

“What happened to you?” I asked, slightly appalled.

“It was the damn wrapping paper,” she said as she waddled over to the sink and wet a cloth to dab to her face. “I had forgotten Milburn had given me enchanted, paper cutting wrapping paper as a gag gift at last year’s Christmas party.”

Beside me, Sirius sputtered, struggling to keep his laughter under control. When he saw that I was staring at him warningly, he quickly disguised his laughter as an uncontrollable cough.

“Oh,” was all I was able to say.

“It’s all right now,” Aunt Eliza continued. “I got it under control, thankfully. Shoved it into the linen closet upstairs. The enchantment should wear off. . .eventually.” She set the damp cloth back in the sink and her eyes brightened. “Did you finish the house?” she questioned, her voice eager.

“Er-,” Sirius and I said in unison, throwing each other a look.

Aunt Eliza paid no attention to either of us, unceremoniously shoving past me to get a good look at the house. She had apparently been expecting some sort of masterpiece because the expression that had been on her face fell slightly.

“Oh,” she said, turning toward the pair of us. She saw Sirius smiling at her hopefully and she tried to rearrange her expression to the best of her ability. “It looks, er, good. I mean, fantastic!”

I snorted, but quickly covered it up as a sneeze when Aunt Eliza sent me a sharp look.

“Thanks, Eliza,” Sirius said, grinning winningly at her. “We worked really hard on it.”

“Really?” she murmured, her blue eyes raking over our messy appearances. I don’t blame her for sounding so doubtful. I mean, if I saw the pair of us standing in the middle of the kitchen wearing more candy than the actual house, I would’ve doubted that any work had been done, much less hard work.

“Yep,” Sirius chirped, clasping his hands behind his back as though he were a schoolboy. “Eleanor built most of the house and I added the candy.”

Aunt Eliza laughed loftily. “I couldn’t tell. . .,” she trailed off, casting me a fleeting look. “Well,” she said suddenly, snapping out of her momentary stupor. She clapped her hands together very rapidly and a huge smile spread across her cheery face. “How about we start setting up the tree? Dinner is already in the oven and I made the batter for the biscuits last night.”

I turned toward Sirius, who looked faintly awkward standing in the middle of our kitchen wearing a floral apron with bits of candy cane and gum drops clinging to his clothes and streaks of white icing laced throughout his black hair. “How about it? D’you wanna help set up the tree?”

“Sure,” he replied, and we all trekked into the living room.

The empty boxes were pushed against the wall and the ones containing the ornaments and other decorative items for the tree were circled around the coffee table in the middle of the room. I dropped down onto my knees and began to open the boxes, beckoning Sirius to join me on the floor. As we began to take things out of their boxes and placed them on the table, Sirius leaned over; his shoulder pressed tightly against mine, and whispered into my ear, “I’ve never done this before.”

All right before I go any further, if a handsome bloke like Sirius freakin’ Black whispered that phrase into your ear, you’d go all kinds of crazy, right? I mean, come on! This wasn’t your average, every day bloke that we’re talking about. This was Sirius and one doesn’t expect sentences like that to come out of his mouth without. . .well, without some sort of sexual meaning behind them. That being said, it is common knowledge that my mind tends to stray and I’ll give you three guesses where it strayed to. . .

If you guessed that proverbial gutter, then you would be correct.

“Excuse me!?” I squeaked, falling backward into the couch. I could practically feel the blood leaving my face and retreating to my toes.

Staring at me as though my stomach had just talked, Sirius cleared his throat and said loud enough so that Aunt Eliza could hear, “I’ve never put up a Christmas tree before.”

“Are you kidding me?” Aunt Eliza and I exclaimed together. “What do you mean you’ve never put up a tree before?!” I was shocked; Aunt Eliza was outraged.

Much to my surprise, Sirius flushed slightly around his collar and he licked his lips nervously. “Well, you see when I was living at home, our house elf always put up the tree because my mother,” he spat the word like it was a poison, “didn’t want us to break anything. And last winter when I went to the Potters’, they had already put the tree up when we got back from the platform. So,” he finished with a shrug of his shoulders.

“Well,” Aunt Eliza said after a few moments’ of silence. “There’s a first time for everything, isn’t there?” She tossed a thick strand of silvery garland at him and he caught it deftly. Stupid Keeper and his bloody fast reflexes. “You’re in charge of that, all right? And Ella, you’re on ornament duty.”

I groaned and stomped my foot. “Again?”

“Yes.”

“But I put the ornaments on last year,” I whined childishly.

“D’you want to put the lights on?” Aunt Eliza asked, peering at me through hooded eyes.

A frown turned my lips downward and I shook my head. “No, I don’t.” I toed a box of ornaments, made another pouty noise, and sighed. “Why do there have to be so many of them?”

“I can help,” Sirius said suddenly, his grey gaze locked on Aunt Eliza. “I mean, it’s like you said earlier, isn’t it? There’s a first time for everything and I’ve never hung ornaments on a tree. Maybe Ellie could teach me?”

Aunt Eliza seemed to consider it for a few moments before nodding her head. “Yeah, I guess that’ll be okay,” she said, smiling fondly at Sirius. “Just don’t break anything.”

“I won’t,” Sirius replied. He winked at me and my knees started to knock together. Oh Merlin, not this again!

X - - X



With an extra pair of hands, it took us less than an hour to decorate the tree. Granted, it would’ve taken a lesser amount of time had Sirius not thought it necessary to perform a Leg Locking Jinx on me and then proceed to wrap the garland around me as though I was some sort of prisoner. If I had thought it was a pain in the arse to get all that bleeding yellow caution tape off at Halloween, the damn garland was much worse.

Conveniently, the oven timer decided to chime noisily just minutes after we had finished setting up the Christmas tree, much to my stomach’s delight. Sirius and I followed Aunt Eliza into the kitchen and were surprised to find that the table had been cleared of our monstrosity of a gingerbread house and the table was set, complete with steaming dishes of pure deliciousness.

Dinner was a very warm, laughter filled affair. I could scarcely eat in fear that either Aunt Eliza or Sirius would make some incredibly witty, sarcastic comment and make me choke on my food in my mouth. It took me much longer than the pair of them to finish my meal and like a gentleman, Sirius waited for me to finish, sitting beside me and flicking peas at me whenever Aunt Eliza wasn’t looking. He had tried to help with the dishes, but as soon as he picked up the first sudsy plate and it shattered all over the kitchen floor, Aunt Eliza sent him a reproachful look and he slinked back to the table, a soft smirk on his face as he dropped into the creaky wooden chair.

One of Sirius’s accurately aimed peas hit me square in the eye, catching me by complete surprise. Because it caught me by surprise, I jumped in my seat, causing both myself and the chair to topple backward onto the floor. My head slammed against the ground just as the back of the chair did and I let out a long, drawn out groan of pain.

“Are you okay?” Sirius asked, scooting back his chair and coming to kneel beside me. Although his voice sounded concerned enough, the look on his face clearly said that he was having a hard time disguising his laughter.

My eyes narrowed slightly, but I nodded my head all the same. “I think so.”

Sirius extended a hand to me and I reluctantly took it, trying my hardest to ignore the jolts of heat that shot through my arm at the contact. Merlin, this really was getting ridiculous. Maybe I should just go out and find a suitable bridge to throw myself off so I would lessen everyone else’s problems.

“Sorry,” Sirius apologized quickly.

“S’okay,” I replied, rubbing the egg that was forming on the back of my head. I winced, sucking in a short hiss of air.

From her position at the sink, Aunt Eliza laughed loudly. “There’s no need to fret over her, Sirius,” she began, her laughter lacing her words. “She does silly stuff like that all the time. Like yesterday, she jumped down the stairs and nearly broke her ankle, she did.”

I found my cheeks flushing a bright red and immediately looked down at my feet. Circe above, she just had to bring that bollocks up, didn’t she? I found myself wishing that a black hole would open up in the middle of the floor and suck me in. I know it wasn’t that embarrassing, but leaping down the stairs in your home and nearly spraining your ankle is not something you generally want people to know. At least, I don’t want people to know about my natural clumsiness that I was sure not even medication could cure. That is, if there was medication for clumsiness. If there’s not, then I think that someone should invent some. . .

“Eleanor?” Aunt Eliza said, and judging by the tone of her voice, she had repeated herself.

My eyes found her face and I raised my brows. “What?” I questioned, somewhat dazed.

“I was wondering what you and Sirius would like to do next,” Aunt Eliza answered.

Glancing at Sirius with a questioning look, he shrugged his shoulders and I resisted the urge to sigh heavily and respond with something sarcastic which I knew I would get reprimanded for because, according to Aunt Eliza and her crazy ways, Sirius was some sort of religious deity that should not be mocked, scorned, or whatever else a person to could do someone else. My aunt might not have ever come out and said it, but I knew that she was thinking it. In fact, she was probably wondering where she could get a little statue of Sirius and mentally figuring out a place to put it among all the clutter in the living room.

Softly shaking my head to myself, I turned to Aunt Eliza and offered a shrug of my shoulders. “I don’t know.”

Aunt Eliza rolled her eyes dramatically. She didn’t say anything as she shuffled over to the ice box, opened the door, and began to rummage around for only Merlin knows what. She emerged seconds later with a huge ceramic bowl in her arms, which she promptly placed on the counter top. She did some fancy wand work and two cookie sheets came zooming out from the oven drawer.

“You make a terrible hostess, Eleanor,” Aunt Eliza informed me as she flicked her wand once more. Utensils zoomed out of the drawers, the aluminium foil flew off the top of the bowl, and the spatula began to scoop out lumps of batter onto the cookie sheets. “Why don’t you guys watch something on the telly?”

“Like what?” I asked, moving to skim my finger along the edge of the batter bowl. Before I could get even the smallest taste, the spatula whacked me smartly on the hand. The sharp slap stung and I glared at the utensil, swiping my finger along the rim of the bowl anyway, and stuck it in my mouth before the spatula could get me again; beside me, I heard Sirius snicker under his breath.

“I don’t know. . .why not flip through the channels?” Aunt Eliza suggested.

I snorted. “What, all four of them?”

“Eleanor,” she uttered warningly, adopting the tone she only took on when I started grating on her nerves.

Heaving a heavy sigh, I stole another swipe of biscuit batter and sighed. “I’ll find something for us to do, all right?” I said impatiently. Pivoting on the heel of my foot, I turned toward Sirius and beckoned for him to follow me out of the kitchen. He said something in a low voice to Aunt Eliza, something I didn’t catch, but apparently, whatever he’d said was funny, as my aunt started laughing loudly.

Once we were out of earshot, I stopped walking and turned toward Sirius. However, Sirius didn’t see that I had stopped and slammed into me, pinning me between the banister and himself. It was like the moving staircase all over again, except for the fact he leapt away from me as though I was on fire and apologized very quickly under his breath; I was surprised to see that his cheeks were faintly flushed. I, on the other hand, was still trying to get over the shock that that had just happened.

It was a few minutes before I decided enough tension had dissipated from the air that I could talk without making the situation entirely too awkward. “Well, er, I was going to say that we could play a board game if you wanted,” I licked my lips nervously. “But, uh, they’re all upstairs in my room.”

“A board game?” Sirius parroted, his grey eyes twinkling as he considered the idea. A smile slowly spread across his face and he nodded. “Yeah, that sounds like it could be fun.”

I smiled back. “Great,” I said, starting up the stairs. “C’mon.”

Halfway up the flight of stairs, Rufus came streaking out of the kitchen and paused like a deer in the headlights. We stopped and looked down at him. Rufus cocked his head to the side as if deciding whether or not he would come upstairs with us or not. Sirius patted his leg and quite surprisingly, Rufus came sprinting up the steps, licking Sirius’s extended hand. I rolled my eyes to myself and we walked up the remaining stairs to my room.

I didn’t realize how awkward this would be until I opened my door. Thank Merlin, I didn’t have any clothes lying around on the floor and nothing too embarrassing was on display on my desk or my nightstand.

“This is it,” I said lamely, gesturing with my arm to the purple walls and slanted ceiling of my bedroom. “It’s not much, but-.”

“I like it,” Sirius announced loudly, stepping into my room and looking about. He gave me a nod of approval and began to take a turn about my room as I opened up my closet door and began to look for the board games I hadn’t played since I was a child. It was more than likely we would have to resort to playing Exploding Snap; at least I knew where my cards were.

I placed my foot on one of the lower shelves, having seen what looked to be a box of a board game on the top shelf of the dinky little closet where Aunt Eliza shoved everything that she couldn’t fit into the linen closet in the hall. I moved things around, dropping some of them to the floor and others I simply moved onto other shelves.

One of the boxes began to tip precariously on the edge of the shelf and, thinking that it would stay put, I continued to shuffle boxes around. Unfortunately, the box decided that it didn’t want to stay put on the shelf anymore and tipped downward, colliding with my head.

“Ow!” I cried, the sudden impact startling me so much, my footing slipped and I fell back onto the carpet with a dull, but painful thump.

Rufus barked as Sirius set down the photograph he had been holding in his hands and came over to my side to help me up. I pushed myself up to my elbows and sighed loudly.

“Are you all right?” he asked, a note of concern in his voice.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I responded, rising to my feet and rubbing the back of my head as I did so. “I think I am.”

“That’s the second time you’ve fallen and hit your head in an hour,” Sirius reminded me, smilingly. “If I told Prongs. . .”

“He would take the mickey out of me forever,” I finished for him. “So please, refrain from telling him.” I grabbed the fallen box, which, coincidentally, is the one that I had wanted in the first place. Cursing my luck, I tossed it onto my bed and plunked down on the edge. Sirius picked up the picture again and I furrowed my brow. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

Sirius turned toward me. “Oh, just one of your pictures,” he muttered, hurriedly placing the picture back in its spot on my desk.

I chuckled. “You don’t have to put it back,” I said without thinking. “You can look around if you want. There’s nothing of interest in here, really. My aunt’s got all our records in her room, so. . .” I trailed off, realizing that he might not have any idea what the bloody hell records were.

However, Sirius wasn’t paying attention. Instead, he was picking up all the framed photos that sat on my desk and nightstand. Some of them had moving pictures within the frames and others didn’t. Most of them were of Aunt Eliza, and me although a few of them were just of Aunt Eliza and the various pets we’d had over the years.

I was content with watching him, mildly curious as to why he found my photographs so amusing. I knew they weren’t anything special and most of them were either out of focus or stationary, which was always a let down when it came to photography; there was something about moving pictures that just made a person seem more real.

A swirl of memories hit me like a load of bricks, stealing my breath away. My fists clenched the patchwork quilt on my bed and I could feel tears burning in my eyes. My heart was thundering in my chest painfully and I heard a distant sound. . .almost like someone was calling my name.

As quickly as I had fallen into the trance, I snapped back out of it and looked into the clear, silver eyes of Sirius Black. He was only a few centimetres away from me as he had come to sit beside me on my mattress; I hadn’t even noticed he had.

The look on his face was expectant, which led me to believe that had just asked a question about the picture he was holding in his hand. “Who’s that?” he asked, pointing to the man in the picture.

Again, a rush of memories swirled in my mind, but I kept the painful unrest at bay to the best of my ability. “My dad,” I murmured quietly. “That’s my dad.”

There was another long, drawn out silence. I stared at the picture in Sirius’s hand, wanting nothing more than to snatch it out of his grasp and hold it close to my chest like I used to do when I was much younger. But I couldn’t do that. Instead, I shifted uncomfortably on the bed, unsure of what to do with my hands.

Finally, Sirius broke the silence. “You look a lot like him.”

Despite the solemnity I was feeling, I still managed to muster a smile. “That’s what everyone says - well, at least, that’s what Aunt Eliza says every time she sees me looking at his photograph.”

“D’you miss him?” Sirius asked softly.

“Yeah,” I replied, nodding my head. “He was the best father a girl could ask for.” My throat tightened and burned when I tried to draw in a breath of air. “I know every girl says that about her dad, but my dad really was the best around.”

“He seems like it, judging by the picture,” he said, gesturing toward the photograph in his hand. “When was this taken?”

Scooting closer to Sirius, I peered over his shoulder at the picture and felt my stomach plummet. I hadn’t been expecting him to pick up that particular picture.

Clearing my throat, I said, “A little over a year before he. . .died.”

“How’d he die?” It must’ve been the deep gasp of air that rushed into my lungs that tipped him off because he quickly amended his comment, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, Eleanor.”

I shook my head, snuffling. Squaring my shoulders, I mentally prepared myself for the words that were about to leave my mouth.

“He committed suicide,” I answered quite blatantly.

I had never told a single soul about what had happened to my father because I never felt comfortable with it. However, now, for some reason, although it still hurt a little to think about it, I didn’t feel the squirming feeling in the stomach that I usually did when people inquired after my parents. Maybe it was because Sirius had gone through the same thing that I had with his parents - of course, his didn’t die or anything, but they were good as dead to him.

“I’m sorry,” Sirius murmured, grabbing my hand off my lap. He laced his fingers through mine and gave it a tight, affectionate, comforting squeeze. An intense flare of heat rose in my stomach and I felt as though my entire inside was on fire; I could hardly handle it.

I don’t know how long we sat in silence. Sirius didn’t ask anything more about what had happened to my dad; he didn’t ask why my father had committed suicide or what happened afterward, as I’m pretty sure that he figured it out. After I had told him, an odd sort of feeling washed over me that I couldn’t describe. Sirius would squeeze my hand every now and then, although I wasn’t entirely sure why. I stared at the picture in his hand which he eventually set aside to wrap his arms around me in tight, warm embrace.

I hadn’t even realized that I had started crying softly until he had hugged me. The tears fell in a slow stream. It wasn’t one of those full on hysterical fits of sobs and it wasn’t even a silent river of tears. It was just the occasional slew of tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes as I stared off, unsure of what I should feel at the moment. It was nice to finally tell someone, to let the cat out of the bag, to have someone who knew the real reason as to why I lived with my aunt. Lily knew that I lived with Aunt Eliza because I no longer had parents, but she didn’t know the real reason behind it. And for the moment, I wanted to keep it that way.

“Don’t worry,” whispered Sirius, finally releasing me from his arms. He took my face between his hands and wiped away my salty tears with his thumbs. I could feel my cheeks burning beneath the touch of his palms against my face; my heart started to pump blood faster, making it throb in my ears loudly. “I won’t tell anyone.”

He gave me another quick hug before standing up. I sniffled, wiping my nose with the back of my sleeve. I didn’t even want to see if there were boogies or not; it would ruin the moment - if that is what you can even call it.

“So, how about a game of Exploding Snap?” he suggested lightly.

I smiled tightly, stood up as well and rummaged through my trunk until I found my pack of playing cards. We sat down on the ground, Indian-style, and I dealt out the cards between us. Sirius told me some perverted joke that Caradoc had told him before the holiday break, which made me laugh long and hard. It was nice to laugh a little after a small crying bit.

When Aunt Eliza rapped her knuckles against my doorframe, we both jumped in surprise; I dropped my hand of cards all over the floor. She smiled at us, laughing softly under her breath. Rufus quickly ran over to her, whining happily as she pet him on the head. Her blue eyes found mine and I found that they were swimming with sympathy; it was almost like she had known what had transpired up here. Maybe that’s why she hadn’t come after us with that damn spatula. Speaking of which, there was an angry red welt on my hand.

At my inquisitive look, she said, “I just thought I would see what you lot were up to.”

“Just playing Exploding Snap,” I responded, smiling as I pointed to a strand of my hair, which was still smoking slightly.

“Well,” Aunt Eliza began, folding her arms over her chest and leaning against the door jam. “It’s nearly one o’clock in the morning and though I’m not kicking you out, Sirius, I just thought I would let you know since I don’t know what time you plan to go over to the Potters’ tomorrow morning.”

“Circe be damned,” Sirius said. “Are you kidding? It’s one o’clock in the morning?”

Aunt Eliza nodded her head sagely. “Indeed it is. You’ve been up here for nearly five hours,” she said, laughing again. Straightening herself, she fixed the hem of her shirt and turned on her heel, leaving the doorway just as quietly as she had come.

Sirius and I stared at one another for a few moments before he swiftly rose to his feet. Holding out a hand for me, I took it reluctantly and let him pull me to my feet. He quickly released my hand and I hoped he didn’t feel the same sharp, electric jolt when our skin had come in contact.

“Shall we?” I said, gesturing toward the door with a sweeping wave of my arm.

I started down the stairs, Sirius just a step behind me, and once we reached the main level, I found that I was more than mildly upset that he was leaving. Of course, I would see him in just a few days time at James’s house for New Years, but still, it wasn’t the same. I grabbed his coat off the rack and handed it to him.

“I’m glad that you decided to come,” I stated. I hoped I sounded genuine because that was how I really felt. I was a bit hesitant to have him in the house at first, but after spending the entire day with him and actually sharing Christmas with someone other than my aunt, I had no idea why I had been so damn reluctant.

Perhaps it’s because you didn’t want Lucinda to find out - even though you know she will eventually.

Trying my hardest not to talk back to the Voice, I watched as Sirius slipped his arms into his coat.

“Are you kidding me?” Sirius began. “I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity even if I had tickets to the World Cup -,” at the doubtful look I sent him, he corrected himself, “well, maybe. But it was nice to be with another family, to say the very least. You’re very lucky to have such a loving aunt.”

“I know,” I replied, smiling at him. We looked at each other once again, but I snapped myself out of it before it turned into one of those terribly clichéd moments when my heart began to flutter wildly and I leaned in to kiss him. “Anyway, we actually have to go through the back door. Since we live in a Muggle neighbourhood, we can’t risk Apparating in the front yard,” I explained as I walked toward the kitchen.

He followed me into the kitchen and once again, we were faced with an awkward silence as we stood before the back door. I opened it up and stepped out onto the slab of concrete, hoping that he would follow me; he did. It was much chillier outside than I had thought it to be and I started to shiver through the material of my shirt.

Folding my arms against my chest to try to keep in the warmth, I opened my mouth to say my bit, my goodbye, but the words never came. A warm mouth closed over mine, stealing the words right from my lips, never to be heard.

. . .

I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing, too - SIRIUS BLACK IS KISSING ME!

But just as quickly as he placed his lips against mine, he pulled back and began to mutter furiously under his breath.

“Merlin, Eleanor, I’m sorry - I don’t know what I was - you know, I shouldn’t have - fuck, I’m such a horrible person - please I hope you didn’t - shite, what I have done-,”

I don’t know why I did it, but I did. I grabbed him by the collar of his coat and pressed my mouth against his roughly. Immediately, he stopped talking and began to kiss me back.

In one swift movement, he had me pinned between himself and the brick wall of the house. He had shoved me a little more roughly than necessary, but I ignored it. Pain was the last thing on my mind as I fell deeper into the kiss, even though the Voice in the back of my head was screaming at me to get a hold of myself.

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING, YOU STUPID GIRL!? HE’S GOT A GIRLFRIEND! MERLIN, YOU ARE SUCH A SLAG, BRIGGS!

His fingers threaded through my hair, holding my face closer to his. His lips were warm and wet against mine, and the feeling brewing in the pit of my stomach was nothing I had ever experienced before. It was all so foreign, this whole snogging business. Oddly enough, my fingers found his ear lobe, I rubbed it between my thumb, and index finger, eliciting a moan from him that made Sirius pressed his mouth against mine more tightly.

YOU ARE JUST ASKING FOR TROUBLE! STOP FUCKING SNOGGING HIM, ELEANOR! NOW!

I felt his tongue prodding the corner of my lips gently and without a second thought, I opened my mouth to him. I could feel every line of his body against my front and I loved it. My head spun with a sense of eternal happiness, a sense of pleasure that I had never felt before. Like his lips, his tongue was warm and when it brushed against mine, I shuddered. My knees were knocking together again and I felt almost too weak to support myself. Thank Merlin I was pressed against the door!

STOP SNOGGING HIM RIGHT NOW, ELEANOR! STOP WHILE YOU’RE AHEAD AND THINGS START TO HEAT UP!

His hands quickly left my hair and started to trail down my body. I could barely contain my squeak of surprise as one of his hands cupped my breast through the fabric of my shirt. My stomach gave a great flip of pleasure and I felt my toes curling happily within my shoes. Instead of pulling away like I should’ve, I melted into his touch, encouraging him to go on and I kissed him back as hard as I could, putting all the feelings I felt for him in that one kiss, into this one snog.

You’re going to regret this.

Just as his hands began to move down my sides, I gave a little giggle and muttered against his lips, “Sirius.”

This, my friends, was the absolute worst thing for me to do. As if struck by lightning, Sirius broke away from me. His hand immediately found his face, his fingertips pressed lightly against his lips, which were very swollen and very red. He turned his silver eyes to me and we stared at each other for a prolonged moment.

“Sirius, I-,”

He stumbled backward, his eyes as wide as saucers. Because he hadn’t been playing attention to what he was doing, he lost his footing on the short flight of stairs that led to the small patch of grass that we called a backyard. He fell to the ground and I hurried toward him to help, but he held out a hand.

“Don’t!” he shouted at me.

I stared at him, perplexed and at an utter loss for words. “Sirius-,”

He scrambled to his feet, pulling his wand out of his pocket as he did so. I opened my mouth to say something, but he turned on the spot and with a very sharp CRACK!, he Disapparated.



.

________________________________________

29
After the sleepless night I had, I could scarcely enjoy Christmas morning. Like usual, Aunt Eliza had been abnormally chipper, rushing about the house like a chicken with its head severed from its body. It was entertaining to watch, true enough, but it was not enough of a distraction.

Every time I let my thoughts stray, all I saw was that kiss. All I could feel was his warm, soft mouth moving roughly yet delicately against mine. All I could feel were his hands buried deep in my hair, travelling down the sides of my body. The feel of his open palm, his splayed fingers, against my breast; the electrical current that pulsated through my veins like a burning fire, a wild flame that could not be extinguished by any force known to man.

. . .

Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Right, what gives? I’m just trying to convey how much that stupid snog as addled my brain over the past few days.

Honestly, on Christmas morning, I kept zoning out throughout breakfast. So much so that I emptied half a bottle of ketchup on my eggs before I noticed what I was doing. I’m sure that if it weren’t for Aunt Eliza’s shriek of surprise, I would not have even noticed it. When I was pouring myself a fresh glass of pumpkin juice, I completely missed my glass and ended up getting it all over the table. And as you might have guessed, I didn’t notice that either.

Yep, that’s how badly The Snog was effecting me.

After the slightly awkward breakfast, Aunt Eliza suggested that we open our presents. With a nod of my head, I followed her into the living room, Rufus hot on my heels.

Ever since I could remember, my Christmases were short affairs, consisting for a few gifts from both my aunt and my dad (when he had been alive, obviously), and occasionally the florist down the lane. So, it’s suffice to say that when I saw the mountain of gifts beneath the tree this year, I was a little more than taken back. I couldn’t prevent my eyes from widening greedily at the pile as I plunked down eagerly on the couch.

Aunt Eliza separated the presents into three piles: hers, mine, and Rufus’s. Not surprisingly, Rufus had quite the stack this year - no doubt he received a good many of them from Aunt Eliza. I couldn’t blame her for giving him so much, he made a really good companion when you needed one.

“Oh Ella!” Aunt Eliza exclaimed, her hand flying to her mouth to stifle a gasp.

I looked up from the parcel in my lap, which was proving very difficult to open without the wrapping paper nipping at my fingers; I knew this gift was from Aunt Eliza. “What?” I asked, panicked. “What is it?”

She was holding up her hand where something was dangling from her fingers; it was the amulet I purchased for her in Diagon Alley.

“It’s supposed to be a protective amulet,” I explained as she motioned for me to fasten the necklace around her neck. “At least, that’s what the vendor said when I bought it from him, but I highly doubt it.” Unhooking the clasp, I draped the necklace around her neck, pulling the chain back around to reconnect the clasp. “Really, I only bought it because I thought it was pretty.”

“It’s beautiful, that’s what is it,” Aunt Eliza gushed, her cheeks flushing as she leaned over and wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. I, too, found my face colouring as she pulled back from the embrace and looked down at the charm hanging around her neck. “What sort of stone is this?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure, actually,” I replied. “The vendor didn’t tell me. I’m assuming that it’s a sapphire, but I could be wrong.”

“Regardless,” Aunt Eliza said. “It’s wonderful; I love it, Ella.” She giggled in her schoolgirl way and clapped her hands together excitedly. “All right, open yours!”

Turning my attention to the parcel in my lap, I started to unwrap it. The Flesh Eating Wrapping Paper slashed viciously at my fingers and I winced a few times, quickly pulling my hand back. After several attempts, I was able to rip the paper enough that it lay still, the enchantment being lifted.

“What could it be?” I mused out loud, making Aunt Eliza laugh. As I pulled the paper away from the box, I saw that there were tiny holes puncturing the sides of the box as well as the lid; I was more than curious to see what lay inside. I tore the top of the box away from the base and let out a gasp.

My eyes met Aunt Eliza’s over the box and I saw that she was smiling widely, her blue eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Do you like it?” she questioned coyly.

“I love it!” I exclaimed happily as I reached into the box and tenderly scooped up the small, grey tabby kitten in my hands. A tiny paw lightly scratched the side of my thumb and I released one of the most startling noises - a coo. I didn’t normally coo over things, but this little kitten, this tiny animal was, perhaps, the most adorable thing I had ever beheld.

“Martha’s cat had a litter and she was giving them away,” Aunt Eliza said as I lifted the kitten up to my face, gazing into its bright yellow eyes. “Since you’re not allowed to have puppies at Hogwarts, I figured that a kitten was the next best thing. Especially since you hate toads and for some reason that is beyond me, have an aversion to owls.”

“It’s because they have sharp beaks and might peck off my thumbs,” I answered simply, not tearing my eyes away from the kitten. “Is it a boy or a girl?” I asked.

“A boy,” Aunt Eliza replied as she picked up another one of her gifts and began to unwrap it; it was a book from Martha, that same lady whose cat had had kittens. “What’re you going to name him?”

I stared at the kitten, my heart leaping momentarily as it gave a small, happy sounding mew. I never liked naming animals because, well, it was a hard thing to do. It was sort of like naming a child, but not as big - well, not to most people anyway. But the way I see it is that the animal - or child - is forced to live with your decision for their entire life - unless, of course, they do the sensible thing and change their name. Basically what I’m trying to say is that I don’t want to give him a stupid name, only to have him hate me for the rest of his nine lives.

I was still considering an appropriate name for my new kitten when an owl appeared in the front window, a letter attached to its leg. Curiosity sparking within me, I rose from my position on the couch, the kitten mewing quietly in my hands as it toyed with my thumb, and went to open the window. The owl looked very regal indeed and my stomach flopped. I tried not to get my hopes up that it was an owl from. . .well, I don’t think I need to elaborate on who it might be from, as I had been thinking about him and his bloody perfect lips all morning.

The owl stared at me hungrily. At least, I thought it was staring at me hungrily. In truth, the owl was gazing longingly at my brand new kitten, whom was small enough to be an appetizer for the lunch I knew that bloody owl was planning.

I glared at the owl. “He’s my kitten,” I said defensively, shielding the kitten in my arms. “Not yours,” I added pointlessly as I took the letter from the owl’s leg and opened the window further to allow him entrance. He swooped into the house and flapped his great wings once, landing on the perch in the kitchen beside Leonidias; the pair put their heads together as though they were planning a mutiny against me to get to my beloved-

“Cappa!” I cried suddenly, exuberant.

“I beg your pardon?” Aunt Eliza squeaked, her eyes round with surprise.

“That’s his name,” I said in an explanatory voice as I sat back down on the couch, my newly named kitten still in my arms and the letter in my hand. “Only his name will be with a ‘C’ instead of a ‘K’.”

My aunt stared at me for a few moments. “I like it,” she said, bobbing her head. “It fits him.” She smiled at me before gesturing to the letter in my hand. “Whose it from?”

I shrugged my shoulders somewhat helplessly.

“I’ve no idea,” I answered slowly, even though I did have hopes as to whom it could be from. I set Cappa down in my lap and he walked around cautiously, taking carefully measured steps before taking a great leap off my lap. He hurried over to where Rufus lay sleeping on the couch and began to swipe at the dog’s ears.

Deciding that I would open the rest of my gifts before I opened the letter, I set it aside and pulled the rest of my presents onto the couch beside me.

It was all over rather quickly. From Alice, I received an enchanted hairbrush that got rid of tangles with little to no pain at all. James gifted me with a book entitled Quidditch Through the Ages with a note attached, saying that it would help me better get into the sport. Having seen the book in my lap, Aunt Eliza shrieked and briefly fawned over James, saying that I should try to snatch him up for myself. I ignored her as per usual when she made silly remarks like that and continued opening my stack of presents. Peter gave me three Sugar Quills and a package of Chocolate Frogs, which I’ll have to admit, was a wonderful present. From Lily, I received a beautiful, leather bound book and when I opened the pages, I saw that they were all empty. Inside, a note was scribbled in her scrawl and I found my eyes watering as I read the text.


I hope you enjoy this scrapbook to catalogue your most cherished memories in. Our friendship may be new, but the memories we’ve shared at already record-worthy! Thanks so much for being such a wonderful friend. Have a Happy Christmas and don’t you dare forget to owl me back -

Love,

Lily.
Wiping my eyes, I set the book aside and glanced at the letter beside me; it was more than likely, I realized, that the letter was from Lily confirming our plans for New Years Eve. I should’ve been much more excited than I was, but I had been so hopeful. . .

I picked up the last two presents and opened the one in my right hand. It was from Remus. A huge amount of pressure settled on my chest and my stomach sank. A peculiar yet familiar feeling began to spread through my body. I realized what it was at once.

Unwillingly, images of Sirius’s lips against mine, his hands in my hair, on my body, flashed quickly through my head. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, I attempted to staunch the guilt that was flowing into every particle of my being. Nothing was working. Faster and faster, the images flickered in my mind, occasionally accompanied by a gush of heat and a flip of my stomach.

It was guilt for what I had done the night before - the unforgivable thing that I had done to Remus. I was the one who had responded to the kiss. I encouraged Sirius to continue to snog me. It was all my fault; the blame rested in my hands, the hands of a sinner.

It’s not like you’re dating Remus, the Voice reminded me. You just went on a date with him. And snog him more times than necessary. Besides, I think we both know which of the two you fancy more.

The Voice’s presence in my mind was not the least bit comforting. If anything, it made me feel much worse than I had only moments ago. The heavy lead bullet that was guilt sank deep into the pit of my stomach, churning around in the acids within.

So, I might not have been going with Remus, but that still doesn’t mean that what I did - what we did was justified by any means. Sirius had a girlfriend, for Merlin’s sake! Conveniently enough, she also had it out for me, just waiting for me to slip up. And this was a pretty big slip up, if you ask me. This was the sort of act that tore apart friendship - not that it matters in the case of Sirius and I, as I was more than sure that our friendship was shot to hell the moment his lips brushed against mine. . .

Another wave of unwanted images washed over me and I brutally shoved them aside. No, I wouldn’t let them get to me. I couldn’t, not now and not ever. There was a small possibility that I would be able to put this all behind me, but I knew what I had to do first. I didn’t like it in the slightest, but I knew it was the only way that I would be able to get rid of this immense weight, this pressure that was constricting my heart.

“Eleanor?” Aunt Eliza asked, her voice faint as I pulled myself back together. “Are you alright?”

Swiping at my eyes, I turned to face her and nodded my head briefly. “Yeah, I’m fine. Lily’s note just got to me,” I answered smoothly, and it was true - her note had gotten to me.

Once Aunt Eliza took the photo book from my hands, my gaze was redirected to the parcel in my lap. With hesitancy I didn’t normally display toward the prospect of opening a gift, I unwrapped the small, but oddly heavy package. An affectionate sigh escaped my lips once I saw what was inside the box. A book as thick as a dictionary was nestled in red and green tinsel paper, the book itself full of crossword puzzles, brain teasers, and everything else in between that could keep someone like me busy for hours on end. Beside the book, there was also a set of three beautiful Eagle Quills along with an inkwell full of ink that changed colours according to the writer’s mood.

Out of all my gifts, this, by far, was the best. It was just so. . .personal, that I couldn’t handle it. My hand flew to my mouth, just barely stifling the sob that escaped me. Painful tears stung the backs of my eyes and I didn’t bother wiping them away. Instead, I rose from my position on the couch and hurried out of the living room. I raced up the stairs and into my room, slamming my bedroom door shut behind me just as another great sob tore through me.

X - - X

“D’you have everything?” Aunt Eliza questioned from the doorway.

Her voice startled me and I jumped in surprise, my hand leaping nervously to my throat where a heavy amethyst pendant hung from an extraordinarily crafted silver chain - a gift and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who had given it to me.

“Sorry,” she added, smiling sympathetically. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“It’s alright,” I said, chewing on my lip as I surveyed my bedroom. My hands found my hips and I nodded my head to myself. “Yeah, I think I have everything.”

“Good,” Aunt Eliza said, her smile still intact. “Mr. Evans said that he’ll be here around three o’clock this afternoon. It’s nearly that time, so I suggest we go downstairs.”

With a wave of her wand, my trunk followed her out the door and down the hall. I struggled to keep up with her, Cappa wedged under my arm. “You talked to Mr. Evans?” I asked as we walked down the stairs.

“Of course I did,” gasped Aunt Eliza dramatically. “You honestly didn’t think I would let you spend the rest of your holiday there without talking to either of her parents, did you?”

When I didn’t say anything in response, she reached back and slapped me lightly, playfully, on my arm. “I’m not that irresponsible!” she half-shrieked. “For all I know, you could be having scandalous parties while her parents are away!”

I rolled my eyes, trying very hard not to think about the party that I was forced to attend. There were times such as now when I really hated having friends. I clobbered down the rest of the stairs, though I really couldn’t explain the suddenly foul mood I was in. Praying that the sight of Lily would cheer me up, I plopped down on the couch in the living room and began to play with the adorable little kitten named Cappa, who was delighted to have my full and undivided attention.

Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang. I leapt out of my seat faster than a curse off the lips of James Potter. Cappa mewed, apparently annoyed that I tossed him aside unceremoniously in order to get to the door before Aunt Eliza could embarrass me. Quickly running a hand over the top of my head to make sure that I didn’t look ridiculous, I pulled the door open.

Two things happened at once. There was a loud, ear piercing shriek of delight and I was being crushed to death in the arms of my best friend.

“Can’t. . .breathe,” I wheezed into Lily’s ear as she continued to squeeze my eternal organs to the point of near combustion.

Finally, she released me, gripping tightly onto my elbows. She let out another happy shriek and jumped up and down on spot. “It’s so good to see you!”

I couldn’t stop the smiling from consuming my face. An intense feeling of relief washed over me as I stared into Lily’s gorgeous emerald eyes. “I know!” I found myself crying happily, throwing my arms around her once more.

Behind me, someone cleared their throat a bit more dramatically than necessary and I found that I was rolling my eyes playfully. “Lily, this is my aunt, Eliza. Aunt Eliza, this is my best mate, Lily Evans,” I introduced them to one another, making the appropriate hand gestures show that they could clearly establish who was who.

Instead of shaking her hand like I thought she would, Aunt Eliza pulled Lily into one of her infamous bone crushing, coma inducing embraces. She pulled away quickly, though, her face flushed.

“It’s so good to finally meet you,” Aunt Eliza gushed. “I’ve always wanted to meet my niece’s best friend.”

Lily grinned from ear to ear. “The pleasure’s all mine - er - Eliza.”

Aunt Eliza nodded in approval. “Won’t you come in?” she asked with a sweep of her arm.

“Oh,” Lily said, gnawing her lip as a look of apprehension spread across her face. “I’d really love to, but we can’t stay very long.” She looked genuinely upset at the prospect of having to leave. “We’ve got to pick my sister up from her boyfriend’s house.” There was a barely concealed bitterness in her voice, but if she was feeling particularly bitter, her face showed no sign of it whatsoever.

“Don’t be sorry,” said Aunt Eliza, a false smile on her face. It looked convincing enough to anyone else, but I knew what her real smile looked like and that certainly was not it. Turning toward me with her arms held open, I gave her a hug.

“Take care,” I muttered softly to her. She squeezed me tightly before releasing me.

“I’ll see you in June,” she replied, tears gathering in her blue eyes. At her heels, Rufus barked loudly and I obliged to bending down to his level to give him a sloppy hug and to drop a kiss on the top of his head. Once I was back at human level, Aunt Eliza added, “Keep safe.”

“I promise I will,” I said.

“Don’t worry,” Lily quipped from beside me. “I’ll make sure she’s all right.”

Aunt Eliza offered the vibrant redhead a watery smile before she handed over Cappa the Kitten. It really made quite the name, didn’t it?

“Just. . .,” Aunt Eliza trailed off, wiping at her eyes. “I love you.”

I smiled faintly at her. “I love you, too.” I gave her a quick hug, unable to stop the salty water from gathering in my eyes.

Wedging Cappa under one arm and grabbing the handle to my trunk with my other hand, I hurried out of the house; Lily had a hold of the other handle. From the doorway, Aunt Eliza stood with Rufus ready to wave us off. Lily and I heaved my trunk into the back of the car before climbing into the car ourselves.

I felt a tear trail down my cheek as we pulled away from the house, the sight of a crying Aunt Eliza waving farewell imprinted in my head.

X - - X

I quickly found out that Lily was every bit like her father and absolutely nothing like her mother. Even though Angela Evans was a very polite, very kind woman, Lily not only looked like her father when it came to physical appearance, but she acted like him, too. It was odd, watching the pair of them go back and forth with their witty remarks and jokes. It felt as though I were watching from the far end of a prism, observing things at an arm’s length instead of up close. I felt like an intruder upon their lives.

However, Lily’s good humour quickly diminished once Petunia, her older sister, piled into the car. I’d never asked Lily about Petunia, but from what I gathered from Alice, she wasn’t a very nice person or a very pretty one at that. Normally, I wasn’t very critical of the appearances of others, but I could not stop myself from mentally agreeing with Alice - Petunia really did resemble a horse.

I’m assuming that Petunia didn’t know that they were picking me up from my aunt’s house because she sent me one look before shrieking, “She’s one of them, isn’t she?” She whipped her head to Lily and added, “She’s a freak like you, isn’t she?”

I felt my cheeks flush and beside me, Lily stiffened considerably. I knew she was ready to open fire upon her sister, something I wished she wouldn’t do, but Mr. Evans spoke before anything could happen.

