First Interlude - Of Socks and Stations
The Castle had never seemed so clean and ordered as it did in the fortnight leading up to the end of term; with seven of the sixth-years in detention every week-night they didn’t have rehearsal, the teachers were beginning to run out of things to make them do. Shelves were organised, bottles labelled, ingredients rearranged… the kitchens, bathrooms, Hospital Wing and cauldrons gleamed in the summer light… Professor Sprout’s usually chaotic potting shed had been cleaned out and her growing beds were so tidy and healthy that she was almost afraid to touch them. The greenhouses sparkled. Hagrid’s pumpkin patch had been weeded, and the strawberry beds replanted. Even the Owlery had been cleaned out, much to the puzzlement of the school owls, who had watched their strange human invaders with great interest.
The thing that most mystified the teachers, however, was that their charges took each job without complaint and worked steadily and companionably until they were finished – often staying to finish jobs until after their official detentions ended. They were also frequently and unobtrusively joined by Eleanor, Remus and Severus, and occasionally a selection of other students from their year.
“I can’t understand it,” said Horace Slughorn, watching the toiling students below – joined today by Algernon, Wilbur, Nathan and Dorothy – from the staff room window. They were tidying the courtyard gardens, most of which hadn’t even seen a watering can in the last twenty years, let alone a pair of pruning shears. “I’d never have taken a detention I hadn’t earned when I was a lad, and here we have so many volunteers that there just isn’t enough work for them.”
“They feel they’ve earned it,” piped up Filius Flitwick. “I asked Longbottom. They’re making amends for injuring those two-” he broke off, momentarily unable to find a rude enough description. “- skrewt-eating sons of hags. Even though they deserved it.”
“I think Lupin, Wren and Snape feel they’re just as culpable… or guilty that they aren’t also in trouble – Crabbe too in his own way – is he still volunteering with you Poppy?” asked Pomona Sprout, stirring her tea. On her colleague’s nod she continued: “Which just goes to show that even the least biddable student can prove us all wrong.”
“It’s how they’re fitting in all their homework and revision with the detentions and rehearsals I can’t figure out,” said George Kettleburn, folding up his copy of the Daily Prophet. “I mean, you’d think their work would suffer, but their grades have stayed the same – improved in some cases.”
“They’ve organised themselves into study-groups,” said Filius. “In shifts. The whole of the sixth year has turned into some kind of roving military support-group. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“They’ve been through a fair whack, these last few weeks…”
“Yes, but why the rest of the year, that’s what I want to know,” continued Horace, rather caught up on this thought.
“Oh Horace, isn’t it obvious?” asked Pomona, somewhat exasperated. “It’s because of what happened to Mary.”
“That was a sorry set of circumstances,” said Filius, quietly.
Most of the staff room nodded soberly.
“I think they feel they should have said something… or looked after her a bit better…”
There was a pregnant silence.
“You know,” said Pomona, getting to her feet. “I think I’ll just go and see if they need a hand out there…”
“Yes,” agreed George. “I could do with a bit of fresh air.”
“I – er – might be able to knock up a growth potion or two for those roses…” he said.
“I was just saying to George the other day,” said Poppy. “I don’t get outside as much as I’d like…”
“Perhaps I could get those fallen walls repaired…” said Filius, abandoning his tea.
There had been howlers, and angry letters from the parents of muggleborns, of course, but they’d expected those, and borne them with surprising dignity. Frank’s mother, who had flooed in specifically (and without Dumbledore’s permission) to shout at her son, had encountered a startled Eleanor and recognised her from the photographs he sometimes sent home. She had rounded on Eleanor at once, who had stood and taken the tirade and then told the formidable witch precisely what Frank had been responding to. Mrs Longbottom had given her a long hard stare, but patted her sootily and ferociously on the back and retreated back into the fireplace from whence she had emerged smiling grimly.
Much of the last week that wasn’t spent engaged in various detentions was spent outside in the sunshine, lounging about in the grass, watching the tentacles of the Giant Squid glide about the surface of the lake – sometimes they’d run through the lines of the play, or play games, or read, or talk, or just be. They were aware that their time as a part of their ramshackle surrogate family was ticking shorter, even though the summer was only a matter of months in duration. Both Sirius and Severus were getting less and less jovial as their time grew shorter, which everyone was doing their best to ignore; while the majority of them didn’t know about Severus’s home life (though Eleanor suspected that Lily knew), they could guess. Eleanor, however, as the last few days approached she was less sad than excited, eagerly anticipating both the beginning and the end of her upcoming journey.
The last day of term was hot and humid; it was the first time in a long while that no one had detention (possibly on the basis that the teachers wanted them all out of the school with the least amount of fuss possible the next morning. Eleanor had spent the day relaxing in the Common Room with the boys, playing exploding snap and helping James drink up his illicit store of Butterbeer. Come the evening she was taking her time about packing, preferring to use magic to fold her clothes and organise her belongings. It was far too hot to do it the muggle way.
Both Lily and Alice had gone off with their respective young men to make the most of their remaining few hours together and she’d been left in relative peace, so she was singing softly to herself while she sorted and ordered and cleaned.
