Fourth Interlude - Quicksilver
It had been a pleasant week, spending time inside one another’s lives again, bickering and teasing and generally doing the things that cement people together. There were days spent basking in the summer sunshine, reading, playing chess, eating chocolate…
Days spent bringing in baskets of apples and apricots and pears, hands black and sticky with the sweet walnut oil that somehow managed to get everywhere when the nuts were cracked open.
Days spent hiking through the mountains, having picnics on the edge of great rocks that jutted out over the clouds below them, reaching the edge of the snow line solely to have a furious midsummer snow-ball fight.
Days spent desperately seeking the cool shade inside the Chalet, checking over one another’s homework and raiding Eleanor’s well stocked library.
They’d even run through the play a few times – reading and acting through from start to finish (though they were all still religiously ignoring the kissing).
It was a little piece of heaven to be all together and away from concerns like parents and teachers and the worrying reports about dark wizards in the Daily Prophet… but in the nature of all things, it had to come to an end.
They’d spent the day working on the garden and farm, putting to good use all the skills they’d picked up during their month of detention, and were all hot and dusty when they collapsed into chairs in the relative cool of the kitchen. Estelle and Henrì would be returning from Toulouse in the morning, and there was a general feeling of wanting to look like they’d survived responsibly for a whole fortnight; Eleanor and Severus’s school supplies had been delivered and tucked into their trunks, and people were beginning to half-heartedly collect their things together ready for the journey to Hogwarts.
Once they’d eaten and washed up, leaving the kitchen in as smart a condition as they could for Estelle, they went about their evening routines, picking up books or games (or in the case of the girls, occasional knitting), sloping off for a quick snog with partners when the occasion afforded it, and generally enjoying their last evening of holiday.
Eleanor was sat watching Remus and Peter play exploding snap at the other end of the table; it was strange, she reflected, how the potential of pyrotechnics could make such a usually boring game a spectator sport. She was putting Remus off, she knew, and as Peter blew himself up for the third time that evening, he met her eyes.
It was difficult, watching everyone else being close when you weren’t supposed to… it wasn’t as if he could do what James had done earlier, simply dragging a blushing Lily outside, to a chorus of giggles… not that she’d put up much of a fight.
She sighed and stood, stretching. She was restless tonight, and she knew why. There was still one thing she hadn’t had chance to do since her guests had arrived and she’d missed it… she glanced around. There was no way she’d make it out of the chalet when it was full of Marauders, and with all the chaos packing ten teenagers’ worth of stuff promised, tomorrow would be too late…
Outside, the light was beginning to dim, colours streaming across the summer sky… a slow and wicked smile spread like molasses across her face…
“Going for a shower?” asked Alice as she picked up her towel.
“No, not tonight.”
“But where are you going with that towel?” she asked, trailing after her friend.
“What’s going on outside?” asked Frank, sticking his head out of Severus’s room as they passed.
“I don’t know, Eleanor’s being all cryptic,” said Alice, puzzled.
“Who’s being cryptic?” asked Severus, joining them.
“Oh, hi Eleanor,” said Peter, meeting her on the stairs. “What’s with the towel?”
“It’s just a towel,” she smiled, and continued down the stairs.
Peter shot Alice a puzzled look.
“Don’t look at me, she won’t say…”
The four of them exchanged a Look and hurried after their friend.
“That was quick,” remarked Claire. “Did you forget my book?”
“Yeah – Eleanor distracted me…”
“She’s up to something,” explained Frank, as Eleanor gathered a few bottles of the local fruit wines she’d been saving for the end of the holiday into a basket.
“Eleanor’s up to something?” asked Lily, ears pricking up. “Ooh, can we help?”
“Honestly Lily, you’re as bad as Prongs these days,” said Peter.
“Who’s as bad as me?” asked James, appearing as if from nowhere; Sirius and Remus were stood in the kitchen doorway, looking in at them in puzzlement.
“Must be your positive influence,” said Sirius, from the doorway.
“Shut up Black.”
“Anyway, what’s Lily done that’s as bad as James?” asked Remus.
“I haven’t done anything.”
“Why then, your comparison to the paragon of pranking is undeserved –”
“Shut up, Sirius,” said Alice. “Eleanor’s up to something.”
“She is?” asked James.
“You are?” echoed Sirius.
“Possibly,” said Eleanor, her back still to them.