“Petunia!” he exclaimed, a note of warning in his voice. “You do not talk to Lily’s friends - or anyone - that way. It was rude and uncalled for. Now, apologize to Eleanor.”

Petunia leaned over Lily, who was sitting between us, and glared into my face. “Sorry,” she ground out viciously. Folding her arms over her chest, she sat back in her seat and turned her hard gaze to the rear view mirror. “Happy now?”

Those were the last words anyone dared to utter for the rest of the car ride, which, thankfully, wasn’t very long at all. I couldn’t help releasing a sigh of relief once the car started to slow.

When we pulled up to the Evans’ house, I had to bite back a laugh. It was as picturesque as any house could be. It was a modest two story made of bricks with black shutters and a white door. A white picket fence surrounded the front lawn, which featured a small rose garden off to the side. It looked like the type of house where many good memories had been made. I smiled as I stepped out of the car, Cappa cradled in my arms.

Mr. Evans walked around to the back of the car and opened the trunk where my belongings were stowed away. A look of consideration flashed across his face.

“Do you need any help with that, Mr. Evans?” I asked, my fingers absentmindedly stroking the top of Cappa’s fluffy head.

He laughed. “Heavens no. The day I start asking a guest for help is the day the world goes up in smoke,” he chuckled, shaking his head. “No, you go on inside with Lily, Eleanor. Make yourself at home. I think Angie’s going to make some cold cuts for lunch.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive,” he said as he reached into the trunk and grabbed the handle of my trunk. “Run along now.”

I offered a soft smile before hurrying after Lily, who was already on the porch, waiting for her sister to unlock the front door. When I came up behind her, she grinned at me. As soon as the door was unlocked, Petunia flew into the house, thundering up the stairs to her bedroom.

“Sorry about her,” Lily said as she walked deep into the house.

“It’s no big deal, Lils,” I replied, glancing at the pictures hanging on the walls.

The hallway walls were covered with family photographs. They looked like such a happy family. I was surprised to see more than one photograph where Lily and Petunia had their arms thrown around one another, huge smiles on their faces, the laughter evident in their eyes.

Lily caught my lingering gaze at the pictures and snorted. “Weird, isn’t it?”

“What’s weird?”

“These pictures,” she said, placing her hands on her hips in a casual fashion as we looked at the framed, unmoving photographs. “We used to be best friends, you know.” She sighed softly. “I just wish that things could go back to the way they used to be. Before Petunia stopped thinking of me as her sister and started thinking of me as a freak.”

I wasn’t sure what I could say to that, if there was anything at all for me to say. I was at a loss for words, but for some reason, I felt guilty that I wasn’t saying anything. I turned toward Lily, my mouth opened and some lame response on my lips. Thankfully, her mother called out from the kitchen that lunch was ready before the words could leave my mouth.

Relieved, I followed Lily into the kitchen and we sat down at the kitchen table, ham and cheese sandwiches set out on plates with condiments at our disposal.

X - - X

My first night at the Evans’ house was a sleepless one. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see The Snog. I couldn’t get it out of my head, no matter how hard I tried. It didn’t help that I knew what would be happening in several days‘ time. We would be going to James’s house for his New Years Eve party, which not only made me feel nauseous, but scared the shit out of me. I wasn’t prepared to deal with that sort of stress.

Not many people had the stomach to face someone who Disapparated after you snogged. I, for one, certainly didn’t possess that sort of gall. The thought of having to see his face made my stomach turn uncomfortably, making me physically sick. I wasn’t going to be able to do it. I might as well tell Lily that I wasn’t going to the party. I already knew what her response would be. That I was letting everyone down, that I had promised James I would attend. I was already aware of that, but this was my sanity on the line here. Sure, I questioned my sanity nearly every day, but I knew that if I went to the party, I would definitely lose it.

With a sigh, I turned over and punched the pillow beneath my head. I knew it was a fruitless attempt to try and go back to sleep, but what other option did I have?

- -

All right, so this is the chapter! I know nothing exciting happened, but that's because I thought it best to cut it off here. It was already eight pages long and if I tried to include the party, well, it would be much too long to read. So, that being said, the next chapter shall include the party and all the dramatic joy that comes with it. I hope you all liked this chapter and I'm sorry it took so long for me to update - I was just busy with my schoolwork and such. Hopefully, the next chapter won't take as long to write.

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30
Over the next couple of days, the infamous Snog began to slowly recede into the back of my mind, only coming back to haunt me when I lay down at night and attempted to get a few hours sleep. The explanation behind this unnatural phenomenon lay in the hands of Lily’s extraordinary family. This excluded Petunia, the self proclaimed Witch Hunter of the Evans’ household. At least, that’s what I imagined Petunia would call herself if she was one of those people who thought it necessary to give themselves a nickname.

Anyway, moving on.

Being with the Evans’ family (minus Petunia, who spent an alarming amount of time with a boy who went by the name of Vernon Dursley and, according to Lily, was roughly the size of a walrus) was a breath of fresh air. It was nice to see a fully functioning family that seemed to love each other more than life itself. The way that Mr. Evans looked at his youngest daughter, the light that caught in his sparkling green eyes, made me feel a twinge of jealous toward the brilliant and beautiful redhead. Of course, I was happy that she was so loved by her parents. But it made me realize that perhaps my life wasn’t as fulfilled as I pretended it to be, that maybe everything wasn’t all right and I missed my father more than I let on.

When I submersed myself into those memories, I was always quickly pulled to safety by either Lily or her wonderful parents. Her mother, who insisted several times that I should call her Angie as she felt “ancient” being addressed by the same name as her dreaded mother-in-law, started to address me by pet names such as “sweetheart” and “honey”. Whether it was out of habit or intentionally, I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Normally, I didn’t fancy pet names all that much, but when the words left Mrs. Evans - oops, I meant to say Angie’s - lips, the muscles around my mouth immediately lifted into a happy grin.

In the mornings, Lily and I would head downstairs only to be greeted with a delicious breakfast. Now I’m a huge fan of my aunt’s cooking and I’d always thought she was the greatest cook known, but as soon as I tasted one of Angela’s omelettes, I knew that I had been sadly mistaken. I would never tell Aunt Eliza that I favoured Angela’s cooking over hers; it was a secret I would take to the grave. I would sit down across the table from Lily with Mr. Evans at my left elbow, reading his paper through his bifocals. He wouldn’t look up from his newspaper, but he would make an occasional comment that left a stitch in my side from laughter. If he said something particularly crude, Angela would hit him on the back of the head with an oven mitt, which only made me dissolve into another fit of high pitched, fairly annoying giggles.

Once breakfast was eaten and we were cleaned up, we usually left the house to do something more exciting. On the first day, we went to the park. Lily and I played with Cappa in the snow, cooing at the adorable kitten as he attempted to climb over the mountainous piles of snow while Mr. Evans and Angela went for a turn about the paved way. The second day of my stay, we made a trip to the London Zoo. It was a place I had never been before, much to the surprise of the entire Evans’ clan. I told them how I would always refuse my father’s offers to take me as I didn’t want to see all the sad animals in the glass cages. Her parents had laughed, but Lily said that I did make a good point for a small child. That day was one of the most enjoyable that I could recall in a long time. On the third day, we went to the cinema. We watched a movie that Angela and I ended up leaving early due to the fact it failed to capture our interest. Instead, we hurried across the street to a small café where we drank hot chocolate. Angela told me countless stories of how she and Mr. Evans met and fell in love, which were no where close to cliché. I don’t think I’d ever laughed so hard with another adult, including Aunt Eliza.

We went on many other day trips that were fun packed and laughter filled. I almost felt like I was a part of the Evans family, even though I was well aware that I wasn’t. Somewhere deep inside, I found myself wishing that I was. My mind quickly banished the thought. If I was an Evans, then I wouldn’t have Aunt Eliza. And a life without Aunt Eliza wasn’t much of a life, if you asked me.

The days slowly melted into one another. I was happy for the distraction. I would be happy for any sort of distraction to keep me from thinking about The Snog. Of course, it didn’t always elude me like I hoped it would. No, at night when my mind was slack and I was more than ready to go to bed, I would imagine his slick lips against mine, his hot breath intermingled with mine, his glorious hands on me. I hated it. I wanted the stupid dreams to go away, but no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I jolted myself awake, they always came creeping back to burst my dream cloud.

Bugger.

X - - X



It was the sixth day of my stay at the Evans’ house. Like every other day I had been here, I rolled out of bed and shuffled out of the guest room into Lily’s room. She was still sleeping, like always, but like she requested of me the first morning here, I was to wake her up when I woke up. I poked her in the side and she grunted.

“Go away.”

“You told me to wake you up when I woke up,” I said as I fought back a yawn. Unfortunately, I lost the battle and ended up being consumed by one of the biggest yawns in the history of yawns.

“Is breakfast ready yet?”

I shrugged my shoulders, even though I knew she couldn’t see me; her quilt was pulled over her head. “I dunno. Doesn’t your mum usually make breakfast every morning?”

Lily tossed the blanket aside and fumbled around on her mattress, struggling to push herself to her elbows. She blinked blearily at me. “What time is it?”

I glanced over at the alarm clock on her bedside table. The digital numbers were green and glowed iridescently. “Nearly nine. Why, does it matter?”

“It would if it was too early,” she mumbled under her breath as she untangled herself from her quilt and stumbled around on the floor. She placed a hand on her head as though she were trying to get the world to stop spinning. I followed her with concerned eyes as she crossed the room and took her dressing gown off the hook beside the closet door. Once she donned the robe, she gestured to the door and I conceded to her silent command, marching down the stairs.

I wasn’t all that surprised to see Angela standing at the stove, her back toward us as she prepared our breakfast or to find Mr. Evans already in his seat at the table, the paper unfolded in front of him. At the sight of his newspaper, I suddenly realized it had been nearly a week since I had so much as picked up a copy of the Daily Prophet and completed a crossword puzzle. This thought bothered me more than it should’ve, but I pushed it aside as I took my customary seat at the table.

“Good morning, girls,” Angela said in a sing-song voice as she set a plate in front of me.

And there it was, the best damn green onion and cheese omelette that I had ever tasted, looking absolutely delicious on the white plate. I smiled up at her. “Good morning,” I replied in the same voice Lily’s mum had greeted us with.

Lily sent me a surprised look, her emerald eyes wide. However, she said nothing when her mother placed a plate of fried bacon and eggs in front of her. Instead, she grabbed her fork and knife eagerly and cut into her breakfast, all but shovelling it into her mouth.

From his place beside me, Mr. Evans laughed. “Where’s the fire, Lils?”

She looked up from her plate and realization dashed across her face. “Um,” she responded, her slim shoulders moving upward into a funky, somewhat deformed shrug. “I guess I’m just really hungry?”

I resisted the urge to laugh at her. With a small smirk on my face, I started to eat my own breakfast and nearly moaned out loud when the first morsel touched the taste buds on my tongue. Mmmm, it was just so yummy!

Once she finished preparing her own breakfast, Angela took her seat at head of the table, opposite her husband. She took a sip of coffee before taking a bite of her eggs. We fell into a comfortable silence as we ate. And you wonder why I want to be a part of their family when I have Aunt Eliza at home? I may lapse into comfortable silences with Aunt Eliza, true enough, but almost always, she would start rambling. . ..

With a pang, I realized that I missed her rambling more than I thought I did. My heart thumped in my chest albeit painfully. It was a little bit harder to eat my breakfast than it had been in days.

Halfway through our meal, the post arrived via owl. Every morning since I had been here, there was an affectionate letter in the mail from James. Sometimes, during the evenings when I attempted to play a game of chess with Mr. Evans, Lily would sit in a cosy armchair and reread her letter, a soft expression on her pale, freckled face. At first, it was cute, but after the third letter, I realized that James might’ve been more in love with her than I originally thought.

Things seemed to be turning out that way, didn’t they? They were always much bigger, much more meaningful than I believed them to be. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or not.

Lily hurried over to the window and wretched it open, allowing the two owls entrance. I cringed, my back pressed firmly against my chair as - wait a tick. There were two owls? That was more than a little odd. I was more than just a tiny bit curious now. Maybe it was an owl from Alice to Lily. But it didn’t fit. Alice had a barn owl and neither of the two majestic owls that came swooping in belonged to her. I recognized one of the owls, the beautiful snowy owl, as James’s, but the eagle owl. . .now I wasn’t so sure about that one. However, it did seem a little bit familiar.

But that’s not all I was surprised about. Oh no, not in the slightest. Not only were there two owls but the eagle owl had a huge parcel grasped within its beak. Its surprisingly sharp, pointed break. I felt the heat rush to my cheeks. Not out of embarrassment, but out of fear. Oh Merlin. . .

Lily took her letter from James’s owl and tore it open. I watched the eagle owl, my eyes growing as wide as saucers when it gave a great flap of its wings and landed in the middle of the table, its eyes focused on my. A shriek of fright escaped me and I tried to leap out of my seat. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much room between the wall and my chair, so I only succeeded in hitting my head against the wall behind me. It hurt. Badly.

A brief silence fell over the room. Mr. Evans and Angela were staring at me, identical expressions of confusion on their faces. The silence was quickly shattered by Lily’s loud laughter. I looked over at her to see that she was doubled over, her hand clutched to her stomach. Oh, so apparently, it was amusing to her. I had to admit, if I was watching it instead of experiencing it, I would probably be on the floor, laughing while I kicked my legs. But she was my best mate, she wasn’t supposed to start laughing at my fear.

I glared at her and righted myself, a hand flying to the back of my head. A huge lump had already begun to form and I knew that I was in for a monster of a headache. How very lucky of me. The owl started to trod across my plate until it was on the edge of the table, its beak thrust out at me. I could hardly retain my shudder as I subconsciously pressed myself against the wall, biting back what would’ve been another shriek of terror had I not seen the name scribbled across the parcel.

All right, so this owl didn’t want to attack me. It didn’t want to eat my thumbs as a tasty snack only to come back for my index fingers and pinkies. It was carrying a package for me. The scrawl looked vaguely familiar, but even if I wanted to there was no way I would be able to place it. I had difficulty remembering which socks I had on, much less whose writing looked like what. The slightly slanted letters threw me for a curve, but I reluctantly took the package from the owl. It seemed satisfied and turned on its tail (no pun intended, I swear) before spreading its great wings and flapping out the window.

The parcel was heavy in my hands. “And unnaturally lumpy.”

“What’d you say?” Lily asked, a grin on her face.

I looked at her, my brow furrowed. I wasn’t aware that I had spoken, but similar situations happened to me on a regular basis, so I was relatively used to it. “Oh, the package. It’s sort of lumpy.”

Without another word, Lily rushed over to my side, James’s letter forgotten, and took the package from my hand. I didn’t mind. In fact, I was glad that she had taken it. Something within my stomach told me that I already knew who it was from. My hand flew to my throat where the heavy amethyst pendant hung on the silver chain. When I touched the metal, a heated spark wound up my arm and an odd calm rushed over me; every time I touched any part of the necklace, it had the same effect.

Lily turned the package over in her hands a few times. A look of deep concentration passed over her face as she squinted at the words scrawled across the front.

“Well,” she said after a while; Mr. Evans and his wife had gone back to their plates of yummy eggs and bacon. “It’s obviously for you.”

“Believe it or not,” I began. “I actually managed that one on my own.”

She smirked at me and handed the parcel back to me. “Open it,” she instructed as she folded her arms over her chest.

My eyes widened. My mouth went dry. My hands started to shake. . .

All right, so maybe none of that happened. Actually, I hurriedly tore the plain brown paper away from the bulky object in my hands. It was better to get it over with than let my mind travel into the world of speculation. We all knew how much trouble I would be in if I let my thoughts stray and ideas take a hold on me.

What I wasn’t prepared for was what the package contained. Or rather, what the parcel was.

A low gasp of surprise escaped me as the deep purple fabric pooled in my hand, softer than silk and lighter than air. I was briefly reminded of James’s Invisibility Cloak and the singular time I had been underneath it with Sirius. A tremor of - well, something - rippled through me as I stared down at the object in my hands.

“What is it?” Angela asked. I jumped at how close her voice was. I jumped again when I turned my head and saw that she was standing at my shoulder. Mr. Evans was on my other side. And here I thought that Lily was a nosy person. No wonder where she gets it from, I thought with a mental eye roll.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I dunno.”

“Looks like a dress,” Mr. Evans said.

“Yeah,” Lily agreed, nodding her head eagerly. “It does.”

“Well,” Angela exclaimed, clapping her hands in an excited way that reminded me so much of my beloved Aunt Eliza. I wonder how she was holding up. “Unfold it and let us have a look!”

Swallowing nervously, I quietly reminded myself that I might as well get it over with and not drag out the torturous process of wondering what the hell it was. It certainly looked like a dress and a very formal one at that, but for all I knew, it was a flying carpet. In fact, I hoped that it was a flying carpet. I glanced at Lily out of the corner of my eye and she smiled at me encouragingly like any best mate would. She was forgiven for laughing at me earlier, I decided.

I held my breath as I held up the fabric. It fell swiftly, the edges skirting the white tiles of the kitchen floor. I gasped. Somewhat dramatically.

It was, perhaps, one of the most beautiful dresses I had ever seen in my life. Of course, I didn’t wear dresses all that often, much less owned one that still fit me. But still, it was exquisite. The dress as you might’ve guessed, was floor length. I was stunned at how something so simplistic could be so gorgeous! It was one of those form fitting dresses with a built in bodice. A lump immediately formed in my throat as I thought of what would happen when I put it on. Would it fit? I hoped it would, it was much too pretty to go to waste. I could tell by the sleeves - or lack thereof - that it was one of those off-the-shoulders numbers, something that would look incredible on someone like Lily, but on me? I would probably look like a retarded - well, I dunno, but I wouldn’t look good, of that much I was sure.

“Wow,” breathed Lily and her mother in unison. “It’s beautiful!”

When I blinked, I was surprised to feel a tear trickle down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away, hoping that no one saw, but when I felt the pressure of Mr. Evans’s hand on my shoulder, I knew that he’d seen it.

“I know,” I muttered softly, my finger finding and stroking the small, pearly clasp on the left shoulder bunch of fabric. Furrowing my brow, I asked, “What d’you think it’s for?”

“What? The brooch?”

In my mind, I wondered - oh, is that what its called? I shook my head to myself and bit in the inside of my cheek. “No, I meant the dress.” I sighed. “I can’t imagine why someone would send it to me.”

Beside me, Lily let out an almighty cackle of disbelief. At least, I hoped it was disbelief. If she was cackling like that just for the sake of cackling, then I really was afraid that she’d fallen off her rocker.

I sent her an incredulous look and she laughed. “Isn’t it obvious?” she exclaimed once the look on my face shifted from incredulity to questioning.

Now, it was probably arranged in a confused fashion. “Um,” I stalled, biting down harder on the inside of my mouth. “Not really?”

She gave a short laugh again, her piercing eyes searching my face for any sign of joking. There wasn’t any and she seemed to finally discover it. Her mouth snapped shut with a tiny click and her cheeks flushed a deep crimson.

“Oh,” she murmured. Lily cleared her throat and began to explain. “Don’t you see? It’s obviously for James’s New Years Eve party tomorrow night.”

My brow puckered with confusion. “What d’you mean? I thought. . . .”

“James didn’t tell you, did he?” When I shook my head, she muttered darkly under her breath that she would kill her boyfriend of a little less than one month for not telling me. She rolled her eyes and sighed, licking her lips. “Well, this party. . .it’s sort of an annual ordeal at the Potters’ house and it’s a really big deal to his parents. There’s all sorts of families there from the Ministry and family friends of the Potters’, but. . .a lot of them are pureblood, you see, and it’s only because the Potters’ want to be nice and respectable to them all. And well,” she rubbed the back of her neck nervously, “you see, Ellie, it’s a formal event. You know, black tie and evening gowns sort of thing? So, I’m thinking that whomever sent this to you meant for you to. . .wear it. . .tomorrow night.”

“A f-f-ormal. . . ?” I trailed off, my voice helpless. The colour quickly let my face. I felt dizzy on my feet. I must’ve swayed to the side because I felt Mr. Evans grab my elbow suddenly as though he was trying to steady me.

“Are you going to be all right, Eleanor?” Mr. Evans asked, his tone coloured with concern.

I nodded my head and pushed the dress into Lily’s hands. “I’m just - I need a - yeah.” I walked out of the kitchen, closing the door behind me, and hurried upstairs to the guest room where I had been staying. Merlin, this wasn’t good at all!

X - - X



It had come. The New Years Eve party. I had woken up with an upset stomach and now, with three hours until the official party started, it was still acting up. Flipping and flopping like I was on one of those rollercoaster things that Aunt Eliza always tried to get me to ride. I stared at the mirror in the bathroom, my wet hair hanging limp around my shoulders. I could do this. I had to. I didn’t have any other option. I had to face my fears, whether I wanted to or not.

I took a deep breath, hoping to ease the knot that had started to harden in the pit of my stomach. It didn’t work, much like I expected it to, and I expelled the breath. I might as well just face the music while I was still conscious.

With a resolute sigh, I gathered up my dirty clothes and left the safe confinements of the bathroom. As soon as I stepped out into the hall, I bumped into Petunia. She leapt back a good ten metres as if I had stung her or something. I stared at her, wide eyed and confused, as she made small yipping noises that reminded me of an irritated ostrich.

“Um,” I said, biting my lip. “Are you all right?”

Her face turned a startling shade of plum. “DON’T!” she bellowed in voice so big, it was impossible for it to have come from her. “Don’t you dare talk to me, you - you-.”

“Freak?” I supplied innocently, smiling slightly.

“URGH!” She threw her arms up into the air in a hysterical motion and stomped down the rest of the hall.

I stared after her, momentarily stunned into silence before my blood began to thunder loudly in my ears. Oh right, I had to go prepare for my eminent demise. I rolled my eyes to myself and heaving another heavy sigh, made my way toward Lily’s bedroom, the very place where I was supposed to go so she could help me get ready for the party.

Seconds after I’d rapped my knuckles against the white wood of her door, it sprung open. Lily had her hair up in curlers and was halfway through putting on her make up by the looks of it. She smiled widely and opened the door for me to come into her room. I slipped into the room and I was a little surprised to see Cappa was already on her bed, swatting his small grey paws at one of her stuffed animals, a moose named Pippin. Apparently, the moose was named after one of Lily’s favourite characters from a famous Muggle book series called “The Lord of the Rings”. Having never read the books myself, I thought it was a rather odd name to bestow upon your stuffed animal.

“Was that Tuney I heard shrieking out there?” Lily questioned, her tone amused, as she nudged the door shut with her toe. It clicked into place.

I laughed and nodded. “Yeah, that was her. I accidentally bumped into her when I was coming out of the toilet and she completely flipped out on me.”

The smile faltered on Lily’s face, but she quickly turned away from me and to the mirror. “What’d she say to you?”

I shrugged my shoulders and made myself more comfortable on the bed. “Oh, you know, the usual. She attempted to call me a freak, but I guess she was just so repulsed that I had actually touched her that she just couldn’t get the words out.” I sighed wistfully.

Lily laughed and turned to face me again, a mascara brush in her hand. “Really? Did she turned that really odd shade of purple?”

I bobbed my head. “Yes!” I exclaimed, a chuckle building up in my throat. “She did.” The stone in my stomach was starting to lessen, to become softer and more bearable. Maybe laughter was the best medicine after all.

The redhead shook her head softly. “It’s a shame. I wish you could’ve met Tuney before she turned all. . .well, you know how she is. She was really a wonderful girl.”

“I’m sorry, Lils, but I have a hard time believing that,” I commented, my voice low.

“I know. Alice does, too. But she wasn’t always this bad,” Lily sighed weakly. “She’s only gotten worse with age.” She was quiet for a long time and eventually, turned back to the mirror to finish putting on her makeup.

I watched her, equally quiet and lost in thought. Cappa climbed onto my stomach and curled up into a little ball, mewing in contentment when I stroked the top of his tiny head. He pressed his skull into my palm, eager for more affection. Originally, I’d thought that bringing Cappa here would’ve been a big mistake on my part as I wouldn’t be able to give him the proper amount of attention. Naturally, I was wrong; Lily and her mother showered him with more than enough attention, and yet here he was, acting like he was attention starved. Nevertheless, I continued to pet his head and he mewed happily, the only sound aside from the occasional shuffle of make up products on Lily’s dresser that filled the room.

Nearly twenty minutes later, Lily turned to face me once again. “All done,” she announced. My eyes were immediately drawn to her face and I gasped. She looked lovely. I told her so and her cheeks were stained red. “Oh, I don’t look that good!”

“I think you do,” I remarked as I sat up. I didn’t even realize that I’d laid down.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation before her face broke into a wide grin. “Your turn!”

“What?” I squealed, so loudly I woke Cappa up. He stumbled about like a confused drunk for a few moments before collapsing on the bed in a small heap.

“You honestly didn’t think you were going to the party without any make up, did you?”

“Maybe?” I winced.

“Eleanor!” she exclaimed, her voice full of amused outrage. “You can be so silly sometimes. Come over here and sit down. I promise I won’t do anything to your face that I wouldn’t do to my own.”

I sent her a look and reluctantly stood up, crossing the room to sit down in the vanity chair. She’d turned it so that it would be facing her instead of the mirror. I glowered at her as Lily began to select what she would use.

“Oh, wipe that look off your face,” she said once she caught sight of my glare. “It’s not like I’m going to do anything crazy. At least it’s not Alice; you can trust me.”

I nodded in silent agreement, my eyes trained on the floor. “Did you have to turn me away from the mirror, though?”

Another grin swept across her perfect, freckled features. “Of course I did! It wouldn’t be any fun if you got to see what you looked like before my job was complete.”

“That’s not fair!” I cried, furious. “You got to see yourself!”

“That’s because I was doing my own make up,” she replied, not at all bothered by the fact that I was trying to escape the chair. “Don’t make me bind you to that chair, Ellie. I would really hate to force you into this.”

I laughed bitterly. “Isn’t that what you’re already doing?”

She sent me a look. “Do you want to look good for Remus or not?”

That comment alone was enough to shut me up for the thirty minutes it took her to complete her work, as she’d called it. Hell, it was enough for me to mull over while she went about fixing my hair in a way that I would “just love”. I trusted Lily, so I didn’t say anything when she pulled out a very threatening looking device that she called a curling iron. I’d never heard of one before, but I sat as still as possible so she wouldn’t burn me with the hot metal, just like she instructed me to.

This is exactly why I hated getting makeovers.

X - - X

An hour and a half later, I was staring at The Dress, which was hanging on the back of the door to the guest bedroom. It was such a beautiful dress that I feared I would ruin it. Even with the fantastic job Lily had done with my hair and make up, I still wouldn’t look right in the dress. Perhaps it would look much better on someone like Lucinda or Lily. They had the shoulders, those perfectly round and delicate, feminine shoulders, to pull off the dress. Me? I barely had any curves to call my own and would look like a flimsy piece of cardboard in the dress.

“Just put it on,” someone said from the doorway.

I whirled around to see Angela leaning against the door jamb, her arms folded quaintly over her chest.

“You scared me.”

“I tend to have that effect on people,” she said, grinning. “Go ahead, put it on. It’ll look fabulous on you, even if you don’t think so,” she tacked on before I could speak.

I stared at her. “Can you read minds or something?”

She laughed, it sounded like wind chimes. “Not quite. I can recognize signs of hesitation. And doubt. Which I don’t know why you have either.” Her brow puckered together in genuine bafflement. “The way Lily spoke about you in her letters made it seem like you were one of those girls who was very sure of herself.”

“Lily talked about in me in her letters home?” I asked, incredulous.

“Of course she did,” Angela said. “She always said how she thought you were such a good person and probably even better friend, but that you didn’t like talking to people all that much. But when you finally did come around, oh, Lily was so excited. She wanted to make friends with you so badly.”

“She did?”

Again, Angela laughed. “That’s Lily for you. Anyway, I suppose I should let you get dressed. James is supposed to be picking the pair of you up at six o’clock and it’s nearly five thirty. You should start getting dressed, Eleanor. I know that Lily is already putting her shoes on.”

I smiled softly at Angela and as she turned to leave, muttered, “Thank you.”

“Anytime, dear.” She shut the door behind her with a soft cliff and I turned to look at the beautiful yet slightly intimidating dress again.

So Lily had always thought that I was sure of myself and that I would make a good mate? I couldn’t help but chuckle at the thought. If anything, it was Lily, not I, who was that sort of girl and the better mate. I wished I could be more like Lily, someone with a good head on their shoulders. I had an all right head on a set of clumsy shoulders.

I guess this is it, I told myself as I took the dress off the hanger. I unbuttoned the flannel shirt I’d been wearing and was careful not to mess up my hair. I know Lily would throw a fit if one strand was out of place. I would, too, if I’d spent as long as she had trying to get the stubborn strands to fit into place in an elegant way; there was hardly anything elegant about me.

The sound of the zipper was ominous and sent a chill down my spine. I tried to ignore it as I slowly stepped into the dress, careful not to do anything stupid. Knowing me, I would tear a huge hole in the fabric before I took two steps. Thankfully, I was going to be wearing flat heeled shoes under the gown; Merlin forbid I had three inch heels strapped to my feet. Both Lily and I had agreed that would be a huge safety hazard for everyone involved.

I was astonish to find that the dress fit much better than I thought it would. It wasn’t a perfect fit by any means, but there wasn’t as much space in the bust area as I thought there was going to be. It had looked to be a big space to fill, but apparently I filled it as best as I could. The gown was off the shoulders, just like I suspected it to be. When I looked at myself in the mirror, I noticed that my shoulders looked much more delicate than I could ever remember them being, a lot more thinner as well. I was mildly concerned. I’d never been a bulky person, but I wasn’t exactly a stick figure either. I would have to remember to gorge on the refreshments. I reached back and pulled the zipper as softly as possible. If I snagged something, I would kill myself. And you think I’m joking.

As I fastened the amethyst pendant around my neck (it was surprising how perfect the colour of fabric of the dress matched the necklace that Sirius had given me), there was a brief knock on my door. It flung opened before I could say anything and there was Lily, standing there in all her beauty.

Her auburn hair was pulled into an elegant half twist, the bottom half of her locks hanging in waves around her shoulders, which made them look all the more delicate. A stab of jealous surged through me as my eyes took in her emerald dress. It was no doubt that she’d bought the dress because it matched the colour of her eyes so perfectly. It was a classic number with an empire waist and two straps that came up around her neck.

“Like it?” she asked, twirling about on spot. I saw that the straps criss-crossed one another over the pale expanse of her back.

“You look stunning,” I said, meaning every word.

“So do you!” Lily cried, rushing toward me as much as her heeled feet would allow. She grabbed my hands and made me spin in a circle, like she had. The edges of my dress flared out around me and she laughed. “That dress looks amazing on you! Remus won’t be able to keep his hands off you.”

My stomach faltered and my heart stuttered in my chest. Remus. . .I would have to deal with him tonight. For the first time since The Snog. My blood once again began to thunder in my ears and I tried to stop the room from spinning.

“Let’s hurry downstairs!” Lily said, releasing her tight grip on one of my hands and pulling me toward the door. “James will be here any moment!”

I followed her down the stairs, my heart beating erratically against my ribs. I was afraid it would bust out of my chest if I didn’t control it soon. Even though I should’ve been thinking about Remus, there was only one face that I saw in my mind’s eye. I wondered how he would look all dressed up at the shindig at James’s manor home. He would probably look like some sort of Greek god descended directly from the line of Adonis himself.


You’re only getting yourself into trouble, thinking thoughts like that.

I’d been expecting the Voice to appear and once more, I was thankful for it. It was right. I would get in trouble if I kept thinking thoughts like that. Especially if I kept thinking them until I actually saw him. All hell would break loose and that was something I definitely couldn’t afford.

We’d been downstairs for naught but two minutes before there was a casual knock on the back door. Lily’s eyes widened with excitement and a shriek of pure delight escaped her as Mr. Evans answered the caller. From my position in the living room, I could just barely see through the narrow doorway, past Mr. Evans’ broad shoulder. He was shaking hands with James and there was a smile on his face. That was good. Very good, indeed.

When James came into the living room, even I had to let out a soft gasp of wonder. He looked as handsome as ever in his impeccably cut black suit. There was a narrow black tie fastened around his neck and a nervous tinge of pink around his neck. If anyone would be able to detect nerves in another human being on this night, it would be me.

But James only had eyes for Lily.

“Lily,” he breathed so softly, I wasn’t sure if I’d made it up or not.

I felt like a stranger intruding upon their moment, so I averted my eyes as soon as he captured her lips in a sweet kiss. Thankfully, they didn’t suck too much face and released one another, taking a hand instead. James turned his now glassy eyes to me and smiled widely.

“Wow, Ellie,” he said as he gave me an one armed hug, his fingers still laced through Lily‘s. “You look beautiful. Remus’ll be knocked off his feet.”

I tried not to cringe too noticeably at the casual dropping of his best mate’s name and grinned back at my good friend in response. “Thank you, James. You sure do know how clean up.”

James laughed heartily. “If you think I look good, wait until you see Remus and Sirius. They sure do know how to go all out. I suppose its because they want to look impressive for their girls.” The wink he sent me was a little too warm for my liking.

However, I couldn’t help thinking which one was truly dressed to impress me. Thankfully, before my thoughts could completely consume me, James spoke again, drawing me out of my trance.

“Well, we better get going,” he said, addressing the room at large which included myself, Lily, Mr. Evans, and James; Angela had gone to pick Petunia up from Vernon’s house. “It was wonderful to finally get the chance to meet you, Mr. Evans.”

“Please,” Mr. Evans responded, taking James’s proffered hand in his grasp and shaking it. “Call me Mark. And the pleasure’s all mine. It’s good to know that the right sort of bloke is making my Lily as happy as she is.” He dropped James’s hand, returning it to his pocket.

“Bye Daddy,” Lily said, kissing her father on the cheek shortly.

“Goodbye, Mr. Evans,” I said to the man, smiling kindly at him.

He grinned in response. “Have a good night, kids. And don’t stay up too late.”

We laughed and turned toward the door, stepping out into the backyard. The Evans’ backyard was much larger than mine and Aunt Eliza’s and had much more personality. But seeing as how dusk was quickly settling and the party started in nearly twenty minutes, we were running short on time for me to admire the surroundings.

We didn’t waste any time. On James’s count, we all whirled around on the spot and disappeared with sharp CRACKS!
X - - X



“. . .and these are my parents, Julian and Mary Potter.” James gestured grandly toward his parents, who looked like very humble people indeed.

“Hello, dear,” his mother said, taking my extended hand. Her skin was smooth to the touch and her grip was gentle. I wasn’t expecting James’s parents to be as old as they were, but nevertheless, his mother was a very beautiful woman. Her once black hair was beginning to fade into a deep grey and probably would’ve hung a little below her shoulders had it not been swept back into such an elegant and somewhat complex bun. She wore a burgundy dress that complemented her warm brown eyes, the eyes that were so like her son’s. The smile on her face was very maternal and warmed me from the inside. “It’s very nice to make your acquaintance.”

“It’s nice to meet you as well, Mrs. Potter,” I returned, unable to prevent a smile from spreading across my face.

She laughed heartily. “Oh, James must’ve forgotten to tell you,” she waved her hand as though it were an every day mistake. And knowing her son as well as I did, it probably was. “You may call me Mary, if you wish. It makes me feel much younger.”

In that instant, I was reminded of Angela, Lily’s wonderful mother who had treated me like her own daughter in the short time I had been staying with them. “All right then,” I amended. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mary.”

Mary Potter grinned widely at me. “That sounds much better.” She patted the side of my hand as she let her fingers fall.

I was introduced to Mr. Potter next. Julian Potter was nothing like his son. Where James was tall and lanky, Julian Potter was tall, that much was true, but much more stockier. In his younger days, I bet he was built rather nicely, with shapely muscles ringed around his arms. He was an attractive man, even with his salt and pepper hair. There was something wry about his smile that was all too familiar to me. The crinkles around his sky blue eyes reminded me of James as well, the way his eyes would scrunch together when he smiled wide.

Unlike his wife’s grip, Julian shook my hand firmly and pumped my arm. “Welcome! Jimmy has told me a lot about you,” Mr. Potter proclaimed, his voice booming throughout the vast ballroom in which we were standing.

My eyes widened slightly and I glanced over at James, who was standing with his mother and Lily. I tried to gain control of my surprise, tried to reign it in, and licked my lips. “He has?”

“Oh yes!” He laughed loudly. I nearly jumped out of my skin in shock; James laughed exactly like his father, it was almost scary. “He says that he’s persuaded you to start coming to the Quidditch matches. Says that you didn’t used to fancy the sport.”

I swallowed nervously, unsure of how I should respond. “What can I say? He’s a real charmer.”

This seemed to satisfy Mr. Potter, who I would later discover was a very popular, very well liked man throughout the wizarding community. He laughed again, just as loudly as before, and it bounced off the walls, rang in my ears.

“That’s my boy,” he said, chewing on the end of his Cuban cigar. “You know, I used to play a bit of the sport myself.”

“Really?” I supplied, relatively surprised.

“Jimmy never told you, did he?”

I shook my head. “No, he didn’t.”

Mr. Potter rolled his eyes. “Figures.” He shook his head briefly and his impossibly messy hair fell into his eyes. He swiped at it and continued, “He doesn’t like boasting about it much. Thinks that people will get it in their minds that my success in my time is the only reason why he’s on the team at school.”

I snorted. “Sure. Because no one would be able to see how talented he is.”

“Exactly!” Mr. Potter exclaimed. He clapped me on the shoulder so roughly, I swore I felt a bone pop out of place. I tried not to wince as he squeezed my shoulder between his thick fingers, but it was just too painful for me to feel any affection from it. “You really do know your stuff. Jimmy had said you came to your senses. I was sceptical at first, but now - now I believe him.”

There was something about Mr. Potter that I really liked. Maybe it was his frankness or his sense of humour. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but I knew that if I got to know him a little better, he would prove to very entertaining indeed.

“He got me a book, you know,” I said, scrounging around for a topic to keep our conversation going; Lily’s attention was still on Mrs. Potter and her wonderful boyfriend. “To help me better understand Quidditch.”

“Did he now?”

I nodded deeply. “He did. Quidditch Through the Ages, I think it was called. Very interesting read, you know. I’ve learned a lot about the techniques of old and the histories of the teams. I saw that it had your name listed under Puddlemere United, but at the time, I wasn’t sure if it was you or not. I mean, James had never told me the names of his parents nor that you played Quidditch.”

“Yes, I played for Puddlemere,” a slow grin slid into place on his lips. “They were some of the best years of my life. It’s how I met Mary, actually. I ran into her when she was in the stands with her fiancée.”

My eyes widened. “She had a fiancée?”

“At the time she did,” Mr. Potter said, his sparkling blue eyes clearly in the past. He rolled his cigar around his mouth, gnawing on the edge with his teeth. “Not after I was finished courting her. It took her nearly six months to come around and actually go out on a date with me. By that time, she’d already called off the engagement and was too upset. She thought that could cheer her up. Mary even said that she didn’t plan on ever talking to me again after that night.”

There was a brief moment of silence in which I glanced between Mr. Potter and his lovely wife, who was now greeting some guests. I was momentarily caught by surprise - when had guests started arriving? When I scanned the room, I was even more surprised to see that there was a good amount of people gathered.

“Shame, isn’t it?” Mr. Potter remarked.

I looked at him, my eyebrows pulled together in confusion. “What’s a shame?”

“That Mary fell in love with me,” he replied, a wry smile on his face.

I burst into a fit of laughter. Mr. Potter was quick to join me and I knew immediately that he was one of those people who would do anything for the chance of laughter. It also occurred to me this party was not his cup of tea. I imagined that he would rather be up in his den, smoking cigars on his own account with a glass of wine in one hand and a group of his closest friends, maybe even just James and his wife surrounding him as company. Yes. . .Mr. Potter may have spoke in loud tones, but I could tell that he preferred the quiet sort of life.

“I don’t think it’s a shame,” I said once I had regained my composure. Several people had been staring at us oddly. “Because if she hadn’t fallen in love with you that night, I wouldn’t have one of the best mates I’ve ever known. And I also wouldn’t have a reason to stand in front of you to have this conversation.”

Julian grinned a very Cheshire Cat like grin at me. Normally, grins like that made me uncomfortable, but coming from Mr. Potter, it just felt right. He took the cigar out of his mouth and gestured at me with it.

“You know,” he said after a long pause, one of his blue eyes squinted shut. “I like you. You’ve got spunk.”

I laughed again. “I’ve hardly got spunk, Mr. Potter.”

“Well,” Mr. Potter commented. “You must have something. That boy over there can’t stop looking at you.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion. He pointed over my shoulder and I slowly turned to look, unsure of what I would see. However, at the sight of the devilishly handsome boy that was gazing at me, their eyes twinkling with delight, I couldn’t help but allow a smile to spread across my face.

As happy as I was to join whomever was waiting for me, I turned back to Mr. Potter, a sad smile on my face. “As lovely as our conversation is. . . .” I trailed off.

“We’ll continue it later, my dear,” Mr. Potter said, his hand coming on my shoulder again. I was afraid that he was going to squeeze the life out of it, but thankfully, he simply let his calloused hand rest there. “I’ve got guests of my own I have to start mingling with. Unfortunately,” he added gruffly, a sour look on his face. He threw the cigar into a potted plant and wiped his hands on his pants. “Until later.” He bowed very formally at me. I bit back a wide grin as he whirled around dramatically, the hem of his black dress robe swirling around him.

Once Mr. Potter was gone, I took a deep breath and met my gazer halfway across the room. Two strong arms wrapped around my middle and lifted me off the ground. I was spun around and a bout of happy laughter escaped me. I was surprised that there was no crushing sense of guilt, that my heart wasn’t thundering with nerves and my palms weren’t sweaty.

I was returned to the ground and able to look properly into the face of the boy. I reached up with a hand to tuck a floppy lock of sandy brown hair behind his ear.

Before I could say anything, his mouth was over mine. His lips were warm and familiar against mine but there was something missing. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but I kissed him back with the same fever that he kissed me with. The fingers of my left hand had just found the soft tendrils of wispy hair at the back of his neck when he pulled his face away from mine, the hesitation of this action more than obvious.

My head spun lightly. “Hello to you, too,” I muttered.

Remus laughed warmly and dropped a kiss onto my forehead. “Sorry about that,” he apologized and he sounded genuinely sorry. “I just couldn’t take it any longer. It feels like I haven’t seen you in such a long time.”

