Chapter 8 : Slow Down
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The rest of the lessons for that day came and went in their natural, orderly fashion. The constant patter of rain against the windows, the ancient rooftops, and the walls of the school wasn’t helping relieve my sudden wave of drowsiness. One would think that I would’ve been more alert than ever after the encounter with Lucinda, but if anything, it had made me all the more exhausted.
A heavy sighed escaped me as I pushed the door open, stumbling into the hallway. It was empty, just as I thought it would be. I was always one of the last students, if not the very last, to leave the classroom once a lesson had finished up. Hell, even the professor disappeared before I gathered up all my stuff as well as enough nerve to step out of the room. So, naturally, the corridors were deserted.
As I replayed the generally boring day - Lucinda encounter aside - while I walked down the hall, I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. Clutching my books closer to my chest - the strap on my satchel had broken and even though it would’ve taken a simple flick of my wand, I didn’t feel like fixing it after lunch - I lengthened my strides. By the time I reached the end of the corridor, I was all but jogging down the corridors.
Glancing down at my watch, I saw that there was another hour and a half before dinner. I hadn’t been given much homework from today’s lessons, and I had really been wanting to seek some peace and quiet so I could read the book my Aunt had sent in the post that morning. I bit my lower lip, contemplating whether or not I should brave the loud ruckus of the Gryffindor common room and run the risk of bumping into Black or just head straight to the library and do whatever homework I had yet to complete.
Just when I was about to make my decision, someone called my name. I stopped walking mid-step, wondering if I had made up the voice. Slowly, I turned to look over my shoulder and breathed a breath of relief. I wasn’t crazy and I hadn’t made up the voice; Lily Evans, with Alice Harper in tow, was coming toward me, a brilliant smile on her already brilliantly beautiful face.
“Wotcher Eleanor!” Alice greeted pleasantly as both she and Lily came to a halt in front of me.
I muttered a soft hello, staring instinctively down at my feet. It was one of my worst habits, but one I couldn’t seem to break. My plain, brown hair fell into my eyes, but I didn’t push it out of the way.
A few moments of uncomfortable silence passed between the three of us in which I was began to ponder why they had called out to me in the hall to stop me in the first place. But before I could voice my concern, Lily began to speak;
“Were you making your way to the library?” she asked, looking at me curiously.
I nodded. “Yeah, I was.”
Her smile returned, wider than it had been before. “We were wondering if you’d like to study with us for our Charms exam tomorrow. I know you have some difficulty with the class, just like Alice does, so…” she trailed off suggestively, a hopeful tone in her voice.
I picked my gaze up from the floor and my eyes flickered between their faces. Of course, she knew that I was horrible in Charms. Then again, who didn’t, especially after the incident in second year when I knocked Professor Flitwick unconscious when one of my charms had gone terribly wrong. I contemplated whether or not I’d like to study with them when, really, I had been looking forward to just sitting in the library and listening to the rain. Hmm, it seemed that I had already subconsciously made up my mind about my return to the common room.
Alice was so anxious, she was gnawing on her bottom lip.
“Yeah, okay,” I conceded, giving another small nod of my head. “I’ll join you guys.”
The sweet-faced, honey blonde let out a noise of great happiness while Lily smiled widely, “Brilliant.”
I was glad that someone was happy in this situation. Well, technically, two people were happy, but that just didn’t count, now did it? I had only begrudgingly agreed to this scenario and the reason was solely academic. It wasn’t like I had anything against either of the two, as they were some of the few people that actually spoke to me on a regular basis - well, semi-regular - and acknowledged my existence. I had just planned on being alone for a little while.
Lily led the way to the library. As we walked behind her, Alice chattered on incessantly and, after about two minutes, I blocked her cheery voice out. It wasn’t that I was trying to be rude, I just didn’t care for the ramblings that were coming from her lips. I had either heard them all or didn’t have any interest in them.
The strange feeling that I was being watched came over me again and I tried my very hardest not to shiver and alert Alice and Lily to my discomfort. I held onto my books more tightly, staring straight ahead of me. I dare not look elsewhere because I would probably end up freaking myself out and running back to the common room like the little sissy that I was.
I barely registered that we had entered the library when we did. The sound of my feet against the floor changed ever so slightly as we walked toward a table. Well, my table to be exact. The one that was the farthest one away from all the buzz of the library were large amounts of students crowded the interior, studying until they could barely keep their eyes open - or Madam Pince kicked them out of the library.
Hurriedly, I took my regular seat before either of them could. If I was going to study with them, I might as well make myself comfortable. There were two reasons why I liked this particular seat: one, because the padding on the seat of the chair actually still had padding it in, despite the fact that it looked incredibly rickety, it was comfortable and two, the angle of the bookcases concealed me from the view of all the other students. In short, it was perfect for me.
