Third Aside - The Plot Thickens
“What’s bonfire night?” asked James, as they walked down the main staircase, wrapped in coats and scarves and woolly hats.
“Honestly, Potter, don’t you ever listen?” Lily demanded, exasperated, a few steps behind him. “Dumbledore was talking about it for a whole ten minutes this morning.”
“Yeah well, I couldn’t concentrate, could I, I was too busy trying to figure out why Peter was on fire and how we could stop it,” he huffed, grumpily.
It had been a day where nothing wanted to go right for anyone; Peter catching fire at breakfast had only been the start of a very long day of broken quills, spilled ink, lost homework, frustrated research and frayed tempers. They made rather a surly and tired collective that evening, and the other Gryffindors were giving them a wide berth. By the time they’d finished dinner and collected their outdoor clothes from the dormitories every single one of them had fallen out with everyone else at least once; in fact, Sirius and Alice hadn’t spoken to one another since lunchtime, when a complete misunderstanding had led to the usually mild-mannered Gryffindor slapping Sirius in the face so hard that he’d fallen over the bench and smacked his head on the Ravenclaw table.
The only people who still appeared to be getting on were Eleanor and Peter, who had had all day to apologise and calm down – Peter’s sudden combustion had been more or less her fault (she’d been practicing a particularly tricky charm and had miscalculated).
“It’s a Muggle thing,” said Peter, whose father was a Muggle, and who had been rather looking forward to attending the bonfire. “It’s good fun.”
“It’s from a time of civil unrest in the Muggle world,” said Lily, still annoyed with James. “The short version is that a group of revolutionaries tried to blow up the King in the Houses of Parliament –”
“Like the Ministry,” said Remus wearily, before Sirius had a chance to ask.
“- and entirely failed. So it’s a celebration of the continuation of a corrupt system of administration,” finished Lily.
“Or a celebration of a small group of people failing to murder quite a lot of people,” said Peter, rolling his eyes at her back. “I’ve never agreed with burning ‘Guys’ though. That’s a bit creepy.”
“Guys?” asked Eleanor, amused. “Does this mean one of the boys isn’t coming home tonight?”
“Guy Fawkes was one of the conspirators – he was the one who got caught –”
“Prat,” said Sirius, under his breath.
“Unfortunately, we’re stuck with all of this lot for a while longer,” said Alice, dully. Sirius scowled at her.
“So,” began Eleanor dubiously as they reached the Entrance Hall, “we’re going to watch a dummy of someone who was executed hundreds of years ago thrown on a fire?”
“I can’t wait,” said Remus, glumly.
“It sounds awful when you put it like that. No, what bonfire night means these days is toffee apples, and candy floss, and chipping your teeth on bonfire toffee, and seeing your breath steam in front of you, standing around a massive bonfire with your friends,” he said, pointedly. “And watching fireworks.”
“And sparklers,” added Lily, cheering up a little. “If you’re careful, you can write your name in the air with them.”
“We can do that any day with a wand,” Sirius pointed out, sulkily.
“Yes, but with sparklers it’s special – I hope Dumbledore thought to get some.”
Peter’s eagerness seemed to have brightened everyone up somewhat.
“What’s candyfloss?” asked Alice, intrigued.
“It’s like a cloud of pink sugar on a stick,” said Peter, eagerly.
Remus dropped back to walk with Eleanor as Peter enthusiastically described the culinary treats in store for them.
“I remember my Granddad taking me to a bonfire party when I was little, do you have bonfire night in France?” he asked.
“Not in November,” she said. “There’s a big fireworks night in April – the continental version of April Fools’ Day, we get sparklers then. Anyway, I don’t really know that much about French customs – the Alps can be quite a different place.”
“I’ve often wondered… you don’t have much of an accent.”
“My housekeepers spoke English around me – I think my mother must have attended Hogwarts, she has a lot of contacts over here. Most of my tutors have been British too – I suppose it was to reduce the risk of anyone recognising who I was.”
Remus nodded; he could well imagine how being the illegitimate daughter of Madame Buchardt would be problematic at times.
