Tenth Aside - That Way Madness Lies
The days were growing hotter and the exam period looming by the time the teachers deemed their cast ready to start putting their scenes together into acts. In some ways, this was an improvement as it required fewer rehearsals per week, but it did mean that each rehearsal went on into the small hours of the night. Consequently there were a lot of exhausted sixth years around, and tempers, such as they were, were fraying.
“No, Prongs, I don’t see the problem with it! It’s never affected my game before!”
“All I’m saying is that staying up all night with some bint the night before the Quidditch final isn’t a good idea, alright?”
Remus and Peter were sat side by side at the Gryffindor table, both trying to look like the argument unfolding in front of them wasn’t, in fact, happening; Peter was idly pushing a few rashers of bacon around his plate while Remus rested his chin in his hands. They’d all been up late the night before, running the wedding scene, but apparently Sirius had stayed out a little later. In fact, Remus was willing to bet that he hadn’t gone to bed at all.
“Trixie isn’t some bint!” Sirius growled, emphasising every word, just centimetres from his best friend’s face.
“She is if she spent all of last night with you,” spat James. “I thought you’d stopped all this ridiculous skirt chasing, but no, you start again, just in time for the big match! If we lose today because one of our Beaters is too shagged out to function –”
“Just because you’re dating Little Miss Perfect, who’s so damned tight she won’t let you into her coat, let alone her bed –”
But Sirius had gone too far. Before there was time for Remus and Peter to do anything other than stare in unabashed horror at their friend, James had thrown himself across the table and was punching any part of Sirius he could find. Peter jumped back, pulling a terrified first year out of the way by the scruff of her shirt as the furious tangle of obscenities and flailing limbs rolled towards her.
Remus huffed angrily as he and Peter rolled up their sleeves and waded into the fray, trying to extricate one or the other of their best friends. Unfortunately James and Sirius were currently too intent on beating one another to death that they didn’t notice the entrance of their would-be separators and hit, bit and kicked anything remotely boy shaped that came into their field of vision.
Consequently, by the time the girls arrived to see what the hell was going on, the four of them were looking distinctly worse for wear. Given that neither Peter nor Remus were wearing Quidditch robes, their clothes were torn in several places, and all four boys were bruised and bleeding.
Eleanor took one look at them and aimed a quick Body Bind at Sirius; at almost the same moment, Lily treated James to the same hex.
“What in Merlin’s name is going on?” demanded Professor Sprout, moving students out of her way to reach the epicentre of whatever was kicking off this time.
“What – why is it always you four?” she asked, a pronounced frown on her face. “Miss Evans, Miss Wren, I’d have thought you’d know better than to fight in the Great Hall! I don’t suppose any of you feel like explaining? No? Right, on to the Hospital Wing to get cleaned up, then we can set your detentions… after the Quidditch match.”
Gryffindor were playing Slytherin today and it was no secret that the Professors ran a book on the matches; in all likelihood, Professor Sprout had a sufficient amount of Galleons riding on the Gryffindor team that she didn’t want to handicap the team any further than they already had themselves.
“Actually Professor…” said a small voice; Alice and Frank moved out of the way to reveal a tiny Gryffindor girl with erratic pigtails. Eleanor recognised her immediately and the owner of Lottie the unfortunate Pygmy Puff.
“Yes, Olivia, isn’t it?” Professor Sprout asked kindly, the girl seemed almost more afraid that she’d spoken up than anything else.
“Yes Professor. It’s just, the girls and those two didn’t do anything wrong,” she said, pointing out Peter and Remus. “In fact, if he hadn’t pulled me out of the way I’d have been badly hurt,” she nodded at Peter, who stared at her in astonishment.
“Is that so?” asked Professor Sprout, thoughtfully. “Did you see how this started?”
