A/N: Just to let you know, the first half of this chapter was forced out in a period of intense writer's (and thinking) block, so it may not be as "good" as my usual. The end of the chapter, however, actually contains a semblance of plot, so no one can say it's just filler. :P Thanks to all my readers and reviewers!
gorgeous image by Shirahime!
It never occurred to Eleanor that, as the girlfriend of the most popular boy in school, she was eligible for increased social benefits, including friends, followers, and a makeover. She would not have minded the first, but would any of the girls at school really like her for who she was and look past the fact that they were all bitterly jealous of her new position? That was not the type of friendship she wanted. As for the second, she wouldn’t like having people like Peter following her about all the time. Surely they would get in the way? The latter was something she never even contemplated because she could not imagine herself looking any other way. She had always been the fat, short, and stupid one – a nicer hairstyle and cosmetics would not improve anything about her. In Eleanor’s eyes, ugly people would always be ugly.
She had gone up to the Astronomy Tower once again. This time, however, she was not followed. It was a good place to think, to be alone, to pretend that being alone really wasn’t all that bad. The wind was sweeter than before, carrying vague hints of spring in its fingers. She let it blow into her face, pushing back the stringy strands of hair from her forehead. The best part about wearing spectacles was never having to close one’s eyes in a wind, and Eleanor loved this one thing that others could not experience or understand. She refused to stand near the battlements, instead choosing to lean against the tower door. It was a good way of preventing any interruption of her thoughts, at least.
Did she even have any thoughts right now? She thought herself rather thoughtless, especially around Sirius. They always did what Sirius wanted, even if it meant taking a walk to the Shrieking Shack when Eleanor would much rather have been drinking tea at Madam Puddifoot’s. He tended to show her off when someone happened upon them in the halls when she would rather hide away as soon as someone came by.
To all appearances, it was the perfect relationship, unlike the tremulous pseudo-relationship between James Potter and Lily. One minute, they’d be arguing, the next laughing with each other. Eleanor would watch them and wonder how something that looked so flawed could be love.
Did she actually like Sirius Black?
The answer “of course! who doesn’t like him?” wasn’t enough anymore. Sirius was always very polite, making sure that she was happy enough, but she lied when he asked how she felt. Before this, she’d never lied much at all. Feeling falsities drop from her lips wasn’t something she wanted to repeat. It was another thing she wasn’t happy about.
There were footsteps on the stairs. Eleanor stepped away in time to escape being hit by the door smashing open. Two figures emerged, their faces connected at the mouth and their bodies connected pretty much everywhere else. While they were otherwise occupied, Eleanor fled down the tower stairs, making sure to close the door behind her. She was sure that they wouldn’t want to be seen, not in their current state.
Walking through the corridors, Eleanor felt somewhat better. It must have been her fault that she was feeling terrible. All the other girls never minded when their boyfriends were overbearing. That seemed to be the average situation among the couples of the school. Lily and James weren’t counted in that category, but that wasn’t a big surprise. One could never place Lily Evans in any normal type of role – she was too perfect for that. If it was in Eleanor’s nature to scowl, she would have at that moment. The shallow frown on her face was a poor substitute.
“Ellie? Where are you going?”
It was Sirius.
She stopped and blinked, her heart racing.
“Is something wrong?” He looked worried, though she could not meet his eyes to see if it were true. What poison had the girls’ words shot into her heart? They were jealous, they’d admitted it, but surely they wouldn’t come up with things like that just because they were jealous? They knew something about Sirius that Eleanor could not possibly guess at, but what?
Sirius was approaching her, his mouth opening to speak.
Should she ask him? Would he respond or, if he did, would he tell the truth?
Did it even matter?
“Eleanor, are you ill?”
She wished it was that simple.
“You look bothered about something.”
That, she was.
“It’s nothing.” Wasn’t it always?
“Are you sure?”
At least he acted like he cared.
As soon as she spoke the word, Eleanor’s eyes widened. She was not supposed to say that, but she couldn’t help it could she? Stupid, honest, little Eleanor.
“Ellie, please....” His hand touched her arm. A casual brush that could have meant the world. And it did.
