‘Opening night is the night before the play is ready’ – George Jean Nathan
Saturday the 30th of November, 1976, dawned bright, clear and unbelievably tense. The seventh years were due to go through the play one more time in the morning, then have the afternoon off to ‘relax’ and to show their parents around the Castle. The last minute preparations, they were assured, could wait until after their early dinner.
There were more than a few pale and drawn faces around the Great Hall at breakfast time, silently going over lines, or cues, or mentally cataloguing props or going over seating plans; many of them were also becoming surlier and more terse as time ticked onwards. Given the occasion, hardly anyone was sat at their house tables, and had formed a sort of multicoloured collective at the ends of all four. It gave the players the opportunity to glean ten more minutes peace before the chaos of the day.
Sirius had chosen to place himself as far away from Remus as was possible, which meant that he was on the far side of the stage crew. According to Peter, they hadn’t spoken at all the previous evening, Sirius hiding behind his bed-curtains until Remus had fallen asleep.
Eleanor sighed. In many ways, she felt that life couldn’t get much more complicated than this. In hindsight, this was something of an underestimation of the opening night of a show.
“Here,” said a light and lilting voice, breaking Eleanor out of her contemplations. It was Priscilla Flowers of Slytherin; Eleanor hadn’t had much to do with her until the end of the previous term (with the exception of the brief skirmish outside of Gladrags on Valentines Day), but Priscilla, along with the other Slytherins, had been proving herself to be above her reputation of late.
“The finished programmes – we all get one, for our sins,” she grinned as she handed them around. “Buck up, you lot. You were smashing last night, it’ll be brilliant.”
Eleanor gave her a small, queasy smile, and opened her copy of the programme. There they all were, looking as in-character as they could… she smiled in earnest at some of her classmates middle names. She laughed. Sirius was thoughtfully twirling the moustache of his goatee of evil.
“Why’ve they got our houses listed?” she asked.
“For the parents that think that sort of thing matters,” said Priscilla, in a tone that suggested that she no longer did, and moved off to distribute programmes to the next table.
Carefully, Eleanor refolded the parchment and put it safely in her satchel; she strongly suspected that this was an event that she would never forget.
The final rehearsal did nothing for anyone’s spirits except for the staff, who assured their miserable students that an appalling last rehearsal more or less guaranteed a perfect show – not least because the cast and crew were terrified of screwing it up a second time in one day.
A quick bite to eat later and they were all hustled outside once more to meet their parents and guardians. Professor McGonagall appeared to have been collecting them in the village since they all ascended the hill together; there was a strange shift from an entire lack of visitors to people laughing and hugging on all sides. Even Mrs Snape had turned up, looking much healthier and more dignified than she had at the beginning of the summer. Severus looked astonished, but rushed to greet her with the rest of the students, and quickly introduced her to the others.
The Lupins gave her a friendly wave, but Eleanor was busily fending off the affections of her housekeepers, and could spare only a nod and a smile, which they returned happily.
“You are looking well Cherie!” cried Estelle, hugging her tightly. “You and your friends are ready for tonight?”
“Now, now, Estelle, we shall not speak of it. Ah, Severus – you are well?”
“Yes, monsieur, thank you,” he replied. “Nervous about tonight. I’d like to introduce my mother – this is Henrì and Estelle,” he smiled, slightly. “This is my mother, Eileen.”
Estelle nodded, smiling warmly; Eileen looked a little uncertain at the appearance of so many people who were aware of her and her son’s plight, but she needn’t have worried.
“It is wonderful to meet you Madame,” said Henrì, shaking her hand with such flair that Eileen laughed.
“You have had a safe journey, I trust?” she managed, and Eleanor noticed that she had Severus’s quiet tones.
“Oh yes, though it is further than we ‘ave travelled for some time, I ‘ave to say,” said Estelle, cheerfully. “But for a good cause. The entertainment promises to be great a spectacle, and that will make up for it.”
Eleanor rolled her eyes, and Estelle noticed, clearly deciding to wind her young charge up while the chance presented itself.
“And Eleanor and Severus are certain to play their parts beautifully.”
Both of them scowled.