“Yes, he,” she said, indicating James, “was telling him,” she said, pointing at Sirius, “off for staying up late before the match, and he said something very rude about his girlfriend, and that one just lost it. He jumped across the whole table,” she said, in a manner that suggested that she thought this was very cool indeed. “Then those two waded in to try to stop the fight, but they just ended up getting hit a lot, as far as I can tell.”
“There wasn’t much to get a hold of,” mumbled Remus, who couldn’t believe his luck.
“Then Lily and Eleanor arrived,” smiled Olivia, and Eleanor was suddenly quite embarrassed that she hadn’t even known the girl’s name. “And they petrified the two that were fighting, and then you came over, Professor.”
“Did they indeed? Quick thinking, girls…” said Professor Sprout, apparently considering their fate. “Alright, Potter, Black, you’ve just lost Gryffindor twenty points each –” there was a general groan from the assembled Gryffindors – “get to the Hospital Wing and sort yourselves out. Mr Smith,” she added, to a burly seventh year Prefect. “You escort them and try to keep them out of trouble. I’ll discuss your detentions with Minerva, you can expect to hear from one of us later tonight. Please try to refrain from injuring one another further – however honourable your intentions might be. Off you go,” she dismissed them with a wave of her hand and turned to the others. “Well, thanks to Miss Haversham here, I’m awarding each of you five points for chivalry and quick thinking. Girls, if you could escort these gentlemen to the Hospital Wing – preferably after Potter and Black have left, I’d very much appreciate it.”
They made a rather ragged group as they set off towards the Hospital Wing, pausing only to thank Olivia profusely. The tiny girl went an impressive shade of pink before scurrying off to rejoin her friends. People were already beginning to make their way down to the pitch, and most of the corridors were deserted.
“What did Black say about me?” Lily demanded as soon as they were out of earshot.
“Er,” said Peter, looking at Remus uncertainly.
“I don’t want to tell you,” said Remus, wretchedly.
“Because you’ll kill him, and I’d miss my loyal if idiotic and totally inappropriate best friend?”
Lily rounded on him, wand raised.
“Remus,” she said, sweetly. “You know I love you to bits, but if you don’t tell me exactly what Black said to James to make him actually try to dismember the sworn brother he’s had since first year, I will turn you into a girl.”
He swallowed, and looked at Peter and Eleanor helplessly; they shrugged. He told her, and then closed his eyes in case this meant that he too was about to perish. Lily was silent, he opened one eye, just to check. She was white and shaking with fury; Eleanor had stepped between her and Remus, and was in the process of trying to decide how best to comfort her friend. She reached out an arm.
“I realise you’re angry…”
“Damn’ right I’m angry!”
“To be honest, I’m pretty angry too… but now is not the best time to deal with this.”
“I think now is the perfect time,” hissed Lily, and red sparks flew out of her wand, burning Eleanor’s arm and singeing her shirt. She yelped and jumped back, right into Remus, who also yelped, not having expected to be effectively run into.
“Oh Merlin, Ellie, I’m sorry!” cried Lily, abruptly pale and mortified.
“Er, Lily?” said Peter, very gently removing her wand. “I think I should look after this – just for a bit.”
“I’m fine,” said Eleanor, gritting her teeth as Remus tried to fuss over her. “No harm done. But that’s exactly my point – we’ll get Sirius back for what he said, but when everyone’s a bit calmer and we have chance to plan,” she waited for Lily’s nod before continuing. “And as much as I will enjoy helping you provide Sirius with his just desserts, it has to be said that whatever else he is, he’s never normally that cruel.”
“Also, not actually suicidal. He must have been fairly worked up to start with,” he said, fairly, and then frowned. “Which is unusual given that the whole fight started because he was out all night with a girl, which is the one sure way of mellowing him out…”
Lily, whose earlier anger had once again flared at her friends’ defence of her now mortal enemy, frowned.
“Who was he with?”
“Er – Trixie I think,” said Remus. “Why?”
“Trixie’s had to go home – family emergency… so it can’t have been her.”