She sniffed. Another cold, she presumed. Wonderful – it was just what she needed, a dribble of booger hanging off the tip of her nose as she tried to speak with Sirius. The option of wiping it on her sleeve was no more open to her – she didn’t want to look like an infant, after all.
“We should talk. I’ve been neglecting you lately.” He was smiling reassuringly, as though she was a temperamental infant, or was there now a negative light painting over all his features, even that wondrous smile?
“I agree,” she mouthed between sniffles.
One of his elegant eyebrows rose towards his hairline. “About the first or the second?”
Something pulled at the corners of her mouth. “Well... um....”
With a grin, he patted her shoulder. “Actually, don’t answer that. Best not to.”
Now what? They were just standing there in the corridor, his hand on her shoulder and hers itching to wipe her sleeve across her flooding nose. It was a dreadful feeling, but she did not want to leave him. Not when there was the possibility of something happening that would return those sensations that flitted through her memory like drifting leaves on a summer’s day. All the feelings of miserableness and doubt were ebbing. Only a small part of her wondered how long it would take for them to return.
“Where do you want to go?” she asked.
He shrugged like he always did. “Wherever. Somewhere with food preferably.”
This brought out a laugh from Eleanor. “Where else?”
She was smiling now, and not only because of the prospect of food. It was times like this, the little, insignificant moments, in which she actually felt that Sirius and her could be friends. She never would have said that they were actually
friends – she did not aspire to such heights – but she saw the potential of it, and that meant something, a lot of something. One would almost think that Eleanor knew why Sirius had asked her out, knew of the desperation that fuelled his actions, knew of the importance of the normality’s appearance.
They came out of the kitchens together, his arm slung around her shoulders. She felt a smile on her face, though the fullness of her stomach gave her discomfort. Once again, she had nearly eaten as much as he, and everyone knew that Sirius Black was the biggest eater in Gryffindor. Lucky for him, it never showed.
He was laughing at something, and she was sure that it was her. Who else was there? The corridors by the dungeons were never busy, other than the rare hungry student and sneaky Slytherins lurking in dark corners. Eleanor could have sworn she caught sight of slimy Severus Snape, his pale nose betraying his place by the door to the potions lab, but she said nothing to Sirius about it. No point in it, really.
She and Sirius slowly made their way back up staircase after staircase after staircase. It was cruel and unusual punishments to have placed the kitchens so far away from Gryffindor tower while the Slytherins and Hufflepuffs – definitely less deserving – had their Common Rooms so close. They must have felt the eat of the giant ovens through the walls. Sirius bemoaned the unfortunate architecture of the schools – Salzaar and Helga must have been secret gourmands all those years back – while Eleanor walked beside him in silence. It was nice enough to be with him, to have his arm around her and his happy voice in her ears, however much she wished her shoulders weren’t quite so wide and her body that squeezable under his hands. He had to lean over to land a kiss on her cheek or whisper nothingness in her ear. Did her drab hair smell like grease or tropical flowers? Did he feel the spots on her face when his lips touched her cheek? Would he prefer to be holding a tall, thin, gorgeous, flawless, blonde with a ravishing figure that he would want to touch and hold and kiss and make love to at every possible moment of the day?
Eleanor blinked, pulling away from him a bit. Her breath was coming too heavily, she was becoming overheated. The climb was too much to do all at once.
“Ellie? Gods, what is it now?”
He even sounded a bit impatient. Her head was swimming with the way he had said the words as though her continued problems were a bother to him, that she was a bother to him.
She could not speak. There was no breath to. Leaning in towards her stomach, Eleanor closed her eyes, wishing that either the ground would swallow her up or that he’d kiss her again – maybe then she’d take his air, his life, all of him. The blackness was coming.
He was holding her now, pulling her upright and away from the stairs. Could he pick her up? Would that be possible with her monstrous and terrible weight? What was making her more faint – her shortness or breath or the description of what she should have been to be worthy of Sirius? Yes, worthy. From the moment he had asked her to go out with him, she had known. She’d always known of why he’d done it and why he was forced to. She had always known and that was why her description of the perfect girlfriend was so untrue, so untrue. Hidden in her mind was the truth, and only at that moment of faintness, of swooning in Sirius’ arms did she understand everything.