They had joined a steady stream of students heading down into the grounds; in the distance the fierce glow of an impressive bonfire was lighting the trees at the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
“Evening!” called Frank, joining them. “Looks like tonight will be brilliant – fair warning though, I brought my camera.”
Several people, Remus included, groaned.
“What’s wrong with that?” Eleanor asked as she followed the procession across the incredibly long, rickety wooden bridge that connected the Castle to the grounds.
“He always takes pictures when you’re least expecting them,” explained Remus.
“They’re the best kind,” said Frank, with a grin.
“For you – I don’t particularly enjoy having me looking like a prat immortalised on paper.”
“Oh relax Remus, the worst one of you I have is that time James fell out of a tree and you starting yelling at him…”
“I still look a prat,” he mumbled, embarrassed.
“He looked exactly the way McGonagall does when we blow something up,” said Peter. “It was brilliant… I could show you if you like – Frank always makes copies.”
Remus shot him a dark look, but Peter ignored him. Tonight was going to be great, he could just feel it.
They’d reached the crest of the hill overlooking the lake now, and several people gasped, bad moods forgotten. On the shore of the Black Lake Hagrid had built an enormous bonfire, around which people were chattering excitedly; tantalising smells were drifting up from a variety of stalls on the forest’s edge. Dumbledore appeared to have provided every type of portable Muggle snack food he could think of: there were bags of shiny, black cinder toffee, boxes of popcorn, slabs of dark gingery chocolate, eight different flavours of toffee apples, ice-cream, sweets and lollipops of ever colour – some that were as big as their faces… and –
“Candy floss!” said Peter, pointing at a stall full of pink fluff and hurrying over to it.
Laughing, they followed him, Frank taking pictures of unsuspecting passers-by and temporarily blinding them with the flash.
Eleanor helped herself to one of everything she could find, stuffing the lot into one of the magical pouches Professor Flitwick was handing out at the beginning of the line. Everything smelled deliciously of frost and wood smoke, which was curling in every direction through the cold November air.
Candy floss appeared to be the flavour of the moment, however, the majority of students never having encountered it before. Remus couldn’t believe that anything that looked that insubstantial could turn out to be crunchy as soon as you started to eat it – or tried to. Alice kept bursting into giggles every time she tried to take a bite – she just couldn’t get her mouth open wide enough; Frank eventually took pity on her and pulled a clump of it off the stick, which led to a excruciatingly cute episode where he fed his girlfriend in the middle of the group. Remus had decided to take revenge at this point and summoned Frank’s camera, taking a shot at just the right moment. Frank grinned at him.
“See, I told you it was fun.”
“This is brilliant,” said James, from somewhere inside his candy floss.
Lily rolled her eyes, but her tone was a lot gentler than usual when she said: “Don’t eat it too quickly James, you’ll make yourself sick.”
James, all too happy to comply with instructions that made Lily say his first name, withdrew from the pink, edible cloud obediently, and frowned.
“What am I supposed to do with it then?” he asked, staring at the spun sugar dubiously. “If I hang on to it I’ll drop it somewhere – or Padfoot will eat it,” he said, as slightly sugar dazed Sirius went back for his third helping. “But if I put it in the bag it’ll get everywhere.”
“You do this,” Lily said, taking out her wand and charming the candy floss so that it crystallised. “Muggle traditions are all very well, but there are times when magic makes them better.”
“That was ace,” said James, grinning at her, and for once Lily took the compliment as it was intended, and blushed.
“Thanks,” she said, before the others pressed her into teaching them the charm.
“This stuff is like crack for kids,” said Sirius, pupils a little dilated. “Look, you can even make faces with it!” He pulled off several chunks of candy floss and stuck them to his lip, chin and eyebrows. “See! Now I’m Professor Dumbledore!”
Everyone roared with laughter as he posed for Frank to take a picture.
“Very dashing, Mr Black,” said Professor Dumbledore, coming up behind him. “Mr Longbottom, perhaps a photograph of myself and my doppelganger?”
Eleanor glanced at Professor McGonagall, who was giving her headmaster an amused and exasperated look and quickly had to look away. Beside her, Remus was slowly turning purple from trying not to laugh, and Lily had Peter’s arm in a death-grip so that she didn’t crack.