“That’s unusual,” said Peter. “Since this strange and frightening ‘new’ Sirius started happening he’s not seen anyone else – almost as if rampant bonking with the same ‘bit of muslin’ isn’t as bad as dragging every girl he meets off to the nearest broom cupboard.”
“Well you have to admit it is an improvement…” said Eleanor. “Wait – ‘rampant bonking’?” she asked, incredulous, and Peter shrugged.
“Maybe he wasn’t seeing anyone…” said Lily, slowly. “Maybe he was up to something entirely different, and doesn’t want anyone to know about it – insulting me is a sure way of setting James off and stopping him asking questions…”
Remus smiled, despite himself.
“You actually seem quite flattered,” he chuckled.
“Lily could be right,” said Peter. “But that begs the question of what the hell he’s up to that he doesn’t want James to know about… He tends to tell Prongs everything.”
“Actually,” said Eleanor, unhappily. “He told me that he’d fallen in love with someone…” she blushed under Peter and Lily’s scrutiny. “He made me promise not to tell anyone…”
“Who?” asked Peter, suddenly curious; if he’d talked it through with Eleanor then maybe they’d been wrong about his feelings towards her. Who talks something like that through with the person they’re in love with? he thought.
“He wouldn’t say…” said Eleanor. “But he did say she was in our year.”
“So, not Trixie…” said Peter. Or not. Apparently Padfoot talks something like that through with the person he’s in love with, then refuses to tell her who it is…
“You thought he’d fallen for Trixie? They’ve been fooling around for years,” said Remus.
“Yeah, but after his outburst at breakfast… I think it was Prongs calling Trixie a ‘bint’ that set him off.”
“Which is less unusual,” allowed Lily, grudgingly. “Whatever else he says or does if he sees a girl being specifically insulted he’s immediately on her side.”
“He says he appreciates all women equally,” said Remus; Lily huffed.
“Apparently except for me…”
“You do hex him quite frequently,” said Peter.
“Only because I won’t take his crap and he doesn’t like it. He brings it on himself…”
“Anyway, I reckon you’re right, he was trying to set Prongs off,” Peter glanced at his watch. “Looks like we’ll miss the match – you know what Madame Pomfrey’s like…”
“Oh!” said Eleanor, and smacked a hand to her forehead. “I’ve still got some of that dittany in my bedside cabinet – that’ll heal us up quicker than going to the Hospital Wing.”
“Good plan,” said Lily. “I’ll come with you… I can probably fix your clothes...”
Eleanor had healed up Peter first, and since he and Lily actually cared about the outcome of the match (well, outside the general wish for one’s house to do well, at least) they rushed off, leaving Eleanor and Remus to patch one another up.
“Ouch,” said Eleanor, as Remus dripped a trail of dittany along the wand burns on her arm.
“Sorry,” he said, giving her hand a squeeze.
“Not your fault. No one’s, really.”
He smiled down at her, which turned out to be a bad idea, since this moved several cuts and bruises on his face in a variety of painful directions; he winced.
“Why am I friends with them again?” he asked, fingering a particularly sore bruise on his shoulder.
“Because generally speaking they’re nice, relatively stable, don’t care about you being a big bad loup-garou and would die for you.”
“Oh, yeah, that…” he frowned and took off his ripped and bloodied shirt. “Peter’s right, you know. Something else is going on with Padfoot…”
Eleanor nodded, trying (and failing) not to be instantly fascinated by his scarred chest and stomach.
“This is going to sting, by the way,” she said, starting to heal up some of his cuts and bruises. “I’ll talk to him. Circe knows why, but he seems to be able to open up to me a bit more.”
“You know why.”
“Possibly. Anyway, if I can figure out what’s up with him this time I’ll let you know – assuming he and James haven’t kissed and made up already.”
“Sorry – what was that massive twitch for?”
“The image of my two best friends kissing and making up,” he said, pulling a face. “I’m going to change now, so…”
“I’ll turn around,” said Eleanor, and there was quiet for a minute as she listened to the sounds of Remus undressing and redressing. “Remus?”
