It was early December, nearly a week after the Gala, and winter had decided to make itself felt. They had woken up one morning to deep snow lapping up against the Castle Walls like waves against a ship… Alice had told her that Hogwarts always looked like a Christmas cake at this time of year, and watching Hagrid dragging immense Christmas trees up the slope to the Castle, Eleanor could well believe it.
At breakfast, Dumbledore announced that there would be a meeting for all sixth years in the evening, and several people groaned; from the cackles coming from the nearby seventh years, Eleanor deduced that this was either going to be the Hogwarts version of sex-education or something to do with next year’s Gala. She was trying to decide which would be more entertaining as she’d attempted to make her way to the greenhouses, for Herbology, but Madame Sprout’s ringing voice interrupted her thoughts.
“No Herbology today chaps, there’s a blizzard out there – not sure how far I trust the roof of greenhouse three – best not to risk it,” she said, gathering them all together. “However, just so I know you’re willing, next lesson I want an essay considering the changing uses through history of a plant of your choice – medicinal, magical, black market, whatever – four rolls of parchment. Now don’t give me that,” she said, as they cried mutiny. “You only have to write the things, I have to mark them. If you can help it, please try to choose something different to the people around you – I don’t want thirty essays on Mandrakes this year.”
The Gryffindors had made an immediate detour to the Library, Lily announcing that there was no time like the present, and no one currently having anything better to do. Books collected, they set off back to the Common Room to study – or at least, open their books and ignore them. Peter, unusually, was quite enthusiastic about his essay – he’d chosen the Chinese Chomping Cabbage since he already knew a great deal about it from Potions.
“So, what’ve you picked?” asked James, leafing through the tome in front of him; Eleanor glanced around the room. He had the look of a man who was up to something.
“Not sure… I was going to do Tentacula, but Sirius bagsied it…I might do the Flitterbloom, but it’s far less interesting.”
“You could always go into the identification – it looks just like Devil’s Snare; there was some at the bottom of my garden, for years I was convinced it was going to eat me if I didn’t keep an eye on it.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” he said, absently, watching Lily and Alice debating the aesthetic merits of Honking Daffodils and Biting Geraniums.
Eleanor rolled her eyes and glanced at Sirius; he gave her a wide, easy grin. Definitely up to something.
“By the way,” Remus remarked, “I’d be on your guard if I were you.”
“I knew it, James and Sirius have been grinning at me all morning.”
“Well your prank-free grace period is more than up, you can’t expect us to hold off forever.”
She glanced at him.
“I wondered if you were secretly the brains behind the operation.”
He gave her a grin.
“I wouldn’t know what you’re talking about, Miss Wren.”
They were sat in Ancient Runes, which was fast becoming the highlight of the week for both of them; it was one of the few places that they could relax around one another. There was no need to pretend that they didn’t care for one another, since they were the only two students and Professor Castaway liked them enough to ignore them and get on with his own research most of the time, and it wasn’t as if either of them felt in danger of losing their cool in front of a teacher.
“As long as its not permanent, humiliating or life-threatening…”
“I wouldn’t let them,” Remus protested, in mock offence.
She beamed at him, and he turned ruefully back to his translation; the moments when she felt she could smile at him like that made everything else bearable.
Eleanor was changing out of her uniform as quietly as she could; Lily had had a late Patrol the previous evening, and was taking what she called a ‘power nap’ before the meeting. She’d got as far as pulling on her jeans and wondering which of her jumpers was currently clean when Alice walked in.
Eleanor nearly fell over when she gave a startled shriek; Lily fell out of bed with a thump.
“Merlin Alice, what?”
“What the fuck?” asked Lily groggily from the floor.
“Your hair –”
“It just grows that way – all over the place.”
“No, I mean, it’s purple!”
She turned to look in the mirror as a dishevelled Lily scrambled out of her blanket and gasped.
“It is purple!”
The three of them stood looking at Eleanor’s reflection in surprise. She put her head to one side.
“It’s not bad,” she said thoughtfully, admiring the way the colours had shaded in lightly with her usually ashy tones.
“You aren’t angry?” asked Lily, astonished.
“Well, they could have done a lot worse,” said Eleanor, ruffling her already messy hair up into spikes.
“True,” said Alice. “And it does kind of suit you…”
“I wonder when they did it,” said Eleanor, frowning. “You’d think I’d have noticed.”