“Estelle,” admonished Henrì, chuckling. “Leave then alone. Now, mon petit roitelet, you will show us this school that you rave about? Bon.”
They wandered off in the general direction of the greenhouses as Eleanor and Severus chattered on about lessons and acquaintances and the dreaded play, and before long the vast majority of their classmates were behind them, each conducting their own personal tours of the school. All except one.
She spotted Sirius skulking off as James led his parents enthusiastically towards the Quidditch pitch, gesticulating wildly.
She left them peering, with great interest, into the workings of the Clocktower, naming a remembered errand. She whispered her intentions to Severus and made for the Astronomy Tower, hoping fervently that no one was currently showing it off to a family member.
She found Sirius leaning on the brass rail encircling the upper level of the Tower, despondently watching the small clusters of family still bumbling across the grounds in the waning afternoon light. He turned to look at her as she came in, and turned back to the view, sadly. Eleanor joined him at the railing, though neither of them spoke for some time.
“Are you alright?” she asked, finally.
“What do you think?”
“Did you sleep last night?”
“Yes,” and to her surprise, he gave a dry chuckle. “I think if I hadn’t, little Olivia would have knocked me out. She’s a bit scary, actually.”
“That’s why I like her,” said Eleanor, with a wry smile.
“It’s just… hard. Seeing everyone else with their families.”
“I can imagine,” she said, softly. She moved closer to him, linking her arm with his for the sake of comfort. “Have you spoken to Remus?”
He shook his head.
“‘S not like he’d talk to me anyway – I mean, what kind of friend attacks you with no explanation? I was so sure – and that’s the worst part of it. That I could think that of him…”
Eleanor could tell from his voice that he was nearly in tears.
“What did you think he’d done?” she asked, careful not to glance at him, lest his courage fail him. “That was never really mentioned.”
“I… I thought he’d… I thought he’d hurt you.”
“He’d never hurt me,” said Eleanor. “You know that.”
“I should have. But, I thought…”
“I just didn’t want you to be hurt, that’s all,” he said, firmly, and Eleanor could tell he didn’t want her to know.
“That’s very noble of you, but I can take care of myself.”
“I know… but you’re my friend. One of my best friends.”
She gave his arm a squeeze.
“Whatever it was you thought he’d done to hurt me must have been pretty spectacular for you to go off like that…”
“I thought that maybe he’d behaved… inappropriately. You know what he’s like around full moon – I thought he’d – I don’t know… forced himself onto you. And I do realise how ridiculous that sounds now…”
Eleanor fought the urge to stare at him.
“But this is Remus we’re talking about.”
“Yeah, but he’s not very good at not taking what he wants at that time of the month… and I think he likes you,” he said, quietly. “A lot.”
“Yes.” He turned to her and leaned back against the rail. “But he’ll probably never do anything about it. Can’t believe it took me this long to notice it… I think he’s had his eye on you since before last year’s Gala.”
“Unbelievable…” murmured Eleanor, truthfully.
“I’ve not really been noticing much, though, to tell you the truth.”
He told her about his family troubles, which she’d guessed, and about his brother the acolyte-of-evil, which she never could have imagined. Though he was polite to a fault, Regulus had always been a bit distant, but she’d put that down to her friendship with his hated elder brother.
“So I’ve had a lot on my mind…” he finished, wearily. “And now it looks like I’ve fucked up my friendship with Remus for good.”
“As various people keep telling you, talk to him,” she prodded him with each word.
“I don’t want to,” he said, flatly. “Because if I do, he’ll tell me precisely what he thinks of me – which will be a good deal more accurate than my recent opinion of him… and then he’ll never speak to me again.”
“No, I mean it – I’ve already had one chance, which I ruined a long time ago.”
“Yes, James mentioned something about you trying to feed him a midnight snack.”
“Not my finest hour,” he admitted, looking wretched. “It was unbelievably stupid of me… not to mention dangerous. I betrayed him Ellie, and he said that if I did it again, that was it. No more friendship. So what do I do? Hit him.”
Eleanor was beginning to have had enough.
“I think you’re being quite childish about it,” she said, and he looked at her oddly. “You’re both better men than you’re giving yourselves credit for, and I wish you could see that.”