I wrapped my arms around his middle and laid my head against his chest. He tucked me under his chin and we stayed like that for several minutes. I could feel his heart crashing against his chest in a erratic rhythm. I’m sure mine was beating in a similar fashion.

“I know,” I finally replied, disentangling my limbs from his and gazing up into his face.

His warm brown eyes sparkled. “Do you realize how. . .how. . .,” he trailed off, his lips pursed as he struggled to find the right words.

“How what?” I asked, curious.

He grinned down at me and softly kissed my mouth. “How very tempting you look in that dress. You know, purple really suits you. Why don’t you wear it more often? When not in uniform, all I ever see you in is blue, grey, and that awful orange jumper you have.”

“Hey!” I exclaimed, wagging a finger at him. “Don’t insult the jumper. It’s one of my favourites.”

Remus grabbed my hand and brought it to his mouth, planting a kiss on the inside of my palm. I felt my heart skip a beat, but there was no thrilling feeling in my stomach that would’ve been there a few weeks ago. At this, my stomach did react; it churned uncomfortably and now, I could feel the guilt beginning to overcome me.

I opened my mouth to say something, but before I could utter a single word, a wide grin swept over Remus’s face. He was not looking at me, so I wasn’t me he was grinning at, so I followed his gaze over my shoulder. And almost immediately, my stomach plummeted.

Oh. . .fuck. I was not ready for this!

They looked so beautiful together, it was almost painful. In fact, I felt a sharp pinch in my chest that I subconsciously rubbed as I stared at them in wide-eyed wonder. Of course, she would look like a Greek goddess, what with her long, flowing blonde hair and a gorgeous turquoise dress which clung to her every curve. Her icy blue eyes danced with delight, even from here. Hell, I bet my eyes would be doing the conga as well if I had him on my arm. Where Lucinda might have been considered to look beautiful tonight, Sirius Black was nothing short of stunning. The cut of his suit was crisp and hung off his lanky frame perfectly. His impossibly black, glossy hair was hanging in his grey eyes, much like it always did. However, I noticed that while his girlfriend look joyous, he did not. The set of his full lips was not that of happiness, but discontent. Though it was hardly noticeable, the fact that I did notice it made my heart skip a beat and my stomach swoop.

Before I could stop him, Remus called out to his best mate. “Sirius! Lucinda!” He waved them over with an energetic hand.

Ice gripped at my insides and I had to place a hand over my stomach to keep from vomiting. Oh no, this was not good at all. The Voice was screaming at me to make up some excuse, to hurry to the toilet before they came over here, but I pointedly ignored the Voice.

No, I was stronger than that. I could face them. At least, I hoped I could. And if I didn’t think I could handle it, then and only then would I take the coward’s way out. I would hurry to the bathroom and lock myself inside until either Lily or Alice came looking for me.

“Remus,” I hissed out of the corner of my mouth. I grabbed his hand to get him to stop waving, but it was already too late. I glared at him. “Are you suicidal? You do realize that Lucinda knows that we now both know about her and Amos?” I whispered harshly.

The colour drained from his face as his smile faltered. “Fuck,” he murmured hotly under his breath.

He slid his hand into mine and I held fast. I needed something to hold onto to keep me rooted in the world of consciousness. There was no spark when his fingers wound around mine. Another wave of guilt came crashing over my head and all I could think at this point of time was if Remus would ever find it in his heart to forgive me. I prayed that he would.

They came floating toward us. A smug smile was on Lucinda’s face as she placed her talons - oh, excuse me, fingers around Sirius’s arm. It seemed that she was dragging him over here, like he did not want to be near us - near me.

My stomach gave another jolt.

“Padfoot!” Remus exclaimed, rushing forward to embrace his best mate. He let go of my hand and I wished he hadn’t. I could already feel the room tilting around me.

A brief, but genuinely happy spread across Sirius’s face. “Moony!” Sirius hollered, returning the embrace with much enthusiasm. They pulled back quickly and clapped each other on the shoulder. “You all right?”

“Fantastic. You?”

“Never better,” Sirius said, his gaze fixed pointedly on me as his arm snaked around Lucinda’s waist. He tugged her toward his body and she eagerly wrapped her arms around his toned torso.

“Hi Sirius,” I greeted, my voice strained.

“Eleanor.”

The board was set. So this was how we were going to play the game. With cold indifference and vacant, meaningless words. I could play that game. Especially if I was being treated so badly with absolutely no reason at all. After all, he did kiss me first.

________________________________________

31
My nostrils flared as I expelled a deep breath. Just because I had mentally prepared myself to play the game with Sirius didn’t mean that I favoured it. I turned my face toward Remus, unable to look at Sirius without feeling the need to vomit due to my intense guilt; his face was only a reminder of what had transpired between us. I felt the ghost of Remus’s touch as his hand floated toward the small of my back, his fingertips brushing against the base of my spine gently through the fabric of my dress.

“Well,” Sirius said, his sharp grey eyes travelling down the length of Remus’s arm, stopping when he found the place where his best mate‘s hand rest. An eyebrow raised in a fashion that I would’ve once envied but now loathed (well, that‘s what I was trying to convince myself. But we all know how horrible I am at doing such self-convincing.) “It looks like you have gotten comfortable with one another.”

I flinched at the accusatory tone in his smooth voice. I could feel tears starting to prickle at the back of my eyes and gritted my teeth. However, when the Voice started to poke at the edges of my mind, reminding me that I was not the only guilty person involved, I recovered.

Without even realizing it what I was doing before it was already done, I wrapped my arms around the lanky boy standing next to me. A frown threatened to pull the corners of my lips downward when my arms snaked around him; Remus seemed much thinner than I remembered him being. A brief wave of panic consumed me and I wondered if there was something wrong. Was he getting mistreated at home?

But then my mind snapped me back to the current situation and I made sure that I wiped any terror that resided in my face away. Tilting my head upward, I stared into the warm brown eyes that I was capable of getting lost in. Like melted chocolate. I smiled at Remus and naturally, he grinned back.

The guilt felt like a lead bullet in the pit of my stomach.

Finally, Remus spoke. “I guess you could say we have,” he said, still smiling. His arm came around my waist and held me firm, close to his skinny body.

“Like two peas in a pod,” I added, pushing myself up onto my tiptoes to kiss him lightly on the lips. I turned my attention toward Sirius and Lucinda, the latter of which was glaring at me like I had done something incredibly offence, which, in retrospect, I probably did. After all, she was aware that both Remus and I knew of her infidelity and probably assumed that we were plotting against her. I locked eyes with Sirius, fighting hard against the natural urge to shudder at the intense colour of his bright grey eyes. “You and Lucinda,” I inclined my head toward the beautiful blonde in her turquoise dress and smiled softly, “look pretty cosy yourself.” I made a point of gesturing toward their close position, one that eerily mirrored mine and Remus’s.

I barely caught sight of the muscles in Sirius’s jaw clenching tightly as my words left my mouth. His eyes flickered, very briefly, to the gorgeous girl that hung off his arm before they found mine again.

“Very cosy, indeed,” said Lucinda, the hand she had placed on his chest slowly sliding upward. Her hand wound up around his neck and with her fingers, she pushed his face toward hers and pressed her stained lips against his.

I could barely contain my shock when Sirius pulled her dangerously close. Repulsion overtook me as I watched them, their kiss progressing into an aggressive snog. As if he’d sensed my discomfort, Remus slid his hand in mine and led me away from the pair.

I didn’t speak as Remus gently tugged me through the gathering crowd. I didn’t know where it was that we were going and I found that I really didn’t care all that much. As long as I was able to get as far away from Sirius Black as possible, then any destination would be fine. A wizard stepped on my foot, but before he could apologize I was being led toward a long, linen covered table. I soon found that this was the refreshment table. It was like Remus read my mind or something. I hadn’t realized that I wanted food until I saw all the delicious dishes and hors d’oeuvres on the table.

I snatched up one particularly tasty looking hors d’oeuvres and popped it into my mouth. I chewed for a few seconds before turning to Remus and asking, “Are you a Legimens? Because you read my mind.”

Remus laughed and smiled down at me. “Unfortunately, no. I’m not a Legimens.”

I snapped my fingers and feigned a look of disappointed. “Damn it, I was hoping you could tell me what the witch in that ridiculous fur dress was thinking when she selected her attire for the evening.”

Again, Remus chuckled and I found myself laughing with him. Without Sirius around, it was easier to breathe. Much easier for me to be myself. It was an immensely relieving feeling and the guilt in my stomach was beginning to subside. If I could avoid him for the rest of the evening, I would be in the clear. For all I knew, the guilt might even evaporate and be replaced with a loathing so intense I would never have to look at his face again. Although I knew that was not a possibility, it was still a fun idea to entertain myself with.

I continued to pick out treats from the crowded table and munched on them, stealing what I could of the oddly calming aura that seemed to be radiating from Remus. However, after a few more minutes of snacking, he swallowed what he had in his mouth and announced that he was going to get drinks so that we could wash down what we had consumed, which, I realized moments after he left, was a startling amount of hors d’oeuvres, especially on my part.

Licking my fingers clean, I turned my back on the table so the tasty snacks wouldn’t call out to me and demand that I eat them; if I ate much more, my dress would start getting uncomfortably tight at the waist. My eyes lazily scanned the crowd, taking in the eccentrically dressed wizards and the regal looking witches and vice versa. I’d never seen so many adult wizards in the same room before, so it was a little odd as well as amusing to see just how different they were from one another. It was incredibly easy to distinguish which of the crowd were pure of blood as they were dressed in attire so formal, you might’ve thought they were meeting the Queen. Quite a number of these said people were very good looking, the women slender and beautiful and the men classically handsome with a arrogant look scribed across their faces.

I found that I was entranced, watching all of the witches and wizards socialize with one another. It was, once again, easy to determine what the “cliques” amongst wizarding society were. Those who had pureblood hung around one another, eyeing each other with disdain while those of “lesser blood” laughed heartily with their neighbours and knocked back flutes of champagne. I could only imagine what the party would be like if Aunt Eliza were in attendance. . .oh Merlin, the thought alone made me both smile and grimace. She would probably be the loudest person in the entire place, but as embarrassing as that was, it was also comforting. Aunt Eliza, the woman who was never afraid to be herself.

I wondered what Aunt Eliza would think if she knew about my situation. I know she had a hunch that I fancied Sirius. I mean, I wasn’t exactly discreet in hiding my feelings from my aunt. After all, she raised me alongside my father for the majority of my life, so she knew these things. She’d seen the crushes I had formed over the years and how I handled them, so I imagined it was relatively easy for her to discover that I felt something more than friendship toward Sirius. However, I didn’t tell her about Remus. What would she say if she knew I not only fancied two blokes, but they were the best of mates and I’d snogged both of them, one of which on multiple occasions?

A sigh escaped me before I could stop it. I reached behind me and picked up another hors d’oeuvre off the fancy little doily it sat on. I popped it into my mouth and savoured the flavour of the sweet treat as it rolled around on my tongue. Maybe I could hang around the refreshment table the entire time. I doubt that Remus would have any qualm with it as I knew he loved little snacks and Merlin only knows that he needed it. Once again, I felt a brief wave of worry consume me. I still couldn’t get over how skinny he felt when my arms circled around him. It definitely was not a good sign, but something told me that I shouldn’t meddle in business that wasn’t mine.

I folded my arms over my chest and focused on the now dancing couples. I spotted James and Lily first. They looked absolutely blissful in each other’s arms, huge smiles on their faces as they gazed into one another’s eyes. It would’ve been nauseating had it been anyone else aside from my mates, but for them, it just seemed natural. Not that phoney business you oftentimes see between couples just so they can keep up appearances or the type that you know isn’t going to last. No, James and Lily were in it for the long haul, that much I could tell, even if they themselves didn’t know it.

“For you, milady,” said Remus, bowing in an overexaggerated manner as he handed a flute of beige champagne.

I took the glass from his hand in as pompous of a matter that I could muster. “Thank you, good sir,” I replied, grinning softly as I brought the flute to my lips and took a shallow drink. I didn’t want to look like I was an alcoholic or something.

Remus took a drink, although he left the glass to his mouth much longer than I would’ve dared in a room full of strangers. He licked his lips and looked down at me. His chocolate eyes seemed to shift and immediately, something in my gut told me that he knew. What it was, I don’t know, but he definitely knew something. Setting his glass down on the table, he furrowed his brow.

“Are you all right?” he asked, concerned.

I nodded my head. “Yeah,” I said, quickly drinking from my flute. “I’m fine. Why d’you ask?”

He seemed to contemplate his answer, his brow still pinched together in concentration as his eyes roamed my face. I felt a shiver of uncomfortable-ness trail down my back as he stared intently into my eyes.

After a moment, however, he seemed to recover. “It’s nothing, really,” he replied, although there was something about his tone of voice that I didn’t totally believe. “I just thought. . .” he let his words trail off and then shook his head, spreading his sandy coloured fringe across his forehead. “Anyway, Mr. Potter caught me when I was getting drinks and told me that dinner is going to be starting soon, but that we didn’t have to worry because we had a table saved for us.”

I blinked in confusion. “A table saved for us?” I parroted. “As in you and me?”

“No,” Remus said. “As in me, you, James, Lily, Alice, Frank, Peter, Sirius, and-,”

“Lucinda,” I finished, grimacing. “This is going to be such a pleasant dinner.” To add emphasis to my displeasure, I tipped my head back and drained the remaining contents of my glass. It burned slightly (but nowhere near as much as firewhisky) as it travelled down into my belly. Thank Merlin I had eaten something, though, otherwise I had a distinct feeling it would be the Halloween party all over again.

I thought that Remus would try to convince me that it wouldn’t be as bad as I was making it out to be, so I was more than a little shocked to see him mirror my actions, although he didn’t seem all that bothered by the burn of the alcohol.

At my look of surprise, Remus raised a brow in question. “What?”

“It’s nothing,” I responded. “I just. . .wasn’t expecting that from you is all.”

He smirked softly at me, although there was no trace of arrogant in his lips, quite unlike someone else I just so happened to know. Remus manoeuvred his arm around me and snatched one of the hors d’oeuvres off the table.

“How can you still be eating?” I questioned as he shovelled another snack into his mouth.

Remus shrugged, chewing up what was in his mouth before speaking. “I dunno. I’m really hungry.”

My eyes slowly travelled down the length of his body while he continued to eat the hors d’oeuvres on the table. I was glad that he was eating; like I’ve said many times, he was much too skinny for my liking, especially now. I’m sure if he would’ve lifted up his shirt, I could’ve counted his ribs due to the faint outline they left against his pale skin.

Before I could help myself, I asked, “Are you all right?” Circe, I hated impulses and my inability to control them.

“Yes,” Remus replied slowly. “I’m fine.”

I shook my head impatiently. “No, I don’t mean like hi-how’s-your-day fine. I mean are-you-sure-you-are-feeling-all-right sort of fine,” I explained.

“Oh,” he muttered, the corners of his mouth dropping into a frown. “Well, I don’t feel ill. Do I look it?”

I contemplated my response. If I said yes, he would probably take offence to it and not talk to me for the rest of the night. At least, he would if he were a normal teenaged boy, but Remus wasn’t like all the other blokes; he was incredibly understanding, which was a bit annoying at times. If no was my chosen reply, he would know that I was lying because, well, I had asked if he was feeling well.

Reaching back to scratch an itch at my neck, I stalled for a few moments. “It’s just. . .well, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way or anything, but you look a great deal thinner than I remember you being and, well, sort of peaky.”

And like always, he didn’t react like I expected him to. Instead of scoffing and telling me that I had it all wrong, Remus draped his arm around my shoulders and pulled me toward him in a half-hug, my side pressed against the length of his abdomen. His lips pressed against the top of my hair gently, as though he was trying not to disturb my hair. He pulled back slightly and tilted his head so that he was looking down at me. The warm brown eyes that I loved were a blend of emotions that I couldn’t decipher.

“Don’t worry about me,” Remus murmured. “Promise you won’t worry fruitlessly about me, Eleanor. I just don’t feel all the great today. Haven’t for a few days, actually. So please,” he repeated, his eyes drilling into mine. “Don’t worry about little old me; I can take care of myself.”

I stared into his eyes, searching for anything that might give away the double meaning to his words, but absolutely nothing surfaced in his chocolate orbs. Inwardly, I frowned, more concerned than I’d been before, but outwardly, I nodded my head in agreement.

“Okay,” I agreed, tucking a strand of loose hair behind my ear. “I won’t.” Even I spoke, I knew I was lying and something told me that Remus knew that, too.



Thankfully, there wasn’t any time for another moment of semi-awkwardness to resurface. Mr. Potter had taken a fork to the side of his champagne class and clinked it loudly, until the entire room was absolutely silent. Well, almost absolutely silent: James had just whispered something into Lily’s ear and she looked as though she was about to implode from laughter.

“Ladies and gentleman,” Mr. Potter began, his voice booming across the ballroom without the help of any charm. “First of all, I’d like to thank each and every one of you for making it out tonight. Mary and I always love to see the smiling faces of our fellow witches and wizards in the community. That being said, I hope the party as been as you all hoped it to be.”

A witch with a semi-hooked nose leaned over and muttered something to her husband. He nodded his head in agreement and they trained their eyes ahead at the figure of Mr. Potter. I glared at them, wondering if all purebloods were that disagreeable.

“Secondly,” continued Mr. Potter. “The house elves (who have been slaving away for the better part of three days to prepare for a party of this size and deserve a round of applause) have just informed me that dinner is ready to be served. So, if you would all be so kind, please make your way into the dining area. There are place settings at each of the tables with a card to identifying who should sit where. If your seating arrangement displeases you, please, just let either myself or Mary know and we will try to sort everything out so that it is comfortable for everyone.”

With a clap of his hands, Mr. Potter leapt from the chair upon which he had been standing with the agility of a much younger man. He looped his arm around Mary’s back, his hand barely touching the small of her back. She looked into the eyes of her husband and grinned widely. It was a grin of true happiness. Which she must’ve been, what with a husband like Julian Potter and a son like James.

Remus cleared his throat and held out his arm for me to take. “May I escort you to dinner?” There was a playful glimmer in his eyes and I couldn’t help smiling.

“You may,” I replied, slipping my arm through his.

We followed the throng of people into the dining area, which was sectioned off by a low wall which surrounded all the tables. There were eight seats at each of the round tables. James found the table where we would all be sitting and beckoned Remus and I over to him. Another smile graced my lips as we approached the happy pair. Out of nowhere, I wrapped my arms around Lily and she returned my hug with equal eagerness.

“You look like you’re having a good time,” I said as we released each other and took our seats next to one another.

“I am,” she replied, sincerity ringing in every note of her voice. Her green eyes sparkled brilliantly and her pale cheeks were flushed a faint pink. The smile that had been plastered on her face only grew bigger at my words. “I hope you’re having fun as well.”

“Remus and I have been hanging around the hors d’oeuvres table,” I explained, unfolding my napkin. “So, yes, I’ve been having fun.”

Lily laughed loudly, which caused several heads to swivel in our direction. Some of the observers wore smiles while others scowled. Lily didn’t notice; she was too wrapped in her own little bubble to be concerned with anyone but her friends and James.

My eyes were drawn to the handsome young man whom was shaking hands with James. His hair was dark and curly, coming to a stop just about his ears. His face was one of those friendly faces that made you smile at the sight of it, even if you didn’t know him. I knew right away that this was Alice’s Frank Longbottom, the boy she talked about so much. There was no mistake about that. I knew now why she gushed so much about him. Not only was he handsome, but he looked like an all-around nice bloke. And I hadn’t even talked to him yet!

“From my understanding, you’ve already met Lily,” said James as he gestured toward the redhead sitting beside me and myself. “But I dunno if you know Eleanor?”

“No,” Frank said, his voice a great deal lower than I thought it would be. “I haven’t. It’s nice to meet you,” he continued, extending a hand for me to shake. I rose from my seat and leaned across the table to shake his hand. “I’m Frank Longbottom.”

“Eleanor Briggs,” I responded, smiling at him in greeting.

He grinned back and dropped into the chair next to James. “Have either of you seen Alice? I can’t seem to find her anywhere.”

“Last I saw of her,” Lily began, tossing her head to the side to shake her fringe out of her eyes. “She was headed to the loo to fix her makeup. Something about her eyes watering or something. . .,” she trailed off pointedly and fixed her gaze upon Frank, who was turning red around the ears.

“Oh,” he stuttered, his cheeks turning an alarming shade of scarlet. “That. Well, I’m sure Alice will tell you all about it when she gets back from the loo.”

I stared at Frank, unable to stop myself from worrying about his face. If all that blood was rushing to his cheeks, would it be rushing to his brain as well? I’m sure it wasn’t healthy that he was turning such a deep hue of red, either. I mean, it just didn’t seem like it could be healthy at all.

A brief silence passed over the table as we all settled in, taking small sips of water. I kept glancing at Frank to make sure his head didn’t explode and thankfully, I didn’t have any bits of his brain all over me. . .yet. I was still wary as another group approached our table.

I felt my stomach plummet. All of the sudden, eating all those hors d’oeuvres didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore. In fact, I was almost entirely certain that they would be splattered all over the table if I didn’t make a rush to the toilet in the next few seconds.

The way they walked together, it was almost like they were floating, that’s how graceful they were. I could hardly swallow my jealousy as I forced myself to take another drink of water, choking it down as he came nearer to the table. Merlin, this wasn’t going to be good at all. If I could barely swallow water, I could only imagine what it would be like when I was trying to eat whatever food was placed in front of me.

A warm hand slid over mine and I glanced over at Remus. He’d placed his hand on top of mine and the tips of his fingers were rubbing small circles on the back of my hand. I suppose this was meant to be a comforting gesture, but it wasn’t. If anything, it only added to the unpleasant chills that were coursing through my body, not to mention the already turbulent emotions I was experiencing.

I tugged my hand out from under his and placed my hands in my lap. I tried to ignore the hurt look that flashed across Remus’s face and turned my attention to the crystal dinner plate in front of me. I felt horribly guilty and very rude, but I was trying to salvage my sanity.

“Padfoot!” James exclaimed happily, all but leaping out of his seat to embrace his best mate.

Sirius returned the hug eagerly and pat James once on the back before stepping back, a smile on his lips. “Nice to see you, too, Prongs.” He nodded toward Lily. “Hullo Lily.”

She grinned back at him. “Hello Sirius,” she responded. Her emerald eyes narrowed slightly as she eyed the beautiful girl standing by his side. “Lucinda.”

“Lily,” the blonde acknowledged stiffly. She cleared her throat obnoxiously and sent her boyfriend a pointed look.

Lucinda’s ice blue eyes found mine and she threw daggers at me while she waited for Sirius to pull out her chair for her to sit. I resisted the urge to roll my own eyes as he obliged to her subtle, throat-clearing hint. It was almost as though Lucinda was the puppeteer and Sirius was her plaything. Not her favourite, though - that spot was reserved for Amos Diggory.

She sat down primly in her chair and he pushed her in. I didn’t realized I’d scoffed out loud until all eyes were trained on me. Out of everyone, Frank looked the most amused; he was biting his lower lip in order to hold back a bout of laughter. He winked at me and I felt my cheeks flame up. Oops. If anyone’s glare was most disproving, it was Sirius’s. His grey orbs were full of flames and they were directed at me, like I was the one who had done something wrong. How was I to know that he found my sounds of annoyance rude and obnoxious? I found his girlfriend rude and obnoxious, but I didn’t say anything or glare at him, now did I?

All right, so I’m being bitter. I don’t care. I think I have every right to be, thank you very much.

“Well,” James said, his voice a half octave higher than normal as his eyes flickered from face to face nervously. The tension was so thick between everyone, one could cut it with a dull knife. “Pads, you remember Frank Longbottom, right?”

Sirius seemed to remember himself, breaking his eyes away from mine and turning them to Frank, who was still pink in the cheeks and struggling to control his smile. “How could I forget Frankie?” he questioned rhetorically, shaking hands with Frank. “You’re a legend amongst the Gryffindors.”

Frank laughed. “Please, you make me feel so old.”

Lucinda’s eyes cut over to him. They turned calculating. “How old are you, Frank? I don’t seem to recall your being at Hogwarts.”

“I’ll be twenty one next month,” answered Frank.

The corners of her mouth upturned a fraction of a centimetre and I knew he was in for trouble. “Am I to be mistaken that you are the one dating Alice Logan?”

“No,” Frank replied, shifting his position in his seat uncomfortably as he dragged his tongue across his bottom lip. “You are correct; I’m dating Alice. Why do you ask?”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Lucinda said, her voice airy as she waved a manicured hand. “It’s just that I didn’t think that someone of your age would be interested in a seventeen year old, is all.”

Remus choked on his mouthful of water. Sirius stiffened in his chair. Frank’s eyes bugged out of his head. I gasp and disguised it as a cough. James instinctively reached for Lily’s hand as a gesture to calm her down, but Lily wouldn’t have it. She jerked her hand out from underneath his and glared at Lucinda.

“I don’t think it’s any of your business what Frank sees in Alice, Lucinda,” Lily spat acidly. Colour was quickly rising to her cheeks. “Besides, Alice is eighteen, not seventeen. You should get your facts straight before you start commenting on the lives of others.”

There was a beat of stony silence in which Lucinda simply stared at Lily. Her blue eyes hardened and a cruel sort of smile slowly spread across her lips. It gave me the chills and had I been in Lily’s position, I probably would’ve soiled my trousers. However, everyone knew that Lily was never one to cave under pressure, especially when it came from a manipulative bitch.

“Touché,” Lucinda finally said, reaching for her glass of water and taking a long sip from it.

X - - X



Dinner was a tense affair, especially after Alice returned to the table. There was a bright flush on her cheeks and her brown eyes sparkled joyously. It was as though Alice didn’t even notice the tension between the occupants of our table. She chattered on, encouraging everyone to talk to one another, but even with her eager words, conversation was scarce and short.

The food, however, was delicious. I was curious as to how James stayed to lean when he returned home for the summer holidays. If I lived in a house where house elves prepared such scrumptious meals three times a day, I would probably weigh at least three hundred pounds by now because I’d eat everything in sight and demand for more like a spoiled brat.

Every so often, Remus’s knee would brush against mine under the table and he would glance at me out of the corner of his marvellous brown eyes. I tried not to make a big deal of it, concealing all my blushes to the best of my ability. These weren’t blushes of embarrassment, but I was willing to bet that Remus thought that they were. No, these were flushes of guilt. My shameful feelings climbed higher with every discreet glance he sent my way.

So, it was needless to say that as soon as dessert had been served, I was eager to leave the table. I hopped up from my seat, startling a few magical folk around me as my sudden movement. One of the wizard actually had his wand drawn. He glared at me suspiciously and I wondered if I had food caked to the side of my face that no one had cared to tell me about. I raised my hand to my cheek and felt nothing. A soft sigh escaped me and I turned my eyes away from the wizard, who stowed his wand back into the folds of his dress robes.

Remus, Lily, James, Frank, and Alice were quick to follow my movements. Frank escorted Alice to the dance floor, where a live wizarding band was playing. I didn’t know their name and I didn’t care to learn it, either. The music was great, but I didn’t feel like dancing. Unfortunately, Remus didn’t know that.

“D’you want to dance or something?” he asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

What was it with my inability to turn people down when they asked things of me? Especially when their voices got all hopeful and their eyes glistened?

Biting back a groan, I nodded my head. “Sure.”

Lily caught sight of the slightly disheartened look on my face and grabbed James’s hand. “We’ll come, too.” She tugged him over toward the dance floor before he could object and I followed Lily, who’d snatched my hand right out of Remus’s and began lugging me toward the parquet floor as well.

I’d never enjoyed dancing all that much. Not only was I physically incapable of not looking like a complete idiot when I started dancing, but I hated the way I was expected to adapt to the rhythm and figure out a way to move my body along with it. Quicker paced songs weren’t all that bad as you only had to sway back and forth and occasionally offer a shake. However, slow dancing was an entirely different story. There were so many rules and it made me feel uncomfortable. It also made me feel sorry for the poor girls from centuries past who were forced to dance with dukes and earls who were twice their age in order to secure a fortune for their fathers.

Thankfully, when we made it to the dance floor, the tune had switched from a slower tempo-ed song to one that was much more upbeat. It was easier to dance to as well as much more fun.

My hand was still nestled tightly in Lily’s and before I knew it, I was being twirled around and spun under her arm. Laughing, I held my arm high and she ducked under it. We dropped the other’s hand and Lily started to dance on spot. It looked like she didn’t care at all, the way she was waving her arms above her head to the rhythm of the music.

James joined his girlfriend, resting a hand on her hip and drawing her closer to him. He grabbed her hand and even though the tempo was upbeat, they danced on spot, whirling around. They twisted and turned, revolving around one another. It wasn’t elegant in the slightest, but they were having fun, goofing off with one another while they danced.

A stab of jealous surged through me, but it didn’t have to time to take hold. Remus had started to dance beside me and I couldn’t help laughing out loud. I couldn’t even describe what he was doing, but it was hilarious.

When he heard my laughter, he grinned. “Are you mocking me?”

I didn’t say anything as my laughter made it nigh impossible to get a word out. Without warning, he grabbed my hand and pulled me near to him. Like Lily had done to me and James had done to her, Remus spun me around in a circle, ballerina style, and the skirt of my purple dress fanned out as I rotated in a wide arc. A smile worked its way onto my face as I whirled back around to face Remus. He made a strange movement with his arms and I laughed loudly.

Remus held on tight to my hand and quickly spun me away from him again. If he kept doing this, I was going to fall over and, most likely, crack my head open on something. My chest was heaving as the momentum stopped. I was an arm’s length away from Remus now, our hands connected. He then pulled me back toward him and once more, I was whirling around and around and around until the side of my body was pressed against his chest.

I looked up at him, attempting to raise an eyebrow, but failing miserably. “You’re quite the dancer,” I remarked.

Remus chuckled. “My mum used to teach me. I’m not all that good,” he added. “In fact, I’m terrible at dancing, but you’re equally bad, so I doubt it matters.”

I scoffed in mock offence and smacked him on the arm. I pulled out of his grasp dramatically. “That was mean, Remus Lupin.”

He struggled to hold back his laughter and reached for my hand again. I let him take it and we were dancing once again.

X - - X



After forty minutes of dancing, I was ready for a break. However, Remus was not, nor were any of my other mates. Peter had joined the growing group of Gryffindors on the dance floor only moments again. He was entertaining, to say the very least, but once he, Remus, and James started to dance together, it was priceless. I could hardly breath, my chest heaving as I struggled to control the huge stitch in my side.

I touched Remus on the arm and said, “I’m going to get some fresh air.”

He nodded, although I knew he probably couldn’t hear me. He was too wrapped up with the fun he was having with his best mates. I didn’t mind in the slightest; in fact, I was glad he was having such a good time. I only wished that I could say I was, too.

I wove my way around the witches and wizards who were steadily on their way to drunkenness and telling stories at the top of their voices. I could hear Mr. Potter, who was standing on the other side of the room with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, from where I stood by the huge French doors that led out to a beautiful patio.

I fumbled with the handle, but was eventually able to push the door open with a bit of elbow grease. I stepped out onto the patio and left the door open a fraction of a centimetre. That way, when I went back inside I wouldn’t look like a total invalid when I waged war with the silver handle.

It was much cooler outside than it was indoors. It was obvious to see why, considering there were over three hundred people packed into the ballroom, many of which were dancing about like fools at a wedding reception. My eyes scanned the patio and from what I could see, there was no one else out here. I heaved a sigh of relief; I needed a few minutes by myself so I could clear my head and cool off. After all, I’d worked up quite the sweat when Lily and I were teaching James, Frank, and Remus how to do the Duck Dance.

The stone beneath my feet absorbed my footfalls as I walked toward a bench nestled between two yellow rose bushes. It was a metal bench, wrought iron and oddly inviting. I perched on the edge of the bench. The metal was cold, even though the fabric of my dress, yet I myself wasn’t chilly. It took me a few moments to piece together the obvious: someone had cast a mild Heating Charm on the patio so that guests could access it and still stay warm.

Cautiously, I leaned back on the bench, making myself as comfortable as possible. I shivered for a few minutes, trying to ignore the creeping chill that was working its way up my spine.

My thoughts began to wander, just like I knew they would. I couldn’t stop thinking about him, even though I really wanted to. It was obvious that he had made his choice: he had chosen Lucinda over me, even though there was no contest. I mean, it wasn’t like he loved me and I certainly didn’t love him, but still, it hurt to know that he wasn’t even acknowledging the fact that we were mates. I cared little about the Snog - all right, so that’s a lie. I actually cared a lot about it, but that wasn’t the point at the moment. The point of the matter was that he was ignoring me, treating me like he didn’t even know who I was and, even if he did, the air which he was radiating screamed arrogance.

Merlin, Sirius Black was treating me like a social pariah.

It was hard not to let it get to me. I’d told myself when I was in my room at the Evans’ house that I shouldn’t take it personally, that I should expect this to happen, but everything is always easier said than done. It was annoying, not being able to control my own emotions. I was just a toy yo-yo and I was being jerked around by Sirius.

And he wasn’t the only reason why I was stressing out.

I also had to worry about Lucinda. She was giving me the Stink Eye. It was as though she thought I’d told her boyfriend that she was a liar and a cheater. One would think she would put two and two together and realize that I hadn’t. I mean, why else would she be at the party with Sirius if I’d told him? It’s not like Sirius would tolerate a cheater. Maybe that was why he was treating me like dung. Because he didn’t like cheaters, therefore he was angry at himself. Or maybe he was angry at me. I mean, I did kiss him back.


Oh no, Eleanor. Don’t you dare pull that. He kissed you first. You’re single and, let’s face it, he’s not. If anyone should feel guilty, it should be him. Even if you did kiss him back.

I rolled my eyes at the Voice. It seemed as though It, too, had lost Its voice of reason. No pun intended.

The thing was that I was partially guilty. I did encourage him to continue kissing me, even if I didn’t lay down the first move. True, he was mostly responsible for what’d happened between us, but not entirely. No, I couldn’t do that. I wasn’t that sort of person. I had to own up to what I did, to what I’d encouraged him to do to me.

Circe be damned, I was making it seem as though we shagged! Which, I assure you, we did not.

I could keep telling myself that it was only a snog. That I wanted nothing else from him, but then I would be lying to myself. I didn’t just want a kiss from Sirius. No, I wanted something more, which scared the living shit out of me. For one, I was positive that Sirius didn’t not feel the same way, or else he wouldn’t have Disapparated when he realized that we were snogging. Secondly, I wasn’t ready to acknowledge just how deep my feelings for Sirius ran just yet.

Hey, at least I was willing to admit I had feelings of the romantic sort toward him.

And then there was Remus.

I groaned and lowered my head into my hands, massaging my temples with my fingers. I didn’t even want to start thinking about Remus and the immense amount of guilt that accompanied his name.

Thankfully, I didn’t have time to think about him. One of the French doors squeaked open, snapping me out of my own self pity and forcing me to look up from my hands. A tall, dark figure was walking backward onto the patio, muttering quickly under their breath. By the sound of it, the figure was relieved to be rid of their company.

“Merlin,” the voice murmured. A tremor rolled through me. I knew that voice.

I tried to shrink back onto the bench and make myself less noticeable, but it was no use. As soon as he turned around, I found myself face to face with Sirius Black.

Our eyes met and locked into place. My breath quickly left my lungs and a heavy weigh settled in the bottom of my stomach. My head swam and my vision blurred. Ut oh, this wasn’t good.

“Oh,” Sirius said, a hand flying to the back of his neck, which he rubbed awkwardly. “I didn’t realize that anyone else was out -,” he stopped mid sentence and narrowed his silver eyes. “Er, what are you doing in that bush?”

Aw, shit. I hadn’t realized I was completely crouched behind the bush. Heat rushed to my face and burned along my neck. I kept my eyes downcast as I struggled to pull my dress free of the thorny stems of the rose bush.

“I - uh - well, you see, it’s just so cold outside that my, er, arms and legs, well, they froze up and when you came out here, I was so startled that, um, I fell over and into this here bush,” I stuttered, feeling like an incompetent airhead by the time all the hot air had left my mouth.

I could feel his stare on the back of my neck and my insides squirmed uncomfortably.

“Right,” Sirius said, his tone doubtful.

I raised my head and looked at him, my brow furrowed as I studied his sceptical face. There was a glimmer in his eyes that I didn’t fancy, but I kept my mouth shut. Gathering up the hem of my dress in my hand, I shook my leg free of the rose bush and started toward the door.

I had one hand on the silver handle when I felt callused fingers wrap around my other wrist. It was a very gentle touch, but also a very pleading gesture. One that I found I couldn’t resist, even though the Voice was screaming at me to jerk out of his grasp, slam the door open and stomp back inside before anything bad could happen. Which, judging by the way everything had thus far played out, it would.

I froze, my knees locking up and my feet cementing themselves into the stone patio. I prayed that he couldn’t detect that my pulse was skyrocketing. I willed my heart to calm down and hoped that it worked. Otherwise, that would be pretty damn embarrassing.

Turning my head to the side, I whispered, “Let me go.”

He was closer than I had originally perceived him to be. Sirius bent his head so that his lips were at my ear. “Don’t you see?” he whispered back. “That’s my problem. I can’t let you go.”

Despite the fact my heart was hammering against my ribs, I rolled my eyes and broke my wrist out of his grip. “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I half-shrieked, eyes wide and scornful. I pivoted so that I was standing in front of him rather than beside him and glared.

“What?”

“Tell me you did not just use one of those - those - sickening and - and cheesy lines on me!”

“A line?” Sirius repeated. He let out a bark like laugh. “You think that was a line? Honey, I’ve got plenty of lines and that wasn’t one of them.”

“How would I know what is one of your lines and what’s not?” I asked, my voice still louder than it should’ve been. “If you ask me, that certainly sounded like a line.” I exhaled heavily, my entire body shaking with suppressed rage and other various emotions. Subconsciously, I was reminding myself that I needed to reign in my temper. “Anyway, where do you of all people get saying stuff like that to me? You haven’t spoken a single word to me since Christmas Eve!”

Well, damn, so much for trying to control my temper. Thank Merlin we were outside and alone.

Obviously, this was not the best thing to say to Sirius. Even in the poor lighting, I could see that his grey eyes flashed with anger and the muscle in his jaw was flexing compulsively as he struggled to control himself as well.

“It’s not like you’ve made an effort to talk to me, either!” he shot back scathingly.

I released a half-crazed scream of anger. “I’M NOT THE ONE WHO DISAPPARATED AFTER WE SNOGGED!”

“Shut the bloody hell up!” Sirius yelled at me, striding forward and taking the tops of my arms in his hands. He shook me once as he spoke. “Do you want everyone in the bloody world to hear you?!”

I glowered at him, all but ripping my arms out of his grasp. My upper arms hurt, but I tried not to let on that they did. “Maybe I do! Maybe I want them to know what a lying piece of dung you really are!”

Sirius threw his head back and issued another barking laugh. “You must be insane! You honestly want Lucinda to find out what happened?!”

“SEE!” I cried. “Your girlfriend is such a horrible slag, even you’re scared of her!”

His eyes narrowed again. “Shut up, Eleanor. You don’t know anything.” His voice was quiet and that worried me. He should be screaming at me. Hollering at me, that I was being stupid and there was no way that he, Sirius Black, was scared of his girlfriend.

“I don’t know anything, huh?” I laughed shortly. “It’s obviously you who doesn’t know anything. If you knew what was good for you, you’d just break up with her already!”

“Why?” he cut across me sharply. “So you will feel less guilty about snogging me back!?”

I threw my hands up in exasperation. “Yes! That’s exactly why I’m telling you to break up with her, for my own sake!” I scoffed loudly and glared at him. “What sort of person do you think I am?”

“Honestly?” Sirius asked, raising a brow. He walked toward me, forcing me to walk backward until my lower back brushed against the wrought iron railing that surrounded the patio. The sharp point of the fence dug into my back as I leaned away from his as far as I possibly could. “I think that you’re one of the most amazing,” his face drew closer, “wonderful,” and closer, “beautiful,” and closer, “and incredibly horrible liars I’ve ever met in my life.”

Our lips were almost touching. When I spoke, my top lip touched his full bottom lip and a spark was sent through my body, addling my brain. “You think I’m a liar?”

His hand was cupping the back of my neck now. His palm was warm and I found that I was nuzzling into the curve his hand created. “Well,” he considered it for a moment. “Maybe not a liar. But you’re a hypocrite.”

And his mouth was on mine again.

Unlike our last kiss, this one was slow and steady, not hurried, heated and hungry. His lips were warm and soft against mine. His other hand came to the side of my face and I felt my cheeks grow warm under the subtle pressure. My heart was racing in my chest as our mouths worked together to create the most beautiful kiss I could ever imagine myself having. I could feel everything that he was feeling. Every part of my body was alive and aware of what was happening - it was aware of him and only him.

I buried my hands in his hair, twirling one of the soft tendrils around my finger. My lips grew urgent against his and he complied to my want. His mouth parted and our breath mixed together, hot and heavy. I took a deep breath and drew in his heady scent. Our tongues touched ever so slightly and danced around, not with, one another. I pushed my mouth against his and my teeth clicked against his. Normally, this wouldn’t have been very romantic or in the least way attractive, but I didn’t care.

This was an apology snog. I knew that. But I honestly didn’t care. Sirius was finally letting me know exactly where we stood with one another, even if it wasn’t the opportune moment for such things to be happening. I should’ve felt heavy with guilt, but I was as light as a feather.

I didn’t even realize that I was unbuttoning the top of his dress shirt until he pushed my hands away and tore his lips from mine.

We were both breathing heavy. His forehead touched mine and his hot breath skittered across my face, warming me from the inside out. My heaving chest brushed against his and he tucked a lock of stray hair behind my ear.

This should’ve been our first kiss. Not the one we had.

“I’m sorry, Eleanor,” he panted softly.

“Please,” I breathed back. “Call me Ellie.”

I had just requested the one thing from him that I could. It was an intimate gesture, I know, but that was my point. I normally didn’t like it when people called me by various nicknames, but when Sirius said it, I didn’t mind it. And I was letting him know that I wanted him to keep doing it.

A grin tugged at his lips and he pressed his lips against my forehead.