“But the teachers at the meeting tonight –” started Lily, concerned.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that,” she said, with a grin that was strangely reminiscent of Remus’s. “Would you ladies care to help me wreak my revenge?”
A slow grin spread across Lily’s face.
“Nothing that breaks school rules,” she said.
Alice giggled excitedly; “What did you have in mind?”
“Miss Wren!” called Professor McGonagall, stunned. “What is the meaning of this?”
They’d barely got through the door the Great Hall when she noticed them; several of the school ghosts had done impressive double takes on the way down the stairs.
“The meaning of what, Professor?” Eleanor asked, coolly; behind their Head of House, Frank and the Gryffindor boys were trying not to laugh. That would have to stop.
“W- your hair, Miss Wren, it’s purple!”
“Oh, that,” she said, giving the impression of exasperation; beside her Alice was trying really hard not to giggle. She could feel her shaking.
“It’s been perfectly normal all day and then suddenly, just as I was coming down to the meeting, it went purple,” she explained, and Professor McGonagall narrowed her eyes at her.
“We tried changing it back,” said Lily, helpfully, “but it didn’t work – it must have been charmed or something.”
“Have you any idea who might have done this?” asked McGonagall carefully.
Eleanor looked right at the boys, who froze in their seats, and smiled, letting them hang for a moment.
“None at all, Professor.”
“Hmmpf,” said Professor Sprout, eyeing the Gryffindor boys wearily. Professor McGonagall raised an eyebrow. Beside her, Professor Flitwick was grinning.
“Charms like that usually last about a week – there’s not too much you can do about them.”
“Well, let us hope that it changes back of its own accord, shall we?” said Professor McGonagall, brusquely. “Take a seat, girls, while we wait for the Slytherin contingent.”
They took seats next to the boys, who grinned.
“Thanks love,” said Sirius, leaning over. “Thought you’d shop us for a moment there.”
“Oh, I have a much worse fate planned for you,” said Eleanor, smiling sweetly. “So watch your backs.”
James and Peter exchanged worried looks, but Remus appeared to be fighting silent laughter; he glanced at her once and had to look away quickly.
“Ah, good, everyone’s here,” said Professor Flitwick, from atop a perch of textbooks. “Most of you have probably realised that this is the first meeting to plan next year’s Autumn Gala –” a few people, mostly Slytherins, groaned. “This year’s was such a success,” he continued excitedly, “and I hope that together we can make next year’s even better!”
Around the room, students were shooting him dubious looks; across the room, Eleanor met the dark eyes of Severus Snape, who looked as if any such thing would be highly unlikely. Both of them had to turn away, smirking.
“First thing’s first,” said Professor Sprout. “We should make it quite clear that your involvement in the Gala is compulsory, and non-attendance will earn you detentions and lose you house points. That said,” she continued, ignoring the pained expressions on nearly everyone’s faces. “Generally students are surprised to discover how much fun they’re having, working with people they don’t normally work with and doing something worthwhile.”
“Our first task is to decide on a charity to support; last year it was the ‘Society for the Location and Protection of Rare Species’, as championed by our own Professor Kettleburn… can we have some ideas for who you would like to support?”
The students, feeling rather put upon, maintained a wall of unhelpful silence.
“Well, I suppose we’re back to the Troll Rights Movement,” said McGonagall, with calculated weariness.
Several people sniggered; had she just made a joke?
“Or the Society for the Reformation of Hags,” put in Professor Sprout.
James took the bait.
“How about Q.U.A.B.B.L.E?” he said, and a few people stared at him. “What?” He said. “Quidditch is important!”
“What about the Dark Force Defence League?” suggested Dane Abercrombie, of Ravenclaw.
“No, they get enough funding,” said Claire, “it should be something that doesn’t get as much – like the Society for Distressed Witches.”
There were a few murmurs of assent; Eleanor glanced at her teachers, who were smiling. Crafty buggers.
People were actively suggesting and defending various charities and organisations now; the Slytherins were largely silent, only adding to the discussion when they could smother someone with scorn.
Severus was looking at her again, frowning.
What? She mouthed, and he shook his head slightly. He hardly ever put himself forward.
Eleanor let her eyes challenge him, until finally he cracked.