“What?” he asked, a little muffled.
“What if what’s going on with him is that he’s figured out that you like me too?”
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“Bugger. Or that you like me…”
“That’s what I was wondering…”
“Then we’ll have to cross those bridges when we come to them…” he enveloped her in a hug from behind. “But, just in case this is our last day of relative freedom…”
She turned to face him, and smiled sadly.
“I just wanted to say, even though we haven’t properly been together… I…”
“Me too,” she said, quietly.
Remus bit his lip, and then winced again.
“Ouch. Forgot about that one…”
“Here,” Eleanor dabbed a little dittany on her finger and brushed it across his broken lip; it was a curious sensation – it didn’t sting as much as prickle.
“Ellie, love?” he said, wrapping his arms around her, tightly.
“I don’t want to let you go.”
It was a little over a week before James managed to stop being angry for long enough to think about Sirius’s unusual behaviour. They’d won the final hands down, but neither of them had spoken since that morning; he’d considered talking to him (well, hitting him again) at the after-match party, but Sirius had disappeared off somewhere in a rare show of wisdom and James had been thoroughly distracted by the way Lily was fussing over his bruises. Apparently, she rather liked chivalry, despite what she’d previously said on the topic – and particularly when it was directed towards her. They’d spent much of the evening in a tight and fiery embrace in a secluded corner of the Common Room and after probably the first minute James had entirely ceased to think about anything except the way her lips and tongue felt as they clashed with his.
He was getting a little dazed now, just thinking about it.
But when he’d finally worked through a sufficient amount of his ire about what Sirius had said, he started wondering about why.
It wasn’t like Padfoot to be that much of a dick, at least not to his friends; and no matter how much he grumbled, he’d never been that kind of rude about Lily. He liked her, despite their obvious differences in opinion that left them frequently at odds with one another, and he liked winding her up. He’d never been downright cruel before.
He was sat in an interminable Divination lesson, and while he and Sirius would usually be spending this valuable time working out their next prank, his best friend was sat as far away from him as he could feasibly be, given that they were sat at the same table.
Professor Nottage was wittering on about something Jupiter related, and wouldn’t be easily distracted. He pulled a scrap of parchment towards him and scribbled.
‘You alright, mate?’
He nudged the parchment closer to Sirius, who tried to ignore it for a few minutes, before giving in.
There was a pause, as Professor Nottage excitedly informed Dora Copes, his star pupil, that her aura was a-trembling.
‘Look, I’m sorry for what I said about Evans. I was out of line.’
‘Thanks. I shouldn’t have called Trixie a bint. She’s great. Sorry.’
James waited until Copes had finished writhing about in her seat, trying to pretend she was having some kind of vision; it was really quite distracting.
‘Look, something’s bothering you. You’ve been down for ages, and then you just snapped… What’s going on Padfoot? I’m worried about you.’
‘Like you aren’t.’
There was a few moments intense scribbling, and this time, when the scrap of parchment came back Sirius’s normally elegant handwriting was messy and hurried.
‘Lots of stuff. Got a letter from my Mum last week. Wasn’t pretty. Told me I was a total disgrace, and that Regulus was more than making up for my dead weight. He’s a Death Eater Prongs. He’s fifteen, for fuck’s sake.’
James’s mouth fell open in shock; he looked up at his friend’s face in obvious astonishment.
‘What does Voldemort want with kids, anyway?’
‘Spying on Dumbledore? Vengeance on my parents for letting one of their kids stray to the wrong side? Who the fuck knows. I tried to talk to him, Friday night. He was so smug about it all. All I cared about when I was fifteen was Quidditch, pranking and sex – and there he is, spouting about blood-purity and the stamping out of ‘inferior factions’. I was so angry I couldn’t sleep. I was in the Astronomy Tower…’
The class was collecting their things now, most of them happy to be retreating from the fug of Nottage’s classroom.
“I’m sorry mate,” said James, quietly. “I should’ve asked instead of just going mental.”
