Malecrit, or Rules for Best Friends
Remus, who had been ready for nearly an hour, was reading in one of the big squashy armchairs in the Common Room; well, it looked like he was reading. What he was actually doing was sulking. He’d been so sure that he had a chance with Eleanor, and Gods but he’d wanted that chance, but Mr. Big Mouth, perfect, Casanova, fucking Black had ruined it for him. Again.
The bastard had had nearly every girl in the school – was it too much to ask to just let him have one girl to himself? The worst of it was, he thought that Sirius might just have fallen for her… he’d never been so restrained around a girl in his life. Oh, he flirted outrageously with her at every given opportunity – and to Remus’s frustration she was beginning to flirt back – but he hadn’t tried to ogle her indecently, or pull her away from the group as he normally did… and that bothered him.
He couldn’t pretend that Sirius had ever been particularly lonely when it came to women (or men, for that matter), but he’d never stayed with any one girl long enough for Remus to class them as ‘together’; he wanted his best friend to be happy, he really did. But why did it have to be with a girl who made Remus want to throw caution to the wind, hustle her into the nearest empty classroom and have his wicked way with her, right there on one of the desks? It was infuriating.
And then there was Lily. Or, more accurately, James. Despite his many assurances, James had spent the better part of the last two weeks alternating between snapping at every little thing Remus did and sullen glaring silences; this had rather put off the girls who had intended to ask him to the gala. The only one who hadn’t been put off was an incredibly pretty but not incredibly bright Hufflepuff girl from the year below; the kind of girl you hoped had ‘hidden depths’. Having met her, Remus was sad to reflect that not everyone did…
Still, she was pleasant enough, if you didn’t stay within conversation range for too long, and keeping her attention was sufficient work for James to ignore him for a few hours a day, allowing him to creep off and get some work done without the feeling of some git’s eyes boring holes into the back of his head.
A few months previously, Remus would have given anything to attend the gala with Lily – even just as friends – but now…
Why did everything have to be so bloody complicated?
“Oh, there you are Moony,” said Sirius, dressed to the nines. How did he make it look so damned easy? “Wondered where you’d snuck off to…”
He sat on the sofa in front of the fire. Jealousy coiled in Remus’s stomach like a snake.
“Look, I know you were just trying to help everyone out, but did you have to ask Lily? He’s insufferable just now.”
“I think the way she saw it was Mulciber or me,” said Remus, dully. “He’s overreacting.”
“True…” said Sirius, looking thoughtful. “And I wouldn’t say anything, except that she did kiss you that time – and you kissed her right back.”
“She rather took me by surprise, Padfoot,” he said, grumpily. “Besides, no one had ever kissed me before, it was a bit of a shock.” And not an unpleasant one, he recalled, until Prongs showed up.
His friend looked at him.
“You know there’s absolutely no reason a bloke like you shouldn’t have a date every Saturday night. You get in your own way.”
Briefly considering the merits of punching him, Remus decided that as infuriating as he was, Sirius was trying to be nice.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Sirius shook his head, exasperated.
“Hey Wormtail,” said Remus, firmly putting an end to the conversation. “Nervous?”
“A bit,” he said, with a grimace. “But I know it back and front… James’ll be down in a minute, we’re going to meet Claire and Persephone.”
“Nice one, by the way – asking Claire, I mean. She’s a pleasant girl,” said Remus, without a hint of jealousy. If anyone deserved to catch a break on the dating front, it was Peter.
“Yeah,” said Sirius, brightening up. “Not bad at all. Never knew you had it in you,” he teased.
“Well wherever I got it, it wasn’t from you,” he smirked, as a sullen James joined their group.
They were a sorry looking lot, Remus reflected; two of them so torn up with jealousy that all they could do was snark at their rivals and one so caught out in love that his entire demeanour had changed. Only Peter had come off this term for the better, and while he wished his friend every success, he couldn’t help the sting of envy as Wormtail smiled and joked.
“Well, don’t you look handsome,” said Alice brightly, ignoring the pained expressions on three of their faces. “Well, how do I look?” she asked, giving a little twirl.
For the first time in nearly a week, Remus smiled. Alice had outdone herself: in her dark blue dress and with flowers wound in her fair hair, she looked like a princess. Even just the sight of her smiling face lifted their spirits; Frank was in for a good night.
“Beautiful as ever,” said Sirius, and kissed her knuckles as the others nodded emphatically. Even James had momentarily slipped out of his funk.
Alice blushed prettily.
“Are the others coming, or have they decided against gracing us with their presence?” asked Peter, amused.
