Much Ado About Hogwarts

Third Interlude - The Marauders 'Do' The Alps

“Pass the bread?” Severus asked, as he cut himself another wedge of cheese. There was a small thump as the bread, wrapped in a piece of white muslin, hit the grass beside him. “Thanks.”

He pulled a lump of bread away from the loaf and wrapped it up again; he turned a page in the book he was reading: Estelle had leant it to him after he’d asked her about the stuff they’d put in his bath, and he was thoroughly engrossed. He spent nearly five full minutes with the makeshift cheese sandwich halfway to his mouth before Eleanor asked him for the grapes, which he passed up to her absently.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and since they’d all but finished their homework, and Henrì and Estelle had, for the moment, run out of things that needed doing about the place, they’d decided that an outdoor picnic would be in order. They’d taken their books, and were currently engaged in that vague and faintly telepathic communication that friends-who-read-together enjoy. Severus was lounging in the long grass, his back against an apple tree; Eleanor had insisted that being in the tree was far more comfortable, and was sprawled on her stomach along a large branch.

Occasionally, one or the other of them would become peckish and demand sustenance from wherever the other had left it, and periodically they’d slip into a peaceful doze. It was, all in all, a very relaxing way to spend a sunny afternoon. The Marauders-and-associated-makers-of-mischief were due to arrive that evening, and as much as they were looking forward to seeing their friends, they were both enjoying their last few hours of comparative peace.

Severus had settled in well at the Chalet and, after a week or two of diminishing awkwardness seemed to feel as at home here as he did at Hogwarts. He spent a lot of his time with Henrì, fixing fences and liming trees and working in the vegetable garden. Eleanor was willing to bet that this was the longest stretch of time that he had ever spent out of doors, and his usually pale complexion was beginning to show signs of colour; he was even developing something of a tan.

His mood had improved, too – largely, she suspected, due to Estelle’s own peculiar brand of stubbornness; he’d even begun to laugh and joke again, without that characteristic glance behind him to check he wasn’t being observed or upsetting anyone. It hurt a little that the freedom she’d enjoyed since birth was something he’d had to learn over the summer term, and then relearn in the Chalet.

Eleanor’s mother had visited only a few days after his arrival, and assured him categorically that he could stay as long as he liked, that he would both be provided for and supported in any future endeavour, and if he refused any part of it then she would be greatly offended. She had also reminded him that she was in his debt for rescuing Eleanor.

Eleanor had had to chew the inside of her lips to keep from laughing at his expression; he looked as though he wasn’t sure what to do – though he did stop arguing after a while. Sometimes, when it came to mothers, it was best just to give up and go with it, especially when they felt that they were indebted.

Severus’s mother had written a week later, simply providing him with her new address and her best wishes, and quietly confirming Eleanor’s belief that everyone dealt with things in their own way.

The package she’d sent with her son had turned out to contain a letter (which Eleanor suspected he was still carrying around with him) that Severus had indicated was much more emotional than he was accustomed too. Eleanor had said something about things taking a long time to deal with and he’d nodded, thoughtfully, and tucked the parchment back into his pocket. There were also a bundle of old photographs of Severus as a small child with his mother and a variety of older relatives; his father had been conspicuously absent. One of the photographs, taken much more recently, and probably not by Tobias Snape, was of Severus in his school robes, his mother standing proudly beside him. He’d propped that one up at his bedside until a frame had mysteriously appeared; Eleanor caught Estelle watching him slot it into place with an air of exaggerated nonchalance and had given her an amused smile.

Their friends had reacted to Severus’s change of address with unusual tact, some of them perhaps remembering how sensitive Sirius had been the summer before, and the industrious flapping of feathers at breakfast was now a daily occurrence. Eleanor had noted, with some amusement, that one of the owls arrived almost every other day – sometimes returning at odd hours compared to the rest. The arrival of this particular bird usually resulted in Severus’s scurrying off to some secluded corner or other to read the letter through and reply; it was all that Eleanor could do not to burst out laughing at his expression when she’d mentioned it. He’d actually blushed.