“Like what?” asked Remus.
“She won’t say,” said Severus, watching his friend suspiciously.
“Why have you got a towel?” asked Claire.
“Because,” said Eleanor, now adding pastries to the basket.
“Well I’m intrigued,” said Sirius, and several of the others nodded. “I also have to say I’m beginning to get very interested in where that basket is going.”
“I just thought I’d take it down to the lake,” said Eleanor, innocently.
“Well that explains the towel,” said Lily.”
“But you’re not wearing a swimming costume,” said Peter, in confusion.
Eleanor turned and gave them a beatific smile.
In the time it took for them to assimilate this new information, Eleanor had padded to the door, slipped on her flip-flops and returned to collect the basket.
“Are you saying,” said Sirius, in an unsteady voice. “That you’re intending to go and swim naked in the lake?”
“Yes,” she said simply, and glanced at Severus, who’d apparently opted for exactly the wrong moment to take a sip of his orange juice. “Nasty cough you’ve got there, Sev.”
“But-but-” stammered Lily.
Remus appeared as though he was caught between the desperate need to find his own towel and the urge to shout at her. He was holding on to the door frame bit harder than was probably necessary, and looked as if his brain had stopped functioning entirely. Half turned away from the others, she gave him a sly wink.
“And – I just want to get this thoroughly clear –” said Sirius. “You’d be fine with all of us joining you?”
“Well I can’t very well drink all of this on my own, can I?”
There was a startled few seconds before all of the boys – led by Sirius – ran for the stairs.
“What are you thinking?” hissed Lily, as they listened to the sounds of determined scrabbling coming from upstairs.
“I wanted a swim – and I normally do do this alone, but there was no way I could get out of the chalet without being noticed, and this way we might get to see a bit more of them…”
Alice raised an eyebrow.
“You make a sound point,” she said, and hurried up the stairs.
Lily and Claire stared after her.
“Look, you guys don’t have to if you don’t want to – but it is pretty dark in the mountains, and a few sips of wine might help – and there will be no one else around, it’s pretty secluded.”
Claire looked at her, thoughtfully.
“Alice?” she called up the stairs. “Will you bring my towel too?”
There were a series of thuds from the room above them that suggested that both Peter and Frank had quite probably fallen over.
“But…” said Lily, uncertainly.
“We’re all of age,” said Eleanor, quickly, as the sounds of a returning stampede of boys filtered through the ceiling. “And no one’s going to make you – swim in your underwear if it makes you feel better. Just because I intend to be brazen doesn’t mean you have to be.”
“Ready!” cried Sirius, tumbling down the stairs with Remus and Peter – the latter boy giving Claire a shy smile, which she returned.
“I hope you don’t intend to bring your camera,” said Eleanor, shifting the basket in her arms.
“I locked it in my trunk, just in case,” he said, reassuringly, as James, Severus and Remus joined them once more.
“I think that’s a very good idea,” said Remus, shortly. He looked quite flustered, and if he were honest with himself he couldn’t quite believe that any of this was actually happening.
Looking at him with his flushed complexion and mussed hair, Eleanor decided that whatever else happened, Seeing Remus looking that cute was definitely worth it.
“But-” said Lily again, and it looked for a moment as if James was going to tell everyone that this whole thing was a Very Bad Idea, but Alice interceded. She handed a towel to Claire and looked at Lily.
“I brought yours too,” she said, with a very un-Alice like grin.
“Oh, fine,” Lily huffed, and took the proffered fabric.
They trotted down the slope of the valley in the quickening darkness, Eleanor leading the way into a small wood, filled with the evening calls of bird and the beautiful, alien colours of sunset pouring through the leaves.
Remus sidled over to Eleanor.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked, almost certain that every legitimate couple in the vicinity was having the same hushed conversation.
“It’s nearly dark,” she said. “We’ll be almost invisible to one another when the sun sets.”
“It’s that ‘almost’ I’m worried about,” he mumbled, thinking both of Eleanor’s reputation and his own scant dignity. It was one thing for his friends to know that he was a werewolf, but quite another to let them see the cobweb of scars decorating his body.
Eleanor found his hand in the gloom.
“I do this all the time when there’s no one around.”
“You do?” he asked, voice a little higher than normal, and she laughed.