“I wish I could too,” he chuckled, darkly. “Then I might have a chance with-” he looked up at her, abruptly.
She couldn’t help but wince.
“Still no further on, then?” she asked, though, of course, she already knew the answer.
“No… and I was right – I don’t deserve her.”
He sat down beneath the great planetary spheres that lazily orbited the large brass, sun in the centre of the room.
“I’m still mucking things up. I thought if I stuck with the play, and I kept trying to be a good man, instead of just…”
“Loki’s secret weapon?”
“Norse god – brought fire to humans. Prone to mischief – not always the funny kind.”
“Huh. Good analogy. Yes… I thought if I could just keep everything moving along without a hitch, I’d be ok – I’ve even been talking to her a bit more, and she doesn’t seem to mind…”
Eleanor’s ear pricked up at this; that didn’t sound right.
“No – and she’s even being more friendly. I was going to ask her out after the Gala tonight, but I’ve more than proved that I’m not right for her.”
“I think she should be the judge of that,” she said gently, fighting the urge to shake him and ask her name. Had they been wrong all this time?
“But what if I hurt her?” he blurted.
“Then she will have been hurt. I know you Sirius, you might not think before you act all the time – and Gods know how much trouble that can get you in – but your heart’s in the right place. You’re a great friend, and you’d make a kind, sweet, loyal lover if you chose to turn your hand to a life of monogamy.”
He looked up at her, hope and misery shining in his eyes. She clung to the slim chance that they had been wrong, and Sirius had fallen for someone else entirely, and had been being unhelpfully cryptic for the last year.
“People have to make their own decisions, Sirius. What if, secretly, she’d mad about you, but doesn’t dare to act on it because she doesn’t think you like her? Then she’ll be just as miserable as you are.”
“But she smiles all the time…”
“So do you.”
He squinted up at her.
“Look, it doesn’t matter how you paint it, Ellie, I’m just not good enough for Dorothy. I’ll just fuck up like I always do, and then –”
“Dorothy?” she squeaked.
“Yes,” he said, surprised at himself for saying it.
“Dorothy Cottingley?” she repeated. “From Ravenclaw?”
“Yes…” he frowned. If he were honest, he was a little startled by her reaction.
“The Dorothy Cottingley that enchanted a pair of pink, fluffy slippers to harass you for a week because you laughed at her?”
“That’s the one…”
“The Dorothy Cottingley that hangs out in the library in all of her spare time, and thinks that pranking is a complete waste of time?”
“Well, actually, she thinks they’re hilarious, she just tries not to show it – wants to set a good example,” he said, with a confidence that suggested that this was something she’d actually said to him, and wasn’t just part of his fevered and hopeful imagination. “Anyway,” he frowned. “What’s wrong with her?”
Eleanor was staring at him, wide eyed in the gathering dusk.
“Nothing!” she cried, looking quite mad. “Absolutely nothing!”
“Are you sure?” he asked, standing up and taking her by the arm. “Ellie, are you alright?”
“I’m fine!” she said brightly. “Absolutely wonderful, in fact! I – er – just remembered – there’s something I have to do!”
“It can’t wait?” he asked, alarmed.
“No! I’ve been putting it off you see –” and with that, she kissed him, soundly. “Ask her out.”
“What?” he sputtered, astonished.
“Ask her the fuck out!” she shouted, over her shoulder. “Sorry! Somewhere I need to be!”
He watched her go, gobsmacked.
His parents having joined the larger group feasting in the Great Hall, Remus was lounging on his bed, working on portraying an outward appearance of calm.
Or, failing that, not being sick.
Nothing seemed to work. Whatever he tried to distract himself with was entirely overshadowed by the horrific, overwhelming, terrifying knowledge that within the next two hours he would be walking onto a stage and making a complete arse of himself in front of a ridiculously large number of people. Most of whom knew him.
And some of whom, his mind helpfully supplied, will be responsible for whether or not I get a job in the next few years.
He swallowed, and cast around the room for a distraction.