They managed to keep it together just long enough to hear McGonagall lightly telling Dumbledore that she didn’t remember him having light pink hair when he was younger as they moved away.
It was rather a long time before anyone could breathe properly.
The fireworks, which had been set up on a floating dais some way into the lake (Eleanor suspected that this was largely due to James and Sirius’s presence) were beyond spectacular, and lasted for nearly an hour. They stood in small groups around the lake, eyes dazzled by the lights and colours splashing across the November sky, bottles of butterbeer that James and Remus had produced from Merlin-knew-where keeping off the chill night air.
Watching things fizz and sparkle and explode above her, pressed between the warm bodies of Sirius (who had by this point given up trying to pick the remains of candy floss out of his eyebrows) and Remus, Eleanor felt a sense of peace creep over her. She’d not felt this at home in her own skin since she’d snuck out of the chalet one moonlit summer evening a few months previously and swum naked in the lake in the valley below; it had been like swimming through liquid silver, and she’d revelled in the sensation with no one but the moon keeping her company.
As everyone shuffled about, a little disappointed that the fireworks were over, Lily gave a cry of excitement: Professors Kettleburn and Castaway were distributing short, slender sticks, along with tiny floating jars of bluebell flames.
“There you are,” said Professor Castaway, when he reached them. “They’ve got lengthening charms on them, so they should last for about five minutes…”
Everyone looked expectantly at Lily, who was holding her sparkler by the dull end and carefully dipped it into the flame; it burst into life at once with eye-aching brightness and she immediately began swishing it about in the air, leaving a trail of light behind it.
Frank took a picture of her as she wrote her name in the air; soon the night air was filled with laughter, peoples’ names, Frank’s camera shutters and, inevitably, a wide variety of rude words. As Sirius so eruditely put it: “Sparklers are like magic, but not!”
When the last sparkler had eventually sputtered out and the last food stall had been raided, they stumbled back up the hill. It had been such a good evening after such an appalling day that none of them wanted to end, and they all relocated to the boys’ dormitory, kidnapping Frank as they went. It didn’t take long for the girls to throw off their winter clothes and pull on their pyjamas; they dragged their bedding with them, startling a group of fourth year boys, who stood and stared at easily the most ferocious Prefect Hogwarts had ever seen.
Lily gave them a Look, shrugged and then said: “As long as you’re quiet, you can consider me ‘off duty’ tonight.”
Eleanor glimpsed them knocking on the other dormitories as she closed the door; it seemed that Gryffindor tower was going to have the night of its occupants’ lives. She put a silencing charm on the door, just in case; Sirius saw her and gave her the kind of smile that had most of the women of the school panting in his wake. She left him to it and plonked herself down with Lily on the floor in the midst of the newly created cushions.
Not one to be defied, Sirius sat down right beside her.
“I think we should play a game,” he said, with a wicked grin. Peter groaned and James stopped mid stride.
“No,” he said.
“Why not?” Sirius whined.
“Because there are ladies present,” he hissed, his expression indicating that any game Sirius suggested would be a bad idea in front of Lily.
“Oh, come on,” he wheedled. “Just a friendly game of truth or dare – I’ll behave, I promise.”
Everyone looked at Lily, who rolled her eyes.
“Alright, but nothing we could get arrested for, nothing anyone will regret for the rest of their lives –” both Remus and Peter sighed in relief at this “- and in the interest of maintaining the reputations of those of us who have them, nothing that involves leaving this room.”
“Deal!” cried Sirius happily. “Alright, we’ll go round in a circle – I’ll start. Dare.”
It had certainly been an interesting night, reflected Peter foggily, as he tried to remember why he’d fallen asleep in Sirius’s bed, and why in the name of Hecate he was wearing a feather boa. He peered around the room and sniggered as quietly as he could; there would be several people regretting both the evening’s frivolities and precisely where they went to sleep… or more precisely, with whom.
Carefully, putting a silencing charm in place, he threw a screwed up ball of parchment at Frank, who rolled over and stared at him in indignant confusion; Peter nodded at Lily, who had fallen asleep with her head resting on James’s chest, and the Marauder sandwich in the corner. Frank grinned with all the mischief of a Marauder and woke his girlfriend, as Peter removed the silencing charm.
