loverly image by Shirahime!
Madam Pomfrey forced her to remain in the Hospital Wing until after supper the following day, which was unfortunate. The smells from the Great Hall were still permeating through the corridors as Eleanor passed to go looking for Sirius. The students were exiting the Great Hall at the moment she came down the stairs, leaning on the banister rather harder than she would have liked to admit. Her head was still a bit woozy, so she stopped to clean her spectacles, watching the stream of students flood up or down the great staircase to their common rooms. Some of them looked at her, quickly looking away if they caught her eye, while others wouldn’t even look at her. Rumour had passed again, somehow condemning her.
When someone began to hum “Eleanor Rigby” another person elbowed him sharply in the side, causing a cry of pain to interrupt the melody.
Right not, Eleanor wouldn’t have minded a face by the door to hide herself behind.
Then she saw him. He was striding out of the Hall, hands stuffed deep in the pockets of his robes, walking between Remus and Peter, James lagging behind, trying to catch a glimpse of Lily. Sirius had a dark look on his face, even still, and scowled at his friends’ attempts to placate him. Even Remus’ soft voice could not change the expression on Sirius’ face, nor could the slight touch on the arm with delicate, though scarred, fingers.
Their voices came into hearing as they drew near.
“Just give it a few days, Sirius, then it’ll all blow over.”
“He’s right, Padfoot. With the way that Prongs is going at it, they’re be something new for them to talk about anyways.”
“I heard that, Wormtail.” James popped his head between them.
“Well, it’s true!” Peter threw up his hands in defence.
“Shut up, you two! This is serious,” Remus hissed, nails biting into Sirius’ arm.
“Sirius, indeed,” James said with a grin, gaining himself another glare from Remus.
“Come on, Moony. Lighten up.” James adjusted his glasses, eyes still scanning the thinning crowd. “Padfoot’s not going to get any better with you being all defensive about him.”
With a sigh, Sirius shrugged out of Remus’ grasp. “I’m fine. Nothing to worry about.”
“You sound convincing,” Peter muttered, causing Eleanor to giggle.
The four of them turned towards her like a great wall dividing her from the rest of the world. She flushed red and focussed her eyes on a beetle scuttling across the ground by Sirius’ foot.
“Sirius.” It sounded more like a squeak than his name.
He passed by, continuing on up the stairs, saying only her name in a damning tone, like it was her fault that all of this – whatever it was – had been her fault, like she had done something to permanently damage him for life.
The other three hesitated. James tugged at the collar of his robes. Peter stared at Sirius with a slightly open mouth. Only Remus appeared calm, looking at Eleanor with an expression of intense pity, his eyes a dim blueish grey. He reached out and touched Eleanor’s hand, a gentle touch that surprised her. Where in Godric’s name had he gotten all those scars?
“I’m sorry, Eleanor. He’s being irrational.”
She nodded slowly, the motion only worsening her condition.
“I muddled it up again, didn’t I?”
“No.” It was Peter who answered, having regained control of his jaw.
All their eyes turned towards him. “Explain.” Remus’ voice went tense.
Peter shrugged, mimicking the fluid motion Sirius was the expert of. “Things didn’t go as he wanted them to, and now he’s taking it out on you, which isn’t at all fair.”
“Life isn’t fair, Wormtail,” James contributed, leaning against the banister below Eleanor.
“That’s taking it a bit far.”
Remus rolled his eyes for Eleanor’s benefit. “Continue with your explanation, Wormtail.”
“Well, what I meant to say was that Sirius ought to face up to things, not go about hiding and being so bloody elusive about everything.” Peter flushed up to the line of his straw-like hair, leaving Eleanor to wonder how much he knew, how much any of them knew, or how much they knew about what she knew.
“So, in other words,” she offered, half-biting her lip. “I should be running up after him right now?” Her eyes measured the distance between where they stood and Sirius’ receding footsteps.
“It’s a plan,” said James.
“You’re not in any condition to do that,” said Remus.
“One of us could get him to come back down,” said Peter.
James sighed dramatically. “Like he would.”
“It’s better than making her run after him!”
“Stop it!” Remus let go of Eleanor’s hand and started up the stairs. “I’ll get him.”
Once he was out of earshot, James added, “Oh yes you will, Moony.”
Peter’s eyes widened while his mouth frowned. “Shouldn’t you be doing your rounds, Prongs? Evans’ll be waiting for you.”
James jumped up, knocking his glasses askew. “Merlin! Why didn’t you say so sooner, Wormtail! She’ll kill me for certain now.” He raced down towards the dungeons, supposedly to the potions laboratory.
Peter allowed himself a smile, then turned to Eleanor. “I’ll help you back up, if you want. Madam Pomfrey’ll have our heads if you get sick again.” He put out his arm for her to take, but she declined with a shake of her head, instead holding firmly to the banister.