As they cleared the trees, the whispered conversations and crunching of gravel beneath their feet stopped abruptly and were replaced by a collective gasp.
The lake was resplendent in the waning light, a concert of reds and oranges glittering across the horizon; the woods ran right down to the water on both sides, but the far side of the lake was open to the sky.
“Wow,” breathed Sirius, suddenly appearing on her other side; Remus nodded, emphatically.
“There’s a huge waterfall down at the far end,” said Eleanor. “So I’d recommend staying out of the water down there. If you promise not to do anything stupid –”
“Why are you all looking at me?” asked James, sounding bewildered.
“We could walk across the rocks at the edge and have a look – it’s a long way down…”
“Possibly before we have any wine,” said Lily.
“Agreed,” said Alice, setting out her towel on the grass above the lake.
It didn’t take them long to skirt the edge of the lake, but by the time they reached the rocks the stars were coming out. They were slippery with foam and navigating them was pretty tricky, but the view from the middle was more than worth it.
Remus sat down beside Eleanor, letting his legs dangle over the edge of the waterfall; the roar of water hitting earth was drifting up from far below them, and the mist rising up around them made them feel like they were sitting inside their own personal cloud. He dropped his hand onto Eleanor’s hoping that no one would notice, and they sat for a while in relative peace, watching the slow progression of the stars, scattered across the deep velvet blue of the sky.
Eleanor was the first to make a move back to the grassy shore, restless as she was; Remus followed, slowly. He really wasn’t sure about this… on the one hand: who doesn’t want to see the woman they love dive into a lake in the Alps, with not a stitch on? On the other: who wants Sirius Black to see the same thing?
Actually, he thought, that really wouldn’t be anything new at Hogwarts…
Who wants the first time you see the woman you love naked to be this public? Or for that matter, the first time she sees you…
“Oh, this is horrible,” he mumbled.
Ahead of him, Eleanor’s footsteps stopped and there was the telltale rustle of fabric; she had been right, it was dark out now, he could really only make out her outline. He swallowed, hard. It was an outline that was now looking distinctly bereft of clothing…
There were a series of splashes off to his left, followed by a larger, wave-like sound, suggesting that Eleanor had taken a running jump into the water.
“Bloody hell,” said Frank’s voice from somewhere behind him. “She wasn’t kidding, was she?”
“That girl,” said Sirius, firmly. “Is damn’ sexy.”
Remus felt himself nodding, though he wished with everything he was that Sirius didn’t know that.
Sirius seemed to sense his discomfort and entirely misinterpret it. He ruffled his friend’s hair.
“Come on Moony, it’ll be fine,” he said, quietly. “It’s way too dark for anyone to see much of anyone else…”
Remus grunted, hoping to get rid of his inexplicably overprotective friend; he started to unbutton his shirt, fumbling a little with the buttons.
“How’s the water?” called Alice, from somewhere off to his right. Her voice sounded slightly muffled, as though she were pulling her t-shirt over her head.
There was a splash and a laugh before Eleanor answered.
“Glorious,” she said, and her relaxed tone made Remus’s fingers slip on his buttons.
All around him was the sound of people struggling out of their clothes; he unbuckled his belt and added it to the pile of clothing at his feet.
“Last one in is a big fat hippogriff!” bellowed Sirius, and barrelled into the water. Several dark shapes rushed past him and the night erupted into splashes and shrieks and giggles.
“Come on, Lupin,” Severus said, sauntering past at a thoroughly unjustified speed. “Or you’ll miss your chance.”
Remus stood, mostly naked, staring after him.
What the hell does that mean? He thought, pulling off his boxers. He shivered, despite the warmth of the summer night.
“Oh, I’m really not sure about this,” said a voice beside him.
“Lily?” he asked, quietly.
“Oh, I thought everyone was in there already…”
“No…I’m, er, waiting until James and Sirius go further out… they have a fun game called ‘let’s drown people’,” he replied. “Are – are you ok with this?”
“Yes – I mean, no – I mean… I don’t know…”
“No one other than my sister has seen me naked for a long time…”
“Well, if it helps, I can’t see anything, and I have creepy enhanced werewolf senses…”
“That does help, actually…”
A shriek from the water suggested that Alice had fallen prey to Sirius Black: Human Piranha.
“Sorry Alice, it’s against my nature to pass up an opportunity when it – er – presents itself.”