They had a painful few seconds as they worked out how to silence the camera without messing up any of the mechanisms; finally, Frank stole up to James and Lily and took a few illicit pictures before turning to inflict the same upon the others.
Eleanor and Remus had fallen asleep reasonably close to one another, Peter recalled, but at some point in the night she had rolled towards him, and now Remus’s arm was draped over her hip, her head turned into the warmth of his chest. This would have been gold dust enough for years of taunting, had the unconscious Sirius not decided to complicate matters further by also rolling over in his sleep – and now his hand was curled possessively around Eleanor’s waist, his face buried in her neck.
It looked for all the world like the two Marauders were engaged in a silent and unconscious tug of war for the slumbering girl squashed between them; months later, Peter wondered why they hadn’t seen it there and then. Photographs taken and camera hidden, they woke Lily and James as quietly as they could – a task made harder by the mixture of shock, embarrassment and sheer delight they both felt – to have a good snigger at their friends.
Eleanor was the first to stir, hearing Alice’s muffled giggles, and she looked in confusion first at one boy and then the other; she blushed and bit her lip, glancing up at her five tormentors. Then, with the speed of pouring treacle a devilish grin spilled across her face; slowly, and to her watching friends’ amusement, she carefully wriggled out from between the two sleeping boys and sat on her haunches. Missing her warmth, Sirius snuggled forward into his best friend’s arms; Remus pulled him closer possessively.
This was all too much for Eleanor, who snorted; Remus cracked an eye first, and was astonished to discover his best friend pressed up against his face – he stared at him in utter disbelief as Sirius too woke up. There was one of those moments upon which the universe turns; those watching felt that in the next breath anything at all could happen and when it did the world would be an entirely different place.
Then, just as abruptly as it had begun, it ended: both boys gave identical shouts of surprise and disgust, and scrambled apart as their friends roared with laughter.
Two nights later, as the girls relaxed in their tower, there were a series of screams outside their door.
Eleanor shot out of bed.
“What the fuck was that?!” she demanded, wand already in hand.
“Oh it’s probably just the boys,” said Alice, not even looking up from her book; Lily glared at the door as if they would be able to tell.
“The boys screaming like girls?”
“They aren’t what I’d describe as particularly manly,” said Lily.
“The stairs to the girls’ dormitories are enchanted to reject anyone male – probably on the basis that we have considerably more sense than them,” explained Alice. “Generally when the boys get bored they dare each other to try to get in and steal various items of clothing.”
Outside, someone gave a shout of exasperation; Alice put her head on one side, and said: “Sirius.”
“What’s their success rate?” asked Eleanor as the girls listened to someone – presumably James – scrambling up the slope; the noise ended abruptly with a loud “Ooof!”
“Not great,” Lily smirked. “None of them have ever managed it. Remus of course is much too sensible to join in.”
“Only because he bruised his coccyx in third year,” snorted Alice.
There was a knock at the door; they stared at it. Their visitor knocked again, and Eleanor went to open it.
“You were saying?” she asked, admitting Remus Lupin; both Alice and Lily’s mouths hung open in surprise.
“Good evening ladies,” he said politely. “In case you’re wondering, it’s a variant of the Glisseo charm… er… I’m afraid I’m not allowed to leave empty-handed,” and he blushed. It was quite adorable. “I’m supposed to relieve one of you of your, well… undergarments.”
Aaand suddenly less adorable, thought Eleanor.
“You’re such a pushover, Remus,” said Alice, fondly.
“Don’t think for a moment that I won’t take points from a fellow Prefect,” said Lily, sternly.
“I’ll take that as a no, then,” he said, smiling through his blush. “Alice?”
“You know I’d do pretty much anything for you Remus,” said Alice, turning even redder than he had. “But really, what would Frank say?”
It took quite a bit of effort for him to turn back to Eleanor.
“Really?” she asked.
“I’m afraid so…”
“What will happen if you don’t get them?”
“I believe the penalty for failure was to sneak into Filch’s office and do something unspeakable to Marilyn…”
“Er – his cat.”