“Early one morning
Just as the sun was rising,
I heard a maiden sing
In the valley below.”
It was a song her mother had taught her when she was small, and sometimes Estelle had sung it when she couldn’t sleep, or when she’d brushed through her hair. It always reminded Eleanor of home.
“Oh, don’t deceive me,
Please never leave me,
How could you use,
A poor maiden so?”
Although Eleanor was really going to miss her friends she was beginning to ache for the gardens around the chalet; it was the simple things she missed…
“Remember the vows
You made to your sweet one,
Remember the bow’r
Where you vowed to be true.”
… like the mouth-watering smell of the local bread or the sweet, clean taste of the mountain air, or the great crashes of thunder as the summer storms chased themselves around the nearby peaks.
“Oh, don’t deceive me,
Please never leave me,
How could you use,
A poor maiden so?”
She missed Estelle’s cooking, and the smell of Henrì’s pipe smoke, and the way they’d sing or hum as they worked so that it seemed like there was always music around the secluded valley.
“Gay is the garland
And fresh are the roses,
I culled in the garden
To bind on thy brow.”
She missed the cool, silvery water of her hidden lake and the feel of the grass beneath her feet…
“Oh, don’t deceive me,
Please never leave me,
How could you use,
A poor maiden so?”
… the complete peace that could be found while dozing in the swing seat on the veranda in the baking summer sunshine…
“Thus sang the poor maiden
Her sorrows bewailing,
Thus sang the poor maid
In the valley below.”
… the delight of running in from the rain and wrapping up in an old blanket, sipping real hot chocolate and watching the oversized raindrops pound against the windows of her cosy little room.
“Oh, don’t deceive me,
Please never leave me,
How could you use,
A poor maiden so?”
“That’s pretty,” said Remus, from the doorway, making her jump. “Sorry…”
“You know, I’ve half a mind to make you start wearing a bell or something…” said Eleanor, clutching her chest dramatically. “How do your shoes make that little noise?”
Remus shrugged, smiling.
“Must be the hunter in me,” he said, moving a pile of clothes and sitting on her bed. “I’m going to miss you,” he said, gazing up at her.
“And I you. Even if you do creep up on me half of the time,” she said, and he chuckled, holding out an arm so she’d go to him.
“If Lily or Alice comes up –” she said, but allowed herself to be pulled into a hug anyway.
“They’re busy,” he said, muffled a little by her stomach.
She ruffled his hair, affectionately; ruefully, he looked up at her, resting his chin lightly on her stomach, arms still wrapped around her legs.
“I wish we could be less covert than this,” he said. “Or that Sirius would announce that he’s fallen for – I don’t know – Dorothy Cottingley, or someone…”
“Is that the Ravenclaw who enchanted a pair of fluffy slippers to follow him around last month, because he sniggered at her when she accidentally turned her feet pink in Charms?”
“The very same.”
“Yes… Ellie, I know we said that this could never be anything if Sirius made a move, but…”
“That’s a big ‘but’…”
“Actually, I think it’s just right,” he said, patting her on the bottom and flashing her a wicked grin.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she said, biting her lip.
“Smile like that – it gives me ideas.”
“Good to know, I shall have to do it more often…”
“I fear we’ve come off track…”
“Oh, right, yes. Er…” he shook himself. “… but what if he never makes a move?”
“This is Sirius we’re talking about here.”
“True, but he hasn’t even been slapped since Bonfire night, and he didn’t actually deserve that one.”
“Hmm,” she mused. “I don’t know.”
“Something to think about…”
“Which perhaps would be easier to think about if we were in any way able to not molest one another,” Remus continued, amused at his own lack of self control.
“This coming from the man with his hands on my arse.”
“Well, exactly. There’s a case in point.” He gave her bottom a squeeze and that mischievous sparkle was back in his eyes. “To be fair, you could be pushing me away in outrage, but instead you’re playing with my hair and leaning in to me.”
“Seemed like the thing to do,” she said, amiably, and they both grinned. “What?” she asked, as his face became more serious.
“It’s just – I don’t really want to bring this up, but – I was wondering if, after the attack, you’d be less comfortable with me…”
“… keeping in touch,” he finished, smiling awkwardly.
Eleanor thought about it, frowning.
“No. Because when they… when they touched me, it hurt. I was afraid – all I wanted to do was to get as far away from them as I could, and then shower. Repeatedly. And you,” she said, straddling his lap to make her point. “When you touch me, I want to do this,” she said, taking his chin lightly in her hand and kissing him soundly for a full minute. “And then shower…” she continued breathlessly and waited until his expression was one of deep confusion before adding, “with you. Repeatedly.”
She watched with delight as his smile developed and snuck up one side of his face; he raised an eyebrow.
“Is that so?” he asked, in a voice that was close to a growl; she could feel it reverberate through his stomach. It wasn’t all she could feel, either; it was her turn to raise an eyebrow.
“… it’s my wand, I swear,” he said, colouring.
“Oh, so you won’t mind if I do this then?” she asked, pressing herself closer. His hands flew to her hips and his eyes fluttered closed.
“Ellie…” he said, breathily.