“Yeah, well. I should have told you, instead of insulting Evans,” he let the shadow of a wry smile cross his handsome features. “How much does she want to kill me, by the way? Should I grovel, or would it be simpler just to make a draft of my Will?”
“Probably the latter, but I’d try grovelling too. You never know.”
They waited while a horde of excited first years rushed past.
“Ah, first year, possibly the last time I was ever that excited to go to class,” said James, reminiscing. “At least, to a class that wasn’t about to explode.” He grinned.
“Or a class with Evans in,” said Sirius, testing the water.
James gave him a companionable shove that told his friend that everything was back to normal as far as Prongs was concerned, and he relaxed a little.
As they crossed the Entrance Hall and headed for the Dungeons, James became aware that his friend was watching him.
“What?” he asked, eyeing him warily. Sirius looked pensive, which was always a bad thing.
“You and Evans,” he said, slowly. “How did you know? I mean, that…”
“That she’s the woman of my dreams?”
“Yeah…” Sirius shifted uncomfortably.
“I don’t know mate, I just knew. I guess I sort of fancied her first, and then… it was a bit like the world shifting into focus, if you know what I mean.”
“Why do you ask?”
“Oh, er, no reason,” said Sirius hurriedly, clearly under the mistaken impression that this was something James would let go of.
“You’re in love, aren’t you,” stated James, as if he really needed confirmation.
“I – uh – well – ” sputtered Sirius.
“That’s a yes then. Sure sign of romantic feelings, incoherence.”
“No, I – really –”
James gave him a Look.
“Oh, fuck off,” said Sirius, churlishly. “It’s not like it matters, anyway. She’d never go for me.”
“Well that’s not like you.”
“Look at me,” said Sirius, suddenly, turning to his friend. “I’m an arrogant, skirt-chasing prick who can’t even keep the best friends he’s had for the past five years! Peter’s walking ‘round on eggshells near me most of the time, Remus has been being weird with me for months and I started a ridiculous fight with you, just because I was angry!”
“Padf-” began James, alarmed.
“My own family want nothing to do with me and teachers consider me sufficiently unpleasant to cast me as the villain of the piece. I can’t even protect my little brother from that fucking devil outside the school! Who’s going to settle for that for anything longer than a one night thing? And then there’s my reputation! I know I’ve always chased girls – and I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed every sordid second of it – who’d trust someone like me to have a ‘normal’ relationship with them?”
He was quite red in the face, and running his hands through his hair in great distress.
“Padfoot – are you finished? Good. Most of that is complete bollocks and you know it. You’re a good bloke – handsome, too, if you like that sort of thing – you’re a good laugh, you’re smart, loyal and from what the majority of the female population of the school attest, you’re good in bed.” James grimaced, “Not that I ever needed to know that.”
“Well, there is that,” he conceded, grudgingly. “But – and I can’t believe the words are coming out of my mouth – I think there might be more to proper relationships than that…”
James nodded in a ‘well-it’s-Padfoot’ kind of way.
“So, who is she?”
“I’m not saying.”
“Oh come on, after all the grief you’ve given Moony and Worms over the girls they’ve fancied…”
“Nope, not saying. But she’s in our year, and she’s bloody wonderful…”
James decided that he might as well have a guess, since it wasn’t that much of a stab in the dark.
“Not Eleanor?” he said, in a tone calculated to portray incredulity.
“No,” said Sirius shortly and, as far as James was concerned, utterly unconvincingly. “Someone else…”
“But are you sure that Benedick loves Beatrice so completely?” asked Claire, head to one side in carefully constructed concern.
“So says the Prince, and my new-trothèd lord,” replied Lily, candidly.
They were running through lines in an empty classroom on the fourth floor, having decided that homework could, for the moment, put on hold for some comedy.
“When are you married, madam?” asked Claire, fondly.
