Seventh Aside - Alice Cottons On
By the time they had begun the descent into Hogsmeade, Eleanor was blushing so fiercely that she had to loosen her coat.
With the owl post had come several cards and small packages, all of which turned out to be from admirers, secret or otherwise. The first card, which she strongly suspected was James and Peter’s way of ensuring that she didn’t feel left out, was a garish pink heart-shaped creation that flashed erratically and read ‘To our lady Marauder’; if she could figure out how to get the thing to stop flashing she knew she’d treasure it. The other cards however, she could do without.
There was one from Mulciber, enthusiastically describing precisely what he’d like to do to her (including a few things that she was sure he’d had to have help spelling); that one had been conspicuously incinerated at the table, purely for reasons of hygiene. There had been a card and a chocolate heart from Algernon Zabini, which had been rather flattering, and she’d thanked him politely as he kissed her hand, letting him down the gentlest way she knew how. He was every day becoming more like the gentlemanly Don Pedro, and he took her refusal well enough, adding his own instructions regarding her wellbeing to Lily’s. He’d refused her return of the heart, assuring her that it in no way tied her to him; she’d watched him leave the Hall with all his dignity, her cheeks burning.
Frank’s friend Nathan had provided her with a rather lyrical Valentine’s card, which thankfully didn’t sing, although she’d been a little afraid it might. He too was courteously thanked and let down, and appeared to take it reasonably well, though his blush matched hers to the precise shade. There were two other cards, both anonymous, which had her glancing over her shoulder all the time she was in the Great Hall to figure out who had sent them. What made it worse was that the moment the post had arrived, several of the other single girls nearby had been shooting her envious glances; there really wasn’t any way to tell them that they were more than welcome to her apparent hoard of admirers.
The gifts, which she had really not been expecting, were even worse, somehow. Crabbe had sent her an origami flower, which she spent a few seconds staring blankly at; the image of the great hulking beast of a boy creating something so delicate completely astounding her. She’d slipped it in her bag when she thought no one was looking, and afforded him a brief smile, accompanied by a slight shake of the head. He got the message. Separated from the others, he blushed a little and smiled back; if they could only get him away from his brutish friends he might turn out alright…
Rosier, who was slightly more refined than his mountainous friend, had sent her a box of chocolates, the inscription under the lid causing much the same reaction as Mulciber’s had; this time however, she had to concede that it was much better written. She’d shown it to Remus on the basis that he wasn’t about to let her waste chocolate willy-nilly and he’d turned a curious shade of purple before obliterating it himself; across from them, Sirius had a face like thunder. Eleanor had a strong suspicion that Mulciber and Rosier would soon be visited by some seriously malicious pranking.
There had been one other gift: a long slim box inside which a single, perfect, charmed tea-rose had been carefully (and, most likely, magically) wrapped in brown paper and parcel string. Her very favourite flower. The petals were a beautiful soft peach, tipped and stained here and there with deeper oranges; the bloom gave off a faint but alluring scent. It reminded her forcibly and pleasantly of summer evenings in the garden at the chalet.
She was reasonably certain who this particular offering had been from, and she intended to treasure it, despite their standing edict of no direct association on Valentine’s Day. She’d made sure that Sirius was glaring at Mulciber before shooting Remus a questioning look; his angry shade of crimson had shifted to much pinker tint and he’d given her that delicious half smile that took her breath away. Very carefully, she repacked the rose and wrapped the box in her scarf to keep it safe.
Still, progressing through the Great Hall and out into the meagre February sunshine hadn’t been much fun, while she tried to avoid the stares, leering or otherwise, and her deep blush was soon adorned with a distinctly unimpressed grimace. Sirius, clearly feeling that something should be done about this, took her arm gallantly, making quite a few of the girls in the vicinity send Eleanor death glares. Not to be outdone, Remus took her other arm, only just resisting the urge to glare large pointy objects at his friend. She was soon being dragged along between her two handsome friends, with what seemed like the eyes of the entire school boring into the back of her head.
Needless to say, Eleanor was not a happy bunny.
She cheered up though, when they got to Honeydukes. The proliferation of dove-eyed couples meant that the usually jam-packed sweet shop was rather emptier than usual, and the three of them had a very good time rummaging through the shelves of exquisite chocolate. Eleanor found a pack of chocolates with slices of fruit that had been frozen in time that would be perfect for Estelle, and treated herself to a pack of sugar quills. She’d taken her time about it and met the boys outside; somewhat predictably, they were squabbling good-naturedly. Given the subconscious animosity that had been simmering away between the two best friends of late, it was a joy to hear.