Lily took the seat to my immediate left and Alice sat down beside her. Because of them, I was almost completely blocked from view. On the inside, I did a small dance before I set my books down on the top of the table. The last time I had been in the library had been fateful and was the cause behind the bruises that decorated the upper portion of both my arms.
“So, what are we going to study first?” Lily asked eagerly, her emerald eyes sparkling at the notion that she actually got to help two of her friends - or one of them, anyway, I was more of an acquaintance - with their homework.
“Um,” I glanced at Alice, who looked just as apprehensive as I did.
“How about what we learned in class today?” Alice suggested.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” I agreed, nodding my head.
I just wanted to get this over with before anyone saw me.
Even if I wasn’t “forbidden” from associating with Lily and Alice, I couldn’t help but see through the eyes of Lucinda, who probably thought I was trying to get closer to Black through Lily and Alice. The thought alone usually would’ve made me laugh, but now, it made me cautious; I had to watch who I hung out with and where I did.
“Well, in order to pick up where we left off in class, we’ll have to round up some books,” Lily began, reaching into her satchel and producing a piece of parchment and a handsome looking eagle feather quill. I thought of my ruined eagle quill and sighed inwardly. She quickly scribbled on the sheet before tearing it in two and handed me one half. Alice received the other.
I looked down at the call number and resisted the urge to breath out in an angsty way. Of course, I would get the one book that would be impossible to find. I rolled my eyes as Alice studied her paper, her lips silently forming words, as though she was committing the words on the parchment to memory.
Lily was the first to leave the table, hurrying off and muttering under her breath. I glanced sidelong at Alice and bit back a small titter of laughter. You know what they say, birds of a feather, flock together. I pushed away from the table and went off in the direction where I knew the bookcases held the book I was assigned were located.
Miraculously, I managed to not trip over my own feet as I made my way over toward the bookcases on the opposite side of the library. Thankfully, there weren’t many students inside the library and, at any rate, they were all too focused on their work to notice me.
A small smile lit up my lips as I started on the first row of voluminous books. It may not have been the most glorious of tasks to look up at the crackled spines of all the old, leather bound books, but I reveled in the musty smell of old books. I inhaled deeply, my eyes fluttering shut for a few moments. I leaned against the wooden shelf, my eyes still closed as I ran my fingers over the various spines of the books.
If anyone saw me, they’d probably think that I was some sort of freak. But that was really going out on a limb and saying that someone would actually take the time to look my way. Sighing softly, I opened my eyes and looked down at the piece of parchment in my hand. I was in charge of finding some ridiculously titled Charms book and, as I tilted my head upward and looked at the rows and rows of shelving, my stomach knocked together.
This was going to take a while.
I had been searching for a little longer than five minutes when someone cleared their throat rather noisily, causing me to hit my head on the lip of one of the shelves. I bit back a retort, knowing that it wasn’t smart to plunge headfirst into a disagreement with someone without actually knowing who you were confronting.
“Hello,” a smooth, familiar voice said.
Once I managed to duck my head and avoid hitting the shelf again, I shook my fringe out of my eyes and turned to look at who had cleared their throat.
Much to my surprise, instead of cowering at the thought of conversing with someone, my lips twitched slightly, as if they wanted to pull back into a welcoming smile.
“Hi Remus,” I said, my voice cracking slightly.
“I didn’t mean to make you hit your head,” he commented, taking a step closer to me.
“Oh, it’s all right,” I replied, standing up to my full height instead of crouching down on the dirty floor. “I scare easily.”
A warm smile made its way across his friendly face and he chuckled. Leaning against the bookcase and crossing his arms over his chest, he asked, “Are you planning on joining us for dinner again? James plans to teach you all about Quidditch.”
“Really?” I raised a brow in amusement. It was so easy to feel comfortable around Remus.
“Oh yes,” he continued, still smiling. “He’s made a bet with me that he could convince you that Quidditch was not only the greatest sport ever invented, but that you’d become an avid fan by the end of dinner.”
I laughed and Remus joined in. “He has high hopes, James does.”
Remus’s face immediately sobered up and he nodded his head in a rather somber manner. “That he does.”
I knew almost instantaneously what he was talking about. I thought of my study partner - or tutor, rather - and sighed.
“So,” he said after a moment of relatively awkward silence settled between us. “What brings you here?”
“Studying,” I answered.
“Try not to sound so enthusiastic, Miss Briggs,” Remus reprimanded jokingly.