“So, who is it?” she asked as he helped her dry the dishes.

“Who’s who?”

“The person with the large snowy owl.”

“I don’t know who you –” he broke off, correctly interpreting her look of incredulity. “No one.”

“Has to be an interesting ‘no one’ to make you blush…”

“I’m not blushing – I’m just warm, that’s all.”

“You are too. Tonton Henrì – isn’t he blushing?”

“He’s blushing,” the old wizard agreed, not even looking up from his book.

“I’m not!”

“You two leave him alone,” Estelle admonished. “If Severus has a paramour then we should let him communicate with them in private.”

Eleanor giggled.

“I do not have a paramour,” he argued, though he was now roughly the colour of the tomatoes in Henrì’s vegetable patch. “And I’m not blushing.”

“Whatever you say, cherie. Would you two check the gate is locked? We don’t want the pigs to escape again…” said Estelle, bustling the pair of them out of the kitchen.

They rather had to agree. The pigs had escaped a few nights previously and the four of them had spent a very long and weary few hours trying to convince the animals that, contrary to their newly formed opinions, they were not in fact mountain goats.

Eleanor could hear him grumbling under his breath as they walked down the path.

“You’re still blushing…”

“Am not.”

“Are too.”

“Am not!”

“Yes you are! You’re practically iridescent.”

Severus muttered something under his breath as he pulled the gate to.

“What was that?”

“I said ‘this must be what having an annoying baby sister is like’.”

“I’m older than you, you know.”

“You don’t act it.”

“Look,” she said, leaning on the now-fastened gate. “There’s no need to get huffy about it. If there’s someone you fancy then that’s great – and they write to you often enough to suggest that they like you too. I’m just teasing you, that’s all.”

Severus joined her, glaring off into the mountains; he leaned on his elbow.

“Well I wish you wouldn’t.”

“But it’s funny,” she said, not even trying to hide her impish grin.

He gave her a Look.

For a few minutes, peace reigned over the valley as they watched the stars. It was pleasantly cool out, after the heat of the day, and a soft breeze was rustling the trees. Severus began to relax… Then:

“So who is it?”

Eleanor!”

Severus!”

He made a frustrated sound in the back of his throat and scowled at her.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh, come on! Enquiring minds want to know!”

“No, you want to know.”

“Well, yes… that was sort of why I was asking.”

“No.”

“Please?”

“No.”

“Pretty please?”

“No.”

“With schnozzberries?”

“N- schnozzberries?”

He looked at her, perplexed.

“They’re a kind of fruit… from a muggle children’s book…”

“Oh…”

“… how about with cherries?”

“That’s not going to work.”

Eleanor sighed.

“Just give it a rest, Eleanor. Unless you’d like me to ask you about a certain young wizard when we get back inside..?”

“No… No, I wouldn’t really…” she said, chastened.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Sorry.”

“Gryffindors always are,” he said, and gave her a friendly nudge with his arm.

“Not always.”

He snorted.

“But…”

No.”

“I wasn’t going to ask.”

“Yeah right.”

“Really – I was just going to say, if you ever do want to talk about it – I’m here. Or there… or somewhere, at any rate.”

“Oh,” he said, somewhat nonplussed. “Thank you.”

They lapsed into another companionable silence.

“How…”

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“No, go on,” Eleanor urged, turning to lean back on the gate.

The starlight had given her friend a sort of ethereal glow, but even so Severus looked shifty.

“How… how did you know he liked you?”

Eleanor paused.

“You mean the certain-young-wizard-who-shall-remain-nameless?”

“Mmm,” he grunted, uncomfortably.

“Well… the snogging was a bit of a clue.”

Severus started.

“And here was I thinking you two had barely even talked to one another – when was this?”

“Er,” she cringed, suddenly very embarrassed. “October…”

Severus swore.

“You mean to tell me that two of Gryffindor’s finest have been sneaking around – groping one another – behind everyone’s backs – since October?”

