Chapter 19 : Two Step
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On the morning of the match, I found myself being shaken awake, Alice calling my name as loudly as she possibly could. I rolled out of bed, nearly toppling to the floor in my blind attempt to stand on my own two feet. Balance problems or not, I couldn’t help that a shoe had been in my way. It was my own shoe, naturally, but what’s the difference, anyway?
I lifted my hand to scratch the back of my head as I shuffled toward the bathroom and stopped at the lack of hair. After a moment of panic, I remembered that Alice had cut my hair the night before. My hand lingered on the back of my neck, stroking at the invisible hairs in mourning. I would have to let Aunt Eliza what had happened to the locks that she loved so much. It was more than likely that she would find it funny opposed to stupid. I mean, this was the woman who thought that someone should make a legal sport of which house elf could win in a manners’ contest. Not because she detested the creatures, in fact, she loved them, but just because it would be amusing to see what they would do. Especially when they tend to fight over who’s the better elf.
Shaking my head to myself, I quickly stripped of my pajamas and stepped into the shower. I knew that there wasn’t much time left for breakfast and I knew that I would not only be cranky if I went unfed before going to the game, but it would only make my stomach more nauseous at the prospect of climbing the bleachers. I might not have been fearful of heights, but who liked killer nosebleeds?
I washed as fast as I could, all but sprinting out of the shower and throwing on a pair of clean clothes. Since it was the weekend and uniforms weren’t required, I settled on a faded maroon tee shirt and pulled a solid black jumper over it, the words, OXFORD, emblazoned across the front in massive white letters. It had been the Muggle college my father had attended in his youth, and the jumper had belonged to him originally. I plucked at the collar and brought it to my nose, inhaling the scent of old cigars and brandy. I had never washed this jumper since Aunt Eliza had given it to me when I was thirteen.
“You ready?” Lily asked, poking her head around the corner of the bathroom.
I nodded my head and tucked my newly cut hair behind my ear. “I don’t look like an idiot, do I?”
She raked her eyes over my appearance and a contemplative look fell over her face. “You look fine, but I think there’s something missing,” she mused out loud, tapping her finger against her chin. Her eyes sparkled to life suddenly and she disappeared momentarily, only to reappear seconds later with a headband in her hand. “Here,” she said, handing over the scarlet and gold head accessory to me.
“Thanks,” I replied, staring at the headband before situating it upon my head.
Lily rolled her eyes good-naturedly and took a step toward me, taking it as her duty to fix my hair correctly. Once she was finished, she backed away, a smile on her face. “There, much better.”
“Good to know that I’m inept at putting on a headband,” I muttered under my breath, although I was smiling.
Lily laughed and together, we trouped down to the Great Hall together, grabbing our scarves and hats on the way out of the door, should we get cold whilst sitting in the stands. Even though I doubted that would happen, given the amount of people that cramped into the limited space of the bleachers.
X - X - X
Upon reaching the Great Hall entrance, I was received by an embarrassing display of camaraderie. James and Sirius had pushed themselves up into semi-standing positions and were waving their arms above their heads in quick, frantic gestures in a successful attempt to capture our attention. I knew by the smiles on their faces that they were doing it on purpose and I immediately felt the color rise to my cheeks, the heat around my now bare neck unbearably mortifying. However, Lily was cursing vehemently under her breath.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes when I felt her tense beside me. I wrapped my fingers around her wrist in warning and she made an odd sort of whimpering noise, like she didn’t want to walk toward the boys. I had a distinct feeling that there was something that she hadn’t told me, and that it was something that she needed to tell someone before she exploded.
I looked at her and she sighed. “I’ll tell you later, okay? You just have to promise not to tell Alice.”
Wow. Did she really just say that? Could Big Brother please press the rewind button so I could make sure that there wasn’t an obscene amount of earwax clogging my ears?
“I promise,” I said without hesitation. “Can we please eat now?”
An uneasy expression flickered briefly across her face before she nodded her head and we joined the four boys at the table.
“Your hair looks nice,” Remus said genuinely, smiling warmly at me as I dropped down onto the bench beside him.
“Thanks,” I replied, coloring slightly at the tiny compliment. “Alice did it.”