“- honestly Moony I’ve seen you go through more chocolate in the last five and a half years than I’ve eaten in my whole life. If I didn’t know better I’d say you were secretly a girl.”
“And where does it say that only girls can enjoy chocolate?”
“Nowhere, but most men have other things they choose to indulge in.”
“Now you’re just being crass.”
“Maybe it’s because of your Furry Little Problem,” said Sirius, effortlessly pronouncing the capital letters. “You know, like a girl getting PMS. Chocolate’s the only thing that makes Evans safe to be around some months…”
“I do not get PMS you oversexed fleabag,” Remus hissed, as a group of unattached fourth years went past laughing. “I just like chocolate, is that a crime?”
“No. But you really like it. It’s not normal, right Ellie?”
“Don’t bring me into this,” she said, buckling up her satchel.
Remus just shrugged, but Sirius was developing the kind of grin that sent first years scattering to find cover.
“We’ll just see about that,” he said, and grabbed Remus’s Honeydukes bag.
“Give that back!” cried Remus, making a grab for it, but Sirius danced out of his reach.
“Only if you admit that you’re a girl!” he said, jumping back a few more steps.
“I am not a girl! Give it back!” he lunged forward, fingers nearly closing around the handle. Sirius took off down the street, Remus hot on his heels.
I can’t take them anywhere, she thought, as she watched Sirius dart into the road that ran past Madame Puddifoot’s and off into the mountains.
Somewhat to her surprise, Lily was having a really good day. She and James had been one of the first couples to arrive at Puddifoot’s that morning and subsequently had been largely ignored as everyone else was being seated. She’d given him the broomstick servicing kit she’d bought for him while they were waiting for their tea and he’d looked as happy as a five year old as he leafed through the contents.
Her gift, he’d told her, would have to wait until the afternoon, when they were going for a little walk. She’d been a little concerned about this, given James’s innate enthusiasm, and a large part of her was wondering whether they’d be back before nightfall.
One of the waitresses had just delivered a plate of dainty sandwiches and cakes when she caught movement outside the window. Her mouth fell open and James, who’d been watching her with a goofy smile on his face for most of the day turned to look behind him.
They watched in growing amusement as Sirius shot past the café and along the street, carrying what looked like a Honeydukes’ bag and laughing maniacally. This apparition was closely followed by Remus, who was streaking through puddles to catch up with his friend, looking like he couldn’t decide whether to hex him or burst out laughing.
Sirius came to a halt quite abruptly, falling to the ground, and Remus very nearly careened into him, spinning to see what had apparently felled his friend. A neat shot of blue light hit him square in the knees and he too, fell over, flailing wildly. Just as James and Lily were considering joining the fray, Eleanor came into view, wand drawn.
“Leg-locker curse,” observed James, as Eleanor stopped next to her fallen chaperones, hands on hips.
Eleanor stooped and picked up the Honeydukes’ bag before unlocking their legs with the air of one being put upon, but smiled at her boys as they dusted themselves off and grinned lopsidedly at her.
She must have asked them a question then, since they nodded, and she handed Remus the stolen chocolate. The boys looped an arm around each of hers and the three of them wandered off in the direction of Dervish and Banges, laughing uproariously.
“Well,” said Lily. “At least they’re providing entertainment for the rest of us.”
James nodded and began to speak, but appeared to think better of it.
“It – er – it doesn’t matter, I’ll tell you later,” he said, offering her a French Fancy.
She took it, eyeing her boyfriend thoughtfully.
“You know, those three would make for one hell of a love triangle,” she said, and James nearly choked on his tea, but he covered it well.
“Now there’s a disturbing thought,” he said, and the two of them laughed.
And scarily accurate, he thought, as Lily smiled over at him.
They didn’t spend too long in Dervish and Banges, Sirius and Eleanor peering at the fascinating stands of magical watches and Sneakoscopes as Remus spoke to the owner. One of the clocks in the corner was ticking at five times the speed it was supposed to and chimed erratically, shooting out a very distressed looking wooden cuckoo that was clinging onto its stand for dear life and periodically vomiting wood shavings onto the workbench.
Sirius watched the bird for a few moments, catlike, before catching it on its next high speed pass and removing it from the stand. He set it down on the workbench where it wobbled unsteadily in a circle and fell over, relieved. Sirius glanced up at Eleanor and she shrugged. There wasn’t much else that they could do for it.