“We weren’t sneaking around – not at first! And we didn’t talk about anything until the Gala – and then we agreed to stay apart –”

“And the groping?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“Er…” said Eleanor, looking trapped. “Well… there was a bit of groping in January, but we were trying not to... it sort of took us by surprise… and then we sort of made our minds up to… er… take opportunities as they came, around May…”

Severus shook his head.

“How very Slytherin of you.”

Eleanor decided not to dignify that with an answer.

“So, er – any snogging?”

Even in the dark she could tell that he was blushing.

“Not as yet.”

“Ok… um – do you catch her watching you sometimes?”

Severus frowned briefly at this, but nodded.

“Sometimes.”

“Does she take a lot of opportunities to talk with you – or sit next to you – or walk with you?”

“Quite a lot…”

“And she writes to you, what? Every other day?”

Another nod.

“Well it sounds like she likes you,” she said, quietly. “Do you like her?”

“Very much…”

Eleanor smiled.

“Good,” she said. “Then I’d say you’re on the right track.”

Severus nodded again, and they turned to the Chalet, where Estelle was calling them in. Rolling their eyes they started back up towards the house.

“Eleanor?”

“Yes?”

“It’s not a ‘she’…”

0o0o0o0

It was the parents that didn’t seem to quite know how to react, once they’d extracted from their children what all this sudden feverish letter writing was about. A couple of them had offered assistance of one kind or another, along with the fervent hope that he wouldn’t be offended. Oddly enough, Severus seemed to be taking each offer of help in his stride, though he had refused all but Eleanor’s mother and housekeepers (which was, in any case, all but impossible to refuse). It was as if he was perpetually astonished that anyone would want to help him.

Remus’s mother had forgone the intangible offers of help and simply sent him an enormous chocolate cake, which she had felt would help. Severus had laughed himself to tears when it had arrived, and quickly written back to Remus (who, given the shakiness of his handwriting was similarly nonplussed) to ask him to convey his deepest gratitude to the witch who, with a little bit of kindness and a lot of flour, had made his year. Days later, when the four of them had finally finished it, he’d still been wandering around the house and gardens with a big grin plastered across his face, and had even started whistling when he thought no one was around.

He’d been a bit embarrassed about that, when he’d been startled by Henrì and Eleanor in the raspberry patch, but they’d simply shrugged and joined in with gusto, if not necessarily accuracy.

All in all, he was a very different young man from the bedraggled wreck who had been forced into the bath a month or so previously. Still, today he seemed almost nervous; Eleanor wondered whether it was because of the impending arrival of eight rowdy teenagers. It was a lot easier to get along with someone on parchment than it was in close quarters.

They’d spent the day preparing the house for the onslaught, unpacking quilts and blankets that Eleanor either remembered fondly from her infancy or had never known existed, and making up makeshift beds in their rooms. Henrì had announced that he and Estelle would be visiting Antoine and his family in the last two weeks of the holiday, which Eleanor took as a tacit acknowledgement that she and her friends were of age and could be trusted. She was grateful, however, that they’d be back in time to see them all safely off to Platform 9 ¾; she didn’t much fancy the idea of shepherding her mischievous friends across the continent.

She was also grateful that Estelle had already requested a list of provisions for their absence, which thankfully left little room for potential miscalculations on her part. In fact, it seemed as if her housekeeper intended to feed the figurative five hundred.

Lily was the first to arrive. She had hurtled out of the fireplace and engulfed an alarmed Severus in a tight hug. She was closely followed by her mother, who was dragging her trunk; Mrs Evans seemed to be delighted by every bit of magic that she saw. She was particularly impressed by the kettle, which floated over from the stove and poured hot water into the teapot with no outside influence.

“It’s so kind of you to have Lily over,” she was saying as she left. “I’m so glad that she has such good friends – it’s such a strange world to me and Charles…”

Mum,” said Lily, her face momentarily matching the shade of her hair.

“Oh, ‘ush,” said Estelle. “It is our job to worry about you, is that not right Madame Evans?”

“Absolutely, it’s very difficult not to.”