“You know,” said Remus, over the watery kafuffle unfolding before them. “You don’t have to do this.”
“Neither do you, and yet here we both are, standing naked next to an alpine lake full of our equally naked friends.”
Remus blushed, despite the darkness.
“Well… ladies first then…”
They walked forward together; when the water began to lap at his feet he was surprised to find that it was just the right temperature: just cool enough to be refreshing and just warm enough to be relaxing.
“Right,” said James’s voice. “Let go of Sirius, ladies, you’re more than outnumbered.”
“Yes,” said Eleanor, in the distance. “But we’re a lot more resourceful.”
“I’m on their side,” said Severus’s voice, flatly.
“You’re all mouth and no mettle,” taunted Peter, from somewhere to Eleanor’s left. He knew what they were doing: distracting her while Sirius, who from the sounds of it had escaped from Claire and Alice, got behind her.
There was an Eleanor-like yelp and a roar that sounded a lot like Sirius; Remus plunged into the water and swam between the dark bodies, surfacing just behind Sirius.
He pushed his head under water; Sirius came up spluttering. He smelled, rather than saw, Eleanor swim away.
“What was that for?”
“Last summer, when you did exactly the same to me,” he said, smugly.
“Is that so?”
He should have known they were up to something the moment everything went quiet, but he didn’t react, too caught up in his own, personal victory.
“Aaah!” he sputtered as he was pushed, bodily, under the water, only to come up laughing a few seconds later.
“I’ll get you for that,” he said, shaking the water out of his eyes.
“That was mean,” said Frank, swimming up; he could smell Severus treading water somewhere close by.
“Three on three?” asked James, and Remus could hear the grin on his face.
“You’re going down, Potter,” said Severus, jovially.
“Boys,” said Alice, as the four girls trod water just out of range of what had quickly devolved into an aquatic wrestling match. “Honestly. Put four naked women into a lake and what do they do? Wrestle.”
“I think we’ve probably discovered the latent homosexual tendencies of our boyfriends,” said Lily.
“Never mind them, they’ll get tired eventually,” said Eleanor. “I want to show you something…” she swam off towards one of the forest-edges of the lake. The trees came right down to the water here, some of their dark boughs dipping into the lake; they found that they could put their feet down on the slippery roots of the trees, reaching out beneath the water as an echo of their branches. Around their shadowy trunks were bright pinpoints of light, swirling languidly back and forth through the warm night air.
“Fireflies?” whispered Claire.
“They’re beautiful…” said Lily.
“Although we are a touch more visible now…” said Alice, glancing around.
The glow of the fireflies wasn’t much to see by, and the lake water obscured most of their bodies, but there was just enough for them to pick out the details of each others faces. It gave them all an eerie, ethereal look.
“We look weird,” said Claire. “Like ghosts or something…”
“Or angels…” whispered Lily.
“Guys?” hissed Eleanor. “Why are we whispering?”
“I don’t know,” said Alice, and they all burst into giggles.
By the time the boys had finished splashing around with one another and noticed the absence of their young women, the girls had decided to have a damn’ good swim. They raced one another over and across the lake a few times, swimming with or against the current until their muscles began to ache, revelling in the sheer joy of movement.
Remus, aching, happy and now a lot more comfortable with being naked in a lake full of people, trod water near the centre of the lake, trying to identify by sound and smell the locations of his friends.
James and Lily were over on the right hand shore of the lake, splashing about happily; Peter and Claire were racing one another in the shallows; he’d rather lost track of Frank and Alice, the last he’d sensed them they’d been floating side by side in the shallows.
Severus and Sirius weren’t in the lake anymore, and Remus suspected that at least one – if not both – of them was already dressed again; he could see them sat on the edge of the waterfall. Vaguely, he wondered what the long-time-enemies could be talking about, but he had no intention of interrupting them. Taking one last sensory glance around to make sure everyone else was far enough away, he swam over to Eleanor, who was splayed out, starfish-like, on the surface of the lake.
“So, not such a bad idea, after all?” she said, lazily skimming her arms across the silvery surface of the water.
“I haven’t made my mind up yet,” he said, and moved into position beside her.
They floated side by side for a while, staring up into the canopy of stars above them, relishing the silky feel of the water lapping at their bodies; peaceful in one another’s quiet company. The distant sounds of splashing diminished as various couples moved off to find their clothes, or somewhere more private, or both.