“You know,” he said, as they turned to investigate another stand, this one full of Lunascopes and tiny astronomical models, spinning contentedly in their glass jars. “I’m surprised you didn’t already have plans today.”
Eleanor sent a silent prayer to anyone listening that this wasn’t Sirius’s way of making a move.
“Really?” she asked, voice surprisingly calm.
“Really. I mean,” he picked up a Sneakoscope and weighed it in his hand, thoughtfully. “You’re smart, sexy, beautiful and a great laugh. I’d have thought blokes’d be throwing themselves at your feet today.”
“Well, a few tried at breakfast, if you recall,” she said, feigning interest in an apparently empty case marked ‘Invisibility Meters’.
“I mean nice blokes, like James or Frank… or Moony,” he added, almost as an afterthought.
“Well, Nathan’s nice, he gave me a card.”
“I suppose…” Eleanor drew a smiley face on dust of the cabinet. How much more awkward could this get?
“Well, here I am, single and unattached,” she said, coming to a decision. If he was going to make a move, she would let him get it over with and turn him down as gently as she could.
“Yes, here you are,” Sirius said, smiling slightly. He really is very handsome, she thought. “And here I am…” he sounded almost wistful.
He put the Sneakoscope back on the pile.
“Ellie, I wanted to ask you something,” he began, but broke off.
“That’s me sorted,” said Remus, coming towards them. “Scrivenshaft’s next?” he asked, taking Eleanor’s arm.
“You dog, Moony,” said Sirius amiably, “always living the high life.”
“Oh shut up Pads,” his friend smiled. “If you behave I’ll buy you a drink on the way back.”
“You’re on,” taking Eleanor’s other arm.
As it turned out, Eleanor had forgotten something when they left Scrivenshaft’s and rushed back to get whatever it was, leaving Remus and Sirius loitering in Gladrags. They spent a pleasant quarter of an hour trying to find the most outrageous clothing possible, and were just considering going to find their friend when she returned, out of breath.
“You alright?” Sirius asked, before Remus could get a word in. Again.
“Yeah, not a problem. Ran into some Slytherin girls who didn’t like me talking to Rosier the way I did. They didn’t seem to mind about Mulciber, funnily enough.”
“Are you hurt?” asked Remus, concerned, but Eleanor gave him a bright smile that made his heart skip.
“Not nearly as much as they are.”
She glanced at the fluorescent pink leg-warmers in Sirius’s hands.
“You aren’t actually intending to wear those are you?”
Sirius looked down at the offensive garments in his hands and flung them to one side, pulling her into a warm and inescapable bear hug.
“Really, Sirius, I’m fine!” she squeaked. “Remus, help!”
“No,” he said, putting down the paisley patterned robes he’d been holding and hugging them both tightly. “We worry about you.”
“It’s our job,” said Sirius, from somewhere in her hair.
“You just seem to get yourself in trouble so easily,” continued Remus, from somewhere around her other ear.
“We can’t help it if we want to look after you, Ellie. Don’t scare us like that.” Said Sirius, giving her an extra squeeze.
“And this coming from a couple of Marauders,” she said muffledly. Sirius’s jumper was warm and surprisingly soft. The combined scents of the two boys mingled around her, making her feel relaxed and warm; at that moment, she was guiltily aware that it would be easy to fall for both of them together. Fortunately they broke apart, all a little sheepish. “My knights in shining armour,” she said fondly, looking at them both.
“At your service Miss,” said Sirius, gallantly.
“Always,” said Remus, more softly, and Eleanor understood that he was fitting a lot of what he wanted to say to her into just that word.
“Right. I need socks,” she said, turning to the rack behind her.
“Oh do you now?” enquired Sirius, huskily. Somehow he was suddenly right behind her; she made a mental note to ask him just how he did that, some other time. “That could be arranged love – ‘course we’d have to find somewhere more priv-OW!”
A pair of balled up luminous leg warmers bounced off his head.
Behind him, Remus folded his arms.
“You’d be invited too, Moony,” said Sirius, playfully. “I know you’ve always fancied me – just think what we could do to him Ellie,” he continued, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “He can be so straight-laced and conservative, we could break down his frumpy outer shell, you and I… Oh, how the two of us could make him squirm.”
Knowing full well what she could do to the blushing werewolf in front of her and trying not to dwell on what she’d like both of these boys to do to her (preferably at the same time), she shook off his arm and went to pay for her socks.