“Yes, oh composed one?”
“You try my patience,” he said, and this time it really was a growl; when his eyes opened there was amber mixed into the grey in equal measure. Boy and wolf were both very much of an accord on this one.
“Well,” she said fondly, kissing him on the cheek. “You try mine… and it’s not like we’ll see each other in months.”
“True…” he pressed his face into her hair and inhaled deeply. “I shall miss your scent…” he continued, and she knew that this, too, was the both of them agreeing. The wolf was always more direct, his words more sparse… she got the feeling that in some ways the wolf could be what Remus never seemed to let himself be: confident and unequivocal. People always seemed to underestimate him because he had a tendency to hide the best of himself, and it bothered her.
“What did you say the others were up to?” Eleanor asked, pulling away from him slightly.
“Illicitly canoodling in various parts of the Castle, why?” his voice was still a little unsteady, but she could hear the wolf retreating now, and his eyes were once more returning to that glorious clear grey that she’d long since fallen for.
“Because,” she said and kissed him deeply. Remus, hands still caressing her hips, responded passionately, determinedly ignoring those parts of his brain that were insisting that making out with the love of someone else’s life in the girls’ dormitories was a Very Bad Idea.
She felt so warm and alive and there, all tangled up with him, her fingers lacing in his hair, thighs pressing him closer. For Eleanor’s part she was caught between the delicious freedom of feeling her tongue slowly battle with his and the strong, burning need for more – more of him. She wriggled against him and he pulled her impossibly closer, running his hands down her back to rest on her bottom once more. He gave it another squeeze. He could feel her smiling as she kissed him.
Almost against his own will Remus’s hands slid up from her hips, grazing along the gentle curve of her hips and across her stomach, stopping – quite unconsciously – on her breasts. He felt her start against him, and took her subsequent moan as permission to continue…
Deciding that he should be allowed to take her by surprise just as she had, he flipped her over onto her back and straddled her hips, spilling socks all over the floor; she squealed in surprise. He took a moment to take her in: she was looking up at him with laughter in her blue-grey eyes, short golden waves of hair spilling out around her like a halo. Her face was flushed and her lips swollen a little from their mutual onslaught; it occurred to him that he wanted nothing more in the world than to ravish her, right then and there, and he suspected that she wouldn’t try to stop him.
He knew, though, that they couldn’t take this further. Not now, not behind Sirius’s back… however much they might both want to.
He leant down and kissed her again, but more softly this time; the tenderness of her lips against his told him that she more than understood, and this time when they parted he rolled off, lying beside her.
“I do believe I might be falling for you, Master Lupin,” she said, giving a playful poke in the chest.
“And I you, my lady,” he replied, taking her hand without even noticing.
“You’ll ask your mum and dad if you can come out and stay?” she asked.
“The moment I get home – well,” he frowned. “Probably not the moment. I’ll probably spend that moment fending off the usual interminable questions about precisely what kind of trouble the boys have got me into this year.”
“Doesn’t surprise me,” she smiled, leaning in to him. “I never thought I’d say it, but I think I’m actually going to miss the constant vigilance required for a quite life in Gryffindor Tower.” She looked around at the mess they’d made of her neatly stacked clothes. “Well, so much for getting my packing done,” she chuckled.
“Ah,” he said, helping her up. “Largely my fault, I’d say – I’ll give you a hand.”
They spent a companionable few minutes magically reorganising Eleanor’s belongings and fitting them into the trunk.
“You know, it’ll be nice to be able to use magic at home this year,” remarked Remus, as Eleanor packed the last of her belongings and turned to the organisation of her rucksack.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I suppose it will…”
Remus looked at her.
“You’ve always been able to, haven’t you,” he said, with a wry smile.
“What can I say? My mother is an evil genius.”
“What is it?”
“I…” Eleanor shrugged, struggling to articulate her sudden feeling of loneliness. “I’m just going to miss you, that’s all. Well, everyone, really…”
“Come here,” he said, and pulled her into another hug. “Serve God, love me and mend,” he murmured into her hair. “I’ll miss you too… but we’ll all be back together in no time – and then you’ll want nothing more than to be as far away from everyone as possible.” She laughed into his chest as he added: “Well, as far away from Sirius’s brilliant ideas as possible, at any rate…”
Eleanor had been about to respond, but she nearly jumped out of her skin when Lily’s authoritative voice demanded:
“Remus John Lupin! What in Hecate’s name are you doing in the girls’ dormitory? Again?”
They half broke apart and turned, Remus’s arm still wrapped around Eleanor’s waist, as if he didn’t even know it was there. Lily and Alice were stood in the doorway, expressions of shock and mild annoyance melting away at some speed to mild amusement.
“And with your arms about Ellie, I might enquire?” added Alice, entirely failing to remove the delighted smile that was spreading across her features.
“I, uh-” he began, snatching back his arm and glowing crimson. “We were just – I – she – er –”
Fighting her own blush and deciding that it would be infinitely quicker and far less painful to intercede, Eleanor rolled her eyes.