Padfoot was still nowhere to be found, and honestly, right now he’d rather tell him every detail of his and Eleanor’s sordid little affair than even think about going on stage. James was playing with that ridiculous snitch of his, and mumbling lines to himself; he looked a little green himself, which cheered Remus up a bit. Peter was pacing. It was what he did when he was worried about something; there was no point trying to stop him, no matter how annoying it became – he’d only start tapping his foot or clicking his fingers, and that was somehow more infuriating. At least pacing was largely non-audible.
He had just decided to simply give up and try to find distraction on the inside of his eyelids when the door smacked open. He watched, fascinated, as it bounced off the wall in the wake of his beautiful Eleanor, who lost no time whatsoever and flung herself on top of him, not even pausing for breath before kissing him soundly.
“Wha-?” he managed, coming up for air.
“It’s not me,” she said, and kissed him again.
“What’s – not – you?” he asked, between kisses.
“Sirius,” she held him steady to make sure that he’d understand. “It’s not me.”
Caught between delight and exasperation she watched comprehension dawn across his face.
“It’s – oh! Oh!”
He pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, hands tangling in her hair, only vaguely aware that Peter and James were still in the room; they were both stood staring at them, jaws slack with shock.
James coughed, awkwardly.
“Prongs –” said Remus, barely even pausing. “I love you mate – but fuck off.”
“Wha-?” James sputtered.
“Fuck off!” Remus repeated, pushing Eleanor onto her back (which didn’t take much, since she was already practically on top of him) and recapturing her beautiful lips.
Presumably Peter had dragged his speechless friend out of the dormitory, as there was the sound of a door shutting. They both ignored it.
“All this time,” he said, when they came up for air. “We could have been doing this for over a year!”
“I know!” moaned Eleanor, nuzzling her face into his neck. “I was such a fool – thinking it was me he wanted!”
“We both did,” said Remus, fairly, brushing his nose against hers in an Eskimo kiss. “And besides, who wouldn’t want you?”
She laughed at the irony of it all; he could feel it through his own stomach, pressed against hers, where it belonged.
“Sirius, apparently!” she laughed, ruffling his hair affectionately.
“Who was it, then?”
“You’re never going to believe me,” Eleanor said, incredulously. “Dorothy!”
He stared at her.
“Shh,” she said, playfully. “Less talking, more kissing.”
He recaptured her lips with fervour, putting all the frustration of the last year into his tongue and roving hands. She sighed beneath him, responding to every movement with equal passion.
Neither of them heard the door open, busy as they were, but they did hear the crack that came out of the end of Lily’s wand. They looked up from the bed, stunned. She had a hand over her eyes.
“I’ve got my eyes shut,” she said, helpfully. “Look, we’re all really happy for you both, but there’s about five minutes left before we need to go down to the stage and James needs his shoes…”
“We’re not naked, or anything,” said Remus, sitting back and allowing Eleanor to sit up.
Lily cracked an eye behind her fingers and, seeing that all was well, she lowered her hand.
“Alright,” she called down to James. “You can come up now.”
Remus turned to her as they walked hand-in-hand down the stairs together, both still blushing fiercely, and beamed.
“I think you’ve cured my stage fright.”
He’d changed into his costume quickly, taking advantage of his new-found calm. He let a pale and shaky Alice give him a light beard before he gave her a tight hug.
“You’ll be fine, Alice, you’re really good at this.”
“Thanks…” she gave him a smile that was closer to a grimace. “You too, Remus. Who knew we had this in us?”
“The teachers apparently,” rumbled Wilbur Crabbe, piling up his armour for the later scenes. “It’s a lot more fun that I thought it would be,” he said, cheerily.
Despite himself, Remus had to agree. Beside him, Eleanor put the finishing touches to Severus’s ‘long beard of wisdom’, as Frank called it.
“Anyone presentable?” called Professor Sprout. “We need some bodies to show off to the Minister of Magic and his guests.” She looked around at the general lack of enthusiasm. “Oh, come on you lot, does no-one want to meet famous wizards these days? There’s the head of the Quidditch League and the French Minister of Magic out there – and his charming wife.”
The noise of Eleanor backing into Wilbur’s pile of armour was covered by James, who had fought his way to the front on the mention of the Quidditch League, but Remus met her eyes.
“Ah, Mr Potter… well if you promise to behave, I suppose – and you are Head Boy,” she said, turning. “And Miss Roberts?”