“They’re getting there,” said Alice, rolling her eyes. “You know how Lily feels about balls – and Eleanor’s never been to one before.”
Remus nodded glumly; beside him, James gave a gasp of surprise.
Lily, too, had wound flowers into her hair, which she’d let fall down past her shoulders; her flowing, deep sea-green dress shimmered about her as she walked down the stairs towards them. A part of Remus that he really hated reflected that it didn’t matter anymore how beautiful she looked…
She gave him a small smile as she reached them, and her subsequent expression told him that his answering smile was probably more like a grimace.
“You look stunning,” he said, gallantly, and offered his arm.
Sirius nodded, approvingly.
“It’s a good job Moony here volunteered to keep an eye on you, Evans, you’ll break a few hearts this evening.”
Despite herself, Lily blushed.
“Really?” she said, unbelieving. “I thought I looked clumsy… and foolish… I hate formal balls,” she said, quietly.
The denial with which this was met seemed to mollify her somewhat, and she smiled with a touch more confidence.
“You four brush up reasonably well,” she remarked, and Remus noted with slight amusement that she was looking at James when she said it. “Especially you, Peter,” she continued, catching herself. “You’ll do Gryffindor proud tonight.”
“Not speaking to me Potter?”
James, who hadn’t taken his eyes off her since she left the dormitory, shrugged miserably.
“You look after her Moony, or I swear –” he hissed as she turned away, a little nonplussed.
But Remus wasn’t listening. Eleanor might not have attended anything as formal as this before, but by Gods she knew how it was done. Probably learned it from her mother, he thought, absently. She hurried down towards them, not even caring how her deep russet dress accentuated the curves of her body, or how the violets and leaves twisted in her hair made her look like some kind of woodland goddess.
Unconsciously, Remus straightened up. He’d been just about to compliment her when Sirius walked forward, rather more dazedly than ever before, and took her hand.
“My lady,” he said, giving her a small bow and kissing her lightly on the cheek, making what would have looked downright daft on anyone else look dashing. “You look truly enchanting this evening.”
As Eleanor blushed prettily, Remus shook silently. Never before had he hated someone so completely as he currently hated Sirius. Never before had he wanted to knock his friend’s hand out of the way and take what should have been his, regardless of how Sirius felt about it. It didn’t matter that they were best friends, and that Remus would die for him, all that mattered was that Eleanor – his Eleanor – was taking Sirius’s hand and laughing at his jokes and kissing him on the cheek.
He glanced at James, who still hadn’t been able to tear his tortured gaze away from Lily, and empathised; of course James hadn’t been overreacting when all Remus wanted to do was stab Sirius repeatedly with anything he could lay to hand.
As they walked out of the Common Room and began the descent to the Great Hall, Remus caught his arm.
“Prongs,” James glared at him. “I swear to you on everything I am, I won’t touch her – she’s yours and always has been.”
The ferocity of his expression must have got through to him, because he nodded.
“I know mate… but I can’t help being jealous – I mean, if it were you watching the girl of your dreams walking off hand in hand with your best friend, how would you feel?”
Remus just looked at him, despondently.
“I am,” he said softly.
But James’s eyes widened.
“You mean – Eleanor?”
Remus didn’t say anything, but James knew him a bit too well.
“Merlin Remus, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise… does Padfoot know?”
He gave a hollow laugh.
“I’m not sure it would matter, either way,” he growled.
James shot him a troubled look.
“He wouldn’t do that to you…”
“Nor would I you,” Remus pointed out, angrily. “But all I’ve had for the last two weeks are daggers and snipes.”
“Yeah, sorry about that…” James winced. “But, I mean, does she like you?”
“I don’t know,” he said bitterly. “You can’t really wander up to your best friend’s date and ask if she fancies you, can you.”
“Well, why didn’t you ask her?”
“I was going to – almost exactly at the same time as he did.”
By the time they’d reached the Great Hall, the boys had agreed to try to put their grievances aside, for the sake of everyone else, and they collected their dates as civilly as they could. Persephone, James’s pretty Hufflepuff, was a veritable vision in powder pink; she kept squealing in excitement at anything everyone said… it made Remus’s teeth hurt. Lily didn’t appear to be getting on with her too well either – she kept glancing over at her and glaring every time she shrieked with laughter.
“She’s making my eye twitch,” Eleanor complained, sitting down next to him. “She sounds like a dyspeptic kettle.”
Remus chuckled; he couldn’t help it.