There was a splash from beside him and he felt Eleanor move off towards the bank. They’d drifted under the trees to the left of the lake, and Remus was surprised to see that here some of the stars were zooming around.
“They’re fireflies,” said Eleanor, from the bank.
He looked up at her as he trod water; no longer just an outline, she was stood on a sizable rock that had somehow wedged itself between two great trees. One of the trees, a willow, had created a kind of natural shelter above the rock, high enough to stand up in; the great branches of the trees swept around it, daring you to climb them. The faint glow of the fireflies played on Eleanor’s wet skin as she stood there, looking down at him from her private den. She was still wearing the promise bracelet he’d given her, it glinted in the soft light, catching his eye.
It was all Remus could do not to pull her straight back into the lake…
He pushed himself out of the water and climbed up the rocks and branches to stand behind her, breathing hard.
“Very, very bad idea,” he said, quietly, taking her in as the light gave her skin an otherworldly glow. Droplets of water were forming on her skin like tiny, iridescent jewels, burning her image into his mind indelibly.
“Oh, I don’t know…” she said, not turning around.
“Really?” he asked, moving closer; a bead of water was forming at the nape of her neck and he couldn’t take his eyes off it. He ached to touch it – touch her – follow the inexorable and chaotic path that the droplet would take down her back with his fingers…
“Well, Lily and James have snuck off together, probably to make all of James’s fantasies come true…”
“Mmmph,” he said, thinking of some of his own fantasies.
“… I think I saw Alice and Frank running off hand in hand towards the woods…”
“Hmm?” he mumbled, fighting the urge to trace the curve of her waist with his hands.
“… Claire and Peter are making out on the shore…”
“Are they?” he asked, weakly. The droplet that had grown at the nape of her neck had finally begun its descent; he watched it as it ran down her shoulders and the small of her back, pausing for a moment above the delicious curve of her bottom.
Remus was aware that his knees were trembling, and the tiny part of his brain not currently occupied with running his eyes over his would-be lover wondered whether she could hear them.
“… and Sirius and Severus appear to be having a long overdue heart-to-heart…”
“Mmm…” he said, watching as the droplet ran over her bottom and out of sight. “There are other things that are long overdue,” he managed, trying and failing not to sound too predatory.
Eleanor laughed lightly and glanced back at him, over her shoulder.
“Very much so, if things were different.”
He took a step forward; if he wanted to he could reach out and touch her soft, damp skin. Gods did he want to.
“I’m beginning not to care…” he said, and Eleanor stiffened as the ghost of his fingertips brushed her back. There was another bead of water collected at that soft place in the dip of her shoulder; he stared at it.
“Nor I… I didn’t intend to put us in this position…” she said, softly.
Something in Remus snapped and he closed the gap between them, wrapping his arms around her and closing his lips around the droplet of water that had been torturing him. He felt her sharp intake of breath at his sudden closeness, and it made him hold her tighter, both of them revelling in the feel of their naked flesh pressing against one another, tiny rivulets of water running over and between them both.
Remus kissed her shoulder again, and then, responding to some deep, primal need, closed his teeth around the flesh of her shoulder; she gasped and arched back against him, surprised by the sudden flash of pain.
He moved along her shoulder and neck, kissing and nipping as she pressed back against him; she could feel something definitely hard pressing against her back and she trembled against him, her own lust dizzying her.
His lips brushed against the nape of her neck, one hand on the slight swell of her stomach, the other moving up to caress her breasts. She whispered his name as her fingers stroked his, willing him on.
“Oh, Ellie,” he murmured, running his fingers across her skin – the peculiar contrast of his hot skin and the cool water were doing things to Eleanor’s body that she hadn’t known were possible; he was quivering against her back, trying to control himself.
“We – we – shouldn’t do this,” she panted. “Not now, not like this…”
Remus groaned in frustration and held her more tightly, but his hands stilled.
Gently, Eleanor moved his hands away, missing intensely both the contact and the heat. They stared at one another, shivering.
“I’m sorry,” she said, softly. “It’s not that I don’t want…”
“I know – me too,” he said, breathing still quite ragged. “But you’re right…”
Eleanor smiled sadly and climbed back down the bank, slipping into the lake. Her eyes closed, she stretched, gratefully replacing the feeling of tactile loss with the feeling of the water on her skin.