“Honestly, Remus, you’d think people weren’t allowed to hug their friends,” she began, and didn’t fail to notice the look of incredulity on her roommates’ faces as she went on. “I was just thinking about how much I’d miss you all, and Remus gave me a hug – then you two came in and scared the living crap out of us.”
“Is that so?” asked Lily, not sounding like she believed it for a second.
“It’s so,” said Remus, awkwardly.
Remus looked between his three friends.
“I should – er – probably get out of the girls’ dormitory…”
“Probably,” said Lily, crisply.
“Ok, I’ll – er – see you at dinner, then…”
He left the room with as much dignity as he could muster – as soon as the door was closed, however, they heard him bolt down the stairs as if his clothes were on fire.
“What?” asked Eleanor, doing her best to look puzzled and mildly exasperated.
Lily perched on the end of her bed and motioned for the others to sit, too.
“So, it doesn’t explain why he was up here in the first place,” she said, quirking an amused eyebrow as she added, “unless he was stealing your underwear again.”
“No, nothing like that,” said Eleanor, hurriedly, trying to ignore Alice’s snort of laughter. “He said he couldn’t find anyone downstairs and was bored, so he came to see if any of us were about. I was in the middle of packing so he kept me company.”
“And then there was cuddling,” prompted Alice.
“I was sad – I,” she frowned again, trying to explain her unexpected bout of unhappiness. “The chalet never struck me as lonely before, but after a year with you lot it’s going to be terrifyingly quiet.”
Alice stopped giggling.
“We’ll write all the time,” she said. “Like, every day.”
“She means it,” said Lily. “Between her and Frank and Severus I nearly went mad trying to write back in first year – and now there’s the boys too. I’d be surprised if a single day passes this summer without an owl arriving from somewhere – and we’ll be coming out to see you – I can’t see anyone’s parents objecting.” She, too, frowned a little then, and Eleanor guessed that she was thinking about Severus.
Alice nodded, and noticing that Eleanor looked a good deal less upset, decided to broach to subject that she, Lily and Claire had been spending a good deal of time expounding on.
“Ellie…” she began, glancing at Lily. “We’ve been wondering… do you fancy anyone?”
“What? I – Why?”
“Well… there’s these rumours going around,” said Alice, carefully. “And all of them are about a different person, and we want to make sure that you’re ok and don’t get hurt and stuff…”
“Rumours about me?” asked Eleanor, mystified.
“Yes,” said Lily. “About you and Sirius snogging in empty classrooms, you and Remus sneaking off together, you and Severus kissing in Hogsmeade, you and Nathan ‘studying together’, you and Algernon staying late together after rehearsal…”
“Really?” she asked, wide-eyed. What must the students of Hogwarts think of her? “But – I – no! Gah!”
“That’s more or less what I said,” said Lily. “Although I was a lot more coherent.”
Despite the situation, Eleanor stuck her tongue out at her friend.
“I don’t think any one of us thinks you’re secretly dating all five of them,” said Alice, reassuringly. “But we all – well, me Lily and Claire at any rate – know you’re secretly dating one of them.”
“Of course I’m not dating all – wait, what?”
“We saw you,” said Lily. “You were with someone in the fourth floor corridor in May – during rehearsal. Claire and I were practising the scene where we set up Beatrice and we saw you in the corridor.”
Eleanor stared at her friend.
“You did?” she asked, weakly.
“Yes, and from the sounds of it whoever you were with was very much enjoying the experience,” said Lily, gently prodding.
Eleanor studied her friends’ expressions for a few moments, and gave in.
“So you were the ones behind the exploding suit of armour, then?” she asked, wearily, and Lily grinned.
“That was Claire – apparently it’s called a ‘rattler’.”
Eleanor nodded, thoughtfully.
“Useful little charm, that…”
“So who were you with?” asked Alice.
“You didn’t see?”
“No, he ran the other way, it was too dark to see him,” explained Lily.
“Then I’m not telling you.”
“What? Why?” demanded Alice.
“It’s… complicated,” Eleanor said, looking uncomfortable. “Look, it’s not that I don’t want to tell you, but it’s… complicated,” she repeated.
“How complicated?” asked Lily.
“In what way?”
“That would require explanation…”
“True,” Lily gave her a contemplative look. “But three heads are better than one when it comes to the solution of difficult problems.”
“We won’t tell anyone,” Alice assured her. “And this way you’ll have someone to talk about it with – bottling something like this up isn’t good for you.”
Eleanor heaved a sigh. If she couldn’t trust them, after everything they’d done for her, she couldn’t trust anyone.
“Alright, but you have to swear that you won’t tell anyone, even the other people involved, and you won’t interfere without my express permission.”
“Naturally,” said Alice.
“You have my word as a Gryffindor.”
“Oh, wait – can we tell Claire? She’s pretty much a part of this too,” added Alice, quickly.
“Well, alright, yes – but none of the boys, for obvious reasons… well, reasons that will become obvious…”
She was tempted to laugh then, at the expressions of her two roommates staring at her from their beds, rapt with attention.
“Right… I’ll deal with the rumours first then… Algernon has been staying late after rehearsal with me, but that’s because I’m still helping Professor Sprout with the costumes, and I don’t want to be on my own, after what happened…”
“Understandable, really,” said Alice.