“I hope she doesn’t keep doing that all through the play,” she said, “or we may have to gag her.”
“But you hate this play.”
“There’s only one thing worse than having to sit through a play you hate, and that’s having to sit through a play you hate three seats away from a banshee.”
“We could always tell her that her make-up’s run or something,” she said, “that should get us a few seconds peace.”
People began to settle down, and Sirius took his place on Eleanor’s other side.
“Do you think if we killed her anyone would mind?” he asked, leaning over. He was far too close to Eleanor for Remus’s liking.
“It would be a welcome distraction from Malecrit, at least,” she said, with a half grin at Remus.
As the lights went down in the Great Hall he reflected that there was something worse than sitting through a play you hate three seats away from a banshee, and that was sitting within touching distance of the girl you’re madly in love with – and who has your best friend’s arm draped lazily around her waist.
He growled under his breath.
The show was, as it turned out, not half bad; the seventh years had spent much of the previous term re-writing the play, and had managed to make it bearable at least. A large part of it was made up for by the choir, who were excellent; pretty much their whole row cheered and gave Peter a standing ovation for his solo – which was brilliant. He looked torn between embarrassment at his friends and pride. His date, Claire, was much more agreeable, and was quickly absorbed into the group as they meandered around the Great Hall, waiting for the chairs to be cleared away and the dancing to start.
Sirius swept Eleanor off almost immediately onto the dance floor, and James followed suit with Persephone, though with considerably less enthusiasm. Remus glared after them.
Claire and Peter wandered past them, oblivious to anyone else; Frank and Alice were already dancing.
“I don’t suppose you want a turn about the boards?” he asked glumly, Lily gave him a Look.
“Nothing. Do you want to dance, or not?”
It didn’t take long for Lily to get fed up with him; as soon as the first dance was over she dragged him to the side of the Hall. Out of the corner of his eye he saw James’s eyes following them, and managed to turn around long enough to acknowledge him before Lily cornered him.
“Look,” she said, “whatever Potter’s done to you -”
“James hasn’t done anything,” he said hotly, and Lily looked taken aback at his tone. “In fact he’s being a great friend.”
“Remus, what’s got into you?”
“Nothing, I’m fi-”
“You’re one of my very best friends, Remus, but if you lie to me one more time I will hex you.”
He looked at her sadly.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Well that was blatantly obvious,” she said. “I’ve never seen you this angry – or rude. What’s going on? You can trust me…”
“I know I can,” he said, running a hand through his hair in frustration. “Can’t you just leave it? It’s personal…”
“I… I don’t like seeing you this unhappy.”
“I wouldn’t like to see you feeling like this either.”
Remus glanced out at the dancers and saw James piloting Persephone closer to Sirius and Eleanor, distracting his friend and making him trip. He smiled grimly. Everything’s fair in love and war, he thought. My turn.
“Alright,” he said abruptly, turning back to her. “Imagine that I’m James.”
“You’re James,” she said flatly.
“Yes, I’ve asked a girl to a dance that I really like as a friend, and I’m feeling guilty that I’m not taking proper care of her because I can’t get my mind off the couple talking in the corner.”
“Please don’t make this about him.”
“It’s not, entirely. See this couple are his friends – his good friends; he’s been best friends with him since the first week they were in school together and he’s loved her, with everything that he is, since the first time she smiled at him. And he really wants to feel happy for them, but he can’t, because now there’s this great big angry snake thing gnawing at the inside of his chest – and he knows, really, he has no right to feel like that because he knows she’s not his… And that doesn’t matter, because it’s never going to stop hurting.” He was nearly in tears and he knew that she could see it. “And now he’s leaning in to whisper something in her ear, and it’s all he can do not to just walk over there and drag him the fuck away from her, because he has no right to be that close –”
Lily was staring at him, but she kept glancing behind him – probably at James.
“So instead of walking over and killing his best friend, he’s rude to the girl he’s brought to the dance – even if she’s one of his best friends too – he can’t help it.”
Somewhere behind him, Persephone gave a squeal that was a lot less excited; Lily couldn’t move her eyes from James.
“So she gets annoyed because he’s being rude, and she can’t help noticing that his eyes are straying to someone else, someone she probably hasn’t even noticed is the most beautiful woman in the room, and she storms off…”
There was the sound of a slap, followed by a shout of laughter behind him.
“But he hasn’t got the heart to follow her because he knows he doesn’t like her that much, and all he can do is look right back at that couple in the corner…”
With visible effort, Lily forced herself to look at him.