“That was out of line,” said Remus, shortly, arms still crossed.
“Oh it was just a bit of fun, mate,” his friend said. “Sorry.”
Remus raised an eyebrow; it really wasn’t like Padfoot to apologise.
“It’s alright,” he said. “But I think you embarrassed Eleanor.”
They both looked at the girl, blushing furiously as she chatted with the shopkeeper.
“Sorry love,” said Sirius, as she rejoined them. “I got carried away, you know me. Didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Well, no harm done,” Eleanor replied good naturedly. She shot Remus a questioning glance as Sirius turned to leave the shop, and he shrugged. Apparently Sirius was in an apologetic mood this morning.
Eleanor didn’t want much in Zonko’s, preferring to create less traceable havoc, so she watched the boys enthusiastically raiding the shelves. She did, however, pick up a few nose-biting teacups (just in case) and a fanged Frisbee for Peter’s birthday.
She made quick work of the Post Office, having the assistant wrap the present for Estelle while she tickled the feathers of a beautiful tawny owl.
“She’s a beauty,” she remarked, as she arranged the postage of one of the nose-biting teacups to her mother, who she felt would rather appreciate it.
“Yes, one of our breeding owls,” said the assistant. “We’re hoping for a new clutch of tawnys at midsummer. We’ll be selling a few of the littl’uns if all goes well, so if you’re looking for an owl…”
Eleanor told him that she wasn’t, just at the moment, but she’d keep it in mind.
“You could just use the school owls,” said Remus as Sirius chatted up the girl at the till.
“I could for Estelle, but not for Maman,” she told him. “Too conspicuous. Besides, I wouldn’t want to weigh the school owls down too much over that distance, there are some incredible blizzards around home at this time of year. I wanted something tougher.”
“I wouldn’t let them hear you say that, they tend to sulk if they think you underestimate them.”
“Good to know,” she smiled at him. It was so hard not to just take his hand; it felt unnatural not to. She glanced over at Sirius.
“I don’t like the way he calls you ‘love’,” said Remus, following her line of sight.
“I don’t think he means it that way,” she said. “He’s the same with Alice and Claire – and Lily, if she catches him off-guard.”
“Yes, well. I still don’t like it,” he said, disgruntled. As inconspicuously as she could, she rested her hand on his back.
“Jealousy doesn’t suit you,” she said quietly. “You know he’s nothing to me other than a friend.”
“Good. Because if I weren’t still off-limits I’d tell you that you were the only man for me,” she whispered, and he smiled down at her.
“And then, if you weren’t still off limits, I would kiss you,” he said, softly. Her face twisted into a bittersweet smile.
“You know, if wishes were horses I could run my own stables by now,” she said, wistfully, unconsciously toying with the sleeve of his coat. He chuckled.
“You and me both,” he said, and nodded at Sirius, who was sauntering away from a breathless and swooning shop assistant. “What’s next?”
“Dunno, I think I’ve got everything I needed from the village. You two?”
“Yes,” said Remus, as Eleanor nodded.
“Right, well then I reckon it’s lunch time,” said Sirius, his stomach audibly rumbling. “Given the day I think me and Moony here should treat you.” He gave Remus a rakish smile. “And I know just the place.”
“I-” Eleanor was about to refuse their generosity but they cut her off, each taking an arm and steering her down the street, identical grins on their faces.
“Alright Padfoot, you’re on,” Remus said over the top of her head. “You pay for lunch, and I’ll buy the drinks later.”
Eleanor was confused. They were piloting her away from the Three Broomsticks and towards the slightly dingier end of Hogsmeade. The only things Eleanor associated with this part of the village were a rough pub called the Hogs Head – run by a gruff man with a strange affection for goats – and –
“Oh no,” she said, realising too late what they were about. “No, no, no, not in there, not today,” she groaned, trying to escape their suddenly vice-like grips. “Remus, you hate attention – everyone in there will be staring at us!”
“Precisely. They’ll be staring at all three of us, which isn’t so bad. Anyway, weren’t you encouraging me to be more outgoing, just the other day?”
“I didn’t mean like this!”
“Well then, you should be careful what you suggest,” he gave her a Marauderish smile that made her knees weak. “Particularly if you don’t want me and Padfoot to take you seriously.”
“Game faces on people,” said Sirius, as they reached the door.
“When we get out of here, I’m going to kill you,” Eleanor hissed, before shutting up and putting on a brilliant smile. If they were going to drag her into this, then she’d have to play along for a little while at least.