We stood with our foreheads touching, but nothing else, for quite some time. My pulse returned to a normal pace and my knees were no longer knocking together obnoxiously.

After a few more moments of silence, I tilted my head back to look up into his face. “What did you mean when you called me a hypocrite?”

“You’re with Remus,” he stated, plain as day. “So, really, that makes you just as big of a piece of dung as me.”

I stepped away from Sirius and manoeuvred around him so that I was standing away from the fence, near the door of the patio. Light from the ballroom was streaming in. For a moment, I felt like one of those helpless princesses who just found a lot of fancy in one place.

I opened my mouth to say something, but I was unable to get my words out. Naturally, that’s how everything happened to me. Right when I was about to make a dramatic statement, someone just had to interrupt me. Although, I had to admit, some of them were pleasant interruptions.

This time, however, it wasn’t a pleasant disturbance.

My eyes widened in horror as Lucinda, in her bright turquoise dress, came stumbling out onto the patio, her lips locked in a fierce battle with a bloke who was certainly not her boyfriend, seeing as how he was standing near to me. Panic seized my body as I looked for a possible escape route. I knew that nothing good would come from this.

Amos pressed Lucinda against the wall and she panted his name. Her leg hitched up around his waist and he pushed her dress down to the junction where her thigh met her hip. It was more than I wanted to see and more than Sirius should ever have to witness.

I looked over at Sirius to see that he was wearing an expression of pure shock. The colour had left his face and his swollen lips formed a small ‘O’.

The sound of Amos unzipping the back of her dress seemed to snap Sirius out of his stupor. “What the fuck is this?”

As if lightening had struck between them, they leapt apart. Lucinda quickly fixed her dress so that all her previously exposed parts were covered. I averted my eyes elsewhere, specifically staring long and hard at the uneven stone under my feet.

“Sirius!” Lucinda exclaimed. “I can explain -,” she stopped talking suddenly. And I knew. I knew that she’d seen me. That she was starting to piece together her own version of what happened out here, which, she would later find out, couldn’t be farther from the truth.

“You!” she spat venomously. In one, two, three strides she’d crossed the expanse of the patio and she stood, blonde and glorious, towering over me. She jabbed me in the chest with a finger. “You told him, didn’t you?”

“N-no.”

“DIDN’T YOU?”

“No, I didn’t-,”

“Tell me what?” Sirius asked, glancing back and forth between us, perplexed. Though there was still anger in his expression, confusion was the reason behind the crease in his brow.

“Don’t play dumb, Sirius,” Lucinda growled, whirling around so quickly that her hair smacked me in the face. “I know you know and I know that she told you.” She turned to me. “You are such a little bitch. You swore you wouldn’t-,”

But it was like Sirius hadn’t even heard her. He grabbed Lucinda by the arm and forced her to look him in the eye. “Tell me what!” he demanded, his upper lip pulling back over his teeth. “What does Eleanor know?”

Lucinda stared at him. “What do you think she knew?”

They stared - or rather, glowered - at each other. It was as though they were communicating with their eyes, that Lucinda was telling him all that about the fateful day in the library when I’d stumbled across one of the biggest scandals in Hogwarts history.

He dropped her arm. His eyes flashed over to me and he shook his head. “No,” he said, still shaking his head back and forth. Black hair flopped into his now dark, stormy grey eyes. “You didn’t.” This was directed at me. “Please, tell me you didn’t.”

Lucinda laughed loudly. “Oh, she did.”

“Ellie,” he said, helplessly, not wanting to believe it.

“She’s known for a while now, Sirius,” Lucinda taunted.

“Don’t!” Sirius shouted at her. So loudly that the wave of conversation that was floating through the now open door to the patio halted. It was only moments now before people would start filing out onto the patio and be observing this oh-so-dramatic scene. I felt like I was in a really bad chick flick, only I knew this ending wouldn’t bade well for me at all.

He turned his eyes back to me. I fumbled with my hands. I could feel the tears prickling at the back of my eyes.

“How long?” he asked, his voice now so low, I could scarcely hear it.

“Sirius, I-,”

“How long!” he demanded, shouting once more.

Great. Now people were filtering out onto the patio. My eyes flickered over to the crowd and I saw them, each and every single one of the people I called my friends. They were standing around, all of them wearing expressions of equal confusion. Lily was clutching James by the arm and I could see that he was struggling to comprehend why Lucinda, Sirius, Amos, and I were all out on the patio, and why Sirius was screaming at me, his expression that of complete rage.

“I said, how long have you known?” Sirius said.

I swallowed a sob and tore my eyes away from my mates. But not before I saw James’s face light up with recognition. And suddenly, like something cold was gripping my insides, I realized, James knows.

I muttered my response, but it was so quiet, I could hardly hear.

“How long!” he shouted, impatiently.

I was crying now. Tears were leaking out of my eyes and I didn’t bother to wipe them away. I picked my head up and locked eyes with him. “Since October.”

What colour had been in his face quickly fled. His hands started to shake at his sides and he rolled them into fists, tucking his thumbs inside his curled fingers, like he was going to punch me. And I would let him. Hell, I’d want to punch me, too.

“Since October?” he parroted. “And you didn’t - you didn’t -.”

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “I didn’t tell you.”

Sirius opened his mouth, and it looked as though he was going to scream at me again, but Remus beat him to the chase.

“It’s more like she couldn’t tell you,” Remus amended, striding forward and taking my hand. I felt my cheeks flame up in shame. I didn’t deserve his support and now, he was going to go down with me.

I was a destroyer of friendships.

Sirius’s eyes flashed between us rapidly. He was making the connection. He set his jaw. His eyes became stony.

“So,” Sirius finally said. “Eleanor knew. You knew, Moony. Who else knows?” He turned to Lily and asked, “Did you know?”

She shook her head. “No,” she replied. Only she didn’t sound sad. If anything, she sounded pissed off. “I didn’t know at all. But if I did, I would’ve told you immediately.”

Sirius smiled bitterly at her. “It’s good to know that my best mate’s got a girl with a good head on her shoulders.” His eyes rested on James and his smile grew into a smirk, “And I know you don’t-,”

“Oh yes he does!” Lucinda cut him off. She was laughing again. “Don’t you think for one minute that James bloody Potter didn’t know about Amos and I.”

Lily dropped his hand immediately and took a step away from him. “What?” she asked, her tone biting as she glared at him. “You knew? And you didn’t even tell your best friend?”

Lucinda laughed, folding her arms over her chest. “Go on, James. Why don’t you let everyone know exactly how long you’ve been in on my secret?”

James swallowed nervously. His eyes were trained on Sirius, and the latter was glowering at him with a murderous expression on his face. From where I stood, I could see that James’s eyes were glassy behind his spectacles, like he was going to cry.

This was all my fault. If only I’d told him first. . ..

“Padfoot-,”

“Don’t you dare ‘Padfoot’ me!” Sirius shouted loudly. “How fucking long have you’ve known, Potter?”

When James couldn’t answer, Lucinda stepped up to the plate. Her face was smug. “Since the end of last term.” The colour drained from James’s face, which became expressionless. “He found us on the train together, in one of the spare compartments.”

“Sirius-,”

“No!”

“I did it for you, mate!” James yelled, his eyes suddenly flickering to life again behind his glasses. “I didn’t tell you because I knew it would tear you apart! I knew you were much too in love with her! At least, at that point in time you were.” He took a deep breath. “It was not a big secret that your and Lucinda’s relationship had been on the rocks - you’d been complaining it to Peter, Remus and I for months!”

“It doesn’t matter, James!” Sirius shouted passionately. “You are - no, you were my best mate. You should’ve told me, regardless of how I feel, instead of making me look like a fool now.”

“Would you have done the same for him?” Remus cut in.

The centre of the argument had shifted away from me now. This was between the three of them and I knew it wouldn’t bade well. I draped my arm over my stomach, trying to hold myself together and not vomit on Mrs. Potter’s beautiful rose bushes; I doubted she would’ve liked that.

“What sort of question is that?” Sirius scoffed. “Of course I would’ve told him-,”

“Even if Lily was cheating on him, and you knew it would crush him if you told him that the girl of his dreams was a cheating slag-,”

“Hey!” Lily interjected angrily.

“I’m not saying that you are,” Remus threw over his shoulder at Lily. “And no, I doubt you would’ve, even though you seem to think that you’re the best mate anyone could ever ask for.”

Sirius’s eyes narrowed once more. “Well, I’m sure as hell of a lot better mate than you are!”

“Don’t you go insulting Remus,” James thundered, shouting so loud that now his parents had come to investigate all the ruckus. “He’s done nothing but been a loyal friend to us since we’ve all been at Hogwarts-,”

“Shut your gob, Potter!” Sirius exclaimed. “I don’t care how loyal of a friend he’s been to me! Or how loyal you’re been! The point of the matter is that you lied to me. All of you.” His gaze met mine and I averted my eyes, feeling much worse than I could ever recall feeling. “You’ve been lying to my face for months now.”

There was a beat of silence.

“We were only trying to protect you,” I muttered softly.

“No,” he corrected, laughing without mirth. “You were only trying to protect yourselves from what my reaction would be. What you lot failed to realize is that, eventually, I would’ve gotten over it! But this - this outright lying for a prolonged period of time?” He shook his head and his lips became a thin line. “You can’t undo this.”

“You’re an idiot,” James stated.

An eyebrow disappeared into Sirius’s hair line. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said that you’re an idiot,” James repeated, much louder this time. “I’ve known you for a good deal of my life and I know that it wouldn’t have been that simple. You make it sound so easy, so simple, the process of getting over someone,” he threw a glance at Lily and I felt my heart break for him. “I know what it’s like and it’s not as easy or as simple as it sounds. I also know that if you were in my shoes - in our shoes, you wouldn’t have found it so easy to tell your best mate the worst news of his life.”

They stared at each other for a pregnant moment. I could feel Remus tense beside me and I was sorely tempted to reach out for his hand and take it. Not for his sake, but for mine, so I could keep myself composed.

“Whatever,” Sirius breathed. “I’m done. With all of you.” He glanced at each of us in turn. And then he turned on the spot and stomped back into the house.

There was absolute silence on the patio. Without another word, Lily filed into the ballroom after Sirius and I knew what this meant. People were picking sides. Our tightly knit group of mates was being pulled apart and it was all because of me. Alice followed Lily.

Because I couldn’t swallow my own fear and tell Sirius that his girlfriend was a disgusting piece of slag.

Frank followed Alice.

Because I couldn’t take the risk of having everyone know the truth about my father, the man who shot himself in the head because he’d lost his job, his only way to support me, and he couldn’t get it back together.

Finally, Peter followed Frank.

Because I was a pansy. Because I was me. I didn’t fit into the puzzle with them, yet I’d forced my way in and ruined the entire thing.

I was such a horrible person. I didn’t deserve to be alive, but I was.

Five minutes later, the only ones left on the patio were Remus, James, and me.

I didn’t even realize I had been crying until James placed a comforting hand on my shoulder. He gave my shoulder a tight squeeze and my hand covered his, returning the favour by giving his fingers a tight squeeze as well.

Inside the ballroom, the huge grandfather clock struck midnight and the bells began to toll. All the guests, at least the ones who hadn’t been out on the patio, shrieked with delight.

“Well,” James said. “Happy New Year.”

________________________________________

32
“Whomever said that the truth will set you free was obviously delusional,” James said, bringing the bottle of champagne to his lips. He grimaced as he took a large swig. “Ah, that shite is-,”

“Shite?” I supplied.

His grin was half-hearted and didn’t reach his eyes. “Too right you are, Eleanor.” Lazily, he brought a hand to his temple, giving me a sloppy salute. His motions were slow and his words were slurred; it was obvious that the alcohol was getting to him. “Everything,” he took a sip, “has turned to utter,” he took another drink from the bottle dangling from his long fingers, “shite.”

I stared into his handsome face, searching for any signs of pain. Searched for any emotions, really. His face was a mask, but his eyes were unguarded. The hazel depths were filled to the brim with an despair so intense, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around it. He looked absolutely hopeless and it was all my fault.

A rough sob escaped my throat, scraping at the sides. James sent me an inquisitive look, his head tilting to the side slightly. I quickly disguised it as a bad coughing fit, gently banging my fist against my chest.

“Are you all right?” James questioned, words slurred.

I nodded my head. “Something got caught in my throat,” was the only adequate faux-explanation I could offer.

His gaze still suspicious, he held out the bottle of champagne to me. Hesitantly, I took it from him, having drank more than I was used to. The last time I had drank so much, I ended up in Sirius’s bed with a massive headache and a sour attitude. . .that didn’t sound very good, did it? Seeing as how I was already in a horrendously sour mood, I thought it was best that I tried to limit my alcohol intake for the evening. Squeezing my eyes shut, I drank deeply and tried to ignore the faint burn of alcohol as it made its way down my throat, coming to settle in my belly.

“Whoa, slow down there, Ella,” said Remus, closing the French door behind him. I glanced over my shoulder at him to see his arms were laden with three more bottles of champagne, and thankfully, a bunch of napkin-wrapped food.

Great, now Remus thought that I was an alcoholic. This was fantastic.

“Why should she?” James asked, somewhat indignantly. “’Snot gonna help none.”

“Is not going to help, Prongs,” Remus corrected. “Is not going to help.” He came to sit down beside me on the small stone step, flashing me a tight, but warm smile.

James waved a dismissive hand at the floppy haired boy. “Pffft, whatever.” He snatched the bottle out of my hands. I tried to stop him, but he jerked it out from my fingers and hurriedly emptied the rest, which was nearly one third of the bottle.

I scowled, muttering under my breath as I resisted the urge to vomit. I had only just decided that I would drink no more for the rest of the night. I turned my body so that I was facing Remus. “Is any of that for me?” I said hopefully, eyeing the food in his arms and waggling my eyebrows for show.

Before he could answer, my stomach gave a loud, low growl. He laughed and nodded his head, all but shoving what looked to be a piece of cake into my outstretched hand. “It’s amazing that I could understand you,” Remus stated.

I chewed the cake I’d crammed into my mouth and swallowed roughly. “What do you mean?”

“You’re slurring your words.”

My eyebrows shot to somewhere in my hairline. “I am?”

He nodded deeply. “Severely.”

A giggle escaped me. “I didn’t realize that I was speaking the Language of the Drunks.” I took a big bite from the cake in my hand. I chewed and chewed, my eyes widening happily. “This is good!”

Something in Remus’s kind, warm eyes changed. I swore I saw his lips twitch downward. “You’re drunk, Eleanor,” he said quietly. Almost disapprovingly.

I opened my mouth to say something, my tongue heavy, but like always, someone else beat me to the chase. This time, however, it was James. And he was laughing. Quite loudly, actually. I stared at James, confused and waiting for an explanation, which he naturally gave.

“That’s the problem, though, isn’t it, Moony?” James exclaimed, still laughing. “We’re drunk,” he gestured from himself to me and then back again. Suddenly, his arm was around my shoulders and he pressed the side of his head against mine. Then, he pointed at Remus, his eyes narrowing in a semi-accusing manner. “And you, my good, very dear friend, are not. I say that we need to fix this.” With a wave of his hand, he popped the cork out of one of the bottles that Remus had brought out to the patio. He held out the bottle to his best mate, waggling his eyebrows.

Remus cast a doubtful look at the bottle and reluctantly took it from him. He drank from the bottle, although his mouth lingered around the lip a little longer than I expected it to. When he pulled back from the bottle, I was surprised to see that he had consumed nearly half and didn’t even grimace at the aftertaste.

He smacked his lips together. “It’s actually not that bad. Once you over the aftertaste, that is,” he added as an afterthought.

I mentally released a sigh of relief; at least I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t stand the taste of the champagne. I glanced at James out of the corner of my eye, a feeling of concern bubbling deep in my stomach when I saw his lips wrapped around the smooth top of a glass bottle.

We sat in silence for Merlin only knows how long, none of us daring to utter a single word. Remus and I ate all of the food he’d brought out with him; I wanted to save some for James, but he was too drunk to even swallow. After awhile, the messy haired, bespectacled boy leaned over and pressed his head against my shoulder, the crown of his skull resting in the crook where my shoulder joined the neck.

Absentmindedly, I brought my hand up and patted him on the head. I heard him sigh and assumed that he’d fallen asleep as the weight on my shoulder became greater. All too soon, it felt as though there was sand behind my eyelids, scraping my eyeballs, which was very uncomfortably. I blinked rapidly, not daring to casually tip my head to the side in fear of falling asleep against Remus. I also wanted to sober up a bit before dozing off, although it wasn’t looking like an option now, seeing as how I kept jerking myself awake.

My eyelids had just slide over my eyes for the umpteenth when a loud, sharp CRACK echoed in my ears, jolting any thoughts of fluffy pillows and wool blankets out of my mind.

“Whatta bloody fuckin’ hell was that?!” James exclaimed, although I’m not entirely sure that’s what he said. That’s just what it sounded like he said. He tottered dangerously and I had to grab a fistful of his sleeve to keep him steady.

Remus and I glanced at one another; I imagined my expression mirrored his - confused and little bit scared.

“I have no idea,” Remus answered, turning his head this way and that as his hand slowly travelled to the pocket of his dress trousers.

My stomach plummeted as I thought of the absolute worst: Death Eaters had come to the Potters’ party and were about to kill everyone. I released James’s sleeve, which made him sway to and fro unsteadily, and snatched Remus’s hand.

“You don’t think it’s Death Eaters,” I began, my voice pitching a note higher than usual toward the end. “Do you?”

Remus shook his head. “No, they would’ve made a grander, more dramatic entrance.” He squeezed my hand reassuringly; warmth shot through my arm and tingled in my chest.

“What could it be, then?” I questioned cautiously, not sure if I wanted to know the answer or not. It was more than likely that I should’ve kept my question to myself, but these days, I couldn’t control anything I said. I had diarrhoea of the mouth, I suppose one could say.

A shrug of a shoulder was all I received in response before Remus slowly rose to his feet, dragging me with him. I had half the mind to release his hand and let him wander without me, but I knew that it wasn’t good to leave anyone unattended, especially when it came to cracking noises in the dark. I tripped over a small rock on the garden path and blindly followed Remus. I trusted him, almost a bit too much for my own good, considering that he was a Marauder, but even I had my limitations. And I’m more than sure investigating creepy noises is definitely my limit.

We’ve barely walked three steps before James came lumbering after us, his footsteps clopping so loudly against the paved path, it sounded as though a horse drawn carriage was passing through. I reached for his hand when he was near enough and secured it within my own; if I was going to go gallivanting in the dark, I was going to have as much protection as I could possibly get. However, I had the slightest inclination that I was inhibiting the pair of them with my hands clutching theirs, but I doubted that either one of them was sober enough to know that.

“What d’you think-,”

“Shhhh!” Remus hissed through clenched teeth, cutting James off. I suppose he, Remus, meant to stomp on James’s foot, but he clambered on my toes instead. I yelped, shrieking out a long slew of curse words as I resisted the urge to hop around on one foot, like they do in cartoons. “Oops, sorry. I meant to-,”

“Yeah, I know,” I interrupted him impatiently. “You meant to step on his foot.”

Even though it was pitch black, I knew that James rolled his eyes, judging by the sigh that escaped him; he didn’t even seem all that drunk anymore. Merlin, I had never seen anyone sober up quite as quickly as James did. I tried not to dwell on the bubble of envy that gathered in my chest as we slowly crept around one of the tall hedges.

When we came around the corner, there was nothing. I frowned and James took the helm, my hand still in his, and Remus took up the rear. The bespectacled boy led us around another corner toward the centre of the maze-esque garden path. There, in the clearing next to a beautiful fountain, were several large lumps, one of which looked strangely like a trunk. A soft mewing sound was coming from somewhere within the huge mess.

It took me a few moments to piece it together, but once it finally clicked, I lost it. A great sob shook my chest as I rushed forward, casting numerous items of clothing aside to get to it. When I picked him up, Cappa blinked lazily at me, sleep still clouding his vibrant yellow eyes.

“Meow,” he chirped innocently.

I clung to my kitten, who had grown an alarming amount in the past few hours, it seemed, and ran my finger along the curve of his head. I didn’t even realize tears were streaming down my face and I was the one making the horrendous screeching noises until Cappa started licking my cheeks free of salty tears.

Shakily, and still crying - or sobbing like a cow getting its utters cut off -, with Cappa nestled under my arm, I began to pick up all my belongings. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling or the rough sobs from escaping me. I tried my hardest to pick everything up and shove it back into my trunk, which must’ve fallen open when Lily sent it to me, but it was hard to see anything. Even if I wasn’t crying, I’m sure it would’ve been difficult! A pair of hands pried Cappa from my arms while another set of hands, which were much larger and more callused, began to help me gather my stuff.

Once James closed my trunk, all my garments secured inside, he put an arm around my shoulder, drawing me close to his body. It was a very brotherly gesture, one that I received most greedily. His other arm wrapped around my abdomen so that he was hugging me. After he’d done that, there was no way I was able to keep my sobs, or myself, under control.

“I’m such a b-b-bitch,” I choked through hiccoughs, teardrops rolling off my chin.

“No,” James said quickly, his hand coming up to brush hair away from my face. I felt like a child in his arms, and a pathetic one at that. “You’re not a bitch.”

I shook my head ardently, dragging my wrist under my nose to wipe away any drainage. “But I am. I d-didn’t t-t-tell him.”

“Neither did I,” he protested, lowering his hand to my upper arm, which was alarming cold. His hand chaffed against my skin. “Does that make me a bitch?”

My chuckle got caught in my throat, making me sound like a drowning cat. I glanced at Cappa, who was sleeping peacefully in Remus’s arms, and sighed heavily. I swiped at my tears with the pads of my thumbs and shook my head again. James gave my shoulder a comforting squeeze and let my head fall against his arm.

“Everything will be okay,” James murmured quietly, trying in vain to sound reassuring when, really, it sounded as though he was trying to convince himself as well as me.

X - - X

Three days later, I found myself abroad the Hogwarts Express. It was the start of the new term, but I wasn’t as excited as the rest of the students on board. Hell, I wasn’t even the least bit excited to be heading back to school. If the world revolved around me, I would be back at home with Aunt Eliza, a pint of ice cream resting on my stomach and Spanish soap operas blaring on the television. Sadly, however, the world did not revolve around me.

Instead of picking myself up off the ground and heading home like I ought to have, I stayed with the Potters’ for the remainder of the holidays. Julian and Mary had been eager to accept me into their household, treating me as though I were a regular fixture in their lives. Though I couldn’t say that I was ever truly happy while staying at the lovely mansion, I certainly had a few laughs that lifted my spirits. It was a shame that once I went to sleep, a days’ worth of happy moments subsided, giving way to dreams that would torture me. His seraphic features contorted with fury, a hatred that was for me and only me.

Funny how even though I wasn’t the one who’d cheated on him, I was the one he was the angriest at. Well, maybe he wasn’t as pissed off with me as he was with James, but still, we were neck in neck for first place, James and I were, which wasn’t a good thing in the slightest.

A low grumble of displeasure escaped me, which drew attention toward myself. James raised one eyebrow in question, though his eyes were devoid of any emotion. Not even the smallest hint of pain resided in his warm, hazel depths. When Lily had left him, for lack of a better phrase, she took all of James with her, which was one of the cruellest things she could’ve done. I may have loved Lily like a sister, even though we all knew how much she hated me, but she could’ve listened to what he had to say instead of choosing a side so quickly. It didn’t help that Alice was so quick to pick a team to play for, either. She was such a dear friend to James; they’d grown up with each other, their parents having been friends in their Hogwarts days. And she’d abandoned him, just like Lily did. Because Lily had.

I closed my eyes tightly, a tear leaking out of the corner. If I continued to cry at any given moment, my tear ducts would surely dry out and, while I’m not sure how you feel about the matter, it doesn’t sound very pleasant at all. I swiped at it, furious with myself for getting so emotional. You’d think that I was pregnant or something, the mood swings I was experiencing were that severe.

“Are you all right?” Remus asked suddenly, his voice cautious.

Averting my eyes, I turned my gaze to the rainy window and the green blur that passed by. “I’ll be fine,” I replied automatically, hollowly.

I could feel his eyes on me and willed my body not to react, willed my cheeks not to flush and my neck not to flare up. “If you say so. . .,” he trailed off, shaking his copy of the Daily Prophet open, commencing his reading.

Once I was certain he wasn’t looking at me, I glared at the back of his bowed head, though I’m not sure why. I had so much pent up anger, so much frustration locked within me that I knew sooner or later (probably sooner rather than later), I was going to explode at either one of them. I would try not to, of course, seeing as how they were the only friends I had left. I needed them and vice versa. We were one another’s crutches, there until we were ready to walk on our own. We just didn’t know how long that would be.

Cappa padded his way across the seat and hopped into my lap. After circling three times, he finally settled himself, his head coming to rest against my thigh. I wondered what I would do without my cute kitten. I might not have had him all that long, but he was already becoming one of my dearest friends. He was always there when I needed some form of comfort and the fact that he was fluffy and smelt good was just an added bonus.

I didn’t even realize that I’d dozed off until the Trolley Lady came rolling down the narrow corridor, her voice echoing as she announced her arrival. James flew out of his seat, shoving his hand in his pocket to withdraw some money. Circe only knew what he had in his pockets. Probably a few prank items and a shrunken head. But that was just my guess.

Setting the sleeping Cappa aside (I swear, he doesn’t sleep as much as it seems like he does!), I rose to my feet, stretching my arms above my head and working out the kinks in my back. I didn’t have all that much money, but if I didn’t buy anything on the next Hogsmeade trip, I’d have enough until Easter came and Aunt Eliza sent me some money along with chocolate. Since I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, I ran smack into James’s back, nearly toppling backward. If it hadn’t been for Remus grabbing me by my upper arms and straightening me out, I would’ve hit me head on the edge of my trunk. And we all know that I didn’t need another head contusion.

The Trolley Lady was a jolly old woman. She had grey hair fastened in a tight chignon at the nape of her neck. Horn rimmed glasses rested on the narrow slope of her nose, which contrasted oddly to the rest of her wrinkled face, and blurred her watery blue eyes. The smile she offered to those who purchased sweets from her cart was warm and she dressed in outrageously coloured cardigans. I was immediately reminded of Aunt Eliza, a pang surging through my chest.

“Anything from the trolley, dear?” she asked, gifting me with a very maternal grin.

I nodded faintly. “Two Pumpkin Pasties and six Chocolate Frogs.”

Her eyes widened slightly, but I’m sure this wasn’t the biggest order she’d ever received from a girl. At least, I hoped it wasn’t. Otherwise, that would be pretty damn embarrassing. Not that I cared all that much anymore.

“That’ll be two Galleons and a Sickle.”

I handed her the appropriate sum of money, taking my treats from her grasp, and hurried back into the compartment. Remus purchased a small bottle of pumpkin juice, something I wish I would have thought of. My mouth was going to be insanely dry now. As if reading my mind, Remus stopped the Trolley Lady and bought another bottle of juice.

“You looked thirsty,” he explained, taking the seat next to me, though he was careful to avoid sitting on Cappa.

The kitten leapt onto his lap eagerly and nuzzled his palm. I smiled slightly. “Aw, he likes you.”

“Yeah,” Remus said, delicately stroking Cappa’s head with two fingers. “I guess he does.”

Remembering the disastrous aftermath of the party and how Cappa had cuddled with Remus then, I felt my smile grow a little bit tighter.

“In fact,” I began. “All animals seem to like you, James, and. . .,” I trailed off suddenly. Tension hung thick in the air before I cleared my throat and continued, “well, my aunt’s dog, Rufus, went ballistic when James swung by to pick L-Lily and I up.” It was hard to say her name, too.

Remus nodded his head in understanding and leaned across the small cabin, snatching his paper and shaking it open once again. He disappeared behind the neatly printed lines of text and soon, he became so engrossed in his reading that he didn’t even complain when Cappa started clawing at his face. Weird.

My stomach rumbled unattractively, but thankfully, neither of the boys looked up from their current tasks. James was shoving food into his mouth at such a blinding rate, I couldn’t even tell what he was consuming. And Remus, well, he was reading. I could only imagine what. . .I stopped myself from thinking thoughts that would make me upset. Which was difficult. I’d never realized how much I thought about You-Know. . .well, that wouldn’t work either, would it? I mean, it’s not like he’s a Dark Lord. Unless he moonlights, of course. I can’t call him Him or He because I’m pretty sure that God would be offended.

Rolling my eyes, I exhaled deeply and tore open a Chocolate Frog with my teeth. It leapt about like mad, but I got it under control. Stuffing the jumpy chocolate into my mouth, I chewed rather roughly, making sure to mash it up good before swallowing. I uncapped the bottle of pumpkin juice and right when I was about to take a drink, the train get a sudden lurch forward. Orange tinted juice slopped all down my front, drenching my white button up.

And Mary Potter had wondered why I was so depressed about going back to school.

X - - X

By the time the train pulled into Hogsmeade Station, however, I was more than ready to get out of the compartment and into the shelter of the castle. I couldn’t stand another minute of Quiet Remus and Depressed James. They were driving me mad with their non-talkative attitudes. So, as soon as it was announced that we were nearing the school, I eagerly shrugged my school robes on and sat by the door, tapping my foot impatiently.

The train gave a lurch and I flew out of my seat like a bullet from the barrel of a gun. Well, I went as fast as I could with all the people surging into the narrow strip some had the nerve to call a corridor. I pushed and shoved my way out of the train until the cold air hit my face. Unfortunately, there was an odd slush-rain pouring down from the sky that was positively frigid. I had half the mind to turn on my heel and head back to the safety of my compartment, but I was forced forward. I cursed under my breath when someone elbow me in the side.

“Sorry,” he said, but it was obvious he didn’t see me. Or he was acting like he didn’t see me, which was the more likely possibility.

I frowned after him, watching as his head of dark, silky hair weaved in and out of the crowd, making his way toward the thestral drawn carriages. My frown deepened when I saw who he climbed into a carriage with. Something rolled in my abdomen. I tried not to dwell on the matter, instead choosing to conjure a make shift shield for Cappa so he wouldn’t catch a chill. No matter how hard I tried to tear my eyes away from the sight of them, I couldn’t. Lily threw her head back and laughed loudly, so loudly that her infectious laughter reached my ears. And if it was within my hearing. . .oh vey, I didn’t want to think about that.

I waited until James and Remus stepped off the train. Once I spotted them, I sloshed through the mud and fought my way around the throng of students as I moved toward them. James was wearing a harsh scowl and I knew that he’d heard her laughter, much like I’d feared. I resisted the urge to reach out a sympathetic hand. At least, I thought I’d resisted the urge; Remus must’ve thought that I was holding out my hand for him to take because he took it within his own. Without a moment’s hesitation, he led James and I toward an available carriage.

The ride up to the castle was shrouded by a stony silence. I tried to make conversation, but neither of them seemed to be in a speaking mood, though Remus held my hand the entire way. I wanted to pull my hand away, not because I didn’t want him to hold it, but because the stone heavy guilt was beginning to settle in the pit of my stomach. It was so heavy, I almost felt physically ill.

When we pulled up to the fortress, James and I hurriedly rose from our seats and reached for the door handle. I let him take it within his grasp and watched as he pushed the door open, jumping out into the misty night air. I thought that he was going to rush ahead of us and duck into the Great Hall so he could get the first dibs on food, but he waited for Remus and I to climb out of the carriage.

We joined the surge of students, walking into the Entrance Hall. I breathed in deeply through my nose; it was so nice to be back. How could I’ve been so stupid and actually been hesitant to come back to Hogwarts? It was practically my home and I hadn’t realized until that moment that it was a part of the healing process for me. And perhaps, it would serve the same purpose for James, but I knew somewhere deep inside that it would probably only make things worse.

I swallowed nervously at the thought and made a vain attempt of pushing it to the back of my mind, which, naturally, didn’t work. Rather, it did the exact opposite. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I followed James’s lead into the Great Hall. Almost immediately, my senses were sent into overdrive and actual tears of happiness sprung to my eyes. I would be able to eat Hogwarts food again. I’d be able to gorge myself until I had to undo the top button of my skirt.

I was in hog heaven.

James made his way toward the Marauders’ typical spot, but quickly stopped short when he saw that Sirius, Lily, Alice, and Peter had already claimed that particular stretch of bench. An odd sort of tension was strung suddenly, tighter than a rubber band pulled to its limits, and I felt heat begin to build around my collar. Lily’s eyes found mine and she glowered at me, the set of her mouth hard and unforgiving, just like her cool emerald eyes. We stared at each other for several moments and it felt as though my heart had frozen up. Her gaze left mine and travelled over to the hazel eyed boy standing beside me. Anger bubbled through my veins until I felt the force of his glare.

I was unable to turn my head, to look away or even pretend I didn’t notice him, like he had done to me when he’d bumped shoulders with me. His gaze was penetrating and full of hatred; I didn’t think it was possible for someone with such perfect, angelic features to look so demonic. I sucked in a deep breath, the tears that were once of happiness now that of pain. His eyes burned into mine and spoke the words I didn’t need to physically hear to understand.

He wanted nothing to do with me. He didn’t want me near him. He wanted me out of his life, to go back to being invisible, to living a life in the shadows. I was the lowliest of scum, no better than the people he had to call family. My heart stopped beating and leapt into my throat, making it nigh near impossible to breathe. I was such a terrible person. I didn’t deserve to be alive.

He hated me.Although I had the faintest inclination that he was feeling all these things toward me, I didn’t realize just how much it would hurt when I finally took everything into full recognition. It hit harder than I had expected it to. It felt as though someone was holding my head underwater and I wasn’t able to free myself from their fierce grip. Like they wished me to die.

Something painfully cinched around my heart and I couldn’t help thinking, he doesn’t really want me to die, does he?

I was barely aware of Remus’s fingers hovering against the palm of my hand. I jerked away from him and clenched my fist. I didn’t want my hand to be held. It wouldn’t help at all. If anything, it would only make things much, much worse than they already were.

“Come on, guys,” Remus said, his voice low. “We’ll find somewhere else to sit.”

I nodded my head faintly and tore my eyes away from Sirius’s intense gaze. I could feel his eyes burning the back of my head as I grabbed James by the arm and tugged him down the aisle toward a different area of the Gryffindor table. I didn’t like the feel of guilt that was rolling up and down my spine, but I knew that it was my fault. Purely my fault and there was nothing else I could do about it except for deal with it. As much as I might not like it, it was the only option I had left.

Tremors were surging up James’s arm, his hand shaking fiercely. It alarmed me, but I didn’t say a word in fear of saying the wrong thing. The expression he was wearing could only be described as blank, but his eyes were a much different story. I’d thought that they would be completely devoid of any emotion, aside from misery, but I saw they were burning bright with something I couldn’t quite recognize. Of course, I was never good when it came to realizing emotions, so who was I to judge?

We found a spot somewhere near the middle of the table. Remus hurried around the other side and plonked down opposite of me. Most of the students had already found their seats, so it was more than a little awkward standing around, waiting for James to sit down as well.

I gave a sharp tug on his arm and said softly, “James.”

With a small shake of his head and some muttered words, he threw a leg over the bench and slid into a more comfortable position. I threw a cautious look across the table at Remus, but he didn’t seem to notice, for his attention was fixated elsewhere. Namely, anything that wasn‘t in the direct line of sight of the other students gathered in the Great Hall.

Apparently, the entire school had taken notice that the Marauders were divided. And believe you me, they didn’t ease the tension stretched between the two groups at all. If anything, they only made it worse. And here I thought I was going to be able to enjoy dinner. Could nothing be like it used to be?

X - - X

Once Dumbledore had given his very short, to the point speech, I hurriedly tucked into my dinner as instructed by the starry eyed headmaster. I could feel hundreds of eyes burning into the back of my head, which is why I was shovelling food into my mouth at high speed. Several people nearest to us looked as though they were going to ask me a question, but they always backed down. Thankfully. I had no idea what I would do if someone actually opened their mouth and asked me what was going on. How on earth would I be able to explain the situation?

Simple - I wouldn’t. I would turn on my heel as quickly as possible with my tail tucked between my legs and hurry toward my dormitory, the only place where I would be able to find any sort of comfort. We were all absolutely quiet as we ate, the sounds of silverware scraping against golden plates the only noise erupting from any of us, save for the belch that James released after downing a goblet of pumpkin juice all in one go.

Even though none of us were speaking, I couldn’t help noticing there was something different about James. I couldn’t place my finger on it, but there was something wrong with his eyes. Well, I would not say wrong, but. . .just different. Severely different. Only moments ago, he looked as though he would never come out of the depressive state he’d sunk into after the party. But now, I was almost alarmed by the glimmer in his eyes. Frightened.

I hoped to Merlin that it was a positive glimmer of determination instead of a bad one.

When desert appeared on the table, my stomach growled happily as I reached across to snatch up a piece of chocolate cake. I horked it down at a surprisingly quick rate, my anxiety level spiking as I shoved each forkful into my mouth. All too soon, my cake had run out and I was ready to head up to my dormitory to get some sleep. All I wanted to do was sleep. Get some shut eye and forget that this mess ever happened. Although I knew deep in my gut that a good night’s sleep would be next to impossible.

As soon as I had scraped the last of the cake off the golden plate, I gulped down the rest of my pumpkin juice, sloshing some over the front of my uniform. I paid no heed, rather pushing back somewhat hurriedly from the table and knocking James in the face with an elbow.

“Sorry,” I muttered, offering an apologetic half smile.

“Where’s the fire?” Remus asked lightly, a joking tone to his voice.

I tried to laugh, but it sounded like I was choking, which, I assure you, is as unattractive as it sounds. Lamely, I shrugged my shoulders and pushed myself to my feet.

“I’m tired,” I offered.

And it was the truth. Well, the semi-truth. What I really wanted was to fall into a deep coma and maybe create a time machine so I could do things the right way and tell Sirius as soon as I found out about his cheating girlfriend, despite the fact it was more than likely he wouldn’t believe me. Much less look at me. Because, let’s face it, before I was forced to be his partner in Potions, he barely knew I existed. For Merlin’s sake, the boy couldn’t even get my name right!

Well, he could now, but then? Don’t make me laugh. How many times did he guess? At least a dozen times and he didn’t even find out what my name was until he asked Slughorn. By Gods, I never did realize just how invisible I had made myself. I should’ve been proud, but I wasn’t. I was disappointed in myself. Severely.

With a small shake of my head, I snapped myself back into the present moment, only to realize that more than a dozen pairs of curious eyes were trained on me. Acid churned deep in my belly as my stomach flipped and flopped as though I were on one of those Muggle things - a rollercoaster. I could feel a familiar pair of emerald eyes burning into my back and shifted my weight from foot to foot uneasily.

“I’m just going to. . .,” I trailed off, somewhat lamely, before waving a brief goodbye to my mates and heading out of the Great Hall.

It didn’t take me long to sprint up all seven flights of stairs to Gryffindor tower. Not saying that I was not panting for breath by the time I reached the top of the last flight, but still, I think I did pretty good for having a full belly and being on the verge of a mental breakdown. Sucking in another deep breath, I pushed my slightly sweat out of my face and muttered the password to the Fat Lady.

“Are you all right, dear?” the Fat Lady asked cautiously, her eyes wary as she slowly swung open.

I nodded. “Yeah,” I panted. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

“You look a bit flustered,” she replied, her tone now as wary as her dark gaze.

I resisted the urge to spit out my retort that I’d just ran up seven flights of stairs without one pause after a very hearty dinner, but I did the wise thing and kept my mouth shut. It was the least I could do for the Fat Lady. Without another word, I climbed through the portrait hole and all but fell to my bum on the other side of the hole. Thankfully, there was no one around to see it and I released a short, shaky laugh at my own expense. It was probably the only laugh I would be having for a long while to come.

Given the fact I was out of breath, I paced myself as I walked up the spiral staircase to the girls’ dormitory. I could just barely see the door to the seventh year girls’ dorm when a sudden realization struck me like Zeus’s infamous thunderbolt. This room was no longer an area where I could find peace. If anything, it had turned into a silent war zone and I was more than willing to bet I was going to be completely ally-less.

Heaving a resolute sigh, I pushed the door open and tripped into the room. Literally. I had stumbled over one of my own shoes, though how it’d gotten out of my trunk is beyond me. I noticed that my belongings were strewn hap-hazardously across my region of the room. Comforted by the sight of the organized chaos, I began to undo the buttons of my blouse and kicked off my shoes. A nice, hot shower seemed perfectly in order, especially after the craptastic day I’d experienced thus far, but instinct only told me that it was going to get much worse.

How much worse, I would find out as soon as I finished brushing the tangles out of my air and had thrown my pyjamas over my head.

Dinner must’ve ended while I was still the shower because as soon as I stepped out into the room, it went silent. All eyes were trained on me and more than one of the gazes were mutinous. I held back a shiver of actual fright, not knowing what these girls were capable of when pissed off, and I crossed the room at top speed.

Almost as soon as my back was turned to my roommates, the frantic whispers began. It didn’t take a Potions master to figure out that it was Leanne and Marlene chattering away, trying to get some information from Lily. Surprisingly, when I looked over my shoulder, the redhead was shaking her head firmly.

“Oh, come on, Lily -,”

“I said no, Marlene,” Lily said stiffly. She must’ve sensed my gaze because she slowly pivoted her head so that she was looking at me. Her eyes burned into mine, throwing hot daggers that I couldn’t dodge, even if my life depended on it. One of her eyebrows arched high. “Can I help you?”

Licking my lips, I shook my head. “N-no,” I stammered, heat rushing around my neck.

“Then why are you staring?” Marlene snapped, eyes flashing with anger.

A sudden wave of offence swept through me. Marlene didn’t even know what was going on, yet here she was, trying to act as though she was personally involved the conflict between Lily and myself. I squared my shoulders, feeling a good deal bolder than I had in quite a while.

“Why don’t you just stay out of everyone’s business for once, McKinnon, and stop mucking things up,” I spat acidly.

A short laugh rolled through Alice, but when Lily‘s eyes cut over to her, she stifled it with her hand. I could see a glimmer of regret in her friendly, brown eyes and I knew that she had only picked Lily’s side because they were best friends.

Which was totally understandable.

Leanne and Marlene shared a glance, the latter of which folded her arms over her chest and raised a brow at me in questioning curiosity. “From what I heard, you’ve already mucked things up quite a bit on your own,” Marlene teased.

“Didn’t think you were the type of keep such a secret from a beloved friend,” Leanne chimed in, a wicked smile overcoming her lips.