She felt Remus slip into the water beside her, and relished the sensation of the ripples washing over her. She looked up at him; he was watching her with a curious expression on his face: it was equal parts sadness, frustration and something else that she couldn’t quite place.
He swam a little closer, invading her personal space, but gently so, giving her time to back off if she wanted or needed to.
“Ellie, I… We need to talk about this,” he said, firmly, one hand keeping himself afloat, the other grazing the skin of her arm. “I don’t think I can… I can’t do this for much longer. It – it just hurts too much…”
Eleanor nodded, fighting the urge to cry; whatever else happened, he didn’t need to see that, and he was right. It did hurt.
“I think we should – we need to set a time after which –” he stammered, clearly battling his own emotions.
Eleanor closed her eyes, she really didn’t want to hear this; they flew open again as his fingers – gentle as ever – closed around her arm. He was looking at her with a strange determination.
“-after which we just give up and tell Sirius that we’re together.”
She stared at him.
“I’m not going to give you up Ellie, I can’t. I – wha – why are you laughing?”
Eleanor, who’d long held that it was impossible to laugh and cry all at the same time tried to steady herself against him in the water as she disproved her own theory.
“I’m s-sorry – I thought you were going to say that you – that we were f-finished. This – this is relief,” she managed, between the strange giggling sobs.
“No – I don’t want that at all,” he said, shocked.
“N-nor do I,” she said, letting herself drift closer to him. “Not ever.”
And she kissed him, gently but firmly, the water lapping around their thirsty bodies like quicksilver.
“The play,” he said, when they came up for air. “After the play I’ll ask you out publicly,” he grinned. “Or just snog you in the middle of the Common Room or something.”
“Sounds good to me,” she said, and kissed him again. Their kisses, although passionate, were gentler than before, both of them aware that although they couldn’t take this further now, there would soon be a time when they could.
“Where is everyone?” Sirius had huffed, pulling on his clothes.
Severus gave him the kind of Look that suggested Sirius might have dropped his brain somewhere in the lake, but it was too dark for him to see.
“Probably taking the opportunity to grope one another in private,” he said, pushing his dark hair out of his eyes.
“Probably… well, except Remus and Ellie – they’re probably just avoiding the scattered pockets of teenage lust as best they can.”
Severus stared at him in the darkness; denial was a phenomenal thing.
Sirius kicked at the ground.
“You want to head back?”
Severus considered this; he wasn’t particularly tired, and Sirius sounded restless…
He shook his head; even three months previously he wouldn’t have considered this wise, but…
“We could walk, if you want.”
They walked through the woods in silence, quite uncertain of what to say to one another. It’s one thing to cease all outward displays of animosity, but finding common ground for conversation with someone who until recently you would have hexed on sight is quite another.
“So,” said Sirius, as they looked between their feet to the cavernous expanse below.
“Are you enjoying being here?”
The question was strained, and for Sirius, quite an odd one, but Severus suspected that he knew where this was going. The address Sirius had provided him with wasn’t one he’d ordinarily associate with the Great and Noble House of Black.
“More than I enjoyed Spinners’ End,” he said, carefully.
“Yeah?” Sirius asked. “I’m – er – sorry about all that…”
“It was beyond anyone’s control.”
“Well, thank you.”
There was a pause while the two boys listened to the distant roar of the water below them.
“I – I know what it feels like,” said Sirius, haltingly. “To have – problems – at home…”
Severus grunted. Even if he had seen this conversation coming he felt he was perfectly entitled not to enjoy it.
“So if you ever need to – you know – talk about it, or, or vent, or whatever – just come and find me…”
“Er, thank you,” said Severus. He glanced up at his unlikely friend.
“It’s pretty tough being out on your own,” Sirius was saying, quietly. “It’s really good that Ellie was there for you – though we all would be, if you needed us. You know that, right?” he looked up at him earnestly. “Now that we’re mates, if you need help –”
“I got it, thanks…”
“When did you leave?” asked Severus, quietly. Sirius stared at him.
“How did you know?”
“Forgive me, but a flat in the rough end of Stockport seemed an unlikely place for Walburga Black to be living.”
“Oh, right…” he paused, before continuing. “Last summer. Went to live with Prongs for a while – it was…”
“Yeah. I was never good enough, you know? Although I suppose in my case it was ‘bad’ enough,” he scoffed. “Bloody Pureblood nonsense. They could never accept the friends I’d chosen…”
“Forgive me,” Severus said again. “But they were fools.”