“Well, she did a very nice job,” Sirius added, stretching across the table to knick a piece of toast off the golden plate nearest my elbow. “It’s very…oh, what’s that word?”
“Becoming?” Lily and James supplied in unison. While James laughed it off, all the color drained from Lily’s face. That was when I knew that something was definitely going on. I opened my mouth to speak, but she delivered a sharp and swift kick to my shin, the pain surging my leg and tickling my knee.
“Yeah,” Sirius said, seeming to sense the odd feeling in the air, too. “That’s the word.” He took a huge bite out of his toast before returning his shimmering eyes to me. “It looks very becoming on you, Ella.”
“Thank you,” I muttered, scooping some eggs onto my plate and snatching a few pieces of toast off the plate in front of me to avoid the curious stares from everyone else at the table.
We ate, sparsely talking as we were all extremely hungry. The tension between James and Lily was much too odd for my liking, so I subconsciously kept scooting closer to Remus to free myself from the negative vibes radiating off Lily. I didn’t even realize how close I was until our elbows slammed into one another and my funny bone hurt so much, I just had to laugh.
Remus and I were the only two laughing. The others was staring at us like they didn’t understand what was going on. Which they didn’t, of course, but apparently we were the only two people who found humor in knocking funny bones together. I tried to hold back my laughter and decided that maybe if I took a drink it would be squelch my desire to laugh.
I was wrong and ended up choking on a mouthful of pumpkin juice. Peter, who was sitting next to Lily, reached around her to slap me heartily on the back. Which in turn only made my coughing worse, so thanks very much, Peter.
“That only makes it worse, you dolt,” Remus scolded as he waited for me to stop coughing.
I managed to get my throat under control and sighed from lung exhaustion.
“Are you all right?” James inquired from across the table.
“I’m fine,” I replied, taking an earnest sip from my goblet of pumpkin juice to soothe the burning in my throat.
Pushing back the sleeve of his jumper, Sirius glanced at the expensive watch that adorned his wrist, a gift from his family, no doubt. “Well,” he said, not looking up from his watch. “The match starts in twenty minutes and by now, the stands are probably filling up. So, I suggest that we get a move on before all the good seats are taken.”
“Yeah,” James agreed as we all began to take last minutes bites of our food and wash it down with quick gulps of pumpkin juice. “We wouldn’t want to have to sit too far up in case Eleanor got a nosebleed.”
The rest of them laughed while I glared at James. He shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly at me and traipsed out of the door. Lily lingered behind, walking at a steady pace beside me. “You see what I mean when I say he can be infuriating?”
I smiled at her and, like James had, shrugged my shoulders. He hadn’t infuriated me; that was too strong of a word. But he had annoyed me. In his own charming sort of way. “He’s not infuriating,” I trailed off lightly.
Lily rolled her emerald eyes heavenward, groaning. “Oh no, not you, too!”
“Lily,” I said sharply, bringing her back to her senses before she could lose them. “This is me we’re talking about, not half of the female population at Hogwarts.”
She caught on almost immediately and her eyes sparkled. Tapping her finger against the side of her nose that reminded me eerily of Pringle, I shivered and pointedly took long strides away from her.
X - X - X
Sirius was right. A good majority of the seats were taken by the time we reached the pitch. I tried to weasel my way out of climbing up to the very top, claiming that there weren’t any seats available that my naked eye could see.
“Then maybe you should get glasses,” James commented, his eyes glinting behind his own wire-rimmed glasses, grinning widely as I stared open mouthed at him.
“Sod off,” I muttered under my breath. I turned around suddenly and smacked into Sirius’s chest, our faces inches apart. Talk about uncomfortable and sufficiently awkward, especially with all these people watching and taking notice. Yeesh.
I tried to pretend that I didn’t notice our closeness and Sirius grabbed my upper arms, his hands lying right over the fading bruises that his very own girlfriend had given me. “Turn around and march up those stairs.”
“No buts,” James cut in. “You promised that you would at least attempt to sit through an entire match. Now get your bum moving; there’s a line forming behind us.”
I looked over Sirius’s shoulder to see that there was, in fact, a line forming behind Remus, who was eyeing me oddly. I didn’t like the look nor the feeling I was getting from said look, so I turned around like I was asked - or demanded, rather, as they seemed to think they could order me about like their own personal servant. Which they probably could, as I usually went completely brain dead around any of them for some seriously unknown reasons.