“So much for honesty,” Lily commented coldly. She turned her back then and went about getting ready for bed.

I stood, rooted in my spot, and I tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t; it felt as though there was a heavy weight situated on my chest. One that wouldn’t go away until I said what I needed to. One that would pester me until I at least tried. So, wetting my lips once more, I took the tiniest of steps toward Lily, though I knew she wouldn’t see, as her back was to me.

“Lily,” I began, my voice weak. Circe, I really was pathetic, wasn’t I? “I said I’m-,”

“I don’t want to hear it, Briggs,” Lily murmured, loud enough for the entire room to hear, “nothing you could say can change my opinion of you.”

X - - X

Unable to sleep in a room full of hostility, as soon as it was late enough, I grabbed my blanket and pillow from my bed and headed down the staircase as quietly as I could. It wasn’t the best place to lay down for the night, but I was not only scared that I wouldn’t wake up tomorrow, but because not one of my roommates wanted a single thing to do with me. Save for Alice. And that was a steep maybe.

Expelling a short breath, I leapt down the last of the steps and headed over to the couch. It wasn’t very long, but at least it was comfortable and had enough room for me to curl up on. Throwing my pillow down on the couch, I wrapped my blanket around my body and sank down onto the squishy, but comfortable surface.

I shifted around until I found a relatively comfortable position. I was lying on my side, my eyes on the dying embers of the fire. It was going to be cold tonight, that much was true, but at least it was better than sleeping in the dorm. I knew that if anyone found me in the morning, especially the wrong sort of person, I could get into trouble. We weren’t supposed to sleep anywhere else, save for our own dorms. Not unless we had permission, which I doubted I would get from McGonagall.

All too soon, however, the waves of sleep were softly lulling me to sleep. Just as I was taken up in the tide, I heard the portrait hole swing open. Seeing as how I wasn’t fully conscious, I didn’t move, much less make a noise. I didn’t want anyone to see me and unless they were going to sit down on the sofa, then they wouldn’t.

I allowed the waves of sleep to take me away, but not before I caught the musky scent of. . .well, to be honest, it smelt vaguely of wet dog and cinnamon. The smell was faintly familiar, but I was too tired to give a damn and actually think as to who it could be. As unconsciousness lulled me into a light slumber, I felt the faintest touch of warmth against the cool skin of my cheek. It almost felt as though a finger were being dragged across my face.

But by the time I managed to pull myself to the surface of consciousness, the warmth had gone and I was all alone in the common room.

________________________________________

33
“. . .and finally, you give your wand a quick, smooth flourish,” squeaked Professor Flitwick from his position atop a pile of books, “like so.” He performed the movement so quickly, I didn’t see it. Well, that’s what I told myself so I would feel less guilty about falling asleep in his class.

Anyone who knew me (which wasn’t saying much) was aware that I was terrible at Charms. But as horrible as I was at performing the spells, I actually enjoyed the classes. Professor Flitwick was a very nice man, always willing to help his students when they asked for it. Of course, it took nearly failing three of my exams in a row for me to finally gather up the courage and ask Flitwick for help; his answer had been Remus Lupin. And we all know how that one turned out.

Insert eye roll here.

How come it seems that every bloke that’s shoved at me for academic purposes, I seem to fall for? And why, did it seem, that I had horrible timing, no matter what I did?

Unable to answer my own question, I wrapped my fingers around the handle of my wand and did as Flitwick asked: we were to mimic his movements without actually saying the incantation while he walked around the classroom and observed. Which meant that I was probably going to be getting a visit from the short, delightful man in just a few moments. I hated being invalid at Charms.

I shook my bangs out of my eyes and adjusted my grip on my wand. I was suppose to charm the clock in front of me to speak the time, rather than using my eyes to look at the face of it. To me, it seemed like such a silly bit of magic to use, but according to Flitwick, it was very important. When he had said it, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that he was looking at me. It wasn’t like I meant to trip over invisible surfaces when I sprinted off to class. Though I had yet to completely master the art of silent incantations, I was pretty well off. However, sometimes, such as now, I had to mumble the spell under my breath to get it right.

I threw a casual glance over each shoulder to make sure that Flitwick wasn’t in hearing distance. I scanned the room and saw that he was near another student across the room, assisting them. My shoulders heaved as I released a deep sigh. Squeezing my eyes shut, I swished my wand as I was instructed and muttered the incantation. I silently prayed to Circe that everything would go as it was supposed to. And naturally, it didn’t.

The clock that was supposed to verbally tell me the time was singing in a deep, baritone voice. It was speaking - or singing rather - in fluent Italian. And quite loudly, too.

I tried to shut the thing up, waving my wand at it sporadically and whispering a Silencing Charm, but every time I said it, the louder the damn clock crooned out its sorrowful tune. I pointed my wand at the clock and swished my wand again. Maybe if I repeated the spell, it would reverse the effects. I knew that I couldn’t have been further from the truth, as all spells had a Counter Spell, save for the Killing Curse, but it was worth a try. My voice began to grow in volume as I pointlessly waved my wand at the clock, heat rushing to my cheeks and pooling around my neck as I tried and failed to get the thing to shut up.

Finally, out of sheer frustration, I dropped my wand onto the surface of the desk and picked up the clock. I studied it for a few moments, wondering if there was an off switch. I knew it was unlikely, but I was more than willing to try anything to get it to be quiet. With a roll of my eyes, I began to shake the clock.

“Merlin, why won’t you shut the bloody hell up?” I shouted at the inanimate object, shaking it all the more furiously as its noise grew louder. I emitted a long, loud shriek of anger and threw the clock on the table. Rather hard, too. I heard the insides rattle, I noted with a satisfied smile, but the exterior was undamaged. At least, from what I could see.

I snatched up my wand again and pointed it at the clock, fully prepared to break the rules and use a bit of Transfiguration to make the clock stop producing noise. Before I could yell out the incantation that rested on the tip of my tongue, I heard Flitwick’s squeaky voice:

“Miss Briggs,” he said, though the tone which he adopted suggested he was questioning me rather than addressing me.

It was so quiet, I could practically hear the heartbeat of the student beside me. Oh fuck, not again!

I kept my eyes focused on the crooning clock in front of me, my fists clenching and unclenching at my sides. Maybe if I acted like this was a bad dream, I would wake up on the common room couch, a kink in my neck and that oddly familiar scent just a memory from the dream I’d had. As soon as I heard the peals of barely concealed laughter, however, I knew it was anything but a dream.

Nightmare was a more adequate phrase.

The sigh escaped me before I could help it. “Yes, Professor?”

The Hufflepuff at the desk next to me snorted and when my eyes snapped to him, he disguised it as a cough. Hm, I never knew I could be so menacing. The Voice chuckled at me, but thankfully didn’t say anything. I didn’t know if I could handle what the Voice had to say just now.

I didn’t even realize that Flitwick was at my elbow until he flicked his wand at the clock, shutting it up immediately. My shoulders sagged with relief, but I was a bit frightened of what the little man would say. Was I going to get another detention? I hoped not; I certainly didn’t fancy running into Sirius, which was a definite possibility considering how much trouble he got into.

“Are you - would you like to - er, need a bit of fresh air?”

I squeezed my eyes shut tightly and groaned. Great. I had done something so psychotic that even Professor Flitwick couldn’t speak around me. This was just wonderful. I wonder how long it will take for this little bit of news to get around the school. Oh yeah, that’s right. For students to actually talk about me, they’d actually have to know who I was. However, just because the idiots didn’t know my name didn’t mean that I was safe from their gossip. They could just say “You know that really weird girl with a rat’s nest for hair? Yeah, she totally fell off her rocker during Charms today” or they could just point very indiscreetly at me as I walked by. Which had been happening a lot as of late.

Eyes still shut, I nodded my head slowly, feeling like a complete asshole.

Flitwick’s sigh of relief was heavy and I found that it stung. “Oh good, I was hoping you would say that.”

I slung my bag over my shoulder and snatched up my belongings, not bothering o stuff them in the aforementioned bag as it would only take more time; I didn’t think I could handle the constant stares of my classmates for much longer.

X - - X

Twenty minutes later, I found myself down in the kitchens, sitting on a stool at one of the countertop islands. My elbows were perched on the ledge and a huge bowl of vanilla ice cream drenched with a hearty coating of chocolate sauce was settled in front of me. Iggy was sitting next to me, concern in her very round eyes.

“Is the Miss Briggs okey-dokey?” Iggy asked as I attempted to shovel another massive spoonful of ice cream into the mouth. I missed and hit my chin.

I shrugged my shoulders as I corrected my mistake, directing the spoon into my mouth. The metal scraped against my teeth and sent a chill roiling down my spine. I hated whenever that happened. I licked the spoon free of ice cream as I pondered how to answer Iggy’s question.

So far, I’d had an incredibly shitty day. Well, to be honest with you, it all began last night. After I’d gone downstairs to sleep on the couch in the common room, it was hard for me to get to sleep, and it only got worse after the Visitor. Though I didn’t know who the Visitor was, but their scent was so irritatingly familiar that I was literally driving myself mad trying to think of where I’d smelled the scent before. There was an image, but it was blurry around the edges. Too blurry to make out, which was just as frustrating.

Although, the Voice had argued with me for a good half hour or so that someone hadn’t even made an appearance, that I was making it all up to comfort myself, I knew someone had been in the same room as me, that someone had been in the common room while I was sleeping. I was aware that it sounded odd; hell, I thought it sounded odd that while I was submerged in my dreams, I had sensed the presence of another. The Voice could fight all it wanted; I know what I saw - or smelt, rather.

After the Visitor slinked away into the darkness and went about their rendezvous, I spent the next two hours trying to get back to sleep. Not only was the couch incredibly uncomfortable, but I could not sleep without knowing who it was. If there was anyone at all. However, I finally did get to sleep - an hour before dawn. Needless to say, the early risers sent me stomping up the spiral staircase in a severely grumpy mood. James and Remus took note of my sour disposition and, wisely, left me alone while I crammed food into my mouth and sloppily drank my pumpkin juice.

Then, there was the Charms Incident. I don’t think I need to detail that for you.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, as soon as I walked into History of Magic, more than a dozen fingers were pointed at me simultaneously. The whispering began. It took me all but a second to turn on my heel and high tail it out of there. There was no way I was going to stick around for lessons when I knew that people were going to be talking about me the entire time.

The only problem was that I didn’t even know if they were talking about the Charms Incident or the Disastrous New Years’ Eve party.

Setting my spoon down beside the bowl, I sighed. “I don’t know, Iggy. I have absolutely no idea how I could make things better.” I pushed a hand through my short hair. “What d’you think I should do?”

When I turned to look at the small elf, I saw that her eyes were even wider than usual. Her mouth hung open and I could just barely see the pink of her tongue. Her chest heaved with effort as she tried to catch her breath.

Apparently, she wasn’t used to being asked for her opinion. Which made sense, given that she was a house elf.

“The Miss Briggs is asking. . .asking Iggy what - what she thinks?” she managed to squeak out.

I nodded my head, idly picking up the spoon and searching for ice creams remains. I couldn’t find any and dropped the spoon onto the table. “Yeah, I’m asking you. Have you never been asked to give your opinion?” Even though I’d already answered my own question, I figured I could ask Iggy.

I was surprised with how quickly she nodded her head, her ears flopping back and forth. I imagined it couldn’t have been too pleasant, those massive ears smacking against the sides of her head.

She fidgeted with her tiny hands, her skinny fingers getting tangled in a complicated web. I stared at her curiously, waiting for her reply. She seemed to be calculating it in her head and I could see that glimmer of fear in her eyes.

It took longer than it should’ve for me to realize that she was scared. Scared to say the wrong thing in fear of me getting mad at her. Silly little elf.

“I promise I won’t get mad,” I added, a note of reassurance in my voice. “I promise.”

Iggy licked her lips anxiously and said in a very hesitant voice, “Iggy thinks that the Miss Briggs should tell the Mr. Black the entire story, the story that the Miss Briggs has just told Iggy.”

I felt the colour drain from my face as I stared at her, taking in her wide, apprehensive eyes and the cautious smile on her lips. “Merlin, I was afraid you were going to say that,” I muttered softly, slowly shaking my head.

Iggy’s eyes widened considerably. “Oh, the Miss Briggs! Iggy is so very sorry for not saying what the Miss Briggs wanted to hear! So very, very sorry!”

As quick as a flash, she hopped off her stool, promptly falling to the flagstone on her face. Before I could bend over and help right her, Iggy was hurrying over to the hearth. What little colour my face had been retaining had now vanished. She was going to throw herself into the flames!

“Iggy, no!” I cried, scrambling off my stool and running after the house elf. Well, attempting to run after her would have been a better and more correct way to phrase it. My ankle was wrapped around the leg of the stool and, having forgotten that bit, I pulled away from said stool too quickly. I fell flat on my face, hitting my china against the floor. My teeth rattled in my skull and it felt as though my brain had shifted. Blood began to pool in my mouth; I’d bit my tongue. Fantastic.

A groan escaped me before I could stop it and, instead of standing up, I crawled on all fours over to the hearth. Thankfully, Iggy hadn’t thrown herself into the flames. Unfortunately, she was smacking her forehead against the rough stone surface of the surrounding bricks.

“Stop it, Iggy!” I pushed myself to my knees and grabbed the house elf around the waist, yanking her away from the wall. She struggled furiously in my arms. I tightened my hold on her until her jerky movements slowed. “I’m not mad! I swear, I’m not mad at you! I just don’t want to face the truth!”

Iggy stopped wiggling. I stopped breathing.

It was as if time had been frozen in some weird, warped space/time continuum. Or something sort of like that. My chest felt like the weight of the world was resting on it one moment and the next, it all but vanished. My mind, which had been severely cloudy ever since the New Years party, was as clear as a spring morning. At least, as clear as a spring morning can get in England. It was as if someone as slapped me across the face with an open palm with every intention of making it hurt as much as possible.

Holy Mother of Merlin, that was it, wasn’t it? I didn’t want to face the truth, avoiding it like the Black Death or worse. The truth that I had more than just a small inkling of feelings for Sirius Black. That I was the very definition of a coward and didn’t have the slightest hint of a backbone. That I am an unbelievably pathetic person who needed the support of others to keep my sanity in check, for proof, see the Charms Incident.

I relinquished my hold on Iggy as though I’d been burned, both of falling back onto the cobblestone. As I lay on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, I breathed, “Oh shit.” My chest became lighter yet heavier at the same time. A realization like mine could do that to a person.

After awhile, I rolled over onto my side and spat the blood in my mouth onto the floor. I dragged my sleeve across my lips and pushed myself into a sitting position. Iggy was staring at me with a look that suggested I was off my rocker. Which I was. But so was she, so it really didn’t matter. Burying my hands in my hair, I realized - I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.

X - - X

“. . .and then I heard her say ‘well, he’s just a right git, now isn’t he’, like she has the right to call me a git when she’s the one acting like an arse. It’s getting to be ridiculous, quite honestly. And I - Eleanor!”

At the sound of James’s sharp cry, I jerked my head in his direction, dropping the quill that was in my hand on the surface of the table.

We were in the library, attempting to study for the upcoming Transfiguration exam. Though I was all right at the subject, I’d asked James, who was a bloody genius in the course, to help me with some of the more complicated spells. While we’d practiced for over forty minutes, the conversation soon turned to Lily. Just like every conversation I’d partaken in with James had over the last three and a half weeks since we’d been back at Hogwarts.

“What?” I asked, hastily picking up the quill and scribbling down a useless note. Might as well make it look like I was doing something.

“Were you even listening to me?” He was giving me a measured look, one eyebrow raised.

Damn him and his ability to raise a singular eyebrow, I growled inwardly, wishing to drive the tip of my quill through his hand. You would’ve thought I just punted his puppy over a bridge or something, the look he was giving me.

“Yes,” I replied, somewhat exasperated. “I was.” I shifted in my seat, hoping that my lie wasn’t as obvious as I thought it was. “Now can you help me with this-,”

“What’d I say then?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“If you were listening, Eleanor,” James began. “Then you’d be able to paraphrase what I just said to you. So, if you please.” He made a fluttery motion with his hand. It was almost like he was shooing me or something. . .

Wetting my lips, I tried to think of a plausible reply. He had obviously been talking about Lily and how annoying she was being, as that was all he ever talked about anymore, so I could basically reiterate every single one of our conversations in the past twenty four hours.

“You said that Lily called you a name and that she is the one acting like the arse, not you.” I took a shot in the dark and by Circe, I hoped I was right.

His accusing look faltered and his shoulders relaxed. “Oh,” he muttered, obviously disappointed that I’d guessed right. “You were listening.”

“Of course I was,” I said, reaching across the table and grabbing his hand in a comforting gesture. “I would never tune you out.”

His laugh was full of doubt, but he patted my hand briefly before slipping his own out from under my palm. “So,” he began, shaking his shaggy hair out of his eyes. “What’d you need help with?”

I scooted my chair around the table so that I was closer to him, mentally sighing to myself for being right in my guessing. I don’t know what James would’ve done if I guessed wrong. Well, he would probably make me suffer through another one of his long-winded rants about the fiery redhead and I would, of course, tune him out again. It was just a vicious circle, really, and Merlin I wanted out of it as quickly as possible. I wasn’t a big fan of circles.

Pulling my book across the table, I situated it so that it was open between James and myself. With a lazy finger, I pointed to the spell. James’s eyes widened considerably as he saw the incantation I was having difficulty with. He adjusted his glasses on the bridge of his nose.

“Wow, you really want to learn how to do that?” he inquired, his tone incredulous.

I shot him a look. “Way to make me feel like an idiot, James,” I murmured under my breath. Rolling my eyes in annoyance, I continued, “No, I don’t want to learn how to do it. I just need to know the basics of it.”

“What don’t you understand?”

I combed my fingers through my hair, ready to tear my fringe out of my skull. “I don’t understand how it can be considered Transfiguration when there’s a potion involved. Honestly, it doesn’t make the slightest sense, this Animagus shit.”

“A potion, you say?” His brow furrowed in confusion as he spoke. James pulled the book toward him and leaned over it, his eyes quickly scanning the text and absorbing. “That’s weird.”

“What is?” I questioned, resting my chin in the curve of my hand.

“The potion bit.” He was absolutely absorbed in the book now, his voice almost feather light as his eyes took in the information. The wrinkle in his brow deepened. “We didn’t need to use a potion when we-,” he stopped suddenly. He tore his eyes away from the page and looked into my face to see if I’d heard him. I had.

“What do you mean ‘we’? What are you talking about?”

“It’s nothing, Eleanor,” he responded, a bit too hastily for my liking.

“James, I know when I’m being lied to,” I began.

“So I do,” he shot back. “I knew you weren’t listening earlier, but since you guessed good enough, I dropped it.” He flashed me a quick smile before his face turned serious again. “Trust me when I say that it’s nothing, Eleanor.”

“Why do you keep using my name?” It was starting to get suspicious.

“I do?” James sounded generally surprised. “Hmm,” he mused aloud. “I guess I have been. Sorry about that. But really, it was nothing.”

“Can’t you just tell me what happened? It’s not like I have anyone to tell as Remus probably already knows,” I said, hoping that my argument was a good one.

Sadly enough, it was true. After all that had happened over the recent weeks, the only friends I had left were James and Remus. Hell, Iggy would hardly look at me any more in fear that I would ask for her opinion again and all but tackle her to the floor. I’d be cautious of me, too, if that’d happened.

I stuck my lip out in a pout. “Pretty please?”

James stared at me unblinkingly for a few moments. I saw something sparkle in his hazel eyes, like he really did want to tell me what had happened. But there was also a guarded look in his eyes, like he didn’t want to tell me the story because it wasn’t entirely his to tell. Finally, the guarded glimmer receded and he sighed.

“Fine, I’ll tell you.”

I clapped my hands like a giddy child and pushed the book away from both of us.

James laughed. “You’re acting like it’s story time or something.”

“It sort of is,” I said, smiling. “Anyway, on with it! No distractions, mister.”

He rolled his eyes good-naturedly and licked his lips, just like any good story teller does right before diving head first into an exciting tale. “A few summers ago, Sirius, Peter and I made an attempt to become Animagus,” he said simply.

I blinked. “Is that all?”

“Yep, that’s it. I told you it wasn’t that big of a deal, Ella.” He shook his head to himself, laughing softly as he began to gather his things.

“Well, that’s no fun. I was expecting a long and exciting Marauder’s tale. Like the ones Sirius used-,” I stopped myself, my eyes widening.

James whipped his head in my direction so fast, I thought he received whiplash. He seemed okay, though his eyes, like mine, looked as though they were going to pop out of his skull. He seemed just as surprised as I was that I’d said his name out loud. I’d been saying it in my head for weeks now, but when it came to conversation, I always referred to Sirius as ‘that one bloke’ or, worse yet, him.

I didn’t say anything as I snapped my Transfiguration book shut and shoved it into my bag. James followed suit, pretending that I hadn’t just randomly blurted out the name that I had been refusing to say for nearly an entire month. Pathetic, me? No way!

We were halfway out of the library doors when I turned around abruptly and said - well, more like ordered, really - through gritted teeth, “Don’t tell Remus about this.”

James halted, his chest brushing against my extended index finger. Alarm was engraved in his face and he cocked his head to the side. “Why not? It’s not like it has anything to do-.” James stopped in the middle of his sentence and his eyes sparkled with recognition and understanding. “Oh, you don’t-,”

“James!” I hissed, throwing looks over my shoulder. Luckily, no one was looking at us. Really, there was no one else in the library. Thank Merlin. “Say it louder, will you!”

He put his hands up in the air. “What! I didn’t say a single thing.” A smirk twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Yet.”

James slipped out of the library door before I could grab the hem of his shirt. A squeak escaped me as I squeezed through the narrow crack provided by the double doors. I had to suck in my stomach to fit, but once I did, I marched down the corridor after James, who thought it funny to run as fast as he possibly could. Cursed Grindelwald, I was going to murder him!

X - - X

Lucky for me, James didn’t go running to Remus. He had actually sprinted down the corridors to the Great Hall, where dinner was waiting for him. I guess we lost track of time while we were studying in the library and his stomach reminded him of his previous arrangement.

To say that I was thankful it was the weekend just wouldn’t suffice. I was ecstatic that I could relax and maybe, just maybe, get a decent night’s sleep. Though I had started sleeping in the dormitory a little over two weeks ago, I still couldn’t get a sound night of sleep. My roommates dreamed, but I stared at the ceiling for an hour or two before slowly easing into unconsciousness, only to wake up several minutes later when the nightmares started. The previous weekend, I took three naps over the course of twelve hours and, for some reason, in daylight, I was able to sleep without dreams ruining my state of semi-unconsciousness.

But that would have to wait for later. Now, there was a massive pile of homework for me to tackle. I threw a longing glance over at Lily’s bed, which was vacant. If I could avoid it, the only times I came up to the room was to sleep and to gather my books for my lessons. Other than that, I was missing in action. If anyone was concerned about me, none of them voiced it. Not that I was expecting them to do so.

Things had reverted to how they used to be and quite honestly, I didn’t see why I wasted anymore energy being upset over it. The way I saw it, there was no going back to the way things were now. I had screwed up big time and because of it, I was paying the consequences.

At least I still had James and Remus. The latter name made my stomach plummet. Over the past few weeks, Remus had started to get attached. Clingy, almost. When we were around each other, he would reach for my hand and hold it within his own, even if I didn’t want him to hold my hand. It must’ve been an instinct reaction or something like that. I mean, he wouldn’t do something when I didn’t want it to be done, would he? He let go of my hand when I pulled it from his grip, but now that I thought of it, he did always seem reluctant. . .

I glanced down at my hand and sighed. The tingles that would’ve accompanied the thought of him, Remus Lupin, holding my hand no longer surfaced. It was a small fizzle, if that, and I felt horrible for it. Remus was, in short, perfect. He liked me for who I was. He was forgiving, extremely kind, smart, and a great kisser. Not that the latter mattered. And I’d fancied him for nearly three years! Then, out of nowhere, all of the feelings I possessed for him vanished. I would say that I didn’t know why they suddenly disappeared, but I would be lying. I knew exactly why I didn’t feel anything aside platonic feelings toward Remus and it was because of his best friend.

The boy I wasn’t supposed to associate with in the first place. The boy with the clearest eyes and most endearing smile. The boy with a laugh that warmed me so thoroughly, it spread from my very centre to my toes in a matter of seconds. The boy I might just love.

I closed my eyes at the last thought and, with a soft sigh, slammed the book that was situated on my lap shut. I fell back onto my bed, my legs still folded Indian style. My back screamed in protest, but I ignored it.

Merlin. I was just as clueless as I had been in the kitchens with Iggy. The problem was I knew what I had to do, I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to break Remus’s heart and tell him that I did not feel the same way that he felt about me. He would be confused and, worse yet, heartbroken. That is if he even fancied me anymore.

To make matters worse, I would lose him as a friend. And I certainly did not want that. Worse case scenario was that James would go right along with him and there I’d be, back in Square Numero Uno, a place I didn‘t wish to be ever again. Not that I wasn’t already mentally preparing myself for such happenings.

It was kismet. Fate. Destiny. It was whatever you want to call it, I had a strong inkling that it was going to happen.

A light weight settled on my chest. Great, it was back again. The feeling of guilt and self resentment that had been following me around since New Years. Bloody fantastic. This was the last thing that I needed at the moment. I was about to roll over onto my stomach to see if I could shift the weight, to see if I could make it less heavy when a soft mewing met my ears.

Oh thank Circe, it was Cappa.

Cracking one eye open, I found myself face to face with my kitten, who’d grown an alarming amount in the past month. With a paw, he gave an affectionate swat as my face. I rolled my eyes softly and I scooted up the bed, pushing myself onto my elbows.

“Hey little guy,” I cooed, scratching him behind the ears. “Sorry I haven’t been a very good owner as of late. I’ve been way stressed.” He nuzzled my hand and I smiled. “So you’ve forgiven me, eh?” He purred and, once again, I smirked. “Well, that’s good. I don’t know what I would do without my best furry friend.” Tipping my head downward, I placed a kiss on the crown of his head.

I laid back down on my bed, shifting the pillows around beneath my head, and stared up at the bit of ceiling that peaked through the top of my four poster. While I gazed and wallowed in my self pity, I stroked Cappa from head to tail absentmindedly. His body contorted to the curve of my hand each time I pet him and I found a faint smile playing at my lips. The sad thing was, this was the most I’ve smiled in days.

My fingertips found the small shell behind his pointed ears and lightly scratched the spot. Cappa gave a loud purr of appreciation and pushed his head into my palm. I obligated his demand, a soft snicker shaking my chest.

“You wouldn’t leave me, would you, Cappa?” I asked as I idly smoothed out his sleek mane of hair.

As if he’d been waiting for me to ask that particular question, he leapt off my stomach and onto the floor. He meandered his way toward the door, his tail sticking straight up in the air.

I expelled a deep breath, swirling my fringe around my forehead. “Well, I guess I know the answer to that,” I muttered to myself, falling back down on my bed again.

A few seconds of hollow silence past before, “The answer to what?”

A shriek escaped me and, in my fright, I scrambled myself up in the mess of sheets and homework splattered across my bed. Chest heaving, I took several deep breaths to steady my racing pulse. I could hardly see, for my hair was smothering my face. I shook it out and tucked the stray strands behind my ears. To my immense surprise, Lily was standing in the doorway with an all-too-content looking Cappa in her arms.

Damn kitten. I would lose everyone to her, wouldn’t I?

However, upon closer inspection, I noted that there were grey circles under her emerald green eyes, which were bloodshot. Her dark red hair was piled on the top of her head in a makeshift ponytail that swayed from side to side when she moved. Her jumper was a dull pink and clashed horribly with her hair. I didn’t say anything though, just nervously tucked my hair behind my ears.

“Nothing,” I muttered softly. “I was just-,”

“Talking to yourself again?” she finished for me. The smile on her lips was tight, hesitant. “You do that a lot.”

I felt my face harden and my stomach dropped. So much for trying to play nice. “Look, if you came up here to make fun of me, I would appreciate it if you got over with it quickly. I have homework that needs to be completed.”

. . .

Whoa, did that just come from me? Cool. Eleanor one, Lily Evans, zilch. Let’s see how long the score stayed that way.

Her smile vanished all too quickly and I imagined she mirrored my expression. “Sorry for trying to be civil, Briggs,” she hissed, stalking across the room toward her bed. As she walked past, she set my cat down on my trunk at the foot of my mattress.

Civil? She wanted to be civil after all of the rubbish she’d put me through? Was she crazy?

“Are you insane?” I blurted before I could help myself.

She stopped mid-stride and slowly turned toward me. I wasn’t going to lie, a cool chill crept up my spine and settled at the base of my neck, making the hairs stand on end. Good Merlin, I knew there was a reason why I never wanted to piss off Lily Evans; she was positively frightening!

“Excuse me?”

I swallowed nervously. Oh boy, this wasn’t good. How could I be chickening out when I was the one who ‘started it’ in the first place? Dear Sweet Circe, I am a pathetic human being.

“I said, are you insane?” For some reason, my voice was stronger when I pushed myself up into a sitting position. I guess I felt more vulnerable while laying down. “You want me to be civil with you when it was you who has been treating me like rubbish for the past month!? I’m sorry for jumping to the conclusion that you were poking fun of me because you don’t already do it enough with fucking Marlene and Leanne!”

Oh no. I was shouting now. And cursing. Shit.

The look on Lily’s face could only be described as shocked. Her mouth was open and her eyes wide, like she hadn’t been expecting to elicit such a response from me.

“I-,”

“No!” I said. Or shouted, rather. Eek, if I screamed any louder, I would draw attention. It was only a matter of seconds before footsteps began to pound up the stairs. Girls were such nosy people. “I’m not finished yet! You can’t just expect me to act nicely to you because you’re being nice to me. Do yourself a favour and save your energy - I don’t give a damn and most certainly do not wish to hear anything you have to say, no matter how ‘civil’ it may be.”

“Eleanor,-”

“Oh, don’t ‘Eleanor’ me!” Man, I was ploughing right through this confrontation, wasn’t I? “We’re not mates anymore; you made that damn well clear when you sent my belongings to the Potters’ home after the party. Do you know how humiliating it is to ask someone you’ve just met if you can stay at their house because your mate - oh, excuse me, exmate - kicked you out of their house!”

“Well, no-,”

“That’s right, you don’t! You don’t have a bloody clue what it’s like being alone, without any friends for years!” I closed the distance between us, so that we were only a metre or so apart. “You’ve had mates all your life, Lily. I’ve only just acquired my own, so excuse me for exercising a little caution as to the potentially harmful things I tell them. I may be sorry for not going to Sirius right away, but I’ll tell you one thing that I’m not sorry about. I am in no way sorry for not telling you. You’re just a bossy,” I poked her in the chest, “pushy,” I placed my hands on her shoulders and gave her a rough shove, “bitch who expects the best out of people when you aren’t even as good as a mate as you claim to be!”

Lily grabbed my wrist and returned the shove I’d given her. I stumbled backward until I hit the post of my bed. A brief lick of pain vibrated in the back of my head, but I swallowed the pain.

“At least I tell the truth!” she countered. “You have absolutely no idea how hurt Sirius is that you didn’t tell him. He thought you were his friend. Friends don’t keep secrets from each other.”

“It wasn’t my damn secret to tell!” I yelled, my face and neck blazing hot like my anger. “And maybe I would have the slightest inkling as to how he feels if you actually responded to my attempts to talk to you. To reason things out.”

Her jaw clenched, her nostrils flared. “I wasn’t ready for that.”

“It’s not Potions mixing, Lily!” I felt like ripping out my hair. “I took the first step to try to fix this, but you kept pushing me away. And now that you’re ready to make things right, you think I’m just going to sit back like a good, obedient puppy and listen to what you have to say?” I shook my head. “I am not like that anymore. I am not a pushover and I certainly won’t be bossed around by a hypocrite! Get off your damn high horse and stop acting like your shit doesn’t reek!”

I shoved away from the bedpost and stalked toward the door, all but ripping it off the hinges. When I tried to step out into the stairwell, I was shocked to see that no less than seventeen girls were on the steps, surprised looks on their faces. They’d obviously been listening at the door. Great. This was just great. It’s not like I needed something else for others to talk about.

Pushing my way through the mess of girls, I clambered down the stairs, nearly tripping over my feet when I reached the foot of the stairs. I wasn’t as surprised to see that the students in the common room were wearing equal looks of astonishment. However, I did see two smirking faces. And at the moment, they were the only ones I wanted to see. I jerked my head toward the portrait hole, hoping that they would be able to translate the message.

Thankfully, they did and I scurried over to the exit, snaking my way through the people who stood there, stunned. Well, I couldn’t blame them. In all my years on earth, I think that was not only the most I’d ever said in one gush of air, but also the only time I’ve ever stood up for myself.

X - - X

I don’t know how we made it out to the Quidditch pitch, but we did. Once we fled the common room, James assumed the role of leader, as per usual, Remus and I following behind him like diligent little soldiers marching after their captain. I was silent as we walked to the field, wondering why we were going out to the field. Until it hit me that it was the first place that James would probably go when he was angry. Not that I’d ever seen him angry before. I glanced at Remus to see if he felt the same as I did. If he was confused, he didn’t show any signs of it.

Since my strides were nowhere near as long as either of them, I practically ran to keep up with the pair, especially when we hit the downward slope of the hill. I nearly tripped half a dozen times as I trekked down the slope, muttering darkly under my breath. It wasn’t bad enough that I was already pissed off, but the fact that I couldn’t even walk down a hill without screwing up incensed me even more.

We continued marching down the occasionally travelled path, a path I’d taken a few months ago to attend my second ever Hogwarts Quidditch match. Something tugged at my heart; it wasn’t painful, but at the same time, it wasn’t all that enjoyable. I surmised that it was the memory of the day, a day that had been both good and bad. Though I couldn’t imagine what’d been bad about that day.

When the toe of my shoe snagged on one of the rickety, wooden steps, I promptly fell down to my knees, skinning my kneecaps against the prickly wood. Closing my eyes, I ground out, “Fuck!” And I said it quite loudly, too.

James and Remus stopped walking to see what was wrong. Neither of them so much as cracked a smile when they saw me like they would’ve done, given a completely different circumstance. They knew that I was about to break, that I’d already begun to crack and was on the tip of the iceberg, as the saying goes. It was only a matter of time before the initial meltdown process began and I fell off my rocker officially.

Remus hurried down the stairs to help me up. Holding out his hand, he wiggled his fingers slightly. It was a welcoming, warm gesture, though I could hardly appreciate it when I was so livid. I wrapped my fingers around his, squeezing much harder than necessary as I pulled myself to my feet.

“You all right?” His brow was creased with concern. Unnecessary concern, I found myself adding.

I shrugged my shoulders. “I’ve been better.” Placing a hand on his arm, I pushed around him and began to traipse up the stairs, much more cautious than I was before. The cool air stung as it bit into the freshly torn skin on my kneecaps and every time I lifted my leg to take another step, the skin ripped even more. I bit into my cheek to keep from crying out in pain, though the tears in my eyes would have given me away, had James or Remus been paying the slightest bit of attention to me.

Abruptly, James stopped and threw himself, quite gracefully, I might add, down onto one of the bleachers. I hadn’t realized how far we’d climbed until I noted how much cooler the air was up here. The faint breeze that had stirred my skirt around my knees was much stronger, sending shivers up and down my spin. I tried to ignore it the best I could as I felt Remus come up behind me and slip past to lower himself down on the bleachers beside James.

I was panting for breath, but they were perfectly fine, their chests rising and falling steadily. Biting back bitter thoughts, I placed my hands on my thighs, just above my skinned and bleeding knees to gulp down some air. The air stung my lungs, sharp, almost like a knife point. Had I really worked so hard to climb up the stairs?

“Merlin,” I said, lowering myself down onto one of the seats, a row below James and Remus. “I’m in terrible shape.”

Both of the boys laughed, James louder than Remus. My eyes flickered over to his face and I saw that the line of his mouth was tight, his eyes guarded, and his general expression was sombre. My stomach seized up with panic, but I did my best to swallow it with another breath of air.

“You’re not in terrible shape,” James said, still chuckling, though it seemed a bit more forced than his usual laughter. “I’m just in much better.”

To add emphasis to his joke, he rubbed his hands over his chest in an arrogant matter, which made me laugh softly. I would’ve laughed harder, if not for the bitter taste in my mouth. James was trying to distract me, to calm me down before I started seething again. The thought made me clench my fists in fury and bit my tongue to prevent from speaking out.

Gee, I never realised how much anger could change a person’s perceptive. I could see now why he, Sirius, didn’t want to listen to my reasoning behind my betrayal - he was too caught up in his anger to care about anything else. Something clamped around my heart; I vaguely recognised it as pity or sympathy, rather. Yes, I could sympathise with Sirius on this issue, now that I was mad enough to actually reach the same level of rage as he had.

“So,” Remus said after a considerable stretch of silence. “What happened?”

James sniggered. “Way to be blunt, Moony.” He shook his head to himself, obviously caught up in a bout of amusement.

“I’m always blunt when the point needs to be reached,” supplied Remus almost defensively. With a small shake of his head, he turned his gaze back toward me. The melted chocolate gaze that used to make my heart pump furiously, now it only trembled, reminding me of the guilt that I felt when it came the boy in front for me. He didn’t deserve a friend like me. Not at all.

No one did.

“So, I repeat: what happened?”

The intensity of his stare was too much. I broke my eyes away from his, focusing them on a piece of splintered wood. My fingers found a small gorge in the wood and circled it slowly.

“I-I don’t really know,” I said, my voice weak, trembling. I could feel the tears gathering in my eyes, but they were no longer a side effect of the pain shooting up my knees. Great Circe, I must’ve done quite the number on my knees if they were still hurting. Sucking a deep breath of air, I continued, “I was just sitting upstairs in the dorm. You know, playing with Cappa and talking to myself. And then she came into the room. I-I really dunno. She made a comment about something I said to Cappa,” I licked my lips, looking into the hazel eyes of James Potter. “I wouldn’t have yelled at her if I knew she wasn’t aiming to take the mickey out of me.” My voice had a desperate note to it, as though I was begging James to understand my inconsiderate behaviour toward the girl he loved. “It’s just that I’ve seen the way she acts around Marlene and Leanne. It’s almost like they were, er, rubbing off on her or something like that. I really thought that she was just commenting to make me angry; almost everyone knows I wouldn’t harm a fly. But-,”

“You just snapped?” Remus offered.

I nodded dejectedly, looking down at the singular hand in my lap. The other was still tracing the faint outline of the knot in the wood. “Yeah,” I muttered. “I just snapped.”

“What happened next?” James pressed, his tone light, though guarded.

I shrugged. “I just went off on her. I told her that she had no right to expect me to act civil toward her when she’s been treating me like a leper. Well,” I added, “I didn’t say it like that, but it was close to it. In fact, it probably would’ve been better had I gone that route opposed to just yelling at her to get rid of some of the anger and frustration I felt-,”

“We get it, Eleanor,” Remus cut in. “Continue.”

I took another deep, steadying breath. I could feel that my cheeks were hot, not with shame, but with a newfound anger. I’d never felt so angry in my life.

“I s-shoved her,” I stuttered. “And not just a small push, but an actual shove. She was knocked off balance and was sort of surprise, you know. Then she started yelling at me, basically calling me a liar since I didn’t tell S-Sirius. And she told me that he was miserable - that I was the source of his misery and-,”

“Wait!” James interrupted. “She called you a liar?”

I bobbed my head. “Yeah, she did. But I can see where she’s coming-,”

“No, Ella,” he continued, rage coating his words. “She had no right to call you out! You’re not a liar for being concerned about your friend’s feelings!”

“But - if you look at it from her perceptive-,”

“Eleanor.” This time it was Remus. “You can’t let her influence you like that. She’s trying to make you feel guilty.”

I laughed hollowly, shaking my head in disbelief. “No,” I said, my voice assured. “Lily wouldn’t do that. I mean, she might be angry with me, but she wouldn’t purposely try to feel guilty.” I turned my eyes toward James, my brows raised. “Would she?”

He considered it for a moment, his expression perplexed. His brow creased in concentration as he thought of the possibility of his Lily being an unfair, manipulative person. I could understand why he was reluctant to accept the fact that she could be like that. I understood because that was how I felt about her. Lily had been one of the best mates I’d ever had in my life. She wouldn’t knowingly do that to me.

“No,” James finally said, his voice low. “Not Lily.”

A breath of relief escaped me as my shoulders slumped. I was suddenly very tired.

“Are you bloody serious!?” Remus shouted, leaping to his feet. “Of course Lily was guilt tripping her! Why else would she have said she was the ‘source of Sirius’s misery’. I haven’t seen him looking all that torn up about what happened! The way Eleanor said that Lily said it, you’d think that they were more than just mates, which is ridicul-,”

When he caught sight of the expression on my face, he stopped. I didn’t even realise that I’d stood up and my hand was extended toward him, my fingertips brushing against his arms. He studied my face for a long minute. Then, he started to slowly shake his head.

“No,” said Remus, his head moving from side to side. “No, it couldn’t have happened.”

“Remus.” I tried to grab a fist of his shirt, but he jerked his arm out from underneath my touch, like I had burnt him.

“We were - you wouldn’t - no. Ella, you wouldn’t do something like that. Not you.” He bit his lip, an apprehensive expression settling on his face as though he were considering the possibility. “I could see him doing it, true enough. In fact, he’s done it before. That’s how he got with Lucinda. But you - when he knew how I felt about you?”

My mouth quivered. My legs shook beneath me. “Please, Remus - let me explain-,”

“You need a chance to explain?” Remus released a loud, howl-like laugh. “So something did happen between you and Sirius? Something more than just friendship!”

A tear rolled down my cheek. “It wasn’t on purpose. I fancied you, Remus. Really, I did. For years, if you want me to be honest with you. And-,”

“You fancied me?” He licked his mouth. “Does that mean you no longer fancy me? That you’ve just been appeasing me, letting me take your hand when we walk down the corridors and kiss you when you-,”

“I’m sorry, Remus!” I was screaming again, only I sounded a lot more hysterical than before. It took a few tears landing on my arms before I realized I was crying. Well, sobbing, really. “I didn’t mean for it to happen! It just did!”