Again, I laughed. “Well, it’s not exactly fun when one is studying their most dreaded subject.”
He pulled a face. “Binns does know how to assign some pretty nasty essays.”
“Oh no,” I said, shaking my head. “I’m talking about Charms.” If anyone knew how horrible I was at Charms, it was Remus.
Another smile twitched at his lips and he nodded his head serenely. “I had forgotten how horrendous you were at that subject.”
I opened my mouth in mock offense. “That was a low blow, Mr. Lupin. A very low blow.”
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly, sounding genuine in his apology. Had he not picked up on the joking, sarcastic tone in my voice?
“It’s all right. There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“So, how about it?” Remus asked. “Are you going to join us for dinner?”
I couldn’t ignore the hopeful note in his voice and, inwardly, I cringed. I would’ve gladly accepted the invitation to sit with him and his mates had it not been for my encounter with Lucinda that afternoon. I subconsciously rubbed the tops of my arms and bit my lip when I applied a little too much pressure on a particularly nasty bruise. Was it really worth it? I valued Remus’s friendship, if that’s what you could call this new…thing that had formed between us, but were his feelings really worth having to subject to whatever Lucinda had planned for me should I go back on my word?
Thankfully, Lily came to my rescue. “Eleanor!” she said, breathing a sigh of relief. “Have you found that book yet?”
Remus looked over his shoulder at the vivacious redhead and smiled warmly. The two of them were quite the pair of friends, having been Gryffindor Prefects from fifth to this year - until Lily was made Head Girl. “Oh, Hiya Remus! I wasn’t expecting to see you here. Care to join our little study group?”
His kind eyes flickered over to me and I bit my lip. I wanted to say no, that he wasn’t allowed to join our little study group, as Lily had put it, that he should just go back to the Gryffindor common room before I spilled the beans about why I was being semi-rude to him. Of course, I didn’t have the nerve to speak out. I rarely ever did.
“Actually,” he began. “I have to help Prongs with some Astronomy homework that he’s been having some trouble with.”
Lily’s brow furrowed at the mention of Hogwarts’ Head Boy, her expression halfway between a scowl and a fond smile. The look vanished immediately and I vaguely wondered if I had made the entire thing up, which was highly likely. “Can’t it wait until later on? Like after dinner?”
“We have arrangements after dinner,” Remus said. “Otherwise, I’d love to help you tutor the Charms invalids.” His lips quirked up into a smile at his last words and I smiled back.
“I’m glad you find humor in my incompetence, Mr. Lupin,” I muttered jokingly under my breath, loud enough so that they could both hear me.
Like I expected, Remus laughed before shoving his hands into his trouser pockets. “Well, I should be going. Take care and good luck with the inept, Lily.”
An awkward silence settled between Lily and I before I turned my attention to the sprawling sea of books in front of me, intent on finding the book as soon as possible so we could return to our table in the corner of the library. I kept my eyes trained to the old spines of the books, my eyes narrowed as I searched.
Lily found the book first, holding it out for me to take. I accepted it wordlessly and followed her out of the aisle between the bookcases. I could tell that she wanted to say something, but she was keeping it back for my sake. At least, I hoped that it was for my sake and that it wasn’t some biting remark about how I should back off of Remus. Because, you know girls these days, they were always convince that you were going after their piece of man candy if you so much as talked to them. Delusional, I’ll tell you, the whole lot of them.
We were dangerously close to our table when Lily whispered in my ear, “I know your secret.”
A giggle escaped her as I stared at her back in disbelief, at a complete loss for words. Was I really that transparent? Was it really that obvious?
Oh shite, I was in for it. I was done for! Lily would tell Black not because she liked it, but because it was the right thing to do and then Black would go storming to his girlfriend and they’d have a nasty row and then she’d come to me, thinking that I told Sirius myself and…my Circe, it was just one huge, vicious circle, wasn’t it? Oh vey, I should just run up to my dormitory right now and pack up all my belongings to get it over with. I could Floo home, couldn’t I? Or maybe I could sneak out of the castle to Hogsmeade and fly to the nearest train station? It wouldn’t take that long, I suppose, and it was possible if I were stealthy enough.
“Eleanor!” By the sound of Alice’s voice, I could tell that she had been trying to get my attention for quite some time. I shook my head, clearing all thoughts of possible escape from my mind and gave her my full, undivided attention. Or at least, what I could spare of it.
“Finally, she speaks!” Alice threw her arms up in mock exasperation before she smiled and beckoned me toward the table. I glanced at Lily and there was no trace that she knew anything of my “secret”. She swore a strictly business expression and I vaguely wondered if I had imagined the whole thing. After all, I did have a very overactive imagination.
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