“What about the new ward that was proposed at St Mungos?” he asked, quietly. The fact that he’d spoken made quite a few people shut up – a lot of them had forgotten he was there.
“The children’s ward?” asked Remus, leaning forward slightly; Severus didn’t quite meet his gaze, but he glanced in his general direction.
“Yes – there was an article about it in the Daily Prophet…”
“That’s right,” said Alice, suddenly. “They were asking for donations – it’s to help look after children who have really weird conditions, or have been abused and stuff.”
Quite a few people were looking at Severus in a new light; unfortunately this included one or two of the Slytherins, who were glaring at him.
“Sounds like a really good idea,” said Frank. “It’s something we can all relate to – being ill when you’re a kid can be really scary.”
“Yes,” said Lily. “It would be good if we could help out, even just a little.”
Algernon Zabini, one of the few Slytherins anyone could stand, nodded.
“It’s the most acceptable suggestion so far,” he said, and continued (largely for his fellow Slytherins’ benefit), “It makes sense – if we grow up and raise families any one of us might have the need to visit that ward.”
“Merlin forbid,” said Professor McGonagall, quietly.
“Shall we have a general ‘aye’ for the children’s ward then?” Eleanor asked the room at large. “All against?”
Not even the Slytherins made a noise.
“All in favour?”
As the room gave a resounding ‘AYE!’ Severus blushed, but he looked quite pleased with himself all the same; the members of Lily’s study group were giving him covert grins when the Slytherins weren’t looking.
“Excellent,” said Professor Flitwick. “And we couldn’t have asked for a worthier cause. Next we have to decide what show we want to put on. This years’ was rather hard work, given the material…”
Claire and Peter, who as members of the choir had had to sit through rather a lot of the early rehearsals, nodded emphatically.
“I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be choosing anything by Malecrit in future,” agreed Professor Sprout. “I for one fancy something much more cheerful.”
“A comedy, then?” suggested Peter, to general murmurs of assent.
“What about ‘Hearts and Minds’?” suggested a pretty Ravenclaw girl with long silver hair. “That’s a comedy.”
Sirius made a face.
“It’s also a romance,” he said, and the girl glared at him.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“It’s boring, and unrealistic.”
“No it’s not!”
“Dorothy, it’s got singing teacups in it,” said Frank, fairly.
“Well, what about “The Storm Mage’s Fancy’?” asked Algernon, in his deep, authoritative voice.
“That’s not a comedy,” said Lily, thoughtfully. “Not really.”
“I think it’s funny,” said Mulciber.
“Everybody dies horribly at the end –”
“That’s why it’s funny.”
“Excluding your questionable taste, Mr Mulciber, I think we can leave that one,” said Professor McGonagall, firmly. Algernon Zabini nodded graciously to both her and Lily, and let it rest.
They continued like this for some time, making suggestions and arguing themselves out of them, and eventually, Eleanor had had enough.
“What about a Muggle play?” she asked; Mulciber and his troll-like cronies looked as though she’d suggested eating a slug. Algernon and Severus looked interested however, as did quite a few of their classmates.
“Like what?” asked Lily. “Shakespeare?”
“You can’t go wrong with a bit of Shakespeare,” said Professor Flitwick. “In fact, we haven’t had one of his since I was in my sixth year.”
“How about ‘Much Ado About Nothing’” said Eleanor. “Nobody dies, but it’s funny and everything goes wrong for everyone.” She shot a dark look at Mulciber. “There’s quite a bit of romance, and a really good evil character…”
“Perhaps we should read it, before we decide,” suggested Frank.
“A capital idea, Mr Longbottom,” said Professor Sprout, one eye on the clock. “Now let me see: Accio Much Ado About Nothing!”
“Irma won’t be too impressed,” said Professor Flitwick, conversationally.
“Irma needs to loosen up,” said Professor Sprout, to general sniggers. “You didn’t hear me say that,” she told them, sternly, as a battered copy of the play zoomed in through an open window.