“So you think that explains it? That suddenly your behaviour is excusable?” He laughed again, a hollow sound that felt course in my ears. I didn’t like it, but I was source behind it. “I can believe that Sirius would do something about it; he’s never been good with controlling his feelings, but you are actually telling me that you reciprocate his feelings?”

Slowly, I nodded, my chest heaving and shoulders shaking. “Yes,” I said, my voice just barely above a whisper.

“You could’ve just told me to back off! I would’ve stopped holding your hand and maybe, I would’ve understood why you were so upset. You know, I actually thought that you were depressed because of something I did! And here, I was ready to apologise to you for something I didn’t even do, that I’m not even responsible for.”

“No, Remus-,”

Remus made a noise of disgust, turning on his heel, his back toward me. I stared hard down at my feet, the sound of his angry footsteps like Muggle bombs as he clambered down the stairs, cursing to himself and to the night. Eventually, the wind carried away his cursing and angry mutterings until I couldn’t hear him at all. He must have made it back to the castle or was well on his way.

My heart was barely beating, too absorbed in keeping the solid feeling of misery pumping through my veins. My chest was compressed, heavier than it had been since the New Years Eve Party. It was hard to breathe. Hard to think, really. I felt like I was the worst person on the planet and to be honest, I was. I was a hideous person, toying with the emotions of a boy that was already fragile. I just didn’t realise how fragile he was until tonight.

A hand settled on my shoulder, warm and comforting. Brotherly, almost. I reached up and placed my hand over James’s, squeezing his fingers tightly. “You know,” I muttered, “you don’t have to stay here with me. He’s your mate - he’s going to need some consoling. More than I do.”

“Eleanor, I’m not going to leave you.”

“You should, though,” I replied. “He’s been your friend longer than I have.”

“Eleanor-,”

I tore my hand away from his and spun around so that I was facing him. “Just go, James. Please, it would make me a feel a lot better.” The lie actually sounded convincing coming from my mouth.

“If you’re sure. . .”

I nodded and with a regretful, sad smile, he loped gracefully down the steps, going to console the friend that would eventually turn him away, as soon as he learned that James knew what was going on between Sirius and I the entire time.

Bloody hell.

________________________________________

34
The days passed by faster than I thought they would. I wasn’t as miserable as I could’ve been. Not to say that I wasn’t upset because, clearly, I was, but in a way, it was almost like the friendships I had established with Peter, Alice, Remus, James, Lily, and Sirius didn’t even exist. It was like they were merely a dream. A delusion that I concocted in my boredom. Which is entirely plausible.

I might have believed it if didn’t hurt so badly to see them together. Separate, yes, but at least they had one another. Meanwhile, I had no one. No one, but the Voice. Not that It was being helpful as of late. In fact, I hadn’t heard from the Voice since the night on the Quidditch pitch.

A sigh escaped me as I rolled out of bed, making sure that I didn’t thump my feet too loudly against the floor as I padded toward the bathroom. I took a quick, hot shower and hurriedly scrambled out of the washroom just as the others were beginning to wake up. I avoided eye contact as I brushed my hair, which had already reached a length where it skimmed just above my collarbone. Thankfully, I didn’t have too many knots in my hair and was able to dress in my uniform, which, for once, wasn’t covered in wrinkles.

As I made my way toward the door, my eyes caught Alice and I was surprised to see that she gave me a small wave. Just a tiny wiggle of her fingers and a semi-smile. For some strange reason, I felt the urge to cry. Wrenching the door open, I blinked away tears as I traipsed down the stairs, nearly tripping over my feet in my rush.

When I stepped into the common room, my stomach gave a familiar swoop and my heart began to hammer, quite loudly, I might add, in my chest, beating a painful tattoo against my ribcage. Sirius was standing by the fireplace, an arm against the mantel and his head bowed slightly. His hair was in a hectic sort of disarray, wild in the back and on his crown, but smooth beside his ears, almost as though he had been tucking it behind his ears nervously. The line of his shoulders was tight with tension and from what I could see, the hand that hung limp by his side was holding something.

A letter.

He didn’t seem to have noticed my presence in the common room, which gave me the smallest bit of hope that I could slip out unnoticed. Hell, Sirius was probably so used to tuning me out, he would not notice me if I caught myself on fire and ran around like a headless chicken. Not that I would ever do something as ridiculous as that. . . Though, I couldn’t blame him for tuning me out or anything, I mean, he had a substantial reason to hate me.

I watched as Sirius crumpled up the letter and tossed it into the fire. With a hand, he grabbed the poker and began to prod the logs inside the grate. It was a very unusually solemn gesture that I would not have expected from Sirius. It was, well, almost as though he had gotten the idea out of a storybook or something.

Something tingled in my nose and I began to panic. I couldn’t sneeze now! Not now! He would think that I was spying on him or something. And Merlin only knows what he would do then. I doubted he would resort to violence or anything, but it looked like a very private moment. One that no one would interrupt without getting an earful, in the very least.

The sensation began to dissipate and I found my shoulders sagging in relief. Then, the Voice began to spark to life, wanting to say something. And just as It began to speak, the urge overtook me so suddenly, there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop from sneezing.

I sneezed. And Holy Grandmother of Houdini was it loud.

Before I could move, Sirius whipped around, the makings of a glare overshadowing his previously contemplative expression. However, he must’ve been shocked that it was me because, almost as soon as we locked eyes, his mouth shut with an audible click. Something brewed in his silver eyes, something that made my stomach both flip with excitement and tremor with dread. It didn’t help that the fire was outlining his tall figure, making him look all the more imposing.

I couldn’t tell you how long we stared at each other. All I know is, while I stared at him, all the guilt I had been carrying around with me since January seemed to become all the more heavy, yet lighter at the same time. The Voice started to speak again, faint mutterings, but it was then that I realised I was becoming light-headed, my visions dotted with spots of black as well as colour.

I wasn’t breathing.

Feeling absolutely silly, I gulped down a deep breath of air. It seemed to shake me out of it, though whatever ‘it’ was, I couldn’t be quite sure. I blinked one, two, three times before I shook my head to myself softly. My breathing seemed to rouse him from whatever spell had overcome us because his eyes narrowed and the familiar spark of anger ignited in his melancholy eyes. Once again, my heart began to hammer painfully against my ribs, trying to escape. I wanted to rub my middle, to soothe the ache, but not only would it look out of place, but I couldn’t handle being in the same room with Sirius. Alone.

It was stifling, the tension. Almost suffocatingly so.

I stiffened when his lips parted and he sucked in a small breath, like he wanted to say something. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle whatever came out of his mouth. So, to spare myself the misery of having to deal with whatever he said, I bolted. I ran pell-mell toward the portrait hole and struggled for a good thirty seconds before I managed to wrestle the painting away from the hole. Thankfully, I didn’t hear any snickers coming out of Sirius; I don’t know how I would’ve handled that.

Once I managed to free my foot from whatever it was caught on, I stumbled out into the corridor, my chest heaving with effort. Had I been holding my breath since I made a run for it or was I panting due to my struggle with the painting? Deciding not to answer my own question, I adjusted the shoulder strap of my satchel and headed toward the Great Hall.

If this was foreshadowing of how the rest of the day would go, I was in for Hell.

X - - X

It was fruitless, trying to pay attention during my lessons. Everything my professors said floated up and over my head, settling somewhere in the back of the classroom. I tried to take notes, but I just couldn’t muster the focus. My hand would end up fluttering above the paper, the tip of my inked quill refusing to meet the crisp, smooth surface of parchment. It was more infuriating than it sounded.

A sigh escaped me in the form of a large puff of air. It stirred my fringe, making the ending strands of hair tickle my nose and brow ridge. I ignored the urge to giggle as the bell rang, signalling that it was time to go to Potions.

If I had dreaded the class before, I don’t know the appropriate word for how I felt toward it now. All at once, my stomach began to flip and flop, twist and turn, and perform a whole acrobatic routine. I bit the inside of my cheek as I shoved my belongings into my satchel, which had a nice, large rip down the side of it. I would’ve fixed it myself, but knowing how disastrous my last attempts to fix anything had been told me that I should just buy a new one. I’d have to owl Aunt Eliza and ask her to send me a few Galleons or, better yet, a new bag all together. It’s not like I minded what it looked like.

Out of habit, I followed the line of students out through the door, nodding a friendly goodbye toward the professor. He smiled tightly at me, almost as though he knew I hadn’t been paying attention to his lesson at all. Whoops.

The corridors were as loud and rowdy as they always were. I just barely avoided being shoved down one of the moving staircases when two burly Hufflepuffs and an equally large Ravenclaw started to toss a pair of Fizzing Whizbees back and forth. A group of fourth year girls shrieked as one of the Fizzing Whizbees zoomed over their head, nearly taking off their hair. One of the girls proceeded to yell at one of the Hufflepuffs, poking him in the chest several times for good measure.

Rolling my eyes in annoyance at the spectacle, I searched for the quickest way out of the corridor. I managed to slip between a snogging couple and a pair of first years. As soon as I was able to break free from the unusually large crowd in the corridor, I took off down the next stretch of hall as though someone had lit a rocket under my bum. Not that I was eager to get to Potions. If anything, I didn’t want a single thing to do with that class; I wanted to stay as far away as I could from the class. The less I saw of the dungeons, the better, regardless of how good I was at the subject.

Unfortunately, since I was able to slink my way out of the crowds in the halls, I ended up outside of the classroom a few minutes early. It wouldn’t have been that big of a deal if they weren’t waiting as well. And by they, of course I meant Lily and Sirius. They were standing close to one another, their lips moving rapidly. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but it almost looked as though they were arguing with one another. Lily’s jaw locked into place and she tilted her chin upward slightly; Sirius stared at her, looking completely baffled.

My stomach swooped greatly. I treaded down the short flight of stairs as quietly and cautiously as I could, not wanting to draw attention to myself. The less they saw of me, the better. Especially after The Encounter, as the Voice was now calling it, this morning. My stomach gave another whirl of a turn at the thought of Sirius’s blazing grey eyes, of the heavy crease that had formed in his brow.

Since I was exercising an abnormal amount of caution, it’s only natural that I ended up tripping over the hem of my robe. My feet fell out from underneath me and I slid on my bum down the last three steps, the shock of the impact vibrating up my spine in the most unpleasant way.

“Ow,” I muttered to myself, not bothering to stand up just yet. The pain was still making its dizzying way up to my head. White lights began to flicker in front of my eyes and I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from crying out. How come injuries always hurt much worse after they occur?

I could feel their eyes on me as I slowly pushed myself to my feet. My back hurt more than I cared for; it was almost a nauseating pain. There was no doubt in my mind that I would have bruises along the line of my spinal column. I could only imagine the array of colours that decorated my back. With a grimace threatening to pull at my mouth, I bent down to retrieve my bag off the floor. A small gasp escaped me as a thread of pain licked up my spine, stopping somewhere at the back of my neck and tingling furiously beneath my skin. I managed to wrap my hand around the strap of my bag and give a sharp pull, only to hear a resounding tear.

Shit. The strap had finally broken.

Gulping down a breath of air, and trying to ignore the probing stares I was earning from the nosy pair of observers, I knelt down beside my fallen belongings and began to gather them up. A wave of fresh tears pricked at the backs of my eyes, causing the painful tickling to stir in my brain again. I bit into my cheek even more roughly than before and the copper taste of blood filled my mouth. My fingers were about to close around my inkwell when a pale, but sallow hand came into my view.

The strong fingers latched around the inkwell, securing the top on. The small pot was thrust into my hands and I looked up to see that Severus Snape was kneeling across from me, picking up some of my other belongings.

His greasy, black hair hung in a curtain around his face as he met my eyes. Something flickered in his glassy, onyx orbs. Something that I was all too familiar with.

Pity.

Severus Snape was pitying me.

The thought of Snape actually taking pity upon me, a Gryffindor and former mate of the Marauders, no less, made my mind reel with shock. But I suppose I understood. Or rather, Snape understood the situation I was in. No one ever helped him. If it’d been Snape’s bag that had broken, someone would have kicked his belongings away from him. Would have broken his inkwell instead of making sure the cap was on tight, like he had done to mine.

Too startled to say anything else, I took the last of my things, an Eagle feather quill, from his hand, my fingers lingering over his. “Thanks,” I muttered.

His lips parted slightly, but instead of returning a pleasantry, his mouth pulled into a sneer and he flung my hand away from his, standing up with surprising dexterity. “I didn‘t do it for you, Briggs.”

Then he trod over my fingers as he returned to his spot against the wall, crossing his arms over his chest.

Someone to my right scoffed loudly. I twisted my head to see that it was Lily, her face coloured with indignation. I couldn’t figure out why, but I quickly shoved my things into my bag and rose. My back screamed in protest as I slung my satchel over my shoulder. Merlin, I wish the damned door would open already!

It didn’t take long for the rest of the class to show up. I could hear James’ loud, boisterous voice as he and Remus approached the dungeons. Remus laughed about something as they came gliding down the steps, as that was the only appropriate word for the way they walked.

James smiled softly at me, a glimmer of apology in his eyes as he did so. I had received that look from James many times over the past two weeks, ever since the Quidditch Pitch. I don’t know why he insisted on feeling guilty for choosing his best mate over me. If I had been in his position, I would have attended to my friend instead of staying with the heartless slag. I couldn’t muster a smile, so I settled on a soft nod. His eyes tightened slightly as he turned back to Remus; he was still laughing at whatever James had said before.

Suddenly, I realised how much I missed Remus’s laugh. How much I missed the ridiculously sexist jokes that James constantly told that shouldn’t be amusing, but were.

I would’ve dwelled on the subject longer had the door to the classroom not opened. An intense wave of relief washed over me and I resisted the urge to let my shoulders sag in reprieve. Hitching the bag up my shoulder instead, and my back screaming in protest yet again, I waited until Slughorn spoke to take a step toward the door.

“Well, don’t just stand there. Come in, come in!” He waved his arm enthusiastically and I knew from that motion today’s lesson wasn’t going to be one I liked. If anything, I would only confirm my theory that today would be absolute Hell. It had already been bad enough, so what’s to say that it wouldn’t get any worse?

Several students filed into the room before I decided to slip in through the small space provided in the doorway, seeing as how Slughorn and his considerable. . .roundness was making it difficult to flit through easily. Behind me, I heard Lily snicker and ignore the temptation to turn around to see what was so funny. I probably had a huge tear in my robes or something. That or she had put gum in my hair. Like I needed that to happen again.

No. . .Lily wouldn’t do that. She might’ve said and done a lot of things, but she wouldn’t be as cruel to put candy in my hair, would she? Well, maybe not cruel, because she could be, but not childish. If there was anything that Lily wasn’t, it was childish. And sticking candy in someone’s hair was a very childish act indeed.

Merlin, why was I so concerned about my hair all of the sudden? Perhaps because it had grown out to a length that I actually liked. And I had to admit, I didn’t think I would rely on Alice to fix my locks again, should anything happen to them.

Shaking the image of a giant pair of shears and a wad of gum from my mind, I hurried to the back of the room to find my customary seat. Before the Quidditch Pitch, James and Remus sat with me at the lab station, even though it was only meant for two cauldrons. However, for the past two weeks, I had been sitting by myself at the station. Not that I minded, of course; I finished before everyone else and was able to tackle a good portion of my homework while still in class.

Settling myself down on top of the stool, I set my satchel on the empty seat beside me, trying to ignore the Voice at the back of my head. It was telling me that I was pathetic for looking so wistfully at the people I used to call mates. They were the ones that left me, the Voice reminded me, not the other way around. I flirted with the temptation of telling the Voice that It had ill-advised me, but I did not care to wage a mental argument when my head was already throbbing alongside the dull ache that wound up and down my spine.

Cursed stairs. There weren’t even that many of them, yet I managed to take a tumble that hurt me more than I cared to acknowledge. I thought that I could handle pain well, considering the amount of injuries I had sustained in my years. However, it seems that back injuries hurt more than I imagined they would.

“Settle down, please,” Slughorn called over the din, which did quiet as he’d asked. He smiled at us, his eyes glittering with amusement. Ut oh, that was never a good sign. “I have some good news and some ever better news!”

Merlin, he sounded like a child on Christmas morning! He was practically bursting at the seam with whatever news he was going to deliver to us.

Aside from me, the entire class was bristling with excitement. I couldn’t even phantom what good, old Slughorn would have to say, but I knew it couldn’t be good if he was this excited. The last time he had gotten this riled up was when he announced we were doing a semester long project with a partner. And we all know how that turned out.

Before I further think on what it could be, the Potions professor began to speak.

“First with the good news,” he said, his voice chipper. “I would like to congratulate you all for doing so marvellous on your joint potions projects. Not one of you failed, though some of you could have done much better work.” He sent a pointed look in the direction of Daphne Greengrass, who turned her nose upward in a ‘who, me?’ sort of way. “As it is, take the time to give yourselves a round of applause - you did fabulously!”

A sharp spattering of applause erupted from the class. Whoa, they were more enthusiastic than I thought they would be.

Seeming pleased with the ease that his request was completed, Slughorn continued, “For the even better news, I finally have the results of your potions projects! And that is what the next two weeks’ assignment will be over - the antidote of your potion. I have provided the ingredients on the rubric I collected with your projects. For further information, check the back and in case you do not quite understand what is going on, please, come see me at my desk.” He clapped his hands together in a merry way that only Slughorn could achieve. “Move with your partners and get to work!”

Realisation sunk like a lead bullet in the pit of my stomach. I resisted the urge to vomit. Oh, bloody hell, I couldn’t do this! I would have to be paired with Sirius for the next two weeks. And after what’d happened today in the common room? Merlin, my very sanity hinged on this! I couldn’t be partnered with him. I just couldn’t! One of us would end up tearing off the other’s head, mashing it up, only to spit it back out in spite.

A loud groan escaped me as I lowered my head in my arms, laying across my lab station, looking like a limp rag doll. Great, this was just great. And I thought my life was complicated enough. It was about to get much, much worse.

There was a great shuffling of chairs and a loud chorus of voices. Some were happy, others weren’t. If I was focused on anything aside from my own personal problems, I would’ve been able to pinpoint Sirius’s voice and the way he and Lily were whispering furiously with one another. Obviously, if I had been paying attention, I would’ve voiced the same sentiments; it’s not like I wished to be partnered with him again, either.

As I began to count down to the last seconds of my life, the legs of the stool to my right-hand side scraped against the floor. The sound rang harsh and loud in my ears. I tried to ignore the bubbling, sickly feeling brewing in the pit of my stomach, but nothing seemed to be working. When he sank into a sitting position, my breath hitched in my throat as a jolt of electricity jerked through my entire being. It was like someone had switched on all the lights in a building and blown a fuse; I couldn’t handle it.

Reluctantly, I picked up my head to see if he had the same reaction. He wasn’t looking at me, he was staring pointedly at the front of the room. However, I could see that he had his fists clenched and the muscles were straining beneath his skin. Obviously, he had felt it, too. Whatever it was.

I mocked his actions, sitting up straighter and directing my attention to the front of the room. I found that my eyes followed Slughorn as he walked around the room, passing out the results as well as the sheets of parchment containing the ingredients and process for making the antidotes. Slughorn seemed to be moving at an especially sluggish pace, which infuriated me. Couldn’t he just get here already so we could look over the results and then split up the assignment? It was the easiest way to tackle the whole “working together” part of the partnership.

I didn’t even noticed that I was drumming my fingers on the top of the table until Sirius sent me a sharp, piercing look and ground out, “Will you quit that?”

Frowning, I glanced down at my hand, which was, in fact, drumming a tunelessly melody against the woodwork. Curling my fingers inward, I said, “Sorry.” Though I really didn’t sound like I meant it; I sure as hell didn’t feel sorry. It was almost amusing, seeing his reaction. At least it clued me into the fact that he hadn’t completely blocked me out of his conscious. But how could anyone ignore the hypertension that had formed between us as soon as he sat down next to me.

This was the closest we had been since the New Years’ Eve Party. Maybe the air had always been like this, electrically charged, when we were around each other, but we were just too distracted by other things to notice it?

Oh, who was I kidding? The tension existed because we made it exist. Neither of us wanted to be near to the other, so it was only obvious that because of it, an air of thick and heavy tension was strung between us. It didn’t mean anything at all. It was only natural for two people who hated each other.

Well, make that one person. I didn’t hate Sirius. I doubted I could ever hate him, not even if I wanted to with every fibre of my being. Though I can’t say the same for him.

Finally, after what seemed like a decade, Slughorn came to our table. He wore a grin as wide as the Pacific Ocean, which frightened me a bit. He shuffled through the papers in his hand and found our results. My stomach tightened with anticipation.

“You two did marvellously!” the Potions professor enthused. “Not that I didn’t expect top notch work from either of you, but you exceed even my very high expectation.” He grinned only widened, if at all possible. “I would’ve given you the top grade in the class, but it seems that Mr. Snape has out done himself yet again. But I’m pleased to inform you that you have received the second highest marks in the class on your project.”

My jaw all but dropped to the tabletop. “We beat Lily and James?” I said faintly, almost dubiously.

Slughorn nodded with delight. “Yes, you did! It seems that while their potion was exquisite, I found that yours was much more intriguing. I must say, it was an odd potion to select for such a project; most people went with much more sensible potions. So, would you two care to enlighten me as to why you selected such a bizarre anti-love potion?”

Against the Voice’s wished, I turned my head and met Sirius’s gaze. He was just as shocked, if not more so, than I was. His grey eyes were wide and a look of utmost confusion plastered itself on his beautiful features.

We began speaking at the same time.

“Well, we looked for such a long time-,”

“You see, it was a hard search-,”

“-thought that it would be a good selection because it was so obscure-,”

“-didn’t cross my mind that you would find it odd-,”

“-was the sort of thing that you looked for in-,”

“-didn’t really make much sense-,”

“-it just seemed like the right one to chose-,”

“-not sure as to why we selected it-,”

“-but it just fit,” Sirius finished.

Slughorn exchanged a long look between us, his eyes resting on both of our faces for a prolonged moment of time before he turned to the next face. His eyes seemed to cross behind his spectacles and I couldn’t say that I blamed him. We had said two entirely different things. No wonder why the poor man was so confused.

“Uh,” began Slughorn. “Right. Well, it’s suffice to say that I’m glad you chose a potion that was so obscure, as Mr. Black put it. An anti-love potion,” he mused out loud, chuckling to himself. “I would have thought that kids like yourselves would’ve chosen something much more romantic.” He winked at us before drifting off to the next table.

I swallowed roughly. Did Slughorn just imply that he thought there was something going on between us?

As if he was reading my thoughts, Sirius turned toward me and said, “Did he just imply what I think he just implied?”

Closing my eyes, I nodded slowly, though I didn’t dare say anything. Merlin only knows what sort of things would pass through my mouth - or what it would do with Sirius sitting so close to me.

Sirius shuffled beside me and searched across the table. I cracked my eyes open in time to see his fingers curl around the parchment. He sat back down on his stool and turned his shoulder to me as he read the parchment. Why, that smarmy little bastard! One minute, he was talking to me like we used to (well, not entirely, but at least he was looking me in the face and actually speaking words, not throwing glares, at me) and the next, he was acting like a five year old who wanted a damn lolly.

I knew he wasn’t a speedy reader, but it’s not like it took five minutes to read over the ingredients we would need and the steps the process required. I cleared my throat. “Are you almost done with that?” My, my, I sounded severely impatient.

That’s because you are.Squaring my jaw, I waited until Sirius turned around so that his posture was much more open to me. His grey eyes sparkled as he roughly shoved the piece of parchment into my hands. I did not bother hurrying to read the parchment because, well, he hadn’t and if he was entitled to acting like a child, then I was, too.

However, as I read the list, my eyes widened slightly and I reread some of the lines to make sure that I had read them correctly. All right, so maybe he hadn’t intentionally read so slowly to piss me off, rather to see if he was seeing what he was seeing.

Once I finished reading the list of ingredients and the process, I placed the parchment in the middle of the table, in No Man’s Land, and licked my suddenly dry lips.

There was absolutely no way it could be this complicated to make a bloody love potion! I mean, it was difficult enough brewing an anti-love potion, one that reserved the effects of a love potion, but since we had to create the antidote, thus leaving us to create a love potion, which I must admit, was truly ironic. But who knew that a love potion could be so. . .so. .

“Difficult,” I said.

Sirius raised a brow at me. “Excuse me?”

“I said, who knew a love potion could be so difficult.”

He stared at me for a few seconds, a doubtful look on his face. Finally, after a few more moments of staring me in which my skin started to prickle uncomfortably underneath my robes, he tore his gaze away from mine. The line of his shoulders dropped and his chest swelled as he released a sigh.

“Honestly,” he muttered to himself, drawing the piece of parchment nearer to him. “And he said we only have two weeks to brew it?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I believe so. How long is the brewing time on our potion?” I tried to read over his shoulder, but he wasn’t having it. He hunched over and I scoffed. “Arse.”

His elbow shot out and caught me in between the ribs. I coughed, momentarily stunned. Had Sirius really just rammed his elbow into my ribcage, after he had seen me fall down the stairs? I rolled my eyes, more in annoyance at him than the pain that racked through my body. Really, I was starting to become quite accustomed to all the abuse my body was dealing with as of late.

In retaliation, I reached up and tugged on his ear as hard as I could before flicking it roughly. He let out a loud yelp, causing several heads to swivel in our direction. His hand flew up to his ear and as he turned around, I caught a familiar scent of cinnamon and, oddly enough, wet something. I could not place a finger on it exactly, but if I were to venture a guess, it almost smelt like wet dog. I didn’t realise that the smell was coming from Sirius until I noted how close he was to me.

My head swam as I leaned back in my stool, almost toppling over the edge.

“Would you knock it off?”

Indignation scorched through my veins. “What? You’re the one who elbowed me in the ribs, you stupid prat!”

Something blazed in his eyes, though I couldn’t tell what it was. Anger, perhaps? Or was it entirely different? “If you hadn’t been trying to read over my shoulder-,”

“I wouldn’t have had to try to read over your shoulder if you weren’t so damn insistent on acting like a bleeding child!”

“I’m acting like a child? You’re the one who just pulled my ear and then flicked it! Which, for your information, hurts a lot more than an elbow the ribs.”

I scoffed loudly at this and resisted the urge to throttle him in the face. “You cannot be serious!” I exclaimed. He opened his mouth to most likely make a joke about his own name, but I held up my hand and continued, “You must be kidding! An elbow to the ribs hurts a lot more than a stupid flick on the back of the ear. Especially after you’ve already been damaged within the last hour.” I made sure not to mention the specific incident, even though I was well aware that he had witnessed it and stood there, doing absolutely nothing.

“It’s not my fault that you’re clumsy,” he replied with a harsh coolness that seeped into my bones.

My jaw snapped shut with an audible click. It hurt, but I tried not to show it. Learning toward him, I did my best to put on a tough-as-nails voice. “You’re a heartless bastard, d’you know that?”

“And you’re a lying slag,” he shot back, his voice just as low as mine. “There are some things we just can’t change, Eleanor, and to me, it seems like that’s your trouble area.”

I leered at him, but before I could say anything else, the bell shrilled loudly. I silently thanked Merlin for the relief; I didn’t think I could handle anything else Sirius would have to say. Seeing as how my belongings were still safely tucked inside my bag, I had nothing to gather. I snatched the paper off the tabletop before Sirius could get to it and marched toward the door, but not before kicking the leg of his stool as hard as I could.

You have no idea how much it satisfied me to hear him let out another yelp before crashing to the ground.

X - - XFor the next week, Potions class was the exact same. You know, minus the whole falling down the stairs thing and actually having the guts to inflict physical harm to Sirius. But the arguments? They only got worse with each passing class.

At one point, Slughorn had to physically separate use, making the mild suggestion that perhaps we should both a breather, a walk in opposite directions. Cool our tempers and level our heads. He was under the impression that we were arguing over the complicated nature of our potion; while it did not help in the slightest, it wasn’t the main cause. No, it was Sirius’s tendency to be such a pigheaded git that ended in our voices rising over acceptable indoor standards and rather unkind words issuing from both of our mouths.

“Merlin’s beard, were you always this pigheaded or did you just wake up this morning feeling like an arse?” I asked sarcastically, my tone biting.

Sirius snorted with derisive laughter. “Maybe if you hadn’t added the wrong ingredient, we wouldn’t have to start over again.”

“You were the one in charge of listing off the ingredients,” I countered, poking him in the chest. By the look that crossed his face, it hurt me more than it hurt him. “So really, it’s all your fault that our potion is fucked up!”

He shook his head to himself and I could tell he was having a hard time not rolling his eyes. “I have no idea how I tolerated you for so long - you’re such a nag.”

“The feeling’s mutual, Black,” I ground out scathingly.

Deciding that it was better to turn my attention away from Sirius and focus on our potion, I grabbed the handle of my silver knife and wiped the bits of frogspawn that clung to the metal on the inside of my dragon skin gloves. I saw a flicker of apprehension in Sirius’s eyes as I sliced into the crocodile heart that looked like it was still thumping, but I knew was long dead, judging by how chilly it felt to the touch, even though the thick hide of the gloves.

I pulled off the gloves, seeing as how I was no longer dealing with a dangerous bit of. . .well, what it was I was handling before. Next, I snatched a thin phial out of its slot on the rack to collect the juice that seeped out of the crocodile heart, which was the main purpose for the slicing. I was nervous by the amount of liquids that the cold heart secreted, but I silently reassured myself it was normal. At least it wasn’t toxic.

Clearing my throat, I glanced out the corner of my eye. Well, he was just standing there, doing next to nothing at all, aside from converting oxygen to carbon dioxide. “Why don’t you start dicing up the newt tail?” I suggested, careful to keep my voice guarded, neutral.

He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, merely stared at me before he pulled his own silver knife, complete with a beautiful, ivory hand carved with very interesting, but indistinguishable markings. A part of me was curious and wanted to ask what they were, but my more sensible side - all right, it was the Voice, who told me it wasn’t a wise move. I might have just suggested something in a very nice tone of voice, but we weren’t that far into tolerating one another just yet.

Unfortunately, my eyes were working on their own accord and staring at him. Well, more like I was staring at his hand while he chopped up the newt tail into fine pieces. His cuts were so precise, so accurate that I felt my cheeks flush with heat. Oh no - Merlin no, I wasn’t - jealous - of him, was I? For having such clean, swift movements with a bloody knife?

Oh hell!

However, it took me but a moment to realise that it wasn’t his handiwork with the knife that I was admiring. It was the look of utmost concentration, the slight pull of his brow and pink bit of tongue poking out of the side of his mouth that secured my eyes to the sight of him. Even though he could be the most arrogant arse in the world, he had his moments. Particularly now.

I knew I shouldn’t be gawking at him like he was an animal on display at the zoo, but I couldn’t tear my gaze away from Sirius, no matter how much I wanted to. As to be expected, I was caught with my hand in the theoretical cookie jar.

Blast!

It felt as though something was pumping cold water through my veins one moment and the next, it felt as though my entire being was alight with a harsh flame. My stomach swooped and dipped and took a huge loop-the-loop. My knees started to knock together again. All because we were making eye contact. And not the sort we’ve been making for the past month or so. No, this was real, not an icy glare or hatred filled gaze that suggested less than honourable intentions.

It was almost like he was tearing me apart with his eyes. Unzipping the exterior shell I had kept in place since our return to Hogwarts. Reaching into my chest and yanking out my heart. He had my soul in his hands and he was examining it, poking and prodding in places that I rather wished Sirius hadn’t.

I felt terribly exposed.

And I probably would’ve continued feeling that way if a sharp pain hadn’t shot up my arm, rattling in my chest. A look of deep hurt, not the emotional kind, but the physical sort, must have passed over my face because I noticed the colour draining from Sirius’s face.

“Eleanor?” He sounded concerned. Was it strange that even though it felt like a thousand needles were poking in my arms, my heart fluttered with hope?

As happy as my eternal self was, I couldn’t ignore the stinging that replaced the shock. It worked its way up my arm at an alarmingly fast rate and was it just me or was it getting hotter in here?

A hand touched my elbow and Sirius started to say, “Eleanor, are you all right?”, but he stopped in the middle of his sentence and said instead, “Holy shit! You’re bleeding!”

Shaken out of the dreamlike state I had unknowingly sunken into, I met his eyes again. “I am?”

“Look at your hand!”

I did. And saw that it was covered in blood. “I am.” This time, it was a statement. And a slightly odd one at that. Like I wasn’t entirely sure if I really believed myself.

Sirius pulled me closer to him to inspect my hand. He sucked in a startled breath as he forced my fingers to uncurl themselves and took a closer look at the palm of my hand. “Holy Mother of Merlin, you really did a number on your hand. We probably need to get you to the Hospital Wing.” Before I could protest, Sirius tightened his hold around my wrist and dragged me behind him as he marched to the front of the room. “Professor! I need to take Eleanor to the Hospital Wing.”

The rotund man turned around, a resigned look on his face. He was obviously expecting this. “What for?”

“This,” he said impatiently, jerking me forward to show Slughorn my hand.

The Potions professor paled considerably. “Merlin and Agrippa, what happened?”

Two pairs of probing eyes landed on me and I said, “I was - er, juicing the crocodile heart when I cut my hand on my - knife. It was an accident, but-,”

I emitted a squeak of surprise as Slughorn grabbed my hand and jerked it toward himself. His face was even paler as he turned my hand over in his. “Oh no,” he muttered darkly. “This is not good.”

Panic rose in me like a fresh wave, but before I could so much as get a word out, Slughorn looked at Sirius long and hard and said, “Get her to the Hospital Wing as quick as you can, Mr. Black. I’ll alert Poppy that you are on your way. This does not look very good at all.”

Blood rushed to my toes as Sirius nodded, pulling me out of the room. He began to walk so fast, I was all but running to keep up with him. “What does he mean, this doesn’t look very good at all?”

I could tell that Sirius was pointedly ignoring me by the way he glanced down at my hand which was slowly becoming numb. It was probably due to his death grip on my wrist. However, it wasn’t just my hand that was going numb.

My heart began to hammer harshly in my chest as we ran up another flight of stairs. We only had two more levels to ascend before we reached our destination; it wasn’t taking very long at all. Beads of sweat were popping up along my hairline and the back of my neck, my hair clinging to my skin in a very uncomfortable way.

My skin began to tingle all over and my legs were becoming numb as well. I could no longer feel either of my arms and my fingers had lost all sensation back in the dungeons. Yet my heart was beating as quickly as ever - if not faster.

“Sirius,” I said. To my ears, my voice sounded very faint and almost pained. I didn’t feel that much pain, though.

“Just one more floor, Ellie,” he murmured in reply. Though I couldn’t feel it, I saw that his thumb was massaging small circles into the side of my bloodied hand. Aw, how sweet of him. “Can you make it one more floor?”

I tried to nod my head, but my body wouldn’t comply. Instead, I tried to blink my eyes, like they do in the movies, but my eyelids were heavy, like someone had pasted them together. Blast, what was going on?

My footsteps felt heavier than ever before as I struggled up the last staircase. My knees started to knock together again, but not in a good way. It was as though my entire body was giving up on me, saying “Sorry, but I just don’t want to work right now.”

I faltered, my knee slamming into the rough stone of the step. It didn’t even hurt. “I don’t think I can make it, Sirius,” I muttered, though my words were severely slurred.

And then I promptly collapsed. Not completely, but it was enough for Sirius to wrap his arm around my waist and all but drag me up the rest of the way.

When he opened the doors to the Hospital Wing, Madame Pomfrey was waiting for me. There was a look on alarm on her face that mirrored the one Slughorn wore. It must’ve been bad if Pomfrey was concerned about it. She could cure just about anything she wanted.

“Bring her over here,” Madame Pomfrey said, gesturing toward one of the beds. There was no white sheets on the bed. In fact, what covered the cot looked like the material a rain slicker was made out of.

Sirius helped me onto the bed, momentarily setting my feet down on the ground. The world swirled and I felt a wave of nausea coming on.

“Has she started -,”

I vomited all over my shoes.

“Obviously she has,” Madame Pomfrey said. She shook her head to herself, paling slightly. “This is not good at all.”

With a little help from Sirius, they placed me on the bed. I felt like a child, being tossed around this way and that. Though I wasn’t really being tossed; I was getting handled with the care.

“How long since the incident happened?”

“About ten minutes.”

I threw up again, this time all over myself. My eyes widened when I saw it was black in colour. That could certainly not be good.

“Circe!” the nurse cried as she Vanquished the vomit. A deep broiling feeling started in my stomach and I almost puked again. “Am I correct in assuming that she wasn’t wearing any gloves when she cut herself on the knife?”

Sirius nodded. “Yeah. I mean, no, she wasn’t wearing gloves. But yes, you were correct to assume that she wasn’t. . .” he trailed off before adding, “and she didn’t cut herself with her knife. A phial full of crocodile heart juice shattered in her hand.”

Madame Pomfrey gasped loudly. “Oh my Merlin!” Her hands tore at my robes; she ripped them off and tossed them to the floor. Without so much as a glance toward Sirius, she undid the buttons of my shirt and threw that to the floor as well. Instead of shivering, I felt like I was placed in a sauna.

At Sirius’s surprised look, she said, “I need you here to tell me what happened. And yes, it was a necessity to take off her clothes; she positively boiling with a fever. Could you get me some Be Cool from the supply closet?” She didn’t wait for him to nod. “And hurry!”

His quick footsteps slapped against the cobblestone floor, but the thundering of my pulse was like a stampede in my ears. I groaned again and rolled onto my side, vomiting once more. It was no longer black; it had turned a violent purple.

“Jesus Christ,” Madame Pomfrey swore as she sidestepped around the vomit. “This is worst than I thought.” Sirius returned with the Be Cool, which I saw was a potion, but rather than trying to tip it down my throat, the Hogwarts nurse did a very odd thing indeed. She dipped the tip of her wand in the solution and grabbing my arm, placed it in the crook of my elbow. Like she had went taking my temperature. “This should cool you down, love.” She pressed a cheek to my face and I was startled to find that her hand was as cold as it was. “Charmed,” she supplied at my confusion expression.

Madame Pomfrey scuttled off to the side and Sirius sat down next to me on the small cot, taking my hand in his. “Are you feeling all right?”

Resisting the urge to vomit, I ground out, “Do I look all right?”

He snorted. “Not really.”

“D’you know what’s wrong with me?”

Licking his lips, he said, “I think you’ve been poisoned. By the secreted fluids of the crocodile heart, I mean. We were always told to be careful with all raw liquids.” His eyes found mine. “Why weren’t you wearing gloves?”

I tried to answer, but vomit came up instead. Yellow. It was yellow this time around.

“That’s odd,” Sirius noted as Madame Pomfrey came shuffling back into view. She was carrying a large array of odd bottles and packages in her hands and she dumped them near my feet.

“Professor Slughorn is working on the antidote right now, Miss Briggs,” she assured me softly. She took my hand in her own and gasped. “My, you really did do a number on it. I’ll have to take out the glass; it might hurt a bit.”

I laughed hollowly. “I can’t feel anything.”

Madame Pomfrey sighed gently. “That was before I gave you the Be Cool. The fever was taking the edge off the pain. And I can almost assure you, no matter how numb a limb, everyone I have in the past said this hurts like a hippogriff treading over your head.”

Odd choice of words, I noted silently as she grabbed a pair of dangerous looking tongs out of her array of items. I blanched and my stomach roiled again, though I didn’t vomit. Thankfully.

Madame Pomfrey wasn’t lying when she said it would hurt. As soon as the silver made contact with my skin, a fierce lick of pain shot up my arm. My heart began to thunder once again and I breathed in deeply through my nose. I could feel every movement the tongs made in my skin and I cried out in shock. Tears leaked out of my eyes as she withdrew a large piece of glass from my palm. My left hand curled into a fist, but Sirius forced my fingers apart and slipped his hand into my own.

When she attacked my hand with the prongs again, I squeezed his hand for all it was worth and I could faintly make out string of curses that issued from his lips.

“Why does it hurt so much?” I gasped as she dropped another sliver of glass into the bean shaped bowl at her side.

“Silver might not affect human blood, but when said blood is laced with that of a crocodile, it triggers an allergic reaction,” Madame Pomfrey said in matter of fact tone.

“Oh,” I muttered to myself before she proceeded to delve the tongs into my palm again. “Fuck, that hurts!” Two pair of curious eyes turned toward me and I coloured slightly. “Sorry, but it does.”

She worked on my hand for several more minutes, though she had to keep settling my hand against my bare stomach when she had to get something else from the supply closet. Apparently, she had to keep a sharp eye on the colour of my eyes. If they started to tinge red around the edges, I would have to go to St. Mungo’s at once; that meant that the poison had spread to my liver and kidneys and everyone knows that you are screwed when that happens.

When she announced that she had taken all of the glass out of my hand, my chest heaved with a sigh, which turned into a coughing fit. She warned me that I would be coughing and vomiting a lot over the next few hours, at least until the antidote was ready. Which, she assured me, wouldn’t be much longer. I hoped to Merlin that she was right, though I was certain Slughorn wouldn’t be taking his time on it; if anything, he would rush it.

Oh boy, that wasn’t a good thought either, was it? What if he screwed it up because he was going too fast? I didn’t want to think of what would happen.

Thankfully, the salve she applied to the deep cut on my palm didn’t hurt much. It stung, yes, that was true, but she told me it was the antiseptics working to fight off further infection. The body was very vulnerable when under foreign attack. She made it sound like I was a goddamn country!

After applying the salve, Madame Pomfrey wrapped my hand in a bandage and said, “I’ll be back in a few moments. Since your fever is under control, the only thing we have to monitor is the state of your eyes.” She turned her gaze to Sirius, who had been as silent as the grave ever since he took my hand. He hadn’t let go of it, either. “You’ll watch out for any signs of red, won’t you, Mr. Black?”

He nodded quickly. “Of course I will, Poppy.” Then he winked flirtatiously at her and I swore that she blushed a deep crimson.

As soon as she was out of earshot, I looked up at him, a small smirk on my face. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For bringing me up here and staying by my side. I really appreciate it. After all that things I‘ve said to you, I‘m surprised-,”

His eyes went round. “You honestly think I wouldn’t stay by you when you’ve been poisoned?” With a mirthless chuckle, he shook his head, causing strands of dark hair to fall into his face. “You are a ridiculous person, Eleanor Briggs.”

While it was meant to be funny, I didn’t take it as such. In fact, one could say that I overreacted. In retrospect, I would blame it on the fading fever as well as the toxins pumping furiously through all of my veins and arteries.