“So he walks me back to the tower… I think he feels a little responsible for what happened, to tell you the truth.”
“He’s really quite sweet,” said Lily. “I mean, we all knew he was one of the nicest Slytherins, but he really seems to be a decent person under all that green and silver – not that I’m saying all Slytherins aren’t decent,” she continued, floundering somewhat. “I just meant –”
“That he bucks the trend,” said Alice, coming to her rescue. “As do the remaining members of his year, actually. I mean, who knew that Wilbur could be such a gentleman? Even Severus is friendlier than he used to be, and most of the girls too.”
“I think they appreciated the lack of Bertram Mulciber as much as the rest of us,” said Eleanor, and the others nodded. “I think some of the problem is the reputation of the House,” she reflected. “Everyone expects them to be cold and haughty and unpleasant, when really they’re just cunning and stubborn… If you treat someone as though they’re horrible I think they’ll start acting like that because, let’s face it, being nice isn’t working.”
“You may have something there,” said Lily, a little sadly. “Just take Severus… he’s really not as bad as everyone makes out, and it’s taken five and a half years of the boys treating him like shit for them to realise that.”
There was a contemplative pause.
“Which leads us neatly onto Severus,” said Alice, breaking the silence. “I heard from Miriam Morgan from Hufflepuff that you were seen kissing him in Hogsmeade on Valentine’s Day.”
“I kissed him on the cheek,” she said, still smiling. “He gave me a potions kit.”
“For Valentine’s?” Alice asked, clearly delighted.
“No… for – er – being a friend when he needed one…”
Alice looked at Lily, puzzled, but Lily looked like she’d finally understood something that had been bothering her.
“He’s the one you stole the dittany for, isn’t he.”
“Yes, but you can’t say anything – not unless he tells you first –”
“Understood,” she said, and smiled. “I’m glad someone was there for him.”
“He was in a bad way,” said Eleanor, sadly.
“Still, it’s unlikely to happen again,” said Alice. “I can guess who it was.”
“So, where were we?” asked Lily. “Ah, yes, extended ‘study’ sessions with Nathan Perks.”
“I really am just studying with Nathan,” said Eleanor. “As you well know,” she added, as Alice giggled. “Anyway, I have it on good authority that he fancies Ivy Owens, from Ravenclaw.”
“Does he?” exclaimed Lily, despite herself, as Alice continued to laugh.
“You’re as bad as me!” she managed.
Lily stuck her tongue out at her.
“Which leaves Sirius and Remus,” said Lily, steering the conversation back to where she wanted it.
“Yes,” said Eleanor with a sigh. “I can assure you that Sirius and I have not been sneaking off to abandoned classrooms for a quick grope.”
“So it’s Remus?” asked Lily gleefully.
“Oh my Gods I knew it!” exclaimed Alice.
“You and Remus were snogging in the fourth floor corridor?” laughed Lily.
“It’s nothing – I just don’t think I’ll be able to keep a straight face the next time we’re on patrol and he has to discipline someone else for it,” she grinned, and Eleanor laughed.
“It would be a touch hypocritical…”
“So why are you sneaking around together?” asked Lily. “If you like each other enough for Remus Lupin to knowingly flout school regulations in a non-Marauder situation then you should be together openly.” She frowned, as a distasteful thought struck her. “It’s not because you don’t want to be seen with a were-”
“Lily!” said Eleanor, affronted. “I would never –”
“That’s what I thought, I just wanted to check,” her friend assured her hurriedly.
“It’s because of Sirius,” said Alice, who’d been keeping quiet.
“What?” asked Lily, as Eleanor nodded sadly.
“How did you know?”
“I saw you in Madame Puddifoots – the way Remus couldn’t quite let go of you, and the way his hackles raised whenever Sirius was too familiar… And later, the way Sirius was looking at you in the Three Broomsticks.”
“Wait – that was Valentine’s Day!” exclaimed Lily, astonished. “How long has this been going on for?”
“A while… you’re right, Alice. We think – well, we know – that Sirius likes me. More than likes me…” She told them about the uncomfortable conversation she’d had with him that day.
“That sucks,” said Lily, with feeling.
“We didn’t think anyone had noticed,” said Eleanor.
“I wouldn’t have seen it at all if I hadn’t been giggling about the three of you messing with Madame Puddifoot,” said Alice. “And if I’d looked away even for a moment I’d have missed that kiss…”
“Hang on,” said Lily, struggling to keep up. “If you were…” she paused, trying to think of an appropriate description.
“Illicitly canoodling?” suggested Alice.
“It wasn’t illicit canoodlage – not then,” said Eleanor. “More like a stolen moment.”
“Ok, if you were ‘stealing moments’ as far back as Valentine’s Day, when did all this start?”
“The Autumn Gala,” said Eleanor, and Lily swore; Alice gave a low whistle.
“You’ve been keeping yourselves apart since November?” she shook her head. “I don’t think I could have the stamina…”
“Wait,” said Lily, haltingly. “You didn’t start this because of – because of me, did you? Because of what I said about liking Remus at the start of term?”