Eleanor had taken the opportunity to help Lily with her trunk and by the time the two of them had got back downstairs the kitchen was full of teenagers and their parents, many of whom were getting on famously. Severus was already leading James and Sirius up to his room with their stuff – James making a brief detour to kiss Lily on the cheek out of the sight of their parents – and Alice and Claire were deep in conversation with Estelle and Lily’s mum. Henri had volunteered to show the Potters his vegetable patch, since James’s mum was interested in the hybrid variety of snow pea he was growing.

The only person not talking to anyone was Claire’s dad, who looked thoroughly lost and out of place.

“Hello Mr Pollard,” said Eleanor, making her way over to him. “How was the journey? Was it your first time using the Floo network?”

“Er – yes, it was a bit odd…” he looked her and Lily over. “I’m guessing you’re Lily – it’s the hair,” he added, on her look of confusion. “And Eleanor?”

Lily laughed and they shook hands.

“I’ve never really understood any of this magic stuff, but Claire seems really happy at Hogwarts, so that’s good enough for me.”

“Yes, it can be a bit of a shock to the system,” said Lily, understandingly. “I’m muggleborn myself, and I know it was a bit of a leap of faith for my parents – it was a bit frightening for me the first time I got on the train. I mean, I was going into an entirely different world in some respects.”

“That’s just it,” said Mr Pollard. “It’s a world I know nothing about – as a parent it’s a bit unnerving knowing that there are dangers your little girl is facing that you have no idea exist… even when she’s not so little anymore. I’m glad she has you girls to look out for her,” he smiled. “Although, since some things are the same in every world…” he said, and leant in conspiratorially. “This Peter fellow I’ve been hearing all about, is he alright?”

Lily grinned as Eleanor stifled a giggle.

“Yes, sir, he’s really sweet – and he’s very fond of Claire.”

“Good. Er – you’ll keep an eye on him?”

“We keep an eye on all the boys sir,” said Eleanor, in all seriousness. “Someone has to.”

The older man chuckled and looked up as the fireplace lit up once more, this time to admit Frank and Peter and their associated family members.

“The one on the right,” hissed Eleanor, in an undertone, as they watched both boys excitedly greet their friends and girlfriends, awkwardly aware that everyone’s parents were present.

James, who was as unabashed as usual, wrapped his arms around Lily from behind and she simply laughed, forgetting for a moment that her mother was in the room. Mrs Evans merely raised an eyebrow and smiled; her expression clearly indicated both her approval and her intention to never let her daughter live this down.

Eleanor and Severus shepherded the new arrivals upstairs with their belongings, everyone chattering happily about their holidays and how much fun they’d been having. Both of them sniggered quietly as the reunited couples took the opportunity to steal a quick kiss, though Eleanor hid it better.

Distantly, she heard the whoosh of flames from the kitchen and practically spun around; Alice and Claire were giving her knowing looks.

“Oh, shut up,” she said, blushing furiously.

0o0o0o0

Once their parental units had ruffled their hair, hugged them, kissed them and generally embarrassed them to death in their farewells for the new term, Estelle and Henrì herded the lot of them outside, where Severus and Eleanor gave them a lengthy tour of the valley, from the secluded lake at its centre and the wild flower meadows spreading around in all directions, to the orchard and gardens and the wooded slopes enclosing Eleanor’s little piece of paradise.

To Eleanor, it was oddly like coming home for a second time, finally being surrounded by her friends once more.

After much happy wandering, they ended up in the orchard, taking full advantage of the shade afforded by the trees and collapsing into the long grass in the heat – still pervasive even into the evening.

“What kind of tree is this?” asked Claire, from Peter’s lap. She was gazing up into the branches above her with a contented smile on her face.

“Walnut,” said Eleanor. “There are apples, too, and apricots and pears. Oh, and a hazelnut, but no one can remember how it got there.”

She shifted, comfortably. As part of the partner-less contingent of the group, she was lying on her side in a veritable tangle of limbs that had developed following a brief scuffle – Sirius had decided that the ground Severus was occupying was by far the comfiest and had cheerfully attempted to oust him. The result of the friendly wrestling match meant that Remus and Eleanor (who had been caught up in the general flailing) were in a general pile of bodies with Sirius and Severus. Hot as it was, none of them could now be bothered to move, and had settled for periodically dislodging one another to vague and lethargic protests.