“Too bloody right, mate. You know what my little brother’s doing this summer? Working with Voldemort to bring about the mighty Pureblood dawn.”
“He’s a Death Eater?”
“He showed me his tattoo. He was so proud,” hissed Sirius, bitterly. “He’s fifteen, for fuck’s sake…”
“That’s… mind you, Mulciber and Rosier were talking about ‘joining up’ before their unfortunate ‘accidents’…”
“Yes. It would have made it much more difficult to keep out of it all… a few of the seventh years were already members…”
It was Sirius’s turn to swear.
“Right under Dumbledore’s nose, too!”
“I suspect he knows, all too well…” said Severus, thoughtfully. “It’s the way he’d look at them sometimes, as if he’d let them down…”
“He didn’t let them down. They let him down,” Sirius growled.
“I agree, but I don’t think he does… I think he wants to protect us. All of us.”
There was a fraught silence.
“This war – by the time we leave Hogwarts – we’re going to be right in the thick of it, aren’t we…”
The two boys stared out into the night and shivered, despite the warmth of the summer evening.
By the time Remus and Eleanor got back to the Chalet, the sounds of Sirius’s snores were already reverberating through Severus’s bedroom door. From the collection of shoes by the front door they deduced that Frank and Alice were also back, as was Severus. They’d seen Peter and Claire in the orchard, asleep in one another’s arms at the base of the great walnut tree, but Lily and James were still absent.
“I don’t feel like sleeping just yet,” said Remus, toying with the sleeve of her blouse.
“I could go for that,” he grinned, and watched her move about the kitchen with silent grace.
They carried their hot drinks outside and settled down together in the swing seat on the veranda – the reasoning being, if anyone in the house came out they’d hear them in time to move, and they’d be able to see any returning couples long before they would see them.
It was exquisitely peaceful, lounging together in shelter and comfort, feeling the warmth of each other’s bodies and the sweet night breeze, sipping hot cocoa.
Eleanor thought that if she could, she’d stay like this forever.
“Remus?” she asked, softly.
“I’ve been meaning to ask – about the bracelet.” She felt him tense, and that was enough to partially confirm her suspicions.
“What about it?”
“Was there any – oh, I don’t know… hidden meaning to it?” she asked, choosing her words carefully.
“What kind of hidden meaning?” he asked, sounding much like a child who’d been caught with his hand in the sweets jar.
“You know what kind,” she said, gently. She turned to face him. “Don’t you.”
“Er…” he bit his lip. “Well, there is this old wizarding tradition…”
“Go on,” she said, trying not to laugh.
“Um, ok, well, bracelets were given instead of…” he met her eyes and saw the laughter there. Emboldened, he continued: “Instead of promise rings, or wedding bands.”
“I’d heard something about that, actually,” she said, unable to stop the smile creeping across her face.
“Lily and Alice?”
Remus chuckled and glanced down at the bracelet on her wrist.
“You’re still wearing it,” he said, trying to gauge her reaction.
“And, you’re alright with that?”
“With the fact that bracelets used to be given as promises or that you intended it when you gave it to me?”
“Er – either? Both?”
“I’m not sure,” she said, feigning puzzlement. “Were you ever going to explain it to me?”
“I – I’d intended to ask you properly, one day… but that is why I bought it for you… I,” he took a deep breath. “I would very much like to marry you one day… if that’s what you want.”
“It is,” she said coyly, taking his hand. “Very much.”
A wide grin broke across Remus’s face, and he laced his fingers with hers.
“Excellent – that’s –”
Unable to find the words to express how happy he was, right at this moment, he simply beamed at her, and she laughed, resting her head back against his chest.
“I will ask you properly some day,” he said, after a while. “When we’re not silly teenagers any more, and have proper jobs and things – you know, when we’re responsible adults.”
“You might have to wait a while then,” she said, laughing quietly. “I don’t intend to ever be a ‘responsible adult’.”
“How about ‘irresponsible adults’ then?”
“That will have to do, I suppose. You poor fool, getting yourself stuck forever with someone as contrary as I am.”
“I can’t think of any better fate,” he said, and kissed the top of her head.
“Remus?” she asked, after a few minutes silence.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Ellie.”