“Yes…” Remus’s blush was deepening steadily from vermillion to crimson.
“Oh, fine,” she said, turning to her cupboard. Alice giggled.
“Don’t do it,” said Lily, from between her fingers.
“Are you going to take points?” asked Eleanor, grabbing a pair of underwear at random.
“…No, I think whatever Filch would do if anyone hurt Marilyn would be worse…”
Eleanor walked back to him, with a matching flush, and held out her hand; hesitating, she frowned.
“Will Sirius get a hold of these?”
“I hate to say it, but it’s pretty likely…”
“Urgh,” she shuddered, and his smile widened a fraction.
“Will they leave the tower? Or be seen by anyone outside your dormitory?”
“On that you have my word.”
“You owe me.”
“I certainly do.”
Remus took the proffered garment and left with all the dignity he could muster, which wasn’t a huge amount, all things considered.
From down the stairs came a series of excited whoops.
“What have I done?” she asked, of the world at large.
The sounds of delight had been continuing for nearly an hour and a half and Eleanor had had enough of gritting her teeth.
“That’s it! I’m going to get them back.”
“Knock yourself out,” said Lily.
“You’re not going to help?”
“I’ll help,” said Alice, sitting up.
“No, you won’t,” said Lily, firmly. “You got yourself into this Eleanor, you get yourself out of it.”
Eleanor glanced between her friends.
“I’m going to stay here and read, apparently,” said Alice, with an apologetic shrug.
She grabbed her wand and went to knock on their dormitory door; however, the noise within stopped her in her tracks – she pushed the door open a crack.
Sirius was singing loudly and dancing around the dormitory with her… undergarments; James and Peter were laughing so hard that they were crying. Remus however, was sat on his bed with his hands over his face; he must have glimpsed her moving by the door, she could see him looking up at her from between his fingers. Putting her finger to her lips she edged into the room; Remus didn’t move, apparently feeling that he had to make up for his part in this.
Deciding that she needed to take out the boys in case they intervened, she sent two well aimed stupefys at Peter and James, before turning her attention to Sirius; he looked between her and his friends and bolted, knocking her over as he sped past. Aware that he still had her underwear in hand, she followed him out of the portrait hole, hot on his heels. It felt like they were running forever; every chance she had to hex him misfired as he skidded this way and that along the corridors, barking with laughter. She was learning the hard way why he made such a good Quidditch player.
Finally, he made a wrong turn and skidded, still hooting with mirth, into an empty classroom, giving her the seconds she needed to petrify him.
From his position on the ground he glared at her as she stooped and reclaimed her clothing.
“All he had to do was return with them, you never said how long you’d get to keep them for,” she said, and walked off, feeling rather superior. This, as it turned out, was rather foolish. She was nearly at the door when he petrified her.
It was a curious feeling, to be unable to move and to know with absolute clarity where her attacker was, and precisely how much control he now had over her; even though she was aware that this was all a joke, the feeling terrified Eleanor. What if it wasn’t Sirius she’d chased, what if it had been someone else? Somewhere deep inside her chest she felt the frightened stirrings of panic. Sirius put a hand on her back.
“I wouldn’t do that again if I were you, Miss Wren,” he was saying, though it seemed to Eleanor that his voice was coming from a long way away. “I’ll take those, I think,” he said, opening her hand. “They really are quite attractive – not a bad mental image,” he continued huskily, as he walked around her; “I’m surprised you let Moony have them – actually, I’m surprised he took them… our Moony’s a bit shy when it comes to girls, particularly girls as buxom as you.”
She couldn’t move anything at all, she realised, not even her eyes; the panic blossoming through her chest was making her heart pound.
“If I were a girl with knickers as lovely as this,” he said breathily, right next to her ear, unaware of the terror flooding through her. “I wouldn’t wear them for just anyone…”
This must be what it feels like to die, she thought.
He came into view wearing his trademark evil grin and looked her in the eye; he faltered – suddenly everything was a lot less funny.
A little known fact about the full body-bind, dear readers: even if you can’t move or struggle or cry out, you can still feel. And weep.