Eleanor, who was more or less entirely leaning on Remus, wasn’t complaining, particularly as they hadn’t had a moment to themselves to say ‘hello’ properly. It was good to discover a social situation where Remus’s arm draping lazily around her waist wasn’t a problem.

Even if Severus did keep smirking at her.

“It’s pretty,” said Claire. “I like the way the light comes through the leaves…”

“You can give us a hand harvesting them if you like – they’re about ready. I suspect that Estelle and Henrì had this in mind when they agreed to have you all over.”

The collected wizardry laughed.

“No really,” put in Severus. “Since I’ve been here I must have learned more about agriculture than I realised existed.”

“You love it,” said Eleanor, as the others chuckled.

“The weird thing is that I kind of do…”

“I was going to say,” said Frank, indistinctly. “You’re looking quite tanned.”

“Residential hazard,” said Severus, with a smile. “Once we got all our homework done there wasn’t much else to do but be outside.”

“It’s been really sunny,” Eleanor agreed.

“You’re lucky,” said Sirius, from somewhere underneath Remus. “It was so rainy in London in July that even I got my homework done.”

Remus snorted.

“That was about three days, Sirius.”

“Yeah, and? I was bored. You lot were all either on holiday or not writing back – except these two,” he continued, prodding Severus and Eleanor in the side.

“Ow,” said Eleanor, unconvincingly.

“Apart from the night I arrived, it’s been blisteringly hot here,” said Severus, wriggling out of his mischievous friend’s reach.

“Well it’s lovely here,” said Lily, firmly, snuggling back into James’s arms.

0o0o0o0

“You were saying?” asked James the next day, as they ran back up the track from the village. Once again, the heavens had opened in spectacular style, and they were already soaked through.

“Shut up,” Lily snapped, trying not to slip on the rocky slope.

“How much further?” shouted Alice, over the wind.

“Not far!” Eleanor shouted back, and led them through the concealed pass into the valley below. The ten of them pelted down the sloped path towards the Chalet, sending up tiny splatters of mud and small stones as they went.

Eleanor charmed the door open ahead of them and let her friends get into the kitchen first; the rain – although thoroughly saturating – was pleasantly warm, and she wasn’t particularly bothered about getting wet.

There was a mad dash for towels as people scattered to the upper quarters to change out of their soaking clothes; Eleanor sidled into the kitchen and cast a quick cleaning spell at the floor and the ramshackle pile of shoes that had accumulated by the door.

Tapping the kettle as she passed, she made her way to her room, where the girls were in every imaginable stage of undress.

“That came on fast,” remarked Claire, who was trying to get her t-shirt to stop clinging to her body.

“They do, a bit,” said Eleanor, as she struggled out of her shirt. “Though sometimes you can hear them coming for days before they hit – those are my favourite,” she continued, pulling off her shorts and socks. “They make for spectacular viewing.”

“Aren’t you afraid of the lightening up here?” asked Alice, rummaging in her trunk for a dry blouse.

“No – the valley’s enchanted to avoid it,” replied Eleanor, extracting a fresh pair of jeans from the wardrobe.

Lily, who had already left the room once, came back in at some speed and leaned against the closed door, wide eyed.

“What?” asked Claire, comically paused part way through putting dry socks on. She teetered slightly.

“The boys have decided not to put their shirts back on,” she said.

Her friends looked at her.

“Well, it is a bit warm…” said Eleanor, as Claire fell over with a yelp.

“Have you ever seen Sirius Black without his shirt on?” asked Lily, still a little out of sorts.

“No, wh-”

“Oh,” said Alice. “Oh dear…”

“What?” asked Claire, from the floor.

“It’s – he’s –” Lily took a deep breath. “Ok, so up until recently he’s been a monumental arse, and none of us really fancy him – particularly not in comparison to our lovely young men…”

“But he’s hot,” said Alice. “It’s a bit… distracting. Difficult to take your eyes off him.”