Lily nudged me roughly in the ribcage and together, we climbed up the staircase. The stairs were wooden, looked and felt incredibly old, and were spaced about a foot apart. Which made it exceedingly difficult for someone like me with short legs to walk up without teetering backwards and forwards every few steps. In fact, Lily had to loop her arm through mine to make sure I didn’t topple backward and send everyone to the Hospital Wing.
Halfway to the top of the staircase, I felt a familiar dripping running down my face. My hand flew to my nose and I turned around, this time finding myself standing obnoxiously close to Remus.
“What?” he asked, concerned at the sight of my hand against my face.
“I think my nose is bleeding,” I said. “Can I go now?”
“Not so fast,” he wrapped his fingers around my wrist and gently tugged my hand, which felt like a flame had engulfed it and was now burning away the flesh in the slowest manner possible, away from my face.
The second he rolled his eyes, I knew my nose wasn’t bleeding. Damn.
“My nose isn’t bleeding, is it?” I asked.
“No, it’s not,” Remus smiled charmingly at me before his lips twitched into a slight frown. “Although, you might want to blow your nose or something; it’s running.”
I rolled my eyes and sighed. Great, this was freakin’ fantastic, wasn’t it? I had tried to weasel my way out of a potentially fatal Quidditch match by showing the boy I may or may not have a crush on him a snotty, runny nose. Wow, I couldn’t get more attractive than that, could I?
I was spun around once again and Lily tugged me by my hand, which was still burning, by the way, in case you were wondering, up the stands. I could see Alice amongst the crowd, decked out in full on Gryffindor gear, even though the match was Ravenclaw versus Slytherin. When she spotted us, she began to wave her arms over her head in a huge arc, beckoning us toward her. I heard Lily and Remus give soft, amiable laughter as we climbed the last flight of stairs to where Alice had claimed seats for all of us.
“I saved us all seats,” she said, oblivious to the fact that we had already figured that much out.
“I knew I liked you for a reason, Alice,” Sirius said from behind me, the smile evident in his voice.
It took a few minutes to figure out the seating arrangement, but somehow, instead of sitting by Lily and Alice like I thought I would be, I was squished between Sirius and Remus, their body heat radiating through their clothes in such a way that my head spun. On Remus’s left sat Alice, who was sitting between the sandy brunette and James, who was sitting next to Lily, who was seated besides Peter. How that situation was going to work out, well, time would only tell.
But to be honest with you, I would much rather be between James and Alice, quite possibly the two most talkative people I have ever encountered in my entire life, opposed to sitting where I was now. I mean, it wasn’t that it was uncomfortable, it was just…well, awkward. As hell. But on the plus side, it was really warm and I would be surrounded by pretty scenery. So, maybe a partial yay was necessary?
Wait…did that thought really just process through my mind? Pretty scenery on either side? Circe be damned, I was turning into one of them. A fan girl. Mental shudder.
I decided to focus my attention on the stands, which were filling up quickly. It seemed as though students from all the Houses were turning up, the stands becoming a massive sea of scarlet and gold, yellow and black, blue and bronze, and green and silver. In the immediate area, there was a large amount of Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors gathered together. I smiled to myself at the thought: it seemed that the students of Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor always got along the very best.
“It’s a nice day, don’t you think?” Sirius asked. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt his hot breath dancing across the side of my neck.
I nodded faintly, not trusting my voice, as it would most likely come out as some sort of pathetic little gasp of breath or worse, a moan. “Yeah,” I agreed somewhat breathlessly. “It’s very nice.”
Thankfully, he sat back, seeming happy with himself that he had managed to capture my attention. You know, if the somewhat smug expression on his face wasn’t a dead giveaway. “So, are you glad you came?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “That has yet to be seen, as the match hasn’t started yet,” I replied.
Sirius laughed. “Let’s just hope that no stray Bludgers come our way, yeah?”
Even though I knew he was joking, I paled considerably. Could that really happen? Would a rogue Bludger come wandering our way and smack me in the face, breaking my nose? Or worse, killing me?
“Oh, ha ha,” I tried to laugh along with him, but my stomach was doing wild flip flops and I felt like I was going to be sick.