“We’re not just talking about James, are we?” she asked, though she already knew the answer; he sighed, and looked out across the dance floor, where Sirius was whirling a delighted Eleanor around, oblivious to the plight of two of his best friends.
“Give him a chance, Lily. He might be the world’s biggest prat half of the time, but nowhere on this earth will you find a man that loves you as ardently and completely as James Potter.”
She nodded, as though they were discussing nothing more complex than a change in the weather, but Remus saw the acceptance in her face. She’d give him a chance… she’d never fully appreciated the strength of James’s attachment to her before.
“But what about you?”
“I’ll manage,” he grimaced. “Go and dance with James.”
“Not yet,” she said, and he turned to her, surprised. “What kind of a catch would I be if I abandoned one of my best friends when he’s hurting? Wait here a moment.”
She hurried over to James, and drew him to one side; from his shocked expression, Remus surmised she’d asked him to dance. She hurried back, trying not to smile.
“I knew you liked him, deep down.”
“Well, everyone has problems,” she said, but he saw a sparkle in her eyes that hadn’t been there before. He was happy for them. “I’ve promised him the dance after next – this one, my dear, sweet Remus, is for you.”
He allowed himself to be pulled out onto the dance floor after her.
“I don’t know who she is,” said Lily, as they waltzed about the Great Hall, “but take it from me, if she can’t see how wonderful you are, then she’s blind.”
He gave a low chuckle that sounded to Lily a hell of a lot like a sob.
He watched them, from the sidelines, as he was used to doing, but this time, behind every smile, every splinter of happiness, it hurt. It hurt when Peter nearly fell over, taking Claire with him, both of them giggling happily; it hurt when Alice pulled Frank into a quiet corner of the hall for a kiss; it hurt when James and Lily, dancing together for the first time, kept going despite the end of the song, oblivious to it all. But nothing, nothing came close to how much it hurt when Sirius and Eleanor swept past him, dancing and laughing.
He turned away, and came face to unexpected face with Severus Snape; he was wearing the same pained expression. For the first time in months, the boys looked at one another.
Remus glanced at Lily, whose hands had snuck up around James’s neck.
“It’s not worth it,” Remus said, dully.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Beating yourself up about it – if she can’t see you for the person you are, then she’s not worth considering as a lover. You’ll only get hurt.”
He could feel Snape still staring at him as he left the Great Hall.
I should take my own advice and try to forget her, he thought, leaning on a balcony ledge. He sucked in the cool night air, it was chilly; it struck him that if he were to lean out a little further he’d be able to see nothing but stars below him. He wondered idly if he’d fall.
Too late, he thought, wryly. No, there was no way he could forget her… not while they were all living in each others’ lives and rooms and pockets… he’d have to figure something out. Maybe he could find a quiet room to study away from them all… nowhere as public as the Library; he’d have to borrow the Map…
He closed his eyes; it was certainly good to be outside tonight – away from all the noise and people. He suspected that there would have been more people around if the weather wasn’t so frosty, snogging in the undergrowth and generally misbehaving. If he’d been a better Prefect he might have done a cursory patrol of the area, but being who he was he decided to leave the quivering bushes he’d passed on his way out to their own devices.
“It’s beautiful out here,” said Eleanor, and he realised he’d been so engrossed in his thoughts he’d not even heard her approaching.
“Yes,” he replied, glancing at her. She looked delightfully autumnal, like a wood nymph who’d lost her way and wandered into the warm Castle unawares.
Think about something else, his mind insisted, and he coughed.
“Here – I saw you heading out for some air and I thought I’d join you,” she passed him a large goblet of what turned out to be wine. “I’ve not seen that much of you, these last couple of weeks.”
That was true enough, he’d been doing a fairly sound job of avoiding everyone.
“Thanks… where did you get this?”
“Hmm? Oh, I just picked one up earlier automatically – I’m allowed a glass of wine with dinner at home from time to time, so it’s nothing unusual – and by the time I felt the need of a refill, Professor McGonagall was tipsy enough that she didn’t notice me making off with these two.”
“Good for her,” he smiled. As strict as their Head of House was, she had something of a reputation for getting merry at events such as these.
“I left her dancing with the Minister of Magic…”
“I hope Frank’s taking pictures.”
“He looked rather busy, actually,” she grinned; she’d spotted him and Alice in a corner of the Hall, looking for all the world like two newlyweds.
“I’ll bet,” he said, raising an eyebrow; Eleanor giggled.
“I do believe I’m a little tipsy,” she said, leaning on the balcony.