Claire and Eleanor shared a look; Alice and Lily weren’t the easiest girls to distract.

“I think we’ll be alright,” said Eleanor, slowly.

“You think you can walk out there and actually take your eyes off Sirius’s chest?” asked Lily, incredulously.

“Really, Lily, he’s not that cute. Besides, I’d think we’d be rather occupied by the lack of clothing on the other boys…”

Lily paused.

“Hmm…” she said. “You may have a point there…”

“Frank is quite the dish…” said Alice, cheeks dimpling prettily.

“You’ve seen him shirtless?” asked Lily, and the other girl blushed.

“Yes… a couple of times…”

Claire grinned at Eleanor.

“So, I’m assuming you’ve not seen James straight after a Quidditch match then?”

“Well, no…” said Lily, looking flustered. “It just hasn’t come up… why are you giggling?” she demanded, as all three of her friends broke into peals of laughter.

“S-sorry Lily,” Claire managed.

“And you’ve seen Peter’s chest, I suppose?”

“Lots of times – the choir has to change mid-show sometimes,” she grinned. “He can be quite distracting too.”

“I’ve even seen Severus’s chest,” teased Eleanor, in amusement. “Though as we now live together that’s not that surprising.”

Lily stuck her tongue out at her.

“Ellie,” began Alice, apparently lost in thought. “I’m guessing you’ve seen Remus…”

“Yes…” it was Eleanor’s turn to blush.

Honestly, she thought. It’s not as if we’ve seen them completely naked.

“Do his scars – I mean, does he have a lot… on his body…?”

“Yes,” she replied, soberly. None of them were giggling now.

“It – it must hurt so much…” said Claire, quietly.

“Like nothing we can imagine,” agreed Lily.

“He said it was like being torn apart and put back together again,” said Eleanor quietly. “And that’s without taking into account the fact that the werewolf tries to attack itself in lieu of human prey…”

“I’d wondered about those claw marks on his arms…” said Claire.

“He’s probably not very comfortable about them,” said Alice.

“He isn’t,” said Eleanor, sadly. “But they’re a part of him – they’re not ugly, as such – not like you’d imagine them to be. It’s strange… I know the ones on his face are kind of roguish and almost add to his charm, but the ones on his chest and stomach… they’re almost beautiful… I mean weirdly so…”

A loud bang on the door made them jump as they considered this revelation.

“Are you alright in there?” asked Peter’s voice. “Only the kettle’s chasing Frank around the kitchen…”

“Sorry Peter, still half naked – tell him to get the cups out of the cupboard – the one by the window,” called Eleanor, resuming her dressing.

Frank was quite out of breath by the time they entered the kitchen, and was shooting the kettle dark looks; it hissed at him.

“Alright?” asked Eleanor, towelling her hair. True to Lily’s assertion, the boys had all opted to remain shirtless, though Remus was crossing and uncrossing his arms uncomfortably.

“Alright,” said James, and Eleanor immediately suspected that Lily would have no problem ignoring Sirius. “Once we convinced the kettle that Frank didn’t need any hot water.” Another jet of steam issued from the aforementioned receptacle.

“Is that thing sentient?” asked Sirius, eyeing it warily. Eleanor risked a glance in his direction. Lily had been right – years of Quidditch training had left their mark on both him and James, giving them both chiselled physiques, but Sirius somehow had the edge.

It must be the way he carries himself, she thought, and mentally shook herself.

“It is compared to you,” she replied, and he stuck his tongue out at her.

“Cor!” said Peter, staring out of the window. “Would you look at that.”

The sky above the valley was a deep, bruised purple with rain and power, and the clouds were swirling and boiling uneasily.

“There was a lightening bolt – it must have had at least three forks!”

“Only you could get excited about the weather,” said Sirius, but he joined him at the window anyway.

A great clap of thunder uncurled overhead, and for a moment they froze as palpable waves of sound washed over them.

“Bloody hell,” said Sirius, impressed.