“I’m fine, thanks.” She let some coldness creep into her voice. He was everything Sirius was not, everything that she told herself she did not want.
He shrugged again, but remained beside her, pacing himself to her slow ascent back up the staircase. She wished now that she’d just gone up to her dormitory instead of coming down to all these things she could hardly understand. What did Sirius blame her for? Doubting him, perhaps? For revealing weakness? For being honest about all the things going on around her that she both did, and did not, quite understand? The very thought of all this thinking made the pain return to her head, the swirling feeling rather like the sound Moaning Myrtle made when being swept back into the depths of the Hogwarts plumbing.
They came across Remus and Sirius on the fourth floor landing, Remus’ hand on Sirius’ arm as though it belonged there. The sight both shook Eleanor to the roots, yet also incited a feeling of such intense pity for the pale, sallow boy with the scars on his hands. Was Remus Lupin any different, any better off than she was? Yes, he was part of the most popular group in the entire school, but he was different from them, too. He had not Sirius’ natural sophistication, nor James’ exuberant sense of humour, not even Peter’s ability to become whatever the situation needed him to be. Remus was just himself, perhaps more of a mystery than even Sirius Black. In Remus’ frailty, she saw her own.
“Sirius, you are going to take Eleanor back to Gryffindor Tower.” It was an order. There was nothing in Remus’ voice that allowed for disobedience.
Grey eyes intense, Sirius shrugged, more carelessly than ever, and crossed his arms. “It doesn’t matter to me.”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Moony.”
Remus sighed, resigned, and signalled for Peter to follow him. “Doesn’t deserve a bloody thing,” he muttered, just loud enough for each of them to hear. He started up the stairs.
Peter flashed a wan smile in Eleanor’s direction, then was also gone.
Sirius watched them climb the stairs, acting as though Eleanor wasn’t there at all. She waited, head pounding, for judgement to come. It was worse than writing one of McGonagall’s infamous exams. At least there she knew how badly she’d fail. Here, she wasn’t so sure, but that just could have been her hope coming up again.
He was not looking as well as usual. Up close, she could see the smudges beneath his eyes and the slack lines of his mouth. Even the eyes themselves, still seething in glum rage, bespoke of at least one sleepless night. Sirius was a haunted wizard, which only made it worse for Eleanor. There was something of the saviour syndrome within her blood, and as much as she herself needing saving, she wanted to save Sirius too.
If he started running up a tower now, she wouldn’t be able to follow. They’d come a long time from that point in their lives, that point that came all of two weeks in the past, interrupting lives, exploding rumours, and changing the insignificant world of Eleanor Digby. But it was like they’d traded placing – her chasing him instead of the other way around – and it made her wonder even more what she had done to hurt him.
“We should talk,” she offered, pushing her glasses back up her nose. “Maybe it’s just a misunderstanding.”
He blinked. “What is?”
She waved her hand outwards. “All this.”
“Why won’t you talk to me? What did I do?” Her voice broke, revealing more than she thought she felt. She needed him to respond, to explain it all for her minimal mind, make the world seem clear once again and set things to right.
“Why did you refuse to say what you thought of me, back in the Hospital Wing?” His only answer another question.
She looked down at her mismatched stockings. “I didn’t want to say it in front of Lily.”
“So it was her that you didn’t trust?”
Her gaze shot upwards. “Who else? Godric’s girdle, Sirius, what’s your problem?”
She couldn’t remember the last time that she’d felt anger, or whatever she was feeling at that moment. It was like an emotion she’d never felt, or at least never expressed. He seemed surprised by it too.
“Nothing. Just nothing.” He started to walk away.
His foot touched the first step when she pushed herself forward.
“Stop. Please, Sirius. Don’t leave.”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
Because I love you?
No, that wouldn’t sound right.
“We need to work this out.”
“To what purpose?” All of his focus was on the stairs.
She wobbled on her feet, wondering if she should reach for him. “You want to leave it like this, right here, now?”
He laughed. He actually laughed. Eleanor wanted to shove him down the stairs.
Perhaps throttling him first was a good idea.
She took a deep breath. Calm. Be calm.
“It wasn’t real, was it? None of it?”
Something in him started to shatter. His shoulders were not so straight as before.
“Ellie, don’t look at it like that....”
“How else am I supposed to? I do nothing and you suddenly hate me.” Could she fake tears? All the good heroines could, but she didn’t exactly fit with that archetype.
“I don’t hate you.”
She snorted, then regretted it. Too pig-ish, like that ugly Crabbe.
“So you treat all your girlfriends like this?”
“I wouldn’t know. You’ve been the only one.”
It was like they’d always said, but she didn’t want to believe it.