Eleanor bit her lip and nodded.
“You wouldn’t do it to Alice, he wouldn’t do it to James, and I wouldn’t do it to you… or Sirius.”
“Oh, Ellie, I’m sorry!”
“Nothing to be sorry for – it wouldn’t have been right…”
“So when Lily started going out with James you knew that you wouldn’t be hurting her,” said Alice, delicately trying to move them on. “But you were still ‘off-limits’?”
“Yes,” said Eleanor, and told them about their agreement at the Gala and their subsequent difficulties. “… it’s getting to the stage where I’m not sure how much longer I can wait for Sirius to make up his mind. I mean, I know we both said we’d stay apart for his sake, but…”
“You don’t want to give him up?”
“I don’t think I can,” she said. “We’re not really very good at the whole ‘apart’ thing as it is…”
“Well this whole situation is complete bollocks,” said Alice. “What? It is!”
“No argument,” said Ellie, trying not to stare at her usually mannered friend.
“At least you have someone to talk to about this now,” said Lily. “I can’t imagine how you’ve dealt with all this and not gone bonkers.”
“It hasn’t always been easy,” Eleanor said, quietly.
“Well you’re not alone anymore,” said Alice, firmly. “And you have two more pairs of eyes to keep on Sirius – three, with Claire.”
Eleanor smiled, gratefully.
“That’s what friends are for,” she said, and the three of them stood, ready to head down to dinner.
“They’ll be wondering where we’ve got to,” said Alice, amused.
“I’m sure they’ll simply assume that we’re up to something,” snorted Eleanor, and ran a hand through her hair – still mussed, as it was, from her encounter with Remus.
It was a simple movement, but it didn’t escape Lily’s gaze.
“Eleanor, what’s that?” she asked, pointing at her wrist.
“Er – oh, this?” she fingered the bracelet on her arm.
“Yes,” said Lily. “It’s beautiful.”
“Here,” Eleanor said, taking it off and showing the two girls. “Remus gave it to me – we weren’t supposed to be doing anything for Valentine’s, but…”
“But you aren’t very good at ‘apart’,” finished Alice. “It’s really pretty.”
“There are words too,” she said, and revealed the sonnet.
“That’s so sweet!” said Alice.
“He’s really quite mad for you,” said Lily, smiling, and Eleanor blushed.
“You know,” observed Alice, as they left the dormitory. “My aunt Enid told me that her mother didn’t have a wedding ring – she had a bracelet instead. Apparently it used to be tradition to propose with… well, with something like that.”
“Dumbledore said something similar,” said Eleanor, quietly.
They shared an eloquent look.
“Interesting,” said Lily.
“What’s interesting?” asked James, bounding over to collect his girlfriend for the last time for months. He kissed Lily on the cheek.
“Oh nothing, we were just discussing traditions,” said Lily, dismissively, ruffling his already messy hair.
“What kind of traditions?” asked Sirius, interested.
“Oh, you know, things that are different in the Wizarding world compared to the Muggle world,” said Eleanor.
“What kind of things?” asked Remus.
“Nothing special,” said Alice. “Festivals, religions, funeral rites… marriage proposals…”
Lily shot her a warning look, but Eleanor was watching Remus; he’d visibly started at the mention of the latter tradition, and looked straight at Eleanor. She gave him a small smile designed to relay absolutely no information whatsoever.
“You know,” continued Alice, blithely. “Girl talk.”
“Girls talk about funeral rites?” asked Peter, surprised.
“Sometimes,” said Lily. “Did you know for example there’s a culture in Africa that buries people twice in order to dislodge any vengeful spirits, and it’s only after that second burial – about a year and a half after the first – that they deal with the will and stuff?”
“That’s really morbid, Evans,” said Sirius, as they reached the main staircase. “Oy! Longbottom! The girls are talking about marriage and stuff – I’d worry if I were you.”
“Hardly,” said Frank, as he joined them. “I already know who I’d like my life to be with, and he grinned at Alice, who blushed the same colour as her robes.
“Well maybe you should do something about that,” said Alice, coyly.
“I intend to – although possibly after we finish school, simply because my mother would kill me for taking advantage of someone so lovely,” he kissed his scarlet girlfriend on the forehead. “That work for you, sweetheart?”
“That works for me,” she replied.
Eleanor thought that if Alice were to smile any wider then her head might fall off.
“Did Frank just propose?” asked Peter, astonished.
“As good as,” said Sirius, equally nonplussed.
“Mr Pettigrew, if you would kindly refrain from bad language before the house points are totalled for the year I would very much appreciate it,” said Professor McGonagall, sweeping past them in a billow of emerald tartan.
As the others moved ahead happily discussing one anothers’ personal lives and the likelihood of a Gryffindor win for the House Cup, Remus dropped back to Eleanor’s side. He seemed to be having difficulty meeting her eyes.
“Er – so, what kind of traditions were you discussing?”
“A bit of everything,” said Eleanor, conscious of the large volume of people around them. “Like Alice said: funeral rites, festivals, marriage proposals, birth rites, that sort of thing.”