And that was when she fainted for real.
~ * * * ~
“On the main stair. Can you believe it?”
“Was Sirius there?”
“She fell on him.”
“Is he in the Hospital Wing too then?”
“Don’t be cruel! He didn’t get hurt.”
“But you said–”
“Shut up! Someone’s coming.”
It was the girls again, clucking like hens fighting over which was to get the last kernel. They lounged in the Gryffindor Common Room, realigning themselves as soon as an eligible male happened to pass. As soon as the portrait door would open, they’d sit all straight and toss their heads, allowing the electric glow of their hair – from a few well-shot wand sparks – to shine in the light from the fire. Once, they’d done it for Peter Pettrigrew, not knowing who it was until too late. Now they waited a split second first, just in case.
Lily walked past them, rolling her eyes. Pathetic. She slammed the portrait door shut with greater force than necessary and hurried towards the Hospital Wing, her robes billowing behind her in a flattering sort of way. She’d shoved her Head Girl duties onto Potter for the evening so that she could go specially to see Eleanor, poor girl. The whole school was abuzz with the news, and being no better about it than those stupid girls. She wanted to blame Sirius for Eleanor’s troubles, since Eleanor had never had trouble before he’d gone and asked her out for who-knows-what reason.
It was the closest that Lily Evans ever came to outright glowering.
Sirius was sitting at Eleanor’s beside when Lily entered the Hospital Wing. He wasn’t holding Eleanor’s hand or anything. He just sat there, arms crossed and frowning. Either he didn’t want to be there at all, or there was something else on his mind.
He looked up at Lily’s entrance. “Hey, Evans. Here to inspect?”
“No. Though it’s probably your fault.”
He shrugged. “As usual.”
Lily put her hands on her hips. “Tell me what happened.”
“Haven’t you already heard? I’m sure the gossip ring has already passed it down to you.”
“Don’t be difficult, Black.”
“I’m not the easy sort.”
This last came in a groggy voice from Eleanor, whose eyes flickered open, then closed again. She groaned.
Sirius rose. “You’re awake.”
“Obviously,” Lily said, moving closer.
He glared at her, then turned back to Eleanor. “Do you want some water?”
Eleanor nodded, her eyes opening once again.
Lily was almost touched at the delicate way that Sirius handled Eleanor as he held the glass to her dry lips. Their eyes met, Sirius smiling and Eleanor blushing. Lily wondered just how close the two of them were. Two figures, by all appearances closely connected until one looked closer and saw that, however much they were together, they were entirely alone. What was it about Sirius that made him such a lonely boy? His grey eyes, no matter how mischievous or playful, always held sorrow in their depths, sorrow and secrets. That was the life of Sirius Black.
“What happened?” Eleanor asked with a weak cough.
Sirius and Lily glanced at one another.
“Don’t you remember, Ellie?” Sirius sat back in his chair, resting his chin on his hand.
“We walked up the stairs, you and I, then I got short of breath. Right?”
He shrugged. “That’s it.”
Eleanor stared up at the ceiling. “What were we talking about?”
Lily wondered where all of this was going.
Sirius frowned, his eyes searching. “I don’t think we were at the time.”
“Oh.” Eleanor pursed her lips, her brow scrunching into deep furrows. “That’s strange.”
She bit on the side of her thumbnail. “I just remember thinking something.”
“What sort of something?” Lily asked, shifting her weight onto her other foot.
“That’s the thing,” Eleanor said around her nail. “I remember thinking something but I don’t remember what kind of something I was thinking of. Just that–” She looked down at the sheets.
“Just what?” Lily stepped forward, eyes glinting.
“Well... I don’t know.”
“It might help you to remember.”
Eleanor’s eyes sought out Sirius. “Just that it was something about Sirius.”
The party in question narrowed his eyes. “That’s natural, isn’t it? You thinking of me.”
Lily sniffed. “It depends what she was thinking of you, Black.”
“She’d naturally only think good things.”
“Are you sure of that?”
Sirius looked back at Eleanor, who, as the memory of the stray thought trickled back into her consciousness, began to blush, first pink, then a guilty shade of red.
“It wasn’t a very nice thought,” she admitted.