“Why are you crying?” he asked, as he stared dumbfounded at her tear streaked face. “Finite incantatem! Eleanor –” he reached for her as she stumbled, released from her silent prison, and she beat her fists against his chest as he held her.
“I wasn’t going to hurt you!” he cried in alarm, wrestling with her. “It was just a joke! Please -” he held her arms fast. “Eleanor! Ellie –”
Finally, her adrenaline ebbing, she stopped fighting and sobbed into his chest. They sank to the floor, Sirius too bewildered to hold her up and Eleanor too relieved to care.
“Shh – it’s ok love, it’s ok –”
“Don’t ever do that to me again Sirius, please,” she cried, clinging to him.
“I won’t love, I won’t let anyone do it, I swear.” He rubbed her back. “I didn’t mean to scare you like that, I’m sorry.”
“S’ok,” she sniffed. “I did it to you… I’ve just never had it done to me b-before… it was like d-dying…”
“It’s over now, and it’ll never happen again,” he said, tightening his hold on her. The certainty in his voice helped somewhat, and after a few minutes they broke apart and sat on the floor beside each other, their backs to the cold stone wall. It was a while before either spoke.
“I’m sorry,” said Sirius, and she could tell by his tone that he meant it.
“I know,” she said, and another few minutes passed.
“Do you think I could have my knickers back?”
“Yeah, sorry,” he said, handing them back almost coyly; it was strange what a fright like that could do to a person. He was still Sirius Black, though: “Damned sexy, those,” he reflected, and Eleanor blushed.
“They’re one of my best pairs…”
“You mean there are better ones?” he goggled at her in the darkness. “Merlin, it’s hard enough getting the image of you wearing those out of my head…”
Eleanor giggled, despite herself.
“What knickers are you wearing now, by the way?”
Eleanor hit him.
Time passed, and the starlight spilling out of the windows shone on their feet.
“I’m not wearing any – I tend to skip underwear when I’m wearing pyjamas.”
“Oh.” Then: “That’s actually even harder to not think about, love.”
“You do know that I’m never going to sleep with you, don’t you?”
“Never stopped me before.”
“That’s what I was afraid of…”
“But I’ll accept it, if you want,” he said, softly.
“Really?” Eleanor asked, startled. “Why?”
“Because I like you,” he said, then caught her expression. “No, not like that. You’re smart and funny and gorgeous and slightly evil – it is what I normally go for in a girl, but I have to believe a man can change… I never thought I’d say this to anyone, but I like you too much as a friend to risk losing you.”
Eleanor was flattered to say the least.
“Has’t come to this?” she asked, in the style of one of her favourite plays. “The great Sirius Black laid low by a woman?”
“By life, love, not by you. Though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t let on to anyone – I have my appalling reputation to maintain, after all.”
“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You get to keep flirting with me and harassing me, but both of us know you won’t touch me?”
“Yep, and you get protection from anyone you don’t want sniffing around you or stealing your drawers…”
“…I think I can live with that,” she said, after a few minutes careful consideration.
He walked her back to the dormitories.
“My lady,” he said, and kissed her hand.
“You can stop being dashing, we don’t have an audience, you know.”
“I don’t need one love,” he said with a wink and gave her a brief kiss on the cheek before running back up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
They’d been gone for quite some time and the other Marauders were already in bed; he pulled off his dishevelled clothes and climbed gratefully into his bed: he’d seldom met someone who could keep up with him as easily as Eleanor, and he was tired – it wasn’t long before his snores joined those of James and Peter.
If he’d been paying attention he’d have noticed that Remus wasn’t asleep at all.
By now, the mists of autumn had hung themselves decoratively about the grounds and there was a shiver of excitement among the student body, though Eleanor was loath to admit she had no idea why. Everything came clear on Monday morning however, when she reached the Common Room to discover practically the whole tower chattering excitedly around the notice-board. Having no conceivable means of reading whatever it was that had her fellow Gryffindors in a spin, she had been about to turn to go when Remus appeared at her shoulder.
“What’s all the fuss about?” he asked.
“No idea – I’m too short to see and not interested enough to fight my way through…”
He chuckled at her and peered over the heads of the people in front of him.