“Why, everyday tomorrow!” cried Lily, and then frowned. “You know, I still don’t get that bit. I mean, she can’t be getting married every day, but she is getting married ‘tomorrow’ in the play. Is she just excited, or something?”
“I think it’s something like after tomorrow she’ll be married forever,” said Claire, thoughtfully.
“Oh. Well that makes sense,” Lily smiled. “I feel like a bit of a tit now,” she said, and they both laughed. Abruptly, Claire froze.
“What,” mouthed Lily, but the other girl shook her head and pulled her friend to the window in the door of the classroom. The Castle was caught in that strange summer twilight where it was still just light enough to see but nobody could bear to light the torches.
Lily squinted, what in Hecate’s name was Claire seeing that she wasn’t? She was about to turn to ask her when a movement caught her eye. There, in the shadows of the corridor’s statuary, someone was moving. Two someones. Two someones, moving together…
In the corridor, one of the someones moaned. It sounded like a distinctly male someone.
“Right, well, I’ll put a stop to that,” whispered Lily, but Claire tightened her grip on her sleeve and shook her head urgently. “What? I’m a Prefect, it’s my job –”
“Wait!” hissed Claire, taking out her own wand.
She opened the door a crack and aimed a charm expertly at the suit of armour at the far end of the corridor, which shuddered for a few moments.
The sound of muffled giggling floated over from the someones.
“Wait for it,” said Claire. “This is how we sneak past our Prefects and back into the Common Room- it’s called a ‘rattler’.”
“Well I hate to say it but Felicity Mayfair was always a bit dim,” murmured Lily. Claire nodded; Felicity was one of the least intelligent people she’d ever come across, which was impressive, considering how much time she’d spent in the presence of Mulciber and Crabbe this year.
The male someone moaned again, more urgently this time.
At the other end of the corridor the suit of armour was beginning to shudder more violently.
“I have to say, that’s a pretty cool charm,” whispered Lily, and her friend grinned.
Just then, whatever was happening to the suit of armour came to something of a head, and it fell to the floor with a cacophony of falling metal.
The couple in the corner jumped apart, startled, and ran for it – in completely opposite directions. Just for a moment, the face of one of the fugitives was illuminated by a twilit window.
Lily gaped at Claire, who was looking back at her with a worried and shocked expression.
“Did you see who she was with?” asked Lily, stunned.
“No… but I’d be prepared to swear on her identity.”
Lily nodded, wide eyed.
Well I never, she thought.
Who the fleeing young man had been, neither of the girls could guess; but neither had any doubt at all, that the girl who’d been inspiring that lustful groaning, and that had sprinted past the door of their classroom, had been none other than Eleanor Wren.
Remus panted heavily as he hid behind a tapestry on the third floor. He and Eleanor had had a few close shaves since deciding that if they would soon never be able to be together they could at least get in a significant amount of illicit snogging in the meantime, but that one was too close. Whoever had knocked over the suit of armour had to be in the same corridor, and had probably seen their faces.
Even worse: if they were in their year and got back to the rehearsal before they did (no one had been missing when the two of them had snuck out) they’d know exactly who they were. And gossip in Hogwarts travelled faster than tuberculosis through a cloister…
He’d have to chance it and pretend that he’d popped out to the bathroom; absently he straightened his disarrayed uniform and tried to un-muss his hair.
He hoped Eleanor had got back alright.
Eleanor glanced up as he sidled back in, and tried not to blush. She was helping take costume measurements: the idea being, if they put in the order now there would be plenty of time for Professors Sprout and Flitwick to sort out any hiccups over the summer.
Alice rolled her eyes. Those two were really a lost cause.
Not a minute later, Lily and Claire hurried in and, quickly surveying the room, rushed over.
“What?” asked Alice, in amusement. Lily wasn’t much for gossip, so this was likely to be good.
“You’re never going to guess who we just saw snogging in the corridor!” whispered Claire, excited and a little worried.
“Ooh! Who?” hissed Alice, who could never let go of the opportunity to glean information, genuinely interested. She’d been right, this was good.