I nearly fell off the bench in surprise when I felt a hand on my lower back, rubbing a small circle into the base of my spine. My eyebrows disappeared into my hairline and I turned my head to look at Sirius, but he was engaged in conversation with the Hufflepuff sitting in front of them, telling a joke by the looks of it. So then…who could it be?
Oh, come ON, Ellen. It’s not that hard to figure out. Look to the left, perhaps?
I swallowed the nervous lump in my throat and tilted my head to the left. But it couldn’t have been Remus either, as he was busy talking to Alice, the latter with a huge smile on her face. I assumed she was talking about Frank. She always smiled like that when she was talking about her beloved. Her word, not mine.
I made sure that his hand wasn’t subconsciously rubbing my back, but I saw that his hands were in front of him, moving about as they always did when he spoke; he always moved his hands a lot when he talked, something that, unfortunately, I as well as half of the girls’ population found incredibly endearing.
What the fuck was going on? Unless I was imaging the touch, which was highly possible, I had absolutely no bloody clue what was going on. Maybe I was hallucinating because of the high altitude. Yeah…that was a distinct possibility.
I moved to stand up and immediately, the hand let up and found my wrist. I followed the clothed arm and saw that it was attached to Sirius. Well, it looks like I found the culprit after all.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“I - uh,” I licked my lips and hastily looked around. “Um, well, you see, I, uh…” Sirius sent me a look and I crumbled, as per usual, “had to go to the, um…yeah, I’ve got nothing.”
“Weren’t trying to escape the match, were you?” James questioned jokingly, leaning over Alice so his words would be heard by their intend target (me), a smirk on his face.
I smiled tightly. “No, of course not, James,” I sat back down on my seat and sighed, wondering how I was going to make it through the match when it hadn’t even started yet.
X - X - X
“AND IT’S ANOTHER TEN POINTS FOR RAVENCLAW!”
A loud scream tore through my throat as I jumped up and down, grabbing onto both Sirius and Remus’s arms.
“HOLY HIPPOGRIFF, DID YOU SEE THAT?!” I asked, dropping their arms and clapping in excitement. The entire crowd was in a positive uproar, save for the Slytherins, who were booing as they usually did when they were losing.
Remus laughed and nodded his head. “I think everyone saw it, Eleanor,” he said, chuckling some more. He had such a nice laugh.
“But did you really see it?” I pressed, putting my hand against my forehead. “Merlin’s beard, that was an amazing play! She got it into the hoop by hitting it off the end of her broom WHILE HANGING UPSIDE DOWN!”
Sirius joined Remus in his laughter and ruffled my hair. “You can be so adorable at times, did you know that?”
He laughed to himself before the Hufflepuff who he had been talking to earlier turned around and gave him a high five. It turns out that they had been taking bets with some of the Slytherins as to which team was going to be the victor of the match and were currently winning. Big time.
I, on the other hand, was completely dumbfounded and totally embarrassed by his words. I knew that they meant nothing, that they were just hollow, something that anyone could say to a friend, regardless if said friend might have had stronger feelings that necessary for that person as well as another boy, who was that person’s best friend. Oh Merlin, talk about mental confusion. I turned my head to the side and hoped that my hair would hide me from view. But then I remember that I didn’t have any hair to use as a curtain.
“Are you cold?” Remus asked, sounding a little more concerned than necessary.
“No,” I replied. “I’m warm. I’ve got plenty of layers on.” The truth of the matter was that I was actually feeling a little bit hot. I had no idea this much body heat could circulate through a crowd from so high up, but apparently, it happened. “Why do you ask?”
“It’s nothing, really,” he bowed his head slightly, a small, shy smile on his lips. “Your cheeks were just a bit red.”
Oh, that stupid wench! I wanted nothing more than to strangle the life out of her pretty little blonde head. Of course, I would never act upon that urge, but still, it was an urge nonetheless and the mental images helped me rid my body of unnecessary amounts of pent up anger. If it wasn’t for her, I would be able to hide the rosy color of my cheeks behind my hair. But now, I couldn’t and people were starting to take notice every time I was embarrassed
“Oh,” I thought about it for a moment before nodding my head. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? They’re still a smidge pink.”
Sweet mother of Morgana, why was murder illegal?! “I promise that I’m fine.”