“But all those times....”
“My firsts too, in a way.”
She had to open her mouth once or twice before her voice came out. “It didn’t feel like it.”
A tiny smile appeared on his face. “I’m glad you liked it.”
“I never said that.”
His laugh this time was softer, more real. “You didn’t need to, Ellie.”
Things were half-way better, but she couldn’t trust her perception anymore. It had seemed better most of the time until he’d walked out of the Hospital Wing. He had too many sides, there was too much of him for her to ever fully grasp. It was like trying to take hold of the fog, just when you think you’ve gotten it, it’s eluded you once again. Sirius was the fog, she could see it in the colour of his eyes.
“Why can’t you just tell me?” she asked, her glasses slipping down her nose again.
He shook his head. “You wouldn’t understand. It wouldn’t be fair to you.”
“It isn’t now, either.”
“They say that ignorance is bliss.”
Did he realise that he was looking ignorance in the face? She wore glasses, was slightly more plump than her mother would have liked, and had a ridiculous, though endearing, name.
“It’s you that doesn’t get it, Sirius. I don’t want to be like that anymore.”
He paused. Everything about him just stopped in time. His eyes were open, probably as wide as they could go, which wasn’t very much in comparison to the bug-eyes of Eleanor, glaring out from behind her glasses. He looked rather like a statue, the statue of a noble young man, foot on the first stair to his high-flying destiny, wherever or whatever that may have been. It was, she noted, the best way for him to be, showing himself off without any of the other stuff that he came with. It made him simpler, more like her.
When he finally moved, it was to turn his face away and move up to the next stair.
“I need to go to bed. We’ll talk about it later.”
“Why not now?”
“I’m tired.” He sounded peevish, but she couldn’t let him go.
He waved a hand absently. “From living.”
She frowned, trying to understand.
He smiled, an expression filled with the utmost pity. “I didn’t think that you would like that answer, Ellie. Good night.”
What would a proper heroine do in this sort of situation? The handsome, troubled hero was creeping up the stairs, back to his solitude, leaving her with mouth hanging open, rooted to the spot. It wasn’t even a regular sort of situation for any good heroine to be stuck in. Most of the books she read had the woman sweeping the stairs, jewellery and tears glittering in the moonlight as she left her lover with the greatest distain for his failings.
Of course, in Eleanor’s case, everything had to be the wrong way around.
He was on the next landing when her voice called up to him.
“How am I supposed to get back up?”
Sirius leaned over the edge of the stairs. “Apparition?”
“I’m not old enough yet.”
He tilted his head to the side. “Oh.”
With a heavy sigh, perhaps the heaviest in history, he made his way back down and took her arm in his.
“You ruined my glamorous exit,” he said with a shake of his head.
She furrowed her brows, hoping to catch the joke in his eyes.
“Guess I can’t ask you to carry me.”
There was a moment of silence, of perfect stillness. Now they were statues together, staring at each other, looking and feeling equally foolish.
Sirius was the first to start laughing. It was like the sound he had made that day on the Astronomy Tower, the gleeful, amazing laugh that melted her from head to toe, possibly making it impossible for him to do anything but
carry her back to Gryffindor Tower.
“No one can be mad at you for long, Ellie, m’love.” He wrapped his arm around her waist. “I can forget whatever it was you said, if you can forgive me for being the most rotten boyfriend in the history of the world.” He was pulling her close, pressing his hand into her flesh.
Had she done it? Just with some stupid, idiotic words, she could get him back? Whatever happened to those passionate soliloquies spoken with tears flinging themselves down the heroine’s cheeks as the hero disowned his love for her? What sort of thing was it between them when all that was needed was a joke to get him to like her again?
She noticed how she did not say “to love
her again.” Perhaps she had given up after all.
“I was serious about talking about it all in the morning.” He yawned, tilting his head back in a way that made him look like a howling dog.
Eleanor nodded, snuggling closer to him. The spinning in her head had stopped, but now it was her heart’s turn to go wild for some strange reason. It was a perfect moment, to be standing there with him, more perfect than their awkward (at least on her side) kisses, all the showing off he did, all the things that should have made her feel like she had accomplished something in the social universe of Hogwarts. No, this perfection was a lot more simple, a feeling that wasn’t quite explicable and had never been mentioned in any of those books she’d read.
So what was it?
Not the hero-worship, or the need to have him like her, or the desire for a bit of his perfection, yet it was some
sort of perfection, a great achievement that was still beyond her understanding, but not beyond her reach.
Lily had seen it in her eyes earlier, but Eleanor had not realised it then. It all came to her now, in a flash of rationality.
The words bubbled to her lips. “I love you, Sirius.”
He yawned again, his ears too plugged with the noise to hear her.