“You’re better off with that than with the punch,” he said. “Sirius usually spikes it.” She didn’t see his features darken at his best friend’s name; she was too busy staring out at the aching beauty of the Grounds.
“Yes, I saw him do it – it looked pretty lethal.”
They sipped their wine in silence for a few minutes.
“Where is he, by the way? I’d have thought he’d have come looking for you by now,” he said, fighting to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
“Oh, he went off with some girl called Trixie…”
WHAT? That was it, Sirius was going to die. Slowly and horribly. How could he?
Remus swayed as if he’d been slapped and turned to stare at her in shock; she didn’t seem particularly flustered. Somewhere deep in his chest, the snake that had been gnawing upon him paused in its work.
“He left with some seventh year called Trixie – the way they were pawing at one another they’re probably locked up in a broom cupboard somewhere by now… or – and I hate to say it – your dormitory.”
“And,” and here was the important thing, “you don’t mind?”
“No,” she turned to look at him, perplexed. “Why should I mind?”
“You’re his date!”
“You’re Lily’s date, and she’s back in there, dancing with James as if the world was crumbling around them… and you seem alright with that,” she paused, as if she might have misread him. “You are alright, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes, I’m fine –”
She sipped her wine again, and Remus felt his heart hammering against the inside of his chest, as if it were trying to escape.
“But you looked so happy… dancing with him.”
“I was – he’s a good dancer.”
Remus opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, as if he were trying to fit some strange new concept in his head, and couldn’t. He took a longer drink of his wine.
“Look,” she said gently, “I’m sorry if it offends your sense of honour that him running off with some bit of muslin doesn’t bother me, but the truth is I didn’t really want to come with him in the first place.”
“Then why did you say yes?” he asked, desperately trying to keep the screaming madman he was becoming internally far away from his vocal cords.
“Because he asked. As I said, it was him or Mulciber – and that was never going to happen.”
“Oh.” He stared back out into the night.
“I had hoped that someone else would ask me,” she said, almost to herself.
Somewhere in his heart, hope stirred.
“Who did you hope would ask you instead?” he asked, pronouncing each word very carefully.
“Oh… er…” and she looked up at him with those stormy grey eyes reflecting the galaxies above them and he knew. The shock of it rooted him to the spot.
Eleanor turned away, embarrassed. She’d had too much to drink, she knew… she shouldn’t have let him see how much she wanted him; her mother would scold her for leaving herself so vulnerable. She took rather a large gulp of wine.
Remus was standing stock still, staring out into the starlit grounds. She winced. Why did she have to be so stupid? She’d thought for a moment, when they’d danced past him, she’d caught him watching them, hawkish, from the sidelines, but she must have been wrong. Beside her, Remus appeared to have reached a decision.
“Bugger Sirius,” he said, half to himself, and gently took her hand. “Eleanor, would you do me the honour of granting me this dance?” he asked, as a new song began in the Hall behind them. He looked so sincere that he caught her off guard – maybe he did feel something for her after all; his eyes were a little glassy with wine, but that didn’t cloud the affection there.
Stunned, she couldn’t find a way to force her voice out of her throat, and nodded instead; he led her to the centre of their secluded balcony.
It was like a dream… they started off in a slow waltz, matching the soft strains of music floating from the open windows behind them, their hands barely touching the other’s waist. Bodies tantalisingly close – Eleanor was strongly reminded of the way he’d felt, pushing her up against that statue, and she wanted more – more of him, more of his enticing warmth. The warmth of his stout blood mingling with the heat of her body, half a breath apart.
Without really knowing she was doing it, she closed the short distance between them and nestled her face into his shoulder, taking in the mouth-watering smell of him as he pulled her closer possessively and rested his chin on the top of her head. She even smelled of autumn… of frosty nights by the fire and the tang of fallen leaves, of spiced wine and the pages of a new book. Remus inhaled deeply.
A deep sense of peace stole over the pair, far from the reckless lust they’d felt before; this was where they needed to be, in each others’ arms. Distantly, they realised that the song in the Great Hall had ended.
Eleanor looked up at him, glancing inexorably at his lips; they were so close that she could taste the wine on his breath now; as if they shared each breath…
He met her gaze dead on, and in it she saw what he couldn’t bring himself to say, that she was the only thing he saw – that it was her image scorched indelibly on the walls of his cavernous mind… that there was nothing else he wanted in the whole world but her. The power of it made her tremble; somewhere deep in her abdomen, insistent blushes of lust began to pool, like honey.