Offended, I jerked my hand out of his, though it was much harder than normal. “Get out.”

I could practically hear the hinges squeaking as his jaw unlocked itself and fell open. “What?” Sirius sounded very dubious.

“I said get out.”

“What? Why?”

“Why? I think the question is more of why not!” I was hysterical. I knew I was, but I think I had every right to be in hindsight. “You sit here, acting all nice and kind and gentle to me and then, out of the left side of the Quidditch Pitch, you call me ridiculous! I know that you and Lily whisper about how stupid and clumsy and pathetic I am. But at least you don’t need to say it to my face!”

“Eleanor, I-,”

“Shut up and get out of my sight! I don’t want you here any longer.”

“What the fuck is going on with you? Are you mental?”

“Perhaps!” I screeched at him. “Or maybe I’m just fed up with the emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on for the past two months and I really want to get off the ride now!” My heart was beating rapidly again and I knew it couldn’t be good. “I’m sick and tired of feeling like a puppet on your string, of feeling like my whole life hinges around you and how you regard me!”

His face was crimson, the light dusting of freckles that dotted his nose and cheekbones invisible to the naked eye. “It’s not like you’ve made it easy for me, either! I feel the exact same things you do and-,”

“At least you have friends to help you through it!” I shouted.

“You have James and Remus!”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been talking to them for the past few weeks now because I decided to tell the truth. You know, the thing that I am apparently incapable of doing!” I laughed harshly, the sound scraping against the sides of my raw throat painfully. “And look where it got me, back to square one. I’ve got no mates at all and you, well, you took the only ones I ever had!”

“I didn’t take James and Remus from you, Eleanor,” Sirius said darkly. “You took them for me!”

I shook my head in earnest. “No, rest assure, it was you that took them away from me.” Licking my cracked lips, I added, “I’ve lost everything to you. And now, even my dignity.” I gestured at my bare torso, to the plain black bra that was covering my breasts. “So please,” I said, my voice pitifully low. “Just - just leave already. All right? I can’t handle this right now.”

Without a word, he rose to his feet and pushed the orange chair away from my bedside. Sirius ran a hand through his hair, smoothing his locks behind his ear and nodded stiffly. His gaze turned cold and I felt prickles of ice gathering under my skin wherever his eyes looked. Then, he turned on his heel and walked calmly out of the Hospital Wing.

With a sigh, I settled back down against my pillow. Though it didn’t help. If anything, it only made it worse. I leaned over the side of my cot and vomited. This time, it wasn’t one of the many colours of the rainbow. It wasn’t caused by the toxins in my blood stream. No, it was caused by my actions and the disgusting way in which I had acted.

I had just screwed everything up again, just when it seemed like it was going to be on the mend.

Why did I always mess things up? When would I ever learn?

________________________________________

35
“Oh, come on, Miss Briggs, it’s not that horrible!” the matron said as she made another grab at my chin, which I was keeping out of reach. Of course, in order to do so, I was squirming around on the uncomfortable cot beneath me, causing the hospital gown to ride up my thighs and leave me feeling horrible exposed. Then again, I would do anything to escape drinking down another slimy potion.

I snorted in derisive laughter. “Says the one who doesn’t have to take it!” I replied, jerking wildly on the bed.

Madame Pomfrey let out an irritable grunt and tossed the silver spoon onto the tray beside her. Her hands planted themselves on her hips and she glared down her thin nose at me. “I am under strict instructions from both Professor McGonagall and your aunt to make sure to take your potions!”

I rolled my eyes, earnestly tugging at the hem of the hospital gown. Honestly, couldn’t the woman have given me some of those nice, fluffy pyjamas? “But I have taken my potions!”

Her look turned dour and she raised an eyebrow. Damn it! Why was everyone else in the world able to do that, yet I wasn’t? Curses. “Not all of them.” She nodded pointedly at the lumpy, browning mix of only Merlin knows what sitting in a clear phial on the tray. She’d been trying to give me some via a silver spoon, claiming that the faint taste of silver would help the medicine go down much easier. I wasn’t an idiot and she wasn’t Mary Poppins.

With a heavy sigh, I nodded to myself in defeat. “Fine. Can I at least chase it with some juice?”

“I can only offer you water until you regain your strength,” the Hogwarts nurse said, her expression a sympathetic one. Talk about mood swings. . . .

“That’s fine,” I said, watching her as she shuffled off toward her office. My eyes found the phial full of the thick, brown potion, which could more accurately be described as a paste, and I shuddered. It’d been worse enough having to take the other potions required to bring me back to my former stage of health. My throat clenched unconsciously and I struggled to swallow the urge to vomit.

Madame Pomfrey appeared several minutes later, holding a goblet of what I presumed was water in one hand and a plate of food in the other. The enticing smell of fried eggs, bacon, bangers, and all of the breakfast-y scents wafted up my nose, teasing my senses and making my stomach growl very loudly as the prospect of coming said goodies. When she reached my bedside, I relieved her of the goblet and moved to take the plate of food, but she quickly held it out of my reach.

“Oh no, Miss Briggs, this isn’t for you,” she said, setting the plate down on the tray next to me and pouring a reasonable amount of the grotesque looking potion onto the spoon. “You can’t have such a rich meal so soon into your stay. Especially not in -,”

“My condition,” I finished for her, my voice flat. Casting a longing look at the breakfast food, I sighed, “I know. You’ve been telling me that for the past four days.”

Once again, the matron offered me a benevolent smile; inwardly, I glowered at her. She approached me rather hesitantly with the spoonful of potion, no doubt not wanting to waste anymore of it due to my childish behaviour. Her caution made me cringe; had I really been that bad of a patient? Feeling a bit guilty, I opened my mouth obligingly and grimaced as soon as the foul concoction skimmed the surface of my tongue. I swallowed as quickly as possible, though with a substantial amount of difficulty, given the consistency of the potion, and hurriedly brought the goblet of water to my lips.

I drank deeply, hoping to rid my mouth of the taste for ever and always. When my lungs felt like they were going to explode from the lack of oxygen, I pulled the empty goblet away from my mouth and glanced at the nifty silver tray beside my bed. I was disappointed to see that it no longer held the plate of hot breakfast foods. Even though I couldn’t eat any of it, it was still nice to imagine that I could. However, unlike the plate of food, the nurse was still at my bedside, her eyes fixated on my face as though she were waiting for something to change.

Smacking my lips together, I pulled another look of grim distaste. “Disgusting,” I murmured, handing the goblet back to Madame Pomfrey, who took it with so much as blinking.

It was a little disconcerting, the way she was staring at me. I almost asked her what she was doing, but before I could do so, she let out a triumphant squeak and clapped her hands together. “This is so wonderful! Professor Slughorn’s potion has done the job!”

I stared at her, a confused look on my face. I knew she probably wasn’t going to elaborate, but still, it was infuriating that she was so excited, yet I couldn’t even feel a difference in myself, aside from the slick feeling in my throat and latent urge to throw up all I had just consumed.

Still delighted, Madame Pomfrey shuffled away from my bed, going to attend to the other patients in the wing, no doubt. I gazed after her, trying to figure out what change had occurred. I didn’t feel any better; I still felt like someone had pummelled me with a dozen or so Disarming Charms, only to be quickly followed by several cries of Crucio! Not that I could say that I’ve ever felt the effects of the latter spell, but it seemed quite painful from the description.

It had been four days since I was admitted to the Hospital Wing for poisoning, two of which I spent unconscious. Apparently, several moments after I sent Sirius out of the ward, I started to seize, full body convulsions taking over me, which simply meant that the poison had spread to my pancreas or gallbladder. Well, one of the two. In her panic, Madame Pomfrey refused to allow anyone in the Hospital Wing, even other students who were in need of medical attention. She was, as the matron had told me herself in a rather dramatic retelling of the event, three steps away from sending me straight to St. Mungo’s when Slughorn appeared with the first batch of life-saving potion. I stopped seizing and began to vomit all the colours of the rainbow which, according to the matron, was one of the best signs she had ever seen. The minor downfall of the antidote Slughorn had brewed, most expertly, as Madame Pomfrey had assured me, a fond sort of smile on her face as she spoke, was that it was so potent, I was unconscious before the second mouthful had time to settle in my belly.

Unfortunately for me, during the two days of my unconscious state, Aunt Eliza had come to visit me. I was just coming around when she was called away; she had to help out her friend, Matilda, in the running of her florist shop. According to Eliza, Matilda had caught a nasty bout of the flu and as much as she would like to stay with me another day, she felt obligated to help her mate. Especially since I was back to health. With a promise to visit me again, as long as the Headmaster permitted, my aunt had swept out of the Hospital Wing, leaving a bitter taste in my mouth; I had barely spoken a word to her.

Slightly disheartened, the only things I had to look forward to for the next two days were my daily doses of potions, most of which were positively revolting. There was one for every single one of my symptoms: one for fever, one for headache, one for mass bruising, and one for vomiting. It took the Potions professor four days after my admission to the Hospital Wing to finish brewing the second part of the antidote, which would thoroughly cleanse my body of all the poison, wherever it may lie in hiding. Sounds joyous, doesn’t it?

For the past two days, I had been doing nothing but twiddling my thumbs and idly watching birds zip past the windows at their leisure. I wish I could’ve been outside; the weather was finally starting to look up. Temperatures were mild and the sun was almost always shining. Puffy clouds lined the skies, standing out like gems against the bright blue of the sky. There was even a faint breeze that swept into the open windows of the Hospital Wing. I had never wanted to go outside more in my life.

Subconsciously, I tugged at the hem of the hospital gown, wondering when I was going to get a pair of pyjamas. The first two days of my stay, I wore naught but my bra and knickers due to the raging fever boiling in my veins. If I hadn’t have vomited all over the nice cotton pyjamas issued to me by the assistant in the Hospital Wing several minutes after I put them on, I might still be wearing them. But instead, I was forced to wear this huge, gaping gown that left little to the imagination if I didn’t have the blankets pulled up to my collarbone. Which was torture, considering the change in the weather and the all around atmosphere of the castle, grounds included.

A sigh fluttered between my lips as I waited for my breakfast to come. I knew it would be a matter of minutes now. That Madame Pomfrey was simply looking after the other patients. She couldn’t have forgotten about me this quickly. . .could she? Casting a hand over my growling stomach, I scooted to the edge of my bed, throwing my legs over the side and attempted to peer through the tiny gap in the curtains which surrounded my bed. I wasn’t expecting to see the floating head of James Potter in my view and therefore, emitted a loud shriek before tumbling back onto the bed.

Madame Pomfrey came whipping around the corner, her chest heaving with effort. She must have run all the way from the opposite end of the wing. “A-are you all right, Miss Briggs?” she panted, a concerned look in her dull brown eyes.

I nodded faintly, pushing myself up into a sitting position. My eyes were trained over her shoulder at James’s head; he had a finger pressed to his lips and then his head disappeared. Oh, so he had his Invisibility Cloak, did he?

“Yes, I’m fine,” I said, despite the fact my pulse was thrumming wildly. “I thought I - and, er, well - I, uh, slipped,” I finished, inwardly cursing myself for bumbling like a fool. Not that it wasn‘t something I would do. Anyone who knew me knew that I was a bumbling fool at the best of times. “I had to go to the loo,” I added hastily as her curiosity expression as to why I would be getting up.

The matron of Hogwarts eyed me suspiciously for several moments before nodding curtly. “If there is anything you need, Miss Briggs, let me know. Don’t try and get it for yourself. Understood?”

I nodded again. “Yes, Madame Pomfrey.” Over the nurse’s round shoulder, someone snickered, but it couldn’t have been James. Not unless he’d developed a highly feminine giggle which, thinking on it, didn’t seem like it wasn’t such an improbability. I mean, considering his choice of mates and the fact he was James Potter.

Throwing me another one of those sympathetic smiles that the matron seemed to be bursting at the seams with, she turned on her heel and walked away, her shoes clicking against the cobblestone in a timely fashion. Once she was out of sight and earshot, I stood up, rather clumsily, I might add, as my knees were knocking together as I got used to the sensation of standing after four long days of strict bed rest.

Legs shaking, I walked over to the edge of the curtains and yanked them back, my voice dropping to a low, almost deadly whisper. “What the bloody hell are you doing here?”

James pulled the Cloak off his head with a dramatic flourish. A wide grin made his handsome face look all the more charming, as though it was humanly possible. He chuckled at my semi-shocked expression; I had not been expecting him to reveal himself so willingly.

“I’ve missed you too, pet,” he said, still grinning winningly as he pulled on the Cloak so that the rest of his body appeared before my eyes. I didn’t expect to see another figure at his side. My mouth fell open when I saw who it was, a jolt of surprise surging through me.

“Alice?!” I gasped, a hand flying to my mouth to stifle the loud intake of breath. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Madame Pomfrey came whipping around the corner. “What are you doing here?” I found myself asking before I could help myself.

Kind brown eyes boring into mine, she began to gush out an apology in a soft whisper:

“Oh Merlin, Eleanor, I’ve been so stupid. I shouldn’t have picked a side, but rather stayed your friend no matter what. It was ridiculous of me to act so childish, especially when you were in need. Well, to be honest, both you and Lily were, but it was downright rude of me to ignore your feelings, even if I have been friends with Lily longer. To me, it shouldn’t have made a difference - it doesn’t make a difference and I was just so stupid, so silly to react in such a way. I was hoping to talk to you a few days ago, but then you were poisoned,” her breath hitched with emotion at this point and her eyes began to pool with tears, “and everyone was saying that you’d d-d-died because no one was allowed in the Hospital Wing and every time someone asked a teacher if you were all right, all they said was that we were to focus on our N.E.W.T.S, considering they’re only two months away now. Kept turning their noses to us, that‘s what they did.” She paused to pull a handkerchief out of her pocket and to blow her nose. “Oh, I felt so horrible, knowing that I hadn’t been as good as a friend to you as I could’ve been. I felt even worse when I found out that you might be dead. I mean, imagine how it’d feel, you know what I mean? And I just wanted to say that I am so unbelievably sorry and hope that you can find it in your heart to accept my apology. I’ll understand if you don’t, but,” Alice sucked in a deep breath and turned her earnest eyes to me.

I blinked at her, completely flabbergasted by her long winded rant/apology. My heart swelled with a suppressed joy and I found myself wanting to say, yes, I accept your apology, but, instead, the first words out of my mouth were, “People said I died?!”

James laughed freely. I threw a wide eyed glance over my shoulder, though before I could reprimand him for being a dolt, he said, “Don’t worry about it. We could bring a troll in her and she wouldn’t be able to hear us.”

I took his word for it.

Beside him, Alice was nodding her head. “Yeah, everyone thought that you’d died. Especially when they closed down the Hospital Wing and weren’t permitting any visitors.”

“Lily was livid,” James remarked offhandedly, sending me one of those pointed, penetrating looks that only he could muster. I shivered slightly in my hospital gown and suddenly wished I was in the possession of a dressing robe.

“She was?” I asked, slightly amazed as I wrapped my arms around myself.

Once again, Alice bobbed her head. “Yep. Absolutely furious that Sirius had gotten to see you, but she wasn’t able to. Said a few foul things to the matron, she did. And to Sirius,” she added as an afterthought.

At this, James grinned. “It didn’t help that your aunt, who is by far one of the most hilarious people I have ever met in my life and am most deeply disappointed to have not been introduced to her at a much sooner time, came streaking into the Great Hall in violently coloured robes and one of those funny bowler hats, sobbing and yet demanding to see you at once.”

I felt my cheeks colour, though my chest swelled with pride. While I knew Aunt Eliza would react in such a way, the fact that Lily was furious for not being able to see me. I couldn’t help but allowed a small smile dance across my face. We were one step closer to mending our broken friendship. At least, I hoped we were. She might not want to be friends with me now that I was alive and kicking.

“Hagrid had to escort your aunt out of the Great Hall,” Alice was saying, drawing my attention back to the conversation at hand. I was silently thankful for her distraction. “And up to the Hospital Wing.”

James snorted. “I wish you could’ve seen the way she yelled at McGonagall, Ella,” he said, a very distinct tone of pride in his voice. “Nearly made me cry.”

I stared at him, aghast. “She - yelled - at - McGonagall?”

“Yep,” James said. “When Minnie wouldn’t let her into the Hospital Wing without the permission of Dumbledore, your aunt went ballistic. Happened right in front of us, too. We followed Hagrid up here, you see. I would’ve gotten the Cloak, but there wasn’t any time. We thought that by following Hagrid and your aunt, we might get a clue to your condition.”

My brow furrowed slightly. “When you say ‘we’, who does that include?”

“Everyone!” Alice exclaimed, her brown eyes widening. “Me, James, Lily, Remus, Peter, Marlene, and Leanne!”

Something icy clenched around her heart when she didn’t mention the name I wanted to hear the most. My disappointment must’ve flicked across my face - or James had turned into a highly skilled Legimens overnight - because he quickly added, “We don’t know where Sirius was. After Lily yelled at him, he sort of slinked off. He didn’t even come up to the dorm until two o’clock in the morning.”

I didn’t say anything, merely sank down on the edge of the cot, drinking in all of the information the pair had delivered me. As if suddenly realising that I was in a flimsy gown that barely graced either of my knees, I twisted around and scooted up onto the bed, hurrying to drape the blanket over my bare legs.

There was a prolonged moment of silence. It was so absolute, you could’ve heard a pin drop clear across the room. I plucked at the stray pieces of strings on the blanket, twisting them around my index finger until the tip turned purple as I contemplated. Lily had yelled at Sirius because he was able to see me when she hadn’t been. Had Sirius told her that I’d thrown him out of the ward in my anger, which was definitely uncalled for? Or had he simply stalked off, not saying a word? I wanted to ask Alice and James, but I thought it better not to. It obviously didn’t sit well with James that his best mate had gone stomping off and he didn’t even think to follow him. The duo may not have been on the most friendly terms, but they were still mates and I could see that James clearly felt guilty for not sucking it up and going after him. Especially the way he’d told me that Sirius hadn’t come to the dormitory until well into the early hours of the morning.

As curious as I was to find out all that’d happened between my friends since my poisoning, I was distracted by the fact that Alice was here. In the flesh. And she’d apologised to me, practically on her knees, begging for me to forgive her. It was senseless of her to have gone on such longwinded rant because as soon as she said sorry, I was more than ready to forgive her. Hell, as soon as I had saw her, I’d already forgiven her in my mind. And I had never been mad at James.

Just as I was about to sigh, my stomach gave an almighty rumble of displeasure. My ribs started to hurt from the lack of food in the vast cavern that was my belly. Alice sniggered, stifling the noise by putting her fist to her lips.

“Oh, right!” James said suddenly, hazel eyes sparking to life behind his glasses. He dug his hands into his pockets and pulled out a few wadded up napkins. He shoved them into my hands and when I looked at him in question, a grin lit up his face and he said, “Breakfast.”

I opened the napkins and salvia flooded my mouth. There were four fat strips of blackened bacon, a few pieces of buttered toast, several bangers and some scrambled eggs in the bunched up napkins, all of it smelling entirely too delicious.

“I know firsthand how horrible breakfasts are in the Hospital Wing, that they serve things they dare to call food, but should really be labelled shite,” James said conversationally, nudging my legs aside under the blanket and sitting on the edge of the bed.

Wiping away a small trail of salvia from my chin, I popped a piece of bacon into my mouth and let a content sigh escape me. “Thank you,” I said, struggling to control my overflowing salivary glands.

He grinned at me, his eyes crinkling in the corners. “You’re more than welcome, Eleanor.”

X - - X



Over the next few days, James and Alice came to visit me when they could manage. The first visit, they had to once again sneak into the Hospital Wing via the Invisibility Cloak and remained under it until the coast was clear. However, by the time they came back the next day, the school nurse had dubbed me up to par and said I could have visitors, but only two a time. I wasn’t phased by the limit set to the number of visitors I could have; James and Alice were probably the only two who’d come to see me, anyway. I was so happy by the news, I wasn’t even disappointed when she told me I had to stay in the Hospital Wing for another three to five days.

When they weren’t sneaking food up to me, they were handing over my homework assignments and filling me in on the lessons. It wasn’t too difficult to catch up on the work, not with the assistance I was getting from the pair; they were both eager to help me in any way they could. At one point, little Alice plucked the quill out of my hand and began to rewrite my essay on Complex Memory Charms set to us by Professor Flitwick after I’d read it back to her. While I should’ve been offended, I found I was extremely touched that she was willing to help me out so much, but that’s Alice for you.

Tonight was the same as the past three nights had been with one key difference. James was gone at Quidditch practice, so Alice was the only one sitting at the foot of my bed. She was talking about how she and Frank were planning on getting married as soon as she graduated, but she, Alice, had yet to tell either of her parents.

Nervously, she cast me a glance and said, in a beseeching tone, “What do you think I should do?”

I stopped chewing as soon as she threw the question my way. I stared at her not unlike a deer in the headlights. I was surprised that she was asking me of all people what she should do. I mean, it wasn’t like I had much experience when it came to relationships with boys or parents as both were all but nonexistent in my life until several months ago when the former area decided to bloom with a ferocity so great, it rivalled Lily’s temper.

Struggling to chew the Chocolate Frog I’d just shoved into my mouth with haste, I forced the lump of chocolate down my throat, my eyes watering as it scraped the sides.

“I - uh - I really don’t know what you should do, Alice,” I said honestly. Might as well tell the truth. “I mean, I’d tell them beforehand so that they’ll feel you didn’t do it as an act of rebellion, but because you really do love Frank.”

Merlin, I hoped that was a good enough answer!

Alice sat absolutely still at the foot of my bed, her eyes drowned with a dreamy look as she thought over my response. Again, I prayed it was a good one. Finally, Alice gave me a wide smile. “You know, Eleanor, that’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve received in a long time!”

I hid my sigh of relief by licking the spots of chocolate off my fingers. I had to get rid of the evidence somehow. I could only imagine what Madame Pomfrey would say if she found my mates were giving me Chocolate Frogs when I wasn’t supposed to be eating artificial sugars for another week.

“I’m glad I could be of some help,” I replied, smiling in return. As I reached for another piece of rather delicious looking homemade fudge, Alice let out a startled gasp. I quickly retracted my hand, hiding it underneath the blanket. “What? What is it?”

“Look at the time!” she exclaimed. “It’s nearly eight thirty.” She bit her lip and looked at me with an apprehensive expression. “I’d like to stay longer, but -,”

“You’ve got homework,” I finished for her.

Her face crumbled. “I wish I could stay! Really, I could!”

I held up my hand for silence. “It doesn’t matter, Alice. I know that you’ve got loads of homework; I have all the same classes as you!” I gestured toward the monstrous stack of books balanced on the silver tray beside me. “I’m glad you’ve managed to come up at all.”

Alice smiled at me, albeit watery. Rushing forward, she gave me a quick hug. “I’ll see you tomorrow evening then, yeah?”

I nodded. “Sure! Though hopefully I’ll be out of here by then. But I don’t want to get my hopes up too high. You never know with Pomfrey.”

Snorting, Alice waved goodbye as she fought her way out through the curtains. Sighing softly, I took the piece of fudge and began to unwrap it, hoping it was as good as it looked. I settled back against the fluffy pillows and was halfway through the plastic wrap when I heard footsteps. Hurried footsteps, I might add. Blanching slightly, I leaned over the side of the bed and tossed all of the candy James and Alice had brought me over the past few days in the unused bedpan, curses leaving my lips at an alarming fast rate.

I was just pulling myself up into a sitting position when the curtain was pulled aside. Immediately, I launched into a hasty explanation. “I dropped my quill underneath my bed, you see, and I need it to finish my essay, obviously, and was trying to reach it but it was too far away and -,” I stopped, my eyebrows raising at the sight of the person standing in the protective perimeter of the white curtains. I blinked twice to make sure it wasn’t an illusion, and was assured that it wasn’t. Rather stupidly, I said, “You’re not Madame Pomfrey.”

Lily snorted in amusement. “No,” she replied, shaking her head. Red hair fell into her face. “I’m not.” She regarded me with her piercing emerald eyes. “Though if I were, I wouldn’t be convinced by that explanation.”

I almost laughed, but stopped myself halfway. Or rather, my thought process stopped me. What the hell was Lily Evans doing, standing at the foot of my bed? It just didn’t make that much sense at all. I knew that James and Alice had said that she’d been upset that Madame Pomfrey would not let her see me after my initial poisoning, but I’d thought that once she was assured by Alice that I was fine, she wouldn’t bother coming to see me, much less give a hippogriff’s ass about me.

Rather awkwardly, I said the only logical and semi-intelligent thing my brain could muster. “Hi.”

A small smile twitched at her lips. “Hello,” she returned smoothly. Her eyes were fixed upon me in an almost permanent stare. It was quite unnerving and I wished she would look away.

Silence threatened to settle around us, but I decided I didn’t want that. “D’you want to sit down?” I gestured somewhat lamely at the two orange chairs by my bedside.

She nodded her head, several strands of richly auburn hair escaping the loose bun at the back of her slim neck. “Sure,” she said in a much brighter, less serious tone than before. Shuffling into the enclosed space, she closed the curtains behind her and sat down on the edge of the chair nearest to me.

Awkwardness ensued yet again.

Picking at the invisible lint on my blanket, I distracted myself by looking at anything but her. I knew she’d want a full bodied account of what happened. That had to be the only thing she came here for, probably to see if my story matched her new best friend, Sirius Black’s. A snort threatened to leave me, but I held it back.

After a while of stony silence, I couldn’t handle it anymore. The Voice was beginning to speak again and It wasn’t saying very nice things about the girl sitting next to me. However, I wanted to take this opportunity to set things right. That is to say to see if there was any way we could fix our friendship.

“So,” I began, letting my voice tail off.

Beside me, Lily stiffened in her chair at the sound of my voice. Obviously, she wasn’t expecting me to be the first to speak. Then, like Alice had when she first came with James to visit me, she blurted out an apology, “I’m sorry!”

Though I understood her clearly, I said, in a slightly dubious voice, “I beg your pardon?” Merlin, it was hard keeping my laughter under control.

With a roll of her eyes, as though she knew that I just wanted her to say it again, she said, “I said I was sorry.” She wet her lips before continuing, “It was stupid of me to choose sides in the argument when I had no part in it.”

When she looked at me, I nodded my head. “Yeah, it really was.”

A wry smile decorated her lips very briefly. “Anyway,” she said, taking a deep breath. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m really sorry and I know there’s nothing I can do to take back what I’ve done, but -,”

Deciding to spare her the misery of trying to articulate her feelings, something that I knew Lily was never all that adept at, I nodded my head in understanding. “Apology accepted,” I told her, smiling in what I hoped was an encouraging way.

Apparently, it was because an equally bright smile wove its way onto her full lips, remaining in place much longer than her previous grin. We didn’t say anything to each for several minutes, rather sat in a comfortable silence, knowing that we’d just bridged the first gap in our very holey friendship. There was something about the knowledge of knowing that although we had a long way to go, we’d gotten somewhere. And somewhere is better than nowhere at all. Much better.

I reached under my bed and pulled out the bedpan full of chocolates and other various sweets. I set it in my lap and looked over at Lily, who was still staring at me, though her brow was pulled together in thought. I didn’t wish to know what was raging through her head, but it was nice to know that she was still sitting beside me and we weren’t screaming at each other like last time. That had been the worst argument I had ever gotten into with someone, aside from the one I shared with Remus.

With a pang, I realised that I hadn’t seen nor talked to Remus in weeks. Well, not weeks, but it felt as though it’d been that long, even if we did see each other often in our lessons.

I shook the bedpan at Lily, the noise seeming to draw her out of her deep thoughts. She raised a brow in question and I, ignoring a minor wave of bitterness that washed over me at her ability to look all cool raising a singular eyebrow, asked, “Want some? I’ve got more than I know what to do with.”

With a bit of hesitation, she took a piece of candy, a bit of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum, unwrapped it and stuck it in her mouth. “Thanks,” she said between chews, smiling at me.

“No problem.” I shrugged my shoulders at her. “No problem at all.”

X - - X



Much to my delight, two days later, Madame Pomfrey told me that I was free to go. I couldn’t help noticing the sad hitch in the matron’s voice as she informed me of my release. As I struggled into my school robes, I offered a piteous smile and promised that it wouldn’t be long before she saw me again, which was a likely possibility. The last button of my robes buttoned, I collected the last of my Chocolate Frogs and other assorted treats, shoving them into my pockets.

Lily and Alice were waiting on the other side of the curtain when I pushed it aside dramatically. They both laughed, the same pleased grin spreading across their faces. Lily winked at me as we walked out of the Hospital Wing and into the corridor. I smiled back since I was unable to wink.

Ever since our conversation two nights’ ago, Lily and I had been exceptionally cordial, almost a bit too polite for my liking. But that’s the way things were when your friendship was on the mend and you were walking on eggshells around someone. Not that I minded, of course. I would rather be over polite than not talking to Lily at all. There was no doubt in my mind the knowledge of having Lily as one of my friends again had contributed to my recovery.

Almost as soon as we rounded the corner, I was attacked. A pair of strong arms enveloped me in a bone crushing hug, though they were not unfamiliar. I hugged James back fiercely and pulled away after a few moments.

“I was just coming to see you,” he said, slightly breathless as he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “McGonagall said you were being released and I ran up here from the Great Hall.” That would explain the panting; at first, I’d thought it’d been the mere sight of Lily Evans.

I smiled brightly at him. “She was right.”

“As I can see,” James returned, chuckling. He sent a wide grin at Alice, though his mouth pulled into a much softer, almost intimate smile when he turned to Lily. I saw a faint flush appear around her neck, though she returned the grin somewhat hesitantly.

Alice and I shuffled somewhat awkwardly on her feet as the pair stared at each other. It was more than a little unnerving and I felt like I was intruding on something. Which I was, but then again, so was Alice. At least I wasn’t entirely alone in that aspect. Circe, it was good having mates again.

Suddenly, my stomach groaned loudly. The sound broke Lily and James out of their staring state and they both turned their eyes toward me, wearing slightly amused, but alarmed expressions.

Blushing slightly, I said, “Sorry.”

Alice and James laughed loudly whereas Lily chuckled uncomfortably. It was obvious that she was not able to shake off their intimate encounter as easily as James.

“Great Scott, you must be starved!” James exclaimed. He shook his head to himself, as though my hunger was the worst possible thing that’d happened over the last week and a half. Come to think of it, to James, it probably was one of the worst things that could happen to a person. “We’ll just have to fix that, won’t we?”

As if on queue, my stomach gave another loud groan, though this one was considerably happier. I placed an embarrassed hand on my abdomen and offered up a sheepish grin. “Does that mean what I think it means?” I asked, unable to mask the hopeful tone in my voice.

“If you’re thinking that it means a detour,” James began loftily. “Then I daresay I am liking the way you think.”

I punched the air in excitement. Lily and Alice stared between us, obviously perplexed at what we could possibly be talking about. Naturally, we were speaking of the kitchens, seeing as how dinner had long since ended. With one last drawn out groan from the empty caverns of my stomach, the four of us set off toward the basement, following James’s lead.

When we reached the painting of the fruit bowl, Alice let out a curious giggle as James instructed her to tickle the pear. He told her the “correct way of tickling a pear” and at this remark, he sent me a pointed glance that assured me Sirius had informed James of that particular encounter. I coloured at this and diverted my gaze. Unfortunately, this didn’t go unnoticed by Lily, who cocked a brow in question, but said nothing.

It was a pleasant atmosphere to experience. Iggy the House-Elf was overjoyed at my arrival and as she went around the table taking everyone’s orders, she not-so-subtly told me that Sirius had been in the kitchens naught but a few hours ago, sitting in the exact same spot that James was. They all stared at me as I spoke to the house elf, telling her that it was quite all right, I didn’t want to hear all of the details. Slightly forlorn, Iggy nodded her head and hurried off to place our orders. I was glad to see that she’d returned to her normal chipper self by the time she came back with our food.

We made sure to keep the conversation light, not daring to touch the tentative topics that needed to be discussed. No, that could wait for another time. There was an unspoken agreement between us, that no one would spoil a good evening, such a good dinner. I was out of the Hospital Wing and we were all mates again. At least, Alice, Lily and I were. I wasn’t so sure about James and Lily, but it was clear by the glimmer of hope in James’s hazel eyes that he wanted nothing more than to be in Lily’s good books again, even if only as a friend.

I never realised how much his happiness depended on her. In some other life, I would’ve said it was not wise to depend on someone else so much, but at the same time, James’s entire existence was not all about Lily. While his mood was certainly a lot brighter than it’d been since New Years Eve, he was always able to keep a genuine smile on his face, and it was all because he knew that things would get better. They always will, he said, they just have to get worse first.

After dinner, we all trudged back to the common room. Halfway there, we had to employ one of the many secret passageways to ensure that we wouldn’t get caught by Pringle and his cat, whose had her litter of kittens quite some time ago. One would think that motherhood would make the feline a bit more friendly, but if anything, it made her worse. Almost as though she despised the very kittens she’d given birth to, which I wouldn’t doubt.

“Spring fever,” said Alice as soon as we reached the painting of the Fat Lady.

The Fat Lady regarded us for several moments, but when her eyes found Lily and James, the Heads of the Students, she nodded, obviously thinking that they’d caught Alice and I out of bed. Giggling in gossiping glee, she swung open and permitted us entrance. I climbed through the hole with a minor amount of difficulty, my limbs still not as strong as they normally were and my concentration not as sharp.

I stumbled out of the portrait hole, the toe of my shoe having caught on the edge, and was righting myself when I promptly slammed into the back of Alice.

“What the-,”

The rest of my words were cut off when she emitted a loud shriek and bounded forward. Eyebrows raised, I turned to look at Lily and James. The only problem was that they weren’t there. Honestly, what the hell was going on around here?

Alice was still shrieking, though it was suddenly muffled. When she jumped up and latched herself onto something, I knew that there was only one answer: Frank Longbottom. He’d obviously come to see her, though I didn’t quite understand how he’d gotten into the castle, much less why he was at the school in the first place.

Deciding to leave my questions until later, including where the heck Lily and James had run off to, though it didn’t exactly take a Curse Breaker to figure out where they’d gone, I crossed the common room and bounded up the girls’ staircase. The prospects of sleeping in my four-poster bed had never sounded so good. With a small smile, I pushed the door to the dormitory open, quietly tiptoed to my bed and collapsed, not even bothering to remove any of my uniform.

X - - X



When I returned to lessons the next day, it was like Hogwarts had just gained a new celebrity. So, as you can imagine, with everyone’s eyes focused on me, I wanted nothing more than the earth to open up and swallow me whole. I hated attention. I absolutely, positively hated it. Attention was the one thing I could never understand why people would want so much of it, aside from power. Neither held any appeal to me, but if I had my wish, I’d take power over attention.

Attention equals gossip. And gossip only leads to very dark, dangerous places. Places where I had never dared to venture before. However, judging by the looks I was getting from complete strangers, my previously unknown name was being dragged through that thick muck called Rumours, most of which was extremely unpleasant. On the plus side, no less than sixteen people addressed me by the wrong name, which could only mean one very positive thing: I hadn’t elevated from Completely and Totally Unknown to Sudden Superstar overnight (or rather, over the past week and a half, what with my stint in the Hospital Wing). No, I was merely on the level of Heard Of, which was still not desirable, but better than it could have been.

Thankfully, my professors were treating me exactly like they used to: with polite indifference, but a bit of praise when I answered a question correctly. The only difference in their behaviour toward me was the offer to assist me in catching up with my work so I wouldn’t fall terribly behind, especially with N.E.W.Ts just around the corner.

Faster than I could imagine, April was slipping through my fingers, giving way to an unusually warm May. The Gryffindor Quidditch team was practicing more than ever, which provided a distraction in the evenings when Lily, Alice and I were gathered at a table in the common room or the library, both of which provided decent views of the Quidditch Pitch. Instead of focusing on my homework, all of my attention was focused on the figures zooming outside in the dusk, their shadowy figures outlined by the crisp orange of the setting sun. It was only when Lily cleared her throat loudly (and when that failed, walloped me behind the head) I was drawn out of my transfixed gaze and forced to focus on the subject we were studying at hand.

When teachers weren’t preaching about how important it was to study, I was being lectured by Lily for my careless work on my essays. Of course, when I wrote the long and tiresome essays, I didn’t think that I was being careless at all, but according to Lily, my writing lacked detail, which was a very important grading factor on our N.E.W.Ts.

N.E.W.Ts, oh, N.E.W.Ts. How much trouble those pesky little exams were causing me. They were all I ever heard about, both from Lily and from Alice, which was a surprising thing in itself. Ever since Frank had visited her the night of my release from the Hospital Wing, all she could think about were our N.E.W.Ts. Though she never told us herself what was the reasoning behind her sudden passion to get a high score, we read it in the papers the next day. Frank’s mentor, one of the leading Aurors in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, had been killed and, devastated, Frank sought the comfort of his girlfriend’s arms.

Hazarding a guess, I daresay that it was her beloved’s devastation that renewed her determination in getting top marks on her exams so she may become an Auror. A very noble path for someone like Alice, who would be perfect for the job.

Halfway through May, Lily decided that she would draw up studying schedules not just for herself, but for all of us as well. She was unbearable, the way she breathed down my neck if I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to, which usually involved copious amounts of studying information that would not stick in my brain until examinations. In fact, after I insisted that the information would leak away instead of stick, Lily made me study twice as hard. She even made me flash cards which with we studied with in our dormitory until nearly midnight every night.

Just like before the Winter Holidays, we reformed our old study group: James, Lily, Alice, Remus, Sirius, Peter and I all sat clumped around two tables pushed together. It was odd, being so near to Remus and Sirius, yet talking to neither. Apparently, during my stay in the Hospital Wing, the two decided to make up, apologising for being such idiots and such. The Marauders were whole again, much to everyone’s delight. . .until they realised that the quartet would not be up to any mischief at all while there was studying to be done.

To say that our study sessions were awkward wouldn’t even suffice. Not only did I have to face him, and by him, I mean Sirius, then, but also in Potions. It took two weeks to finish concocting the set antidote and even longer than that to write the essay which accompanied it. I thought as soon as we finished brewing our antidote we’d be able to choose different partners, but Professor Slughorn was so delighted by the entire class’s work, he said we were to remain with the person next to us for the rest of the year, as there wasn’t much left, anyway.

You could only imagine how excited I was to hear about that.

Gryffindor beat Slytherin in the final match of the season, securing the Quidditch Cup for the house of Godric “The Great” Gryffindor. There was a victory party thrown in the common room, disrupting the usually tense air of studying with a bit of fun and amusement. It would be suffice to say James had the best night of all. Not only did he lead his team to victory for the third year in a row (he had been Quidditch Captain since his fifth year), but it was the very same night that Lily decided to give James another chance, agreeing to be his girlfriend yet again. I had never seen him so excited in the entire time I’d known him, though I have to say they didn’t stick around for very long after she’d made up her mind. No doubt went to snog in some unused classroom.

Faster than I would’ve liked, the month of May began to slowly slip away and thoughts of graduation were on everyone’s mind. Unfortunately, instead of filling me with hope and happiness, I found I was filled with dread. I didn’t to leave Hogwarts behind. I didn’t want to graduate. I didn’t want to be thrust into the world when such dark and difficult times lay ahead. The only person who knew of my fear of going out into the ‘big, bad world’ was not Lily, but James. I didn’t tell him, he just guessed that my reluctance to speak of Graduation Day was not because I was nervous, but because I didn’t want to leave. He told me that Sirius had voiced the same concerns the previous year, back when they were still the best of mates, though on the plus side, James told me that he and Sirius were on speaking terms again.

That made me smile. Once I was assured it was perfectly normal to be feeling the way I was, the thought of N.E.W.Ts once again took hold, a most unpleasant one at that.

Speaking of N.E.W.Ts, they were the very reason why I’d just fled the common room in an unnatural amount of frustration. Lily was being as foul a monster as one could imagine to everyone, including all of her friends. I accidentally sneezed when she was in the middle of memorising her Arthimancy notes in a mantra like fashion and she went ballistic. She shouted at me that I’d popped the bubble of thought she’d been nursing into good health, which meant that she had to start all over again and she was already behind in her schedule. Angered, I threw my things done on the table top and with a curious exclamation from James, I bounded out of the portrait hole, knocking into a third year on my way out and cursing at the poor, unsuspecting girl.

As soon as I stepped out of the portrait hole, I knew the wide halls of Hogwarts wouldn’t ease the amount of stress resting on my shoulders. No, only a trip out onto the grounds would do that. With a slight shuffle of my feet, I started my journey toward the Entrance Hall. A glance down at my wrist told me that it was only a little after four in the afternoon, which meant I wouldn’t have to attempt to be all secretive and quiet and sneak around the castle. I was never gifted at being quiet, much less slinking around.

Having narrowly avoided a head-on collision with the pesky Peeves, I pushed the heavy oaken doors aside and slipped through the space provided into the fading afternoon. The weather was pleasant, if not a bit stale. The sultry summer was quickly approaching and even though it was only May, it was very evident. I drew in a deep breath of fresh air, allowing it to fill my lungs. It was much stickier than I would’ve liked, but all the same, it was just what the Healer ordered. The coils of tension in the line of my shoulders slowly began to melt away as I meandered down the sloping grounds to the shores of the Black Lake, nearly tripping over several stray tree roots on my journey.

Halfway down one particularly steep hill, I encountered a surprise. Well, it wasn’t really a surprise, but at the same time, it wasn’t what I expected. I mean, I knew that Remus and Sirius had patched up their friendship in the middle of April along with James, but still, seeing them together outside of the common room when we were grouped around a huge table doing homework was, well, to put it mildly, odd.

I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to dive behind the nearest bush in hopes that they hadn’t seen me, but it was vanished when Sirius raised a hand in a half-hearted greeting. Fighting off a grimace, I returned the wave with as little enthusiasm as I could muster. As I drew nearer, I saw that Remus did not look as happy as Sirius to see me, though to be fair, Sirius looked as though he had like to see anyone else but me. Not that I could blame him or anything, especially after how I’d treated him in the Hospital Wing. I’d tried to apologise for it, but he’d waved it off with a kind of nonchalance that suggested he was still bitter about it. Again, not that I could blame him.

Like an idiot, I wasn’t watching where I stepped and the toe of my shoe ended up catching on a tree branch. Luckily, I was able to catch myself before I fell on my face, so instead I landed on all fours. I could hear a barely suppressed peal of almost laughter as the ground shivered under my palms. The pair of them were standing over me in seconds.