“I think it’s a night for dinner on the veranda,” said Eleanor, and her friends stared at her as if she’d suggested they should have a mass orgy. “It’s charmed to stay warm and dry,” she explained. “If we take our blankets and stuff out we can sit back and watch the storm.”

“My, my,” said Sirius, standing slightly too close for comfort. “Dinner and a show, Ellie? We might think you were trying to romance us.”

“Come on Pads,” said Remus, taking a firm hold of his friend’s arm. “Give me a hand with the blankets.”

“We’ll throw dinner together,” said Alice, as Lily and Claire departed to fetch the blankets from the Eleanor’s room.

“I’m beginning to see what you mean about ‘complicated’,” whispered Severus, as he helped reach down the plates.

“You’ve no idea,” murmured Eleanor.

Lifting a basket of food, she made her way outside, passing Peter and James, who seemed to be engaged in a serious and covert conversation.

It was rather a strange picnic, she reflected, as they rolled out blankets and cushions, and curled up or leant against the kitchen walls, and distributed plates, food and cutlery.

“Where’s Frank?” asked Alice, as she made herself comfortable on the swing seat at the end of the veranda.

“Present,” he called, ducking out of the kitchen with his chess set tucked under his arm. “Care to be crushed, Severus?”

“Don’t mind if I do,” he replied, settling down beside the swing seat. “Though we’ll see about who’s doing the crushing.”

Another rumble of thunder cascaded across the valley as Remus sat down beside Eleanor, pointedly putting himself between her and Sirius, who looked a little put out.

“Exploding snap, Wormy? Claire?” Sirius asked, turning away slightly.

“No setting fire to my house,” said Eleanor, picking up her book of sonnets and accidentally grazing her fingers against Remus’s bare stomach. She felt him tense.

“Sorry,” she murmured.

“I’m not complaining,” he replied, tearing a chunk of break from the loaf and passing it on. Under the pretence of reaching for the plate of meat that was on Eleanor’s other side, he whispered: “I missed you.”

Eleanor shivered and glanced at the others, who were all variously engrossed in games, or the storm, or the books they’d brought outside.

“I missed you too,” she said, and rested her hand lightly on his arm for a moment. The contact was only brief, but it was enough to make Remus’s eyes close peacefully for a few seconds.

He edged closer to her, pretending to reach for the fruit this time and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek.

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?” he whispered, softly.

“As strange as the thing I know not… You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you…”

He smiled at her as another great fork of lightening tore across the heavens, drawing ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the assembled teenagers.

In the darkness, as they abandoned their leisure pursuits and turned their full attention to the rhapsody of colours and atmosphere racing across the skies, he took her hand.

They stayed like that for some time, until Sirius, who had been nibbling away at his dinner, absently unwrapped a square of the rich, creamy local chocolate that they’d bought in the village that afternoon and popped it, unwary, into his mouth.

He made a guttural sound of the deepest pleasure.

Eighteen eyes turned to stare at him, bewildered; his eyes were closed tight shut and he appeared to have frozen in place.

“Sirius?” asked Lily, tentatively.

With deliberate care, he swallowed.

“Sweet Merlin!” he said, opening his eyes dazedly. “I think that chocolate was having sex with my tongue!”

“Graphic, Padfoot,” said James, as the others variously shook their heads or snorted into their hands.

“Seriously, you have to try this!”

There was a general rummaging around for candy.

“Is it really that good?” asked Remus, looking dubious.

“Absolutely,” replied Eleanor. “Even for a connoisseur like yourself.”

“Oh well, if that’s the case –” he began, reaching for a square, but Eleanor caught his hand.

“Allow me,” she said with that slow smile that drove him wild, and he raised an eyebrow.

Glancing at the others, she lifted the chocolate to his mouth.

“Here,” she said, and he took the piece of chocolate – pausing for a microsecond to gently nibble at her fingers. Then the chocolate began to melt on his tongue.

He grabbed at the blanket beneath him.

Fugg,” he said, as the delicious chocolaty liquid swirled around his mouth.

Eleanor smiled and leaned back, gently resting her head against his shoulder.

“I told you so,” she said.


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