“Aside from your apparent balance issues, of course,” Remus quipped.
I stuck my tongue out at him and together, we laughed. The sound of mirth seemed to draw curious stares to us like moths to a flame. However, I didn’t notice the most important one, as I was slightly mystified by just how deep Remus’s warm brown eyes went.
I was snapped out of my momentary gaze by the sound of someone shouting my name and a sharp tug on my wrist. The good one, that is. As sad and pathetic and slightly stalkerish as it sounded, I could tell by the calluses on the fingers that it was Sirius who had both called my name and grabbed my wrist.
“Look!” he instructed, his voice flitting past my ear as I followed the line of his extended arm. In the air, both of the Seekers from each house were zipping through the air.
“Are they after the…” I trailed off.
Sirius rolled his eyes good-naturedly and nodded, “Yeah, they’re after the Snitch.”
Try as I might, I just couldn’t pay attention to the players. I was too focused on the way his hand felt against the bone and skin of my wrist, all the while forcing my knees to not knock together, which was more difficult than it sounded, let me assure you. Especially when you were a considerable distance from the ground and may or may not be experiencing brief euphoria. (Merlin, I really was getting to become like one of them, wasn’t I? It’s sort of scary how fast the transformation can take place.)
Suddenly, there was a great and triumphant roar from all over the stands. The next thing I knew, two pairs of arms were being thrown around me and I found myself in the middle of a Eleanor sandwich.
“They won!” Sirius and Remus shouted at the same time and, ironically, they released me at the same time to high five one another over my head. Apparently, I was a lot shorter than I thought I was.
“Yes!” I shouted, trying to sound as though I had witnessed the whole thing, which I wish I had. But no, once again, I was distracted by a boy I shouldn’t fancy. Did I really just say that? Er, I meant a boy that I really shouldn’t…well, I suppose there really is no other word for the blatant truth, huh?
I was going to say something, but I found myself being swept up into another hug, this one nearly crushing the life out of me. I could tell by the loud, slightly obnoxious whooping that this was James. But instead of tensing up like I normally did, I found myself laughing with him, although I had no idea why. He set me back on the ground and bopped me playfully on the head.
“So, how’d you like the match?” he questioned eagerly, roughly shoving his glasses up the bridge of his nose as they had been in danger of slipping off the slightly crooked ridge.
“It was amazing,” I answered. I was telling the truth. I had just missed the single most exciting part about it because of a bloke.
“I told you that you’d love it!” He pumped his fist in the air triumphantly. “Are you going to come to the Gryffindor match?”
“If I say no, I’ll have to come anyway, won’t I?”
James laughed. “Damn right, you would.”
He ruffled my hair again before slinging an arm around my shoulder. Apparently, I would be walking back to the common room with James, not Sirius or Remus. I was thankful, to say the very least because I felt nothing but platonic feelings for James and I was pretty sure that he felt the exact same way about me.
We started down the stands, moving with the crowd and somehow, James managed to keep his arm around my shoulder. The rest of the group was farther behind us and I was almost positive that Lily was ranting away to Alice right now about the seating arrangement. When we were halfway to the castle, he dropped his arm from my shoulder and the expression (and banter we had been exchanging) suddenly stopped.
“So, have you given it to her yet?” he asked, his voice serious.
“Give what to who yet?”
His hazel eyes widened. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”
“Oh! The letter!” I smacked my forehead, a little too roughly and the healing cut on my forehead burned underneath the palm of my hand. “I haven’t given it to her yet.”
He sighed and pushed a nervous hand through her hair. “Could you give it to her tonight? It was supposed to get to her last night, but I’m sure it’s all right, given your spill in the classroom and all,” the frown had left his face by this point in time and he was grinning again.
I resisted the urge to smack him on the arm to knock the look off his smug face. “Yeah, I will.” I shoved my hands into the pockets of my trousers and sighed. “So…what’s so important about the letter?”
James laughed and shook his head. “Oh no, my clever friend, you don’t get to know that bit. It’s private.”
“You’re no fun,” I pouted, looking over my shoulder at the sound of the others approaching us. They were all laughing, their heads thrown back and shoulders shaking. Suddenly, I found that an odd warm feeling of sort was spreading through my chest. And I thought to myself that I didn’t want it to go away any time soon.
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