“Oh… um… find out anything… interesting?” he asked, helpfully confirming Eleanor’s suspicion that he knew all about old wizarding marriage traditions.
“Oh yes, quite a few things,” said Eleanor, innocently. She patted his hand, nonchalantly. “I’ll write to you about them if you’d like.”
“Er – ok,” said Remus, who looked very much like a cornered man.
“Oy, you two!” cried Sirius, some way ahead. “Keep up! Anyone would think you were scheming back there!”
Eleanor snorted and hurried up to them.
“Remember,” hissed James as they approached their tables. “No one make a move until after the winner is announced.”
At the High Table, Dumbledore was raising his goblet for silence; the teachers were arranged beside him, chattering happily amongst themselves and looking forward to the holiday ahead. Eleanor really was going to miss this place.
“Another year gone!” said Dumbledore cheerfully. “And not without its trials and tribulations,” he said, his eyes resting briefly on Eleanor and her friends. “But I have high hopes that there isn’t a student in this Hall that hasn’t benefited in some way from this year, and won’t treasure the friendships they have forged. With any luck you’ll all know a bit more about the world than you did in September, just in time for you to forget it all in your travels this summer.”
Several people, mostly staff, chuckled.
“We are, of course, losing another year to the world, and I’m sure you’ll all join me in wishing them the very best in finding their wide futures, even in these sometimes troubled times.”
He looked very long and hard at the seventh years, many of whom looked sad to be leaving.
“I think I speak for all of the staff – and many of the students – when I say that you will be sorely missed. Now!” He said, and clapped his hands. “The House Cup needs awarding. The points stand thus: in third place, Slytherin, with three hundred and fifteen points; in second place, Hufflepuff with four hundred and fifty-two.”
Hang on, thought Eleanor, looking around in confusion. He’s missed a house… Sirius caught her eye and shrugged as they applauded Hufflepuff. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Peter blow Claire a furtive kiss and she grinned.
“In joint first place,” continued Dumbledore happily. “With four hundred and eighty-three points are Ravenclaw and Gryffindor!”
He clapped his hands over their cheers and above them the great tapestries changed from their usual full crest to alternately showing the great Golden lion of Gryffindor and the more sedate Raven of Ravenclaw.
As Dumbledore was waiting for the clamour to abate, all the torches in the Hall suddenly flickered out. Several people screamed…
Eleanor flicked her wand with a practised motion, knowing that the students on either side would be too; she hoped that Severus, Claire and Frank held their nerve.
When the torches began to come back on it was clear that something was amiss. A few people shouted in protest, but most of the students were laughing. Every single person in the Great Hall now either had crimson and gold or sapphire and black hair.
“Calm down,” called Dumbledore over the hubbub; Eleanor was delighted to see that his beard had taken on all four colours. “I hope that this… example of high spirited House pride will subside following dinner?” he looked around the Great Hall, eyes lingering just for a second on Sirius and James, but no answer was forthcoming. Eleanor did her best to look innocent.
“I shall take that as a yes. Now,” he said, once the laughter had abated somewhat. “The feast!
The train journey back to Platform Nine and Three Quarters was an enjoyable one, everyone chattering in the crowded compartments, and many people visiting friends in other parts of the train. It took a long time for them to get onto the platform when they finally arrived, jostling between the crowds with caged familiars and awkward trunks, but when they managed it Lily immediately dragged Eleanor over to meet her parents (who were as lovely as she was) and her rather unpleasant looking sister. Edging as imperceptibly as possible away from Petunia Evans, Eleanor scanned the crowd for her housekeepers, but she couldn’t see them.
Lily gave her a tight hug and promised to write before leaving through the magical barrier, trying almost desperately to keep up a one sided conversation with her silently disapproving sister.
Alice was next to go, with her dad, who Eleanor had already been introduced to as ‘Beatrice of Messina’, then Peter and his mum, giving her a cheery wave as he disappeared into the Muggle station. Sirius was going home with the Potters for a while, and he gave her a tight squeeze as he left, and she took the opportunity to make James’s hair worse for him; they too promised to write. James’s parents had already agreed to let him join their party at the Chalet later in the summer, and his dad shook her hand cheerfully before shaking his head at his son’s antics as he and Sirius chased each other around the station and through the barrier.
Claire pressed her address into Eleanor’s hand as she ran to meet her father at another train somewhere in the Muggle station beyond.
She watched Severus greet a sour looking woman that she suspected was his mother; he appeared to point her out and Mrs Snape gave her a curt nod before they, too, slipped into the crowd.
“Well, Miss Wren,” said a crisp voice from behind her. “I trust you are recovered?”
“Yes, thank you Mrs Longbottom,” she replied, turning to meet the ferocious older witch. “I hope you’re well?”
“I am, thank you.” She gave her a grim smile. “Frank has informed me that you intend to have some kind of party at the end of the summer at your home.”
“It’s very kind of you to invite him.”
“Not at all, Ma’am, Frank’s a good friend.”
“I’m glad to hear it. You will be supervised?”
“My housekeepers will be there – they take care of me,” she added, a little self-consciously.
“Do they now…” said Mrs Longbottom, glancing around the housekeeper-less station. “Well, I’m sure they’ll be no problem. Frank – you may go, if you wish.”