“Now, we wouldn’t do this with a magical book, but since the play is mundane, Geminio Ultimo,” pronounced Professor Flitwick. He had to repeat the charm several times to generate sufficient copies for the thirty-odd students; he sent them soaring out around the room with a casual flick of his wand. “You’ve got about two days to read them – the copies will disappear after a while – so I suggest you all get to it; our next meeting will be on Saturday at three o’clock. I’d appreciate it if you could all bring parchment and quills, and be prepared to start thinking about the production side of things. If enough of you like it, we’ll go with that one – it’s one of my favourites,” he twinkled at Eleanor. “Off you go! Oh – could whoever ends up with the real copy bring that on Saturday too, please!”
“Did you have to suggest a romance?” whined Sirius, as they filed out.
“Why don’t you read it before you criticise it, Padfoot?” said Remus, following him. “You might like it.”
“I doubt it,” he said, then brightened up. “Hey Eleanor, we could be the romantic leads – give me a kiss?”
“Go boil your head, Black.”
The sixth years could be found scattered around the Common Room that evening, their heads buried in the play; even Sirius had started his copy, after James told him that it wasn’t bad. Every so often one of them would snigger and the others would look over to see whether they’d got to that bit yet. Eleanor, who knew it by heart anyway, was flicking through her copy almost lazily, occasionally helping out when someone came across a word that wasn’t in use anymore.
Remus, who had finished the play already, immediately went back to the start and started to read it again; or at least he appeared to, but Eleanor knew he was using the opportunity to watch her. On the pretence of discussing the meaning of ‘a lodge in a warren’ she leant over his shoulder, breathing on his neck. Remus shivered.
“Stop it,” he hissed.
“Well stop watching me then, it’s putting me off.”
“Sorry, you just get this look when you’re concentrating…”
“You kind of bite your lip and frown a little…”
“Every time – and you play with your hair. It suits you, by the way.”
“Thanks… I quite like it.”
He smiled up at her.
“I loved the way you dealt with it, by the way – you didn’t let us get to you, just carried yourself above it all.”
She smiled, and cocked an eyebrow.
“I thought it was about time you saw what I was made of.”
He looked delightfully mischievous, lips curled in a smile, eyes sparkling, teasing… this was dangerous.
“Just watch your back, Lupin,” she said, matching his crooked smile and sauntering over to sit safely between Alice and Lily on the floor.
He watched her go from behind his book, and bit his lip; she didn’t even know she was doing it.
“This isn’t half bad,” said Sirius, grudgingly, as he finally finished his copy.
“Told you,” said Eleanor, from the floor.
“So who’s going to audition?” asked Alice, brightly. “I might…”
“You’ll be brilliant,” said James, firmly. “You’d make a good Hero, actually.”
“Oh, you would Alice – go for it!” agreed Lily, grinning at James.
They weren’t officially together yet, but the Autumn Gala had moved them on leaps and bounds.
“Oh no, I couldn’t – I was thinking something much smaller – Margaret perhaps, or Ursula.”
“Oh go on, Alice!”
“Yeah, you’d be brilliant!”
“You won’t get a choice,” interrupted Peter. “If it’s anything like the last few years, every one of us will audition, Flitwick and Sprout will decide on who’s who, and then McGonagall and Slughorn will enforce it.”
There was an uncomfortable silence; Remus and Lily were looking at their friend in horror.
“You mean they’ll force us to do it even if we don’t want to?” Remus asked, sounding rather more like he were discussing an impending death sentence than a play.
“Pretty much – they’re pretty good at choosing people who’ll be great for the role though. About half the cast didn’t want anything to do with it last year, and they did really well.”
“This is going to be brilliant,” said Sirius, eyes bright with mischief.
“This is going to be torture,” said Remus, in alarm.
Saturday dawned bright and clear, adding a solid layer of lethal ice to the blanket of snow around the Grounds; the Marauders were already in the Great Hall, rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and stabbing their forks into their breakfasts as if they had caused them mortal offence. Their hair was dripping wet, as though they’d all just had hot showers.
“What’s up with you?” asked Frank, on his way past.
Four pairs of eyes glared up at him.
“Somehow, Eleanor made it start raining in our dormitory at three o’clock this morning,” growled Sirius.
“It took us ages to get it to stop,” yawned Peter, pulling the bacon closer.
“And now all our stuff’s sopping wet,” complained James. “Because every time we use a drying spell on anything, another localised rain cloud starts up, and it gets even wetter.”
Frank, who had been trying quite hard not to laugh, asked: “How do you know it was Eleanor?”