“Eleanor!” whispered Lily.
“What?” Alice nearly squealed; Lily shushed her hurriedly. The three of them looked around to check no one had heard her outburst.
“But she was only gone five minutes…”
“Who else was gone?” Claire demanded.
“You didn’t see who she was with? asked Alice, incredulous.
“No,” said Lily.
“Well,” began Alice, though she had a fair idea of who her friend’s paramour might be. “Sirius was gone for a while, and Nathan… Algernon came back a few minutes ago – almost at the same time as Eleanor, actually – and Remus only just walked in,” she paused. “Oh, and Severus snuck back in about five minutes ago.”
Lily gave a low whistle.
“So who do you think -?”
“Algernon did give her a Valentine,” said Claire.
“So did Nathan,” replied Lily, thoughtfully. “Although, I’ve never seen Sirius so strange around a girl…”
“Me either,” said Alice, sadly. “But I think she has a bit of a thing for Remus.”
“Really?” hissed Claire. “Oh, but they’d be so cute together!”
Lily nodded enthusiastically, and then paused, glancing over at her friend.
Eleanor was laughing and joking with an unusually jovial Severus, both of them smiling warmly at one another.
“Actually, it might be Severus,” she whispered slowly.
Claire and Alice stared at her, astonished.
“Well,” she qualified. “He’s never usually this quick to take to anyone, and they seem to be getting on famously…”
The three of them watched Severus laugh heartily as Eleanor’s enchanted tape measure tickled him.
“You know, there was a rumour a month or so back that she and Severus were seen kissing in Hogsmeade…” mused Alice. “But… I was so sure about her and Remus…”
She shook her head, trying to clear her own confusion.
What is going on? she thought.
Eleanor yawned; what with rehearsals and hormones (and a wholly unexpected sprint through the Castle) it had been one hell of a day, and she was exhausted.
She’d volunteered to get the costume list finished for Professor Sprout, so the last hour had been spent tabulating the various measurements against each person, and their various clothing needs. While it was mildly entertaining work (particularly when imagining her classmates wearing some of the costumes) she’d been at it for what seemed like a very long time, and wanted nothing more than a hot shower and her own, comfortable bed. She glanced up at the clock and groaned; it was already nearly midnight, and she had two doubles first thing in the morning – Charms and Transfiguration. If she made it to lunchtime without falling asleep or setting herself on fire it would be some kind of minor miracle.
Stretching, she gathered up the scrolls of parchment and extinguished the torches in what the majority of sixth year now thought of as the drama classroom with a lazy flick of her wand.
Depositing the measurements with a grateful Professor Sprout (and briefly taking pity on the woman, who was still marking at midnight) she ambled her way idly through the dark school. She’d just crossed the Transfiguration Courtyard when, very slowly, all the hairs on the back of her neck stood up, one by one.
She paused, looking around; there was no one around, and yet…
She hurried forward, quickening her pace.
Someone was watching her.
Eleanor tightened her grip on her wand as she passed back into the comforting passages of the first floor corridor…
That’s funny, she thought. I wonder where all the portraits have gone… must be something interesting happening somewhere else…
Just before she reached the end of the corridor, she heard a soft sound, only a few feet behind her.
She hadn’t intended to.
Realising, to her growing panic, that she couldn’t move, she tried with all her might to will herself free of the hex.
That strange soft sound behind her was closer now, but try as she might, she couldn’t see… one by one, the torches in the corridor went out.
She strained to hear anything in the muffling darkness.
She tried to banish her panic, but she couldn’t; the knowledge that she was alone, and helpless, and more frightened than she’d ever been in her life just wouldn’t go away. She felt a tear run down her cheek and form a drip under her chin.
If she’d been able to move, Eleanor would have jumped a foot in the air when someone behind her gave a low, throaty chuckle, breath hissing on the skin of her neck.
“Not so clever now, are we babe?” someone whispered, and her blood turned cold.