“Ellie –” he said, but she’d already started running. She dodged through the changing students, nearly knocking Lily off her feet, and dove into the newly erected prop store. Over the mild chaos her flight had caused, he heard the lock click into place.
He made his mind up in an instant.
“What –?” began Severus, but Remus waved him away.
“Try to get her out,” he told him. “Professor, I’ll come too, if you want.”
Professor Sprout turned and took him in.
“Of course, Mr Lupin. That costume suits you,” she said, speculatively.
“Not least because you’re standing straighter,” hissed James as they walked around the side of the stage. “Apparently love suits you too.”
He gave him a Look; there were more important things to be thinking about right now. James sniggered.
“Ah, here they are,” exclaimed the Minister Appleby, happily. He was a rotund gentleman with a booming voice and genial demeanour; he seemed to excel at putting people at their ease. Which was a good start, given the circumstances.
“May I introduce Miss Alice Roberts, Mr James Potter and Mr Remus Lupin,” said Professor McGonagall, nodding to each one in turn. “Otherwise known as Margaret, Claudio and Benedick.”
“This is Martin Fortinbrass, the head of the British Quidditch League,” said Minister Appleby, amiably; out of the corner of his eye Remus could see James bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet. Fortinbrass seemed to be your classic Quidditch-player-not-quite-gone-to-seed; he nodded at them in a friendly fashion.
“This is Lord Huon Buchardt, the French Minister of Magic, don’t-cher-know, and his charming wife, the Lady Violetta.”
Lord Buchardt was a tall, imposing man in his late forties, who looked like he never really enjoyed anything much; he gave the three of them a faint smile before his face snapped back to its accustomed look of complete disdain. Remus wondered for a moment why anyone so plainly cheerless would attend a comedy, but brushed the thought away, choosing (as he suspected most people did) to concentrate on Madame Buchardt.
It was well known that the Lady Violetta preferred to drop her title, endearing her to the public, and use her married name, endearing her to the wizarding nobility. She had the reputation for being something of a socialite. She was a stunningly handsome woman, with an easy grace and elegance that her daughter had yet to fully cultivate. Her flowing, golden locks were piled up on her head, held in place by a series of jewelled pins of a deep purple hue. Purple appeared to be the colour of the day, and those parts of the satin dress that he could see under her dark cloak matched the jewels in her hair perfectly.
Unlike her husband, her expression was open and friendly, and Remus liked her immediately. She smiled at all three of them with such warmth that they immediately felt at ease; though she covered it well, on closer inspection Lady Buchardt was tense. Remus didn’t blame her. Though her hair was of a deeper gold than her daughter’s, and her eyes a touch greener, and her face a bit thinner, she was unmistakably Eleanor’s mother. Both Alice and James shot him looks of the deepest confusion when their guests momentarily turned away, directed to look at some architectural detail on the silhouette of the school by Professor McGonagall. His subsequent grimace told them all they needed to know.
James enthusiastically drew Fortinbrass to one side, eagerly discussing the place of Quidditch in the curriculum and how there absolutely needed to be more of it, while Alice dimpled prettily at the Ministers and led them away, chattering enthusiastically about the play and her hopes of becoming an Auror. Remus suppressed a grin; she’d have them wrapped around her little finger in no time.
Seizing the opportunity, he approached Madame Buchardt.
“Would you care for a tour, my lady?” he asked, in what he hoped was a gallant tone.
“By all means, mon jeune maître, lead and I weel follow,” she smiled, and followed him on what would be the briefest tour in Hogwarts history.
As soon as they reached the Clocktower Courtyard, he drew her away to one side.
“I hate to be forward, Madame, but there’s something I need to discuss with you, rather urgently.”
He watched her expression change from polite interest to blunt calculation.
She must have recognised me from some of Frank’s photographs, he thought, not altogether surprised.
“I believe you know the student playing Beatrice – Eleanor Wren?”
Madame Buchardt preferred to remain silent, but she made no move to prevent him from continuing; he had the unsettling feeling that she might possibly be reading his mind.