Even the air was slightly pink.
It had taken Madame Puddifoot surprisingly little time to rearrange her face (and furniture) to accommodate the appearance of what was essentially a threesome, but Eleanor strongly suspected that an indignant letter to Professor McGonagall was already being drafted by the time their cream tea arrived. Frank and Alice were seated in the opposite corner and were largely ignoring them, after their initial nods of acknowledgement and rolling eyes.
Several of their neighbours were shooting them funny looks as the three of them pretended to be head over heels in love with one another. They made a great show of fawning over one another as they dined, Sirius even giving Remus a peck on the cheek as he refilled his hideous pastel teacup. The flash of annoyance in Remus’s eyes had been very well covered, and no one outside the immediate vicinity caught it, especially since Eleanor had insisted in an undertone that they be as subtle as possible, partly to ward off any repercussions and partly because it would look more realistic.
“I’m so glad we’ve got to spend this time together,” said Sirius, simpering. “Particularly here.”
“Yes,” agreed Remus, adding cream to a scone. “It’s such a perfect place for our tryst… it really seems absurd that we didn’t think of it before. A capital suggestion, old chap.”
“I’m full of excellent ideas,” said Sirius, and Eleanor had to hide her scoff, taking a French Fancy from the tray in front of her. “It’s probably one of the many reasons you two darlings fell for me.”
“Oh, I should say it was for your bad parts,” said Eleanor, as Remus fought to control his expression.
“Bad parts?” asked Sirius, suddenly feeling that whatever script Eleanor was reading from, he hadn’t seen.
“Oh yes,” she smiled. “For all of them together, which maintain so politic a state of evil that they will not admit any good part to intermingle with them.” She grinned as Sirius cottoned on. “But for which of my good parts did you first suffer love for me?”
It was Remus who took up the challenge. He chuckled.
“Suffer love! A good epithet. I do suffer love indeed, for I love thee against my will.”
“In spite of your heart, I think. Alas, poor heart!”
Sirius didn’t know Beatrice’s lines as well as Eleanor, but he had a go.
“If you spite it for my sake then I will spite it for yours – I never can love that which my friend hates,” he said, eyes sparkling. “And on that note, my loves, I shall go settle with our delightful hostess.”
Their delightful hostess, Remus noted, was watching them hawk-like from the door: nostrils flaring and eyes narrowed.
They were going to have some explaining to do later.
“You were right,” said Eleanor, softly. “I really have enjoyed today.”
“It’s been wonderful,” Remus agreed. “Though in some ways I do wish it were just the two of us.” He leant over and kissed her cheek. “Gods willing,” he whispered, “next year will be, and I promise I’ll make it one to remember.”
Smiling up at him, barely an inch away from her, Eleanor entirely forgot where they were and why doing precisely this would be an extremely bad idea, so she leaned towards him and kissed him tenderly.
It wasn’t the hottest kiss they’d shared, nor the most lingering, but it spoke volumes for the both of them. They broke apart, and quickly returned to their cups of tea as if nothing had happened; it had been done so slickly that anyone who saw it would have assumed that they’d been sneaking around for months, but this being Madame Puddifoots, no one did see them.
Well, almost no one.
“What were you saying about Remus and Eleanor the other day?” asked Alice, as Frank took another sandwich from their plate.
“Hmm? Oh, I heard a couple of people saying that they keep disappearing off together – but I asked Eleanor about it and she said they were just practising for the play…”
“Did she? Well I suppose that makes sense…” said Alice, watching as Sirius rejoined his friends and the three of them continued to wind up the staff.
“Yeah, apparently Remus is really nervous about it. James was a bit worried about it actually, said he’d been really down lately. We’re keeping an eye on him.”
“How interesting,” said Alice, as both Sirius and Remus leant in to kiss a preening Eleanor on each cheek. When they pulled back Remus lingered for just a fraction longer than was necessary. You wouldn’t be able to see it if you weren’t looking for it. “I’d best keep an eye on them too.” As they were leaving, Remus’s hand grazed Eleanor’s back, but only for a moment. And only for a moment she glanced back at him, a tacit acknowledgment of a touch that shouldn’t strictly happen between friends.
“Him, you mean,” corrected Frank.
When Sirius bowed deeply to Eleanor and lightly kissed her hand Remus’s face darkened, and he seized her other hand almost possessively. You wouldn’t see it at all if you weren’t looking for it…