Pushing myself to my feet, I shook my hair out of my eyes in embarrassment.

“You all right?” Sirius asked.

I swiped both palms across my skirt, hoping to get rid of all and any traces of blood. “I’m fine.”

“You sure?” questioned Remus.

Unwillingly, my eyes were drawn to the sandy haired youth and I nodded. “Positive.”

We stared at each other for several seconds before Sirius cleared his throat. Succeeding in earning both mine and Remus’s attention, the grey eyed boy jerked his head in the direction of the castle. I couldn’t believe it - I was getting ditched in front of my very eyes!

Without so much as a goodbye, they started up the slope I’d just traversed. I don’t know what made me do it, but before I could stop myself - or rather, before the Voice could stop me, I was calling out Remus’s name, my hands cupped around my mouth.

Obviously startled, they stopped mid-stride and pivoted so that they may look at me. A flush rose to my cheeks and I fought it to the best of my ability. I crossed the space between us quickly, leaving enough space so the atmosphere didn’t true sticky.

Squinting up at Remus, I suddenly blurted, “Could I talk to you?” Glancing sideways at Sirius, who suddenly looked angry with me, I added, “Just you.”

Remus considered for a few seconds before giving a ghost of a nod. You’d have thought I asked him to someone’s funeral as my date or something, the grimace he was wearing. He glanced at Sirius, one of those “looks” on his face and the latter bobbed his head.

“I’ll see you back in the common room,” said Sirius before turning on his heel and jogging easily up the steep slope.

I glared after him.

The sudden sound of Remus’s deep voice startled me. “You wanted something?”

Jerking myself out of the odd sort of stupor I’d settled into as I glowered at the retreating form of the gorgeous - I mean, hideous, hideous Sirius Black, I turned my eyes back to Remus and mustered a polite smile, “Yeah, I did. I mean, I do. I do want something. Uh,” I glanced hopelessly at the shores of the Black Lake, which were nearer than I had originally believed them to be. “D’you want to sit?”

Remus shrugged his shoulders, his hands stuck in his pockets. “Sure.”

In an awkward silence, we fell into step as we neared the sandy-muddy shore of the Black Lake. Its black waters were lapping up at the peculiarly mixed shore substance gently and it would have been calming if tension wasn’t hanging so heavy in the air.

Clearing my throat, I smoothed my skirt, tucking it under my bottom as I lowered myself down onto the ground. Surprisingly, Remus dropped down with an unusually graceful ease beside me, drawing his knees up toward his chest.

“So,” he drawled, his voice oddly constricted.

“Yeah,” I said, unaware that I was mirroring his current position until my chin dropped down onto my knee. Slightly startled, I tried not to let my surprise show on my face, though it was likely it was as clear as the sky above us. Licking my lips, I continued, “Look, I just wanted to say that-,”

“Please,” Remus began. “If you’re going to apologise, you’re too late for that.”

“But-,”

“The damage has been done, Eleanor. I know you’re sorry, but that still doesn’t change what you did.” He was looking at me now, penetrating me with that intense stare of his. His brown eyes had lost their previous warmth that I found so endearing. They were cold now, hardened. It unnerved me and guilt swirled in my stomach, which I imagine was his desired intent. “What either of you did.”

Anger boiled under my skin, in my veins. All I saw was red, but I bit my tongue. “You can forgive him,” I jerked my thumb over my shoulder, “but you can’t forgive me?”

“I haven’t forgiven him.”

“Oh, whatever! You lot have been chums for the past month or so!”

“Not completely, anyway,” he said as though I hadn’t interrupted him. “He said that he was sorry and that he knew it was wrong.”

I snorted. “Yet when I offer an apology and say that I knew it was wrong, you can’t forgive me?”

He shook his head. “No, I can’t.”

Rolling my eyes, I turned my attention back out to the Black Lake. “That makes no sense at all.”

“Neither did your actions,” Remus said. “In fact, they still don’t make sense.”

Whipping my head back in his direction, I growled through gritted teeth, “Maybe if you just let me explain myself instead of biting my head off whenever I try, they would become clearer to you!”

We glowered at each other. His flat brown eyes bore into mine, making an unpleasant shiver slowly creep up my spine and settle in the back of my neck, where it prickled uncomfortably. Biting the inside of my cheek, I ignored the urge to scrunch up my shoulders, to wrinkle my nose and give into the shiver that delved deeper into my bones.

He was the first to look away. Heaving a sigh, he pushed his hands through his hair. He looked like he was exhausted. Not just with the current situation, but with life. I couldn’t blame him: between all of the hours of studying and homework we were given, it was hard not to let your sleepiness get to you.

“All right,” he breathed. “I’ll hear you out.”

Warmth swelled in my heart and I resisted the urge to throw my arms around his neck, to hug him as though my life depended on it. He was going to listen to me! Really, truly listen to what I had to say.

“But,” he continued, “Only if I get to ask some questions.”

I nodded without the slightest bit of hesitancy. “Anything. You can ask me anything, Remus. I just want you to understand so then you can hate me within reason.”

His next words shocked me. “I don’t hate you, Eleanor.”

My eyebrows disappeared into my fringe. “You don’t?”

Remus shook his head. “Of course not. I just don’t like you all the much at the moment.”

Unable to help myself, I chuckled, shaking my head slightly. My gaze had once again returned to the silky smooth surface of the Black Lake. The water would look welcoming if I didn’t know what lurked in its waters. Giant Squids and Merpeople were just some of the unpleasant creatures that were waiting to grab your ankles and make you dinner.

“When did it happen?” he questioned suddenly.

“When did-,”

“When did you start fancying him?” Remus clarified.

Sighing softly, I shrugged my shoulders. “I’m not entirely sure. All I can tell you is that it took me a long time to realise my feelings for S-Sirius because I was still head over heels for you. I was over the moon that you actually wanted me to sit with you at dinner and-,”

“That was when it started?” He was clearly surprised.

I shook my head suddenly. “No! That’s not when it happened,” I said hurriedly. “Believe you me, I didn’t even realise that I seriously fancied Sirius until a few weeks before Winter Holidays. I think it was during the snowball fight that I really felt something.”

Beside me, Remus snorted in derisive laughter. “No wonder why he tackled you.”

“What do you mean? I don’t understand,” I said, perplexed.

“The thing you have to understand about Sirius is that he expresses his feelings in ways that most people wouldn’t. Most of the time, he elects physical contact,” revealed Remus, shaking his head in a slow, almost disproving manner. Still, there was a bemused smile on his lips.

However confused Remus was feeling, it was nothing compared to my own confusion. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by all the moments when Sirius and I had touched. Flashes of the moments filled my mind: his hand rubbing circles into the small of my back at the Quidditch match; our encounter on the moving staircase when he caressed my face, almost kissing me; when he fixed my bleeding nose in his dorm; helping me into his bed after a drunken Halloween party; each time our knees had brushed under the study table; all of the times we had gotten into small “fights” with various Potions ingredients. All of the times that Sirius had touched me before he kissed me outside of my house swirled around in my mind and I found that I couldn’t breathe.

Just how long, exactly, had Sirius fancied me before he’d kissed me?

A touch on my elbow made me jump in my skin. Half expecting to see Sirius sitting beside me, his grey eyes sparkling with that unique glimmer, I was slightly disappointed and yet half relieved to see it was Remus and not Sirius who was next to me on the shores of the Black Lake.

“Are you all right?”

I nodded clumsily. “I’m fine. I was just - well, lost in thought,” I finished honestly.

Remus smiled at me, though it didn’t reach his eyes. “That’s all right. I’m sure you were thinking of all the times when he touched you before you realised you fancied him as well.”

My mouth dropped open and I stared, slack jawed, at Remus. “Are you a Legimens or something, because you’ve just read my mind.” I faltered slightly. “Well, not entirely, but still. You get what I mean, right?”

He chuckled softly. “Yeah, I guess I do. So,” he said without missing a beat, “when did it happen? The moment you realise that you fancied him more than me.”

The bitterness was there, but understandably so. I wouldn’t be able to talk about it at all, but here was Remus, being as brave as they come. No wonder why he was sorted into Gryffindor.

I made a point of not looking at him when I answered, my voice soft. “You see, over the holidays, we - as in my Aunt Eliza and I - ran into Sirius in Diagon Alley while we were shopping. Aunt Eliza told him to come over to our house for Christmas Eve, since he spends Christmas Day with the Potters, and we hung out the entire day.” I licked my lips again. “When he left, he - well, he kissed me and I’m sorry to say that I kissed him back.” Closing my eyes against the memory, I added, “Then he did the most peculiar thing: he Disapparated after he kissed me, telling me to stay away. And I did. The next time we talked was -,”

“The Potters’ New Years’ Eve Party,” he finished, nodding his head slowly as though something was making sense to him. “It’s no wonder that no matter what I did, you kept looking at me with that sad glimmer in your eyes. I thought it was something I did,” he added as an afterthought.

I shook my head and grabbed one of his hands out of instinct. “No, Remus! You didn’t do anything wrong. Nothing at all. I just couldn’t handle the guilt. There you were, being so kind to me when I most certainly did not deserve it.” Gasping when I felt a tear touch my lips, I brushed it away with a casual swipe. “And you know how it was at the dinner table. When we were dancing.” I sighed, not sure if I wanted to tell him the next bit, but it was crucial. “You know how I went outside to get some air?”

Remus nodded uneasily. “Yes.”

“That was my original intention,” I said. “But then Sirius came outside and we argued. A lot. He called me a hypocrite, but I didn’t want to believe it, even though I was one. I was just as bad as he was, snogging him when I was going out with you,” I sent him an apologetic smile, though he didn’t return it. Not that I expected him to or anything.

“Go on,” he urged, his voice hard.

“Well, then we started snogging again and then - well, Lucinda and Amos came stumbling out onto the patio and,” I paused, once again fighting off an onslaught of memories. “You saw what happened after that. Everyone did.”

I could feel his eyes on me, penetrating as ever. Like he was searching my face for something. If I knew him like I thought I did, he was.

I didn’t even realise that I was crying again until Remus reached over and wiped my tears away with his thumbs. His brown eyes had regained some of their warmth and he was directing it at me. There was something unexplainable on his face. Something that stirred hope in my chest. My heart began to thrum excitedly in my ribcage.

“You really fancy him, don’t you?” he murmured softly, my face still in his hands.

I nodded hesitantly. “I do,” I replied. “I really love him.”

Once again, my mouth dropped open and the Voice began to scold me. There was no way I had just said what I think I just said. But judging by the look on Remus’s face, I could see that I’d just said those three little words that were always so hard to get out, and he was shocked, but not all that surprised. Which was a bit contradictory, when you think about it.

Remus dropped his hands from my face, though the shocked expression slid of his face and was replaced by something a lot less dramatic, a lot softer. If I were braver, I would say that there was an understanding expression on his face, but I wasn’t that brave nor was I that bold. Not unless I was considerably drunk or kicking on a fit of rage.

“I figured as much,” Remus muttered quietly. He rose to his feet, but I didn’t follow him. I was still too startled at my own words to move. I didn’t twist around and watch him walk away, but I could hear his muffled footsteps on the ground. All too soon, I knew that I was alone by the lake and that was not a good thing in the slightest.

Had I really just said that I loved Sirius? As in Sirius Orion Black? The boy with the charming smile and quick wit that made hundreds of women swoon, regardless of age. The boy who proved to be a great friend, one of the best I’d ever had in my life. The boy who was incredibly smart and so loyal it made a dog look like the most cowardly of sheep. Did I really love him?

Before I could dwell on the subject of my feelings for one Sirius Black, something wet was lapping at my face. It took me several moments to realise that it was a dog’s tongue licking my face with an unforgiving vigour. Despite the emotions raging through me, I managed to laugh happily, pulling back to get a good look at the animal licking me.

The sheer size of the dog was monstrous, to say the very least, but there was an overall friendly air to his demeanour. His pink tongue out of his mouth at a lopsided angle and there was a glimmer of what only looked to be mischief in its oddly coloured silver eyes. Nudging my hand with a big black button nose, the dog began to lick the palm of my hand.

Lifting my other hand, I placed it on the top of the dog’s big head and pet it. The dog seemed to like this, as he closed his eyes and pressed the crown of his skull into my palm. Smiling, I scratched his ears. The dog emitted a loud, pleased howl and I laughed again.

“You sure are a cutie, aren’t you?” I cooed at him, taking his big head between my hands. His ears were floppy and covered my hands, even though I was touching the dog where a human’s cheeks would be. I was surprised as how soft his fur was: he was obviously a wild dog, having no collar on his neck and he was simply too big to be a house pet. “But I bet you get that a lot, don’t you?”

Sighing, I released the dog’s head and laid back on the grass, one arm tucked under my head. The dog stared at me, its head cocked to the side for several moments until it turned around three times and sank down next to me. Much like Rufus would, the dog laid his head on my stomach and gave me an expectant sort of look, like he wanted me to pet him again. I complied, scratching his ears in an absentminded way.

“You know, Snuffles,” I began, suddenly glancing down at the dog. He was looking at me again with a curious glint in his eyes. “D’you mind if I call you Snuffles? You look like a Snuffles,” I said, only to be sniffed at excitedly. “I’ll take that as a yes.” The dog barked happily and I laughed loudly, an oddly freeing sort of feeling coming over me.

And then, I split it all to the dog. Everything that had happened since that fateful day of October the Second. I told him about the day in Slughorn’s office when I was assigned to be Black’s partner. I told Snuffles about the Quidditch match; the delusion I had of kissing Sirius one moment and then Remus the next; the Halloween party; the encounter on the staircase. Absolutely everything. I told him the things I felt, the thoughts that raged through my head at the time. Everything.

It was freeing, to say the very least. By the time I ran out of things to say, darkness had fallen in a thick blanket. Stars twinkled brightly overhead, winking at me in a mocking soft of way. Shaking my sleeve back from my wrist, I saw that it was nearing nine o’clock at night. Pringle would be locking the doors soon, so I had to get back, much to my dismay. I didn’t want to leave Snuffles, but I knew I had no choice.

With another sigh, I pushed myself into a sitting position and looked Snuffles in the eye. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go, otherwise I’ll be locked out of the castle.” Oddly enough, Snuffles seem to nod at me as though he understood what I was telling him. Smiling slightly at him, I ruffled the thick tuff of black hair at the top of his head and rose to my feet. “I’ll see you soon, okay? That is, if you come back.” I sighed again. “Well, I’ll understand if you don’t come, but it was nice to meet you, Snuffles, I’m glad I had the chance.” He rushed forward and nudged my hand, licking my fingertips. I wanted to stay, but I was reminded that I had to get back to the castle. I stooped down, dropped a kiss on the top of Snuffles’s head and hurried back up the hill, but not before calling a goodbye to the cute, but huge black dog.

By the time I reached the oaken front doors, it was almost nine o’clock. Pringle would be coming down the hall at any minute and I still had to rush up to the common room. Shoving the door open, I panted as I stumbled into the Entrance Hall, hurrying over toward the staircase and climbing them as fast as my limbs would allow.

When I heard a second pair of footsteps behind me, I thought that it was Pringle and that I’d been caught. Lo and behold, I was shocked to see that it was Sirius. A smiling Sirius Black. He fell into step beside me and though we didn’t speak, save for when we both uttered the password to the Fat Lady, it was comfortable. Once again, that feeling of understanding was emitting from Sirius like it had been from Remus. And I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it.

He allowed me to climb through the portrait hole first and we both crossed the room to the staircase that led to our respective dorms. With another brilliant smile, Sirius said, “Good night,” and flounced - yes, flounced - up the stairs to his dormitory.

________________________________________

36
“Five minutes,” Professor Flitwick squeaked from his position atop a stack of boxes. “You have five minutes until this examination ends!”

My heart began to hammer loudly at this prospect and I turned my strained eyes to the parchment spread out in front of me. Nearly every inch of it was covered in my messy scrawl, huge sections of it blotted out with the tip of my quill and in other places, it was hardly legible. I prayed to Merlin that I wouldn’t get points taken off for that, although I could’ve sworn that Lily told me the spell used by the official exam people to make writing legible. And then I realised with horror that I didn’t know that spell and it would probably come up on another exam.

Merlin help me! I was never going to graduate at this rate! Not if I couldn’t perform a simple spell that corrected messy handwriting. How on earth was I going to survive in the outside world if -

Breathe, Eleanor. If you lose it now, you’ll never get it back.

Before I could thank the Voice, it continued.

Not that you ever had it all, but you know, you’ll lose whatever you’ve got left. Ha!

Does that mean I’d lose the Voice, too? The anxiety gripping me lessened slightly at this thought. To be rid of the annoying Voice forever! Oh, I could only imagine what it would be like not to have It hanging around, breathing down my neck and -

Focus, Elle! Focus! We’ll discuss our personal differences later.

Pushing my fringe out of my eyes, I scribbled furiously on the parchment. I poured everything I knew about the steps it took to become an Animagus - including the basic instruments as to how a witch or wizard should swallow such a thick and sticky potion - regardless if it fit with the subject matter I was supposed to be writing about. No doubt my sentence structure and grammar were horrible, but I could have cared less about that stuff. Well, only if points weren’t taken off for horrific grammar and equally terrible writing style.

Then and only then did I care.

“. . .and three - two - one! Quills down, children!” the Charms professor shouted. “Quills down and ink wells capped! Time is up!”

The plausible amount of tension in the Great Hall broke with these words. The tension was released from the air and I found myself able to breathe deeply without the fear of losing my answers when I exhaled. I’ve heard that it happened to several wizards in the past and quite frankly, I didn’t want to be one of them. Merlin knows I was probably going to have a hard enough time passing the practical exam when it came to Transfiguration, even if I was pretty good at the subject.

“Please remain in your seats while I collect your test papers,” said Professor Flitwick. With a wave of his wand, he Summoned the scrolls of parchment toward him. It probably wasn’t the best idea for someone of Professor Flitwick’s stature to attempt, but he seemed to know what he was doing. Or rather, he knew when to duck. I’m sure the sheer force of all of scrolls coming at him at once would’ve knocked him down. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if the wind took him away.

Buttocks still firmly in my chair, I ran my hands over my face, relief flooding through every available pour in my body. There was only one more examination left after this, excluding the Transfiguration practical, of course, and that was History of Magic. I already knew that I’d do dreadfully on the test, regardless of how much Lily attempted to drill the subject matter into my head. I had no interest in a History of Magic, especially not when Binns was the teacher. If anything, I was glad to be rid of it.

Speaking of Lily. . .

I craned my neck, scanning the now relaxed seventh years gathered in the Great Hall. Many were on their feet, conversing and laughing with their neighbours. Others were sitting on the tops of their desks, curious expressions on their faces as they discussed the questions on the exam, though we were under strict instruction not to do such an atrocity.

It didn’t take long to find her head of long, dark auburn hair. While I expected to see James standing next to her, his arm wrapped firmly around her slim waist, I didn’t. No, Lily was in deep conversation with none other than Severus Snape and by the looks of it, he’d just said something that made her angry. Though I could only see the back of her, I saw that her hands were clenched at her sides and she was leaning forward slightly. Like she was about to scream something in his face. I’d seen that posture before - been on the receiving end and I can be the first to tell you that it wasn’t a place one wished to be.

Deciding it was better I didn’t interrupt the growing argument between them, I tore my gaze from the pair and swept the room for the rest of my mates. Alice, James, and Remus were circled around a desk and there wasn’t a doubt in my mind as to whom it was. Swallowing the bundle of nerves that seemed to seek residence in my throat, I rose from my seat and carefully toed my way toward the small group.

“Ellie!” James cried loudly, causing several people to swivel their heads in our direction. He threw an arm over my shoulder and drew me in closer to the group. Alice stepped to the side slightly to make room for me in the circle. “How are you, love?”

I shrugged my shoulders, which was much more difficult due to the weight of his arm. “Exhausted,” I blurted and I found that it was true. Not only did my hand hurt from gripping the quill so tightly, but it seemed that my entire body did as well. I could already feel the coils of tension cement themselves in the line of my shoulders. Though, to be perfectly honest, it could be due to the weight of James’s arm, which, as I stated before, was rather heavy. Just how many small children did he bench press in the morning, anyway?

I was just about to ask him when Sirius and Remus continued the conversation that my arrival had interrupted.

“Anyway, I thought the last question was a bit of a joke,” said Sirius smugly. He was leaning back in his chair, which tipped precariously on two legs. I wanted to tell him to set the legs firmly on the ground, but I knew if I said anything, he would just smirk at me in that frustrating way that he’d been smirking at me for the past few weeks and I’d want to hit my head against the flagstone to rid the expression from my eyes.

Dear Merlin, if there were one person who was going to drive me into insanity, it was the dark haired youth lounge comfortably in a decidedly uncomfortable chair.

Beside me, James snorted. “Of course it was a joke! The Theory of Animagus is one of the easiest concepts in Transfiguration. It’s really straightforward if you ask me.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that it was the easiest notion in all of Transfiguration to understand. . .,” began Remus, though I stopped paying attention after the last few words.

I could practically hear the blood rushing to my toes as it left my head, leaving me colourless. They weren’t being serious, were they? How could they talk so casually, so damn easily about theories of Animagus - or Transfiguration in general - with such a note of confidence in their voices? You’d think that they themselves were Animagi (or is it Animaguses? I’m complete bullocks when it comes to grammatical possession and such), the way they were talking about!

The idea of the Marauders being Animagi (I’m assuming this is right.) made me snort, thoroughly amused. There was no way that they could ever achieve something like that. As clever as they all were, becoming an Animagus was not an easy feat. I’d heard Professor McGonagall talking about it on several different occasions and aside from complicated, the process was supposedly painful the first few times its tried. So painful, most people stop the venture of becoming an Animagus. Though I’m pretty sure she was just telling us that to shut up us. To be fair, no one really knew exactly what lengths the Marauders would go to, what skills they possessed. . .I don’t think they even knew the full extent of their own magical abilities.

I wish I could say the same thing.

Just as I beginning to wonder what sort animal I would become, should I ever attempted to become an Animagus, Lily came storming up to the group, her face splotchy with patches of red and it was as though her hair was becoming wilder by the minute.

“Lily, are you all right?” I asked tentatively.

Her sharp green eyes snapped over me. “Do I look all right!?”

Slightly alarmed, I took a step toward Remus. You know, just as precaution. If it came down to it, I would use him as my shield. Circe only knew how explosive Lily’s infamous temper could be and if it was anything to judge by, the look on her face clearly spelt trouble.

“What happened? Why are you so angry?” Alice questioned.

“Snape! That’s what happened,” Lily replied, though her tone was much smoother.

I tried to hide my annoyance at being snapped at. Lily hadn‘t snapped at Alice, but then again, she had waited a few moments before addressing Lily. Alice also hadn’t asked such an annoyingly stupid question. I really needed to practice my Lily-Handling skills; they were still a bit rusty, even after two and a half months of reconciliation.

The Marauders’ reactions to Lily’s comment was expected: James stiffened, his mouth setting in a grim, hard line; Remus stood up a little straighter and looked at Lily with nothing but concern; Sirius let his chair fall back to the ground, the front legs slamming against the floor with such force, both of them splintered.

“What’d he do?” they asked in unison.

My eyes found Lily, who was standing close to Alice, who had her arm cast around her best friend’s shoulder. When I looked into the redhead’s face, I saw there were tears pooling her emerald eyes, tears that she was trying to hide from James and his mates.

“N-nothing,” she breathed, clearly trying to stifle a sob. She made a discreet swipe at her eyes, no doubt to clear away the few tears that managed to leak down her cheeks. “He’s just being a prat.”

Though Remus and Sirius visibly relaxed (James was still as good as a statue of marble), it was obvious they were waiting for her to say more. Looking for an excuse to go after Snape one last time.

“Well,” I began softly, causing several pairs of eyes to focus on me. “That’s to be expected, isn’t it? I’m not saying that he’s a bad person or anything, but he hasn’t always been nice to you. . . .”

I could feel Lily’s glare burning into my forehead. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, her voice deadly calm. Everyone knew that calm was never good. Not ever, because the calm comes before the storm. And I don’t know about you, but I hated storms. All they caused was trouble.

I should know, seeing as how it was a ruddy thunderstorm that got me into this mess. . .though it seems that things turned out for the better, didn’t they?

That’s right, Ella. Keep searching for the Silver Lining.

Nervously, I cleared my throat. “W-what I mean to say is that. . .well, with the House rivalries and all, it makes it hard for the pair of you to be friends, right?” I licked my lips and began to fidget with my hands. Nothing like resorting back to old tendencies. Soon, I’d be staring at my shoes, which were probably as scruffy looking as they were at the beginning of the year. Not that it mattered to be all that much. The scuffs added personality.

“Right,” drawled Lily.

“And I mean - well, he did call you a M-mu-,” I glanced around at the faces of my friends and leaned closer to them, dropping my voice to a whisper, “A Mudblood. It’s not like he has chosen the best of mates and such and -,”

“He’s a Slytherin,” chimed in Sirius. I cast a grateful look his way and he winked at me. All at once, my stomach fluttered with excitement, though the Voice was telling me to ignore the happy feeling in my abdomen to focus on the situation at hand. “Such behaviour is expected from a Slytherin. The lot of them are prats!”

Everyone but Lily laughed.

“Well said, Sirius, well said,” Peter chuckled, clapping Sirius on the back. When Peter had popped up in the circle, I’m not entirely sure. He hadn’t exactly been around all too much as of late, though I can’t say that anyone missed him all that much.

Merlin, what a terrible thing for me to say! Of course his mates missed him. They were probably too busy studying for N.E.W.Ts to care too much about him.

Our amused laughter seemed to rouse James from his statue-like coma. He snaked an arm around Lily’s waist and pulled her close to his chest. She seemed right at home there, nuzzled against his chest. She slid her own arms around his middle, pressing her cheek against his sternum.

“Don’t let him bother you, Lils,” whispered James to Lily, though he spoke loud enough for us to hear him quite clearly. “He doesn’t mean half of the things he says. He’s just-,”

“Deluded!” provided Peter, causing another bout of laughter to surge amongst our group. Even Lily managed a smile at Peter’s clever quip.

Before anything else could be said on the subject matter of Severus Snape, the decidedly confusing Slytherin who seemed to appear more slimy than he actually was, Professor Flitwick announced we were free to go and spend the rest of the afternoon at our disposal.

I hurried back to my desk, collecting my quill and inkwell and shoving them into my new satchel. I know it’s a bit odd to buy a new bag for school when the end of the year was so close, but when I’d written home to Aunt Eliza, telling her that the damn strap on my satchel made me trip down a flight of stairs (I slipped on an inkwell, you see), she’d sent me a new one via Leonidias. Slinging the bag over my shoulder, I weaved around the crowd of exiting, excited students toward the space where all of my friends were standing.

Or stood, rather. The only one who was still there was Sirius, and that was because he was shoving his things into his bag. When I tapped him on the shoulder to alert him of my presence, he seemed a bit taken aback. He muttered something and turned around, smiling brightly at me as he tried to discreetly stow a piece of folded parchment in his back pocket.

“Hello!” he said cheerily.

“Hi,” I replied, deciding it was best not to ask him what it was and why he was so quick to hide it from me. Instead, I settled on the safe route. “Where’d everyone go?”

“To get their things, I suppose,” he answered, a smirk dancing across his inescapable soft and not to mention warm -

Eleanor! Now is certainly not the time for your deranged fantasies to take you away!

Admittedly, the Voice was right and I was forced to block out the image of myself pinned between a rough stone wall and Sirius, his breath hot on my neck. Dammit! I needed to focus! Or at any rate, a nice cold shower.

Yes, a cold shower was sounding pretty good right now, especially if he continued to smirk at me like that.

The smirk grew as we continued to stare at each other.

Gah! Damn him! He has to know that it’s effecting me, that damn smug smile of his! Otherwise, he would have given it up a long time ago.

Or he’s simply amused by your reaction. He is Sirius Black, after all.

Oh shut up, Voice! I really didn’t want to listen to It right now.

Clearing my throat and shaking myself out of my momentary stupor, I nodded my head. “Oh, that would make sense, wouldn‘t it. Did they say when they’d be back?”

Sirius laughed in his bark like away and I gave myself a mental palm slap to the forehead. Merlin, how stupid could I be? Did I really just ask that?

“No,” he commented, stopping my mental berating before it could proceed any further. “But I’m sure they’ll be in time for supper.”

I sent him a look and he laughed again. The sound was warm and familiar, wrapping around me like an old, but welcomed winter coat. The only problem I saw that was I didn’t particularly like winter, much less having to wear a coat all the time. So did that mean I didn’t fancy his laughter as I used to or that I was becoming annoyed with it? Or was I just overanalysing the situation like I do most of the time, therefore making things immensely complicated for myself when they could be simple?

Right, I’m going to go with the latter of the two.

“I should hope so,” I managed to say. “From what I heard, tonight’s feast is supposed to be huge. Wouldn‘t want any of them to go hungry, you know.”

“Really?” Sirius said, looking slightly perplexed. “Why would it be huge? I mean, there’s nothing special about-,”

Laughing, I cut him off. “I was kidding, Sirius. Trying to make a joke. Taking the mickey. You know, that old chestnut. But apparently, I’ve failed.”

Sirius laughed again. The bark like quality echoed in the Great Hall, which, I just now noticed, was empty save for us and a group of elderly looking witches and wizards we had come to know as our examination squad. They didn’t even to hear us laughing and talking, though I admit, it must be hard hearing at that age.

“Good Merlin, I hope someone takes me out back and shoots me before I get that old.”

Sirius followed my line of sight and after a few moments, he chuckled softly. “They’re not that old.”

I snorted. “That one right there,” I pointed toward a witch with a hooked nose and a stoop. Her hair was a dark, steely grey and her eyes wandered in different directions, “looks as though she was a floozy of Merlin’s!”

Sirius laughed once again and I found my heart soaring. Inside, I was repeating the mantra: I love winter, I love coats. I love winter, I love coats. I adore winter, and coats are my biggest obsession!

“Hmmm, what about that one?” Sirius questioned, pointing at the wizard beside the witch.

I observed him for a moment, drinking in the old man’s appearance. He was so hunched, it looked as though he could reach out and touch the floor without much effort. His skin was spotted with liver warts and had more lines than my last Charms essay. I was pretty sure the fuzzy patch on the top of his head was supposed to be hair, but it could’ve been mould.

I told all of this to Sirius and he was beside himself with laughter. His laughter inspired my own and soon, we were laughing joyously together, pointing at each of the examiners and inventing their lives and when they were born. And everything as ridiculous as two people such as us could get up to.

Circe, it was nice to be back to normal with Sirius. Though I couldn’t help asking myself, is anything normal with Sirius Black around?
X - - X


Two Weeks Later. . .

This was it.

Today was my last official day at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In a little less than three hours’ time, I would be joining my classmates in the ceremonial walk to Hogsmeade Station, where we’d pile onto the brilliant scarlet engine that was the Hogwarts Express and be on our way into the real word as graduate students.

The thought my stomach swoop uncomfortably and my face flame up.

Ever since I’d woken up this morning, I’d been hot. Unnaturally hot. Sweat was dripping down the back of my neck, soaking the collar of my freshly pressed linen shirt. No one else in the dorm was sweating the way I was. No, they were just fluttering about the place, searching for lost items while trying to get their make up just right. Today was the graduation ceremony and they weren’t about to look like shit.

I was past debating whether or not I should throw myself in the shower again to cool off, as one of my roommates was probably using the bathroom to perfect their appearance, and was now playing with the idea of leaving the dormitory all together. I was no where near ready; my hair was just a bit on the messy, tangled side, my socks didn’t match, and there were several thread hanging from the hem of my skirt.

It was the nerves. Today was one of those epic days that only comes around once in a lifetime, and I didn’t want to mess it up. No one did. Which was why we were all in minor to moderate states of panic. Out of everyone, I’d say that I was the worst. After all, I was the only one sweating like I was situated in Satan’s asshole. Not exactly the most pleasing image for one to conjure up, but it also was not the time to start getting a bad case of nerves.

Unfortunately, my body didn’t seem to get the message. My hands shook when I held them out in front of me. Shook with nerves, with the uncertainty of what followed my graduation, and with a tiny bit of fear of what I was to expect today. Would Aunt Eliza remember to come? I’d owled her just a few days ago reminding her of the occasion, but if anyone knew that Aunt Eliza had a problem with remembering things, it was me.

While Lily and Alice were busy fidgeting over each other’s hair, Marlene and Leanne were crowded in front of the bathroom mirror. Just as well, it would make my escape from our dorm a lot easier. It was much easier to slink out of a room when others were preoccupied. Pushing away from my bed, I shakily rose to my feet and crossed the short distance between my four poster and the door with a surprising amount of speed. Or maybe it was because my knees gave way halfway through and I fell into the door, which propelled it open.

Recovering from my clumsy movement, I stepped out of the dorm, letting the door click softly shut in my wake. It wasn’t like they were going to hear, anyway - they were all too busy asking for each other’s opinion on their choice of hairstyle. Shaking my head to myself, I traipsed down the stairs to the common room, which was buzzing with activity as well. Everywhere, students were standing on top of chairs, Summoning their belongings to them. One first year was knocked in the stomach with a heavy looking stack of books by a fourth year. The girl apologised to the boy and quickly resumed her previous spell work.

Somehow, someway, I made it out of the common room without a scratch on me. The halls were a great deal quieter, not to mention cooler, than the sweltering dormitory and the stickiness that hung about the common room like a second skin. Pushing my fringe away from my forehead, I began my trek down the seven flights of stairs, passing through the Entrance Hall, ducking through the double oak doors, and stepping out into the fresh air. Though it wasn’t exactly cool, it wasn’t blistering hot either. It was somewhere in between, a comfortable medium that I could be satisfied with.

Much to my surprise, there was hardly anyone on the grounds. A few of the more sensible students were sprawled out on the grass with their mates, no doubt making plans for the summer and such. I wish I could be as carefree as they looked. But when had I ever been carefree? It seemed like I was always worried about something, even if I didn’t need to be worrying about it. That was one thing I’d need to fix once I plunged myself feet first into the great unknown of the Adult World.

Circe, that sounds like I’m going to be making a porno or something. . .Merlin.

Instead of drifting down to the shores of the Black Lake, I situated myself in a somewhat awkward heap on the low garden wall that surrounded Professor Sprout’s personal garden. It was strictly a floral garden with flowers of all species. Some of them were familiar to me, some I’d seen growing in the garden in my backyard, and others were completely foreign. Many of them looked dangerous. If I wasn’t mistake, the one in the corner with the colourful beach umbrella shielding it from light, was an infantile Devil’s Snare.

Yikes. Wouldn’t want to get too close to that.

Scooting as far away as possible from the Devil’s Snare, I leaned back against the rough brick wall of the outer castle structure. It was rough against my back, but it was also cold, which I thought to be a bit odd. One would think that standing out in the hot sunshine would slowly heat up the rocks, but I was probably mistaken. It wouldn’t be the first time.

I let my head fall back against the stone and my eyes drifted closed to their own accord. I wasn’t all that tired, but for some reason, it didn’t matter. I wanted to enjoy the sounds of Hogwarts for what could possibly be the last time ever.

Don’t say that, Eleanor! Your children will come here for schooling, no doubt. And if you’re lucky, something bad might happen to them that would call you forth.

If I was lucky? No one wanted bad things to happen to their children - not even the ones that didn’t even exist yet! Maybe the Voice was finally cracking up.

I don’t know how long it was before I noticed that someone else was sitting beside me on the wall. It could’ve been hours or it could’ve been seconds. I found that it really didn’t matter, but when I finally did take notice, I jerked myself out of the peaceful semi-conscious state I’d managed to drift into.

Blinking what little amount of sleep that had gathered in my eyes away, I turned my gaze next to the person beside me. A small grin spread across my lips as I took in the dark hair, the extremely warm smile, and the familiar eyes staring back at me with curiosity.

“Er - hi,” I said awkwardly after several moments of intense silence. I didn’t like to be stared at so, well, closely.

“Hello,” he replied pleasantly. “How’re you?”

I shrugged. “Fine, I guess. You?”

“Contemplative,” was the simple answer.

I felt my brow furrow in confusion. Contemplative? What the hell was he contemplating? Licking my lips, I asked, “About what?”

It was his turn to shrug his broad shoulders. I watched the familiar motion with longing eyes, though I wasn’t entirely sure why. Perhaps it was because he’d performed the movement with such ease.

“I’m not sure. It’s a lot of things, really. Whether I’ve made a stupid decision following you out of the common room and sitting down to talk to you,” he said.

My eyebrows inched closer to my hairline. “You followed me out of the common room?” I repeated, more than a little incredulous.

He nodded. Again, in that carefree manner. “Yeah, I did.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little creepy?” I said tentatively.

He laughed and I was instantly reminded of melted chocolate. Warm chocolate drizzled over some food. It didn’t really matter what sort of food it was, just as long as it was drizzled over it. Maybe a few strawberries. . .or bananas. Chocolate covered bananas are actually really good.

“Perhaps,” he admitted. “Anyway. . .was it a stupid decision to follow you out here?”

His eyes bore into mine with such intensity, I was forced to look away. I could never meet his stare again, not as long as I lived. There were too many feelings that accompanied the simple gesture. It made me feel. . .I’m not quite sure. Uncomfortable in my own skin, yet oddly warm.

Warm. It seemed to be the only adjective I used to describe him now.

“Eleanor?” he pressed.

The gentle voice he used to say my name made me look back at him, at his face, which was still turned in my direction. His brows were knitted together, a small line creasing through the otherwise flawless expanse of his forehead. Several strands of hair hung in his face and I resisted the urge to reach, to push them away.

I was so busy staring at his face, I didn’t even realise he’d gotten so close to me. I could feel heat from his body being absorbed by mine, could feel the faint outline of his chest as he drew in breath after steady breath.

“I-I-I don’t know,” I stuttered foolishly, blushing furiously at the obvious effect he had on me, that his closeness had on me. “I g-g-guess it all depends on w-w-what you were hoping to accomplish.”

I tried to scoot away from him, but lo and behold, there was nowhere for me to move to. I had been backed into a corner and my only way out was by ploughing him down, trampling over his face, and hoping that he didn’t press charges in the aftermath for destroying his visage.

The familiar mouth twitched into an equally familiar grin, one that made some of the embers in my chest burst into full blown flames. Ut-oh, this could only spell one thing: trouble. “What d’you think I’m trying to accomplish?”

Again, I shrugged. “I’m not quite s-sure.”

He emitted an impatient sigh and before I duck out of the way, raised a hand toward my face, taking my chin in between his slim fingers. The tips of his fingers were smooth against my cheek as they danced across the length of my cheekbone. I tried not to shiver, knowing that I wasn’t supposed to be shivering at his touch. Finally, his fingertips stopped their wandering and he cupped my cheek in his palm, forcing me to stare into the eyes I didn’t want to look into. I knew what sort of things could happen with one little stare; I had not only heard the rumours, but experienced them myself.

After what seemed like an eternity, he finally spoke. When he did speak, his voice was no higher than the faintest of whispers, sounding more like the wind lightly tickling the grass than anything else. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant sound, one that made every hair on my body stand on edge.

“I’ve been so stupid. So unbelievably daft for - for -,”

“For what?” I breathed.

He shook his head, his eyes drilling into mine. The intensity of his gaze had turned me into a block of frozen person, like a statute. I couldn’t move, even if I wanted to. “And worst yet is that I haven’t apologised for my actions and -,”

“But you don’t -,”

“Yes, I do, Eleanor! I need to apologise. I’m sorry. Really, I am. I’ve treated you like dung and you’ve done nothing but shown me absolute kindness,” he said.

“Oh yes, because lying to someone is really a way of showing them absolute kindness,” I remarked sarcastically, rolling my eyes for good measure.

When he chuckled lightly, his breath skittered across my collarbone. The skin was still damp with a minor amount of sweat, so the contact of semi-cool air against the dampness made me shiver. All I did in his presence was shiver, it seems.

“Anyway,” he began, impatiently brushing some hair out of his eyes. However, he didn’t break eye contact like I wished he would. My insides were goo and I was pretty sure if he kept staring at me, I would be, too. And I didn’t know if there were any spells that could reverse that. Hmmm, I’d have to ask Lily. “I figured I could - or rather, should make it up to you.”

Perplexed, I cocked my head to the side. “What do you mean-,”

His warm lips pressed against mine once again. I found all thoughts vanishing as soon as they were formed, disappearing into some empty part of the space/time continuum. But as quickly as the lips had touched mine, they left.

Blinking the surprise away, I said, “Oh. You meant that.”

His exuberant eyes paralleled the curious quirk on his mouth. The mouth that had just kissed me for the umpteenth time. The mouth that had haunted my dreams for months before it had actually bestowed any form of kissing upon me.

“Yeah,” he muttered. “I meant that.” We sat in a brief silence before, “So. . .what do you say?”

I grinned softly at him. “I think I might need further convincing. Kiss me again?”

And he did.
- - - - - -
Kiss me again, ‘cause only you can
Stop the S-s-stuttering.
Kiss me again, and easy
My S-su-su-suffering

- - - - - -


A/N: So, this is the end of ‘What It Is To Burn’. Cheesy, I know, but who doesn’t love a bit of cheese every now and then? I hope it was as satisfactory for you as it was for me. It’s been a long ride - nearly a year, actually - and I just wanted to say thank you to every single person who has read this story, and I give double the kudos to people who have reviewed. I thank you all so much. Honestly, without you guys, this story would’ve stopped a long time ago. So, here’s a huge shout out to everyone! Thank you all so bloody much!

If you’re fretting that this is the end (though many of you might be rejoicing like I am, saying things along the lines of ‘Thank God, that piece of shit is done with!’), fear not! There is a sequel of sorts in the works. I don’t know when it will be out, but I can assure you that much of the same crowd from this story will be in it! Until then, I tip my hat to you and offer you a bazillion thanks.

P.S. Don’t kill me for the ending!


________________________________________
3 comments

Anonymous readerReport

2014-09-13 17:26:04
What happened to the rest of the Sirius/Alessandra story i want to finish reading it but i dont see it on your profile

Anonymous readerReport

2014-09-13 17:24:33
Thos story is the best no sex but a lot of teasing to keep us entertained thanks and keep writing

Anonymous readerReport

2014-09-13 17:24:31
Thos story is the best no sex but a lot of teasing to keep us entertained thanks and keep writing

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