He leant in to kiss her, their lips brushing for a moment; she turned her face away, into his shoulder.
Remus looked at her, startled, hurt.
“It’s not that I don’t want to kiss you,” she said, not looking up at him. “Because I really do, but… you’re off limits, you see.”
“Off-limits,” he repeated, into her hair.
“In the way you wouldn’t do it to James,” she continued miserably, “I can’t do it to Lily.”
“Lily?” he asked, pulling away from her slightly.
“Yes – you must have known – she told me about the Library…”
“Oh… but that was ages ago, I thought –”
“She still fancies you,” said Eleanor softly.
“But she’s dancing with James,” he told her.
Eleanor bit her lip.
“But for how long? What if she wakes up tomorrow and tonight is what has made her realise that all she wants is you, and I’ve taken that away from her?”
Remus sighed into her hair.
“You’re right,” he said, sadly. “We should wait… for the time being…”
Eleanor gave him a sad smile, and held him tightly.
“And then there’s Sirius,” sighed Remus, heavily. “I’m fairly sure he’s fallen for you.”
“He told me he hadn’t,” said Eleanor, looking up at him in the starlight.
“Ellie,” he said tenderly. “Generally speaking men will say anything to avoid facing the truth, particularly when it comes to beautiful young women.” He brushed his finger gently along her jaw, making her shiver against him. “Which makes you off-limits too,” he finished sadly.
They clung on to one another in the darkness, listening to the sound of their heartbeats, working in rhythm. Eventually Remus pulled away from her and led her to a nearby bench.
“This sucks,” she announced, with feeling. Remus nodded.
“Can nobody in Hogwarts catch a break?” he asked of the world at large; somewhere overhead an owl hooted, flying back to its Parliament.
“I think we should take that as no, then,” said Eleanor, forcing herself to smile for him.
“What do we do now? I’m not sure I know the social protocol for a situation like this…” said Remus quietly.
“We should establish some rules then,” she said, unconsciously taking his hand. “Rules for best friends – things that are safe.”
“Ok… well, no kissing, I think that’s fairly obvious.”
“But hugging’s alright, as long as we don’t hold on too long… We probably shouldn’t spend too much time alone together… I mean, I suppose studying is alright, but anything else…”
“It would be dangerous,” he agreed, sadly; time alone with Eleanor was something that he treasured. “We can flirt a bit, I suppose, but not too much…”
“Nothing you’d have to take points off us for,” she said, nudging him; they smiled at each other for a moment, before their expressions faded. “I’m not sure how much I could stand someone else flirting with you,” she said, quietly.
“Nor I you,” he nodded, frowning.
Neither felt it necessary to suggest that they might flirt with someone else, it just wasn’t going to happen.
“We can dance together, but nothing slow…”
“We can go to Hogsmeade together, but only as friends…” she smirked. “And you can’t take me to Madame Puddifoots.”
Remus pulled a face.
“I wouldn’t take you in there anyway, it’s horrific.”
“We can exchange gifts at the normal, friend-safe occasions, like birthdays, Christmas and Easter…”
“But emphatically not on Valentines day.”
“No,” she said.
“I think that’s probably enough to be going on with,” said Remus, in resignation. “We can always come up with more if the need arises.”
Eleanor nodded, and they rose, more together than they had ever been and still inescapably far apart.
“One more,” said Remus, frowning suddenly. “I shouldn’t spend too much time around you on full moon – my self-control isn’t what it should be to begin with…”
Eleanor nodded emphatically, remembering his lack of self-control in vivid colour.
“Yes…” He looked at her for a moment. “Just tonight,” he said, softly, “may I walk you back to the Tower?”
She gave him a bittersweet smile, and it lodged in his heart like a barb.
“Just tonight then, Moony.”
They passed through the Great Hall unnoticed as various couples wove and twirled around them, and walked through the dark school in that quiet companionship that came so easily to them. They paused at the base of the stairs, both unsure of what needed to be said; both afraid of this great undertaking, this staying apart, and what it would mean, how far it would test them.
“Well then,” Eleanor said, quietly. “Goodnight Mr Lupin.”
“Goodnight Miss Wren…” he hesitated. “Eleanor – Ellie,” he called her, savouring the taste of her name.
Gently, he leant down and kissed her delicately, tenderly; they rested their foreheads against one another for a moment. “Just this once,” he whispered, softly.
She got ready for bed without really noticing, and sat in the darkness, the hangings pulled tightly around her bed; it wasn’t until she’d heard both Alice and Lily steal in to bed and fall asleep that she allowed herself to cry.