“Oh.” Sirius pushed back the hair from his forehead.
“Oh, indeed,” was Lily’s response. “It shouldn’t matter all that much. I think rotten things of Potter all the time.”
“That’s because you think him a git.”
“He is sometimes.”
“I think we’re getting beyond the point, Evans.”
Eleanor was shrinking back into the pillows. If she tried any harder, she’d disappear.
“So it’s a matter of no importance.” Lily lifted her chin and raised an eyebrow in a most perfect manner.
“Of course not.” Sirius leaned back in the chair, balancing it on the rear legs.
“You might as well go back to Gryffindor Tower then. Remus will be missing you.”
Sirius’ eyes widened. Eleanor’s were already wide, so they could not get any wider.
“What the hell...?”
“It’s not true, is it, Sirius?” Eleanor’s voice was no more than a squeak.
He turned to her. “Why would it be?”
Her hands plucked at a lose thread on the sheet. “You said they were talking about you....”
“Well not because of that. I’m surprised you’d think that, Ellie.”
“I am too.” But he wasn’t listening to her anymore.
Sirius stood up, his face red and his eyes blazing. He snarled at Lily as he passed her.
“Look what you did to her. Now she’s one of them.”
Lily only lifted her head higher, so that she could appear to look down at him although he rose many inches above her. “Better than to be your naive fool, Black.”
Sirius stopped at the door, but did not turn. It looked as though he was about to say something, but what it was or who it was to, neither Lily nor Eleanor would ever know. After a sigh, both bitter and angry, Sirius continued on his way, fists clenched. If Snape was still about, he’d have a lot to worry about.
Eleanor watched him go, still confused. She leaned back and closed her eyes, piecing everything together in her mind – all the words they’d spoken, all the things she’d heard. Lily said nothing, just stared out the window with a frown. It didn’t matter what Lily was doing anyways, not when Eleanor was working things through in her mind, making it all make sense in some peculiar way of hers. The way that she felt about him. The way she felt now that he had left. The way she felt when he had talked kindly to her and acted like he cared in such a way as to make him actually sincere in more than appearances. It was all about appearances, wasn’t it? This whole thing, everything that had happened, all went back to what it meant to look like something to someone else. It all came back to Shakespeare, stupid old Shakespeare who seemed to know everything and nothing. The whole bloody world was a stage, and Eleanor was the failed understudy that everyone had booed off the stage. She hadn’t won over the hero with her beauty and wiles. She hadn’t been able to fend off the rivals popping up from both sides of the stage. She hadn’t been able to do a single bloody thing right in all of this and now she felt wretched about it all.
So she began to cry. Lily glanced over at the sound of the heart-wrenching sobs that caused the whole bed to shake. Eleanor’s spectacles were in danger of crashing to the floor, hanging from careless fingers numb from intense and bitter suffering of the most terrible kind. She sounded as though she was about to die of heartbreak. Maybe she was. Or maybe it was just another of those things that sounded or looked like it was one thing when it was really another.
What confused Eleanor the most was that, although she made it apparent to others that she was taken by Sirius Black and frequently told herself that she, in fact, was not, she really was in love with him. It was beyond the handsomeness and perfect that he conveyed – there was something in him that was as simple an awkward as she, and Eleanor yearned to reach out to that part of him, then everything would be just right. Not perfect – no, she never expected that – just right.
“I need to get him back.” There was so much determination in the voice that rang out through the sobs that Lily looked back again.
“What did you say, Eleanor?”
“I must have been wrong.” Something strange lurked within Eleanor’s dull eyes.
“About what?” Lily had the feeling that she was talking to herself. Why was it always like this with Eleanor?
“Sirius would never do that. He’s too... too...”
“I love him too much for that.”
“Gods, why didn’t I understand before?”
Lily gave up trying to ask questions of the clearly ill and hallucinating girl.
“I’ll go there and win him back, and then it’ll be fine.”
With a sigh, Lily tried one last time. “It won’t work, you know.”
“Rumours are never true, anyway.”
Lily shook her head and walked away. She knew when she was coming up against a stone wall. Eleanor was too much in love to care. Too much in love with perfection – the one thing she’d never have.