“Thanks Mum!” he said, wisely having kept silent in the interim. “I’ll see you in August then, Eleanor – and I’ll write!”
“Likewise – have a good summer Frank!”
“It was a pleasure meeting you again, Miss Wren.”
“And you, Ma’am.”
She watched them as they, too, disappeared, and shook her head. She could understand now where Frank got his unexpected ferocity from; Mrs Longbottom was a formidable woman. Eleanor reflected that she’d probably get on very well with her own mother.
The crowds were thinning now, as people were collected and moved back into the Muggle world… and still no sign of Estelle or Henrì. Eleanor frowned. They couldn’t have got the date wrong… could they?
Remus, his own parents currently absent, wandered over, depositing his trunk next to hers and sitting on it. He looked strangely younger like that, though his long legs reached the floor; Eleanor had a sudden vision of a much younger Remus doing just this.
“My parents always come last,” he said, by way of explanation. “They think fewer people will stare at me…”
“That’s… thoughtful of them, I suppose,” said Eleanor, fighting to keep the frown off her face.
“They’re very nice people,” he said, hurriedly. “They’d do anything to make life easier for me… I never had the heart to tell them that that would involve treating me like everyone else most of the time.”
“Parents eh,” she said.
“Indeed… where are your housekeepers?”
“I don’t know,” she said, looking around. “They should be here by now…”
“Perhaps they were held up,” said Remus, “A late train or something.”
“Oh! Hi Mum! Over here!” he waved at a small, friendly looking witch who was hurrying over with her tall, patient husband in tow. Remus looked very much like his father, Eleanor decided, as they were introduced, but his eyes were definitely his mother’s (as was his mischievous streak, she suspected).
“Are your parents not here yet?” asked Mrs Lupin. “We’re usually the last here.”
“Must be a late train or something,” said Eleanor with a smile, but truth be told she was really beginning to worry now. What if something terrible had happened and they needed her? She’d have no way of finding them…
Some of what she was thinking must have made its way into her face, as Mr Lupin shared a look with his son.
“I think they’ll be closing the platform soon,” he said. “Why don’t you walk with us to the main doors – your parents will be able to find you much more easily there…”
“Thank you, sir,” she said, and followed Remus to the barrier, eyeing it warily.
“You just walk straight at it,” said Remus. “Like this –” pulling his trunk behind him, he vanished into the brickwork after his mother.
“First time here?” asked Remus’s father, and she nodded. “I never got used to all this magic stuff either,” he told her cheerfully. “Still, it keeps me on my toes!” and with that, he too plunged through the barrier. Eleanor glanced around. She was the only one left apart from the guard. This was not good.
She met the Lupins on the other side of the brickwork in a bustling station full of crowds of angry people who all seemed to want to push her out of the way.
Possibly noticing her wide-eyed look Remus took her hand as his parents walked ahead and gave it a reassuring squeeze.
“Too many people?” he asked as a horde of Japanese tourists clattered past.
“By a wide margin,” replied Eleanor, voice a little higher than normal.
It seemed to take forever to reach the main doors, and when they got there she still couldn’t see a familiar face. Taking a deep breath, she took a leaf from her mother’s book and gave the Lupins a brilliant smile.
“Thanks for getting me this far,” she said. “I don’t want to hold you up…”
“Nonsense,” said Remus’s mother, but she glanced at the great clock on the wall nonetheless.
“Really, I’ll be fine,” she said.
“Are you sure?” asked Remus, and suddenly Eleanor was very aware that she didn’t want him to go. All the same, she gave him her very best withering look.
“Yes, I know I’m being patronising,” he said, waving her look away. “Are you sure you’ll be alright?”
She couldn’t help but smile at him, and that seemed to reassure him.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Well, alright then…”
“It was nice meeting you Miss Wren,” said Mr Lupin, shaking her hand.
“Yes, it’s always good to meet Remus’s friends,” smiled Mrs Lupin.
“Right, well…” Remus said, uncomfortably, glancing at his parents. “Erm, bye then,” he said and gave her a brief and incredibly awkward hug.
“I’ll see you soon,” said Eleanor, fighting to keep the blush off her face as colour crept up his neck.
“Yes… I’ll write…”
“Me too. Bye.”
She watched him as they walked out of the big glass doors and hailed a taxi. He was still blushing as he helped his father load his trunk into the boot, and from the amused expressions on his parents’ faces they hadn’t missed their son’s discomfort.
He gave her an awkward (and quite worried) wave as he got into the car…
“Eleanor!” called Henrì, hurrying over to her in a swirl of alpine tweed.
“Henrì!” she cried, hugging her housekeeper tightly. “I was worried about you!”
“There ‘as been some trouble – it can wait,” he said, correctly interpreting her frown. His gaze shifted. “A young man is waving at you from that taxi…”
Eleanor turned, laughing, and waved at Remus, who looked a good deal happier now that she wasn’t alone, watching his taxi move out into the London traffic.
“Shall we, Madamoiselle?” asked Henrì, taking her trunk, and they too left the confines of Kings Cross Station.