“Ah – the Autumn gala…” he said, as if this explained everything.
“Autumn gala?” she asked, as they gave up and set off for the Great Hall.
“It’s a charity thing – the seventh years perform a play or musical to the rest of the school and paying members of the public. All the proceeds go to a charity of their choice; I think it’s one of Kettleburn’s this year, something to do with rare magical creatures. That’s where Peter keeps running off to all the time – the choir usually have a few bits. Apparently he has a solo, he was quite excited about that.” He shrugged, “Basically, it’s an excuse to have a fancy meal and watch some potentially hilarious entertainment.”
“This year’s play is ‘Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré mes Pieds’ by Malecrit, easily the worst playwright in history – it could be good, but it’s more likely to be appalling.”
“Yes,” said Eleanor, wincing. “I remember. ‘Alas, I have Transfigured my Feet’ was one of my literacy tutor’s favourite examples of how not to write a play.”
“Well, you’ll get to hear it again in a fortnight.”
“I am overflowing with unalloyed delight.”
“It also means that we get to spend the next two weeks watching everyone trying not to be asked out by everyone else.”
“Oh Gods, it’s not a ‘date’ thing is it?”
“Unfortunately,” he confirmed. “But it might not be as bad this year.”
“Oh, no reason…” he said thoughtfully, watching her descend the stairs in front of him.
News was spreading quickly through the Great Hall, and by the time they’d reached the Gryffindor table, Frank had already swept over and presented Alice with a bunch of conjured roses.
“Will you do me the honour of accompanying me to the gala Miss Roberts?” he asked, bowing so deeply that he nearly fell over.
“You know I will, Frank, stop being daft…”
“Don’t even think about it.”
Remus grinned across the table at Eleanor, who rolled her eyes. She looks so beautiful this morning… he thought.
“El-” he began, but someone cut across him, and the breath caught in his throat.
“Miss Wren?” asked Sirius, taking her hand. “Would you accompany me to this year’s gala?”
Eleanor appeared to consider this – it wasn’t that unexpected, given their recent arrangement.
“Alright, but you look up my skirt or down my top and I’ll hex you so far into the future you’ll be babysitting Peter’s great-grandchildren.”
Remus sat perfectly still; it felt like all the air had been punched out of him... were there no lines Sirius wouldn’t cross?
“I thought you had more sense than that,” said Lily, sadly, but Eleanor nodded across at the Slytherin table.
“Mulciber and his Troll-bred friends have been ogling me for the last twenty minutes, I’ll take what I can get.”
“Oh, cheers,” said Sirius, but he still couldn’t stop himself grinning as he sat down.
“Now what am I going to do?” asked Lily, unhappily. “I was going to ask if we could go together as friends.”
“No backsies?” she asked Sirius, who shook his head, still grinning. “Thought not. Sorry Lily, you’ll just have to find another chaperone.”
“I’ll go w-”
“No, Potter. Not until hell freezes over.”
“I’ll go with you,” Remus heard himself say; he glanced at Eleanor, but her expression was unreadable. James glared at him.
“Now wait just a minute –”
“As friends – Mulciber’s staring at you too.”
Lily glanced behind her and the great hulk of a Slytherin gave her what he considered to be a winning smile.
There was a brief silence in which everyone looked at James.
“Aren’t you going to breakfast on Remus’s insides?” asked Frank, conversationally.
“No, he said they were going as friends – and someone has to keep Mulciber and his horde of creeps away from her. Besides,” he said, and there was just enough warning in his voice for Remus to understand him completely, “I trust him.”
As often as he’d tried to reassure his friend that he’d not instigated it, James had never quite gotten over the time he’d caught Remus snogging Lily in the library; that had not been a good day in the lives of the Marauders.
“Pete and me’ll go together as mates, right Wormy?” he said, as Peter sat down.
“Er- sorry mate, but I don’t swing that way,” he said with a grin. “Anyway, I can’t – I just asked Claire Pollard…”
“Don’t tell me I’m the only one without a date,” moaned James.
“You have an ego the size of a planet, Potter,” said Lily coolly. “All you have to do is wait and some bimbo will get sucked in.”