“I know who she is – or rather who she is to you. She heard that you were in attendance with your husband and locked herself in the props cupboard. I suspect that she intends not to appear this evening…”
Her expression had hardened at his admission, but she stayed quiet, waiting for him to finish.
“I came to ask what you thought she should do, Madame, since she would rather not do anything to upset you – I thought perhaps you might have everything in hand as it was.”
At this, her expression softened and she gave a small laugh.
“Hélas, not zis time. My ‘usband ‘as long suspected zee existence of my daughter… or at least,” she conceded. “Of some ‘idden scandal. I suspect ‘e wishes to use ‘er against me. Zere are rumours at court zat he wishes to be rid of me, and would, therefore, be delighted to find a reason to besmirch my character.”
“‘E is under zee misguided opinion zat ‘e is powerful and I am not. I thought ‘e may be up to somezing wiz zis trip. And after ‘is men found our valley at zee start of zee summer… I ‘ave tried so ‘ard to keep ‘er out of all of zis.”
“What should we do?” he asked, a little sorry for the formidable woman in front of him.
She gave him a gentle smile.
“I take eet you would be zee kind young man ‘oo my daughter writes to me about?”
“Sh-she writes about me?” he asked, surprised.
“Oui, about ‘ow you are just perfect for ‘er, ‘ow you cannot be togezer…”
“Oh… well, that’s all changed today,” he said, awkwardly.
Madame Buchardt clapped her hands together in delight.
“C’est magnifique! I am so ‘appy for you – from what I ‘ave ‘eard, you make my daughter very ‘appy,” she beamed at him, and he couldn’t help beaming back. All at once, though, her expression became serious again; she took a deep breath and bit her lip the same way Eleanor did when she was worried. “I think zis ‘as gone on long enough,” she said, almost to herself. “Tell ‘er I wish to see my daughter shine… eet eez time zee world saw ‘ow proud I am of ‘er.”
He nodded, in a businesslike fashion, and almost missed her murmur.
“And eef I can survive zis performance, ‘ee won’t ‘ave any legs to stand on… pompous ass.”
He slipped away from the group the first chance he got, noticing with some annoyance that Lord Buchardt was looking around suspiciously, presumably expecting Eleanor to jump out of a bush at any second. He’d growled a little, but James had trodden on his foot and happily no one had noticed.
There was a throng of worried looking students around the props cupboard as cast and crew alike tried to convince their main character to come out. He fought his way to the front, where Lily was trying to communicate with a stubbornly silent Eleanor through the door. She looked up as he reached her.
“Good – you try to talk some sense into her, Remus. None of the rest of us can even get her to tell us what’s wrong!” she snapped, clearly frustrated at not being able to help her friend.
“Ask James,” he whispered in her ear as he passed her, and she shot him a look of utmost confusion.
Across the crowd, Remus met Sirius’s eyes, and despite everything else that had happened, he understood.
“Alright you nosy beggars, let’s give her some room,” he started waving people away. “Come on, move along.”
Remus waited until they were far enough away that they wouldn’t hear him and unlocked the cupboard; before she could protest he was inside and closing the door. He sat down on an upturned bucket.
“I can’t go out there – it’d kill her –” she was trying really hard to be calm, but Remus could see right through that. He caught her hands and held them tightly.
“I spoke with her – she says –”
“You spoke with her?” she looked at him like he was mad.
“Yes – I pretended to give her a tour –” he said, waving her question away impatiently. “She said to tell you, she wants to see you shine – for everyone to see how proud she is of you.”
“But her husband –”
“She said he’s been trying to find something to get rid of her with for a long time – she called him a pompous ass, actually, but I don’t think she meant me to hear it…”
Eleanor smiled slightly at this.
“She wants me to go ahead with this?” she asked, and he understood that she wasn’t just asking about the play.
“She does.” He kissed her forehead. “I think she’s tired of pretending – it’s all a performance, really. One way or another. It’s your turn now.”
Eleanor watched his face for a moment, and for a second it was like looking at Madame Buchardt herself; then she nodded and stood, collecting herself.
“We’ll tell them it was show nerves,” she said.
“Ellie, anyone who sees her will know…”
“Then they’ll understand.”
They smiled at one another, and together they left the cupboard, hand in hand.