“Easy,” said Sirius, “It has to be a Gryffindor, since they’d have to have access to our dorm’. We’ve pranked everyone else in Gryffindor tons of time and no one’s ever got us back before, and we pranked Eleanor last week. Has to be her.”
“Quod erat demonstrandum,” mumbled Remus grumpily. “Plus the only things that didn’t get wet were our books and homework.”
“I was wondering about that,” said Peter. “Sounds a bit more like something Lily would do…”
“Nah, Evans wouldn’t prank us – it’d be against her Prefectly nature.”
“I’m a Prefect, and I pull pranks with you all the time,” said Remus.
“Yeah, but we’d never let you get any peace if you didn’t,” said James. “Lily doesn’t have the same incentive.”
“You reckon?” said Frank, as the three Gryffindor girls strode into the Hall and sat down, smiling brightly.
“You’re up early,” remarked Lily, buttering her toast.
“Rough night,” said Sirius, his eyes on Eleanor; she looked at him in concern.
“Oh dear, what’s wrong?”
Remus shook his head slightly; while a large part of him wanted to string her up by the knickers for their rude awakening and subsequent few hours of chaos, he couldn’t help but admire her tenacity. As Sirius informed her through gritted teeth that everything was absolutely fine, thank you so very much, there was barely a tell on her face. It had to have been her… Peter was probably right about Lily too; he glanced at Alice, who was struggling not to giggle. Apparently in pranking Eleanor they had unwittingly gone to war; despite himself, he was impressed. The charms involved must have been pretty complex – and they would have had to have snuck in while the Marauders were sleeping…
Caught upon the thought that Eleanor had been in the room while he’d been asleep, he almost missed her next observation; she’d turned to Frank, who was grinning at her in approval.
“What funny weather we’ve been having lately.”
Lily snorted into her toast while Alice collapsed completely onto Frank, who was also roaring with laughter; Eleanor on the other hand, looked perfectly innocent.
“What did I say?” she asked, eyes wide. This was apparently too much for Sirius, who waved his fork at her, threateningly.
“That’s it, Missy, it doesn’t matter how sexy you are, you mess with the Marauders and you get burned,” he growled across the table.
Eleanor leaned over, narrowing her eyes.
“Now you know what it feels like, you arrogant git.”
He stared at her, dumbfounded.
“Think of it as pay back for all the people who’ve fallen foul of you and not been able to get you back for it,” said Lily.
James was staring at her in admiration.
“You’re lovely when you’re evil,” he said. “Lily, would you go with me to Hogsmeade next week – as a date, I mean?”
A smile took up residence on Lily’s features that looked like it wouldn’t be shifted in a hurry.
“You know, that’s the first time you’ve asked me out since November?” she said. “It’s nice to have a change, from time to time. Certainly.”
“What, really?” James looked as though all his dreams had come true. He got up, vaulted over the table and gave Eleanor a big wet kiss on the cheek.
“Ack! What was that for?” she sputtered.
“For waking me up at hideous o’clock, drenching me repeatedly until I came down to breakfast and wearing me out sufficiently to ask Lily to Hogsmeade again!” he cried, punching the air.
Lily rolled her eyes, but she was still smiling; she turned to wink at Remus.
“Keep up the dancing and I might change my mind.”
On the way to the auditions, as they had realised they would be, Remus pulled Eleanor to one side.
“A little bit of advice for the future,” he said, as the others walked around a corner. “I really hate early mornings.”
“Oh, do you? I rather like being in control of my own hair colour,” she said, challenge in her eyes; he rose to it immediately, taking a threatening step forward, his voice dropping dangerously, huskily.
“You should pay attention to Padfoot you know,” he said, closing in. “Being damn’ sexy will only protect you for so long, particularly if I get a few more sleepless nights.”
“Is that so?” Eleanor asked, refusing to back down. Gods he loved it when her eyes flashed like that.
“I might have to arrange a few more sleepless nights for you, then,” she said, smiling menacingly, hands on hips.
“Is that a promise?” he growled, having real trouble not taking hold of her; he closed his eyes. “We should stop this.”
“Yes, yes we should,” said Eleanor, stepping away.
They hurried to catch up with their friends, trying not to look at one another.
“Remus?” Eleanor asked, just before they reached the door to the meeting room, he glanced at her. “Damn’ sexy?”
“And you know it,” he grinned.